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Thursday, January 31, 2013

No Dig Gardening

I grew up on a potato farm and remember riding in the tractor with my father as he tilled the earth. The smell of freshly plowed dirt still takes me back to my youth. I also gardened with my parents as a child and all of my life we would add compost to our garden and till it in.

A few years ago I started researching no till/no dig methods of gardening and it intrigued me. I thought about the beautiful forests here in the Wasatch mountains and the fact that they never needed to be tilled to get new growth. The no till method seemed natural to me, and my back liked the idea of not having to till or dig up the earth. I started a no till portion of our garden and it has worked really well.

The main feature of the no dig method is found in it's title. The earth is not tilled or dug. Manure, compost, straw, and other organic materials are added directly to the surface. Proponents of the no dig method argue that digging can displace nutrients and compact the soil, harm beneficial microbes and life in the soil, and bring weed seeds to the surface causing more weeds to exist. As always you can also find literature to negate these claims.

I am of the belief that there are a lot of ways to successfully farm and garden. I am not against tilling personally and I still own a tiller for part of my garden. I wanted to mention this method to give people and idea of another method to use to be more self sufficient. If you don't like tilling, digging, and weeding then the no till method might be something for you to try. The videos in this post are done by No Dig Gardening. Their site has great information on the no dig method and the videos are awesome.

What are your thoughts on the no dig method. Have you done it? 



daisy said...

I have a square-foot bed, so I don't till, but I want to investigate this method as I plan to expand the garden. Thanks for sharing your experience!

David said...

Michael, now you are talking my language. I'm not against tilling either but I just think as I am aging and looking toward the future of my gardening, that easier is better. I'm in process of bringing about 7800 square feet garden under cultivation with only hand tools. My favorite gardener was Ruth Stout who amazed folks with her no digging gardening some 40 years ago. My method of initial weed control was to beg a couple of large 4X4 foot hay bales of spoiled hay to cover part of the garden. A couple loads of regular baled hay from relatives covered more area. Then this fall I scoured the neighborhood hauling some 694 yard bags of grass/leaf mixture that most had been crunched through the lawn mower. It covered the garden about a foot deep with mulch. Next spring I'll just plant through the mulch without disturbing the soil. Each year will add another foot of mulch to the garden. The 7800 square foot garden will become a living compost heap that plants can draw nutrients from. Well, that's my plan anyway. It's all in the infancy stage and totally an experiment.

Hugelkultur is another amazing raised bed philosophy. It uses huge chunks of wood to make raised beds. The shallow trench is dug and all material from cardboard, shredding paper, twigs, branches and huge chunks of wood are piled in the trench. Any kind of mulch is piled on top and the dirt from the trench is then put back on top of that. The bed has to set for one year as composting wood will leach all the nitrogen out of the soil in the initial stages of decomposition. After that great benefits result from the buried wood pile that continues for over a decade. Since I have big brush pile from clearing the garden land, I'm thinking about experimenting with hugelkultur too.

Have a great no dig garden day.

Mike said...

Dave: Wow, you know your stuff. I can honestly say I have never heard of Hugelkultur. Have you blogged about it on your blog yet? I would love to read more about it.

Anonymous said...

We call it "lasagna gardening" around here (northwest British Columbia) and slope it so the north is higher than the south, to catch those precious rays of sun. Our rainforest is dark and misty, so every bit of sun-catching technology is a boon.

I plant my climbers (like beans) to the north so they don't shade the little guys in the south, with tomatoes in the middle.

We have a wonderful compost product here, "Sea Soil," which is composted salmon skin and guts. Don't worry, no smell, and rich dark compost to add to my own home-made compost.

It is a true joy to rake leaves from the yard right onto the garden in the fall, watch it melt down, cover it with Sea Soil in the spring then plant seeds or seedlings.

I have two round raised beds (which I can reach from all sides.) The finishing touches are 1. scary looking sticks to keep the neighbourhood cats off while the fresh sea soil looks so tempting then, 2. a decorative flexible fencing about 18 inches high, which I can reach over but looks like too much trouble to jump over once the plants are filling out and growing.