no dig beds

A bit of an update today on the no-dig gardening experiment I originally wrote about here and updated at the end of May, when the photograph above was taken.To recap quickly, No-dig gardening, as propounded by Charles Dowding*, involves the application of organic matter to the surface of the soil to a depth to suppress weed growth, and then planting into and through that layer, without digging.

My garden vegetable beds measure 8 x 4 feet and I never need to walk on them to reach the plants. In the spring I spread a thick layer of garden compost and very well composted farmyard manure and concentrated on growing salad crops, tomatoes -on  hand for a quick trip out from the kitchen-and those needing a bit of extra water-a courgette, a pepper, some green beans.

Let’s start with the downside. The 3 beds are west facing, meaning they miss the morning sun. Not good for the tomatoes growing in one bed. They have grown very well and sprawled (lack of support-my laziness) but the fruit is not ripening particularly quickly. There are masses of green tomatoes, but the aspect is wrong. And they have overwhelmed the pepper plant. Plus I planted a courgette and a squash in front of the tomatoes and they have romped away too, adding further to the jungle. Mental note for next year-forget the competition for the tomatoes.

Another bed has French beans at the back and that too has not enjoyed the lack of sunshine, but has cropped. I suspect it is a variety thing too-not a prolific bearer. And perhaps I just haven’t watered it enough. The flower set was initially poor and only improved when I sprayed the flowers with water through the hottest part of the summer.

None of this is attributable to the no-dig method, just choice of plants for the location, although the strong growth of the tomatoes suggests they are liking the soil fertility, and it is not just leafy top growth. What has been very successful are the salad crops. There has been lettuce all summer, baby leaf, cos, oak leaf, lollo rossa and bionda, spinach, radish, beetroot, baby carrots. I have managed to keep up successional sowings and haven’t had to buy salad leaves all summer. There will be an autumn variety-Chartwell- going in soon and chicory if I can track down seed or plants.

Not only have the lettuces kept on growing, but there has been almost NO pests on them, and almost no weed growing through the mulch. The plants have had an occasional liquid seaweed based feed (Maxicrop) and each time I have replanted an area I have added more manure. I have let two of the red leaved ones go to seed-they were a good variety and I am trying to save the seed. I don’t remember what it was.

This autumn the salad beds will be left empty as the last pickings are made  and I intend to start planting overwintering salads where the tomatoes are, to rotate things. I recall Charles Dowding saying that lettuces can be grown in the same area year on year, but it seems a good idea to mix things up a bit.

As a trial, the results are pleasing. Would I extend the area? Yes, without a doubt and I intend to use the system on the allotment as well. I have removed almost all the perennial weeds there now and it seems the perfect time to try this on a slightly bigger scale.

*Charles Dowding’s no-dig website is here
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4 thoughts on “no dig beds

  1. Thanks for the update – very good info! I think I am going to go the no-dig route once my summer crops are done and taken out, putting manure and compost down where my tomatoes, etc have been and planting some leafy greens (turned out my choice of location was also not ideal – ended up being shadier on that side of the plot).

  2. I have moved over to mostly no dig after reading Charles Dowding, I use lawn mowings as a continual mulch material in the summer to keep the weeds at bay, seems to work pretty well, as long as you make sure you have got rid of all the invasive perennial weeds like ground elder first.

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