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No-dig gardening is a non-cultivation method used by some organic gardeners. The origins of no-dig gardening are unclear, and may be based on pre-industrial or nineteenth-century farming techniques.Masanobu Fukuoka started his pioneering research work in this domain in 1938, and began publishing in the 1970s his Fukuokan philosophy of "Do Nothing Farming", which is now acknowledged by some as the tap root of the Permaculture movement. Two pioneers of the method in the twentieth century included F. C. King, Head Gardener at Levens Hall, South Westmorland, in the Lake District of England, who wrote the book "Is Digging Necessary?" in 1946 and a gardener from Middlecliffe in the UK, A. Guest, who in 1948 published the book "Gardening Without Digging". The work of these gardeners was supported by the Good Gardeners Association in the UK. No-dig gardening was also promoted by Australian Esther Deans in the 1970s, and American gardener Ruth Stout advocated a "permanent" garden mulching technique in Gardening Without Work and no-dig methods in the 1950s and 1960s.
This technique recognizes that micro- and macro-biotic organisms constitute a "food web" community in the soil, necessary for the healthy cycling of nutrients and prevention of problematic organisms and diseases. The plants transfer a portion of the carbon energy they produce to the soil, and microbes that benefit from this energy in turn convert available organic substances in the soil to the mineral elements the plants need to thrive.
Historically the reasons for tilling the soil are to remove weeds, loosen and aerate the soil, and incorporate organic matter such as compost or manure into lower soil layers. In areas with thin soil and high erosion there is a strong case against digging, which argues that in the long term it can be detrimental to the food web in the fragile topsoil. While digging is an effective way of removing perennial weed roots, it also often causes seeds that can remain dormant for many decades to come to the surface and germinate. The act of aerating the soil also increases the rate of decomposition and reduces soil organic matter. Digging can also damage soil structure, causing compaction, and unbalance symbiotic and mutualist interactions among soil life. Digging tends to displace nutrients, shifting surface organic material deeper, where there is less oxygen to support the decomposition to plant-available nutrients, which then need to be otherwise replenished. Digging is practised traditionally in countries with old, deep, rich soils such as Western Europe, however traditionally there, this is followed by periodic resting of the soil, usually with an undisturbed cover crop.
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