To dig or not to dig.

This year was my third season on my allotment, time that has passed with unseemly haste. I inherited a plot that had been pasture and had been badly ploughed before the first tenant took it on. A year later, when I started, they had done almost nothing and the grass and weeds had grown back up through the furrowed surface. I started at one end with a deep and wide trench and turned the whole lot over. As fast as I was getting the ground dug, I was planting crops. I’d taken it up on April 1st, well into the growing season. I was still working full time then too.

At some point during that first season I started to form the opinion that the soil I was working was pretty fragile stuff. On other people’s plots I was seeing capping where a fine tilth had been produced for seed sowing. I backed off a little, kept off it in wet conditions, didn’t break it down more than absolutely necessary and in the first winter, sowed rye and field beans as green manures to protect it from the winter rains.

My second season was poorer than the first. It was wetter and my potatoes got blight very early on. Nothing I sowed directly came to much, with the exception of carrots. I had some successes but more failures.

This year I had better luck with both potatoes and brassicas. Onions, parsnips and beetroot weren’t bad, peas were good. Runners were a disaster.

As crops finished, I started to cover the bare ground with the stuff that up until then I’d been putting on the compost heap. Grass mowings and shredded trimmings of all sorts. I figured that by next spring it would have rotted down and would have encouraged worms to pull it down into the soil. It would also hopefully protect the soil surface in the way the rye had, without the need to dig it in.

It seemed to make sense to have all the nutrients in the compostable material go straight into the soil, not to lose any of it to leaching from a year on the compost heap. It also seemed likely that fresher material would stir up more activity in the soil than well rotted compost.

I now know that I had blundered into the well established practice of no-dig gardening. I am trawling the internet for the wise words of those who have been doing it for a while. I have discovered Charles Dowding. I am familiar with Glomalin. I follow the No-dig-gardener’s blog. I am playing catch up. It’s huge fun. I shall take on board what others have to say, putting my own twist on it because my circumstances will never be identical to theirs. I will see what works and what doesn’t.

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