Some time ago, infact last year, my husband and I conducted an experiment in our garden. This experiment has its origins in Canada and we heard about it through a report about a Scottish farmer who was testing his soil using this method.
Healthy soil full of good bacteria and microbes is what underpins a successful garden and so I thought you might be interested to find our our results when we did this in our garden to tell us where might be a great place to put our no dig raised beds.
We typically chose a really hot day for this which involved digging four holes in the garden!
In these holes we planted parts of my husbands cotton pants. The theory behind this exercise is that the healthier the soil, the less cotton will be left when we dug them up again because the bacteria and microbes in the soil will happily feast on the material. The more healthy the soil of course the more healthy the plants with less need for man made fertilisers or pest controls.
These experiments it turns out, have been conducted by farmers and small holders all over the world in a movement towards healthy soil and understanding what happens beneath our feet. They of course chose the sensible option of leaving the top of the pants poking out of the soil so you could see where they were buried. We left these pieces of cotton in the ground for 8-10 weeks. We only managed to find three of the holes because of the 4 canes we had used to mark the areas only 3 remained and one guilty looking border collie won't tell us where he found the other!
The results are quite logical to me. In one of the areas the material remained largly intact, this was an area that we had tilled with the tractor a few times and then left un-mulched (covered). As it turns out it was a problem area to grow anything in. I planted corn there to confirm my theories and it was stunted and struggled to produce anything remotely worth cooking although the chickens appreciated the offerings. We decided to put a raised bed on this area using a lasagne layer. Cardboard on the bottom topped with, plenty of compost and manure in layers. I will conduct the experiment again in this area this year and see the change.
I had a wonderful harvest of tomatoes and squashes last summer and in the main there were grown in the area where as you can see the soil is obviously very healthy.. Its an area that remains a no-dig area, improved only with compost on top of the planting lines and mulched with cardboard; ..You can see there is little left of the material. The third area showed similar results, this is dug from a pathway between beds that is mulched with hay; the whole area is a no-dig area merely improved with compost placed on top of the beds.
Again it shows that the soil is full of healthy bacteria and microbes that have happily feasted on the cotton. This particular area is where I had the most courgettes, strawberries and beans last year. Its also where I will be planting corn this year. In conclusion this little exercise completely supports what we are doing in this garden, less digging, less weeding and more healthy plants.
I wish we had conducted the experiment when we had first arrived so we had comparison, but I am going to do the experiment again this year in different areas where I think I will see certain results.