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Preparing the Garden Site for French-Intensive Soil Cultivation

INTRODUCTION

The following demonstration takes students through the steps required to assess soil moisture and prepare a site prior to creating garden beds using the Frenchintensive method of soil cultivation. Once the site is prepared, move on to Demonstration 2 and the accompanying Hands-on Exercise.

SITE PREPARATION AND MATERIALS

  1. At the demonstration site, string and stake a welldeveloped garden bed (if available) and an undeveloped site to illustrate techniques used in the initial stages of soil development and those used to maintain well-developed soils. Have samples of unimproved and improved soils at the demonstration site.
  2. Pre-irrigate the demonstration site soil (where necessary) in order to have the site within the optimal range of 50–75% of field capacity by the day of the demonstration. To illustrate soil moisture extremes, pre-irrigate an additional area to saturation just prior to the demonstration. Also identify soils with moisture content below 50% of field capacity.

The above three examples may be used to show students how to gauge soil moisture and to illustrate the importance of tillage operations within the range of optimal soil moisture. Print out and use the USDANRCS publication Estimating Soil Moisture by Feel and Appearance as a guide for this step (see Resources).

  1. Assess existing compost piles for samples of stabilized, finished compost and those at varying stages of decomposition. Use these samples to illustrate which compost to use and problems associated with incorporating undecomposed organic matter into the soil.
  2. If available, standing cover crops may be used to demonstrate skimming/clearing or incorporation of cover crops into the soil with hand tools and/or the incorporation of cover crops into the trench during the double-digging process.

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