Category Archives: no dig

Cover crops

What used to be known as green manures have taken on a new significance, they are now called cover crops and are used to protect and improve soil.

In many ways the benefits are the same in terms of returning nutrients but there is another crucial effect. Current research has shown how crucial the network of soil fungi are in protecting and improving soils structure and enhancing the nutrient levels available to plants.

The use of mycorrhizae fungi has increased over the last decade. Now there is evidence of the beneficial relationship between the fungi and plants roots. The roots exude sugars which feed the fungi in return the fungi breakdown organic matter into the nutrients the plants need.

The key thing to remember is that the web of hyphae, the thin, white cotton like strands of the fungi are easily broken by digging. In agriculture many farmers in the US are turning to ‘no till’ growing meaning that they do not plough after harvest but sow straight into the ground. The same applies to gardening, stop digging as it destroys soil structure!

The regime here is to remove crops with as little soil disturbance as possible, mulch with compost and sow into the mulch. During winter, the beds are covered with a crop which is cut down in spring, covered with compost and new seeds sown.

(Please note: I have no affiliation with Marshalls other than occasionally buying seeds from them.)

Stop digging!

When I had an allotment in Coventry there used to be procession of mature allotment holders hobbling around every autumn. Some would stop at the gate and ask if I had done the digging yet. When I said no, I don’t dig they would express surprise, shake their heads and shuffle off.

Now modern advances in soil management have demonstrated that deep cultivation, or any cultivation, damages soil. Thirty years ago it was still considered to be wrong, and a bad way to garden, how things have changed.

Earth works: a layer of mulch on your soil is enough. Photograph: sanddebeautheil/Getty Images/iStockphoto

An article by James Wong in The Guardian says it all:

“The natural action of earthworms in soil creates a healthy crumb structure and riddles it with tiny, air-filled channels, which digging destroys. Rather than suppressing weeds, the action of digging brings seeds that may be lying dormant underground to the surface, triggering their germination.”

So, if you want some exercise go for a walk or a swim but don’t wreck your back by digging the garden.