Posts Tagged ‘No Dig’

I just wanted to say that with only a few years under my belt growing Onions, I can personally claim that Onion from seed (Preferrably from a good Heritage seed supplier) does far better than from sets (mini bulbs pre-grown to a small easy-to-handle size).

Yes, onion from seed are (or at least Seem to be) quite finniky / delicate to handle but Don’t let this put you off! The results are far better in my opinion.

Onion seed vs sets

Heritage Onion from Seed (LEFT) vs Commerically Available Onion Sets (RIGHT)

Take note that in the above photo, I grew Two types of Onion set and both were just as bad in terms of bulb swell and overall failure (Red Karmen and Stuttgart)

Why do (did) I still grow Onion from sets if I seem to have such better results from seed? Because this was my first proper season from start on my ‘new’ allotment and I came across a good deal in Lidl I think it was, for a bag of around 100 bulbs it was something ridiculous like $0.69p. So I decided to do a comparison test since I now have a much larger space to play around in.

Pros and Cons for both parties (Pro’s highlighted in Bold):

  • SETS:
    Can be contaminated with fungal growth or spores from storage or the production facility,
  • Most (probably 50-80% in my experience) didn’t get much larger than the little bulb that went in! (Don’t throw them away, make pickles!),
  • Need netting in the first weeks to prevent birds etc. from pulling them out before they establish,
  • Will need constant watering until they establish,
  • Are convenient if a Gardener is overwelmed with small seedlings on all available windowsills etc,
  • Save on plastic pots and compost,
  • SEEDS:
  • Are quite delicate when small,
  • Need one pot and compost per plant (or group of plants if following Multi Sowing),
  • In one year I had all of my onion seed attract aphid really early (February / March if I remember correctly?), however, that was well before I found out how to control them,
  • Have a much more well developed root system and romp away shortly after planting,
  • Swell up quicker too,
  • Far more disease resistance when compared,
  • Better options to choose from (such as storage length, taste, size etc.),
  • Establish quicker so need less tending,
  • Do not need netting,
  • Higher bulb-swell success rate as per observation (larger bulbs),
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Some of you may have heard a few people making the statement: ”I am a no dig / no till gardener” what they meant about that is that they do not follow the standard of turning or rotavating their soil every year especially in the Winter.

serveimage

Woodchip Soil Amending – year 1 and 2 onwards

No Dig gardeners do a little bit of digging, but only what is necessary such as digging a hole to place a plant in it’s final outdoor location. They Do Not however, systematically dig / till the soil every year.
One of the arguments used to justify this ficticious practice is that they are bringing up nutrients which are / have leeched deep down.
Gardeners the country over, including very experienced people on Allotments have no actual clue about the sub surface bacteria and how they are exposing these beneficial organisms to the elements and also burying them too deep which kills them off!
In permaculture we call it the Soil Food Web and it comprises the entire system from soil microbes, to fungi mycelium, the plants, moisture, decomposing matter etc…

Nature does the work for us, we just need to learn to observe and only intervene by taking advantage of the observed clues, one good example is with the Austrian Farmer Sepp Holzer, he noticed as a boy that Strawberries grow much better and produce larger / jucier fruit when stones were placed beside the plants, he also noticed how White Clover also helped (Nitrogen Fixer).

The below image describes a better understanding of exactly how the different organisms in the ‘Soil Food Web’ play their roles which interact with other organisms in the system:

soil food web

If for example, you buy a house or start a garden somewhere and you find that the soil is heavy clay, you will of course need to dig and place soil amendments (preferrably natural) in the first year on a once off occasion, thereafter only an annual surface layer of mulch is needed to feed the system with fresh compostable material, nature literlaly does the rest and after a longer period of time you will have a very healthy soil system on that particular patch of land.

So, a few bags of clean sharp sand to help break up the clay, perhaps a few bags of compost and I would say as much woodchip as can be obtained, these materials should be worked into the soil up to the depth of perhaps of one spade blade. If your woodchip is fresh, you should not grow anything in this soil for at least a year, so this year you could at least use the space to host a row of pots which will hold plants for this one season, next year you will grow directly in the ground.

Rotovating or working the soil every year destroys the food web and basically resets it everytime, in the case of using a rotovator on heavy clay, the blades actually compact the ground under the bed being prepared and pretty much can cause this layer to become a water barrier, this I have seen first hand and the plot in question was always flooded at certain times of the year … In my whole opinion, using a rotovator is only necessary in the first year of soil amandment.

If you have a perennial weed problem (weeds which die down in winter and re-sprout from sub surface root networks in spring) you can use sheet mulch (aka lasagna mulch) after your soil amendment is added and then your final layer of the woodchip or mulch layer of your choice.

I challenge any skeptics to do a control experiment where they dedicate half of their beds to a no dig with mulch method and see the difference year after year …