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


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