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Thread: No dig disappointment

  1. #9
    Jay-ell's Avatar
    Jay-ell is offline Welcome To The Jungle
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    Do a bit at a time with what you've got whilst you figure out how to get more stuff to compost. The New Territories have improved with grass clippings as mulch but it's still going to be a while till the soil is the best. I did dig them at the start but I don't think digging improves the soil at all.
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  2. #10
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    I've been looking after my friend's veg garden for nearly 4 years now. When I started it had been used to grow potatoes and was full of perennial weeds, notably couch grass and creeping thistle. The first thing I did was dig the whole thing over and remove as much of the perennial roots and stray potatoes as I could. I then dug it again to remove anything I had missed before planting various veg. Every time a perennial weed appeared I dug it out to the best of my ability, but I didn't dig the whole thing again.

    The system now is as follows:
    I start the year with last year's hotbed full of horse manure that has rotted down over the past 10 months or so. I also have about 4 of the large grow bags that have been growing tomatoes in the greenhouse, and 8-10 buckets of potato compost from last year, plus some compost from the compost bin.

    As each crop is harvested, having removed any weeds I empty a bucket of potato compost (or some of the tomato compost for later crops) onto the soil and spread it out. I then plant through this for the next year's crop.

    The contents of the hotbed and compost bin are used to fill the buckets for the next crop of potatoes, and some of the remaining tomato compost is used for the top layer of the new hotbed, made with fresh horse manure. I buy new grow bags for the greenhouse tomatoes.

    Now that the perennial weeds have gone, the only digging involved is for things like parsnips that won't pull out. There are far fewer annual weeds than for dug soil (I can vouch for this from my experience with the allotment) and the ones that do appear can easily be pulled out. The crops I've had have been good - the soil was in good condition when I started, and the plot gets plenty of sun, so I would expect things to grow well anyway. The biggest problem, as always, is slugs.

    Once I have finished digging out the horsetail I intend to use this system on my allotment. The only requirement is a good supply of fresh horse manure.
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  3. #11
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    Snadger is online now Dundiggin
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    Like most people who have adopted a no-dig regime I have found an initial dig of the area is beneficial.

    No-dig on compacted soil will not take away the compaction. No-dig for many years on soil that was originally dug over will give good soil structure, if you don't walk on it.

    Compaction is the enemy of good crops. Foolishly, I thought that I wouldn't dig the area for brassicas as they like firm soil. As I found to my detriment, firm soil is different to compacted soil!


    In no-dig areas after an initial digging I have had better crops than in areas where regular digging is practised. Its not just the no-dig, but the addition of as much organic matter as you can get your hands on that increases the soil fertility and structure.
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  4. #12
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    I've just watched a video posted by SarrisUK on no-dig, but it is mentioned in Beech Grove and other programmes and mags and creating a new Veg Garden from scratch (not cultivated for many years) that has get my interest. I couldn't get away from at least one initial dig. The ground is so hard that even if a carrot did grow, you wouldn't be able to harvest it. So I like the idea of less dig or perhaps dig once then fork over to prevent too much compaction. And following my last post on where to get all the materials, aware it is a long time thing.

    Think I'm going to start with the roots & onions and perhaps the legumes.
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  5. #13
    burnie is online now Veggie gardener
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    Proper crop rotation will help with no dig, so growing potatoes will mean you will dig each plant up once every 3 or 4 years, this will minimize compaction worries. Thing is your soil type will have an effect here, my sandy coastal soil does not compact, even where slabs were lifted from the main path to the house. If you live on heavy clay, you will have different problems. Now 75 percent of my growing is in raised beds that are never walked on, I am happy to say that my autumn digging has pretty much finished.
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  6. #14
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    I am not against no dig gardening, its the fact that some new gardeners are going to try this, Snadger made the point of there being a vast difference from firm and compacted soil, but he had enough experience to realise it was a mistake, New gardeners might not know this, when I read where some folk new to gardening are going try no dig reminds me of the number of people who were put off gardening after buying plants in flower from the likes of B&Q, going home and planting them in the garden, then them dyeing off, not because they were not planted right but due to the fact they were not hardened off first, so the garden didn't come up to their expectations, so felt gardening was a waste of time, as they couldn't get anything to grow
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  7. #15
    Bluenowhere is offline Sprouter
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    I agree it’s the gap between expectation and reality that is the problem.

    Chap a couple of allotments along took on a plot at the same time as us which like ours was rather neglected, covered in couch grass, bindweed, with docks and horsetail thrown in for good measure. The soil on ours was certainly compacted, severely in places, bent a fork trying to get it in the ground in one spot (and that was when the soil was wet as it was February) so I’d imagine his was broadly the same soil condition - we are on clay.

    He said I’m doing ‘no dig’ and that he had no experience with gardening but had bought a book on it and watched a couple of videos on the internet. His interpretation from what he had read was pile on some manure, straw and assorted bags of compost over the weeds then plant into it. I did try and say to him that it might be best to dig out the worst weeds, but no he was sure that no dig would be easier than digging.

    Fast forward a number of months and all the beds were again riddled with the perennial weeks which were now smothering the majority of his crops and clearly loving the new nutrients he had provided, he also seemed under the impression that no dig meant not even digging out weeds with a hand trowel but only being able to pull them out. Hence his harvest was poor and to top it off his tomatoes got blight (not due to the no dig but further demoralising). This big expectation of veg to feed his children for little physical effort to the reality of next to nothing was massive and he was close to jacking it all in.

    A couple of us managed to convince him that all was not lost, and I think looking at what we had managed with our plot gave him some hope. This year he dug/forked over all the beds and removed all the weeds, and has weeded in the conventional fashion (ie using a trowel to dig out bindweed, horse tail and couch grass that tries to make a comeback), surprise surprise the nutrients in the manure etc have paid dividend and his crops were much better.

    I’m fully aware that Charles Dowling advocates removal of perennial weeds but really he glosses over that and it does rather assume that newbies to growing and gardening in general know what they are. No dig is more attractive I think to new starters than those who have been doing it a while as it seems a low time input approach so it would be helpful to reinforce that area more in my opinion.

    On our plot I had to dig and fork initially and remove the weeks and to uncompact the soil. I’ve now got mainly edged beds of a size I don’t have to walk on, except for the large stuff like corn, potatoes and pumpkins which by their nature I don’t have to walk on the soil very often and when I do I’m very careful and use a board to minimise compaction. I fork over to remove any perennial weeds that still creep through (only year two so I know I’m never going to get 100% out in one or two goes) cover in manure over the winter then fork over in the spring prior to planting out my seedlings, in future I’ll be adding our own compost at this stage.

    I’d say mine is a blended approach not classical ‘no dig’ but not yearly back breaking double digging either. After two years the soil is in noticeably better condition with loads of earthworms on my autum fork over so not the effort that comes to mind when people hear ‘digging’ vs no dig.

    I think personally full no dig can work well and is more like nature intended, however on compacted clay and ground that has more perennial weeks than clear soil coupled with the reality that most of us won’t be able to get sufficient materials trying to ridigedly stick to it is likely to cause disappointment than success.
    Last edited by Bluenowhere; 07-11-2018 at 02:49 PM.

  8. #16
    Thelma Sanders is online now Gardening Guru
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