We dig our garden soil to remove weeds, loosen the soil to put our plants in and aerate the soil. Digging also digs in compost and manure to feed our fruit and vegetables. We also dig soil to break up the lumps to make it fine enough to sow seeds.
However, is it really necessary to dig garden soil? Apart from digging and raking to get a fine soil surface for sowing seeds. I don't think so, here's why;
No we don't need to dig garden soil! No-dig gardening is the natural and organic method of growing stuff, without manually digging over the soil. Instead, letting nature and the worms do the digging, aerating, enriching the soil and feeding the plants growing in it, for us.
So, the answer is no. We don't need to dig our gardens, we just need to help nature do it.
No-dig gardening involves some work to start the process off. Depending on the size and state of the area, the work can vary from a day to a few weeks. I have explained the basics here, but first you will need to decide what form your no-dig beds are going to take. Separate raised beds, flat beds, a small test area, a small section of your garden or maybe the whole garden. Will all take varying amounts of time to convert to the no-digging method of gardening, but the result will be time saving and free you from back breaking digging.
Whatever bed, flat or raised, big or small they should be a maximum of about 3ft wide. With paths each side so that you can easily work on the no-dig beds, be it shallow hoeing to control weeds, spreading mulches to be taken into the soil by worms, sowing seeds, transplanting and best of all reaping the harvest. All this without trampling and compacting the surface.
Raised beds are especially valuable on poorly drained soils, and great to avoid back strain and bending. For more information about raised beds
Framed beds on the flat are better set on well drained soils. A 6" high frame will allow for a good thick layer of mulch to improve sandy soils.
These materials will cut out the light, killing of most weeds and will eventually rot down to allow plant roots to penetrate. You won't need to wait until it has all rotted down, if you are in a hurry to get started cut slits in the material and plant through the slits, like you would with a growbag.
The earthworms will help this process taking the material down into the ground. I leave the newspapers, cardboard and other stuff made from natural fibres that I plan to use to cover the surface of the soil. Piled outside to get wet before laying them on the soil. Spread newspapers and thin cardboard three or four layers deep. Other natural fibre like wool carpet probably a single layer, over the area you are setting aside for no dig gardening. Make sure the materials overlap to smother the weeds, any weeds or grass left uncovered, will grow through the organic matter you are going to spread over the top. One layer of thicker materials like wool carpets should be enough.
Give the ground cover a good soaking and move on to the next stage in preparing to change to no dig gardening.
Spread a layer of organic material or topsoil, in fact any available organic material will work twigs, leaves, grass cuttings, sawdust, compost from your heap, etc. Shovel the organic materials on in layers with the coarsest stuff, twigs, etc. at the bottom, and the compost or soil on top.
Depending on the area you are going to turn over to the no dig method of gardening you may need more of the organic material than you have available.
A little bit of pre planning may be necessary, ask your neighbours or the local lawn care person for grass cuttings and leaves, etc. Providing they are not into composting they will be pleased to off load it.
So as not to compact the no digging areas or to make access easy to the no dig raised beds you are creating. Build pathways through the no dig beds, as you are digging them out, spread the topsoil onto the beds over the organic material. Gravel makes a good lasting path, wood-chip is OK, but will need topping up now and then. However, if you are using walking aids or working from a wheelchair you will need a firmer non slip surface, check out my articles linked from here gardening with a disability.
Get away from growing vegetables in rows with bare earth in between. Weeds love bare earth! Different plants take water and nutrients from different depths in the soil, so take into account root depths. If you mix these plants, it may look overcrowded, but it's not. You are making the best of the space available and your no dig garden will be more productive as a result.
When mixing plants always include companion plants to deter insect pests and attract beneficial insects, my companion planting page provides more information.Oversowing
How long does it take to change to No Dig gardening?
This cheap easy to assemble raised bed made from plastic heat absorbing panels is the Ideal bed to try your no dig experiment.
Organic Gardening shows you how to grow a delicious variety of fruit and vegetables: what to choose, when to sow, plant and harvest, and how best to avoid pests and diseases without the need to dig.