No-Dig Gardening

Over the years I have developed what I call ‘Jane’s Jungle Style’ of growing vegetables. This method of intensive gardening works best in rich, fertile soil. The first step to creating a humus rich, healthy soil is no dig gardening.

This method of intensive gardening works best in rich, fertile soil. The first step to creating a humus rich, healthy soil is no dig gardening.

In many gardens it is a tradition to regularly dig up the beds, add compost or rotted manure and dig it in. The good news is – you can say goodbye to all that deep digging.

In fact, digging up and turning over the earth is more harmful than beneficial to the soil. It causes dormant weed seeds to surface and germinate.

Digging upsets the balance in soil life and causes a loss of nutrients by exposing them to air. Plus - all those billions of beneficial organisms which live in the soil hate being disturbed.

Earthworms for example, only breed when undisturbed. When you dig up the soil it's as if you have destroyed their house and they have to start all over again. And finally, digging leads to moisture loss.

The only time I dig deep into my garden is to remove an unwanted perennial or to harvest roots or tubers when preparing a new bed. Many of you at this point will be saying; “But I need to dig – if I don’t turn over the soil it will become compacted. That’s why I dig!” The main cause of compacted soil is our own weight pressing down on it. So, the main rule for no dig gardening is to never stand on the soil.

To achieve this, make your garden beds just wide enough for you to reach the middle comfortably from the path. If your beds are already bigger than this, place stepping-stones where necessary.

The first time you prepare your beds, it is worth enriching them with manure and compost – and this does mean digging! I know I promised no digging – but after you have prepared them for the first time you will never need to dig again. To avoid mixing up the layers of earth too much, use the following method

  • Working in small sections, remove the topsoil layer and dig a trench about half a metre deep.
  • Loosen the subsoil layer – don’t turn it over, just loosen it by sticking a fork in and wiggling it back and fore.
  • Add a thick layer of well-rotted manure and compost.
  • Fill in the trench, adding the topsoil last.
  • After adding the topsoil, the surface will be higher than the surrounding path.

It is a good idea to create pathways between the beds and to edge the beds with stones, logs or some form of edging to keep the enriched soil inside the beds. After you have prepared your beds, you don’t need to dig again.

To maintain fertile, healthy soil we need to continually replace the nutrients we remove when we harvest our vegetables and herbs.

Using the no-dig method of gardening, this is simply done by regularly adding fresh organic matter to the surface of the beds (compost, manure, green manure, leaf mould and mulch).

Nature is designed to incorporate material that falls on the surface, down into the bottom layers. As soon as you have added a layer of organic matter, the natural decomposition process begins: earthworms come up at night and pull it down into the soil, rain breaks it down and micro organisms get to work. In no time it will be converted into humus for your plants’ roots.