Is No-Dig Gardening a Better Way to Grow?

I write regularly for Gardeners World, Kitchen Garden, Country Smallholding, Optimum Nutrition and Dove (Bruton parish) magazines, occasionally for the Daily Telegraph and others. In November 2015 for example I am featured in Gardens Illustrated, have a piece on why not to dig in Gardeners World magazine and one on no dig asparagus in Country Smallholding. Also this in the Guardian.

This was for three articles I wrote in 2017 for Country Smallholding magazine

See my books for advice, but before that, here is an article of mine summarising the wonderful benefits of a no dig approach: “Is no dig gardening better?”

6 thoughts on “Is No-Dig Gardening a Better Way to Grow?

  1. Charles, I’ve watched most of your videos on YouTube and they inspired me to try a no-dig veggie garden (first gardening for me since 40 years ago). I followed your instructions to the tee. I’m in Zone 7a and I created my no-dig garden on 1 Apr 2021 (4 weeks ago).
    It’s been an abysmal failure. There’s apparently something magical about compost that I’ve failed to grasp. Seeds I’ve started in compost come up, but largely fail to develop to the true-leaf stage (for the most part). Cotyledon leaves eventually turn yellow; some wither and die. I’ve been careful about water, temperatures, and light recommendations.
    I’m using commercial “leaf” compost and it looks about as course as your home-made compost and is quite dark. Sweet smelling and no heat in the pile before using; in other words is looks and smells like great compost. Yet, it’s not supporting plant growth over a wide range of plant types (onions, carrots, lettuce, radish, beets, leeks, spinach (doing ok but not great), cucumbers, melon, parsley, coriander, or tomatoes). Again, direct seeding results in good seedling emergence…but there they stay without continued growth beyond a couple inches high.
    Not willing to let things linger, I diagnosed the problem as low available nitrogen, so I added fish fertilizer to the garden yesterday. Is that what you would have done?
    “When things go wrong” would be an excellent video on your YouTube channel. Or maybe expand on your “Compost Comparisons” series to better help us identify bad compost before we try to use it for a new no-dig garden. Thx!

    1. Sorry to see this 🙁 and I do have four “problems” videos on YT for this sort of thing.
      There are many people selling poor compost, often with too much undecomposed wood. I suspect you have something like that and much as I dislike using fertiliser, that is an approach which might be worthwhile. Good luck. 💚

      1. Thank you Charles. I actually tried mushroom compost first, but saw that it wasn’t fully composted yet (I’ll let it sit over the summer and try it again).
        A few days after adding 2T/gal fish fertilizer, the plants appear happier; a bit greener and a bit more growth. It seems that tactic is working.
        For the future, I suppose the leaf compost I have will eventually work without fertilizer; once the cardboard decays and the underlying soil begins integrating with the compost layer. But for this season I’m expecting to rely on fertilization. Thanks for all your help on YT; I’ve watched nearly all your videos !

  2. I am 91 and going to try this method around a few years ago planted last year. I will ditch a shallow dich around each tree and mix my shreds with the dug up matter , that I will weed, around the trees and
    see what see what that does.

  3. I am very interested in your No dig gardening information and actually already have your book ‘Organic Gardening’ however I have a massive problem. I have a very small garden but love trying to grow a few vegetables and have two raised beds about 12 inches high but unfortunately they get invaded by roots from a privet hedge about 3 feet away and also a silver birch tree a little further away. I am not young, or strong enough to dig out all the soil and put flags or weed suppresant matting in the bottom so I have to dig down every year to heave out what roots I can manage before I pant for the next year, thus going against the no dig philosophy. Am I wasting my time and did I ought to give up or can I just leave the roots and hope the vegetables will find their way around them? Any advice you can give would be very helpful.
    Incidentally, I have encouraged my two daughters to take up vegetable gardening – one with an allotment and the other with large raised beds and am going to send them today’s Sunday Times article to get them on the right track.

    1. Sorry to hear this Margaret, because tree roots like that never give up and there is no way around the problem without digging through to remove them.
      Or another way is to cut back the privet hedge a lot and somehow reduce the size of the tree!
      Nice you encourage your daughters.

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