No-dig allotment gardening and the benefit of time

In January, I wrote of my decision to make the transition to no-dig allotment gardening.

Summer is on the horizon and it seems an appropriate point to review my experience of no-dig so far.

I’ve been inspired by the performance of the crops this spring and have also realised a significant benefit with no-dig gardening. The gift of time.

The vegetables grown in the no- dig beds have been impressive. The early crop of delicious beetroot topping the chart.

BEETROOT. Harvesting the first of the year. This is fantastic. #gyo #tw

A post shared by Richard Chivers (@sharpenyourspades) on

Harvesting early beetroot from the no-dig bed

As well as beetroot, other crops have felt fairly effortless to manage and the wait for a harvest of early carrots will soon be over. The parsnips are growing superbly, the pea plants are covered in pods and the spinach has provided bowlfuls of delicious green leaves.

Peas

Blauwschokker peas

spinach bowl

Popeye would be proud!

Let me go back for a moment.

Having known of Charles Dowding and his no-dig methods for some time, I finally bought his books over the winter and read them one after another.

I also spent time watching and listening to him speak and demonstrate his approach through the videos available on his website and YouTube channel.

I wrote in my January post that the shift in my way of thinking and approach to allotment gardening was immediate. Every excuse for not adopting the no-dig methods – and I had held onto them for quite some time – was quashed in that short period of time. I felt determined at least to give the approach a go.

As I say in my about page, I genuinely believe it possible and hugely beneficial to manage an allotment or kitchen garden, despite the daily family and working life.

My aims have always been to connect with the many grow your own enthusiasts out there, engage with the gardening industry and importantly, try to inspire and support others to join in and grow their own fruit and vegetables too.

I have to ensure the approach I take on the allotment lives up my perspective – not just for others but for me too. It’s why the ideas within the no-dig practices appealed to me.

Reading Charles’ books, you soon realise that Charles’ approach no-dig gardening is more than not using a spade to turn the soil each year. It is a wide-ranging methodology that utilises sustainability and natural processes that deliver both environmental and resource efficient practices to grow fruit and vegetables.

In terms of my ambitions, addressing resource efficiency is one of the significant factors.

Many people would love to grow their own fruit and vegetables. I believe the restrictions, if either space or the availability of an allotment is not part of the consideration, is knowledge, cost and predominately the availability of time.

Many families are restricted to spare time after work and on weekends. If you consider the limitations of daylight during the autumn and winter months, you can see how the issue of time for this group of people becomes such an issue.

no-dig-bed
One of the no-dig beds before a little rake over

Here are 3 ways the no-dig approach can ease the restriction of time when it comes to managing the allotment and kitchen garden.

1 – No digging

I’m not a reluctant digger. In fact, digging has been an activity I’ve relished over the years. It has a seasonality to it. When autumn days were clear and crisp, I loved nothing more than turning the soil with my breath a white mist in front of me. However, it is hard work and it does take time.

When I made the decision to move to no-dig the immediate benefit was time. After spending 15 mins covering the beds with a few inches of compost, I found I had so much time to do other tasks in preparation for the new season. I tidied up the overgrowth. I improved the woodchip paths and I spent much more of my time planning and choosing the fruit and vegetables to grow.

Don’t underestimate the luxury this time provides. Instead of trying to catch up on the digging as spring approached, cursing the rain that had kept me away from the task for much of the winter, I was on top of sowing and planting.

2 – Reducing the time spent weeding

In the six months of no-dig gardening on some of my allotment beds, there has been a noticeable difference in the amount of time I have to spend weeding and maintaining the no-dig beds. Although the mulching has not prevented the persistence of the horsetail, its removal is much easier and as for annual weeds, I could count these on my fingers as there has been so few.

I’ll caveat this point in as much as we still have the length of the summer to go. The warm temperatures and a mixture of sunshine and rain will likely put this matter to the test, but in comparison to the number of weeds on the not-no-dig beds, it’s certainly impressive at this point.

3 – Reducing the time spent watering

April was incredibly dry. Here in Wales, it’s very unusual not to feel the rain on your face for such a long period of time and it’s rare I water the allotment at any time of the year. I joined many of my neighbours, heading to the allotment most evenings to ensure the early plants were getting a drink.

What became noticeable was the difference between the no-dig beds and the not-no-dig beds. I have clay soil – in dry weather, it has a habit of setting hard like concrete. This was certainly the case during April. Running a hoe along these beds sent a dust cloud up into the air. The no-dig beds were completely different. The plants were thriving and certainly didn’t look like they were short of water. I pushed my hand beneath the compost and sure enough, the soil was fantastic. Beautiful texture, warm and full of moisture.

2017-06-04_21h11_21

I recently discovered the no-dig Facebook group managed by Steph Hafferty – Charles Dowding’s partner. If you are a no-dig gardener, I recommend you request to join the group. It has over five and half thousand members all sharing their own experiences of no-dig gardening and providing support, answers and tips.

I’d love to hear about your experiences with no-dig gardening. Leave me a comment below or come join in the discussion on Facebook.

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4 thoughts on “No-dig allotment gardening and the benefit of time

  1. And, Reducing the time spent faffing and failing with seed trays?
    I have found it much easier and productive, and TIME saving, direct-sowing into no-dig raised beds, rather than faffing about with seed trays. The soil is often finer (or can be given a top-mulch of seed compost, then cover the seeds with the same. Carrots, beets, broad and runner beans, spring onions, peas etc.
    This wouldn’t work with “hot weather” seeds that really need a heat boost to get started early enough to get a harvest (tomatoes, aubergines etc).

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great. I’m making the same transition this year, although I think I’ve started later than you did. I haven’t read the books (yet). I’ve used a 3in mulch of spent mushroom compost this spring . Would have been better to do that earlier, late last year
    maybe, but never mind. I already had raised beds so the mulch is almost all i needed to do, i think…perhaps i should read the books….

    Liked by 1 person

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