A most definite yes!
For someone who posts as a no digger I have recently written very little about it. It’s just that over the last two years I have run parallel series on the detrimental effects of digging and another on why gardeners dig. The ‘why dig’ series took a broad definition of digging and included most of the legitimate (and also rather less usual) reasons why gardeners disturb the soil.
I have not changed my mind and all those writings are as relevant now as when they were written. I do not want to repeat myself (well not too much!) and will help you at the end of this epistle to find posts that you might have missed. Initially their titles did not indicate the actual content and I am starting to amend them.
|Is it appropriate that a man with a spade is the house name logo on our home?
I have been a none digger nearly 45 years and my thinking has changed in one small way in recent years. Although I still shudder at the sight of fluffed up and loosened soil and cringe at the harm unnecessary soil disturbance creates, I am not as doctrinaire as I used to be when I used to think almost any soil breakup was a sin!
Damage to soil’s structure happens. I have indicated many legitimate reasons for ‘using a spade’ such as planting, dividing, lifting root crops and burying things (not normally soft vegetation, nature does that for you). My own soil gets loosened by the wretched rabbits and moles! I just kick it back and it sometimes looks tidier than my liverwort. Soil is actually very resilient. It has to be when you consider the dreadful things gardeners do to it!
|My small, stainless steel border spade is sharp, light and easy to use
I once pondered doing a post about the legitimate uses of a spade. My small stainless steel border spade is my favourite tool – but in my own gardens never for conventional turning over! There are a myriad of operations you can do with a spade such as planting, dividing, scraping, edging, shallow hoeing, chopping out, digging holes and mixing compost. The uses are endless but I don’t want to bore you.
A recent visiting party was perplexed and could not understand what a no dig garden must be. They asked Brenda “does he rotavate?” Some gardeners never get past the false notion that soil management is only one step removed from playing with buckets and spades on the beach!
I should no longer fear that the world is against me! My informants tell me that some great TV gardening gurus have recently stated that ‘no dig’ is the future for amateur gardeners.
I am sometimes asked if no dig is so good, why do farmers plough and cultivate to smash up their soil?
My first answer is that many growers of perennial crops such as fruit don’t do much cultivation. I also point out that fewer farmers now leave their roughened soil exposed to the so called ‘beneficial’ effects of the Winter and very soon after harvesting the next crop goes in. Farmers now generally cultivate less deeply albeit interspersed with an occasional ‘deep busting’ of plough pan compaction.
My second answer is that farmers are a conservative bunch and everything in their world is built around conventional ploughing. Machinery and equipment is not geared to none cultivation.
Perhaps closer to the truth is that cultivation enables rapid turn arounds between one crop and another. Sheer brute force can be used to carry out operations at specific times when contractors are available. No matter if soil structure is destroyed by heavy equipment on wet land when harvesting. It can be broken up again by the next cultivation. It might use a great deal of energy but farming methods do work and produce very high yields. As Jethro Tull discovered all those years ago.
|This cultivation needs a great deal of energy and has a huge effect on soil structure
There are certain weeds not easily controlled in farming without conventional cultivations. Direct drilling into fields of cereal stubble was once thought to be the way forward, especially facilitated by burning, but we don’t like smoke and fire. Unfortunately decaying stubble produces natural herbicide toxins - the same ones that kill algae when gardeners float barley stubble on their ponds. I have the same trouble when I have accidents with glyphosate on my lawn. Just scattering grass seed onto the fresh yellow patch does not work!
Even in farming - especially outside the UK - there is much interest in no till methods.
Our walk in the country was not ‘a walk in the park’
We have recently taken to walking local public footpaths over the fields. It has been such a nice Autumn but very wet. Some of the footpaths across fields are ploughed and cultivated and then reinstated as the law obliges. What a wet podgy mess to walk on!
Contrary to popular opinion, cultivation does not usually improve drainage - not unless severe compaction already exists and pans need loosening. Very often such compaction is the consequence of previous cultivation!
Only lone signposts registered our way. You were actually walking on water soaked fields of newly sown cereal or grassland. Our feet sank in and caused structural soil damage and we got very muddy wellington boots. No wonder conventional gardeners are instructed to never walk on wet soil.
To me the biggest advantage of minimum cultivation, is that you can walk and work on firm settled wet soil whenever you want to without causing any damage at all.
What a contrast when we walked on footpaths where it had been pasture for several years. It was firm and well aerated and surplus water had run rapidly away through all those un-smashed natural worm and root-made channels.
I must qualify this statement because whether you cultivate or not, drainage only takes place if water has somewhere to drain to. Sometimes ease of water penetration is only half of the story and land drains are needed.
My post on mycorrhiza explained how these fungi can establish in none dug soil.
Essential in nature, I wonder how many mycorrhiza actually get going in a highly fertile garden soil. Even when un-dug.
How to find my previous posts on ‘reasons to dig’ and the ‘reasons why not’.
To find previous posts about digging, go to the search box at the bottom of the blog scroll. (The box at the top gives far more limited results).
Merely insert either the single words ‘reasons’ or ‘why’ to find them all!