No-dig gardening has been written about since the mid 1940’s. I mean just take a look at Albert Guests’ “Gardening Without Digging” (below). Kinda reminds me a little of myself, standing there in my double breasted suit, smoking a pipe while admiring my garden.
But is was wonderful Esther Dean, who took the concept to the mainstream in the 1970s with her book “No Dig Gardening”, which has sold over 100,000 copies to date.
More recently it’s been promoted as “A new layering system…” or Lasagne Gardening with Patricia Lanza’s book.
How to get started?
Firstly you’ll need to assemble some ingredients:
Materials for a border: Straw bales, timber, bricks. NB: If you’re building a garden over concrete or bitumen you will need boarders at least 30cm high.
Newspaper or cardboard boxes.
Bales of hay- ideally lucerne but straw will do (pea straw is great)
Manure – chicken, cow, pig – I’m not a huge fan of horse manure as it tends to include more weeds. Would be fine for a deeper bed.
Step by Step
1. Place your newspaper and/or cardboard in a sturdy wheelbarrow right where you’re working and fill with water.
2. Mark out the edge of your new garden with your border material
3. Take the now soaked newspaper and place down thickly (the tougher the grass/weeds, the thicker it needs to be)
4. Throw some veggie scraps over the newspaper to encourage worm activity
5. Place down a thick layer of straw (if the straw breaks off into ‘biscuits’ go one layer deep) approximately 20cm
8. Water well
6. Cover with a good layer of manure – use the ‘hottest’ first e.g. chicken. Again water well.
7. Cover with another straw layer and follow with with manure, watering between each layer. Continue until you’ve reached the height of your border.
8. Finish with a final layer of pea straw or sugarcane mulch.
9. Pull aside holes in the top layer of mulch and put in a few handfuls of potting mix.
10. Plant directly into the potting mix and water well.
Here’s a time-lapse clip showing how it’s done. Maybe turn the volume down though…
If you’re planting directly over lawn, mow the law on a very low setting just before starting the newspaper layer
Make sure you remove plastic tape from any cardboard boxes and plastic wrap from magazines. Staples are fine.
Don’t use waxed vegetable boxes as in most cases it will be a petroleum based wax.
Some permaculture books suggest using old clothing, jeans, bed linen etc. as a sheet mulch for the bottom layer. In my experience this is no longer the best idea as many of these now contain polyester which won’t break down.
The more thoroughly you can water whilst building the no-dig bed, the less is will sink down afterwards. It also helps to speed up the composition of all your ingredients.
No dig gardens are better suited to well established seedlings – not seeds or root vegetables.
Now get (no) digging!