Gardening is a hobby, a way of providing food to the community, a profession and a fantastic way to fill the pantry. But not all gardening is created equal when it comes to sustainability. 

One voice has been trying to shift the ubiquitous traditional farming practices since the 1980s, and people are finally beginning to listen. English horticulturalist Charles Dowding began experimenting with no-dig gardening to test the effectiveness of the process. His results have repeatedly proven the many benefits of the practice. 

Related: This is how one company is helping regenerative farmers

What is no-dig gardening?

Well, it’s precisely what it sounds like, but that might leave you unable to envision how to garden at all. After all, for more than a century, gardening’s first step has always been tilling the soil. Therefore, no-dig gardening goes against everything we presume to know about cultivating seeds and plants

How to start no-dig gardening

In order to begin the no-dig gardening process, you’ll first remove any grass or weeds from your planting area. Do this by mowing as low as possible. Then cover the area with cardboard or a thick layer of other natural mulch. The process results in a nutrient-rich layer on the top of the soil. This soil not only supports new growth, but retains the balance of the existing soil below. The organic materials protect, and even enhance the perfect balance nature has set in place. This is in contrast to traditional soil management techniques that strip the soil of essential nutrients. The process of covering existing soil naturally blocks out sunlight from the existing grass and weeds, killing them off without chemical applications.

If for no other reason, the technique should be hailed for its simplicity and ease on the back since it requires no digging. However, there are other benefits for the environment too. The first is that the process supports carbon sequestration. In contrast, tilling the soil releases stored carbon into the atmosphere, which is a contributing factor to global warming. 

In addition, the healthier soil is more disease and insect resistant so it doesn’t require the application of toxic pesticides that results in air and water pollution. No-dig gardening also promotes a higher crop yield. While the reason why may not be completely understood, this appears to be the result of healthy and well-balanced soil. 

No-dig and no-till gardening also enhances water conservation efforts — which is a major accomplishment in today’s fight against water shortages. Plants grown via this process thrive with less attention from the gardener and a reduced number of resources. It also makes it easier to practice organic farming since no chemicals are used. 

The process is quite simple. It starts with finding the right location for your garden. Like all gardens, a no-dig plot needs to have access to full-sun. However, it can be placed on your prepared garden bed, a raised bed, or even pots. 

Following the initial mow, lay down the dampened cardboard or newspaper, followed by a layer of straw. On top of that, layer in a rich compost. This can be bought, received from a neighbor or made in your own backyard compost station. On the compost, add a layer of manure. If you don’t like the appeal and aroma of fresh manure you can add an additional layer of straw to the top. Also note you can mix these layers around with similar results. 

Once your premium mix is ready, plant your seeds. Simply part the prepared soil and place the seeds at recommended depth and intervals. Water your newly planted seeds and monitor moisture levels as they grow. Note that they may require less water than a traditional garden. 

Care for your no-dig garden

As the layers of natural materials break down, they further enhance the soil both below and above the existing surface. As time goes on, the soil only improves, eliminating the need for fertilizers and additional waterings. The nutrient-rich base does need to be fed occasionally so add compost once or twice each year to give it a boost. 

Moreover, keep the layers loose to allow for airflow and decomposition, as well as drainage.

No-dig gardening is an inexpensive solution for prepping a garden, but you will have to be patient since it takes longer than tilling the soil. Readjusting soil conditions happens over time and the benefits will eventually far outweigh the time investment to get started. While the advantages of this type of gardening are obvious on a small scale, it’s more challenging for mainstream farming since it eliminates the conveniences of preparing the soil and managing weeds by mechanical means. Some farmers also argue there’s also a risk of spreading plant disease since the soil isn’t treated. 

However, for the average backyard gardener the no-till method means less work, less investment, higher yields and an overall good feeling of land stewardship.

Via Green Matters

Images via Pexels