So, I’ve been doing lots of reading over the winter and researching the principles of “no-dig”. I’ve also booked myself onto a Charles Dowding course in April so I’m hoping to be fully knowledgeable in all things no-dig quite soon. The principles of it are great and make total sense to me. It’s basically working with nature, not against it. This is my interpretation of it in a nutshell:
Rather than digging over beds and undertaking relentless weeding with a hand fork, you simply cover the surface of the soil once or twice a year with a layer of fresh organic matter (i.e good homemade compost). This does two things. Firstly it means that you don’t disturb the soil thus allowing the soil’s natural eco-system of bacteria and insects/bugs to break down organic matter and improve both the drainage and the quality of the soil. Secondly, it suppresses weeds, giving you more time to spend on being a bit creative in your garden and tending to your plants.
To get started seems relatively straightforward, especially if you have raised beds in your veg patch. Simply cover the beds with a 5-6 inch deep layer of compost. That’s it. You don’t even need to weed or dig beforehand. (The only exception is if you have weeds with tough roots like brambles and docks. They should be carefully uprooted.) Do this in April/May and you can plant out your veg plants immediately and start growing. You won’t see it happening, but while your veggies are growing, weeds underneath will be dying off (starved of light), worms will be working the beds for you and your soil will be improving all the time.
It’s worth noting that if you are building raised beds from scratch, you don’t even need to dig up the grass beforehand (but you should pull up bramble/dock roots). Just build the wooden sides of you beds, lay a sheet of cardboard over the grass (this will really help block light reaching the grass beneath) and then fill with compost as above. The cardboard will decompose and the grass will just die off, and while all that is happening behind the scenes you can be busily growing veg!
Now, you should notice a difference in the number of weeds even in the first summer, but that doesn’t mean it will be completely weed-free. New weed seeds will be blown in or well germinate from the compost. So it’s vital to have a hoe and hoe the new weeds when they are still tiny shoots. As far as I understand, by the following year you’ll notice that there are fewer and fewer weeds.
Every spring, you’ll need to top up the beds, but just with an inch thick layer of fresh compost and that will be enough to keep the no-dig method working. (I think I’ll also do a top up in early autumn as I intend to grow over the winter again this year.) By the second or third season, you should really notice that your soil quality has improved, and you should notice that you have way more time to spend drinking gin and tonic in the garden while you watch your plants grow! 😉
It seems so logical and, importantly, easy! I’m looking forward to starting – now I just need to find a cheap (aka free) source of compost as my own compost pile hasn’t produced a huge amount just yet. Time to find a friendly farmer….