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What's your experience of "No Dig" beds?

I'm in the middle of renovating my two, year-old "no dig" beds, and making a third.  They produced great crops last year.  I constructed them initially according to Charles Dowding's methods - cut the lawn, laid cardboard on it, put soil & compost on the cardboard, put loose material (I used shreddings from the brambles, hawthorn etc in the garden) on the paths.  

I feel CD's contention that you really don't need to edge your beds, only works if you don't have significant quantities of creeping weeds under the cardboard, and you don't have a garden full of enthusiastic blackbirds...  the creeping vetch and couch grass (which were lurking unseen in the lawn) were perfectly happy to cross under the 60cm paths and pop up at the edge of the bed, where the blackbirds had torn away the soggy cardboard and mixed the compost with the path material.  Obviously digging up the odd weed was par for the course, but I had to spend much more time than I'd anticipated, in weeding and trying to repair the excavations of the blackbirds.  And now I'm having to dig over one end of one bed to remove deep-seated couch roots.

For the new bed, I'm going to skim off the turf from the whole area (including the surrounding path) and remove perennial roots before I start with the cardboard.  And the bed will have 6" wooden edging.

I know this isn't how it's supposed to be done...  but what's your experience of "No Dig"?

Since 2019 I've lived in east Clare, in the west of Ireland.


  • Allotment BoyAllotment Boy Posts: 6,564
    Similar to yours,  but also after a few seasons 2-3, the soil gets very compacted,  I am on London clay.  I think I just can't make enough compost to put a thick enough layer on to stop the rain compacting the soil.  One of the beds I am trying at the moment is using scaffolding boards to edge the bed but bindweed has still invaded.
    AB Still learning

  • LiriodendronLiriodendron Posts: 8,271
    It's a bit depressing...  I've just put 12 sacks of home-made compost on the bed I've edged with scaffold boards so we'll see what that's like by the end of the season.

    Thanks for your experience, @Allotment Boy
    Since 2019 I've lived in east Clare, in the west of Ireland.
  • Best thing I've ever done. (timber sleeper raised beds above silt and clay). The first year I actually dug in alot of compost and manure. The last 5 I've done no digging whatsoever. Just piled it with compost and manure every Nov or Dec. Most years I get a nice crop- some failures but CD has those too  Carrots never really been great. I don't grow things like Parsnip, Cabbage, Broccoli, Cauliflower, Swedes, Courgette, Sweetcorn, Leeks or onions. Either I don't have room or they're really so cheap in the SM it's not worth it. Swedes..49p each in Lidl.  Some veg I just find rather Leeks.
  • LiriodendronLiriodendron Posts: 8,271
    There's no point wasting space on veg you don't like, @Chris-P-Bacon - and I agree about cheapness in the SM excluding others (though you still can't beat the freshness of home-grown broccoli, IMO - having some for lunch today, 10 mins from picking to eating).  Thanks for the encouragement.  I'll keep going!
    Since 2019 I've lived in east Clare, in the west of Ireland.
  • Lizzie27Lizzie27 Posts: 12,002
    @Liriodendron We have three large raised veg beds with 2 ft high decking planks as a surround. We had to line the bottoms with a root proof barrier (large tree nearby) we just cover with cardboard all winter to keep weeds and then pile as much homegrown compost and leafmould as we've got, then buy in more topsoil as we need. 

    It's not cheap though and it's amazing how much it seems to shrink down each year. Part of our problem is that the beds are on a slope so the soil slips down. We only grow potatoes, carrots, runner and French beans and peas which work reasonably well.

    I'm not sure how much longer we'll keep it up as OH needs a hip op soon.
    North East Somerset - Clay soil over limestone
  • FireFire Posts: 18,151
    I don't grow fruit and veg, but I have used no dig methods in my gardens from the beginning and have never had a problem. I get very few weeds. I am now thinking of edging my beds with metal to hold in and even out the manure etc that I add each year. It slides otherwise. The earth is bung full of worms, which is a great sign. I make as much of my own compost as possible but I think it's full of slug and snail eggs, so I have to address that - a current project.
  • Jenny_AsterJenny_Aster Posts: 935
    Not so keen on keeping 'traditional' methods alive just because 'it's always been done that way', so I think it's great for people to weigh up methods that suits them, we've not all got the time and bulging biceps. It's so interesting to experiment. 

    Yesterday this youtube really peaked my interest.  I've got a spare corner where I'll do a bit of experimenting on growing some 'pink fur apple' seed potatoes using similar methods to the youtube, I think the potatoes will make a good backdrop for some flowers in my (hopeful) potager garden.
    Trying to be the person my dog thinks I am! 

    Cambridgeshire/Norfolk border.
  • LiriodendronLiriodendron Posts: 8,271
    Thanks, @Lizzie27 @Fire and @Jenny_Aster - interesting to read different experiences.  That "lazy potatoes" youtube video's method will be great in some situations, where the ground isn't infested with pernicious weeds to start with, and where (this would be a problem here) it's not so windy that the lovely fluffy hay mulch wouldn't disappear into the next field...  great to see adaptations of the basic method though.  I suppose it just goes to show that there aren't actually any rules.   :)
    Since 2019 I've lived in east Clare, in the west of Ireland.
  • FireFire Posts: 18,151
    I haven't seen any effective approaches to pernicious weeds like bindweed. There seems to be a fudge in the area and an unwillingness to face the problems here.
  • Alot of the traditional garden tasks such the autumn dig is a throw back to Victorian times when undergardeners had little else to do at the end of the year.
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