What is No Dig Gardening

by Don

I am confused at what is a no dig garden.
I have a normal vegetable garden and was watching a programme (BBC Gardener´s World) where the head gardener of a major garden somewhere in the UK said she practised No Dig Gardening. Basically she put about 400mm (16") of well rotted horse manure on the garden annually and let the worms pull it down and that was it.

Looking for more information I came to your website which is dealing with raised bed gardens. More complicated than the above.

Can you please explain if what the lady said is practical or whether I have to move over to your system of layering as illustrated.

Don Robertson

Comments for What is No Dig Gardening

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Sep 12, 2010
What is No Dig Gardening
by: Megan

I haven't seen that BBC Garden programme, but it sounds as though the gardener is using a very basic form of no dig gardening by adding manure, letting the worms (and other organisms) do the work, whilst eliminating or at least minimising weeding. She probably already has a good base built up so just does this seasonal top-up.

What is a no dig garden? There's no hard and fast rules, except of course No Digging needed! Neat don't you think?

Nature doesn't dig to grow amazing forests and lush plains, so all WE have to do to grow concentrated gardens is to make sure we add enough organic matter back into the soil to make up for what we take out as plant matter. There are complex biological explanations, but simply put it is the recycling of life, the transfer of carbon, the energy produced, the conversion by microbes into mineral nutrients available for healthy plant growth.

Australian, Ester Dean is considered to be the pioneer of promoting modern day no digging with her 1977 book Growing Without Digging, although Ruth Stout in US wrote her book on the subject No-Work Garden Book in 1971. Back in 1938 Masanobu Fukuoka developed the concept of Do Nothing Farming, which also incorporated Permaculture principles. His book in 1975, One Straw Revolution, explained how re-cycling post harvesting stalks of grain and rice benefited farmers' fields.

The different, simple or complicated, ways to no dig and the different names used, all mean the same general no dig way to garden or farm. Tossing scraps on the ground in a heap, covering them with some handy manure, topping it off with the lawn trimmings or weeds, covering with layers of newspaper or old sacks, then mulching with leaves... that's one way to make a no dig garden. Or starting off with layers of weed suppressing cardboard or paper, then adding layers of lucerne hay, compost and so on, as described on my page Build a No Dig Garden

Depending on how soon one wants to get their garden planted, one can make an instant no dig garden, or one can let it build up over time in a more haphazard way — this is often called Lasagna Gardening or Sheet Mulching. See
Lasagna Gardening

Digging is needed for planting plants and shifting soil and so on, but mass digging disturbs the different soil layers and their levels of decomposition. The communities of micro-organisms and of course worms and beetles, are often killed when exposed or buried... or they retreat to safety elsewhere or in lower layers of soil and thus do not perform their wonderful function of bringing to the plants' roots the nutrients needed to enhance food growth.

Sep 15, 2010
Here's what no dig gardening is all about
by: Wally, Qld, Australia

Don mate, you don't need a raised garden and all that palava to use no digging method. You can muck around with fancy edging or use old brick or wood or nothing.
Just dump layers of stuff on the ground where you want to grow your spuds or herbs or roses. Stick your garden over an old bit of lawn or weeds and away you go. No worries. It will be raised to begin with and then will rot down and you just top up with some good stuff before replanting again.

Oct 12, 2010
My no dig garden approach
by: Sue

I love the no dig approach so when my first house was built standing on muddy clay soil I began. The first job I had to do was plan my garden once that was in hand I set about using left over bricks to section off the areas hay bales were my side fence for a year where I broke into the top, put handfulls of manure and let it set for 10 days then went back and planted sweetcorn in them once grown over a foot I planted peas around them - the peas sprouted and grew up the sweetcorn stalks. In the bottom of the garden I mulched with newspaper, layered with pea-hay, loads of horse manure on top & allowed this to settle 10 days later put my spuds on top then another layer of hay and manure and water. I had a fine crop of spuds that year and the perfect soil for planting my lawn with no clay problems! The rest of the garden was planted in the same manner but with paths & shaped in keyhole gardening no digging was done just parted the soil to put the plants in as they were seedlings or seeds. The only time I had to dig was when I planted my peach trees together, I dug a hole large enought to take 3 rootballs because I was planting 3 trees peach, nectrine, peacharine in the same hole these were pruned as one tree and worked beautifully. My garden feed our family and those up the street! All from my no dig garden on a tiny plot.

Oct 12, 2010
Problems with horse manure
by: John ADAMS

The use of horse manure is excellant providing you have an unlimited supply,BUT,beware.Horse manure will contain LOADS of weed seeds all of which will germinate if the manure hasn't been composted a a temperature HIGH enough to kill them.I just wish I could find a source to let me add 200mm to the top of my soil.
The seeds are viable by the way because the digestive system of a horse passes thro a lot of undigested foodstuff unlike the cow where fodder is fermented in the reumen and the cow digests the flora doing the fermenting.
My no-dig system is to add a layer of compost to the surface and rake it into the seedbed at the time of sowing,the only digging I do is when harvesting my potato crop when I spread compost over the soil before covering it with old carpet to keep down the weeds before next spring.The worms do the rest

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