June 1, 2009

Double Digging with Dryer Drums

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:45 am by robwinfield

I have had very good luck with a modified French double digging technique for building raised beds. The original technique for French double digging was a complicated system of multiple trenches.

I went to appliance stores and salvaged dryer drums from discarded clothes dryers. Below is the dryer drum in a hole, with a feed bucket full of horse manure next to it.


The dryer drum is in a hole about 6 to 9 inches deep. This is not quite as deep as recommended by French double diggers, but my trick is to use the drum to build the bed higher out of the ground. My raised beds start 6 inches below ground, and about 4 inches above it, for much improved drainage, a clear demarcation of the bed versus the walking path, and plenty of loose soil for the roots to go into. Also, having very loose soil go down this deep makes weeds easier to pull out, roots and all. Weeds are better able to “hold on” in compacted soil.

Here is the dryer drum filled with horse manure and native soil.


I put about 2 or 3 parts manure to 1 part of native soil. I have several sources of horse manure in my area, from local horse farms, and I add horse manure very liberally. The dryer drum method allows me to mix in layers of native soil with layers of horse manure, but when I start filling the empty dryer drum initially, I fill it about halfway with manure. I put 2 to 3 of those large feed buckets filled into the dryer drum, and then add in layers of native soil and manure. I usually pull the dryer drum about halfway up when it’s full, and fill it once more, so I have a very large mound.

I can’t emphasize enough — if you have a truck and locally available horse manure, use this opportunity to add as much horse manure as you can, because you don’t know when you’ll get more. I get horse manure that’s aged 3 years, so it has the consistency of fine soil full of worms. One truckload lasts for about 10 dryer drum mounds.

After I do several mounds in a straight line, I rake them together into a raised bed. Here is a raised bed with garlic:


If I ever start using a rototiller, land that has been prepared with the dryer drum method is pretty well cleaned out of rocks and roots, and a tiller will have an easy job. If you are starting a farm from scratch and plan to use a tiller, I recommend that you do this dryer drum thing at least once to clean out the rocks and root systems and get a layer of horse manure 6 inches under, with native soil on top. It takes me about 20 minutes to make a mound. It may appear time consuming, but other methods involve going over the same piece of land over and over again. When I do a mound, that piece of land is 100% done. My finished raised beds are about 2 feet wide, and I have about 500 feet of them under cultivation right now, all done by hand.

A very important consideration in the dryer drum method is physical health. I like it because I get a lot of exercise out of it, but I regularly do yoga and qigong to stretch and loosen my joints and strengthen my midsection. If I did not practice these rejuvenative exercises, my body would likely not tolerate that much repetitive and vigorous muscular effort. I noticed that most garden bloggers speak negatively of French double digging for precisely this reason, “the aching back.” Dryer drum bed building does not make me ache; it makes me feel great. But if you are not willing to do about 2 or 3 hours of rejuvenative body work every week, you probably should not do this gardening method.

There are free instructional videos of regenerative body work on the Internet, and they are very good despite being free of charge. This is Falun Gong, be sure to download the one that says, “All 5 In Succession.”


This is a free yoga video, exactly an hour in length. It is very complete and very effective: