Ivana Jakubkova, Events Officer at St Nicks, has a go at the ‘No Dig’ gardening method and explores its many benefits. Thanks to Audrey Miller for demonstrating her skills and Greenfields School & Community Garden for hosting the course.
If you’d love to grow your own organic fruit and veg but digging really isn’t your thing, the No Dig method could be the way forward for you. Even if you’re a keen and happy digger, you might like to give it a go! No Dig gardening is not only less physically demanding but can also lead to higher yields and healthier soils, which in turn leads to healthier plants. It’s all about letting earthworms and nature do the hard work for you. Sounds too good to be true?
Experienced local No Dig gardener Audrey Miller, who ran a demonstration for us at Greenfields School & Community Garden in September, recommends this video by as a brief introduction to how profitable this method can be:
Charles Dowding, star of the video, has been experimenting with the No Dig method for over 30 years. Audrey has been practising No Dig for over 6 years, the last two of which have been in York. Together with her husband, Audrey has turned a standard bungalow into an eco-home showcase (which takes part in annual York Open Eco Homes events) and their gravel-filled garden into a treasure trove of over 100 different edible plants. Last year she set up a No Dig bed at Greenfields, which provided a good starting point for our demonstration session.
Everyone was able to see the difference between the soil in the No Dig bed compared to other beds. The No Dig bed had been covered with a layer of cardboard and compost last autumn and left for several months before planting it up with potatoes in spring. Audrey got a great harvest and now the soil is nicely crumbly, and has plenty of worms. While the bed is waiting to be planted up with other crops, it has been covered with cardboard again to keep troublesome mare’s tail and other weeds at bay. In contrast, soil in other beds at Greenfields is less friable because it’s heavy and prone to water-logging.
After seeing how it should be done we all had a go ourselves. It’s pretty simple really and this is a great method to put any neglected weedy patch of soil or unused lawn to good use. Cover the patch with several layers of cardboard – avoid using shiny cardboard with lots of print and remove sellotape and stickers as they may not break down easily (but you can pick them out from the soil later if need be). The cardboard will exclude light for weeds, keep soil moist by soaking in rain water and allow earthworms to burrow through. After that comes a layer of compost or rotted manure. This is where some effort is needed to wheelbarrow it on but you might be able to have it delivered or enlist help.
We discussed other possible mulching materials such as straw, coffee grounds (available free from various coffee shops) or vegetarian pet bedding but it’s better to compost these first. Mulching provides a great home for slugs so using mature compost or rotted manure makes it less appealing for them. After you’ve covered the patch in autumn, you can sit back and relax. Planting potatoes there in March will help break up the soil further, suppress weeds and make the bed ready for other crops (Audrey recommends Charlotte variety).