Save time and effort by helping natural processes to work with you. No dig allows soil to develop its own aerated structure, so vegetables and flowers grow more easily. Weeds grow less because undisturbed soil does not need to recover: I say that from 35 years of no dig experience.
- Fertility building from on top is a copy of natural processes, where organic matter always lands on top. Worms and soil fauna travel upwards to find the food.
- As soil life increases, the soil becomes better aerated. A better result more quickly, and without the disadvantages of digging such as loss of moisture & structure, damage to soil life including worms and fungi, extra weeds growing after digging, expense of time and labour.
- The soil surface, even on sticky clay, becomes darker and crumbly, with a consistently good tilth of fine yet stable soil crumbs. It’s easy to hoe (if needed) or pull weeds from, and needs less water.
- Throughout the soil, there is a proliferation of beneficial bacteria and fungi such as mycorrhizae. They help plant roots to find nutrients and moisture, which may often have been present already, but sometimes remain unavailable to roots if biological activity is low.
My dig/no dig experiments at Homeacres and Lower Farm show that most vegetables grow more strongly and healthily on the no dig beds, for less effort and time needed. The no dig bed on right needs four hours less per year than it’s neighbouring dug bed.
- The quality of harvests is sometimes different, for example the root vegetables from undug soil come out cleaner, and I see less slug damage to the no dig vegetables.
In summary, no dig/no till saves time, gives bigger harvests, is ecologically beneficial and keeps carbon in the soil.
After a year or so of no dig, your beds have a more stable soil structure and with better drainage than if you were regularly loosening them. You can even walk on them when needed. Occasionally to take a short cut I push a heavy wheelbarrow across my beds and there is no sinking in, or ill effect.
It’s so heartening to consider all the benefits for soil life. For example, fungi are mostly invisible and less obvious than earthworms, but Claire Lassman, biologist from Frome, Somerset writes: “I come from a mycorrhizal background and no dig makes complete sense, because plants can simply ‘plug in’ to an established soil network, with immediate access to nutrients rather than having to start anew”.
So is No Dig Easy?
Yes, because you can grow the same amount of food in a smaller space, and with less time needed for weeding. No dig can be practiced without spreading much organic matter, but some on the surface is good. An annual dressing of compost accelerates the improvement in soil structure, and is particularly worthwhile for growing good vegetables.
In dry climates the surface mulch can be straw, hay, grass and any undecomposed organic matter. In climates where slugs are prevalent, compost works best.
In temperate climates, all that soil needs is a cover of compost, to maintain it’s life and enable plants to feed. Adding compost is as much about enabling soil to mobilise it’s resources, as about adding new nutrients. Compost is not ‘fertiliser’ in the common sense of the word: it is soil food.
Hence there is no need to spread more compost after clearing crops in summer! Simply sow or plant the next vegetables/flowers, there is goodness in the soil waiting to feed them.
Spread an inch or two of homemade compost, or composted animal manure, or purchased compost every autumn ideally, but you can spread compost at any time of year. The compost is a mulch that protects soil. Winter weather breaks its lumps into softer pieces by spring, with some help from light passage of a rake.
If the benefits of no dig growing appeal to you then carry on reading to find out how to get started.