Digging and not digging

by Jane Moore

At this time of year, gardeners and plot holders take advantage of any dry, sunny weather to improve the soil and get their beds ready for planting.

Digging At this time of year, gardeners and plot holders take advantage of any dry, sunny weather to improve the soil and get their beds ready for planting. My neighbours on the allotment have been doing just that - everywhere I look there are freshly turned plots and beds.

While some of my neighbours have only just started digging their plots, others already have theirs ready. Annoyingly, at the entrance to our allotments is the most pristine and well-managed plot of them all. Every time I drive past it I am reminded of how much work I need to do. (Bizarrely I have never seen the owner of this testament to horticultural virtue.)

I'm not a great digger myself. I used to dig my beds thoroughly, but these days I prefer to simply fork them over. I then add a layer of compost or manure and let nature do all the hard work for me (all the little critters and earthworms draw it into the soil, leaving me to get on with other jobs).

But for some, even forking over the soil can damage its delicate structure. They advocate the no-dig technique in which a thick mulch is applied to the soil surface every year. This could help prevent weed seeds from emerging as it prevents light from reaching them. Now that does sound like a good idea!

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Gardeners' World Web User 03/02/2008 at 00:39

As much as I love the idea of "No Digging" I still get the feeling that the saying "No such thing as a free lunch" comes into play here. I've never met a gardener yet who can produce enough compost from their own garden to mulch all the beds to a satisfactory depth. That means buying mulch/compost which seems a bit counter productive if growing your own is supposed to be a cost saver. For the very elderly or infirmed I do see that it has its advantages but to me nothing beats a good dig. And who knows, I might even find the odd gold bar while I'm hard at it.

Gardeners' World Web User 04/02/2008 at 12:28

I am 64 and have a bad back. I have just moved into a new property with a virgin garden nothing but unturned soil. Yes the weeds have all been cleared. As the soil is mainly clay and sloops down to the rear I had intended putting mainly lawn away from the house and beds at the rear and sides. I will also put in raised beds for the good old veg. Right so what is best do I rotovate and mix in drainage materials then compost and finally top soil or what? Please put me right as I keep getting told to just put top soil in and seed.

Gardeners' World Web User 09/02/2008 at 22:27

cabbage white butterflies.

I have been told by a few plotters that a good way to keep cabbage white butterflies off brassicas is to spray with a lettuce tea leave the lettuce in water for two to three weeks & spray the tea on the brassicas. Has anyone had success with this method? I think I might have a go this year

Gardeners' World Web User 10/02/2008 at 10:23

When we first took over our plot October '05 it looked like some sort of terrible scene from a 50's/60's SciFi film. You know the one where the unsuspecting explorers are getting picked off one by one by the plants tendrils.

So for the first winter I set to digging out the weeds from old carpet, lengths of metal pipe/tubing that had rusted at surface level and were hibernating under ground waiting for an unsuspecting finger or two and miles of those evil white roots that you know will sprout into yet another man-eater as soon as you turn your back.

Then I boxed out the first half of the plot. The weather had other ideas. It rained and rained and suddenly the plot looked like the Somme, complete with duck boards. We had a shed donated from the other end of the site, much fun being stopped by the new owners as we humped the shed away, oops!

So come rain or, well, rain actually we struggled with the mud and so we were ready. All the raised beds were sieved and stones etc cast aside.

By gingo we were ready for the spring sow. The growth and yield was staggering. So I started on the second half, despite the fact that the sun was now making up for time, phew it was hot. The bottom end of our site was blessed with a mature asparagus bed, lucky huh! But the rest of the plot was full of spuds.

So shirt off I dug out the beds to a depth of 500mm lined them with mulched leaves and sieved everything back in. Back breaking and the cause of much derision by other plot holders, but we couldn't keep up with the produce, welcomed by family, friends, colleagues and the like.

So last year was light in produce all across the site but after the addition of 3cu metres of the stables' best fallout (sic) in November '07 not a weed in site, yippeeee! And with the advice of Bob Flowerdew and the old fellas (every plot has them) we will only hoe the little green aliens in except for the nasty ones.

2008 the year of the No-dig. Happy growin'!

Gardeners' World Web User 12/02/2008 at 17:57

My comment is really not wheather to dig or not, but a question to you expert allotment holders. I cover my allotment for the winter in late autumn with a very large weed-control fleece. This is lovely in the spring as when it's time to dig, I find that there are no weeds to dig or pull out. While this is good for me, my husband on the other hand says that I am depriving the soil of all nutrients and that the worms will not want to churn it up. Someone out there must know. I wait in anticipation!

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