No Dig Gardening = Better Soil Biology = Less Work!

soil biology will build your soil structure for you!

Can you imagine a gardening experience where you let microscopic organisms to the ’tilling’ and you just sit back and witness beautiful soil structure grow before your eyes?

Well, it isn’t a dream!

Sometimes I think our big, human brains muddle up things and we assume that we must intervene to make things better.  Unfortunately, that thinking has led to soil degradation, nutrient loss, carbon emissions, and MORE WORK!

The Soil disturbance cycle:  

Clear soil -> Till Soil -> Plant -> Weed Soil -> Fertilize  -> Fight Pests and Disease -> Harvest Crops

The cycle of disturbing soil not only makes more work for humans, but hinders natures natural processes for growing healthy plants

THAT’S A LOT OF WORK!

This cycle continues until we choose to change one thing, and when we do that, we create a new cycle.  THE SOIL OBSERVANCE CYCLE

no dig gardening no till gardening puts you into the soil observance cycle

THE SOIL observance CYCLE:  

Remove Large Debris ->  Plant -> Mulch -> Water Less Frequently  -> Apply Compost Teas as Needed -> Observe Garden -> Harvest Crops

Skeptical?  That’s OK.

The magic behind this mostly hands-off approach to growing things is the soil food web.  It consists of organic matter and micro and macro organisms that perform specific functions that provide an endless supply of nutrients for plants.  Each organism has a separate roll to play and an imbalance in any of them can cause issues.  

The main organisms that I focus on while doing Biological Soil Assessments are:

  • Bacteria
  • Fungi
  • Protozoa

The work these organisms do combine to build soil structure that promotes water retention, air flow and dense root systems.  When we disturb the soil through turning, tilling or compacting, these groups of organisms die off in large numbers.  

When they aren’t around, nutrients in the soil aren’t converted into plant available forms, oxygen levels decrease (bringing disease and pests) and you fall back into the Soil Disturbance Cycle.

Are You Ready To Try No Till / No dig Gardening?

Make sure to subscribe to the blog as I will get into more detail about the role each organism group plays and how to ensure they remain in your soil.

Helpful Resources

Soil Food Web
My Favorite No Dig Gardener
Regenerative Agriculture Expert

Bindweed – Need I Say More?

This next weed is a doozy. Encountered by most I know and hated by them, too.

Bindweed. ‘Nuf Said

Bindweed (Convolvus arvensi) is well known for its extensive root system. Ya know, those roots that go so deep you can never get to the bottom of them, so when your pulling it breaks off and you feel slightly defeated? Ya, those.

It also spreads quickly along the ground and is a fantastic climber. It seeds readily and spreads vigorously by its roots.

It’s been known to strangle your desirable plants and smother out your low-growers.

It tightly coils itself around anything it can find making weeding tedious.

Boy howdie. That’s a list of irritating features! So, why should anyone love this weed?

Thinking again about the problem being the solution, let’s take a different look at its growth habits.

Bindweed, like any other persistent ground cover, has one main purpose. To quickly and thoroughly shade the soil. Mother Nature does not like her soil bare. I suppose you can call her modest? Or maybe, like me, she burns easily!

Bindweed pushing up through dry, compacted ground.

Bindweed also has strong, deep roots that can break up compacted soil and allow water to penetrate once the plant dies back.

So, if you look at bindweed as a workhorse plant helping to better the soil, you understand why it’s there.

Awe, that’s nice. It’s helping, BUT you still want it to stop growing in your garden so the beauty of your landscape can shine through. Right?

The best way to eliminate bindweed is to do the work it’s designed to do yourself. Shade the soil and decompact it.

Shade the soil with lots of mulch. Wood chips, compost, leaves, straw, etc. If you have bare soil, cover it thickly. 4-6″ is a minimum. Overtime you will need to add more as your soil biology will break it down.

Decompaction is tricky. I, personally, practice no till gardening. Deep mulching builds the soil life and I let the soil build itself naturally and aerate. This can take longer, so if you must break the soil, I recommend a broadfork. You can also use a spade to loosen, BUT DO NOT TURN OVER, the soil. Turning over and tilling the soil only temporarily decompacts. In the long run, it hurts the soil structure and you lose nutrients. Not to mention, a no till method is far less work.

Now that you’ve mulched, and possibly forked the soil, you will see bindweed emerge. There are a lot of roots down there. So stay persistent. Pull them as soon as you see them. And over time, you’ll weaken the roots until it dies. Also you’ll build the soil humus with lots of mulch and compost and bindweed will no longer be needed. This can take several growing seasons, but you should notice a decrease sooner.

If you have an area that is extremely full of bindweed, you can add a layer of cardboard under your mulch. You gotta love lasagna gardening!

Why using herbicides is counter productive

The easy, quick fix to killing bindweed is using herbicides. It’s very attractive because you don’t have to do a lot of work. Just fill a sprayer, walk around spraying the bindweed and you’re done.

Have you ever noticed that the weeds never stay away for long? You are now committed to applying herbicides indefinitely. Do you know why?

It’s simple. By simply killing the weed with herbicides does not do anything to solve the soil problem they germinated to fix. In fact, it compounds the problem. Now, you not only have bare soil baking in the sun, but you’ve killed any soil biology you may have had that was working to aerate it. Bare, lifeless soil becomes MORE compacting causing MORE bindweed.