Over a number of years I have had the pleasure to experiment with various methods of vegetable gardening. We have run our Vegetable Garden here at Sissinghurst organically from its conception. Organic gardening, often a misunderstood concept, and I’ll refrain from getting on my soapbox on this occasion, lends itself to a little known method called “No Dig” gardening.
Organic methods allow the natural organisms in the soil to build up. Beneficial worms and mycorrhizae that help plants to thrive, have long been shown to have higher numbers in organically farmed areas than in conventional farms. The action of disturbing the soils structure by digging, destroys the symbiotic nature of these organisms, and sadly we all know that chopping a worm in half does not give you 2 worms… it just gives you 2 halves of a dead worm.
‘No Dig’ gardening is all about building up the structure of the ground your plants take their nutrients from, as organic gardening is all about feeding the soil and not the plant. Both methods concentrate their attention on the growing medium and its sustainability long-term. Another reason for choosing to go ‘No Dig’ is its effect on weed seedlings. You may have heard the phrase: “1 year’s weed, 7 year’s seed”? Weed seedlings can lay dormant in the soil for years, the action of turning the soil exposes new weed seedlings to the conditions they need to germinate. You may not see a benefit in your first year of using the ‘No Dig’ method but like all things in gardening we think long term. In a year’s time the supply of weed seedlings will be almost exhausted and in years 2 and 3 you will notice a significant drop.
Here at Sissinghurst, we have over the winter, been converting from our field growing methods to ‘No Dig’ beds. Each bed is 4ft wide, easily accessible from both sides, this alleviates the need to ever tread on the bed. Compaction is to be avoided and walking across the bed would ruin the soil structure. Depending on the crop we intend on growing in each bed we have added straw, hay, manure, compost or ash from the fire. I can speak only for this year but already we are seeing good results, the action of raising the ground level allows our plants to keep growing through this wet weather, and already the ground is warm enough to plant out lettuce!
Louise (Senior Vegetable Gardener)