Evidence for the No Dig Method

This spring we cleaned out the zinnia hedge pretty thoroughly. You might remember that I posted this photo of the zinnias being planted.

This strip of dirt used to have irises in addition to annual zinnias, but the weeds had gotten out of control, and the iris bulbs and rhizomes made it difficult to weed, so we ripped everything out to start fresh. The irises never looked that great, so it wasn’t such a loss. (I don’t have a photo of it before. Below is a photo from google maps street view taken in June 2019. I think we must have weeded shortly before this photo was taken, because it doesn’t look nearly as bad as it was.)

In the process of weeding everything, the soil was turned over multiple times.

Shortly after planting the zinnias, the zinnia bed looked like this:

You can hardly recognize the zinnias anymore. That carpet of green is all fresh weeds.

If you’re familiar with the No Dig gardening method, this probably seems like a no-brainer to you. As I understand it, the No Dig method tells us that as we dug up the bed to refresh it, weed seeds were brought to the surface of the soil, allowing them to germinate. It would have been smarter of us to smother the bed with cardboard and mulch or a plastic sheet to kill everything before planting the zinnias, but alas.

The No Dig method, promoted by Charles Dowding, is really interesting to me. I had always thought that you need to till and loosen the soil before planting anything, especially root crops. But according to Mr. Dowding, tilling the soil actually breaks up beneficial fungi, worms, and insect homes disturbing the soil natural biome. In addition – as evinced by our zinnia hedge – turning the soil reveals weed seeds. So not only are you destroying a lot of the health of the soil, you’re making more work for yourself – both the tilling and the weeding. He advocates simply mulching with compost on top of soil to improve it, rather than digging compost into the soil. It’s less work, plus, he still grows fantastic crops.

Now that we’ve dug the soil and have weeds growing amongst our zinnias, what would Dowding tell us to do? Could we lay mulch (or cardboard) over the weeds at this point, or is it too late?

We did the traditional thing and weeded the bed. This task was painstakingly slow and took several people several hours each to complete. Then we added more mulch to the bed with a layer of bark chips along the blueberry cage where we don’t have any zinnias planting. Looks pretty good…for now anyway.

The Community Garden is Looking Good!

As we continue to be under strict social distancing orders in the state of WA, Nate and I worked at the community garden on Saturday morning alone again. We continued weeding the blueberry patch – the half that is still thick with weeds. We didn’t make a ton of progress, so I don’t have cool before and after photos to show you.

Instead, I’ll show you some of the other things growing in the garden. The garden members have all been working in the garden at different times throughout the week to keep things going. I think we accomplished more this week than we normally would with our usual two-hour Sunday work party, perhaps because people are spending extra time in the garden these days to keep busy and take their minds off of the current global situation. Also, since we’re not able to socialize, we’re more focused on the task at hand.

The asparagus beds, weeded, mulched, and staked out.

The asparagus beds (photo above) are looking really good! At the beginning of the season, these beds were so overrun with weeds that we couldn’t tell what was bed and what was path. Some of the other members of the community garden spent a lot of time weeding them and then mulching them up with more soil and compost to get them to this state.

The asparagus are coming up!

And so are the horsetail (sigh). There was bit of a snafu with the horsetail in the asparagus bed this week…someone mistook horsetail for asparagus and asparagus for horsetail. They pulled out the asparagus and left the horsetail! Oops.

Note: this is horsetail (kinda looks like asparagus, I suppose)

Fortunately, the mistake was caught that same day, and the asparagus was replanted with extra mulch, so (fingers crossed) it wasn’t too badly damaged.

In the raised beds, the peas are looking good and the onions are slowly growing.

Peas
Onions

We’ve also planted lettuce, beets, and carrots (carrots not pictured).

Lettuce
Beets

The rhubarb is growing rapidly! Soon enough we’ll have rhubarb to harvest, and I can’t wait!

Work in the Blueberry Patch Continues: Newspaper and Wood Chips

Whew! I am tired. I’m writing this on Saturday afternoon after spending 4 hours this morning pulling out more horsetail from the blueberry patch at the community garden and then laying down a thick layer of newspaper and wood chips.

Here’s what the blueberry patch looked like when we left it last week:

After pulling out any horsetail that had sprung up since we were last there, we laid down newspaper — 4-6 sheets thick — and then a 4-5″ thick layer of wood chips.

Since the blueberry patch is enclosed in a wire mesh cage, we have to hand carry all the wood chips in using 5 gallon buckets. This is no easy feat. Nate filled two buckets at a time with wood chips from a pile sitting at the far end of the other blueberry patch, and carried them over to me. I weeded the blueberry patch as we went, and then laid down the newspaper and woodchips.

It took us four hours, and by the end, we were exhausted.

But here’s how it looks now:

We’re so proud!

This next photo is perhaps a better perspective.

Left side: Not weeded Right side: weeded, Newspapered, and wood chipped

This is where we ended – we only did about half of the bed. The blueberry bushes are mostly only planted that half (I’m not sure if that was intentional or not — I wasn’t part of the garden group when the blueberries were originally planted). In the other half, we’ve planted squash in years past, but last year it was just too overrun with weeds to do anything with it.

Our main goal this week was to mulch around the blueberry bushes. Mission accomplished! We are exhausted, but doing projects like this is my favorite way to spend a day.

Maybe next week we’ll try to tackle the weeds in the other end of the bed….