When I set out to prepare the raised beds this spring I discovered just 'how firm a foundation' we really have around here. Too firm, in the sense of having too many rocks, but also not firm enough. Take away the rocks and you're left with mostly sand, some silt, and very little organic matter. I submit these two pictures to illustrate my previous plight and some solutions I've developed in response.
In the image above you can see the tools and maybe get an idea of the method I use for sifting out rocks. Leaning against the wheelbarrow is a home-built screen of 1/2" hardware cloth fastened to a 2x4 frame. When I was making this screen a few years ago, I was surprised to learn that hardware cloth isn't really fabric, but screen. Well, why don't we call it metal screen? 'Hardware cloth' seems to be one of those terms developed to create a crowd of those in the know and those who've yet to learn. Like dimensional lumber. Whose idea was it to make a 2x4 smaller than 2 inches by 4 inches? Just another method of exclusion and tradecraft skill/knowledge protection, if you ask me.
So I lay the screen on the wheelbarrow, then shovel on some dirt. After shaking vigorously (sliding the screen back and forth) I dump the remaining rocks behind the wheelbarrow over the handles. The sand/silt and pea gravel that remains gets mixed with compost about 50/50 and dumped back into the bed or simply dumped into the bed then later amended with compost. Hard to believe this picture was taken on April 10 of this year (2010).
In this picture above you can see the 'threshold' I made using a few fine specimens of stone I found during the raised bed excavations. This was a fun little project I decided to do one afternoon when the berry beds had been completed.
The compost you see between the beds and the grass is area that used to be weed cloth and pea gravel just like the paths around the raised beds. In fact, if you look into the raised bed just beyond the threshold you can see some weed fabric (it really is fabric, not metal screen) laying in the bed frame. This image was captured on March 20, 2010.
The composted area has since been seeded and has grown in nicely. I need to add more fine compost to raise up the ground level to match the existing ground. The new ground settled more than I thought it would.
In an upcoming post I'll share what I've been reading about (hint: the soil food web) and how hay mulch fits into that picture.