Wednesday, 1 February 2012

to dig or not to dig....

 compost waiting to go on the beds
My partner has just taken over a derelict allotment site. We've  worked well together - dug out old shrubs, cleared a load of rubbish, unearthed a few vole nests and have decided to plant potatoes there this spring. That's when our horticultural harmony was interrupted by dischord. He wants to go for the no - dig approach but I'm all for digging. I understand the science of no-dig. Firstly it doesn't do your soil any good to stand on it, even if you then turn it over. Your weight will impact the subsoil well below spade depth.
Secondly, by opening the soil up to the elements you will lose nitrogen into the atmosphere and all those micro-organisms that go to making a healthy soil will be made vulnerable to the weather and thirdly, turned over soil and a bit of daylight is heaven for all those annual weed seeds just waiting for the chance to burst into life and reproduce!
The no-dig method is practised at the urban farm with good results. I can see it working all round me - so why can't I just let go of the spade? I asked Sarah her views on no-dig. Knowing Sarah's horticultural background I wondered if she was as convinced by the method as her predecessor - Heather - who introduced the system to the farm. She is. She thinks it's fantastic, the only way to go. 
No support there, then, but I'm sticking to my guns because I like potatoes - they are a fantastic,versatile but much abused vegetable. We treat them roughly and use them to clear the land and break up the soil but my view is that with a little bit of care we could have a much bigger and healthier crop. The allotment land is impacted clay full of pretty toxic weeds - bramble, nettle, bindweed and dock roots -  pity the poor spud that has to contend with that lot! ... and I did catch a snippet of no-dig guru Charles Dowding  on Gardener's Question Time the other day admitting that he has dug occasionally when the ground is particularly badly infested...hmmm...   So we're having a  potato bed each and we'll see who has the highest yield. I'll let you know how it goes.

In the meantime, you'll be glad to know that you won't spend much time digging if you decide to volunteer at the farm. Come along any Tuesday after 10.00 for a chat or email  

If you've got any thoughts on this or anything else to do with the urban farm just leave a comment in the box.

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