is a cultivation
method favored by many organic gardeners
. Japanese Masanobu Fukuoka
started his pioneering research work in this domain in 1938, and the Fukuokan philosophy of "natural farming" is now acknowledged by some as the tap root of the Permaculture
movement. No-dig gardening subsequently spread to and is adapted by numerous actors in the field, including Australian Esther Deans
While digging can damage soil life , not digging can preserve it, but requires that micro-organisms be enticed to the surface where they will excrete and aerate the soil by burrowing to keep the dynamic relationship between surface and depth . Adding organic matter and weather protection can entice them to the surface: this is what no-dig gardening does.
The primary reasons for digging the soil
are to remove weeds
, to loosen and aerate the soil and to incorporate organic matter such as compost
. In countries with thin soil and high erosion there is a strong case against digging, which argues that in the long term it can be detrimental to the soil
's health. While digging is an effective way of removing perennial weed
roots, it also often causes seeds
(some can remain dormant for many decades) to come to the surface and germinate
. Digging can also damage soil structure
, cause problems like compaction
, and disturb and unbalance symbiotic
interactions among soil life
. Also, by exposure to the air, digging tends to use up nutrients which then need to be replenished. Digging is practiced traditionally in countries with deep rich, old soils such as Western Europe, however this is traditionally followed by periodic resting of the soil
No-dig methods rely on nature to carry out cultivation operations. Organic matter such as well rotted manure
, leaf mold
, spent mushroom compost
, old straw, etc, is added directly to the soil surface as a mulch
at least 2 or 3 inches deep, which is then incorporated by the actions of worms
pulling it downwards. Worms and other soil life also assist in building up the soil's structure, their tunnels providing aeration and drainage
, and their excretions bind together soil crumbs. No-dig systems are said to be freer of pests
, possibly due to a more balanced soil population being allowed to build up in this comparatively undisturbed environment, and by encouraging the buildup of beneficial rather than harmful soil fungi
. Moisture is also retained more efficiently under mulch than on the surface of bare earth.
Another no-dig method is sheet mulching wherein a garden area is covered with wetted paper or cardboard, compost and topped off with landscape mulch.
Converting to a no-dig system is easier than digging. It is a long term process, and is reliant upon having plentiful organic matter to provide mulch material. It is also necessary to thoroughly remove any perennial weed roots from the area beforehand, although their hold can be weakened by applying a light-excluding surface layer such as large sheets of cardboard or several thicknesses of spread out newspaper (overlapped to provide thorough cover) before adding the compost mulch. When using newspaper, shiny, glossy paper (such as advertisements) should be avoided. These do not break down readily. The newspaper or cardboard should be thoroughly wet as well. A popular book, Lasagna Gardening by Patricia Lanza (Rodale Press, Inc.) provides excellent instructions for the novice user.
No-dig gardening systems are strongly recommended by Dr. Shewell Cooper
of the Good Gardeners Association
. A full description of how to make a no-dig garden can be found a at http://www.permaculturevisions.com/no-dig.html.