It may come as a surprise, but digging or tilling your garden is not necessary, and it could actually hurt the soil community.
Why you shouldn’t dig
The soil is not just “dirt!” The complex ecosystem of your soil is filled with diverse life, including bacteria, fungi, protozoa, algae, nematodes, and invertebrates.
In fact, your soil is more abundant with life and more complex than ecosystems above ground. There are about 50 billion microbes in 1 tablespoon of soil. That’s a lot of life in your soil!
What are all these critters doing in the soil? A symbiotic relationship is formed between plant roots, soil fungi, and bacteria. This relationship helps the plants and trees access nutrients and improve the soil structure to aid in water and air movement in the soil. There is also scientific evidence showing that mycorrhizal fibers help plants communicate with each other.
When you dig or till … Digging and turning over the soil exposes this delicate ecosystem to air and the sun’s ultraviolet rays, which sterilizes and dries the soil. This effectively kills the soil organisms, the soil loses a lot of nutrients and minerals, and the organic matter, which helps retains water. When the delicate balance of this ecosystem and structure are destroyed, compaction and reduced water infiltration occur. Water simply runs off the surface increasing soil erosion.
How nature does it
In Nature, soil doesn’t need to be manually cultivated for spectacular forests to grow. What works for Mother Nature holds true in your garden as well. In a forest, organic matter in the form of fallen leaves, twigs and branches, plants at the end of their cycle are all deposited on the forest floor to decompose into the rich organic matter that feeds the soil organisms, and eventually, the plants and trees.
In your no-dig garden, staying on the paths and not stepping on the soil helps maintain the soil’s structure, allowing air and water to get to the plant’s roots.
The digging in Mother Nature’s garden is done by the far more efficient—worms!
Next up: Create Your No-dig Spirit Garden From Scratch