A guide to 'no dig' gardening in Scotland

A Guide to 'No Dig' Gardening

One of the most important things to understand when designing and preparing a permaculture garden is the role that the soil has to play in the growing of our food, how important the soil ecosystem is, and what we have to do to protect and enhance it. 'No dig' gardening is a response to this understanding. It is an important part of permaculture gardening and informs many of its techniques and practices.

'No dig' gardening is pretty much what is says on the tin. Rather than tilling or digging the soil, we leave it undisturbed as much as possible. There are many benefits to leaving the soil undisturbed (over and above the fact that it makes life far easier for the gardener).

Usually, farmers and gardeners turn over the soil in order the aerate it, and to incorporate organic matter, such as compost, manure, or other organic fertilisers. Permaculture shows us that not only is this unnecessary, but that disturbing the soil in this way is detrimental to the health of the wider ecosystem.

Tilling and digging disrupt the fragile networks that allow the soil to function and plants to grow well. The soil teems with beneficial fungi and bacteria, earth worms, and a whole host of other creatures big and small who aid us in our efforts to grow food organically. Tilling in large scale mono-crop agriculture is one of the things that degrades the soil, and, globally, is set to be a major problem for our food-resilience moving forward. In 2014, researchers at Sheffield University stated that at the current rate of degradation, UK farm soils would only support 100 more harvests. A sobering countdown has begun. Unless we change – rapidly – our future is in threat. In some parts of the UK, we are only 30-40 years away from fundamental eradication of soil fertility.

To a lesser degree, digging your garden also degrades and damages the soil. As organic gardeners, everyone should do what they can to grow their own food organically. Not only will this be beneficial for the health and finances of a household, it will also help to solve the food security problems we face.

In a 'no dig' system, rather than digging compost or other fertilisers into the soil, these are laid as mulches on the soil surface. Organic matter is laid on top of the top soil and protects it. The nutrition is slowly incorporated through natural mechanisms into the soil below, in the same way that leaves decay on a forest floor. In this way, soil is protected, fertility and moisture retained, and the ecosystem below is able to function as it should, aerated by the movement of the earthworms and other creatures that have been allowed to thrive there.

The wonderful news is that 'no dig' gardening is not only better for the planet, not only does it make life easier for the gardener, it has also been shown in a number of studies to improve the yield of your permaculture garden.