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The 'no dig method' of gardening is a growing trend, try it before the main vegetable planting season arrives
So, here we are, more than three quarters of the way through January already. Grow your own enthusiasts and those with an allotment will already be champing at the bit, eager to start sowing and growing. Let's look at what you can be getting on with right now. It's a great month for preparing the plot. For some, this means digging. This helps to bury weeds and loosen the soil. Digging the vegetable garden or allotment in order to prepare for spring growing and sowing is the traditional way to go about things, but with the benefit of ecological understanding together with science, it might not be necessary.
The no dig method of gardening and growing
There is a steady movement towards the no-dig method of gardening and there's certainly a lot to be said for it. Those with little enthusiasm for hard labour will be delighted to learn that they don't need to turn over the soil. What they will require, however, is lots of well-rotted organic matter. We all need to get rid of unwanted weeds, so let's smother them. It's a lot less work and undoubtedly much better for the health of the land.
Most annual weeds are easy to kill if you cut off their light supply. Perennial weeds can also be treated in the same way, but it might take longer. It's just a matter of time before the weeds throw in the towel. What's more, once you have collected and spread the compost, you can sit back smugly and wait for things to improve.
Here's an easy guide to the no dig method of preparing the soil:
Firstly, take a look to see what's growing. If your weeds are of the annual variety and are soft, low-growing species, you can simply cover the entire area with around 10cm of deep, organic matter. Home-made compost mixed with well-rotted manure and maybe some added leaf mould will do very nicely. Some people like to put a covering of cardboard over their weeds before adding the compost, in order to make sure the maximum amount of darkness is achieved.
If you have some perennial weeds such as nettles, docks, thistles, brambles, dandelions, bindweed and creeping buttercups, just remove the height, cutting down to ground level (but not worrying about the roots), add your layer of organic matter as per annual weeds, then smother the villains with a landscape fabric such as Mypex. This is better than plastic because it allows rain to get through, thus enabling worms to continue making their magic.
Finally, top the surface with a generous layer of bark or wood chip, to cut out even more light. The treatment for perennial weeds can take a year or so. This means that you might want to use the ground as a base for a raised bed to tide you over. The no dig method means that you sow and plant into your generous layer of organic matter. The worms are your friends and they work away tirelessly under the surface, pulling down your compost and mixing it up with the soil. Top up your beds between crops with more compost, at least 2cm deep.
The glory of mulch
You can start practising the no dig method right away, it really doesn't matter what's gone before. A great place to start is with a mulch. All perennial plants, fruit trees and soft fruit bushes benefit from a good layer of mulch which can be made of small pieces of bark, home-made compost, leaf mould, rotted manure, straw or woodchip. Just remember that fruit such as blueberries need acid soil and are better suited to a mulch containing pine needles or bark.
Mulch cuts down your workload right away. It traps in the moisture, thereby cutting down on the need for watering. The soil covering smothers weeds, thereby eliminating the need for weeding. This gradually improves the soil, thereby providing fertiliser. It's great for insects and wildlife. What's not to love?