<aside> 💡 This chapter should be read in conjunction with my chapter on looking after the soil


Turning the soil and rotovating

Weed seeds are always being deposited on the soil surface where they get buried. Any disturbance to the soil brings these seeds to the surface, or close to the surface and the result can be an explosion of seed germination.

We see this all the time on our allotment site. People enthusiastically turn their soil, rake it to a fine tilth and it looks pristine. They come back a week later to a sea of green weeds.

However digging and rotovating are also tried and tested techniques for managing weeds. By taking the weedy soil surface and turning it into the soil and burying it, the weeds add nutrients to the soil and the new soil surface might not be weed free for very long, but it's easy to work.

We also see some incredibly successful allotment plots that are managed this way.

So who to believe, the diggers, or the no diggers.

Here are my guidelines:

When to dig

The people who have the most success with digging on my site seem to follow this approach:

  1. They like to leave their plots over winter, by spring they have a sea of weeds. One day with a rotovator (or a long weekend with a spade) gets this plot ready for planting. It's very quick and efficient, all those weeds are now feeding the soil
  2. Grow directly in the soil, rather than in raised beds
  3. They don't plant that intensively, so they have plenty of space to hoe weeds that emerge
  4. Attend their gardens infrequently, perhaps once a week
  5. They don't rely on organic matter to feed their soil, preferring to use inorganic or organic concentrated fertilisers
  6. They have a lot of perennial weeds to deal, that don't work very well in a no-dig environment, hoeing works well though
  7. They get a lot of annual weed pressure from seeds blowing in from surrounding plots
  8. Have always done it that way