Reasons not to dig 2 revisited
It’s not that I have run out of reasons not to dig, it’s just that people just don’t seem to believe my previous exhortation that no dig gardening facilitates working on wet soil. I imagine I am perceived as just an eccentric old man who jumps on his soil! Today I am not pussyfooting around, I want to make my point with some force. The gloves are off.
Gardener’s learn on their metaphorical mother’s knee that they cannot go out and garden after heavy rain. For many gardening tasks this is true in a garden composed of loose fluffed up soil! I mean the kind promoted by most of the media. Some people have not progressed beyond making sand pies on the beach.Their mental image of good soil is one worked with a bucket and spade. They believe the more they cultivate and crumble, the more fertile their soil will be. Wrong, fundamentally wrong.
Of course you should not stand on such a loosened soil when it is wet and least of all, horror of horror, work it. Your feet will sink in and and cause structural damage. The children’s tyre marks won’t look very good either! Walked on wet cultivated soil will become compacted. Most broken up soils, especially clay ones if worked on when wet become a sticky clarty mess. The children might like to hold a clarty party. The seeds of my love of gardening were sown when making mud pies when I was two. Many wet compacted soils later become hard and rock-like when dry. Whilst still wet, compacted clay soils may even retain surface standing water which is unable to penetrate into the ground. When I see loosened wet soil I do not see fertility and beauty. I see a disaster about to happen. If the rain is very heavy the disaster may already be underway as the soil slakes down or even starts to erode.
An un-dug soil that carries vegetation is biologically rich and benefits from healthy worm and root action. It takes many months for a soil damaged by cultivation to return to it’s natural healthy state. Rather like a junkie breaking his habit, it takes some effort to revive a soil that has been excessively stirred. I discuss the problem in this post.
With the passage of time, with enlightened management and no digging, soil becomes settled and cohesive. Your boots do not sink in! If such a none dug soil is investigated with a spade, below the firm surface it is found to be honeycombed with aerated channels which provide excellent root penetration and drainage. Most of the gardening world thinks that a soil which is firm at the surface is compacted. They are wrong. When I look at settled soil in my borders, in my cemetery gardens and on my vegetable plot, in my minds’s eye I see healthy soil. I do not have to disturb my soil (and thereby damage it) to show the world that below the surface my soil is in fine fettle.
How being able to access wet soil fundamentally changes one’s gardening philosophy.
After heavy rain you can plant. In summer if it pours down all night I am delighted! I can fill my car boot with plants to take to my cemetery gardens or village plot. I can get those brassica plants in on my vegetable garden. When the soil wet - best very wet - it is ready to encourage rapid root establishment and holds sufficient surface moisture to avoid constant watering.The atmosphere also figures to be humid and the plants will not quickly dry out.
At the time of writing (mid August), I would love a week’s deep meteorological depression so I can do some serious planting of new borders in Cathi’s garden. Her soil is settled, it has not been cultivated for years. Over the last five months I have by repeated spraying eliminated all of her weeds. I just need to wait for some heavy rain to get planting.The plants will be slitted in or inserted in small holes. I expect the soil to crumble as I plant with my small border spade. They will be trod in with a firm boot. The process will be speedy and 95% of the soil will be undisturbed. I am reshaping the line of the margins and a few square meters of soil will be lightly scratched with a garden fork to scatter grass seed. One hundred square meters of border will take two or three hours to plant and that time includes lifting a substantial number of divisions from my own garden. All these tasks will be done on very wet soil. If it rains for a few more days I will be in heaven. If it stubbornly turns hot and dry I will be out with the hosepipe, it will only take a few minutes as I will only be watering the planting holes. If Cathi thinks the soil surface looks a little untidy we will later put on a mulch.
After heavy rain I love to go to Bolton Percy to make my maintenance visit and spray glyphosate. When wet, the soil is unsuitable for hoeing, weeds will reroot. As long as it’s stopped raining it is ideal for chemical weed control. Often on my visits I see people walking round. The fact that they are walking on wet soil is of no consequence to the health of my plants, nor will they unduly dirty their footwear. I always invite garden visitors on my open days to walk on my soil to closely inspect plants!
I can plant, I can prune, I can weed, I can harvest. I can walk on my wet soil without damaging it at all. I don’t quite understand why gardeners create raised beds so that they can walk around them. The whole of my former un-dug allotment in Bolton Percy was as fertile as any raised bed. I could access it at any time.
Wet soil never stops me going out in my garden.
Words for the doubters.
I can hear. “Roger you have a sandy soil. Any fool knows that you can access a coarse textured sandy soil at any time. If you damage the structure it matters little on sand”. I confess this is true (ish). My ‘other’ gardens do have a fairly heavy textured soil and over the years in my former gardens and working for clients I have frequently worked on un-dug wet heavy clay. I stand by what I say.
Things never work out quite as planned. I have been planting Cathi’s border over three weeks now. Some wet weather materialized but not as much as ordered. I have popped over the hedge on several occasions and each time have planted about a dozen divisions. I am nowhere near finished but a hundred hunky herbaceous plants are now established and will have time to make magnificent plants next year. The lifting, planting and watering so far has taken about six man hours.
|Not a thing of beauty but it soon will be