The No-Dig Gardening Method: Layer Up Your Vegetable Beds

no dig gardening

The no-dig gardening method involves leaving the soil in your garden plot or raised bed unturned or undug by creating a garden made up of layers or organic matter above natural ground. It also requires making the beds accessible from side paths, as the producing earth should not be walked on at all. Since the 1970s, many gardeners have advocated this gardening method, demonstrating that it is truly possible to successfully grow crops without digging and thus less labor. The no-dig method advocates the belief that soil quality will improve if left untouched by tilling, plowing and digging, as the top layers of decomposing organic matter develop the ideal environment for worms, fungi and micro-organisms that allow for bountiful harvests. Read our short guide on getting started with the no-dig gardening method to try it our in your vegetable beds!

1. Select Your Location
As with any type of vegetable bed, a no dig bed should be located in a spot in your yard that gets at least 6 hours of full sun daily. You’ll want to choose specific beds for annually rotating crops like brassicas, tomatoes, peppers, lettuces and root crops, as well as perennials like asparagus, strawberries and rhubarb, all of which can benefit from the no dig method. If you are building raised beds it will be easier to create the layered no dig garden, as you’ll have a border that the organic matter cant fall out of. Alternatively, you can build an edge with rocks, bricks or wooden posts.

2. Build your bottom layer – cardboard or newspaper
Dampen the soil or grass (which should be mowed before hand) that will be under the bed with a garden hose or sprinkler. The first layer of the no dig bed will be made up of cardboard or newspaper (don’t use the glossy kind), that will act as a weed barrier. This layer will break down over time as the busy earth worms move it .

3. Build the next layer – straw
Straw will make up the next layer – lucerne straw is ideal as its rich in nitrogen, but pea straw is much cheaper and easier to find. Try not to use hay, as it contains seeds that will likely germinate in your no-dig garden bed.

4. Prepare and lay out your soil mixture
Your soil mixture can me made out of sifted soil from an old bed or broken down compost combined with organic chicken manure (which is rich in nitrogen), a fish blood and bones powder and possibly some lime or wood ashes if you are growing crops that need more alkaline soil. Spread about a 1/2 inch layer of the soil mixture on top of the straw.

5. Cover with a last layer of straw
Cover your soil mixture again with straw for weed control and to keep moisture down by the roots of your plants where it needs to be.

6. Make holes for planting
Use a trowel to make evenly spaced holes in the straw that you can drop a few cups of soil mixture in to for planting. This method of laying soil out only in areas where you will plant saves on soil and the need for weeding. When your seedlings are ready to go in the ground, simply transplant them and water immediately .

7. Maintenance
You can keep adding layers of straw, soil and nitrogen rich fertilizer to your no-dig beds as the previous layers break down. You can apply the straw mulch generously as it helps control weeds and retain moisture. In essence, the no-dig method is meant to cut down on labor needed for maintaining your bed, and should require more than a few hours of work every week. Just make sure your planted soil stays moist!

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