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It is debateable, some say digging destroys the soils structure and others say it is necesarry to avoid creating a hard pan in the soil.Each situation is different depending on the history of your plot. I try not to dig my soil and simply mulch in the Autumn with well rotted compost or well rotted manure then cover these vacant areas with cardboard until the spring. The covering will protect the soil from erosion during the winter months and the worms will pull the mulch into the soil during this time. No weed seeds will germinate and no air born seeds can penetrate the covering. Come the spring I can remove the cardboard as necesarry and reveal lovely soil.
I tend to seek a compromise on dig/nodig. I believe it is important to airate the soil to improve the decomposition of organic matter so I tend to just stick my fork right in and wiggle it about. It disturbs the soil ever so slightly and loosens it up.
Good advice for weed control Daniel. Many thanks. So much can be achieved by adding material to the soil surface rather than digging.
Anyone taking over a weed infested allotment could well do with following your advice – covering the ground with compost (or spent hops) then a membrane, and planting through this. I've tried something similar in the past myself, and it really helps smother and kill problem weeds, and prevents more annual ones germinating.
I think planting through a membrane will help me in my extreme old age, Adam, and, as for extra watering ,I already have a large waterbutt by the veg.garden which is filled from a caravan roof but I have a spare one in the butterfly garden which I will move down to the new beds and let it fill up over the winter. Thanks for the warning, Adam.
I am definitely not an expert, but I believe a heavy clay soil benefits from digging, especially if plenty of compost is well dug in. Once the soil structure improves, and that can take some time, then digging becomes not so important.
The no dig method it wonderful, preserving the soil ecosystem, saving backs and producing lovely organic vegetables and healthy flower gardens. I have admired them at Belmont Garden where the head gardener described the method used there and at Capel Manor College where a no dig garden was created directly from an area of lawn. Both these gardens are part of large estates with copious supplies of rotted manure and compost. But the problem for the small gardener and allotment holder remains - how to produce, or even import enough well rotten, bulky manure or compost to lay 3-4 inches on the beds every winter. I just can.t make enough of the lovely stuff in my garden. Our allotments import stable manure which rots to lovely stuff, but even so you can't make enought quickly to cover the space.
I have a nice size 'lotty, on a north facing slope, in Northumberland. it can be a real pain to grow stuff, but some summers are wonderful for lettuce, carrots, strawbs, currants and suchlike. Then, broadbeans become a desperate fight for survival, the wind lifts panes off the glass house, and sweet corn loses the will to live ! I would love to no-dig, but the local farmer has lost interest in dumping an annual load of manure at the end of the path. ( Insufficient rendering of home made wines to his threshold !)
I have found over many years, that no-dig is either a complete waste of time if you want good healthy cropping, or a 'good thing' if you want to just let nature take it's course, and be happy with a reduced amount of crops or variety. Nature has a way of weeding out the weakest.