Why is No-Dig Gardening the Best?
More often than not, we reach for the garden tiller to rip apart grassy or weedy areas to prepare our garden. Additionally, tillers are used to work in store bought amendments, such as fertilizer. While this can and does work, it’s not the best method.
The Problem with Conventional Farming & Gardening
Conventional Farming has been under fire for its energy use and soil erosion (Boardman, 2006; Manzatto et al., 2002; Orimoogunje, 2014). A lot of fuel is needed to run those big tractors. Couple that with the 30 tons per hectare of soil (a hectare is a little over 107,000 square feet,) of soil erosion in the United States alone due to tillage and it’s easy to see where the concern lies.
Additionally, that level of aeration speeds up decomposition of organic matter leading to soil compaction, and erosion. It damages the soil biology disrupting the beneficial organisms soil needs to thrive. These are reasons why a no-dig approach is better for the soil.
This is not to attack the hard-working farmers of our country. They do what they can to maximize yields to feed us all. Farmers do what they can and many utilize cover crops, planting done of crops that are allowed to rot in place.
No-Dig gardening is not a new idea
No-Dig gardening has been researched since 1938. This non-cultivation approach removes the need for a tiller. This method is also called the No-Till or Low-Till and even Permaculture. However, the theory and idea are interchangeable. When the ground is tilled, it damages the soil biology and brings dormant seeds to the surface, allowing them to germinate. It also releases carbon and nitrogen; two important ingredients plants need to thrive.
You’ve probably driven or walked past a forest at one point in your life. Notice anything? Even in drought years, they are lush and green. There are several reasons for this but the biggest is the active soil biology on and under the forest floor.
In the fall, the leaves fall and rot. That feeds the network of bugs, beneficial bacteria, and fungi which lead to a more fertile forest floor. The biomass, or rotting twigs, leaves, grasses, etc., also create something else, and that’s insulation. That leads to slower temperature changes, protection from frosts, and overall healthier plants. The rotting material absorbs water during rain and slowly releases that moisture during drier times.
A No-Dig approach is simple, but one that takes a little time. It’s best to start a season ahead, but this can be done and planted into immediately. Here are the two ways to start:
The Lasagna Bed
Start by laying down a layer of cardboard or paper mulch. Paper mulch can be purchased in rolls. It closely resembles kraft paper, but newspaper can be used too. Just remove any shiny sheets as those are covered in a waxy substance. If cardboard is used, be sure to remove all tape or staples. This layer will smother out weeds and grasses. Wet cardboard thoroughly. Next layer in compost and other organic matter like well-rotted manure, or green manure, and straw. Dampen these layers and keep them moist. The cardboard will disintegrate and the other matter will rot or compost providing for a lush, rich, growing medium that will retain moisture and help avoid runoff.
No-Dig immediate planting
If you don’t have a massive amount of compost this might be more costly, but you can plant immediately. As with the lasagna bed, start with cardboard or paper mulch, thoroughly moistened. Lay down 4 to 6 inches of compost and water in. You can plant immediately though if cardboard is used, larger rooted vegetables such as carrots or parsnips probably won’t get very big this first season, as the cardboard needs time to decay.
No-Dig gardens benefit in higher yields and less need of watering and weeding. Through mimicking what Mother Nature does, we feed the soil so the soil can feed us.