No Dig Newbie – Starting a no dig bed from scratch

No Dig Newbie - Starting a no dig bed from scratc

Taking a bare patch of spare earth and turning it into a productive allotment bed using the no dig method

I’m still constructing the bones of my allotment beds and it’s getting to the stage where I think I’ve got too much border to reasonably plant up this year. There’s a lot of the plot that I want to fill with fruit trees and bushes but that’s going to be at the end of the year. The joy of digging and removing hundreds of dandelion tap roots has worn a little thin. So as an experiment and to be a little lazy I’ve decided to see how a no dig border turns out.

The background to the no dig method

Charles Dowding is the most famous champion of the no dig method. He has gardened organically since the eighties, way before the science was there to back it up and certainly before it became fashionable, and continues to inspire generations. For example, my mum was a huge fan of his when I was born and now I’m just starting to find out about him and his approach.

Essentially the idea is that the ritual turning and digging of soil destroys the natural structure, loses moisture, and exposes more and more dormant seeds to the light to germinate. By layering large quantities of organic matter you get the worms doing the digging for you and without destroying the structure of the soil. Ongoing maintenance involves repeated mulching to trap moisture in and reduce weed growth.

Books by Charles Dowding

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I’m still alittle dubious on leaving perennial weeds in situ as I’m convinced that they’ll fit their way through the layers.  Here’s how I did it;

No Dig Method – Stage 1 – starting with bare earth

No Dig Newbie - Starting a no dig bed from scratch
Bare dry earth

This is what was left after the turf was lifted right at the beginning of the allotment project. There’s been enough time for the perennial weeds to break out again (mainly dandelions). However, we’ve not had enough rain toget the annual weeds joining in.

No Dig Method – Stage 2 – Using what you have

No Dig Newbie - Starting a no dig bed from scratch
Leftover turf

I have oodles of leftover turf from stripping the whole allotment. I thought it would add a better depth of loam and it’s another way of getting rid. So in it went.

No Dig Method – Stage 3 – Addition of manure

No Dig Newbie - Starting a no dig bed from scratch
Manure layer

Courtesy of my lovely cousin and her muck producing horse! I added a layer of well-rooted manure over the turf for improved worm activity and to increase the organic matter.

No Dig Method – Stage 4 – Covering up

No Dig Newbie - Starting a no dig bed from scratch
Landscape fabric

The landscape fabric that’s on the paths is really better suited to covering a border than being a surface to walk on. I wanted to use it to keep the weeds down. It’ll also keep the soil underneath really warm. The makeshift weights are leftover wood and stones dug up from the plot.

No Dig Method -Stage 5 – Planting Up

No Dig Newbie - Starting a no dig bed from scratch
Squashes planted through

I didn’t want to waste the space and I had more young squash plants looking forlorn in their pots. The solution was to make use of the space and plant through the fabric. I’ve installed watering bottles to avoid the area drying out. The squashes can spread over the whole area.  I’ve planted Squash ‘Little Blue Hubbard’ and ‘Thelma Sanders Sweet Potato’.

Getting started with the No Dig Method

That’s me getting started with this whole no dig thing. Like I said, I’m a little sceptical about its ability to keep perennial weeds down so watch this space.

If you’re keen to learn more from someone who knows what he’s doing then take a look at Charles Dowding’s website www.charlesdowding.co.uk.

3 thoughts on “No Dig Newbie – Starting a no dig bed from scratch

  1. I’ve been not digging my allotment over the border in Cornwall for a couple of years now. Perennial weeds have been a minor problem. You may find some of my experiences relevant to where you are. I see you are a fan of Real Seeds, I tried them small scale this year, plan to get more next year.

    1. Hello Jim, I’ll take a look at what you’ve been up to. I’m glad the perennial weeds aren’t much of an issue, that was my biggest concern, especially in our milder climate. I like the philosophy of Real Seeds (i.e. seeds for home growers rather than commercial which all need to be uniform and ripen at the same time) and I like the variety they have listed. My smaller tomatoes are from home-collected seeds grown from a packet bought from them in 2014 and seem to be doing okay.

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