For a lot of people (me included) digging is literally a pain. However, did you know that you don’t need to, and in fact, shouldn’t be digging the soil in your garden?
Why – or why not?
The soil is sometimes the last thing we gardeners think about, as we tend to focus on what’s above it. Those pesky weeds that have come back yet again, the rose bush that is crying out for a prune, the tiny increments of growth from our favourite perennial (for me it’s the expensive peonies I bought last year which are just showing their crimson heads to my great relief). But underneath all that, there is so much important work going on. Fungi, or more accurately their mycelia or roots, nematodes, protozoa, bacteria, beetles, spiders, millipedes, and of course the humble earth worm all make the soil beneath our feet their home. All the autumn leaves, dead stems and roots that have been left and built up have been incorporated into what should be a healthy habitat for all those creatures, and the roots of our garden plants.
The best thing is to let them all get on with it, and that means not disturbing them by digging or treading on their home. It also means not adding anything artificial or harmful such as artificial fertiliser, pesticides or herbicides (weedkillers). By digging you are destroying the structure of your soil – also it is thought that up to 50% of fungi are destroyed instantly when the soil is turned.
So how do you do that?
Compost is the answer. That’s a whole other blog, I know. By adding organic matter to the top of the soil, in the form of a layer or mulch, and letting those creatures that are in the soil already get on with incorporating it into their own environment. Compost will start to become part of the top 30cm layer of your soil within six months of being put down. And spring is the best time to be doing this, as the web of soil inhabitants are becoming active in the warming days.
If you are starting from scratch, or a patch that is particularly weedy, you can put a thick layer of cardboard on top – best to do it in the autumn – and top that with some compost. That layer will suppress the weed growth by eliminating light, and it will gradually weaken and eventually die. Any perennial weeds that come up can simply be cut or pulled off above the surface so that their leaves won’t be able to photosynthesise and they will gradually weaken. This has the benefit of providing more material for your compost (the leaves of most weeds will not re-root and do not contain seeds).
The cardboard will eventually rot down too and become a contributor to the soil structure.
At the Croft we are starting from scratch with our perennial vegetable beds, so we have lots of cardboard layed out where we want the beds to be, weighed down with old tyres against the wild Galloway winds. We are starting to build up a good stock of our own compost in our compost bays which we will spread on top of these layers and will start to plant up, hopefully towards the end of this year.
And all of this without a single spade going into the soil, or a single knee joint or hip being strained!
For more information about No Dig, consult any books or articles by the amazing Charles Dowding, who is the No Dig Guru