No Dig vs Organic vs HK Containers

Meadowlark

No N-P-K Required
Joined
Feb 5, 2019
Messages
2,768
Reaction score
2,331
Location
East Texas
Hardiness Zone
old zone 8b/new zone 9a
Country
United States
Does no dig work?

According to many the answer is yes, but what does “work” actually mean? Does it mean it produces more vegetables (or less) than traditional organic methods of cover cropping, green manure application, composted manure, and chop and drop? Does no dig produce more vegetables (or less) than HK containers? Is the taste of the veggies any different?

In order to answer these questions for myself, I’m conducting a simple experiment directly comparing 1) the production of an 8 ft row of no dig (row 1) to 2) the production of an 8 ft row of traditional organic (row 2) to 3) the production of 4 Hügelkultur containers equaling the 8 ft rows in length.

A diversity of vegetables will be used ranging from root crops to cool weather heading brassicas and cool weather leafy veggies.

To the extent possible, identical starting veggies will be used in each case. Photos of each veggie at start are available. Produce will be weighed, and Brix readings taken of each.

Row 1 description: The no dig 8 ft row (shown on right of attached photo) has not been disturbed or otherwise dug since last March when it was replenished via traditional organic methods. I inch of composted cow manure was added to this row just before start of planting and nothing else. No digging other than what is required to transplant the plants. Nothing will be used during the growing no fertilizers, no insecticides, nothing per the standards of the no dig community.

Row 2 description: This 8 ft row has had two cycles of “chop and drop” cow peas to condition the soil since March. The second cycle of cow peas was turned under green into the soil manually. In addition, 4 to 6 inches of composted cow manure was added to the soil manually prior to planting and dug/mixed into the soil. No fertilizers, no insecticides, nothing else will be added during the growing period.

HK containers description: The 4 HK containers each contain soil which has been replenished by traditional organic methods. In three of the containers, the top layer of soil was changed out replacing depleted soil with replenished soil prior to planting veggies. The fourth container, called Headfullofbees, was replenished in situ using traditional organic methods as previously reported on. No fertilizers, no insecticides, nothing else will be added to these containers during the growing period.

The vegetables
  • Potatoes: One pound of Sharpo Mira seed potatoes was planted Aug. 29 in both rows and HK container. The production will be measured at first frost and recorded.
  • Broccoli: Two lieutenant broccoli plants were planted in each on Aug. 28. Again, whatever production exists at first frost will be measured and recorded,
  • Swiss Chard: Three Swiss Chard plants were planted on Aug. 29
  • One Prizm kale planted in each row and in an HK container on Aug. 29
  • Early Wakefield Cabbage: two planted on Sept 1 in each row and one HK container
  • Sprouting Broc: two planted on Sept.1 in each row and in one HK container
  • Seed tape: identical portions of seed tape radish and lettuce planted on Sept 4 in each row and in an HK container
  • Sweet peas planted in potato beds on Sept. 4
  • Red cabbage: one plant in each row and in one HK container planted on Sept. 7.
That makes a total of 10 different veggies which IMO should yield a good reading on the production of No Dig vs Organic vs HK container. The table below will be updated to include the final results of production and associated Brix readings later about November time frame.



TypePlanting DateProduction No DigBrix
No Dig
Production OrganicBrix
Org.
Production HK ContainerBrix
HK
Sarpo Mira potatoesAug. 29
Lieutenant broccoliAug. 28
Swiss ChardAug. 29
Prizm kaleAug. 29
Early Wakefield CabbageSept. 1
Sprouting BrocSept. 1
RadishSept. 4
LettuceSept. 4
Sweet PeasSept. 4
Red CabbageSept. 7




Disclaimer: I’ve read that “no dig” has long term benefits to the soil by not disturbing fungal networks, and other soil critters. One season will not be sufficient to test that out. It would take several growing seasons to determine if there is substance to that claim in my garden or if it is just a “lazy” approach to gardening, not that there is anything wrong with that. Thus far, I’m not committed to a long-term test. It will depend on the results of this initial test. However, I’m leaving the possibility open as I want to see an honest evaluation of all the” no dig” claims.



The starting “line”:

starting line.JPG
 
Joined
Feb 13, 2021
Messages
3,469
Reaction score
2,163
Country
United Kingdom
I am always mucking about trying things, though not in such a controlled manner. I had a lot of compostable material that was quite coarse and woody and a lot of old plastic sacks, black when turned inside out. I was putting a layer of the coarse stuff in the bottom of a sack and then covering it with grass cuttings. Of course it reduced in volume quite a bit and I rolled down the tops of the sacks to catch rain. Then the missus chucked out a lot of old potatoes that were sprouting or too small to bother with so I put in a thin layer of earth and compost and planted them in the sacks. As they grew I turned the tops of the sacks back up and earthed them up as I went. The first ones are flowering now and I am wondering what I will get, I have no idea what the varieties were, pretty diverse judging from the habit of the haulm. Of course I may get next to nothing, but I will have rotted down a lot of compost as originally intended, so anything will be a bonus.
Those black bags, stood in the sun, in a bunch up close to each other, trap a lot of heat and rot things quickly and thoroughly.
 
Joined
Feb 13, 2021
Messages
3,469
Reaction score
2,163
Country
United Kingdom
Turned out the first bag and got enough potatoes for dinner and a couple over, think I could have left them a bit longer, I'll leave the others to die down. The compost was well rotted and has gone on the garden.

One way of deciding if the methods 'work' might be to see how far in you can plunge a reobar one handed. :)
 
Joined
Jul 3, 2020
Messages
562
Reaction score
348
Location
Western Michigan
Hardiness Zone
6B
Country
United States
Always happy to see your interest and comments.
You just won't appreciate my garden this year. My "cover crop" idea got away from me and it's a nasty overgrown mess. I got side tracked into a few other things like getting all the concrete out from an old driveway and riding my bike (almost 800 miles of gravel riding this season).
 
Joined
Jul 3, 2020
Messages
562
Reaction score
348
Location
Western Michigan
Hardiness Zone
6B
Country
United States
(This could get a bit rambling)

How about a few side tracks on "no dig" vs "no till" vs "minimum till". What is the main goal in this?
  1. Keep from breaking fungal hyphea? Thinking the fungal soil web is a multiplying force for the roots.
  2. Keep from disturbing the carbon to retain that for the soil structure?
  3. Give me, and others, a technical sounding excuse for being lazy?
Is there a purity test? Sure I don't rototill and tear all that up but I make a real mess when digging potatoes. When pulling potatoes I like to take the opportunity to replace and dig in organic stuff like you would for an HK bed.

Is there a benefit or best practice between pulling the root ball of a dead plant or cutting it off? Generally I cut things like tomatoes, peppers, sunflowers, cole crops and even small greens like lettuce and spinache thinking the rotting roots will compost down where they were.
 

Meadowlark

No N-P-K Required
Joined
Feb 5, 2019
Messages
2,768
Reaction score
2,331
Location
East Texas
Hardiness Zone
old zone 8b/new zone 9a
Country
United States
(This could get a bit rambling)

How about a few side tracks on "no dig" vs "no till" vs "minimum till". What is the main goal in this?

As I wrote upfront, I simply want to know what "works" means for no dig. I've read many of the claims and I really want to see for myself what it means to production and to nutrient density.

My garden approach generally would best be described as minimum till. However, the practice of green manure application is completely integral to my approach...something not allowed by no dig and no till.
Is there a purity test? Sure I don't rototill and tear all that up but I make a real mess when digging potatoes. When pulling potatoes I like to take the opportunity to replace and dig in organic stuff like you would for an HK bed.

I've seen some no dig zealots refuse to plant and harvest potatoes...because it disturbs the soil. Honestly, I find that thinking bizarre.


Is there a benefit or best practice between pulling the root ball of a dead plant or cutting it off?
Yes, I definitely believe there is a benefit to "cutting it off" i.e. chop and drop. The root ball on a Sunn Hemp plant is an incredible maze of countless fibers. Has to be great soil building there. On peas, it is possible to achieve multiple generations of soil amending organic matter by using "chop and drop" as part of the reseeding process without ever disturbing the soil. This is a hugely effective technique for me. See the thread:


Having said all that, I'm also a big believer in using green manure. I believe there is something uniquely special that happens to the soil when a legume is turned into the soil green. This little experiment will shed some light on that. I turned green peas into the soil manually...just literally turned it in...in the row I'm using as my "organic" row. That is very similar to what I do regularly with a disc set shallow to build "No N P K required" garden soil. No Dig advocates eliminate that valuable technique from their approach. I believe that is a huge mistake in terms of soil productivity and veggie taste and nutrient density scores. This little experiment will confirm or deny that for me.
 
Joined
Feb 13, 2021
Messages
3,469
Reaction score
2,163
Country
United Kingdom
Is there a purity test? Sure I don't rototill and tear all that up but I make a real mess when digging potatoes. When pulling potatoes I like to take the opportunity to replace and dig in organic stuff like you would for an HK bed.
I put a thick layer of grass cuttings around the plants, then earth up over that, that all gets dug in when i harvest.
I've seen some no dig zealots refuse to plant and harvest potatoes...because it disturbs the soil. Honestly, I find that thinking bizarre.
I got the use of a piece of ground covered in perennial weeds once. Cut it all down and covered it in old woollen carpet, then planted potatoes through slits. They grew on the surface of the soil under the carpet, not a terrific crop, but it cleared the weeds and softened the soil quite well.
 

Meadowlark

No N-P-K Required
Joined
Feb 5, 2019
Messages
2,768
Reaction score
2,331
Location
East Texas
Hardiness Zone
old zone 8b/new zone 9a
Country
United States
It didn't take long to learn something about no dig. The videos I've seen recommend that your annual addition of 1 inch of compost be applied on top of the existing soil, not dug in.

This is a huge detriment in my case because I have very potent compost. It needs to be mixed into the soil, and dug in. The no dig approach has already shown seeds failing to germinate and transplants going into shock dealing with straight compost. Perhaps others compost is not so potent but just laying it on top is a bad approach for me.
 

Meadowlark

No N-P-K Required
Joined
Feb 5, 2019
Messages
2,768
Reaction score
2,331
Location
East Texas
Hardiness Zone
old zone 8b/new zone 9a
Country
United States
To illustrate/document the above finding, here are three pictures taken today 1) photo of two no dig broc plants, 2) photo of two organic broc plants and 3) photo of two HK container broc. plants. Each of these Lieutenant broccoli plants were transplanted at the same time under the same conditions about 21 days ago into their respective locations.

The Organic broc plants are an estimated 25% larger than the no dig plants. The HK broc plants are an estimated 35% larger than the no dig plants and about 10% larger than the organic broc plants.

The results thus far are similar for Swiss Chard, Kale, and cabbage.

The phenomena of HK containers outperforming in ground on brassicas and leafy veggies was reported here in another thread last fall and is being confirmed once again here this fall. The slow start to the No dig veggies I believe can be attributed in part to the failure to mix/dig in the 1 inch of compost at the start.

Long way to go until first frost, however.

No Dig Broc plants (app 4 inch x 9 inch)

no dig 1 broc.JPG



Organic Broc plants (app 5 inch x 12 inch) :

no dig 2 broc.JPG


HK container broc plants (app 7 inch x 14 inch :


no dig 3 broc.JPG
 
Joined
Jul 3, 2020
Messages
562
Reaction score
348
Location
Western Michigan
Hardiness Zone
6B
Country
United States
huh, not what I would have guessed to be the case from a newly filled HK contianer.

Because you're filling more and smaller HK containers than I do you may now have more experience building them than I do. (I do this method for large long term raised beds)

Have you ever ran into a HK container that just didn't seem to do as well as expected and, perhaps, the material or mix was subpar? Are there "ingredients" that don't seem to work or that you avoid using when filling a container?

I've had a few bad experiences but noise factors got in the way of determining if it was the HK mix and container build or season / I got sidetracked with other projects and neglected / life got in the way.
 

Meadowlark

No N-P-K Required
Joined
Feb 5, 2019
Messages
2,768
Reaction score
2,331
Location
East Texas
Hardiness Zone
old zone 8b/new zone 9a
Country
United States
I either replace the top layer of soil in used HK containers (about 7 inches) with "No N P K required" soil or alternatively with the Headfullofbees container replenish the soil in situ to the "No N P K required" level.

Either way the start is virtually the same with great soil.

Have you ever ran into a HK container that just didn't seem to do as well as expected and, perhaps, the material or mix was subpar? Are there "ingredients" that don't seem to work or that you avoid using when filling a container?

No, never. Used up, depleted soil won't work, but replenished soil works 100% of the time for me.
I've had a few bad experiences but noise factors got in the way of determining if it was the HK mix and container build or season / I got sidetracked with other projects and neglected / life got in the way.
The top layer of soil is key according to my experience. I haven't touched the lower levels in two years and don't expect to until maybe five years if even then. Give 'em good top layer and the veggies take off.

huh, not what I would have guessed to be the case from a newly filled HK contianer.
Curious why you would have not guessed that in a HK container with near perfect top layer of soil?
 
Last edited:

Meadowlark

No N-P-K Required
Joined
Feb 5, 2019
Messages
2,768
Reaction score
2,331
Location
East Texas
Hardiness Zone
old zone 8b/new zone 9a
Country
United States
All 10 of the different veggies are all showing about the same early results...no dig veggies are growing at a rate of about 35% less than HK container and No Dig veggies are growing at a rate of about 25% less than Organic veggies. The 35% penalty for no dig is certainly unexpected to me. But, it is still early.

Here's some photos contrasting No dig, Organic, and HK Swiss Chard and Kale. Remarkable.

First the No dig chard and kale:

no dig row 1 scard kale.JPG



Next the Organics:

no dig row 2 chard kale.JPG


and finally, the HK chard and kale:


HK no dig chard.JPG
 
Joined
Jul 3, 2020
Messages
562
Reaction score
348
Location
Western Michigan
Hardiness Zone
6B
Country
United States
Curious why you would have not guessed that in a HK container with near perfect top layer of soil?
My guess what your near perfect soil would have won this year. As I had thought of it the HK bed is a mid point between near perfect this year(the very top layer) and making perfect soil for next season (the lower layers). So while the early growth in the HK bed is in near perfect when the roots reached down they would be in a slightly sub-optimal soil where the deep near perfect bed you have would be optimal for the whole root zone. But again that was a random guess from several states away.
 

Ask a Question

Want to reply to this thread or ask your own question?

You'll need to choose a username for the site, which only take a couple of moments. After that, you can post your question and our members will help you out.

Ask a Question

Members online

No members online now.

Forum statistics

Threads
27,035
Messages
259,776
Members
13,475
Latest member
parkersburgmmjcard

Latest Threads

Top