What is No Dig Farming or Gardening?

What is No Dig Farming or Gardening?

“No dig” gardening or farming refers to a method of cultivation that minimizes soil disturbance and avoids traditional practices such as ploughing or digging.

This approach has gained popularity for its numerous benefits, both for the soil and the plants. Here are some advantages of the no-dig gardening or farming method:

Soil Structure Improvement: No-dig gardening helps maintain the natural structure of the soil. The absence of regular tilling preserves the soil’s microorganisms, fungi, and beneficial bacteria, contributing to a healthier and more balanced soil ecosystem.

Retained Soil Moisture: The undisturbed soil structure in no-dig systems helps retain moisture better than regularly tilled soil. This can reduce the need for irrigation and improve the resilience of plants during dry periods.

Weed Suppression: By not disrupting the soil, the no-dig method minimizes the exposure of weed seeds to the surface, reducing the germination of weeds. This can lead to fewer weeds and less manual weeding.

Nutrient Retention: No-dig systems help prevent the leaching of nutrients from the soil. The organic matter on the surface decomposes slowly, releasing nutrients gradually and promoting a nutrient-rich environment for plant growth.

Reduced Soil Erosion: Tilling and ploughing can contribute to soil erosion by exposing the soil to wind and water. No-dig methods help prevent erosion by keeping the soil covered with organic matter and vegetation.

Carbon Sequestration: The undisturbed soil in no-dig systems allows for the accumulation of organic matter, contributing to carbon sequestration. This can have positive effects on mitigating climate change by keeping carbon in the soil rather than releasing it into the atmosphere.

Labour and Time Savings: No-dig gardening can be less labour-intensive than traditional cultivation methods. There’s no need for regular tilling, which can save time and effort. Once established, these systems require less maintenance.

Biodiversity Enhancement: No-dig systems promote a diverse and thriving soil ecosystem. The presence of beneficial organisms, such as earthworms and mycorrhizal fungi, contributes to overall biodiversity and can have positive effects on plant health.

Improved Plant Health: Plants in no-dig systems often exhibit improved health and vitality. The stable soil structure, increased nutrient availability, and enhanced microbial activity contribute to robust plant growth.

Suitability for Small Spaces: No-dig gardening is well-suited for small-scale or urban gardening where space may be limited. Raised beds or containers using this method can be easily implemented in various settings.

While no-dig gardening has many benefits, it’s essential to note that the success of this method depends on proper implementation, including the use of appropriate organic mulches and compost. It may not be suitable for all types of crops or in every gardening situation, so it’s essential to consider the specific needs of your plants and local conditions.

What Is The Best Way To Start A No Dig Garden Or Farm?

There are many ways in which you can tackle this, so it’s best to research and get it right first time. 

Adding Cardboard

Most no dig methods use cardboard, or newspaper and lay it on the surface of the soil. However, some people have become concerned about potential contaminates within the cardboard or paper, such as glues and inks.

Whilst there isn’t enough evidence to suggest this causes the living organisms harm, or for that matter, harm to us humans from the uptake of the traces of solvent, or inks, one can only imagine it is such small quantities that it would have little effect.

Adding compost and a top layer

Once the cardboard or paper is laid upon the surface, this is then topped with a good layer of compost (approximately 3 or 4 inches thick). In some cases, straw is then added on top of the compost to keep the moisture retained, which, will also break down over time. Other methods include placing a layer of woodchip on top of the compost, which, also prevents the absorption of moisture and provides nutrients as it decomposes.

The Downside To No Dig Methods

Unfortunately with everything in life there is a downside to to the no dig method.

The no dig method in farming or gardening can be costly. As an example, compost is expensive, so unless you have the ability to make your own, you may need to purchase a vast amount to achieve your objective.

On the other hand, woodchip and straw can be costly too, especially if you don’t know someone who can supply these materials for you.

Timeframe

The other issues faced with no dig is the timeframe it can often take to achieve the desired soil texture. As an example, we have a plot of land that has been fallow for 5 years, after having had cattle roam upon it.

This means the clay based soil is heavily compacted, and in the hotter months of the year, it is almost impossible to even get a fork, or a spade into it!. In fact, this was one of our observations during 2023 when we spent much of the year simply observing the land.

Cost

The dilemma here is that we would need to spend a small fortune on compost, woodchip and straw and still may not see the results we anticipated for a couple of years. It also means that there is a chance the microorganisms, and the worms, will struggle to cultivate the soil for us during the hotter months (the soil really is like concrete).

Therefore, we have opted to rotavate the surface lightly and at a shallow depth (2″ – 3″) to agitate the soil without damaging the microorganisms and worms too much. Following this, we will add woodchip, compost, and straw to the soil, topped off with a layer of woodchip. This will give our seedlings, and seeds, a chance to establish.

At the end of the season, we will sacrifice 20% of the crop, and use what’s known as a “chop and drop” method. This is when the vegetation will be chopped down and laid on the surface, allowing them to break down into the soil, providing nutrients and organic matter for microorganisms and worms to feed upon.

By repeating this process we would no longer need to rotavate that area gain.

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