Digging the ‘no dig’ garden


FOR TRUE gardeners and those who love spending their every waking hour pottering around their patch of ground, digging and tilling the soil is an integral and therapeutic part of their day.

However for those who don’t have much space, are time pressed, suffer from back problems, or maybe just have better things to do with their time, the idea of a ‘No Dig’ garden is a very attractive proposition.

Basically it is gardening inside a big, sandbox-type frame of wood or other permanent material, built on top of the ground, so the condition of your current soil is unimportant.

It consists of layering organic materials, just like a giant lasagna, to create a nutrient rich environment for your plants. The garden literally composts the materials while feeding the plants, making it ideal not only for vegetables, but also for flowers.

This is organic gardening at its simplest and best and you can always expand it to suit your needs. Or build several garden beds in different shapes to add interest and variety to your garden.

Their many benefits include, low maintenance, only take a few hours to build, are ‘back friendly’ and mirror nature to create a rich, organic environment for your plants.

All the organic matter will help retain moisture, particularly in summer and the mulch will suppress weeds, prevent erosion, and keep the plant roots from getting too hot.

Now, you’re convinced a ‘No Dig’ garden is perfect for you. How do you go about creating one?

You will need a sunny space and a flat surface. Beyond that, just add a few ingredients and you are on your way.

Apart from the border, materials required include a stack of newspaper, bales of straw and hay or other coarse, organic material, animal manure and compost.

Here is a step by step guide to building your garden:

1. Decide where you want your no-dig garden and make a border of bricks, logs, planks or rocks.
Make it 45-60cm high for planting, harvesting and maintenance without bending. Keep in mind not to make it wider than you can easily reach into the garden to the halfway mark.

2. For the first layer, put down thick wads of wet newspaper to smother the weeds. Overlap the paper edges to stop the weeds coming through.

3. Now build up your no-dig garden with layers of organic material. Start with a 10cm layer of hay, followed by a thick (2cm) layer of some good organic fertilizer. If you do not have this sort of material available, sprinkle a layer of good commercial fertilizer (No need to go the full 2cm depth with commercial material). Continue with a 20cm layer of straw, followed by another 2cm layer of fertilizer.

4. Keep alternating these layers until the garden is as high as you want it to be. The idea is to stack layers of fine and coarse compostable materials. You can add layers of whatever organic materials you have available. You could add shredded autumn leaves piled up over winter, old straw from a horse-stable, or kitchen scraps. After each layer, water lightly, and smell the goodness. Top off the garden with 10cm of compost. Use home grown compost, or buy a bag of it.

5. Top off the garden with 10cm of compost. Use home grown compost, or buy a bag of it. Place a heavy black plastic sheet over the top, held down with bricks. When you remove this you will find you have a rich organic pile. Worms will quickly invade, breaking the organic material down into a nutrient rich medium, ideal for plant growth.

The nutrient rich soil furthermore enables you to plant with less space in between plants. This type of garden can yield tremendous crops (4-6 times the amount of normal row planting), and is a great way to grow veggies organically.

Beans, peas, capsicum, eggplant, tomato, lettuce, sweet corn, broccoli, spinach, cabbage, cauliflower, brussel sprouts and vine crops like melons and pumpkins will all thrive and try companion planting using plants such as marigolds to help reduce the incidence of pests and diseases. Organic gardening is all about a garden in tune with itself.


By Andy Mansell

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