Breaking New Ground – Across the Street

Courtesy of Jared Regier, Chain Reaction Urban Farm, Saskatoon SK

We are putting a boulevard space into production this season. It happens to be right across the street from our home and has full sun exposure.

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It will take a bit of extra work to roll out and clean up a water line each time we irrigate, but we will save a lot of travel time. We are mindful of the risk involved in having our crops out in the open but we will avoid tempting crops like tomatoes and hopefully minimize theft.

Neighbours have told me that they have seen nothing but grass in this boulevard space for as long as they have lived there. In some cases this means up to 60 years. Some of them admitted to mowing it once in a while but that is about as much action as it has seen. The boulevard garden registration process with the city of Saskatoon simply requires approval from adjacent land owners and compliance with a few height restrictions and setback allowances from the curb. Thankfully, the neighbours have all been on board with our efforts so we have been able to march ahead steadily.

Once the plot was registered officially, I got to work. Here are the steps I followed to prepare the soil for vegetable production. These steps should work pretty well for any new ground if you are starting a garden with a similar piece of land.

Step 1: The ground was very compacted so I dug a large part of it by hand with a spade as a first step just to help our
rototiller get a little deeper. I did not remove the grass because it is still valuable as decomposing organic matter in the

Step 2: After spading, I immediately tilled the entire plot thoroughly, just letting the tiller go as deep as it could manage, which which was only 2 to 4 inches at this stage.

Step 3: I waited a couple of weeks to let any surviving grass use up some of its energy to get reestablished. There were a few areas with quack grass that required careful removal of the roots at this point.

Step 4: I broadforked the entire plot to make it possible for my tiller to work a little deeper. This was time consuming but made a big difference.

Step 5: I tilled the plot again thoroughly and was able to get much deeper this time thanks to the broadfork work.

Step 6: I measured and marked the standard sized beds. From this point on, I will never walk on the bed space.

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Step 7: Next, I ordered 8 yards of screened compost and top dressed each bed with a layer about 4 inches thick. I simply spread the compost on the surface so it can act as a mulch to suppress new weeds and also still enrich the soil. Worms and water will slowly work for me to distribute the nutrients and organic matter from the compost into the rest of the soil below.

SF photo blog Jared breaking ground 3

There you have it. Now that the soil is prepped for planting, the only setup work left at this plot is the irrigation system. I will be trying a new style of micro sprinkler at this location which I am excited about, but the details will need to wait for another day. I will explain more about this system in the future after I have had some time to use it for a while.
reprinted from Chain Reaction Urban Farm newsletter.

Find out what other unconventional spaces backyard farmers use and how they prep them in the SPIN Online Support group. Receive a free trial membership with the purchase of any SPIN guide.  


Clover for Pathways, Broadfork for No-till

Courtesy of Courtney T., Cornercopia Student Organic Farm, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN

One of the systems I’ve set up on our farm is to have semi- permanent beds with white Dutch clover pathways between the beds. The beds are 2.5′ wide and the pathways are 2.5′ wide. The way we set them up is to till the whole area once. Then using bamboo poles we lay out the corners of the beds and pathways (we use 20′ beds so they are 50 sq. ft., but any size would work), then we plant the beds with crops.

About 2 weeks later we come through and stirrup hoe the pathways and spread clover seed. This knocks out the first and second rounds of weed seeds in the pathways. As the clover establishes you can walk on it, mow it any time the weeds get taller than it. And man does it look pretty after its been mowed. I realize that 2.5′ pathways are way wider than the standard SPIN bed, but we are a farm with lots of volunteers and tours, and it makes it easy to know where to walk.

In between crops throughout the season we can easily broad fork the beds – no tilling needed. In the second season at the beginning of the season you can often also just broad fork beds. During the second season the clover did get very tall in the spring, but it was easy to mow. We also had to use a hoe to pull the clover out of the beds and back into the pathways and then mowed it and it fell back into place. Word of warning with last fall’s drought and early cold winter a lot of my clover pathways died out in MN. Easy solution – restart the system. All those roots tilled into the soil – free fertilizer-flip the beds and pathways. My interns and volunteers love out broad fork – they fight over who gets to use it.