March 2017 III: Preparing no-dig beds for spring planting

The beginning of March is when beds become ready for a couple of rounds of hoeing and raking to create the fine tilth suitable for sowing direct or planting module-raised plants.

Having been not digging now for 3 years, I have found that each spring, the soil becomes more responsive to the hoe and rake, perhaps through better soil structure, better drainage courtesy of the work of earthworms and the cumulative effects of compost overwintering on top of the soil.

There are two main aims for the hoeing/raking:

1. Killing the weed seedlings which emerge in the spring.

2. Creating the fine tilth suitable for seeds and young seedlings.

As a result, starting this too early is counterproductive, as ungerminated weed seeds will still be in the soil, whereas hoeing young seedlings will kill them.

I tend to do two cycles about two weeks apart, with the timetable linked to what I am planting and when.

Thus, I hoed and raked areas today, 4th March, into which I will sow/plant Amsterdam Forcing Carrots, spring turnips and early radish in mid March.

I also chose today because, in the biodynamic system championed by Maria Thun, carrots, turnips and radish are root crops and today the moon resides in the earth sign Taurus. The optimum dates to carry out all activities to do with root crops are when the moon resides the earth signs of taurus, virgo and capricorn.

Obviously, not everybody can find time on the perfect days, so aiming to do two or three rounds of hoeing/raking a week apart is a sensible compromise.


I use a Hydra Hoe and Perseus Rake from Implementations Ltd. These tools are both made of copper, an element beneficial to soil life. Experiments were carried out in the early 20th century by the Austrian Viktor Schauberger, which demonstrated improved crop yields using copper tools.

Author: Rhys

Rhys trained as a research biologist, working for a decade in the cancer research charity sector, before completing an MBA and working in management consultancy, technology transfer and early technology investment spaces, mostly working with UK academics to turn their scientific discoveries into value for society. AS a younger man, he was fascinated with mountains, both climbing them and ski-ing down them. Whilst living in Scotland, he completed a round of (then) all 277 Munros, the independent mountains over 3000ft originally complied as a list by Munro. He also spent his holidays representing the Ski Club of GB, as a Representative and Party Leader between 1990 and 1997. During that time, he found to his bemusement that he was able to predict, without understanding fully why, to a remarkable degree of accuracy, when good snow conditions would occur in the Alps, gaining an unworthy reputation for predictive genius in 1990 when predicting the evolution of the 1989/90 winter in Wengen, Switzerland for his CEO boss. He used this skill for the next seven years to ensure that he enjoyed powder snow pretty much every time he went ski-ing. An MD student he was training in Oxford also impressed his wife by taking Rhys' advice about when to take her to Italy in the mid 1990s! In recent years, Rhys has turned his mind toward how to grow prize tomatoes, winning several prizes in local and London shows and has, in the past 3 years, moved toward taking over a 50 square metre urban vegetable patch, which he has turned into a no-dig area since autumn 2014.

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