Wednesday, 16 March 2011

The decision is not to dig the compost in.

I still double dig but my allotment would be waterlogged if I didn't. It has two springs on it. The only way to divert the water is to raise the allotment and double dig, putting brushwood in the trenches. I also have two drainage pipes and 3 soak aways leading into a drainage pipe that goes alongside the allotment. 

I think that there is benefit in double digging when you first take over an allotment.  You can bury an awful lot of weeds if you do it properly.  This must be a better way of retaining nutrients than burning. 
 If you put your manure at the bottom of your second spit then it is less available to your vegetable plants.  The way that the Victorians did it was to double dig every year and put the manure in the top most trenches, so that the manure nutrients would be brought to the surface in the second year.

Whenever I can avoid digging then I will. Forking or hoeing the top of the soil seems to be as effective as digging with a spade.  If it is available then I will cover the soil with manure and allow the worms to mix it in over the winter.  You can also do the no dig method with compost heap compost or leaf mould. 

 If you are following the blog you will know that I am putting the mega compost heap compost on the top of two of my vegetable beds and I am thinking whether it is worthwhile digging it in.  When I am sieving the compost I am also on the lookout for earthworms.  The majority are in the roots and rhizomes of the weeds growing on the compost.  I get hundreds of worms and put them in the sieved compost.  I am hoping that they will do the job of mixing in the compost to the top six inches of the allotment soil. 

My soil is not compacted at all so it does not need loosening or air putting into it. There are no weeds on my allotment as you can see from the photographs but if there were it might be a reason for digging. 

I think that the no dig method makes your soil more friable than digging it.  There is some suggestion that digging destroys the micro organism soil community within the soil.  I have some sympathy with this because in dug soil there is little evidence of mychorrhizal fungi aiding plants to grow healthily.  While the numbers of invertebrates - millipedes, centipedes, spiders and beetles increases in undug soil.  

There is some suggestion that you should avoid digging because it brings weed seeds to the surface and you get a bloom of weeds just when you want to plant.  Well, I have gardened every which way and no matter what I do I get a flush of weed seeds germinating in April to May time.  You just cannot avoid it.  Every year I have to get down on my knees and hand weed between the rows.  Even with a thick mulch of manure or compost, I still have to do this - digging or not. 

I have a tarpaulin over some of the allotment soil and the worms have been having a field day underneath it.  The soil is particularly friable and will make a really good tilth for seeds to germinate in; particularly as it now has the compost spread over it.  So I don’t think that I will dig this area. 

I still say that you cannot avoid digging when you are cropping.  There is no way that I am going to believe that I have removed all the little potatoes until I have thoroughly dug over the potato bed.  They are a pest to get out when you have planted something like onions and they start growing between them.  


  1. In 'The Victorian Kitchen Garden' there's a section which compares the soil in the walled garden, about 30 inches deep, with that in a nearby field, which is about eight inches deep. I imagine the difference was years of double digging, carting stones away, and putting in bulky organic matter, in both spits.. I wonder how many man-hours per acre it took.

  2. It is like everything Robert, you get what you work for - eventually.