The Accidental Smallholder Forum

Growing => Vegetables => Topic started by: graemeatwellbank on January 15, 2020, 10:59:11 pm

Title: Approaching no dig
Post by: graemeatwellbank on January 15, 2020, 10:59:11 pm
I like digging but I have started working towards no dig but not completely - yet.
I have just pulled up my raspberry and gooseberry bushes (which were not performing very well) and replanted them by removing an area of turf the size of a supermarket cardboard box in which they get fruit and veg and planting the canes in the middle of each cleared space. Then I put a cardboard box over each cane (hole in the middle) and fill the box with compost. Box will rot away and hopefully the canes will grow in a weed-free patch and any emerging weeds can be eliminated easily. Not really no dig but going that way. Fingers crossed. Feedback in due course. Maybe the box area is too small???
So our local supermarket always has these boxes and we 'collect' 2 each week to prevent plastic bags being employed.
The local council dump is next to the supermarket so when my wife is shopping I am depositing/recycling our rubbish and collecting compost which is available free of charge. I take 2 x 80 litre tubs and a further 3 x 20 litre tubs each week. (Officially you are allowed 2 bags per visit and at times the supply runs dry - wonder why).
This compost goes in the veg area.
I have 18 plots of 2m x 5m all hand dug last year in a fenced-off area of grazing paddock complete with every weed imaginable.
Anyway, another 2 plots being added with no dig - cardboard covered with compost and I want to eliminate future digging on the existing plots from now on. Again we'll see what happens.
However, Charles Dowding suggests adding 3 inches of compost per year. But 20 plots of 2m x 5m with a 75mm covering will need 15 cubic metres of compost. Seems an impossibly large volume. What are your experiences with no dig and getting the required amount of compost.
Thanks for reading and any forthcoming observations.
Title: Re: Approaching no dig
Post by: Fleecewife on January 16, 2020, 12:02:45 am
I love the supermarket cardboard box idea and wait to hear how it goes.  I think I would use two per plant, given the root spread of the plants themselves.

I am impressed with the area you intend to convert.  We have slowly been contracting the area of our garden and have suddenly decided to make some raised beds  :o   Past posts on here will show my former views on raised beds as being unnecessary to the growing of vegetables - on most soils and for most people flat row crops are far more efficient.  However, age insists we give it a try, so we are currently building 5 beds in our polytunnel.  Each is 1m x 2m, and made of scaffold boards standing on the old growing surface, which at least doubles the depth for roots to run.
The relevance to what you are doing is that in order to fill these beds we needed quite a lot of compost - nothing like you will need, maybe about a tenth?, but it seems a lot. Anyway, Charles Dowding keeps mentioning mushroom compost as being good both for beds and as a mulch, but I have never found any available locally until now.  The recommendation is to buy a 10 ton lorry load, but our access for lorries is limited, so we went for 1 tonne dumpy bags (1 cubic metre) of mushroom compost, two of them, collected in our sheep trailer.  We can get the trailer to fairly near the polytunnel, but it has to be barrowed the rest of the way.  The dumpy bags cost £75 each, but a lorry load would have been very much cheaper proportionally, had we had the access.  We have used about 4" of this compost per bed, with about 2-4" of finely rotavated well rotted sheep manure from their field shelters, plus some molehill soil, spend multipurpose compost, seaweed meal and wood ash, and for the beds intended to grow beans and leeks this year, some partially rotted poultry manure as the very first layer.  This is filling the beds wonderfully, but we have yet to see the results once the crops are growing.  I think only one of the dumpy bags will be used for the beds, the rest will go for the row crops of tomatoes, climbing beans, squashes, cucumbers and brassicas.  We use the poultry manure outside for potatoes and broad beans, and the sheep manure where we need well rotted manure.

I know the mushroom compost sounds expensive by the dumpy bag, but if you could get a trailer load delivered and keep it protected from the weather I think it might help with the bulk compost you need. It's great stuff, still with most of the nutrition in it, although it has of course grown a mushroom crop.

I have also found a biodegradable fabric which looks like black plastic but which turns into Co2 and water after a few months of use and I shall grow my bed crops through this.  It's sold by LBS at £475 per kilometre, but I bought 20m for £25 from Garden Naturally  :D .  Again, I don't know if it will work well, but I'm happy to invest that much to give it a trial.  Meanwhile we are using the huge pile of cardboard left over after we had a new kitchen fitted - huge pieces which cover the beds with one piece (bit of an expensive way to acquire it of course - never again  :relief: )

I've been trying to go no dig for a few years now, but my less decrepit husband, Mr F, has always insisted on digging. He is quite excited about the beds trial though.  One of the best bits about growing your own food for me is the experimenting you can do, trying something new each year and evaluating the results.  :garden:
Title: Re: Approaching no dig
Post by: Anke on January 16, 2020, 07:26:16 am
How many people are you trying to feed - is your veg garden just for family or for sale as well? It sounds quite big to me....
I would also try and get manure from local horse stables - you may have to take it fairly fresh and leave it for a year to rot down, but it should be very good by then.
Converting to no-dig in raised beds, my under-cover area is now completely no dig. You do need to kep up with weeding though, as my home produced goat manure is definitely full of weed seeds. But it is done fairly easily, as the soil/compost is quite soft.
Title: Re: Approaching no dig
Post by: Steph Hen on January 16, 2020, 07:58:47 am
20 2x5m beds is a lot!  And for it I'd think a lorry load of compost is the way to go.
I like Charles Dowding, I inherited a big garden with traditional borders and many weeds. Cardboard covered with wood chips kept the whole thing manageable last year as really does block out the weeds. Neither wood chip (even if a foot deep) nor thick Cardboard singularly smother and kill weeds but together it works wonders. We had a bale of old cardboard pallet sides which was perfect. The garden is also FULL of slugs and snails as expected having given them so many hiding places.

I also created a bed for beans, kale, etc., using cardboard and then about 8" compost and it worked well. I've a friend who does things on a more industrial scale to feed his family year round and he buys compost by the lorry load for his beds and trees.

Also I'd add that at least council compost isn't often great stuff; I think it's probably fine for mulching on top.
Title: Re: Approaching no dig
Post by: Fleecewife on January 16, 2020, 02:52:33 pm
Yes, I'm rather wary of council compost too (not that our council gives any away!).  I think that the kind of people who throw away their lawn clippings and so on, rather than having a compost heap, are the same folk who will be using lots of chemicals on their lawn and beds.  As these could include aminopyralids there are likely to be harmful residues in the composts made from them.  We had problems with bought in commercial multipurpose compost a few years ago, when the problem was first raising its head - our tomatoes were stunted and curled, beans too. (   The main reasons I went for the mushroom compost were that it has already been used for growing a mushroom crop, so it's known to be OK for chemical content, but also it's weed free.
Title: Re: Approaching no dig
Post by: graemeatwellbank on January 16, 2020, 05:10:20 pm
I'm aware that the council compost is not going to be the best stuff but willing to give it a try in various ways.
I have riddled some, riddled some molehill soil and will get some river sand and use various mixes of the three for seeding to see what happens. Not quite what works best but what was a dismal failure, but I'm sure nothing will be or I'll get angry and the plants wont like me when I'm angry.
Main use for council compost though is mulching and it should be ok for that.
Of interest, some riddled compost that I have lying in the greenhouse ready for seeding mixes is sprouting weeds so my simple take on that is that 1. plants will grow in it and 2. it is full of weed seed. Glass half empty or half full? At least the seedlings are easily removed and by the time I come to use the compost hopefully all the seeds will have sprouted and been removed.
Yes, about using 2 boxes per plant - retrofitting is easily done and it is much easier to use 2 boxes rather than slip the hole in the middle over the plants. I already used 2 boxes per plant for 2 new Aronia bushes I planted and I'm thinking about retrofitting boxes around my still small apple trees (next year). Box walls stapled together is being tried but not really a big improvement over laying them side by side in the prepared ground-space.
Need to go, my wife want potatoes stored in supermarket boxes in a shed.
Title: Re: Approaching no dig
Post by: Fleecewife on January 16, 2020, 08:12:00 pm

One way which can work with weedy compost, especially if you are sowing into it is to use a false seed bed.  Have everything in place for planting and leave it for a week or so, then flash over it with a flame gun.  This kills off any emerging seeds then plant into the compost without disturbing further buried weed seeds. 
Where you have sown veg seeds, place a small piece of glass over a test area and wait until the seeds in that area just become visible, which they will do a couple of days ahead of the uncovered lot.  Flash over with your weed gun which will kill the newly germinated weeds, but your crop seeds will not yet be up so when they do germinate they will have a nice clear weed free bed.  Weed seeds usually germinate more quickly that veg seeds.  It's worth a try.  Try not to disturb the compost after this, as it will turn up more weed seeds which will germinate into the light.
Title: Re: Approaching no dig
Post by: graemeatwellbank on February 03, 2020, 12:00:48 pm
Just posted about my veg seeds and here is a follow-up on no-dig.

Completed digging my latest no-dig bed.
I think digging is a must.
I removed the top couple of inches of weed turf.
Then I (think) needed to dig over to remove the deep roots and masses of spaghetti like roots.
Then cardboard overlaid with compost.
Then no dig!!!!
Fingers crossed.
Title: Re: Approaching no dig
Post by: Anke on February 03, 2020, 03:17:35 pm
Just posted about my veg seeds and here is a follow-up on no-dig.

Completed digging my latest no-dig bed.
I think digging is a must.
I removed the top couple of inches of weed turf.
Then I (think) needed to dig over to remove the deep roots and masses of spaghetti like roots.
Then cardboard overlaid with compost.
Then no dig!!!!
Fingers crossed.
Yep, that's what I did (and am still doing for the last few beds)
Title: Re: Approaching no dig
Post by: Polyanya on February 04, 2020, 09:47:09 am
We did no-dig veg for a few years, I've just mentioned it in another post just now, it worked great if you don't mind weeding (which I hate just as much as digging) as we used leftover silage. If you have access to bales of straw that would work really well but thats a massive  area to mulch.
Title: Re: Approaching no dig
Post by: YawningAngel on February 04, 2020, 03:09:21 pm
I started with No Dig last autumn converting about 33² of lawn.

I covered the grass with a layer of card then 3, or so inches of assorted compost (part home made & part commercial, from various sources), then 8-10 inches of straw & another layer of card (mainly to stop the straw blowing away).

There are a hand full of tufts of grass showing through - should be easy to eliminate.

I'll start planting out (I've just started the the first lot of seeds) in a month or so (with luck), at which point I'll remove the remainder of the top card (and compost it), and plant into the compost, teasing away the top layer of uncomposted straw.


Title: Re: Approaching no dig
Post by: GBov on February 14, 2020, 08:04:48 am (

Read Ruth Stout, Gardening Without Work.  :thumbsup:
Title: Re: Approaching no dig
Post by: graemeatwellbank on February 14, 2020, 09:38:56 am
Hi. Just had a look at Ruth Stout and Huw Richards variation on Youtube.
Somehow I had a long memory that hay was not good for the garden but I'll put that aside for now.
I have 8 large wrapped bales of haylage which is quite rotten. Well the first I opened was refused by the cows who are normally not fussy but I persisted and they trampled it into the ground.
The second bale I opened is just the same so I have left it and now, after a month covered loosely with tarp, it has sprouted a wonderful crop of fungi - don't know if they are edible and my wife refuses to try first.
Question is, can I roll this out onto a veg bed? is the material going to be OK. I imagine the fungi would be good.
Willing to try one area first if the common opinion is it will be ok.
If ok, should I do one layer thick or multiple layers. It is wet and heavy so even the current storms are unlikely to move it but I will batten it down with some logs.
Title: Re: Approaching no dig
Post by: Fleecewife on February 14, 2020, 12:46:06 pm
Don't eat the fungi.  As Womble says, quoting Terry Pratchett: 'all fungi are edible: some fungi are only edible once'  :yum: :roflanim:

The fruiting bodies of the fungi will die off when the roll is opened.  I think it will work fine unrolled on a new bed, but cover it with something like cardboard or mulch afterwards, then when the planting out season arrives, plant module-grown plants through holes in the cover and any remaining depth of the haylage.  A few weeds may pop up through the holes along with the plants, so pull them out when they are tiny.
Title: Re: Approaching no dig
Post by: graemeatwellbank on February 14, 2020, 01:44:33 pm
Thanks Fleecewife.
So I'm thinking to put 2 layers of haylage on the grass without removing the top layer of weed turf. Brown on green as Ruth Stout suggested. Doing it now.
Then covering over with council compost. Doing it within a couple of weeks.
Then surface planting potatoes and covering with another haylage layer.Doing it in late-March.
Subsequently more haylage when spuds sprout.
Somebody tell me if it is a complete no no, otherwise I'll record the results.
Suppose I should have prepared earlier but ………….
Title: Re: Approaching no dig
Post by: GBov on February 14, 2020, 03:30:39 pm
I would lay out over a foot deep of rotten/spoilt hay and then, once it flattened down I would lay a row of compost OVER the hay to plant into.

The plants roots went right through the hay under the compost and it all grew veg super.

That was in Florida when I was growing into pure sand and was the only way I could get anything good out of the garden.

No reason to think it wouldn't work in the UK so give it a go.