Our first step was to measure out the bed size. For us, this is 16 feet by 50 feet. This will allow for four 30 inch rows, with an 18 inch walkway between each. This is now going to be our standard size for our plots. This way we will be able to buy a standard size tarp and use it on all future beds.
Step two is to mow the bed as short as you can. You don't want to make the job harder than it needs to be. This keeps the tiller from binding up too much. We chose to mow it, and then let it sit a day or two in the sun, to help "burn" the grass and weeds a bit. For us this makes it easier to till.
Then step three was finished this morning, tilling. We only have a small tiller, so my son and I take turns, so neither of us is hurting our arms too much. It's a great little tiller, and it works wonderfully, even with our hard clay. One of our battles is the crabgrass that is everywhere. It tends to bog up the tiller, but by letting the ground "burn" a little, it helps break it up.
Step four will be this afternoon, when we rake it out. This is to get the residual weeds and grass out. All of this will be put in the firepit to burn. We cannot add crabgrass to our compost heap, as it just takes over. It will not decompose like other things.
Tomorrow will be step five, which takes between 2-4 weeks. We will be covering the entire bed in tarps. I can't find the type locally that Jean Martin Fortier describes in his book, so we will be using the tarps that are brown on one side, silver on the other. If you place it with the silver side down, the brown side absorbs the heat, and the silver reflects it into the ground, killing off the weeds. We found this out by accident last year, so it's a very good option for us.
When this is done, and I am hoping since we are in a good stretch of heat, that it should only take 2 weeks, we will then rake any new weeds that have sprouted, and create the beds of 30 inches, add composted manure, and get more seeds and seedlings in the ground. I am still planning out what this first bed will have in it. I will keep you updated on what will be available though.
I don't expect the crabgrass to disappear permanently on the first try, so I will be laying down black plastic in the walking rows to help keep it at bay. With this method, within a year or two, each permanent bed should be well established to help keep the weeds out. One of the keys of this method is to make sure that when it doesn't have crops in it, it has a cover crop, or a tarp over it. This prevents the weed seeds from germinating, or blowing in. Our plan is to have a cover crop by fall in the bed, and any that follow, to add green manure and much needed nutrients to improve the soil.
Stay tuned for updates!