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Primal Seeds exists as a network to actively engage in protecting biodiversity and creating local food security.

It is a response to industrial agriculture, the control of the seed supply and of our food.

 

 

No-dig Vegetable Gardening

 

 

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Producing healthy crops without hard work is possible! No-dig gardening needs no regular digging, weeding, watering or other such chores and of course doesn't rely on chemical pesticides or fertilisers.

Why no-dig?
Healthy soil is a living ecosystem comprising organic matter, innumerable bacteria, fungi, insects and worms. These organisms play a vital role in supplying nutrients to plants, so keeping them happy and oxygenated is the key to productive healthy plants. Digging disturbs the life in the soil and damages its capillarity. The key to the no-dig method is allowing a healthy soil ecosystem to develop over time.

No-dig beds must never be walked upon because it compacts the soil. Raised beds are best, they give a longer growing season because they heat up earlier in the growing season and remain warm longer and are less susceptible to frost. Also drainage is improved which is good in heavy clay soils. The deep loose soil in raised beds can accommodate vegetable plants at least 2/3 of the normal row spacing. They are more efficient because fertility is concentrated in a small area.


GETTING STARTED
It is much better to plan for a small area that you can fill completely with plants. This way you can use compost and mulching materials more efficiently and avoid bare earth.

If you already have a growing space, you can easily convert it to a no-dig garden simply. Do so by creating raised beds that can be reached from a path and are never walked upon. The easiest way is simply to take the top layer of soil where the path is to be and pile it upon the bed spaces. If soil is compacted or infested with weeds it will be necessary to dig it at this initial phase. Use whatever you can find- wood, stones, bricks or upside down bottles as edges for the beds.

To build beds on top of lawns or weed infested ground without digging use a layer of thick cardboard, layers of newspaper, or other natural fibres that cut out the light. This will suppress grasses and most weeds and rot down to allow root penetration after a season or so. If there is a lack of soil at your site create raised beds using any available organic material- twigs, leaves, grass cuttings, sawdust, weeds etc. Pile up the materials in thin layers with the coarsest at the bottom, adding whatever compost or soil is available on top. Grow shallow- rooted crops for the first year or so.

Mulching
Leaving the earth bare exposes it to sun, wind and cold and lets it dry out forming a hard surface crust, this kills the life of the soil. Rainfall on bare ground causes compaction of the soil, and the washing out (leaching) of water soluble nutrients. Wherever possible, keep the ground covered at all times preferably by living plants or otherwise by mulches.

The idea of mulches is to fully cover up the earth with a layer of organic materials without leaving gaps. Mulches maintain healthy soil conditions by regulating temperature and keeping the soil moist between rain showers. They also prevent most weed seeds from germinating. By spreading mulches directly on the soil, instead of first converting them to compost, organic materials do double duty - serving as mulch, and as a slow-release of organic fertilizer, soil conditioner and worm food. All plant cuttings and residues should be returned to the earth by applying them as mulch on the soil.

The mulch method is ideal for perennials and annual crops that are grown from transplants. Mulches may have to be removed for direct sowing of seeds. One method that allows direct sowing onto mulched ground is to use seed balls.

No-dig potatoes are great for clearing new ground. Simply place tubers on the earth beneath thick weed suppressing organic mulch. This will break down during the growing season and be dug in as the potatoes are harvested.

Mixed Cropping
There are many reasons to get away from growing vegetables in rows with bare earth in between. There will inevitably be more problems with pests and disease among plants grouped together because signals that attract insects to their food are stronger and disease pathogens will spread easier. Mixing plants throughout the garden makes it harder for pests and diseases to spread.

Mixing plants is an optimum use of space, including vertical space, some plants grow well in shade, and others are climbers. Also consider root depths, different plants take water and nutrients from different depths in the soil.

One technique for maintaining permanent cover is called over-sowing, sowing one crop before the harvesting of the existing crop. The greatest productivity comes by optimizing use of time as well as space. Quick growing crops like peas, radishes, turnips, rocket, spring onions, lettuce and other salads can be used as “catch crops” to fill up any spaces.

By using mixed cropping throughout it is not necessary to practice strict crop rotation because soil borne pests diseases of certain crops will not have built up in any one particular area. Don’t be shy about packing the space, ideally leaves of mature plants should be touching.

Remember the greater the diversity and variety of plants in your garden the greater will be the number of beneficial organisms that keep a check on the populations of pests.

When mixing plants always include:

  • Companion plants that are grown especially to deter insect pests and attract beneficial insects, see our page on companion planting.
  • Green manures, plants that are grown to improve and maintain the soil fertility. see our page on green manures.

  • What’s easy to grow?

  • The easiest crops to grow are:
    Beans, beetroot, broccoli, courgette, kale, garlic, Jerusalem artichokes, leek, lettuce, peas, potatoes, radish, spinach, squashes, Swiss chard, sweetcorn and turnip.
  • Remember old and heritage varieties are hardier, more disease resistant and grow better without fertilisers than modern varieties and hybrids.
  • There are also many less well-known tasty and nutritious food crops that are easy to grow and free of disease and pest problems.
  • For salad leaves try: rocket, endive, purslane, chervil, corn salad, perilla, Japanese greens/ mizuna, mallow and burnet.
  • For leaf vegetables try: amaranth, orach, seacale, good king henry, pak-choi and choy sum.
  • Unusual root vegetables include: salsify, scorzonera, evening primrose, bulbous chervil, hamburg parsley, Japanese burdock, oca, groundnut, day lilies and hardy yams.

  • ...And for the hardiest and easiest to grow edible plants of all see our section on “Guerrilla Plants”.




    Further Reading:

    'For the Liberation of Seeds and Humus, A Manifesto for Survival'
    by 'Association Kokopelli.'
    A powerful indictment of the forces leading to crop varietal extictions and laws that have forced an inspirational French seed company to stop trading.
    'Biodiversity Threat'
    by Hope Shand
    The steamroller of modern monoculture and factory farming is sweeping away our crop and domestic livestock diversity, putting future food production at risk.
    'Everything not permitted is forbidden'
    by Jeremy Cherfas
    In Europe, one set of legislation applies to giant intensive farmers and small home gardeners. That is why Europe's losses of genetic diversity are probably among the most severe in the developed world.
    'Rescuing Traditional Food Crops'
    by Kent Wealy
    founder of the US Seed Savers Exchange.
    We are going to need all the genetic resources we can possibly muster to overcome what we are going to face in the future.
    'The Importance of Diversity and Pressures for Uniformity.'
    2 Chapters from Heritage Vegetables, The Gardeners Guide to Cultivating Diversity.
    by Sue Strickland.
    Many characteristics of our wild crops and old varieties are as yet unnoticed, unvalued, unrecognied or uneeded. These qualities may be vitally importnat in the future.
    'Earmarked for Extinction, Seminis Eliminates 2,000 Varieties.'
    Report by Rural Foundation International.
    Announcement by Seminis, the world's largest vegetable seed corporation, that it would eliminate 2,000 varieties - or 25% of its total product line - as a cost-cutting measure.

     

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