I used to dig, double dig, rotovate and till the garden and allotment but have a confession to make; I don’t till my garden anymore. I now use no dig farming methods throughout the yard.
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I got started in no dig gardening relatively recently after starting to redesign the garden. I began dismantling a raised wood planter that was in desperate need of rejuvenating and the compost inside was spread out as a ground level bed and this happened:
Now I don’t know about you but I struggled to see what is a weed and what is a seedling I had sown! I would spend hours and hours weeding rather than planting or sowing my flowers and crops.
This is typical of beds that have been dug over or cultivated with a tiller.
Why Dig Your Garden?
Digging has benefits to the soil
Let’s not also forget the aerobic exercise benefits of digging over garden beds; gardening can burn a lot of calories! According to Live Well – Jillian Michaels, doing 30 minutes of heavy gardening work including digging and you can be burning 115 – 315 calories.
So Why Don’t I Dig Anymore?
Turning the soil exposes dormant seeds buried in the ground to the light and warmth of the sun allowing them to germinate bringing to life the old saying “one year’s seeding means seven years weeding”.
A no-dig plot is much easier to maintain with less weeds.
You can see in the above picture that there are less weeds and they are easier to spot amongst the onions.
Digging the soil also disrupts the insects and micro-organisms which live in the soil and depletes nutrients by exposing them to water which leaches the essential nutrients out of the ground.
What Are The Benefits Of No Dig Farming And Gardening?
No dig gardening methods are often synonymous with permaculture methods. These methods maintain soil integrity and can arguably, improve soil health with reduced erosion and leaching of nutrients. It also reduces extremes in soil temperature.
This easy to care gardening method makes it ideal as you get older and struggle to manage the arduous task of digging. It also makes gardening less laborious for busy homes so you can spend your time enjoying the garden rather than tackling all the weeds.
Using no dig or no till gardening techniques allow you to grow on even the most compacted or unforgiving ground. This is because you are layering material on top of the problematic ground and as time goes on, nature will do it’s thing and the ground underneath will change.
Increase in Biodiversity
The number and diversity of soil insects, bacteria and other micro-organisms increases as well as moisture retention capability. Good soil is usually teeming with beetles, worms, nematodes and mites as well as billions of microscopic life. The flora and fauna of no-dig garden beds are vastly greater than commercial agriculture fields and soils where chemical fertilizers and pesticides are used.
Turning the soil exposes dormant seeds buried in the ground to the light and warmth of the sun allowing them to germinate
The soil micro-organisms including bacteria, protozoa and fungi are able to flourish on no dig systems partially due to the reduction in erosion from wind and water and also from the layering of soil amendments and mulches in this growing method. The structure of the soil improves as fungi hold particles together and the hummus content increases as earthworms and decomposition break down mulches and draw them into the ground.
As the structure of the soil changes, the chemical make up changes too. The available main elements for plants to grow change ratios depending on the soil amendments used. Levels of nitrogen (N), potassium (K) and phosphorus (P) sources are changed by layering manure, compost, rockdust, mulches and fertilizers on the bed.
By testing the soil in the autumn and in spring, you can add amendments to the soil after planting or just before the season starts so you can get the most out of your garden.
Let Nature Do The Digging
Earthworms are nature’s work horses of digging. They aerate the soil, improve water penetration and available nutrient levels. Worm castings a.k.a. worm poop are a fantastic source of nutrients for plants and in many cases, worms help drive plant roots deeper into the soil for greater stability.
The more worms you can encourage into your garden, the better the soil will be for your plants.
Why not start Worm Composting waste from the kitchen to reduce your carbon footprint and become more sustainable?
No dig gardening is also known as:
- Lasagna gardening or lasagna method
- Back To Eden gardening
- No work gardening
- Lazy gardening
- No till gardening
- Sheet mulching
- Sheet composting
The benefits of no-till farming in modern agriculture are economic as well as environmental. An increase in the organic matter of the soil, and a decrease in the amount of erosion mean more fertility, less fertilizer used and higher crop yields.
How To Convert An Existing Garden To No Dig
Mulches are the foundation of the no dig gardening method.
If you have an existing plot you want to convert to a no till garden, simply spread layers of good quality organic compost and mulch on top of the ground in autumn to stop erosion throughout winter. Plant up and sow seeds in spring as you normally would and use mulch to suppress weeds and retain moisture throughout the growing season.
Find out more about the types of mulch you can use in the garden in my previous post: Mulching.
Utilize green manures such as clover or buckwheat (they;re good for the bees too!) on fallow ground in between cropping or once a crop has been harvested, follow with a catch crop. Green manures can be smothered with mulch or cut and laid back on the bed.
If you want to know more about no dig gardening methods take a look at the following blogs and resources:
Tree Hugger: Try No Dig Gardening For Your Backyard Vegetables
Earth Easy: 5 Secrets To A No Work Garden
Journey To Sustainability: Back To Eden Gardening
Backyard Farming: No Dig Gardening
Charles Dowding: Why No Dig
Gardening At The Crossroads: No Dig Gardening
How do you garden? Do you dig or not? If you have any no-dig gardening tips please share them in the comments or the Misfit Gardening Community Forum, we would love you hear your ideas and tips.
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