Distresses pasture needs cover. In our arid climate it is a must.
No dig bed is done as layers of higher carbon material and higher nitrogen material. Wood chips, manure, grass, organic yard waste (winter clean up plants and collected leaves).
Layers are about 10cm in some places some are 15cm, does not have to be exact no one measures the thickness of an extra large cow ... droppings :). Manure layer is thinner, wood chips layer is a bit thicker 2.5-5cm compared to manure layer.
Last layer is wood chips. Because the ground has incline the bed is leveled and large ans 'less large :)' stumps forming a retaining wall.
Step 1:manure over the grass, yard waste etc organics.
Step 2: wood chips and forming terrace, collecting logs, getting right size in the place.
Step 3: Layering chips over spread layer of manure
it gets 'watered with snow and melting snow' manure was wet because of all the snow fall, it was heavy and did not need a lot of water, but in winter it's sort of hard to have irrigation anyways. And combined with mother nature it all works all right in the end.
Next amount is delivered and layered
It works like so
This way terrace is forming
Step 4: next amount of manure is delivered, another 8 cubic yards or so, it is delivered by a truck.
the yard waste and other organic material already put in place before manure delivery, so there is less material handling.
Pile to area to be covered relative comparison
Spreading pile in layers and sections forming terrace
Bit by bit. Alternating with wood chips layer for carbon
Soil moisture in done prior last year section. So it does retain every bit of water.
Step 7: additional terraces (smaller ones, similar in shape section to the top one, incline managed with terraces. This side will have large trees forming wind block
This Section above needs another layer of manure-wood chips and is not yet level.
Type of wood chips here has higher nitrogen (sticks and some live evergreens)
So why people dig their gardens anyways and who digs mine?
The answer is because tillage (i.e. ploughing) helps loosen compacted soil which makes it easier to plant into, rips up weeds, and buries the scraps left over from harvesting. All good right?
That's the way how it is in many many places.
Being a geek (I admit it :)), so I like to ask 'why' questions.
This then raises the logical question, why is the soil compacted in the first place if it’s constantly tilled? There are several causes re-compaction of tilled soil, namely animal-powered and mechanized farm equipment, such as tractors and oxen, people walking on the soil and rain impacting on bare soil!
When My own soil is covered by pasture the layer of the material on top of the soil is... 1/4 inch in 3 years after growing grass and cutting it (high with something called bushhog -it cuts higher compared to highest setting on awn mower and the remaining grass is about 15-20cm tall)
Even when it's winter and the soil is moist because it's cold I can see cracking on bare soil that is between the clumps of the grass.
Before we can understand the reasons for not digging soil, it’s important to understand what soil is, otherwise it’s not clear what we’re dealing with.
The soil is not just ‘dirt’ to anchor plant and tree roots, though that’s how many people treat it! The soil is a very complex ecosystem, teeming with very diverse life.
In fact, the soil is more abundant with life and more complex than any other ecosystem above the ground. There are about 50 billion microbes in 1 tablespoon of soil. By comparison, the human population numbers just over 7 billion currently. These organisms include Bacteria, Actinomycetes, Fungi, Yeast, Protozoa, Algae and Nematodes. Furthermore there are arthropods and insects in there as well, including earthworms. That’s a lot of life in the soil!
So what are all these critters doing in the soil? The soil bacteria form a beneficial relationship with plant roots, and soil fungi form a beneficial relationship with tree roots, helping them access nutrients.
Think of it as the tree roots are 'the tree', grass roots are 'the grass', meaning when it's normal in the nature (say forest) or pasture that is not touched the most of the plant is under the ground. The plant puts out 'cakes and cookies' in form of the complex chemical compounds (and roots are quite good 'wires' for the delivery of these) and 'calls' what it needs in the soil, because all those things already live there. In the forest it's hard to dig the out a tree, and in wind these do not fall. They fall only when they are very very old and roots are not there to support the tree (rotten). Same with the grass. On the virgin pasture can not dig out one of those clump grasses...
The soil organisms carry out the important functions of nutrient cycling, improvement of soil structure to aid water and air movement through the soil and also the control of diseases and enhancement of plant growth. Most of the soil fungi occupy the top 15cm (6”) of the soil, while the rest of the organisms live at all different levels.
Digging and turning over the soil exposes a very delicate ecosystem to the air which dries it out, and to the ultraviolet rays of the sun, which sterilize the soil – killing the soil organisms. The soil loses a lot of its nutrients, such as carbon, nitrogen micro elements. It also loses a lot of its organic matter, and as a consequence, does not retain water as well. The delicate soil structure is destroyed, compaction of soil occurs, leading to hardpan formation, and reduced water infiltration in the soil, and more surface runoff, which increases soil erosion.
Tillage is the term used to describe the agricultural preparation of the soil by digging it and turning it over. So why are the farmers so fond of this destructive practice? Well, they found that when you first dig up the soil, fertility goes up, and plants grow better. The reason is that the tiny little bodies of all the soil organisms that have just been killed by digging break down, releasing their nutrients to the soil. The catch is, it only works once, and then your soil is sterile and the plants are worse off, and they become more prone to diseases, and require even more fertilizer than they normally would. To further compound the problem, chemical fertilizers are pumped into the dying soil, which effectively kill off what soil life is left. Yes, chemical fertilizers kill soil life! It’s really a fool’s game to destroy the soil life for a short-lived, once off nutrient boost, which really shows gross ignorance and a complete lack of understanding of soil ecology and what makes plants grow!
One forgets that chemically most of fertilizes are... salts.
I do not have humus, 10 years ago my dirt was literally ... dirt, Over grazed dry lot, as bare as it gets.
Literally. And finding that history tells me why I have 2cm-5cm of top soil on top of the clay.
And that's it. And that's why after watering the garden I wrote about for 2 days the rototiller could go into it only 5cm tilling into that very top layer 8 yards of my very first manure load.
I was loading and loading wood chips and horse waste (3-4-1 year old on that garden)
There was no organic matter in there.
We can add organic matter directly to the soil surface, such as manure, compost, straw, leaves etc. Garden waste such as prunings from trees and shrubs can be fed into a mulcher to break them down into smaller pieces, and then spread over the soil as a mulch.
Adding a layer of organic matter over the soil, in a layer approximately 5cm-15cm (2”-6”) thick is in effect ‘sheet composting’, where the garden beds become large composting areas. By the action of earthworms, bacteria, fungi and insects, the organic matter is slowly broken down and released into the soil, providing nutrients to the garden. Because the soil is not disturbed, a stable soil ecosystem is created, and plant health is improved. Moisture is also better retained due to the mulching, and the organic matter in the soil works like a sponge to better retain the moisture in the soil. The mulching also prevents soil erosion, stops runoff of rainwater across the surface, and assists the rainwater to percolate into the soil. The earthworms will create channels in the soil, which will help both water and air to penetrate into the soil.
With no-dig gardens, the soil is not compacted because it is not walked upon! Stepping on the soil destroys the soils structure by compacting it, preventing air and water penetration to the plants roots, which affects plant health, restricts plant growth and reduces productivity. Paths are constructed for people to walk on, the garden beds are for plants ONLY!!!
Now who digs?
My earth worms, centipedes and other critters. Even rabbits dig. And those darn voles hawks did get.
Mainly in my case I hire a lot of earth worms. Because my climate is arid I value every drop of moisture. And my water rights are limited.
I do grow worms, and I started with 2 hands full 3 years ago I found those survivors under rotten straw bales and still thankful to prev owners they left me them. As these turned out into much stronger worm population for my worm bins and they do live outside.
There will be a separate post about earth worms.
For now this is link and side by side same exact no dig several years ago (2014) and (2017)
This is what this new no dig bed will become. And I'll leave it to nature and seed more worms in here later in the season.
What this deep mulch method does is shown from here
in particular this photo is how it started, 2 existing raised beds covered with what ever chop and drop there was
And following posts and
this picture in particular in late summer
Same land. in summer