10 Neat Things About Digging
by Shauna Dobbie
by Dorothy Dobbie

The Local Gardener magazines, Ontario Gardener, Manitoba Gardener and Alberta Gardener, are published by Pegasus Publications Inc.

Drawing on her 30 years' experience as a senior executive in the magazine publishing industry, Dorothy launched Manitoba Gardener in 1998, initially running the business out of her home. Two years later, Dorothy's daughter Shauna, living in Ontario, jumped into the fray with Ontario Gardener. And two years after that, they started Alberta Gardener. Visit us at and register for our "Ten Neat things" newsletter. Watch Shaw TV for garden tips and Listen to CJOB for the Gardener Sundays at 9:08

May 5, 2019

1. Digging.

Humans seem to have an innate desire to dig. You see this with children at the beach. There doesn't need to be a purpose; just changing the structure of the surface of the land is the purpose.

2. Double digging.

Double digging, as older folks know, is the back-breaking work of "working" a bare garden. You dig down a foot all the way across a plot for one spades-width, putting the soil dug up to the side. Then you loosen the soil at the bottom of the trench with a fork and put compost or manure on top of the broken-up bottom. You dig a second row, putting the old soil on top of the compost in the first row. You continue this until you get to the last row, digging, breaking up and loading in compost; in the last row, you end by putting the soil from the first row on top.

3. Aerating.

This is a major reason for double digging. Where soil has become compacted, the top 12 to 24 inches are broken up. This gives plants' roots room to grow and space for water to trickle down.

4. Feeding.

All that manure or compost goes directly into the bottom of the new bed, encouraging plant roots to go deeper.

5. Weeding.

Another reason for double digging. Whatever was growing in the plot before is now displaced. You can take out big weeds and their roots as you come across them and just bury the smaller weeds. They should mostly end up dead.

6. Looks nice, feels good.

There is nothing quite like the feeling of double digging a garden plot where you plan to plant vegetables. You have the satisfaction of seeing all the bare clods of earth at the surface and knowing you did this. Sit back and have a beer (or tea or whatever); you've earned it.

7. No-dig gardening.

Today, digging is frowned upon by the most fashionable gardeners. It disturbs the ecosystem at work just beneath the surface of the soil. To start a new garden, just mow it flat and lay down several layers of wet newspaper, then put a few inches of topsoil and a few inches of mulch over the paper. Over time, earth worms and micro-organisms will work through the paper and pull the top soil down.

8. No weeding.

In theory, the weeds have been killed by lack of sunlight. The weed seeds in the top layer of soil are now under your wet newspaper and cannot sprout. However, the topsoil you brought in will surely contain its own weed seeds, unless you use sterilized topsoil, which costs a lot, and sterilizing soil isn't really environmentally friendly.

9. Keeping the mycorrhizal fungi safe.

These are long strands of things you cannot see but which, it turns out, work with plant roots to absorb water and nutrients. Digging breaks these mycorrhizae and they must start to colonize the area anew. Not digging keeps them intact to help any new seeds or plants settle in and to keep up the work for the plants already in place.

10. Should I dig or not dig?

Well, it turns out either will work, with different advantages and disadvantages. Digging will kill the mycorrhizae and bring new seeds to the surface, but order will return in time. Not digging will take longer to break up compacted earth and cost more if you bring in topsoil and mulch. Still, I've got to come down in favour of not digging, but I am notoriously lazy.

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