Growing without the backache (or not?)

I can’t say I was entirely looking forward to this week’s task, effectively opening up bug infested compost heaps and spreading muck over the beds, but there is something strangely satisfying about a new, thick, cakey layer of crumbly soil spread over previously scraggy, compacted looking beds.

Not that my compost is the kind of ‘black gold’ you see on websites and in gardening magazines. Despite leaving the stuff for months and turning it regularly (I can see it’s hot from the steam that comes out when I turn it) I get maybe a potful of the black stuff from the very bottom, and the rest is a of twiggy copper substance with the occasional clump of roots and earth, and the odd bit of plastic bag (how do they get in there?). But I spread it over the beds anyway, and the twigs seem to mulch down in the end. I know there is a trick to making good compost, to do with dividing out the greens and the browns and adding them in equal amounts, but who has time and space to do that? I just pile it all on and hope the balance will be something like equal.

But all that turning the earth, shovelling it onto wheelbarrows and then onto the beds themselves, coupled with digging the beds, is hard on the back. I have a slightly dodgy back after falling down a set of stone stairs when I was pregnant (not to be advised) and tend to develop a worrying inability to move a day after tackling these kinds of jobs.

So it was with great excitement (or at least a small amount of excitement) that I read recently about the no dig technique – the idea that by not turning the soil you are less likely to bring weed seedlings to the surface, and will therefore have less weeds. So in other words, all that digging might not only be not necessary, but might give me more work to do in the long term.

I’m not one to go blindly after fads. Presumably there’s a reason why people have been turning the soil for centuries, rather than just dumping the compost on top and letting the worms do the work. But if there’s anything in this no dig idea, it sounds like the kind of approach I like.  So this year I’m conducting my own (perhaps not so) scientific experiment. I’ve prepared two beds so far. One of them has been traditionally dug. This is the one for the broad beans, largely because it had potatoes in it last year and if left in the ground they have an irritating habit of becoming weeds, so I wanted to make sure all the tubers were removed. The other, the one for the salad, which contained peas last year, I have left undug. Instead I removed perennial weeds by hand and spread a thick layer of muck over the top. That’s all. They both look lovely and brown and weed free at the moment, but we’ll see how they look in a few months’ time.

So lots more days of muck spreading in store, but not so much digging as I thought. And it does help to see the signs of life beginning to emerge. Some Kale plants I put in last year and which never had a chance to develop are miraculously still alive in their bottle cloches after having been buried under a foot of snow for much of the winter. The leeks are alive too, albeit they haven’t grown much, and my sprouting broccoli is beginning to sprout. I might even manage a meal from the garden before the month is out. 

I would love to hear your thoughts about this post