I was close to giving up gardening a while ago. Last summer I was thinking about taking a long break from gardening as I mentally felt so tired. It’s because last year was such a bad year in terms of gardening.
First of all, the roof of my green house was blown away by a storm, which made it impossible to raise seedlings in spring. I experienced a lot failure growing plants because of that. Secondly, we couldn’t continue with my no-dig garden because there was a strict lockdown. We couldn’t get cardboard as the shops were closed. And we couldn’t order compost since they are not allowed to deliver to individual gardeners. It was so difficult to garden this way as without compost and no-dig I can’t have a nice harvest as before. At last, we had the worst drought in half a century. All these matters made me psychologically exhausted.
I started to feel like gardening again until recently. Since my allotment is located in a nature area, it’s surrounded by a lot of big trees which we are incapable to cut down. Some time ago, we wrote an email to city Ghent asking them help us with cutting the trees, and to my surprise they did it this year. Our part is finally (temporary) not shady which encourages me to keep on growing vegetables. And a little harvest while we were cleaning the land also motivated me to continue.
Now I am raising seedlings in the green house. As I don’t have green fingers, if I raised them on the seed trey, I know I will break the roots while taking them out as they were not that strong. To avoid this I spent a lot of time putting them in the tea bags. Compared to seed treys made from coconut shells they are much cheaper. And it will be very easy to plant them.
In the meantime we are still preparing the land. My plan is to turn the dirt around since it’s very weedy this year as we’ve neglected it for a few months. Then we will put a layer of cardboard. On top of that we will put compost. It’s like last year, we are going to have another lockdown, but this time we can order cardboard rolls from a web shop. So we will switch from digging to no-dig again afterwards. I know my garden very well, and the weeds will grow back since it’s in a nature area. So what I’m going to do next year is just put cardboard and put another layer of compost. No more digging.
How comes I like no-dig gardening? I found a good article from Happy DIY Home written by Elizabeth Waddington which explains why. In the article How to Create a No Dig Garden – Beginner’s Guide to No Dig Gardening it said such no digging techniques will:
l Allow for a healthy soil ecosystem that teems with life.
l Improve soil texture, fertility and moisture retentiveness over time.
l Improve your yield, and the quality of the yield that your garden can provide.
A lot of my readers are vegans. If you do have a garden I recommend to give this article a read since the no-dig approach not only protects the soil but also protects little creatures living underground such as earthworms.
My allotment has two parts: the old part which we started in 2016 and a ‘new’ part which we took over two years ago. For some reason the new part was maintained using digging and the old part wasn’t. I noticed that the old part is very lively. A lot of earth worms are helping me with digging. However I barely see any earth worms in the new part. And the yield like from tomatoes on the new part is smaller compare to the old part.
So how to start a no dig garden? In the article How to Create a No Dig Garden the method of Lasagna Gardens is also explained. Below is how to do it:
l Begin by creating the edging for your new bed or beds.
l Lay cardboard on the grass or soil within that boundary. This will help to suppress grass or weeds.
l Place a layer of twigs, dry leaves, straw, wood chip or other ‘brown’ materials.
l Then a layer of ‘green’ nitrogen rich materials like grass clippings, green leaves and fruit and vegetable kitchen waste.
l Add another layer of brown and green and continue until you have a bed of the required height.
l Finally, add a top layer of compost.
l You can then water well and plant up your new growing areas.
l Once you have planted up your beds, the space should then be mulched with straw or other organic materials in order to avoid leaving the surface bare.
What I do/did is a simple version of this. I only lay cardboard and on top of that a layer of compost as I can’t get twigs, dry leaves etc... If your garden is small or you have a lot of compost, you can put a layer of compost as thick as 15 cm. If not, even just 3 cm thick also works well. You can watch the time-lapse how we prepared the land second year of growing. As you can see, it’s very fast to get the job done.
For the second year of growing you don’t need to lay cardboard unless it’s weedy again. You can just add a layer of compost. This way the soil will be improved year by year.
If you are new to the gardening or the no-dig approach, it might take some time for you to figure out where to buy compost. Those bags of soil from garden centres are very expensive. I recommend you find your local municipal compost, which you can get in large quantities at a much cheaper price. Here in Flanders, Belgium they must meet the Vlaco standard to get a certificate. You can pick it up yourself which will be even cheaper or let them deliver which normally cost around 100 Euro for the delivery fees.
What motivates me to continue growing besides the trees being cut, is that I had some little harvest from my garden. In the beginning I thought all my vegetables won’t survive the cold winter. To my surprise I harvested mizuna, January king cabbages, purple Brussels sprouts, kale, red vine sorrels, and purple radish. So today’s recipe will be about my harvest: air fryer Brussels sprouts. It’s very simple to make and only takes 10 minutes.