Is no-dig better for our soils?

It is certainly less work, and cheaper if you’re a commercial grower. But are our soils actually better off with when we don’t cultivate?

This video tells all. It’s an amazing snap-shot comparing soil in an area with a long history of zero cultivation with an adjacent arable field.

Historical records suggest the ancient woodland has never been cultivated, whereas the field is likely to have been cultivated annually for decades.

The woodland soil was crumbly and dark, indicating loads of organic matter, carbon and soil life, but in the arable field, it was light coloured, had unbreakable clods, and was hard to dig!

Some people say, “that’s all very well, but we won’t feed the world growing food in ancient woodlands”… but that’s not the point! We can ‘learn from Nature’ by looking at the difference between the practices employed in the woodland in comparison to the arable field (see table below from the ‘Eco-logical Farming Handbook).

table showing the value of no-dig

In the ancient woodland, the soil is fertile because it hasn’t been cultivated, AND there is plenty of vegetation supplying organic materials and root exudates (sugars and proteins which plants release from their roots) to the soil ecosystem (see ‘Reduce fertiliser costs without sacrificing yields‘ for why this works).

Are no-dig and no-till the way to grow? Yes! We’re better off leaving our spades and tractors in the shed and giving the job of creating good soil structure to the experts – our soil organisms.

And by giving our soil organisms a better diet of organic materials from roots, shoots and root exudates, they will work 24/7 creating soil structure for us!

Help for Commercial Growers

In case you’re wondering how to grow arable crops without mechanical cultivation, there are alternatives – see resources in the ‘Eco-logical Farming Handbook and these links:

  1. Organic no-till – see Gabe Brown and his family in North Dakota for a success story – Gabe says they still need to periodically spray herbicides but they are working towards zero chemicals
  2. Pasture Cropping developed by Colin Seis in New South Wales, Australia

Information on no-dig for gardeners

  1. Best way to kill weeds and grass
  2. No dig with Charles Dowding
  3. No Dig Gardening – A Beginner’s Guide

For more information on improving your soil get this free resource, or better still our Eco-logical Farming Handbook.