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No-dig Gardening



No-dig gardening is the simplest method I’ve ever seen. It literally means no digging by creating a garden bed from the ground up, using layers of materials which will support life.

Why try the no-dig gardening method?

This method is particularly useful when you have poor soils or invasive weeds. What's more, it can be created on any surface, be it on your perfectly manicured lawn, desert sand or even on cement (balcony available, anyone?). It can even be created in a container!

What crops do well with this method?

Vegetables such as beans, tomato, lettuce, spinach, corn, broccoli and pumpkins grow well with this method, as do melons. However, root crops such as potatoes will work better when the bed is more mature (after a year).

Why build in layers?

Building your no-dig gardening bed in layers works to assist soil which lacks minerals and nutrients. As we learn in permaculture, the first step is planning, so make sure you have a level area (you can build some terraces if on a steep gradient). Also, be sure that the bed will get a few hours of sun every day.

Is a border necessary?

It can also help to surround the garden bed with border material (up to 25cm high) such as logs, rocks or bricks. A raised border helps contain the organic material within, deters weeds and keeps out people and small animals. And it's also neater.

How to establish a no-dig gardening bed:

1. Start with a layer of cardboard or thick sheets of newspaper (at least 10 pages). You can also use wrapping paper, carboard, sacking or even natural carpet) at least 5 mm thick.

Just remember to remove any paint, stickers, or tape and avoid using coloured print. An innovative way of recycling, this layer allows for the soil to breath and prevents weeds from growing. Particularly tenacious weeds require an even thicker layer! Water this layer well so it starts breaking down immediately.

2. Add a layer of nitrogen materials such as well-rotted manure (horse, donkey, sheep, cow or chicken); you can also add veggie scraps and green leaves or grass and your dynamic accumulators (yarrow, borridge, nettles, pansy, comfrey and nasturtium).

3. To protect it, add a layer of carbon such as straw (lucerne hay, dead leaves, newspaper or sawdust can also be used). The nitrogen and carbon break each other down.

4. Remember to water between each layer and to alternate nitrogen layers with carbon as you keep layering upwards.

5. The last layer should be hay as mulch to keep the moisture in.

6. Now start planting your seedlings! No dig gardening beds are usually more effective if you plant seedlings, which also allow you to know what’s going to come up.

7. Once your seedlings are in place, cover the exposed areas with another layer of mulch. This can be straw, grass clippings or leaves. To discourage stem rot, try keep the stems of your seedlings clear of the mulch.

After this, water your bed for the first couple of weeks to help the seeds and seedlings establish. Your straw mulch will provide shade and hold in any moisture from rain, dew or fog. If weeds do come through, just pull them up or smother them with another layer of straw. Lastly, you can top your bed up with organic compost on a seasonal basis.

Best of all, this method will encourage worms, which further assist in breaking down and enriching the soil.

Total commitment?

A few hours! Your no-dig gardening bed pretty much looks after itself. All you have to do it set it up, and tend to it no more than a few hours per week. What more could you ask for?

Visit my PDC Blog: Day 3 to find out more about our course practical on creating a no-dig gardening bed.


Related Articles

Permaculture Ethics:Clearly defined Permaculture Ethics give us purpose and clarity, enabling us to measure whether our project meets these criteria.

Permaculture Design Principles: Familiarising yourself with and applying these Permaculture Design Principles make creating a sustainable environment easier than ever before.

Making compost: Making compost has never been simpler with this step-by-step method to creating humus-rich soil.

What is soil made of? Discover more about this incredible natural resource.


Return from No-Dig Gardening to Eco-friendly Africa Travel

Return from No-Dig Gardening to Permaculture Gardening



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Hi, my name is Melissa and I created this site together with photographer Christopher List to help spread awareness about green lifestyles and travel, so everyone can learn how easy it is to live in a sustainable way. Enjoy!

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