Down Farm is using a fully no-till, no-dig system to grow produce. So far we have prepared 36 beds by transferring soil from the pathways to the beds to give the beds an extra “raise” and then applying a mix of woodchip and manure to build fertility approximately 5cm deep. We have then covered the prepared beds with silage plastic to kill off any remaining weeds by excluding the light.
We still have many more beds to prepare to be able to grow our desired quantities of produce, and after a trip to Charles Dowding’s holding in Somerset we thought we would try a slightly different technique of bed preparation of a few perennial areas.
Rather than disturbing any soil we have laid some cardboard, and applied a layer of compost (mostly manure and some woodchip) 15cm deep. As we ran out of cardboard we have also directly applied the thick layer of compost onto the grass/weeds/plants that are currently in the field. We have then planted directly into the beds, raspberries, early potatoes – shortly to be followed by flowers -, Jerusalem artichokes, and asparagus crowns. The pathways have cardboard and a layer of woodchip, 8cm thick. This layer of compost should be enough to kill of the beneath weeds in both the beds and pathways.
This saves disturbing any soil at all. Given the field we are now growing in was ploughed last year for a silage harvest we want to do all we can to rebuild the soil structure that was lost to benefit the soil microbes and ultimately give us healthy plants and some wonderful foods. By not digging anything, including the path ways we – in theory – should not be bringing any weed seeds to the surface and all the weeds beneath the thick layer of compost will be adding further organic matter to the bed to feed the soil.
Watch this space to hear more about the weed burden and if this technique is successful on our site!
Photo above: Jerusalem artichoke bed created where our pile of manure had been. Rather than shifting barrows of manure around, we opportunistically planted where the compost already was. Saves our backs and the soil!
Photo below: Asparagus and raspberry bed in the making