To dig or not

General tips / questions on seeding & planting

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Allan
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To dig or not

Postby Allan » Wed Dec 14, 2005 7:47 am

I'm surprised that nobody has yet commented on any subject in the magazine (I may have overlooked some)
It's almost as if it's holy ground and the gods there must never be challenged about anything.
However I'm going to start the ball rolling.Take this article by Bob Flowerdew whether to dig or not. I'll go along with the general idea that unquestioned dig-everything is not a good idea, it can be a waste of manpower and resources. But what I won't accept is the premise that everybody can get enough homemade or otherwise reliable compost for the necessary mulching, even right from the start. If you look at some practical figures or try it out for yourself there is a considerable shortfall.
I was at my last garden nearly 40 years and I collected all material I could from anywhere and there was never sufficient for that scale of mulching all round. Nowadays I compromise by only shallow working of the top 4-6 inches with as much material as I can muster up and most crops are quite happy with that. Any new material goes on bed preparation for the salads with spot treatment for tomatoes, cucurbits and other exotics in the tunnels.
I hope that others will comment on this.
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tony s
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Postby tony s » Wed Dec 14, 2005 9:14 am

Hi Allan.

I think this is a very good example of there being more than one example to get good results. I have my doubts about no-dig on heavy soil. Although all the articles I have read advise that it works a treat on clay, I have not yet seen a working example for myself. I grow on a fairly large allotment site, with over 100 plots in use, but although some use beds, I dont know any non diggers.

Getting enough organic matter is one thing, but weeds are another. There are several vacant plots nearby, supplying a constant fresh supply of all sorts of weed seeds. If you garden on a very well kept site or a tidy back garden, please do not underestimate the difference this makes. I did try beds, but the paths soon become full of weeds. They cant readily be hoed once compacted and even if they were covered in something, it is not as easy to hoe across beds, as along a row. Even if I were going to the trouble of beds with timber edges the weeds would grow up at the sides and be a pain.

For me what works is rotovating. Once a crop is cleared, I run the rotovator over the patch and this incorporates all the weeds that are around and gives a good tilth for the next sowing or planting. I dispute claims that rotovating is bad for the soil. Mine is getting easier to work each year. My friend on the next plot has been rotovating for 30 years and there is certainly nothing wrong with his soil or crops.

So No-Dig is not something I plan on trying, but I can certainly accept that it works for many people.
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Colin Miles
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No Dig

Postby Colin Miles » Wed Dec 14, 2005 7:02 pm

I have to agree whole-heartedly with Allan and Tony. I have moved from heavy clay to a relatively light medium-sandy soil and, after a year, am still amazed at how much easier it is to dig and weed now. And, since I am not now surrounded by weedy plots I think I could get away with not digging once it had been cleared, but I won't. There are still the bugs there and with all this rain here in Wales even this relatively light soil has become beaten down, waterlogged and compacted. And I also value the exercise! No-digging sounds good, but you need the soil, a lack of weeds and bugs and plenty of mulching material. Not terribly practical for most people and hardly ever for beginners.
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Lottie
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Mulching in no-dig

Postby Lottie » Wed Dec 14, 2005 9:08 pm

It's the sheer quantity required that defeats me - and I am making as much compost as I can (see the thread on compost scavenging). The only bed where it really worked for me last year was the potatoes - because we're using raised beds I decided to try out surface planting. Covered the potatoes with straw, shredded paper, half-made leaf mould, compost, grass clippings, and anything I could get my hands on. Carried on adding stuff as the haulms came through. We had a good crop of tatties and no weeds (due to density of potato foliage?) but the side effect was that all the stuff we added rotted/composted down and at the end of harvesting there was about 6-8 inches of the 'compost'. I took some of it off and used it elsewhere, but have still been left with a very good bed (in which I now have leeks).
Can't see how I can do all the beds like that though.
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Allan
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Postby Allan » Wed Dec 14, 2005 10:49 pm

Thanks all for excellent contributions. Like most gardening problems there is more than one answer. I hope this is brought to Bob's attention.
I plan to experiment more with the use of a sterile strip to sow seeds in, the idea being that the area most difficult for weeding is the narrow strip containing plant seedlings. The path area should be relatively easy to clear.
Allan
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tony s
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Postby tony s » Thu Dec 15, 2005 7:16 pm

Hi Allan

Can you give us some more details about your plans? I wondered if you were going to use a flame gun or fill drills with potting compost?

tony
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Beccy
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beccyhigman@blueyonder.co.uk

Postby Beccy » Sun Dec 18, 2005 7:37 pm

My allotment is on clay, heavy enough for me to have broken the handle of a fork on one occasion. I keep the soil 'mulched' ie covered at all times. This isn't usually with compost because like everyone else I don't produce enough. But black plastic does a fine job. Put on after a crop has been removed it is left until the bed is next needed, the plastic is removed to reveal what can only be described as a good tilth. We never walk on the beds so they don't get compacted. I also use black plastic on top of any organic mulch as if it isn't weed free they can't grow with no light.

And I have converted others to the method, because they simply weren't getting such good results by digging, in particular they had to wait a lot later in spring before being able to sow anything.

As for weeds on the paths that's what strimmers are for. I don't own one but find that borrowing a friend's three or four times a year works for me. This is partly because the paths are so compacted it is difficult for anything to germinate, it might be more of a problem on a lighter soil.
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Carole B.
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Postby Carole B. » Mon Dec 19, 2005 1:07 pm

I used to be a 'dig the plot all over in autumn' person but when I found I was running out of time to fit all the jobs in I went over to Bob's humped up no-dig beds last year just to try it out. I'm impressed by the results,I don't use a lot of mulch as like most people I just don't have that quantity,but I have made use of green manures on empty beds which I incorporate by covering.The narrow paths I just hoe off which is fine as long as you tackle it when they are small.I believe I read on here somewhere of someone who uses straw on the paths and then composts it at the end of the season.
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jane E
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Postby jane E » Mon Dec 19, 2005 6:58 pm

I think I read an article once by Bob Flowerdew in which he describes using straw round the edges of his beds and as a mulch.He was advocating it as a way of conserving moisture. Was this in KG? Straw would be quite easily obtained as a mulch - about £1 for one of those small manageable bales. Has anyone any experience of using straw as a mulch and does it rot down easily? I suppose we use it with strawberries. I use part beds and part open soil. The beds do warm up more quickly on a clay soil and are more workable more quickly. It allows me to get an earlier start. However I've never used them for potatoes or runner beans - don't know why not - creature of habit perhaps. Just recently the local farmer dropped me off 3 bucketfuls of the most rotted down manure I've ever seen. I was able to build his wife 2 raised beds with it, which may be the only way in which she will be able to garden veg without help because she's disabled. So there's a use for beds done Bob's way!He definitely challenges gardeners to justify why we do things the way we do -just as Allan has done with this thread and that's all to the good.
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Tigger
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To Dig or Not

Postby Tigger » Tue Dec 20, 2005 8:25 pm

I'm a deep bed fan. Haven't double digged a plot for more than 20 years. Neither have I stood on any of them. I turn over the top of each section in the autumn, cover with home grown compost, leave to the frost and worms, then plant in the spring.
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