In my previous post about mandala garden I mentioned that “you can grow all the vegetables you want without any digging”. In this post, you’ll see how to do it, step by step. You’ll be growing delicious vegetables in your back yard in no time. Let’s get to it.
No-dig gardening has many different names. There’s sheet composting, layer gardening, sheet mulching, even lasagna gardening. No matter how it’s called, the fundamentals are the same. Rather than tilling the soil and growing our food in the ground, we do it on it. It may sound funny at first, but read to the end of this post and you’ll see why it’s better to do it this way.
The model and inspiration for no dig gardening is the amazing, rich and fruitful forest floor.
1. Analyze the site
First and foremost you have to get a thorough understanding of the site of your new garden. Is it sunny or shady? Is it windy? What is the soil texture (clay, sand, …)? There are many things you should consider. Head on to my SADIMET post for a more complete info.
2. Create a base organic layer (optional)
Remember, we’re building a garden on top of grass. Well, most commonly it’s on top of grass. But actually it doesn’t matter what’s growing there. What’s great about this method is that the ground can be covered with weeds and grass and you don’t have to do any weeding at all.
You can even try to do it on top of dry clay for example. In this case you should cover the area with about 10-15cm of organic material. If you have access to it, horse manure works best for this. Otherwise, you can use homemade compost, leaves, any unfinished compost, fresh kitchen scraps, … Pretty much anything organic.
If you’re building your garden on top of grass, this layer is not utterly necessary. But you can still create it, as it will speed things up.
3. Cover the area with a weed barrier
The best weed barrier in our case is cardboard. Just cover the area with pieces of cardboard and make sure they overlap. Don’t leave any empty spaces in-between to prevent the grass and weeds from surfacing.
The idea here is to cut out the light to weeds. They will start to decay, providing additional organic matter for our crops. The cardboard will also slowly decompose. If you created an organic layer underneath, the manure will help the cardboard and weeds to decompose faster.
Tip: Start laying out the cardboard in the centre.
Alternatively, you can use newspaper instead of cardboard. Use 5 to 20 sheets of it, so that it’s thick enough. Don’t be shy.
Generally, the weed barrier should be about 0,5cm thick.
Soak the cardboard with water or leave the rain to do it for you.
4. Define the borders (optional)
Place some rocks and stones on the edges of the patch. They will serve as a border. Cut into the lawn outside of the border with a sharp spade to sever any runners.
5. Add a ‘green’ layer
Like in step two, add about 5cm of manure or any other nitrogen rich material. Grass clippings are fine, as well as food scraps, unfinished compost, … For best results, you should also add some soil to the mix.
6. Add a ‘brown’ layer
A green layer is always followed by a brown layer. This prevents the system from becoming anaerobic (i.e. smelly) and too rich in nitrogen. Some great sources are straw, leaves, bark, wood chips, even shredded paper (or cardboard) might work. If you can, by all means go for straw or leaves.
Make the brown layer about 10cm thick.
7. Alternate green and brown layers
Keep adding green and brown layers until you reach the desired height. I recommend at least 30-40cm.
Note: In the first 6 months your no-dig garden will settle down to about half it’s initial height. Take that into consideration when building it. If you want a 25cm high bed, you should build it to at least 40cm and preferably to about 50cm.
8. Water everything
Water everything thoroughly to start the decomposing process. A better idea is to wait for the rain.
9. Add a mulch to the top
Remember what the forest floor is like? It’s covered with all sorts of leaves, branches, bark, decaying wood. That’s what we’re going for.
Mulch can be any of the brown materials: straw, leaves, bark, … Make it a good 15cm thick.
As the top layer decomposes, you have to keep adding to it. Just like the leaves cover the forest floor in the autumn, you should cover your garden with mulch of your choice.
If you like, you can use living mulch instead.
Use your imagination
Honestly, you can use whatever suitable materials you have at hand for the layers. Just don’t forget for the weed barrier at the bottom and mulch on the top. Between them alternate the green (nitrogen rich) and brown (carbon rich) materials. Finish with the brown layer, which will serve as a mulch.
Nature doesn’t use a tape measure. You shouldn’t either. Use what you have at hand.
When is the best time to make a no-dig garden?
The best time to make a no-dig garden is in the autumn. Over the winter, the bed matures and is ready for planting in the spring.
You can, however, create a no-dig garden anytime. If you’re eager to start planting immediately, just put some soil/compost mix around your seedlings when you plant them. This will give them a head start and allow the surroundings to decompose enough until the roots reach them. You can see an example of planting the seedlings in a no-dig garden on the picture on the left.
What do you think about no-dig gardening? Do you like it? Are you going to try it? Speak your mind in the comments below.
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