When I started flower farming at the beginning of 2013, I knew that I wanted to do my growing the same way as i've created borders, and beds at my allotment and in client gardens, - The no dig way.
I've known for years, that the less you dig over the soil, the less weeds are disturbed, and the lower the levels of maintenance needed to keep plantings in good order.
A few years ago when we started our allotment, - I read Charles Dowdings book about No Dig Vegetable growing from cover to cover, - and we immediately created beds which we mounded up, and added lots of organic matter to. His take on no dig gardening, is that you not only have less work in the long term, but higher cropping rates. This has worked really well for us, - particularly as we've less time than we'd like to tend to the allotment.
2 years on from starting planning the flower farm at Hill top farm, The Team - (yep that's my fantastic family) have this weekend finished getting the borders ready for next year. - Obviously this is the no-dig way. - Rolls of black plastic are now busy creating planting areas for me for next year, as my biggest mistake of 2014 was waiting to prepare the borders until I wanted to plant in them - So I thought i'd give you some information about the methods we've tried in the last 2 seasons.
One of the first deliveries I had at the farm last year, was some green waste compost. - Little did I know that it would be the first of many.
The first beds that we created, were made by taking off the turf with a turf stripper, and then mounding compost on top and planting into it.
It worked brilliantly, although we needed Lorry, after lorry, after lorry of manure and compost to add to our chalky, neutral well drained soil, and the turf cutter needed exactly the correct conditions to get it to cut our field sod, (nothing like lawn turf). We'd also aimed to create our perennial bed the same way, but the first spring was very cold, - so we decided to rotavate that (read about that weekend's work here)
The first beds that we made had a great thickness of compost on them, - and have thrived brilliantly, and been easy to weed as each crop is changed, - but as we got to the 2nd row of beds, we scrimped on the amount of compost we gave them (time and money), and as a result we didn't get as good weed smotherage. The perennial bed was even worse, - although it looked wonderful when newly rotavated, and was easy to plant shrubs and bulbs into, - the weeds spread and spread, and defeated us completely during our first season. - It took 4 weeks of hand weeding to get on top of it last winter, and - there were still loads of weeds this summer.
So when we went to make more new beds this year, - we dispensed with the turf cutting, and just mounded trailer loads of manure, on top of cardboard, laid on the grass. - We then covered that with more compost, - so it looked like we were making a mass burial ground with rows of mounded compost.
We left these beds to mature, as the manure was still quite fresh, but found that if we left them open to the elements, they were soon covered in weeds. - Annual, easy to remove weeds admitedly, but weeds still the same, - so we started covering any unplanted ground with black landscape matting.- This year, as soon as a bed is empty, - even if it's going to be for a few days, - it's covered immediately in black matting. - This is breathable, and will let the water through, - but I use it just in the off season, as it does squash the soil, and starts to degrade the soil structure if left in place too long. The burial piles have now composted down nicely and are no longer mounds, - they were fantastically fertile beds, and my Dahlias, Gladioli, Pinks, and others that I planted in them have thrived.
In the beds where we scrimped on compost in 2013, we had to do quite a bit of work to be able to plant this year. - Hand weeding 22 10 metre beds was not a feasible option, - so again we've used a mixture of black matting, newspaper, cardboard, and mulching compost.
Newspaper with a thin mulch on top and covered with blackmatting for a few weeks was a brilliant weed stopper, and one i'll use again if I let the celendine and thistles get out of control again, - although hopefully this large expanse of black plastic will be ready to plant in and weed free in 6 months time, just as we get the last frosts.