Eight months ago I spread the compost from my heaps onto my allotment and resolved not to make any more. I would simply shred everything that came my way and spread it back on the ground. I wrote a blog about it at the time. It seemed a slightly radical course to take and I have not encountered anything much since by way of support for the method.
Until now, and from an improbable source. Somebody lent us some back issues of The English Garden, including the January 2021 issue. On the last page is an article headed “Last Word”, presumably a regular feature. This one was by Katherine Swift and was about no-dig gardening. She is, she says, a recent convert to Charles Dowding’s no dig method, basically spreading 5cm of compost over the soil each year and planting or sowing through it.
She also mentions Ruth Stout, who wrote a book about her method of no-dig gardening way back in 1961. She was mainly using a deep mulch of hay but supplementing it with any other organic matter that became available.
At the end of the article she said that Ruth Stout’s books were still in print and “are vastly entertaining”. They are indeed available and I just bought the Kindle version of one of them from Amazon. You can read a couple of chapters as a sample and if you’ve ever flirted with no dig, you should take a look. Vastly entertaining isn’t the half of it, if there was a Ruth Stout fan club I’d be signing up. She would have taken Twitter by storm!
I have stuck with shredding and spreading through this growing season, initially spreading onto bare ground, later mulching around growing crops. My worries about a plague of slugs have not materialised. I don’t have as much material as I would like but if I’d composted it the volume available in the end would be much less, so I’ve still gained, both in volume and in the length of time it is on the soil surface. It must make more nutrients available to the crops as nothing is lost in the way it would be from an open compost heap. In short, I’m getting more bang for my buck by sticking it straight on the ground.
Appearance on the allotment is not a concern but in any case it looks just fine; I could worry even less about it and not bother putting tougher stuff through the shredder a couple of times. Coarser material might break down slower, which would be an advantage. I haven’t spread so much around the garden but I know that I can shred and spread things like potato haulms with blight in them as I don’t grow potatoes in the garden. Sometimes the shredded material is a little pungent but the smell disappears in a few days.
The thrust of Ruth Stout’s reasoning was to get good results with less work. There’s no doubt she was also convinced it was a much more environmentally positive way to garden as she was gardening organically before the word even came into wide usage. She seems to have decided that less work was an easier notion to sell books with. Part of her argument was that her thick hay mulch stopped virtually all weeds, something I certainly can’t claim for my approach. My soil is always very friable and weeds are easily pulled up; I see them as another source of organic matter to be spread.
All in all then, none of my concerns about doing it have materialised and I’m finding more positives. The “for” list is growing, the “against” list shrinking.