Garden Crossroads: To Dig, Or Not To Dig? That Is The Question

I’ve just been given an allotment on a site very near to my house, less than two minutes’ walk from my door. I’m not saying this to show off, just pointing out that I won’t be able to use any proximity-related excuses for not visiting my plants every day and making the space look spectacular – no pressure then!

Although I have been a commercial grower, my growing experience at the allotment level is minimal. Growing commercially, you show up every day, do everything you can, and then head home and get paid for it. The allotment is a different kind of commitment, and I feel the beginning of a relationship developing.

No-Dig Method

I’ve decided to go the no-dig way, but there’s the initial prep. I spent days digging over parts of the overgrown, neglected space, ‘cleaning’ it of all weeds and their roots so I can grow in a low maintenance way, allowing mycelia’s hyphae to spread, undisturbed, in perfect subterranean growing conditions. I imagine the establishment and development of these beds as the invisible horticultural drama harmoniously unfolds beneath my feet.

The Problem

And then it hits me – no dig means no digging – and I like digging! Even the tough digging I’m having to do right now, where I’m shaking out heavy, matted grassroots, whacking them with the fork as I go to break up the dense clay soil. It’s the kind of work that makes me feel tired and like I’ve got a creaky back. There’s something about digging that makes me feel like I’m meant to be doing it.

no-dig gardens

In my first gardening job, I dug a lot. I enjoyed it, but it was just for appearance – a nice bit of weed-free, bare soil was the sign of good gardening. But was it just nonsense? Was all that digging a waste of time?

Once I’ve laid my cardboard at the allotment and filled up the beds with muck, am I to leave it all? It somehow seems unfair that I won’t be able to dig and that what my space produces will likely be better if I don’t. And as I carelessly amble about my allotment, plucking the odd stray dandelion whose seed most definitely blew in from the surrounding weedy world, will I be happy that I don’t have to dig? That I have controlled the environment so that everything works perfectly beneath and above, and without human toil?

Moving Forward

But I guess I’m getting ahead of myself – I still have plenty of digging to do, for now. I’ll enjoy the pace and rhythm of it and find myself lost in thought and space with getting down and dirty in a way that reminds me of when I first learned to appreciate digging at my first gardening job.

no-dig gardens

Maybe it’s nostalgia, but digging is meditation. After that, I’ll find something else to do. Sit in my gently humming allotment and meditate rather than dig and meditate. I’ll try that.

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Alan worked in local food for over a decade and in that time was involved in retail, wholesale and growing local produce. He lives in the West Yorkshire hills with his wife, daughter, son and cat and loves walking in the hills and sleeping out in the woods. He published his first book last year. These days, he mostly teaches mindfulness and runs nature-based courses and events and writes. He also grows veg in his allotment and learns a lot through his experiences. He likes to combine the philosophical with the practical.