It wasn’t until I truly started to understand the importance of worms and other life under the soil that I realized how much damage is done when we dig and till below the surface of the ground. Earthworms are an indicator of healthy garden soil. Every time the sharp blade of a shovel or tiller meets the ground, it literally destroys enormous numbers of worms, insects and microbes that all contribute to soil health. Once I discovered how easy it is to create an organic garden teaming with life, I hung up my shovel and sold my tiller.
Advantages of No Digging
My no-dig gardens have out produced my former conventional gardens by almost three-fold. I am now growing basketfuls of fresh organic food that has been raised in naturally healthy soil. Another great advantage of not turning up soil is that weed seeds are never actually given a chance to take hold. You can basically ignore the health of your existing soil as you will be creating your own within a confined garden bed. Raised beds also allow you to easily extend the growing season on either end as mini-greenhouses can easily be constructed to cover your crops.
You can create a no dig garden virtually anywhere; there is no need for a big farm or wide-open spaces. A neat little raised bed makes a perfect organic garden for city dwellers. One of my favorite advantages of this system of gardening is that I don’t have to spend all day digging and tilling in order to prepare my garden. I put my beds to sleep in the winter with a healthy layer of composted manure to keep them warm, and they greet me in the spring ready for planting.
Raised beds are the best way to set up a no-dig garden. Several beds grouped together with walkways in between allow room to work and also make for a remarkably neat presentation. Raised beds can be constructed of many materials. You can make them from wood, cement blocks, bricks, wooden pallets, logs, straw bales, or even old tires. Whatever you can find that will hold organic matter works; the possibilities are limited only by your creativity. The ideal no dig plot is located in an area that receives at least six hours of sun daily, and has a slight slope and good drainage. If you have room, you can include your compost system and a tool shed in your garden plot so that everything is handy. If you get really ambitious, consider surrounding your raised garden plot with a chicken moat.
(What's a chicken moat? Check this out.)
One of the greatest advantages of no-dig gardening is that you can control the health of the soil. The key to raised bed gardening is the organic value of the raw materials. Things such as peat moss, composted chicken, cow or horse manure, mulched leaves, grass clippings and kitchen scraps are all an integral part of the organic raised bed system. You can construct a five sided garden box out of cedar or redwood and support it off the ground with strong cinder block legs, or you can make a four sided frame right on the ground.
If you constructed your bed right on the ground, lay newspapers or some cardboard on the ground to kill the grass. Then, begin piling up your organic matter. Start with a couple of inches of peat moss followed by 3 inches of organic matter followed by more peat moss. Repeat this layering until you have reached the top of your bed. On the very top sprinkle some wood ashes and bone meal for extra potassium and phosphorous. Of course, over time your layers will settle and you can keep adding more. It will not take long for you to see all sorts of worm activity in your bed as the material continues to decompose. That’s it, no digging no shoveling, no backbreaking work at all. Just a box full of happy worms and rich planting medium!