Missed soil layer in no dig garden?

by Susan
(Switzerland)

Hello,
Did I get the layers wrong?

I started a no dig garden on bare soil last autumn with cardboard, manure, 10-20 cm straw. I didn't put on the final layer of soil and the straw is dry on top and only slightly rotting on the bottom. No sign of worms, only under the cardboard.

The broad beans and peas I have started in modules and planted so their base is on the soil are looking a bit straggly.

We are now in late spring. Is it still worth adding the top layer? Can I use garden compost or do I need to use topsoil?

Comments for Missed soil layer in no dig garden?

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May 17, 2011
Missed Soil Layer in a No Dig garden
by: George

Hi Susan, greetings from the other side of the world and welcome to the wonderful world of No Dig. Sad to say from my experience you broke one of the the mani No Dig "rules". ie. keep the straw moist, preferably by another layer of manure, soil or old carpet etc to keep the straw from drying out. I have been a "No Dig'er" since a heart attack robbed me of the ability to dig 11 years ago and I built my first one like a lasagne compost heap with a base layer of multiple newspaper sheets, manure,straw,manure,straw and compost with a covering of 75% shade cloth to protect it from the sun. I now have 5 compost heaps and just top dress my 7 No Dig beds every year and let my good friends the worms do all the diging for me. I am lucky in that I live by the sea so seaweed is a major component of all my compost and I have found that a mixture of manures, sheep, cow,horse gives the best results. Good luck
Kiwi George from New Zealand

May 18, 2011
layers need to rot before planting
by: Lori, Delaware OH

My garden seems to come to a stop over winter and not much rots and the worms and crawlie things go to sleep. What I'm saying is that you need more time and warm weather for your layers to form a good base for planting. You need to add at least some good soil or compost to help start the rot process off because there are live things in good soil and compost that will start to work on your straw and cardboard. Otherwise you have to wait for the worms and crawlies to come up from underneath which takes a while. Definitely yes, don't let it all dry out, keep it moist and the warm weather will speed decay up, and rather than let plants struggle, I would plant them into a shovelful of soil/compost, and put more mulch on top and don't let it dry, at least apart from the very top temporarily on hot days.

Jan 11, 2012
Update NEW
by: Susan in Switzerland

Thanks for your comments. A year later, I can give you an update:

I covered the straw in mid-summer with a layer of municipal compost . After a few weeks, I sowed Spinach directly into this and it is doing great!

I got wonderful Broccoli and whopper celeriac, great leek. Pumpkins did well in compost-filled holes, and cucumbers worked well too. The only disappointment were beans.

My conclusion: the last layer of compost is necessary to make the straw rot down.

One advantage of straw is that you can water with a hose without a nozzle. The straw breaks up the jet and you can water much more quickly, using the same "holes" every time.

Growing potatoes under straw was great fun: come harvesting time, I just pulled the straw off and voila, the tubers are lying on the grond! no sticky mud to clean off either.

Jan 11, 2012
Swiss Susan's No Dig Success NEW
by: Kiwi George

Hi Susan. Congratulations on getting your No Dig garden producing after some trial and error. Be assured, emperical determination (suck it and see) is how many gardeners have learned and after 60 years of gardening I am still learning and the WWW, particular Megan's No Dig site, has been a major vector for improving my outcomes. I went the academic route some years ago by studying Organic Horticulture course at Polytech and while this confirmed many of my sustainable gardening methods I did learn a lot of the finer points of Permaculture which have made my gardening more effective. Good luck for next years crops.
Regards
George

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