To dig or not to dig that is the question? Whether it is nobler to get a bad back and visit the osteopath or let the plants get on with it. As we get older and less agile we need to take steps to reduce the amount of physical work involved in the garden and probably the worst offender is digging. But why do we put ourselves though this backbreaking task year after year?
Digging improves air circulation in the soil, which is essential for plant growth, and while digging you can incorporate organic matter. This is important in vegetable growing and for young plants until they are established. So how can we reduce this physically demanding but seemingly essential task? You can adopt a no-dig or at least reduced digging policy and one of the biggest advantages of this is obviously reducing the strain on the back.
There are several ways of tackling this; first there are raised beds that can be constructed of different materials. Square wooden beds are ideal for vegetable growing but not very attractive in an ornamental garden. In an ornamental garden it is best to use brick or stone. They can be laid loose or cemented or use log roll. The main object of this exercise is to reduce the amount of soil compaction from walking on the ground. This is especially important on a clay soil when wet. Having raised beds you need to make them no wider than 1.2m (4ft) if you have access from both sides and 60cm (2ft) if you can only get from one side. This is so you can carry out tasks such as weeding without treading on the soil.
To start raised beds build them around 60cm (2ft) high which will help reduce the bending you have to do but don’t construct them too high because you will increase the amount of watering you have to do. Another thing to consider is if you are in a wheelchair or have to garden from a sitting position you will need to take this into account. When constructing the beds you can either construct the sides first and dig over the base or, dig the base first then the sides. Fill the bed with soil incorporating organic matter such as garden compost (which you will have if took note of my article last month). The good news is you will not need to dig again for two or three years.
For flowerbeds it is more pleasing on the eye to have beds that are not straight and square. Build them with irregular shapes – oval, round or any other shapes providing you remember the 1.2m and 60cm rule. On the other hand square beds are better for growing vegetables. You can plant the rows closer together because you don’t need to leave paths to walk on. You can grow more in the available space and if you have three or four beds it is easy to work a rotation. You can also have a modified no-dig by creating beds without raised edges (again 1.2m and 60cm wide) and put down straw, slabs, grass or any other path so you don’t need to walk on the beds.