To Dig or Not to Dig - That is the Question!
Is ‘winter digging' a thing of the past? A few years ago I would make sure my veg plot was dug over 'properly', which meant enlisting the aid of my husband (I'm a bit arthritic) who is not the most enthusiastic gardener he's really only interested in cutting the lawn!
There is also the school of thought that deep digging actually does more harm than good, the disturbance of topsoil can damage or disrupt many beneficial bacteria and fungi that work in harmony with plants aiding growth and helping them to absorb water and nutrients from the soil. Many of these fungi are fragile, preferring soil that is undisturbed and is high in organic matter.
Since I've had raised beds I've tended towards the ‘no dig' school of thought, it means I can do nearly all of it myself. When the beds are empty I do try to pull out as many weeds as possible and I have two compost bins and mulch the contents over the empty beds and let the worms do their stuff.
I was watching a programme some time ago about the habits of earthworms (I lead a very exciting life I know!) there was some interesting footage of how they drag leaf litter and compost underground so they can feed on the organic matter and micro-organisms. All they do during their life is eat and poo and in the process they manage to move a vast amount of material. A study on forest earthworms came to the conclusion that worms bury 90% of plant material left on the forest floor and 40 tonnes of soil per hectare were brought to the soil surface as worm casts over a period of a year and as we know worm casts are very fertile. As the worms work they burrow as they move which help aerate the soil and create easy passage for roots, water and oxygen. All this is good news for your vegetables and plants.
While the beds are empty I also let the chickens loose on them and they do a great job of incorporating the compost and the soil together, last spring all I had to do was level the beds - the soils was lovely and crumbly and there wasn't a weed to be seen! Of course once I'm ready to get the beds ready to use I have to fence them off and keep the chooks out or I'd never get anything to grow! They do of course manage to eat some of the worms I have been waxing lyrical about but they also get rid of slugs, leatherjackets, caterpillars and chafer grubs so it's a bit of a trade off and so far it seems to be working.