The Dig, No Dig Debate Never Ceases. Gardeners Argue Which Is Best & Even Possible. But Maybe There’s a Middle Road, Minimal Disturbance Gardening.

In gardening there’s always debate, discussion and sometimes arguments. One that I hear most weeks is the Dig, No Dig debate. It’s one that fascinates me as I was brought up to garden very traditionally. I farmed the same way and then ran a market garden in much the same way. But as time moves forward and science discover new things we need to rethink our methods from time to time.

I’ve rethought my methods many times. in fact I think about gardening, growing and food production every day. And I know so much is dictated by local circumstances and our personal objectives.

How I’ve Failed At Gardening!

Over time my objectives have changed, and so has my approach. I’m now almost no dig. Or rather I am a failed no dig gardener. But in many senses this isn’t failure. I’ve become a minimal disturbance gardener and it’s only recently that I realised I always had been, to a greater or lesser extent.

Minimal disturbance gardening isn’t new. It’s what our ancestors did when they grew far more perennial veg than we do today. It’s what they did when they didn’t have the tools to dig or plough that we have today. Metal gardening tools haven’t been around forever. The earliest we could have had them would have been the Bronze and Iron Ages. Before that we used pointed sticks .. and getting points on sticks isn’t easy without a metal tool!

So minimal disturbance is what we did for millennia. It’s only in the last few centuries that we’ve really had efficient tools for gardening. And even during that time we haven’t always disturbed the soil as much as many of us do today. Of course the internal combustion engine increased soil disturbance, with tractors on farms (and steam powered traction engines before them) and rotovators in gardens and on allotments.

Minimal Disturbance Gardening

So despite people, such as Huw Richards, now promoting minimal disturbance gardening it isnt new. Actually Huw isn’t actually saying it’s new. He is advocating it as a pragmatic approach to gardening in the current climate. A climate where food insecurity is increasing and the climates conditions are unsettled. I support his approach but dont want people to think it is new. It’s actually very traditional in many senses. It just depends on the baseline you use to determine where you measure from.

Interestingly, when I Googled Minimal Disturbance Gardening the first result I saw was was one by Charles Dowding. As you can see from the screenshot at the bottom of the pager, it uses the term Minimal Soil Disturbance. Other results focus on No Dig, though the video link is to Huw Richards.

No Dig and Minimal Disturbance Gardening

Leeks grown through a grass mulch
Leeks grown through a grass mulch to suppress weeds and aid soil health

I don’t think No Dig and Minimal Disturbance Gardening are exactly the same thing. But they are very closely related and search engines have yet to differentiate between them. So, for now, I’m not going to either. Or at least not in depth.

The advantage of talking about minimal disturbance rather than No Dig is the argument I often see about having to dig leeks etc. The argument is that it’s impossible to grow leeks, carrots, potatoes etc without digging. To me this is nitpicking as I find few of these need digging when properly grown in a No Dig situation .. but I’m not going to split hairs over this. We don’t need to if we use the term Minimal Disturbance Gardening. MDG allows us to do all the same things as we did in No Dig but without getting into those arguments. That’s win win.

Minimal Disturbance Gardening Versus Modified No Dig

I’ve previously written about my Modified No Dig system (follow the link to read more) and to me this is embraces both Charles Dowding’s No Dig philosophy and Huw Richard’s Minimal Disturbance Gardening method .. and all without having to argue about it.

leeks transplanted though a grass mulch in a minimal disturbance garden

I’ll be posting a lot more about Minimal Disturbance Gardening in future because it’s wet I practice on my small plot and in our food forest.


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