The Minimalist Guide to Gardening

Posted By: Alexandra Campbell On: February 5th, 2014 In: Uncategorized

The three most boring gardening jobs are digging, weeding and taking stuff to the tip. And I can’t dig. It always puts my back out, or my shoulder, or my leg…..I’ve tried smaller spades, focusing on my posture, taking regular breaks and trying all sorts of techniques. And I manage to do a fair amount with a trowel, on my hands and knees, but, on the whole, most digging in my garden is done by anyone I can pay or persuade to do it.

So I was definitely interested in the No-Dig garden approach, and it sounds particularly brilliant for us middle-sizers. The town courtyard can, I am sure, be tackled with a trowel (or a garden maintenance company) and the country estate is more likely to have proper professional help. Here in the middle, with limited time and money, the word ‘no’ is a very welcome sound.

From the compost bin for no-dig beds

From the compost bin – hoping it’ll be ready to layer on the no-dig beds by spring

For a few years I have vaguely absorbed advice, from books and articles, that you didn’t need to do a thorough dig of your veg beds in autumn. You could just add a layer of compost or manure and the worms would do your digging for you. Indeed I was told that excessive digging was a Victorian invention to keep gardeners employed all year round. And an arable farmer friend, Richard, says that he no longer ploughs in autumn because it’s a waste of time and money – any rain will just impact the soil and negate the point of digging.

No-Dig is not just about Not Digging

So when I found out about a Facebook page for the no-digging movement called UnDug, I joined. The no-dig guru is Charles Dowding, and his page on starting no-dig is here.  I discovered that No-Dig Gardening is not about making less effort. One of its main strengths is in organic weed control. Layer a bed with black plastic or cardboard and leave it. The weeds will exhaust themselves trying to grow in the dark. You can also, I think, cover it with loads of compost and plant straight into it. I wouldn’t use it for the flower beds  – I’d lose my cherished self-seeders along with the weeds, and I don’t think the bulbs would like it either. But great for the veg patch, and Charles has demonstrated that yields from No-Dig are as good or better than conventionally dug beds. And if you want a new veg bed in the lawn you just add raised sides and pour the compost in on top of the lawn, without digging it out. Fab.

Less is more and more and more….

And then there is the dismal job of taking stuff that won’t compost to the tip. The UnDug group also alerted me to hugelkultur – ‘the art of transforming woody debris into a garden resource’.

Sticks for hugelkultur

If I was much better at following instructions I could turn these sticks into nutrition for my beds…

Taking woody debris to the tip has to be one of the most boring garden jobs ever, so I read this on hugelkultur, which would work tremendously well for someone a bit more diligent than I am. For the time being, I will go on persuading the very nice Mr Middle-Size to go on taking my clippings away. For someone who isn’t interested in gardening, he is very obliging about this sort of thing. so that’s digging, weeding and taking things to the tip that can all be minimised on the ‘to-do’ list.

I’m going to carry out my own experiment. I have four veg beds. I’m going to do proper No-Dig on two of them, layering cardboard on top, then adding compost and planting into it (have I got that right?). And for the other two, I’ll be doing the old-fashioned thing of adding gardening sand, manure and home-made compost. Then I’ll ask my daughter -or Stephanie and Helen, or even dear Mr Middle-Size – to dig it all in for me. Perhaps I should start a Facebook page called Someone-Else-Dig.

Do tell us all if you’ve found anything else you can avoid doing in the garden…

5 Comments

  • Linda says:

    lovely post what you could do with your twigs is leave them in one corner at the bottom of the garden and let the insects hibernate you might even get a hedgehog use it I was lucky enough to win Charles’s Veg Journal have a blessed weekend plus you can also use them to cover to cover your seeds or young plants as well

    • You’re so lucky to win a copy of Charles Dowding’s Veg Journal – I’ve just bought it,and although I haven’t even opened it yet, I love it already. The cover has such a nice gardeny feel. And I’ve taken your advice and piled twigs up at the backs of some borders, so we’ll see.

  • No-dig gardening is the only way in my opinion, and all else is a waste of valuable time. Whilst at Sissinghurst I moved the half acre veg garden to Charles Dowding’s method which resulted in better yield and presentaion. This method is natures way, so works perfectly of course. It is not only for veg mind you, as I advise this for all gardening. Cardboard, compost and hoe is all you need, and you won’t look back.

  • Posy says:

    No dig is a wonderful idea and can I suggest that a hoe (although as traditional as double-digging) would be an invaluable accessory. Cardboard will discourage perennial weeds from seeing the light of day, but annual self seeders like chickweed, groundsel and hairy bittercress won’t be put off one bit. With a hoe, you can nip off these annual weeds from an upright position and leave them to wilt to death. No bending, no backache.

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