Going No Dig from previously Dug Beds

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    Hi Charles
    I would like to change my four 5×4 meter beds to no dig ,do I just stop digging?,as the beds are quite big we create paths between the crops each year in different places will this compact the soil if we dont dig each year



    Mark, in a word, yes! Stop digging, mulch the surface.

    You will be walking on the compost that now will be on top, and thanks to your new no dig approach, the soil will develop a firmer and stable structure, so it won’t compact when you walk between crops.
    Your feet may make it firmer than the soil nearby, but that is not compaction, and roots like growing into firm soil, plus are helped in that by the undisturbed fungi.


    long hazel park

    We have changed to No Dig this season for our raised beds after 50 years plus of traditional digging. We were converted after a fabulous presentation at Hauser and Wirth Bruton recently by Charles. For the past 21 years running Long Hazel Park we have re-cycled the grass cuttings and leaves from our three and a half acre private park by using it as a mulch around the hedgerows and in the flower borders and vegetable garden. Our first job was to relocate about 40 large builders’ wheelbarrow loads of the rotted compost we had on site (to make room for this year’s cuttings) and use it to place a good six inches over the whole surface of the raised beds. Today we bagged up some fine rotted compost we had and created some seed beds and planted beetroot, spring onion seeds, shallots, early nantes carrots and radish. We also planted some early Scottish seed potatoes and some Estima seed potatoes purchased from Rocky Mountain Nurseries who always have a good selection of seed potatoes and you can pick out your own from large sacks. Our raised beds are shielded by a close boarded fence on one side and a tall beech hedge on the other. We have fleece at the ready in case of frost when new shoots appear. Last week the whole site was under two foot of snow so we hope we have not been too hasty. Time will tell. We usually plant early and mulch with compost as the first shoots appears but fleece was very useful last spring and we did not suffer much frost damage. We usually start digging new potatoes in June. Life is so much easier now using the No Dig method. No more back braking digging although we are about to plant a further 100 beech tree saplings this weekend to create a new hedge.



    Nice to hear this Long Hazel.
    Just on potatoes, I think you are early, however if protected from frost you may be ok!
    I plant first earlies at end March and the others mid April. We can have frost here up to mid May.




    In a similar vein to Mark, we are thinking of switching from digging to no-digging. Thank you so much, Charles, for this amazing site with so much great information about the no-dig method – I only wish we had found it before this morning’s heavy digging session on our clayey allotment! As we were digging away, my partner said he was sure he’d heard of a no-dig method, and after reading your site I think we will make the switch 🙂

    A couple of questions:

    We would like to avoid plastic if possible – Is cardboard an acceptable alternative in Option 1 (on this page: http://www.charlesdowding.co.uk/no-dig-growing/no-dig-growing-preparation/) and if so, would you weigh it down with bricks, stones, etc. round the edges, or do you have other suggestions about how to go about it?

    At the moment, our allotment organisation aren’t allowing large deliveries of compost etc. because the tracks are too muddy and tractors and trailers would churn it all up too much. If we went for Option 2 in April or May, once they let trailers back on, would we then be able to plant things like squash, courgettes, etc. into the compost in May or June? Or would we need to wait until next year? Would the “carboard under compost + slightly thinner layer of compost” idea work in this scenario?

    In the bed which we’ve just dug (why, oh why??!!), there will be potatoes – some earlies and some maincrop. How should we go about starting no-dig on that bed for next year? Should we wait until they’re all harvested, then add the compost? Or could we add the compost around the potatoes and then harvest them bit by bit? (I’d usually leave the maincrops in the ground and harvest a trugload at a time until January or so.)

    Thank you very much,




    Gabrielle, better late than never!
    Yes cardboard on top is an option for 1, wighted with stones of wooden posts, whatever you find that is weighty.
    If spreading compost in spring, you can sow and plant on the day of making beds, no need to wait!
    Be sure to tread the compost firm before planting, you can’t ‘compact’ it.
    For potatoes, spread compost around plants as they are growing, even drop a shovelful over the stems of each. Then harvest as you normally do.
    SO you have harvest and the ground is going no dig. Think of soil organisms as always happy to accept food.



    There was a short item on Radio 4 this morning just before 7AM about Harper Adams university in which they mentioned the development of lighter farm machinery to reduce compaction of the soil. One of the disadvantages of ploughing is that one of the rear wheels of the tractor drops into the furrow and compacts the sub soil forming a “pan” which then needs breaking up every few years with a subsoiler – yet another mechanical operation using yet more diesel!
    No-dig is getting mainstream.

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