How Do I Prepare A Seedbed?

freshly sown bed of corn
freshly sown bed of corn

Well prepared soil is the secret to raising good crops and flowers from seed.

The basic steps are:

1. Clear existing crops and weeds. Compost them (not shown);

2. Spread rotted compost or manure over the surface of the bed (not shown);

3. Dig the soil to the depth of a spade, turning the soil to bury any weed seedlings, and breaking up any large clods as you progress.

If soil is soft and reasonably moist (as here), use a spade. If soil is hard and solid, use a fork;

4. Rake roughly level;

5. Tread over the bed using ‘pigeon steps’. Place your feet close together so that you tread over the whole surface, gently compacting the surface.

Digging fluffs up the soil, making the surface uneven. Treading gently treading it primes it.

I was shocked when the editor of a well-respected gardening magazine wrote to me when I recommended pigeon stepping over a seed bed  “You can’t encourage people to walk on a garden bed!” But pigeon steps are vital to effective seed bed preparation, not optional.

6. Rake gently over and create a level surface ready for sowing or planting. You’ll notice I use a rake with metal tines;

In this video you will notice I saved a self-sown lettuce and a self-sown endive plant. These were within the rows of corn that I planned to sow later. Their retention does not affect crop rotation.

This is my standard method for seedbed preparation and, over five years, helped create the fertile, freely draining, easy to dig soil that has sustained consistent crop production through drought (2005 – 2010) and summer floods (2011, 2012, 2013).

After sowing with corn, I thinly mulched the surface using chopped organic sugarcane. This veneer doesn’t blanket the soil completely, but it does shade it, helping retain moisture and keeping the soil temperature more even, all conditions that aid germination.

Watch the video below and happy sowing!

Jerry Coleby-Williams

16th September 2013


5 Comments Add yours

  1. Thank you for your enticing ‘seed saving’ talk at the Carnival of Flowers yesterday. I am planting my First Fleet lettuce seeds this morning. Cannot wait to share with our ‘friends of Bunnyconnellen’ on their visits to our Cellar Door and Pop-Up Cooking Schools.

  2. Maggie Good says:

    This is so helpful Jerry. After watching the video I realise I’m omitting some steps, literally. I wonder if I make ‘coo coo’ noises as I pigeon step will it enhance the fertility of my soil? I’ve only just found your blog and it’s a goldmine of info. Thankyou thankyou.

  3. Debbie Yauch says:

    Thanks for the enjoyable read, Jerry. Glad you included the pigeon steps. When we worked at Brockley Nursery oh so long ago, John Hale used to call it the ‘Lewisham shuffle.’

    1. Fantastic! I don’t recall him saying that. Now I feel all nostalgic! xo

  4. Ros giles says:


    This is awesome we have a similar sized block as you about 800m away and our soil is like rock. Suggests I have a lot of prep to do.

    Thank you

    Ros giles

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.