No-dig, No-weed Gardening worth the effort?

by Megan Moss

St. Mark’s Lutheran Church Column - April

It’s planting season.  This year I got a book from the library called “No-Dig, No-Weed Gardening.”  Sounded good to me, who likes to dig and weed anyway?  As I read I began to see some problems.  First of all, it wasn’t a totally “no-dig” method.  I am supposed to dig in soil amendments the first year, based on the soil analysis I had done in the fall. Yet I want to use the method this summer.  I have already failed to follow the instructions and I am only at step one.

I read on. The author suggests using black plastic mulch over the garden to keep down weeds. Not a bad idea, except that I am way too frugal to buy plastic that I would be poking holes and cutting slits in and thus not be able to use the next year. I opt for the organic mulch method.  I have bales of straw left from last years garden, and a couple bags of leaves that should work.

I am ready to role, or so I think. The next aspect of “no dig” gardening requires me to plant my starts in Styrofoam cups of the 10 or 12 oz. size. In order to maximize root growth the authors state that the cups have to have three holes poked in the bottom and 6 slits cut up the sides. This has to be done with two half-length hacksaw blade placed next to each other in a home-made handle, otherwise the slits won't be wide enough for proper air circulation. Additionally, I am supposed to make my own planting mix, using their soil-less recipe.

Sounds like a lot of work. Does this guy expect me to go out and buy all this stuff?  I have 50-60 of those little plastic cellpacks. Lots of them are still full of dirt from last year, ready to plant. Then I think about how long I spent turning my garden and planting all my odd sized containers last year, and decide to give it a shot.

At Walmart I throw a pack of styrofoam cups into my basket. The kids enjoy stabbing a pencil into the bottom of the cups to make the holes. Lacking the requisite hacksaw blade, and not wanting to head to Home Depot just for that, I try my electric knife – it has a double width blade – why not?  Wow! The knife cut through Styrofoam much faster than it cut through meat.  I try using the knife unplugged.  After 3 cups, my arm feels like it is about to fall off.  Finally, I take the blades out of the knife, hold them together in my hand, and try again. Not great, but functional.  I transplant my tomatoes and eggplants, which are getting leggy into my new cups, adding cut up pieces of screen from an old door per instructions to help hold the root ball together.

A couple weeks later I am in Fort Wayne and have some time to kill. I stop by the store to buy the other necessary items – sphagnum moss, perlite, vermiculite, fish and seaweed emulsions, and a long handled bulb planter, which, according to the authors, makes just the right size holes for the cups.

As luck would have it I find the long handled bulb planter right away, and it is only $7. I am psyched. I find two torn open bags of peat moss, which I willingly buy once the clerk says she can discount them for me, but nothing else from my list.

Maybe Miracle Grow will work as well as the fish and seaweed emulsion, and I already have some of that.  I mix up the dirt from last years cups, which I sterilized in the oven per the book's directions, with the peat moss and some potting soil, and stirred in Styrofoam peanuts, an alternate for the squares of screening, the authors guarantee will hold the root ball together when it comes time to transplant. I am a little worried because my peanuts are pink, and more like foam.  Oh well, they look pretty.

Then I run out of Styrofoam cups, and realize, when I go to buy more, that the 32 plants sucking up Miracle Grow enriched water from the bottom of their plastic trays are in 8 oz. cups. Will they still work with the bulb planter? Is all my work in vain?

I buy 12 oz. cups for my broccoli and peppers, and poke and slice once more. Half a method is better than no method at all, right?

Then I start thinking about what I am going to write for my column, and wonder how I can relate gardening to the bible or religion or something. I realize that although I have good intentions, it’s often difficult to follow instructions, especially when trying something for the first time.

In the bible, God gives us many different instructions. Sometimes I worry that I have failed if I don’t follow all of them. Yet perhaps life is a little like gardening, in that you have to try different methods, and sometimes you don’t get it right the first time, but you keep trying because in the end, it's the trying that counts. So what if I have to do a little digging along the way?