Yes you can grow vegetables without the laborious ritual of digging over your soil each year. Take a look at nature, where most things grow or even thrive without human interference with their growing habitat. As with many things gardening, what used to happen, need not happen nowadays. Things have moved forward - even gardening has at last joined the march of progress!
My father, and his father before him, never used to dig over his substantial vegetable plot. One reason being that we lived on the side of a mountain, and dug soil would have ended up down in the valley. The other thing being that winter digging was not too practical in the notorious Welsh weather. We never starved, and if I remember correctly, always matched the crops of our digging-crazy neighbour.
The basic philosophy and practicality of no-digging vegetable cultivation, is simply is to do what nature does. Left to its own devices, without human interference, most wild areas such as woodlands, grasslands and scrub areas simply apply themselves a regular mulch of organic material. This organic material consists of fallen leaves in the main, with the odd batch of twigs from time to time. None of this much gets dug into the ground, but it always disappears within a few months. It is taken into the soil by all manner of soil insects, and of course, worms.
All you have to do, as a no-digging gardener, is to copy nature and adapt it for your own particular circumstances. Simply apply regular dressings of organic mulch onto the surface of your soil. No need to dig it in. An earthworm population will soon materialise and do all your digging for you. They won't dig of course; simply take the organic mulch down into the ground where the micro organisms will also do their bit to turn it into a soil enriching conditioner and organic manure. At the same time opening up the soil texture so that you really will be able to grow your vegetables without the use of a spade!
I had an 'impossible' soil at one time when I moved into a new house. So much so that my initial planting holes for my shrubs, were smashed out with a crowbar! They all lived with the help of the heavy application of peat in the planting holes, but it was the regular applications of mulch that turned that horizontal quarry into fertile soil where I could plant additions simply by easing the soil with border fork or trowel. All that happened in two years and it was an 'extreme' soil to start with.
Whether you grow vegetables by the plot-load, bed load or just a few area in the garden. No Dig gardening can be applied, to your advantage. You can find something more worthwhile to do if the digging is part of your exercise regime. No digging soil cultivation can be used anywhere in the garden to great advantage for growing purposes and certainly as one of the best methods of keeping a fertile, easy to manage garden soil.
Planting your small vegetable plants will be so much easier – and successful – as your plants respond to the riches of a no dig garden soil which has been replenished with organic mulch. This is organic vegetable growing at its most basic – and rewarding.
Seed sowing outdoors can carry on in the normal way, but if you have small plot and want the maximum return for a small area, think about buying - or growing - small plug plants.
As with all soil preparation, you would be well advised to remove all debris and large stones from the area first. The worms won’t do that for you I am afraid!
With heavier clay soils, try to use courser fibrous mulching material – such as peat, rotted straw manure, or coco shell. The lighter soils are happy with applications of garden compost or leaf mould, or any of the materials mentioned for clay soils.