No dig gardening: How do you start a no dig bed?

The warm weather and sunshine has prompted many people tend to their gardens. One method of gardening that has been gaining popularity over the years is the no dig method.

What is no dig gardening?

Generation after generation have been told that digging is the best way to prepare soil for planting.

However, no dig innovator Charles Dowding says that is not the case.

Speaking to Gardens Illustrated, Dowding explained: “So much that happens in the soil is invisible, and can work for us if we allow it by minimising soil disturbance, so not digging, and feeding soil workers with organic matter.

“This results in a soil that is structured rather than loose and crumbly: roots can penetrate but also find anchorage, and flourishing populations of micro-organisms help to supply nutrients.

“Weeds tend to grow less and are more easily removed from soil cared for with the no dig method.”

How to start a no dig bed

To start a no dig bed you will need plenty of organic matter and a sheet of light-excluding material, such as cardboard.

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Plastics or carpets are not recommended.

The objective is to block the light so weeds can’t grow and to cover the soil with a rich organic mulch.

Firstly, slash down tall weed foliage to ground level and put it on the compost heap.

Then place the sheets of light-excluding material so that the ground is completely covered.

Next, lay down a large layer of organic mulch.

This can be a combination of homemade compost, fully-rotted manure, grass, leaves, bark or straw.

Ideally, the mulch should be 15 to 20 centimetres thick.

Next, tread it down firmly and over time it will rot to create a rich soil texture, allowing weeds to be easily pulled out.

Gardeners should also be aware that it can take six months to a year to completely weaken the weeds.

Once the bed is cultivated, apply another layer (at least 15cm) of mulch.

Firm down the area and you can now plant or sow directly into the surface compost.

“Two features stand out in three years of comparisons between vegetables grown in soil that has been cared for with the dig and no dig method,” Dowding added to Gardens Illustrated.

“Firstly, spring growth is stronger and healthier in the no dig beds, whereas the dug beds tend to catch up in autumn.

“This suggests that soil needs time to recover from being disturbed by digging. Secondly, the main vegetables that grow bigger on dug soil are brassicas, whose roots do not use mycorrhizal associations to help them forage for nutrients.

“This supports the important point that soil cultivation is damaging to soil fungi, mycorrhizae above all.”

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