Growing as much food on as little land for as little money as possible

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Know Thy Enemy. Weeds. Dock

We all know that we must eradicate Docks from our plots right. Well maybe not.

Nature hates bare soil. Apart from earthquakes and landslides you hardly ever see bare earth in nature. Nature deals with bare earth in the same way your body deals with a wound and tries to cover it up as soon as possible. Docks and other pioneer plants are natures scab protecting the soil from damage from the sun, wind and rain. When it comes to bare soil, if you don’t put something there to cover it, nature will try to do it for you. This is why you have ‘weeds’. In some ways you are fighting a loosing battle. The more you try to clear the soil the more nature will try to cover it up so really you are just making more work for yourself.

I know you have always tried to eradicate things such as Docks from your allotments but do you know why you are going to all this trouble or is it just the way it has always been done.

Docks do have some benefits. They will grow in very poor soil and they are an indicator of poor overworked soil. This is why you see them in farmers fields. They have deep tap roots so do not compete with your shallow rooted annual vegetables as much as you think and because of their deep roots they bring up minerals from the subsoil. They are what’s known as a Dynamic Accumulator. They also benefit compacted soil aiding soil structure and drainage.

The best way to deal with Docks is to snip them off before they go to seed and either let them rot on the surface as a mulch or put them into your compost heap as Docks make great compost activators.

I tend to just snap off the dock leaves as and when I see them and let them break down on the surface thus releasing all their goodness back into the soil. If you do this as and when you see the leaves in your beds you will not give the docks a chance to thrive and they will eventually give up and die.

Another way to reduce the amount of docks is to not dig your beds each year. Docks thrive in poor soil and so breaking up the soil each year gives them the perfect breeding ground. If you refrain from digging the number of Docks will decrease as your soil improves.  Keeping the soil covered with other plants will also discourage weeds of all sorts.

If you try to dig them up you will end up spreading them about and you will end up with a bigger problem than you had before, another great reason for not digging the soil.

Dock are edible -Although I have never tried them- and are related to sorrel. They are rich in vitamin C and have many medicinal uses. They also have antihistamine properties and conveniently grow near nettles.

So, before you reach for the fork or even worse the Roundup just think why you are trying to kill that weed and could it actually be a benefit to you and your garden.

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We have added another ‘No Dig Bed’ to the allotment

Last year we didn’t grow that much veg because we started  late in the season and we didn’t really have anywhere to bring on seedlings etc but this year we want to grow a lot more so we needed another raised bed.

We decided to build it in this unused part of the allotment that had an old plastic composter and a pile of rubbish left by the last plotholder.

This is where we are going to build the new bed

We are basically extending an existing bed which was really interesting because I needed to remove the blocks forming the end of one of last years beds and it gave me a chance to see a cross section of a year old no dig bed.


Year old no dig bed cross section1

Year old no dig bed cross section1

You can see that the cardboard and the manure has completely broken down into a lovely rich soil and the original topsoil from the allotment has been drawn up into the raised bed presumably by worms.

Year old no dig beds cross section2

You can see the original soil level and the lighter coloured soil has been drawn up a good 4 inches.

I started by cutting the grass and weeds with the shears, I left all the cuttings in the bed as they will rot down and add to the fertility of the soil.

I then added a good layer of wilted nettles

Nettles added to new raised bed

Next I put a good 6 inches of well rotted manure.

The manure layer

And a very thin layer of grass clipping. It is important not to put too much grass on at one time or they wont rot down quickly enough.

The grass layer

And then a couple of inches of compost which gives a nice layer to plant into.

The finished bed

So this is the finished bed complete with canes for the runner beans.

The bed was given a good drenching between each layer.

This bed will be planted over the next week or so

Here is a great video on how to build a no dig bed.




No Dig Gardening

One thing I hate about gardening is digging and it turns out the garden hates it too. It occurred to me a number of years ago whilst driving in the car that the hedgerows and the verges looked lush and vibrant all on their own without much effort on the part of humans. No one is out digging the verges over every year. They are not out there fertilising, watering or weeding  the hedgerows. How come they just do their own thing and do so well.

This just remained  a weird thought rattling around in my head until I started to listen to Jack Spirko at The Survival Podcast going on about Permaculture.

Until I heard Jack talk about permaculture I thought it was some hippy dippy nonsense involving the phases of the moon and dancing naked around the compost heap but Jack is definitely not a hippy and what he was saying really made sense. I don’t want to go into Permaculture too much in this post as I’m sure I will cover it more in the future.

So I decided to start using Permaculture principles  on my allotment and the fist thing we tried was not digging the soil. All the other plot owners think I am nuts and and think you must dig the soil every year. When I ask them why they just say something like “It’s always been done that way”.

“So how do we plant plants if you don’t dig?” I hear you ask. Good question. You mimic what nature does and you add material to the surface and then you plant into that. We do have to watch out sometimes with this approach. In the tropics -where a lot of permaculture is practised- they don’t have a slug problem like we do here in damp Cornwall. If you mimic nature and mulch with leaves etc you may end up with a huge slug problem. Because of this I will be using composted material and or manure as a mulch.

We have  tried a couple of methods with our grow beds. One with cardboard and one without. It is much easier if you don’t use cardboard and we didn’t end up with more weed in the beds we didn’t use card.

All we did was build some raised beds using whatever we could find for free locally. A couple of beds were made from broken scaffold boards and another was made using discarded breeze  blocks from a garage that had been knocked down. I then cut the grass and weeds inside the beds with a pair of shears and filled the beds with a mixture of home made compost and manure from a local stables. We then planted straight into these and the results were amazing considering we didn’t get the allotment until August last year.

Benefits of no dig gardening are

  1. A lot less work
  2. Instantly great soil
  3. Better water retention
  4. Soil life (worms, bacteria, fungi etc) benefits from not being disturbed
  5. Soil erosion is eliminated
  6. Damage by UV reduced

This is still at the experimental stage for me but so far I am really pleased with the results. We have not really done much to the beds except occasional mulching over the winter and there is very little weeding to be done before re planting.

The best source of information on “No Dig” gardening in the UK is Charles Dowding’s Website

I will be re visiting no dig and other alternative growing methods throughout the coming season.

Here is a great video on constructing a No Dig Bed