Skip to main content

No Dig Gardening explained

Do not disturb.  Probably not an approach to gardening that immediately comes to mind - but in many ways, doing nothing is actually better for the fertility of your soil.  By preserving the "soil food web" and letting the fungi, bacteria and multitude of soil microbes be...your plants will thrive.   

There are several problems with heavily tilling your soil.  First, it's a lot of work.  Second,  it quickly depletes available nutrients such as nitrogen - requiring the gardener to continually add them back in - which isn't sustainable.  Also, tilling the soil releases carbon into the atmosphere - contributing to climate change.  There's a better way.

What does No Dig Gardening look like?  Here's a quick example:
As you can see, to plant seeds, you simply poke holes into the compost (in this case, to plant fava bean seeds).  Roots from the prior season's plants are left in the ground (cutting off stems right at ground level), providing the soil food web with more organic material and pathways for new roots to follow.  

Growing seedlings under a grow lamp or in a greenhouse increases the probability that the young plants will thrive without the pressure of plant predators.  No Dig enables a quick transition into the garden environment by providing young seedlings a comfortable new home in nutrient rich compost.  Here's a simple example:

What do you need for No Dig Gardening?  Lots of compost!  Start by thinking of your garden bed as a big pan of lasagne.  At the start of each season, add a healthy layer of compost directly on top of the bed.  An added benefit: the new layer will make it very difficult for weeds to grow - and ones that do will be easier to pull.

For many reasons, adopting No Dig techniques in your garden just makes sense.  For more information, here are a few resources:
  1. Here's a link to the history of No Dig Gardening on Wikipedia
  2. View this Charles Dowding video
  3. Read this book on soil biology - Teaming with Microbes by Jeff Lowenfels
  4. Watch this documentary - Kiss the Ground


Popular posts from this blog

#LeavetheLeaves - Do nothing and help the climate

With signs of the climate emergency now in constant view - you may be asking yourself: "What can I do to make a difference?  Choices in consumption are obvious examples - with a view towards the fossil fuels involved, ie. what we eat (fertilizers, pesticides, mass farming), how we get from one place to another (ie. gas fuel) and the energy we use to power our homes.   Another opportunity is right outside the front door. The suburban lawn was something we invented in the 1950's as tracts of homes sprouted up by the thousands.  Someone thought it would be appropriate if homeowners had lush, green grass in their yards - and the rest is history.  Billions of dollars are spent each year on lawn maintenance - and importantly for us in San Mateo, CA - millions of gallons of water are also used to keep them alive.  Lawns are the largest crop in the U.S. and produce nothing, other than an outdated aesthetic - yet the majority of residential water usage is sent into the air through spri

Turn your lawn into a garden!

With the pandemic keeping us socially distanced and largely at home, you may be thinking about transforming your outdoor space into a garden.  Having gone through this in 2014, I thought I'd share some practical advice to hopefully save you some time and effort. Sheet mulch complete (July 2014) Six years later (August 2020) Tip #1: Don't dig...mulch! Your first instinct may be to start digging, but there's a better way - it's called "sheet mulching".  You basically use cardboard, compost and wood chips and make a lasagna of organic material on top of your old lawn.  In essence, you compost the old lawn under layers of organic material.  Here's a photo of our sheet mulch in progress: Sheet mulch in progress.  Notice the new material is simply placed on top of the old (brown) grass The white powder is a combination of gypsum & azomite, which puts minerals back into the soil that have been gradually leached away over time.  The dark brown is compost.  The

Getting Started: Wine Barrel Planters

Gardening in a small, urban space requires a bit of creativity.  Our challenges are many: buildings & trees frequently block sunlight;  various critters like to snack on new seedlings and just ripe fruits & vegetables; and here in San Mateo, irrigation is a must.  To increase your probability of gardening success, consider adding recycled wine barrels into your urban garden.    Having tried many types of growing containers over the years, the wine barrel has made it to the top of my list.  My galvanized tubs always seemed to need more water than wooden barrels - perhaps due to the different heating/cool properties of the metal vs. wood?  Aesthetically, a recycled barrel looks like it's been there for years - which I love.  And the smell!  There is no comparison. Cost is definitely a consideration.  A wine barrel at Home Depot is $40 whereas a 35 gallon galvanized tub is $55.  You might say that growing in the ground is $0.00 - but in some locations, the extra 18 inches off