Well – who would have thought that a talk on “No-Dig” gardening would be so riveting – but it absolutely was. From the moment Russell Attwood started his presentation we were captivated. Russell is a very experienced gardener and a retired Biology teacher. We understand that he has been cultivating his allotments (he has 3) for over 25 years. He is secretary of his allotment society in Kettering – he used to dig but not any more. As soon as he uttered the words “No digging means no watering” he had our attention. He is clearly a convert but he suggested that we try the no-dig method on a patch of our own garden or allotment as an experiment. Russell gardens on clay and for him this method really works…
So this is how it happens. Think of the layers of a lasagna. In fact Russell calls it “lasagna gardening”. Building up the levels on top of the soil with various layers of mulch – a horizontal compost heap if you like. The mulch smothers the weeds and the worms do the digging. With this method the soil has more carbon as with digging carbon-dioxide is released. Farmers plough the fields to provide aeration but at the expense of releasing soil carbon. Russell went on to say that traditionally the land was double dug in the winter as labour was plentiful on the large estates – he suggested that it gave the large work force something to do. Charles Dowding is the no-dig guru of today and Russell recommended his website and YouTube videos.
How to start. On a patch of land, however weed infested, put down a layer of cardboard, or newspaper to exclude the light. The vegetation underneath, without light, cannot photosynthesize and therefore dies – providing mulch. The next layer should be wood shavings, grass cuttings, tree shreddings, pulled weeds or straw – a green, vegetative layer. Word of warning – be wary of leaves – they blow away and should be composted first and some seed heads, for example those of docks should be avoided. A good mulch layer will be about 15 cms in depth. The best time to start the “lasagna” is in early winter so that by the spring it will be easier to make a hole through the mulch and through the cardboard to plant the plants. This no-dig method is a way of changing weeds into an asset. However there are some downsides and Russell mentioned these. Cardboard insulates the soil and so temperatures just above the soil level will be slightly lower than for areas which do not have cardboard and therefore tender plants may be more at risk from frosts. The soil does become soft and crumbly over time so may need to be compacted a little. But overall the benefits appear to outweigh these disadvantages.
This was a master class in how to present and engage with an audience, including leading us in a couple of songs at the end. If you were unable to attend this meeting, you really missed a treat. Many thanks to Russell for an excellent presentation which certainly gave us food for thought.
Please join us in the Village Hall at 7.30 pm on Tuesday July 18th for Cheese and Wine. A short business AGM will be followed by a talk from Jo Roberts about the Forest of Marston Vale. As always visitors will be very welcome £5 on the door. There will be no meeting in August. We resume meetings in September.
New members and visitors are always welcome.
For more information contact: Linda Truscott on 01234 270747