No Digging on Light Soils

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LindaJane
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No Digging on Light Soils

Postby LindaJane » Tue Dec 04, 2012 9:51 pm

I did Charles Dowding's one day no dig course last January. I had already started to apply this in the previous autumn on my light well drained soil. I have since heard people say that it is impossible to use no dig methods on light soil. Well I certainly have had very good results this year and wondered if anyone else is not digging on their light soil? The reason I was interested in the first place was to keep the soil structure intact along with all the invertebrates, fungi and bacteria and also to keep weeds down. I understood this was the main reason for not digging and other factors such as saving one's back were the icing on the cake. Although obviously digging is actually pretty easy on my soil.
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Re: No Digging on Light Soils

Postby solway cropper » Tue Dec 04, 2012 10:30 pm

I've been using no-dig for three years but on a quite heavy soil although I can't see why it would be impossible on a light soil. If you follow the principle and add thick mulches of organic matter your light soil will soon develop a decent structure and body.
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Re: No Digging on Light Soils

Postby Johnboy » Wed Dec 05, 2012 8:06 am

Hi LindaJane,
By pursuing a no-dig policy on light soil you are never actually going to improve your soil. The whole idea of digging light soils, adding as much composted material into the soil, will allow your crops to have moisture at the roots at all times. With compost in the soil it will retain the moisture but if you simply add layer upon layer of mulch you are actually wasting
valuable compost and your soil will remain very free draining which ultimately puts your crops at risk.
We have had some very wet years of late and this probably is why your results have been good but I ask you to consider what will happen if we manage to get a hot summer.
In a dry situation mulch simply dries out and after a couple of days hard sunshine is of no value to you whatsoever to your crop.
IMHO this is why no-dig on light soils is not a good thing.
I am not against no-dig systems but from my own experience conventional growing methods have proved to be the best.
I certainly use minimum till for certain applications but my soil has plenty of compost dug well into it and the minimum till would be the second/third year after composting.
JB.
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Re: No Digging on Light Soils

Postby Nature's Babe » Wed Dec 05, 2012 10:22 pm

Hi Linda, welcome to the forum. Like Solway, my soil was heavy clay, but after years of mulch and no dig it is now rich, fertile and the structure is good. The rain seems to be here to stay so if its working for you stick with it. Thick mulch helps to protect the soil from beig washed away,or blown away in drought, it conserves moisture too, bare soil dries much quicker as long as you have a good population of worms they will incorporate the mulch into the soil for you - they used thick mulch in the video greening the desert and it worked so well there they actually got fungi growing too, which was previously unknown out there - check out you tube, Geoff Lawton Greening the desert, lol your sandy soil should be a doddle compared to the desert sand. Good luck. :D
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Re: No Digging on Light Soils

Postby PLUMPUDDING » Wed Dec 05, 2012 10:41 pm

I thought the idea was for the worms to incorporate the compost into the soil in no dig gardening. Do you think in light soils that the worms prefer to stay in the moist compost rather than taking it down?
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Re: No Digging on Light Soils

Postby Johnboy » Wed Dec 05, 2012 11:41 pm

Both NB and Solway Cropper have heavy soils which retain moisture and that moisture gives credence to the use of mulches but with light soil the case is entirely different. Light soils do not hold water so need something to actually hold any water to be of any value to whatever you are trying to grow. Mulches need moisture for them to actually work but if your soil is going to keep dry because of excessive drainage, which is the case with light soils, then the mulch will dry out and never reach the potential
that NB has experienced. There are very few worms in light soil. Given five years of digging incorporating compost into the soil then the case may be much improved. Thereafter no dig could be a maybe but only a maybe!
NB,
I appreciate that you are an advocate of the no dig system but you have only ever tried it on the soil you have and contrary to your thoughts the no dig system is not suitable for all soils.
Light soils need compost incorporated to improve the structure to hold water where mulches will fail. Mulches will fail because there is not enough moisture for them to work properly.
JB.
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Re: No Digging on Light Soils

Postby glallotments » Thu Dec 06, 2012 11:31 am

Doesn't a no dig system create a pan in heavy soils?
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Re: No Digging on Light Soils

Postby Johnboy » Thu Dec 06, 2012 1:15 pm

Hi Sue,
A no-dig system operates by the use of mulches but relies heavily on a moist system to work properly. By mulching you are helping to conserve moisture in the system which assists the worms to interact with the mulch taking particles into the soil. It works quite well on the heavier soils but not on light free draining soils simply because the soil will not retain the moisture and prevents the interaction with the worms. Instead of digging the no-dig system relies solely on the worms to do the work for you. Worms are very scarce in these light free draining soils simply because of the lack of moisture. This is why the no-dig system will not work on such soils. Far better to incorporate compost into the soil in and attempt to attract worms into the area. This is why I suggest five years incorporating compost and then trying a no-dig system but even five years may be too soon.
On light free draining soil there is insufficient moisture to keep the mulch moist and it will dry out and the interaction is lost and the compost will not get incorporated into the soil as is the intention of no-dig.
JB.
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LindaJane
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Re: No Digging on Light Soils

Postby LindaJane » Thu Dec 06, 2012 8:51 pm

Johnboy wrote:Hi LindaJane,
By pursuing a no-dig policy on light soil you are never actually going to improve your soil. The whole idea of digging light soils, adding as much composted material into the soil, will allow your crops to have moisture at the roots at all times. With compost in the soil it will retain the moisture but if you simply add layer upon layer of mulch you are actually wasting
valuable compost and your soil will remain very free draining which ultimately puts your crops at risk.
We have had some very wet years of late and this probably is why your results have been good but I ask you to consider what will happen if we manage to get a hot summer.
In a dry situation mulch simply dries out and after a couple of days hard sunshine is of no value to you whatsoever to your crop.
IMHO this is why no-dig on light soils is not a good thing.
I am not against no-dig systems but from my own experience conventional growing methods have proved to be the best.
I certainly use minimum till for certain applications but my soil has plenty of compost dug well into it and the minimum till would be the second/third year after composting.
JB.


Hi Johnboy
Thank you for your reply and I understand what you are saying. As you say this year would have yielded good crops anyway with the rain but my soil is also in good heart because I have been digging in manure and compost for many years. I have always understood though that the worms take the mulch down into the soil which means it would get to the plant roots as long as one puts it on in autumn to give it time to be digested. I shall wait and see what happens next season and let you know.
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Re: No Digging on Light Soils

Postby LindaJane » Thu Dec 06, 2012 8:59 pm

Johnboy wrote:Hi Sue,
A no-dig system operates by the use of mulches but relies heavily on a moist system to work properly. By mulching you are helping to conserve moisture in the system which assists the worms to interact with the mulch taking particles into the soil. It works quite well on the heavier soils but not on light free draining soils simply because the soil will not retain the moisture and prevents the interaction with the worms. Instead of digging the no-dig system relies solely on the worms to do the work for you. Worms are very scarce in these light free draining soils simply because of the lack of moisture. This is why the no-dig system will not work on such soils. Far better to incorporate compost into the soil in and attempt to attract worms into the area. This is why I suggest five years incorporating compost and then trying a no-dig system but even five years may be too soon.
On light free draining soil there is insufficient moisture to keep the mulch moist and it will dry out and the interaction is lost and the compost will not get incorporated into the soil as is the intention of no-dig.
JB.


Hi again Johnboy, I hadn't seen the rest of the thread when I wrote my last reply. Yes that all is making sense now so although it might work for me for a few years it is not long term proposition. I feel sad about that as I really liked the idea of worms making long term homes and not upsetting the soil fungi. However, as you say the soil is too dry to support many worms and that would explain why I don't see that many and there probably aren't loads of soil fungi for the same reason. I shall be getting my spade out again! LJ
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Re: No Digging on Light Soils

Postby Johnboy » Fri Dec 07, 2012 2:49 pm

Hi LindaJane,
I am so sorry to disappoint you but I am very glad that you have grasped what I was trying to convey.
Some years back a friend had a situation very similar to yours and he improved his situation by placing a polythene membrane simply lying flat three feet under his plot and although he was not trying to carry out a no-dig system basically it worked for him by simply restricting the drainage.
I must say that he, like me, has access to mechanical plant and what may take you a very long time was done over a weekend. His plot was situated over a sub-layer of gravel so you can imagine his problem.
JB.
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Re: No Digging on Light Soils

Postby Nature's Babe » Fri Dec 07, 2012 5:19 pm

hi Lindylane, well from what you wrote it seems you have already been feeding your soil well with compost and manure for years to improve the soil which is why the no dig is working well for you now You sound very observant and in tune with your garden and all gardens and gardeners are different, have confidence in your own judgement and do what feels right for you. Some folk here are no dig and others more traditionalist, no right or wrong way, just your way. With a big garden the problem can be having enough material to mulch with, as long as they are not seeding i dry any weeds on the path then add to the mulch I have three big bays for compost so always plenty on the go, amazing what can be recycled on the heaps. :)
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Re: No Digging on Light Soils

Postby solway cropper » Fri Dec 07, 2012 11:55 pm

JB's logic is impeccable (as usual) and it makes a great deal of sense. All the gardens I've ever worked were on fairly heavy soils and it never really occurred to me that there could be such a thing as free-draining land where worms might be in short supply. Up here in Cumbria we can only dream of such things!

Like NB I have more or less as much organic matter as I need to add to the soil so I suppose I'm lucky in having everything already in place for a no-dig system. It works for me, Lindylane, so go for it. And if it fails you'll know why.
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Re: No Digging on Light Soils

Postby Primrose » Sat Dec 08, 2012 12:17 pm

I'm wondering if somebody can explain exactly what "No Dig" means as I think it's a little confusing. Does it actually mean that the surface of the soil is never dug AT ALL or simply that it is not deeply dug. I'm looking at my vegetable patch right now, parts of which are completely bare and the soil has been very compacted by lots of rain and the feet of a large number of birds and squirrels running all over it. I surely can't believe I would get good crops by just making furrows and sowing seed directly into it in that condition.

I don't dig deeply as our soil it quite light and stoney, but do fork it over sufficiently to get each year's compost heap contents gently incorporated. Does this count as no digging, or not?
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Re: No Digging on Light Soils

Postby Johnboy » Sun Dec 09, 2012 9:08 am

Hi Primrose,
In the last few days I have endeavoured to assist Lindajane who gardens on very light free draining soil but it would appear that I couldn't possibly be the person to give you any information with regards to a No-dig system. I will leave this to those with so much more knowledge than myself.
I carried out an experiment some years back with a 90ft bed of the French Total Return System, which predated the British no-dig system,
alongside an Organic Bed and a Conventional Bed of the same dimensions. The experiment lasted for five years and at the end of it I gave up the Organics and no-dig systems.
I now garden pragmatically where although I am prepared use a chemical if all other methods would fail but it is now more than five years since anything other than a molluscicide have been used and that is now organically approved.
I do hope you get your answer.
Sincerely,
JB.
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