Green Corn Project: Garden Part

By Helen Cordes

Do you yearn to grow your own veggies, but you’re stuck with less than stellar soil? Consider getting some friends together for a lesson in creative shoveling skills! “Double digging”—a technique of loosening and aerating soil, often as deep as two feet—has been used in each of the 600-plus food gardens that Green Corn Project volunteers have installed over the last decade.

Green Corn gardens are established where they’re needed most, and that often means planting in backyards and schoolyards where the soil has been neglected for decades. Double digging allows roots to grow deeper and access water more easily. Compost is added to the newly loosened soil and the once-hard dirt is transformed into a luscious, fluffy medium that’s ideal for robust plant growth. Double digging takes a bit more time and muscle power, but with the typical Green Corn team of four to six volunteers, the digging becomes a time to chat and trade garden lore as multiple spades and forks fly. 

And all of the extra work and tending ultimately pays off the most for people like Jude Filler, who sought a Green Corn garden after cancer left her in need of fresh, organic vegetables.

“Getting a garden dug like this is a real gift,” she says. “I’ve got wonderful vegetables right outside my door, and this garden saves me hundreds of dollars in produce.” The initial double dig left Jude’s garden easy to maintain, and she even had enough bounty to provide vegetables for another sick friend.

So here’s the plan: invite a group of friends over who are willing to trade a few hours of sweat equity for a stake in the eventual garden harvest. Make a few key investments like a good-quality spade, garden fork, rake and a copy of the double-digging bible, The Sustainable Vegetable Garden by John Jeavons and Carol Cox. Throw in some chilled local beverages and snacks for the garden party, and watch your backyard come alive with fun, friends and, eventually, food.

To learn about double digging firsthand, volunteer with Green Corn Project during the two dig-in seasons in spring and fall. For more information, visit