Lee Valley Treasure Trove
I need you to stop what you’re doing right now and pay attention. If you’re prone to fainting, please sit comfortably in a chair. If you happen to have one of those foil blankets meant for emergencies, maybe grab that, too. What I’m about to say may shock you.
You’re gardening wrong and you probably always have been.
Are you there? Are you still with me? You know how every season you dig up your gardening beds and fluff them around? You spend hours bent over a gardening fork or shovel flipping, slicing and turning the soil because it’s easier for plants’ roots to maneuver through tilled soil? And you do it because it aerates the soil and allows water to run through it more smoothly?
Yeah, that’s not true: soil does not need to be dug, turned over, flipped or fluffed. Ever. You can officially stop digging! So, if you don’t dig your garden what DO you do to it?
For the past 25 years or so, some serious gardeners have quietly been adhering to no-dig gardening. Beds are laid out and left completely undisturbed. The only thing you do is plant in them, harvest from them and, once a year, put down 1″ to 2″ of new compost on top of them. You don’t even dig it in. You just layer it on top like lettuce on a sandwich. That’s really all there is to it. I’ve been no-dig gardening for a few years and so far, I love it.
Benefits of No-Dig Gardening
- Requires less time and manual labor than a dug garden.
- Soil that is firm is better for plant roots. They’ll grow stronger and give the plant the support it needs to grow tall, strong and sturdy.
- Soil is full of beneficial living things. The less you disturb them, the better the soil will be.
- Your soil doesn’t need to be aerated and fiddled with. That’s what plant roots and worms are for.
- Digging up and turning over soil exposes more of it to the air and sun, which kills the microbes need for healthy earth.
- No dig means fewer weeds. Digging up and turning over earth exposes weed seeds to their best friends – the top of the soil and the sun. Then, they happily grow at an alarming rate.
- The longer you adhere to no dig, the better your soil structure will become without having to do anything to it, other than adding compost once a year. Better soil structure creates healthier, more disease-resistant plants.
How to Start a No-Dig Bed
Simply don’t dig this spring when you’re getting your garden ready. Instead gently rake out the top so it’s relatively even and put a couple of inches of good-quality compost on it. Rake that out so it’s fairly even, too. You want the compost to be moderately fine and not chunky because that’s what seeds will grow best in. Then just leave your garden alone. Pull weeds as you see them. As the years go by, you’ll find fewer and fewer weeds.
I was afraid that by adding 2″ of compost every year, I was going to end up with garden beds that were as high as my waist. But the soil settles as the year progresses and you don’t end up with mountainous beds.
I can’t give you an analysis of how this no-dig method works after 10 or 25 years, but I can tell you after the few years I’ve been doing it, I have no complaints at all. I wouldn’t say I’ve had any huge increase in production of vegetables; but who cares because I haven’t seen any decrease in production either!
Karen Bertelsen is a Gemini Award nominated television host on some of Canada’s major networks. Her blog, The Art of Doing Stuff, now receives over half a million views per month and featured in Better Homes & Gardens, Style at Home and Canadian Gardening magazines.