Am I too late to start a 'No Dig' allotment?

Discussion in 'Allotments Discussion' started by GMorris, Mar 12, 2020.

  1. GMorris

    GMorris Apprentice Gardener

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    Hi,

    I'm a brand new gardener, just taken on a new allotment.

    I've been reading really good things about the 'no dig' method, but most guides talk about putting the compost on in the Autumn and leaving it over winter. Is it too late if I do it in the next week or two (ie. late March), ready for planting out plugs / sowing seeds in Late April / May? Or do I need to dig instead now and switch to no dig from the Autumn?

    I don't know how recently the plot has been used to grow - I doubt it has been used this last winter at the very least. However, it has been cleared and the waste burnt on the plot, so is fairly clear and just covered with the ash from the fire at the moment. It hasn't been covered though, so there may be a few weed seedlings still to come.

    I plan to grow runner beans, carrots, tomatoes, sunflowers, strawberries and rhubarb on it (hopefully!!).

    Thanks!
     
  2. wiseowl

    wiseowl Friendly Owl ADMIN Staff Member

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    Good afternoon @GMorris my friend and welcome,I have moved your post to this forum where it will get more views and answers,hope that meets with your approval as my knowledge on this subject is limited ,I am sure one of our friends will be along shortly to answer your valid question in full my friend:smile:
     
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    • Islander77

      Islander77 Keen Gardener

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      Briefly; compost will burn plants unless well rotted down, hence the time lapse.

      One year I grew the best potatoes ever simply under black plastic on uncultivated ground ie part of a field. Just barely covered them so no real digging, just a dent with a trowel, and when they started pushing up , cut holes in the plastic just enough to let the haulm through. Magnificent crop. Planning to try again this year with an old tarp. MY first year here I grew potatoes under hay. No dig has many manifestations.
       
    • JWK

      JWK Gardener

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      @GMorris I would wait till the soil starts to warm up, in the next few weeks, before doing anything. Just in case you have Asparagus beds or other perennial lurking under the soil that you don't know about. You never know there may already be Rhubarb there. Many of us grow flowers from bulbs on our allotments, I inherited some when I took over my plot.

      Look for any clues, are there plant labels or any signs of old plant material about.

      All those except carrots would be fine using a no dig method. With carrots I'd recommend you cultivate just the small seeding area so as to disturb the weed seeds as little as possible. Covering with mulch once they get going to suppress the weeds.

      The big downside of no dig is finding enough inert compost to adequately cover the soil. If you have a supply then go for it, it's a big time saver.
       
    • Islander77

      Islander77 Keen Gardener

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      NB I just noticed that local cattle are finally out which means they will be clearing the overwinter dung out so it will be fresh.
       
    • Steve R

      Steve R Soil Furtler

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      Steve...:)
       
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      • Kristen

        Kristen Under gardener

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        Charles Dowding makes it look a doddle (and indeed it is) but his approach is "Put some cardboard on your weed infested lawn, some sort of perimeter to retain the top-mulch, and then add your compost".

        In order to do as he recommends, and plant straight into the top-mulch-compost, you'd be looking at somewhere in the region of 6" of compost. No one, just starting out, has that much home made compost. I know folk would not be expecting to do this, on Day One, for the whole area of an allotment, but allotments are sized to be a suitable area to grow the Veg to feed a family of four ... so I'm using that as the basis for a slightly facetious example ... 250 sq.m average allotment size x 6" of compost, and ignoring the space that would be paths, would need 38 builder's bags of compost. I reckon that would be about £100 a throw

        if you want to buy it in 75L bags at around £8 each that would be £4,000 quid.

        £4,000 / 250 sq.m. = £16 per square meter - before spending anything on boards for the edging and so on. Its still quite a lot, even for a small area, and a small area won't grow much food - but a beginner would be well advised to be highly selective in what they choose to grow

        Along with the risk that the novice then decides that Veg Gardening is not for them / too time consuming / circumstances change.

        There are other sources of compost, and the resourceful might be able to Blag it :) I don't think Mushroom Compost, on its own, would be suitable - its a rather mono-material - but I have a price because I recently bought some to mulch my flower beds. That was a 20 tonne load (I'll guess that is a good 20 cu.m., depending on how wet it was), so about half what would be needed for an allotment, and that cost £500 delivered. So around £4 per sq.m.

        Municipal Compost is another source, depending on whether your local authority disposes of that to amateur gardeners. I worry about persistent herbicides used on lawns (such as Clopyralid and Aminopyralid) - Charles Dowding got stung by that a year or so back, and there is a related video on his YouTube. That herbicide will happily survive on grass, be fed to a cow during the winter, pass through its gut, remain in the manure until it has been composted and still be active when it is used thereafter. Agriculture is not supposed to transport any materials that have been treated (Hay, manure, and so on) without appropriate notification to the buyer (but it has happened ... probably most likely if you buy horse manure from the local stables, and they bought in Hay, or had their fields treated by "a contractor" ... ). But no such luck with amateur gardeners; the instructions say "Do not dispose of lawn clipping via council composting schemes" ... its right there, in small print, right at the very bottom of the label. I'm sure no one has inadvertently, or through ignorance, done that ...

        However, there is a simple test. Put some in a small flower pot and plant a Bean in it. The bean will germinate quickly and immediately show herbicide poisoning signs - the foliage will grow "weird". So that route is an option, with care.

        Plan B might be to aim, in the first year, to compost anything-and-everything so you have enough for Year Two. I like the "No Rules Compost" by RED Gardens ... to create enough of his own compost he collected material from all his neighbours instead of them using a Green Bin. In answer to their question "what is suitable material" to make it simple he told them "Anything recently alive" :)



        3m20s

        he also has an excellent approach to dealing with Rats in his compost heap



        The bit I am thinking of starts at 5m30s and his very neat :) solution is at 7m20s

        What to Grow?

        My recommendation for a Newbie is to stick to:

        • High value, High yield crops - climbing beans (Runners or French). Courgettes. Cut-and-come again, and quick-crops - like Lettuce
        • Anything where flavour is far superior to shop bought (Sweetcorn is a good example) - that is particularly good for winning over any wavering family members

        And my :) sacrosanct rules:

        • Only grow what you like to eat. Experimentation can come later.
        • Buy proper seed. Yes you can plant Spuds from the supermarket, and "pips" from a Bell Pepper etc. BUT ... they bring with them risk of failure, and failure could put a Newbie off forever :( Supermarket Spuds might be treated with growth inhibitors, slowing/preventing them sprouting, and they might have disease (Seed Potatoes come from inspected and controlled disease free places - no absolute guarantee, but I think that Newbies should start out with a better-than-average chance of success :) ) and the Bell Pepper may well be an F1 variety, which means that its "children" may have none of the beneficial characteristics of their parent.

        Consider soil-cleaning crops. Spuds are good - they tend to smoother weeds. Main Crop spuds are dirt (Sorry!) cheap, so no good reason to grow them, and commercial growers have temperature controlled storage and they can store them much better than an amateur can, so stick to Early Crop Potato varieties - and, being early, that will increase the chance that your crop is done and finished before Blight arrives. New Potatoes, from the ground, taste far better than shop bought ones; the Sugar starts turning to Starch the moment they are picked (Same with Sweetcorn), and Supermarket ones have been travelling for a couple of days before you buy them, and when you shop you probably buy enough for a week at a time and put them in the fridge ... home grown you can harvest a handful each day, 10 minutes before you cook them :)

        Winter Squash (Butternut and Pumpkin types) are good too. They cover a huge area, so if you cover the area with plastic sheet, or cardboard, and then make planting holes at suitable spacing, put some good manure-rich compost in each hole, and one plant ... it will need frequent watering once it is established - it will cover the area with leaf, and provide the "fruits" in autumn. The fact that the soil is covered with plastic / Cardboard will do a lot to kill the weeds (by weakening them / preventing them seeing light), so this is just "time saving" particularly if you have more area than you can actually manage in year One - cover and plant the rest with Squash :) and then in Year two you will have much less trouble from weeds and can grow other crops.

        Right ... I'll shut up now!
         
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        • Steve R

          Steve R Soil Furtler

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          I have been growing no dig now for about 4 years, alongside conventional growing in soil and that will continue for a number of years yet.

          It does take time to make or collect compost materials and over the 4 years I have made a concerted effort to do just that, I have collected neighbours green bins, raked up roadside verges where grase was just mown and left, collected cardboard from supermarkets, seaweed from the beach, leaves from the woods, straw and hay from the edges of farmers fields where the balers do not get too (with permission of course) I have even multicropped green manure (vetch and rye) 3-4 times a season to bulk my heaps combined with cow manure that is delivered and comfrey I have grown on plot. On the third year (last year) I made a no dig bed 16ft x 20ft and I had brilliant results.

          No dig beds.



          I was given some scaffold boards late last year so I decided it was no or never and built eight raised beds 16ft long by 4ft wide and 9 inches deep and started to fill them from compost piles, manure heaps old baskets and pots, everything I could get my hands on, and I invested in 5 tonnes of compost for £230 to finally fill and finish the beds, this I see as an investment in my plots future as from now on I will not need to fill the beds with 9 inches of compost, just one inch a year is all that is needed, my normal composting will take care of that.

          Compost 5 tonnes £230



          These beds will give us all the food we will need with upto three crops every year and clever sowing and growing ie multisowing modules and intercropping, the whole plot does not need to be No dig, just a smaller area where one can intensively crop, and you can work your way up to it, a couple of one hundred litre bales is enough to start off. You only fill all your plot no dig if your a commercial grower like Charles Dowding because you are making money from your crops you can invest as a business would.

          Steve...:)
           
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          • Kristen

            Kristen Under gardener

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            I've been enjoying watching your YouTubes lately :) I keep promising myself I'll have a go at that ...

            I have been wondered about asking the local farmers for spoiled-straw. Their strawstacks have no tarpaulin, and the top layer must be wrecked (by rain/weather) by the time they use it in the Spring - perfect for a gardener as it will be half-rotted before it even arrives here :)

            There is a new Bio Furnace 50 miles from here, and they buy up straw from all around. Absurd, and as a consequence the price of a Bale has become affordable, and all the Biomass is being carted of the fields and up to the Furness to make Electricity :( which is bound to reduce field fertility and biodiversity.

            When we first moved in we didn't have the ability to control all the grass, so I took a "hay crop" towards the end of June. Initially renting an Allen Scythe or similar (my God the was a beast .. I lost control of it heading from some brambles and failed to get it to turn; confronted with the brambles I let go and it just carried on straight through, which sorted that problem out nicely!)

            Then I rented a mini tractor ... and then I managed to afford one with a topper mower.

            The stacked "hay" made great compost ... probably not suitable for topping off Veg beds, but i used it in planting trenches for hedges and the like and without doubt it made a huge difference. It dos rots down somewhat "mouldy", I wonder if that is more like leaf mould does perhaps? and if so it would be a good source of the Mycorrhizal Good Guys
             
          • Steve R

            Steve R Soil Furtler

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            Thank you! Now get yourself in front of the camera, please..you have lots to offer and share and 1000's would appreciate it if you did.

            A plot holder on our site has just spread a trailer full of the furnace waste yesterday, well he chucks it in and the Chickens spread it for him. Hoping I can get some too as my spent hops deliveries have literally dried up since the pubs where shut down.

            It's natural, therefore good...after that it is a matter of getting balance right, I looked into the berkeley method of composting, 18 days and done! Takes me a while longer than that as I never seem to have the right balance.

            Steve...:)
             
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