I’m often asked about the best way to set up a new vegetable garden, and everyone seems to have their preferred method and materials. I personally, like the idea of a no dig garden bed. After all, who wants to break their back trying to dig up hard compacted clay soil? No dig garden beds are easy, quick and effective in providing vegetables with all the nutrients they need. So here’s my step by step approach to no dig gardens.
Vegetables are incredibly hungry and thirsty plants, since they are growing quickly and developing fruit in a short period of time, they need loads of energy to get them to maturity …. rather like some of the teenagers in my house! So a no dig garden bed is just perfect for them.
To start with you’ll need to find a sunny spot to locate your garden bed. A garden in the shade will not be as productive as one that gets adequate sunlight. Try to find an area that gets at least 6 hours of sunlight (some dappled light is okay and can even help give respite to plants in the middle of some hot summers). Plants need sunlight to produce a flower so any vegetable that is grown for it’s fruit will certainly need this amount of sun.
If it’s a brand new area you’ve chosen then you don’t need to dig up any grass, you can simply mow the grass and/or weeds down to the lowest setting to make the area easier to work on.
Our first step is to lay out sheets of overlapping newspaper directly on the ground to cover an area of about 2 square yards. This kills off any weeds and grass naturally and allows them to decompose into nutrients for the soil later. Just make sure to use about 10 sheets of newspaper together to get the right thickness and overlap the sheets on all sides. Keep the newspaper damp with water from the hose after you lay it down. I often work with a wheel barrow full of water and dip the sheets of paper in as I go. This stops any wind blowing them all over the yard!
This is a nitrogen rich layer of lucerne hay. A large bail will cover a good sized vegetable garden bed. Take off “biscuits” or sections of the lucerne and lay them over the newspaper to cover the whole area. You will need this to be about 3 or 4 inches thick.
This a compost and manure layer. About 2 full wheelbarrow loads should do the job just nicely. Spread this over the lucerne to cover. If you have been making your own compost, then this would be perfect. Mix in a combination of chicken manure and cow manure to give some added nutrients. Throw over a couple of handfuls of rock dust and blood and bone. Again, make sure to water this in before proceeding.
Now comes a carbon rich mulching layer. Use straw or sugar cane for this, to a depth of about 3 or 4 inches.
Repeat 2 – 4
Now repeat steps 2 to step 4 over again until you reach your desired height. The higher your bed is, the better drainage it will have and less bending you will need to do. Always end with a layer of mulch and water it in well with a hose.
Planting out seedlings
Leave your garden bed to rest for a couple of weeks before planting. This allows for it to settle first and it will drop in size to about 1/2 the original height. When you plant into it just make a hole in the mulch layer and drop in a seedling. Backfill the hole with some potting mix or compost and firm down the seedling to hold it in place. Give it some water and diluted seaweed solution and then sit back and watch it grow.
Try to avoid any root crops like carrots or beetroot or onions for the first year. Your bed will have too many nutrients and will encourage leaf growth at the expense of root development. Grow a few crops through the bed first to soak up excess nitrogen and then after a year try some root vegetables. Make sure you plant according to your climate and season for best results.
Materials needed for a no dig garden bed measuring 1 x 2 yards:
- Newspapers to cover an area of 2 square yards
- 1 large bail of lucerne
- 1 wheel barrows of compost
- 1 wheel barrow of manure (chicken/cow combination)
- 1 small bag of blood & bone with potash (leave out the blood & bone if you’re vegan)
- 1 small bag of agricultural lime
- 1 bail of straw or sugar cane mulch
- seaweed solution
If you’re still unsure about the no-dig gardening approach and want some extra help, why not let me guide you through it. My gardening tutorials and free planting guides help show you how to get it all working for you.