Sunday, 7 February 2010

Spring Plantings. Preparing the ground. No dig.

Today I spent a mere three hours out on the allotment. Pretty much working consistently, but with time for fairly leisurely tea breaks. I'd like to share a 'before' and 'after' picture with you.

As regular readers will know, I adopted no-dig techniques about two years ago. We're in our fourth year of the allotment now. There are two basic steps to the no-dig approach.
1.First you need to remove the perennial weeds from the ground (the types of weeds will vary according to the region you live in and the soil conditions). We're talking about things like dandelions - any weeds that come back each year.

2. Once you've completed step one, you need to use a mulch on your piece of ground to prevent weeds returning and most importantly, provide some food for your worms. They need to feel happy, reasonably warm and sheltered - and if you look after them they'll reward you by doing the digging!
Some gardeners and plot-h0lders seem quite sceptical about the no-dig approach. Some people like digging. Can't see the point in it myself. I observed one of my neighbours working very hard 'digging in' the cow manure that they had had delivered today. It seemed to take a long time (at least a few hours). It was really heavy work, unpleasant, smelly and dirty.

As a no-dig gardener, I use manure too. But I don't dig it in. At the top of this post in the 'before' picture you can see one of the areas I prepared for planting today (using no-dig techniques). This particular bed is destined for new potatoes which I shall be chitting soon. I usually plant them out in the soil in early March.

Back at the end of October last year, I started preparing this no-dig bed. There were quite a few weeds on it. Feeling a bit lazy I covered them up with cardboard and placed a thick layer of rabbit manure on top. I'd never tried this before, but basically I hadn't touched the bed since then at all.
Today, I could see that most of the cardboard had been dragged down by worms, and had rotted away. Most of the rabbit manure had been dragged down into the soil too. So instead of digging all I had to do was to 'loosen and lift'. The soil was beautiful, crumbly, not at all waterlogged and even on this fairly cold day in February, jam packed with worms. As I worked I tried not to disturb the soil too much to give the worms a chance to settle down again and carry on doing their job, eating up the rest of the rabbit manure and cardboard and producing worm casts.

My 'loosen and lift' weeding session took me less than an hour. The second picture shows the same area when I had finished. I decided I wasn't going to rake the area over - as I'll be checking briefly again for weeds when I put the potatoes in. You can see how crumbly and well-drained the soil is now.

The no-dig approach meant that I had much more time and energy for other tasks that needed to be done in preparation for Spring. Pulling leeks for example. We've still got masses.

Some are quite small - probably because they went in too late in August - but all of them are untouched by white rot (I feel that is due to the no-dig technique too). Here's a picture of the pile - note the crumbly texture of the soil they are lying on. What a difference four no-dig years have the heavy, water-logged clay soil we started out with.

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