Why No Dig
Save time and effort by helping natural processes to work with you: undisturbed soil can develop its own aerated structure so vegetables/flowers grow more easily and weeds grow less.
- Fertility building from on top is a copy of natural processes (forest floor, animal excretion on pastures) and works really well for vegetable and flower growing.
- Worms and soil fauna are encouraged and as they increase the soil becomes better aerated, without the disadvantages of digging (loss of moisture & tilth, extra weeds, expense of time and labour).
- In time, the soil surface, even on sticky clay, becomes darker and crumbly with a consistently good tilth of fine but stable soil crumbs.
- Throughout the soil, there is a proliferation of beneficial fungi, such as mycorrhizae, and bacteria. These help plant roots to find the nutrients and moisture they need, which may often be present already, but can remain unavailable to roots because of a lack of biological activity.
- Perennial weeds need clearing by initial mulching.
- experiments at Homeacres and Lower Farm have found that vegetables often grow more strongly and more healthily on the undug beds. The quality of harvests is noticeably and intriguingly different, for example the root vegetables from undug soil come out cleaner. My dig/no dig
- In summary, soil has its own life and structure, it benefits us to encourage and respect it.
After a year or so of no dig, your beds have a more stable soil structure than if you were regularly loosening them. From this point onwards, you can even walk on them when needed. Occasionally to take a short cut I even push a heavy wheelbarrow across my beds and there is no sinking in or ill effect.
In no dig, its 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 of not needing to dig, and having less weeds; but no dig does not mean no work! The lesser input of time is in other ways that lead to higher fertility and less weeds. No dig can be practiced without spreading much organic matter, but an annual dressing of compost helps accelerate the improvement in soil structure and is definitely worthwhile for growing good vegetable crops.
In dry climates the surface mulch can be straw, hay, grass and any unrotted organic matter which is all enough to allow sowing and planting. In climates where slugs are prevalent, compost works best.
I aim to spread an inch or two of my own compost, or composted animal manure, or purchased compost every autumn, so that winter weather can break its lumps into a tilth by spring, with some help from my rake. The organic matter is placed on beds only, about three fifths of the total area.
If the benefits of No Dig growing appeal to you then carry on reading to find out how to get started.