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The Alternatives To Digging Beds For Growing Food

The most efficient and productive way of growing your own food is within your own self developed space. By ditching the plant-by-rows method and adopting the intensive gardening techniques, you can grow a more productive garden that is not only environmentally friendly but is fresh.

Using this method will open up a whole new world, especially when it comes to small-space gardening and become so much more than a few potted plants here and there. Growing your own food will not be healthier but will be a lot more economical and more than half your fresh food bill.

Nodig garden

The No Dig Method

What is a no dig garden?

Essentially, a no dig garden comprises of a large box that has been constructed from sturdy material which you would normally use to build a raised garden bed, then filled with variations of organic sustenance.

No dig beds are designed to sit on various outside surfaces for example soil or even a concrete pad, but with the addition of having a base layer of rubble for draining purposes. No dig beds can be made to any shape or length but take into consideration that if planning to place against a fence or wall, it should be no wider than one arm length. This allows the surrounding area to be accessible and the avoidance of soil compaction, which would be damaging to healthy plant growth and worm activity.

How does it work?

 The layers of a no dig garden use variations of organic materials, which creates a high level of nutrients and keeps those pesky weed seeds at bay. The no dig method has similarities of a fast-working compost heap and buries weed seeds but retains all the organic matter, whereas the traditional digging method brings the weed seeds to the surface and in turn displaces the nutrients and good organic substance.

Using organic matter naturally draws worms and other microbial creatures to it, breaking it down and oxygenating the soil as they wriggle through it. Soil structure affects water and air movement through it, the temperature of the soil and how easily soil can be cultivated. Mulching the soil both retains moisture and slows percolation of water, thereby preventing fast leaching of soil nutrients. No dig garden is less susceptible to pests and disease as it is an undisturbed environment, which allows the build-up of both beneficial soil insects and fungi to do their work.

Benefits of a no dig garden

Apart from the obvious benefit of not having to dig over soil, no dig gardens are virtually maintenance free and can be built to any shape or size as well as placed anywhere. With no need of chemical intervention, they work as one with nature and are the best options for organic gardeners.

No dig gardens are very popular with a small city plot or a large country garden. They are the ideal concept for those with bad backs and with other disabilities as they can be built high enough to include seating. They also maintain higher soil temperatures than the soil in the ground as well as be easily covered with a frost cloth or netting when the colder month’s creep in to protect the plants.

Building the layers of a no-dig garden

         50cm layer of rubble - only required on poorly drained soils

         50cm layer of overlapping newspaper (don’t use glossy paper or cardboard)

         Layer of mulch, for example: alfalfa, leaves, grass clippings, seaweed, wet strips of newspaper, coarse sawdust or bark mulch.

         Sprinkling of 20 to 30cm layer of well-rotted animal manure

         20cm layer of loose straw

         10 to 20cm deep layer of compost (or a mix of compost or planting mix). Repeat steps 7 to 12 as necessary to fill the beds.

Container Gardening

Container gardening

Selecting a container

When choosing a container, the general rule is to select a large container as small containers dry out a lot quicker and need watering daily. One thing to keep in mind is the weight of your container, especially when the pot is filled wet soil and plant material. But most importantly, take into consideration the depth of your container as certain plants have deep roots and without adequate space will become unhealthy and will not develop properly.

Keep in mind the deeper the pot the more the soil will keep its moisture which will mean less watering is needed. If you have decided on using a self-watering planter, the depth of the planting area can be kept to a minimum as the moisture will be provided by the water reservoir below the planting area.

The best vegetables for containers

We have provided a useful list of vegetables and minimum soil depths for healthy growth.

NOTE: If you have decided to opt for a self-watering plant, you can get away with less depth.

         4-5 inches: chives, lettuce, radishes, other salad greens, basil, coriander

         6-7 inches: bush beans, garlic, onions, Asian greens, peas, mint, thyme

         8-9 inches: pole beans, carrots, chard, cucumber, fennel, leeks, peppers, spinach, parsley, rosemary

         10-12 inches: beets, broccoli, potatoes, sweet corn, summer squash, dill, lemongrass

Plant combinations

When combining various different types of plants in one pot, it is advisable to match plants that have similarities with water and fertilizer. For example, Rosemary which is suited to hot and relatively dry conditions, would not be a good combination to go with cucumbers that are very water hungry. To make the best of the surrounding space, you might want to combine a trailing plant with an upright plant.

Here are a selection of good plant companions and ones to avoid:

Good Companions:

         Beans, carrots, squash

         Eggplant, beans

         Tomatoes, basil, onions

         Lettuce, herbs

         Spinach, chard, onions

Combinations to Avoid:

         Beans with onions and garlic

         Carrots with dill or fennel

         Tomatoes or squash with potatoes

         Onions with beans and peas

Grow Bag Gardening

Why grow in a grow bag?

Grow bags are made of breathable fabric which gives your planting material a vast amount of drainage and aeration. It is the aeration that makes them superior to other garden containers. With a general plant container, it lacks in aeration which is when the roots reach the walls of the container and gives off a signal to the plant to make more roots, this has a disastrous effect resulting in a root bound plant and eventually the plant killing itself. Root bounding will not happen in a grow bag. If a root reaches the wall of the bag, it will be “burned” off, causing the plant to constantly produce new and healthy branching roots. This is also called air-pruning.

Soil for grow bags

Soil is the most important aspect of any container gardening. With a combination of compost mixture, moss and vermiculite, your vegetables, herbs, salads and flowers will thrive and will give you an abundance of healthy vegetation.

We have listed the perfect mixture below to help preserve moisture which is important for grow bag gardening:

         1/3 moss

         1/3 compost mixture (for example chicken manure, horse manure and mushroom composts)

         1/3 vermiculite

Watering grow bags

Watering a container garden can be challenging, too much water your plants will end up being submerged and eventually die, too little makes your plants dry out. It all boils down to what container you choose. It is a known fact, that grow bags do dry out quicker than other pots because of the drainage and aeration system they use which in turn needs frequent watering. But on the plus side, grow bags rarely hold in the water because of the way they are designed.

Here are two options that can be helpful:

         DRIP SYSTEM
Install a drip system, so the grow bags get a constant moisture supply. We tried the bottle drip system. It did not do so well for us, even though many have great success with it. A pipe drip system would work well, too.

         SELF-WATERING SYSTEM
Having a container underneath the grow bag, will help the water to be delivered directly to the plant roots. But if the container is too deep, you will need an overflow. You ideally want most of the roots to be in air.

Vertical Gardening

Vertical gardening uses a botton-up and top-down system, which is an innovative, effortless and productive way of supporting a wide variety of plants for small and large garden spaces. There are multiple varieties of vegetables, fruits and flowers that are ideal for growing up freestanding and wall-mounted supports as well as beds or containers.

There are a lot of reasons why you should take advantage of the vertical garden instead of just concentrating of the horizontal traditional garden plot, here are just some suggestions:

         Vertical gardening enables you to grow vegetables without bending or getting on your knees again. Perfect for individuals that can’t stay on their knees for long.

         There are many varieties of containers that you can grow vertically in, for example: plant pockets, hanging planters, stacking containers, recycled pallets, in stacked flower boxes, table garden systems, plant trees, in greenhouses on tables and up-cycled ladders. Let your imagination run wild!

         It is an ideal way to save space, especially if you have no land or a very small garden.

         Some vertical garden systems are portable and can be moved from outside to indoors on wheeled apparatus.

         You will use less water because with many vertical gardens, water is recycled through a planting system, alternatively they can be fed by stored rainwater.

         Using no soil will prevent pesky weeds or fewer weeds in less soil and an easy way to protect your plants from soil- borne pests.

         Increases vegetation, by relocating plants to where the light and air is circulating more efficiently.

All in all, the no-dig method is far more satisfying to walk out into the garden to harvest your own food, than to bump and grind around supermarket aisles and car parks. It is also cheaper, healthier and saves on the gym subscription too!

cont
Posted by Charlie Groves

Charlie is the manager at Groves Nurseries.  He is the 6th generation of C.W. Groves to run the garden centre. 

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