Is 'no dig' gardening lazy or are we just replicating nature?
- Credit: Stefan Crew
Stefan Drew writes for the Herald on behalf of the Sid Valley Biodiversity Group.
I was taught to plough fields and dig gardens. The science of the day was that it was the way to manage land properly and get high yields of good quality crops.
Today science is teaching us something different. It is a natural approach to growing crops, based on the latest scientific findings, but thought to be Lazy Gardening by some traditionalists.
The technique is called No Dig gardening, it’s been made popular in recent years by Charles Dowding and I have to confess to being a convert.
In its simplest form No Dig consists of covering the soil with a thick layer of compost into which plants are planted. It replicates nature.
Nature doesn’t dig, it deposits leaves and other organic material on the surface for the worms to incorporate.
And we only have to look at jungles to see that the result can be some of the most luxuriant growth and abundant biodiversity known to mankind.
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It works because it encourages the soil microfauna to proliferate. Everything from beneficial bacteria and fungi to earthworms thrive in these natural conditions. And it doesn’t end there.
Because the soil isn’t dug, weeds aren’t brought to the surface. And those few that blow in are easily removed from the rich friable compost.
Without weed competition the plants don’t have to fight for nutrients, light and water. They prosper in these conditions.
Over time the compost is broken down by the beneficial fungi and bacteria and is pulled in to the soil by worms.
The result is a free draining soil that also has the ability to retain moisture. Once a year all that’s needed is to replenish the compost layer.
Autumn is a good time for this and winter crops can be planted into the new compost layer within minutes.
Leaving roots of harvested crops in the soil wherever possible also helps the No Dig system.
The roots slowly break down and leave channels in the soil which further aid drainage. But there’s a further benefit.
When the plant was growing photosynthesis combined sunlight, water and carbon dioxide to produce sugars and other compounds.
Some of those compounds were stored in the roots and as they breakdown they sequester some of the carbon in to the soil.
We now know that digging and ploughing releases soil carbon whilst No Dig increases it.
The extra carbon and organic matter fuels biodiversity and a teaspoon of soil can contain millions of beneficial bacteria and fungi, making it the most biodiverse part of our gardens.
And this wealth of biodiversity means more diversity of everything else in the food chain, including pollinators that we need to pollinate our crops.
Without healthy soil we would ultimately starve. Encouraging healthy soil is that important.
Understanding how important healthy soils are to biodiversity, and our own existence, the biodiversity group, with Sidmouth Town Council’s help, have invited Charles Dowding to talk to local gardeners via Zoom on May 18 at 7pm.
Places are limited and need to be booked via EventBrite. We expect this free event to be 'sold out', so will be recording the event for those not fortunate enough to attend the live event.