Starting with a weedy mess is normal and if so, my pdf has some tips for clearing ground, with and without using a fork or spade.
Allan Cavill, Regional Director and South West Mentor of the National Allotment Association, says that no dig allotments stand out for their fewer weeds and healthy plants; he is surprised there is not more take up of no dig on allotments. He is worth contacting for advice, having practised no dig on his plot since the 1960s.
Claire Lassman, a biologist from Frome in Somerset, wrote in June 2016 that “On the allotment site where I have a plot, it is easy to tell those who use no dig because the veg they grow is so vibrant”.
Below is a tale of two allotments…
Nottingham Allotment, reclaimed and run without digging
Here are some pictures of Robin Baxter’s no dig allotment in Ilkeston, Derbyshire which he took over in a dire state, just after visiting Lower Farm in 2008. The images are testament to his commitment and to the fact that he is no stranger to hard graft where it is needed, mostly at the beginning stages. The plot is now clean, fertile, needs much less input of time and he grows a lot of delicious food there now.
Robin now is master gardener for Garden Organic in Rye Prison nr Coventry, running a hugely successful programme, helping prisoners through their involvement in creating a beautiful garden, on Ministry of Defence lack-of-soil! Robin’s work is receiving much acclaim from university researchers.
Bruton, Somerset: Steph Hafferty
Here are some photos of Steph’s allotment in Bruton where, instead of digging in 2008/9, Steph spread green waste compost and some cow manure on beds that were already in place, just slightly raised soil with no wooden edges or borders of any kinds. Before that she had done a thorough weed although many annual weeds would have been smothered by the three inch covering.
The soil is heavy clay and perennial weeds are endemic to the site – creepng tourmentil, couch grass and bindweed, but no marestail. Steph had got on top of the perennials during the two preceding seasons but was not harvesting a huge amount of vegetables, especially in autumn and winter.
By this stage we had fourteen slightly raised beds with narrow pathways between them. The green waste compost contained quite a few small bits of wood and is not hugely rich in nutrients, but was free of weed seeds and served as an initial weed suppressing and life enhancing mulch. Worms could now get busy while fungi, bacteria and all the vital organisms needed for a healthy, fertile could multiply.
Then in 2012, Alan did a sponsored bike ride and was absent a lot so he suggested that Steph help out with his allotment. Her idea was to spread cow manure about two inches thick and weed any plants pushing through, with winter squash planted in June. However… the weather messed this up rather as a combination of residual weeds and slugs and a lack of good weeding weather meant that harvests were small on Alan’s plot, although good as usual on her own allotment, with few weeds.
In 2013 and 2014, she mulched Alan’s plot with polythene and composted manure, before planting squash, beans, potatoes and brassicas, with good results.
On her plot she grew great gar;ic and onions, followed by some stunning autumn and winter brassicas including calabrese, Brussels sprouts and savoy cabbage.