Welcome to the garden without digging. This text is written in the form of questions and answers. The questions will guide you along the journey, and the answers will give you further guidance. I want to share with you seven years of experience I have with non-digging gardens that yield abundance in yields, support and improve life in the land and, year after year, raise the quality of the land.
We will first look at how nature does it, what weeds are and learn something about soil protection. You ask me which mulch is the best? How can we simplify the mulching process? We will explore how to take care of the existing garden, what we can do for autumn and winter production, how to prepare for the new season and how to make a new garden without digging.
Is “no digging” natural?
This is about observing nature and using patterns from nature! One of the key patterns in nature is land cover. Wherever we have bare land, nature works to protect the land. It does this with the help of a living plant cover and through the decomposition of organic matter on the surface of the soil.
Do we have more weeds in the garden if we dig and thus disturb the soil?
Yes. By digging and similar disturbance, we destroy the structure of the soil and activate countless weed seeds that are in the soil. In nature, remember, their role is to cover and protect the land and to improve the structure of the land. When we work with nature, we try to disturb the land as little as possible and thus end up with less weeds. True, we still need to remove some weeds, but we are doing it much faster and easier now.
Land protection is what is crucial?
Healthy and living land is a key thing in accessing gardens without digging. The foundation of healthy living soil is life in the soil. We need to take care of it and improve it. We do it the way nature does. If we don’t work that way, we have bare ground that is crushed by raindrops, that the sun burns, and the wind dries and blows away. After that, the land can no longer absorb water because it is compacted and without air. With minimal interaction and good soil protection, this can be avoided. And even better, we can improve the quality of the land over time.
How much does mulch help protect the soil?
The value of mulch is invaluable! With its help, we can keep the soil moist without it being too saturated with water. Instead, it becomes soft, airy and fertile. And alive!
What is mulch?
It is organic matter that is placed over the surface of the soil that is neither buried nor mixed with the soil.
I am often asked, “What kind of mulch is best?” I don’t think that’s the right question. I say, “It’s not so much what type of mulch it is, it’s what condition it’s in.”
My favorite is half-decomposed mulch, with a lot of small particles. It has the smell of humus, is moist and almost black in color. It can be hay, straw, leaves, grass, wood… If it has the above characteristics I am overjoyed to use it!
Can we have a mulch problem?
Mulching with fresh, undecomposed and coarse organic materials (fresh grass, hay, straw, leaves, fertilizer) gives a lot of food to the plants, but also optimal living conditions for snails. This environment attracts and gives shelter to other, larger animals, which can be a challenge for gardeners. I avoid fresh and coarse mulch where there are already problems with snails, field mice and the like. If there are no such problems, I do not hesitate to use fresh grass, hay, straw, leaves…. There are also problems with sowing and planting in fresh or coarse mulch. Some older gardeners find that they have problems when working with mulching because they are used to working with bare ground all the time. Fresh and coarse mulch are very valuable and find their place in the garden (for paths, certain beds…), especially if we do not have the design challenges just mentioned. What works well for me is mulching plants with compost, old rotten manure, rotten leaves, rotten hay, freshly mowed or uprooted grass.
Can we use compost as mulch?
Compost is an exceptional mulch, and my favorite thanks to Charles Dowding (http://www.charlesdowding.co.uk), one of the best gardeners in the world. Charles works in similar climates as I do (humid temperate continental climate), so we have the same challenges when it comes to using fresh / coarse mulch. When you use compost as mulch, everything is simplified. Garden beds mulched with compost are always ready for sowing and planting. It contains fine particles, retains a lot of moisture, black color gives extra warmth when needed in spring and autumn, and retains soil moisture in summer. Compost is much less attractive to snails, because its outer surface dries quickly and because it does not contain fresh food for snails. The compost surface does not crack and does not compact! Compost provides perfect protection when spread over the soil, brings life to the soil and brings improvement to the soil. If you mulch the soil in the garden with 2-5 cm of compost, you have also invested in half a year of soil protection, depending on the type of soil and the quality and type of vegetables that grow there. You do not need to bury the compost in the ground – rather spread it over the soil, and nature will take care of the rest.
When should I mulch in my garden again?
When the previous mulch starts to disappear and the soil becomes bare. I usually do it before this happens – I just can’t look at the bare ground anymore. When there are only small bare areas in the garden, I mulch them, right away.
The soil eats humus, regardless of whether it originates from compost or hay. If you don’t take care of that, sooner or later you will only have a bare field. Mulching is done mainly after harvesting the plants in summer, autumn and before winter. In this way, our garden lands will be prepared for the new season faster and will be in a better condition in the spring. Winter can significantly damage land if we do not protect it. And if we protect them, then it can be a time of rest and a good diet for the land. Of course we know that we actually have to grow the land, not the plants.
What can be done in summer / autumn for autumn and winter vegetable production?
When we pick some of the plants or take them out of the garden in some other way, it is necessary to renew the land cover and the land will be ready for a new phase of succession by sowing or planting.