how to make a no dig garden

how to make a no dig garden


Everybody agrees that gardening could be far more enjoyable, and many individuals could be extra inclined to take up gardening if there wasn’t the necessity for all that back-breaking onerous work comparable to digging… It could be a shock to many individuals, however digging IS NOT a crucial a part of gardening in any respect!

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So how did we get into the behavior of digging up our gardens within the first place? Principally it’s simply outdated custom. Traditionally folks have handled their gardens like miniature farms, folks checked out how big areas of land have been farmed , after which did the identical on a smaller scale, as a result of that’s what they knew do.

Chances are you’ll be asking “Why do farms until the soil anyway?” The reply is as a result of tillage (i.e. ploughing) helps loosen compacted soil which makes it simpler to plant into, rips up weeds, and buries the scraps left over from harvesting.

This then raises the logical query, why is the soil compacted within the first place if it’s consistently tilled? There are a number of causes re-compaction of tilled soil, specifically animal-powered and mechanised farm gear, comparable to tractors and oxen, folks strolling on the soil and rain impacting on naked soil!

Earlier than we will perceive the explanations for not digging soil, it’s vital to know what soil is, in any other case it’s not clear what we’re coping with.

Why We Shouldn’t Dig the Backyard!

The soil isn’t just ‘dust’ to anchor plant and tree roots, although that’s how many individuals deal with it! The soil is a really complicated ecosystem, teeming with very numerous life.

In reality, the soil is extra plentiful with life and extra complicated than some other ecosystem above the bottom. There are about 50 billion microbes in 1 tablespoon of soil. By comparability, the human inhabitants numbers simply over 7 billion at the moment. These organisms embrace Micro organism, Actinomycetes, Fungi, Yeast, Protozoa, Algae and Nematodes. Moreover there are arthropods and bugs in there as nicely, together with earthworms. That’s a variety of life within the soil!

So what are all these critters doing within the soil? The soil micro organism type a useful relationship with plant roots, and soil fungi type a useful relationship with tree roots, serving to them entry vitamins. The soil organisms perform the vital capabilities of nutrient biking, enchancment of soil construction to help water and air motion by means of the soil and likewise the management of illnesses and enhancement of plant progress. A lot of the soil fungi occupy the highest 15cm (6”) of the soil, whereas the remainder of the organisms dwell in any respect totally different ranges.

Digging and turning over the soil exposes a really delicate ecosystem to the air which dries it out, and to the ultraviolet rays of the solar, which sterilize the soil – killing the soil organisms. The soil loses a variety of its vitamins, comparable to carbon and nitrogen. It additionally loses a variety of its natural matter, and as a consequence, doesn’t retain water as nicely. The fragile soil construction is destroyed, compaction of soil happens, resulting in hardpan formation, and decreased water infiltration within the soil, and extra floor runoff, which will increase soil erosion.

Tillage is the time period used to explain the agricultural preparation of the soil by digging it and turning it over. So why are the farmers so keen on this damaging observe? Effectively, they discovered that while you first dig up the soil, fertility goes up, and vegetation develop higher. The reason being that the tiny little our bodies of all of the soil organisms which have simply been killed by digging break down, releasing their vitamins to the soil. The catch is, it solely works as soon as, after which your soil is sterile and the vegetation are worse off, they usually change into extra liable to illnesses, and require much more fertilizer than they usually would. To additional compound the issue, chemical fertilizers are pumped into the dying soil, which successfully kill off what soil life is left. Sure, chemical fertilizers kill soil life! It’s actually a idiot’s recreation to destroy the soil life for a short-lived, as soon as off nutrient increase, which actually exhibits gross ignorance and an entire lack of information of soil ecology and what makes vegetation develop!

That, in a nutshell, is why we don’t dig the soil!

Working With Nature, A Smarter Technique to Backyard


In Nature, soil doesn’t must be manually cultivated for spectacular forests to develop. What holds true in Nature additionally holds true within the backyard. In a forest, natural matter within the type of fallen leaves, twigs and branches, annual vegetation on the finish of their yearly cycle and different vegetation on the finish of their lives, are all deposited on the forest flooring after they decompose into wealthy humus.

We are able to add natural matter on to the soil floor, comparable to manure, compost, straw, leaves and many others. Backyard waste comparable to prunings from timber and shrubs could be fed right into a mulcher to interrupt them down into smaller items, after which unfold over the soil as a mulch.

Including a layer of natural matter over the soil, in a layer roughly 5cm-15cm (2”-6”) thick is in impact ‘sheet composting’, the place the backyard beds change into massive composting areas. By the motion of earthworms, micro organism, fungi and bugs, the natural matter is slowly damaged down and launched into the soil, offering vitamins to the backyard. As a result of the soil isn’t disturbed, a steady soil ecosystem is created, and plant well being is improved. Moisture can be higher retained as a result of mulching, and the natural matter within the soil works like a sponge to higher retain the moisture within the soil. The mulching additionally prevents soil erosion, stops runoff of rainwater throughout the floor, and assists the rainwater to percolate into the soil. The earthworms will create channels within the soil, which can assist each water and air to penetrate into the soil.

How To Shield the Soil and Cut back Work

With no-dig gardens, the soil isn’t compacted as a result of it’s not walked upon! Stepping on the soil destroys the soils construction by compacting it, stopping air and water penetration to the vegetation roots, which impacts plant well being, restricts plant progress and reduces productiveness. Paths are constructed for folks to stroll on, the backyard beds are for vegetation ONLY!!! Don’t combine the 2 and gardening shall be a way more productive and easy expertise.

One factor I haven’t point out to this point is that Nature does dig, however not in the way in which we people do, however way more effectively – with earthworms!

Earthworms Dig Higher Than People!

When there’s digging to be carried out, let the specialists do the work!

Earthworm are Nature’s marvel creatures, they’re a tireless military of super-efficient diggers, whose talents we people can not replicate regardless of all of the know-how we’ve obtainable. I preserve stressing that Nature does it higher than we ever may, however for individuals who want extra convincing, right here is the proof:

  • One hectare of land can help as much as 7 million worms, which all collectively weigh 2.4 tonnes, and in beneficial situations they will flip over round 50 tonnes of soil per hectare annually, sufficient to type a brand new layer of topsoil 5 mm deep. It has been reported that in a single trial worms had constructed an 18-cm thick topsoil in 30 years.
  • Earthworm burrows aerate the soil and permit the the drainage of water as much as 10 instances sooner than soils with out earthworms. Uncultivated soils with excessive populations of earthworms have as much as 6 instances larger water infiltration than cultivated soils, which scale back earthworm populations.
  • Worms assist vegetation develop higher – worm castings are richer in vitamins than the encompassing soil with phosphorus ranges 4 instances increased than the soil and nitrogen that’s available to vegetation. Their burrows enable plant roots to achieve deeper into the soil to entry extra water and vitamins. As well as, the burrows additionally include nutrient wealthy worm castings.
  • Earthworms enhance soil fertility – in analysis performed in New Zealand and Tasmania, the introduction of earthworms into perennial pastures (the place there have been no earthworms beforehand) initially elevated pasture progress by 70-80%, and elevated it by 25% over the long-term. Analysis within the Netherlands confirmed will increase in pasture progress of 20% and in Eire will increase of 10% have been noticed. In wheat manufacturing analysis performed by the CSIRO in Adelaide, glasshouse trials confirmed and enhance of 35%, whereas paddock trials confirmed will increase between 13% and 75% .(Sources: NSW Division of Major Industries – “How earthworms will help your soil”, Division of Surroundings & Major Industries Victoria – “Worm Sensible II”)

This clearly exhibits us that earthworms can dig much more soil than we will in a way more environment friendly method, however much more so, they will dig soil in a manner that produces many further advantages. After we dig the soil, we injury it! That must be sufficient convincing that it’s finest to let the worms do their job, and that its in our profit to construct no-dig gardens. So with none additional ado, let’s take a look at what no-dig gardening is all about.

The Strategy of No-Dig Gardening Defined

In 1977, Esther Dean, an Australian gardener and creator, pioneered the approach generally known as “no dig gardening” with the publishing of her e book “No-Dig Gardening and Leaves of Life”. Since that point, numerous no-dig gardens have been constructed worldwide and the approach is totally time-proven and examined. It has confirmed to be an immensely productive technique to develop all method of timber and vegetation. Within the US, no-dig gardening is sometimes called lasagna gardening.

There are a lot of variations of how we will construct a “no dig gardening”, however all of them use the identical underlying precept, which is soil constructing. No-dig gardens could be constructed wherever as a result of this method creates soil – a wealthy, darkish, wholesome, nutrient-filled humus which vegetation love. They are often constructed over soil, current garden or concrete.

As a quick description, the way in which the strategy of no-dig gardening works is that of various natural supplies comparable to pea straw, lucerne, animal manure, finely-chopped prunings, kitchen scraps, compost and laid down in layers over one another to create what is basically a thick, flat composting system that fills a backyard mattress. To plant seedlings or vegetation into such a backyard mattress, small ‘pockets’ or holes are made that maintain as a lot compost as a small pot that you can develop the plant in, they’re then full of compost, and the vegetation planted into them. It’s actually easy, and the outcomes are unimaginable. Basically the no-dig backyard is constructed of alternating layers of carbon-rich and nitrogen-rich supplies, similar to a correctly made compost heap.

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This diagram exhibits how a no-dig backyard mattress is usually constructed:

No-dig overview

How you can Construct a No-Dig Backyard in Ten Simple Steps

Constructing a no-dig backyard is a quite simple approach that doesn’t take very lengthy. I educate no-dig gardening courses the place college students get to construct a no-dig backyard for the primary time ever, and a small group can simply assemble and absolutely plant up a 1m x 4m (3’ x 12’) no-dig backyard in round half-hour.

There are two essential building strategies for constructing a no-dig backyard:

  1. No dig gardens constructed on concrete, paved areas or rocky floor.
  2. No dig gardens constructed on current backyard beds or lawns.

The one distinction is that it is advisable add an additional layer first when constructing on onerous or rocky surfaces.

Listed here are the step-by step directions for constructing a no-dig backyard:

Step 1 – Choose and Mark Location

No-dig 01

  1. Choose an appropriate location to assemble a no-dig backyard mattress. Ideally it must be on a reasonably degree floor, and it ought to obtain 5 hours or extra of daylight every can construct the no-dig backyard over any floor, over current soil, garden, concrete or paved surfaces – step one of the development will range relying on the floor.
  2. Both mark out the place the no-dig backyard mattress shall be, and construct it with out ‘sides ‘ or edging, or assemble a raised mattress (see article right here).

Step 2 – Collect Supplies

You will have the next supplies:

  • Newspapers or cardboard
  • Animal manure or natural fertilizer
  • Straw bales or lucerne (alfalfa hay) bales or each
  • Compost

Non-compulsory supplies:

  • Kitchen scraps, worm castings, rock mud

If constructing on onerous or rocky floor, you’ll additionally want:

  • dry small sticks and branches, outdated dry leaves
  • dry seaweed (elective)

Additionally, you will want the next gadgets:

  • If utilizing cardboard – Bucket of water for soaking cardboard
  • Watering can or hose for watering

Step 3 – Getting ready the Floor

No-dig 02

  • If constructing over an current backyard mattress or soil, no further preparation is required.
  • If constructing over concrete, paving, rocky floor or different onerous surfaces, first lay down a layer of small sticks and branches, twigs and outdated dry leaves 7-10cm (3”-4”) thick. This layer helps with drainage so water doesn’t pool on the onerous floor and create a waterlogged may add dried seaweed (if you will get it) to this layer.
  • If constructing over garden or grass, you may mow the grass very low first, or simply go away it. Subsequent, fertilise it with loads of nitrogen-rich fertiliser (comparable to blood & bone or manure) and lime, then water it in. The fertiliser will assist the grass rot down as soon as it’s lined up and buried underneath all of the layers that can go on prime of it.

Step 4 – Lay down Newspaper

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  1. Lay down sheets of newspaper in layers roughly 0.5cm thick (approx. 1/4” thick), and overlap the sides by 10-15cm to stop grass or weeds rising by means of.
  2. Utilizing a watering can or hose, water the newspaper nicely.

This newspaper layer will maintain moisture and act as a weed barrier. It is going to regularly break down over time.

If utilizing cardboard, you’ll need to pre-soak it in a bucket of water first, which isn’t as simple. The opposite difficulty with cardboard is that it comprises glue manufactured from borax, so it’s actually a second selection.

Use newspapers if they’re obtainable, and extra importantly, don’t use shiny printed paper or workplace paper, they include poisonous inks and bleaches, one thing you don’t need going into your meals!

Step 5 – Lay down Lucerne

No-dig 04

  1. Lay down a layer of lucerne roughly 10cm (4”) thick over the newspaper.
  2. Utilizing a watering can or hose, water in nicely.

You should use some other carbon containing materials comparable to peas straw, hay, sugar cane mulch, and many others, however lucerne is preferable as a result of it has a better nitrogen content material than the opposite straw supplies, and breaks down extra simply. The carbon to nitrogen ration (C:N) for lucerne (alfalfa hay) is eighteen:1, whereas the straw is 80:1.

Step 6 – Lay down Manure & Compost

No-dig 05

  1. Sprinkle a skinny layer of manure. You can even add compost to create a layer 5cm (2”) thick.
  2. Utilizing a watering can or hose, water in nicely.

*** NOTE: If you wish to add different substances comparable to kitchen scraps, worm castings, or rock mud into your no dig backyard, that is the layer you add them to. Simply use a skinny layer, don’t overdo it! The worm castings and rock mud can be used within the upcoming increased layers, however kitchen scraps must be positioned on this decrease layer solely to maintain it nicely buried, this prevents vermin comparable to rats and mice digging it as much as get to it.

Step 7 – Lay down Straw

No-dig 06

  1. Lay down a layer of straw roughly 10cm (4”) thick over the layer of manure or manure/compost.
  2. Utilizing a watering can or hose, water in nicely.

You should use any carbon containing materials right here comparable to peas straw, hay, sugar cane mulch, and many others.

Step 8 – Lay down Manure & Compost

No-dig 07

  1. Sprinkle a skinny layer of manure. You can even add compost to create a layer 5cm (2”) thick.
  2. Utilizing a watering can or hose, water in nicely.

*** NOTE: If you wish to add different substances comparable to worm castings or rock mud into your no dig backyard, it’s also possible to add them to this layer.

Step 9 – Lay down Straw

No-dig 08

  1. Lay down one other layer of straw roughly 10cm (4”) thick over the layer of manure or manure/compost.
  2. Utilizing a watering can or hose, water in nicely.

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You should use any carbon containing materials comparable to peas straw, hay, sugar cane mulch, and many others right here.

Step 10 – Make Pockets of Compost in High Layer and Plant Up

No-dig 09

  1. Make holes within the prime layer of straw roughly 10-15cm (4-6”) broad, and equally deep.
  2. Fill with compost.
  3. Plant seeds, seedlings or vegetation.
  4. Utilizing a watering can or hose, water in nicely.

You can even add seaweed extract to the water while you water within the seeds/seedlings or vegetation. Vegetation actually do want greater than the fundamental NPK (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium) of chemical fertilizers. Seaweed comprises nearly each useful mineral, together with all of the hint parts that vegetation want, and it actually helps your vegetation develop robust, wholesome roots.

Now you’ve completed, simply step again and admire your newly constructed no-dig backyard mattress! It’s that simple, and that’s the way you construct it, in 10 easy steps!

There Are Many Approaches to No-Dig Gardening

The steps above define simply one of many many no-dig gardening ‘formulation’. There are a lot of methods to construct no dig gardens, and there are a lot of recipes for what to make use of for every layer. Some no-dig gardens could be very excessive and free-standing, whereas others could be low. All of them work as a result of they use the magic pure formulation that we additionally use in composting, alternating layers of carbon-rich supplies and nitrogen-rich supplies.

To date we’ve solely mentioned constructing no-dig gardens as a way of making new backyard beds, however the great thing about this technique is that you could additionally convert current backyard beds to a no-dig system, and it’s even simpler.

How you can Convert an Present Backyard to a No-Dig Backyard

Constructing new gardens from scratch is one factor, nevertheless it doesn’t occur fairly often. Extra usually we encounter a drained, run-down backyard mattress the place the soil is depleted and compacted, the place nothing a lot grows in it aside from weeds. It’s even simpler to ‘retrofit’ and current backyard, to renovate it and convert it right into a no-dig backyard.

You’ll be able to even use this method to rework a completely planted backyard mattress right into a no-dig backyard, as you’ll merely be laying down a two-layer mulch!

Changing an current backyard mattress to a no-dig system entails three fundamental steps:

Step 1 – Put together the Soil

No-dig 10

If crucial, loosen compacted soil. If the soil isn’t compacted, go to Step 2.

You’ll be able to loosen compacted soil manually with a backyard fork, which takes a couple of minutes, or you may plant ‘inexperienced manure’ vegetation with deep faucet roots, which can drill into the compacted soil and break it up. This may take for much longer (a couple of months!) because the plant grows by means of its rising season. As soon as the vegetation begins to flower, it’s minimize down and the soil degree and dropped on the soil floor, with the roots left within the floor – that is “chop & drop”. The roots will then break down and create deep air and water channels, and the soil shall be loosened up naturally.

  • Cool Season ‘inexperienced manure’ vegetation which have deep taproots that can be utilized to interrupt up compacted soil – Fenugreek, Lupins, Woolly Pod vetch
  • Heat Season ‘inexperienced manure’ vegetation which have deep taproots that can be utilized to interrupt up compacted soil – Lucerne

An important factor to do is to provide an outdated backyard mattress a head begin, as soon as the soil is loosened, it can by no means be compacted ever once more, since you don’t step in a no-dig backyard!!!

To loosen compacted soil, break it up with a backyard fork, however don’t flip it over – we’re simply making an attempt to make the soil unfastened and friable right here, we’re not making an attempt to kill all of the soil ecology, which is what turning the soil does in typical gardening, and why it’s carried out!

As soon as we soil is loosened, and the no-dig backyard layers are added, they’ll begin to break down, including natural matter to the soil, and the earthworms will do all of the digging from there on, taking the great natural matter from the floor and carrying it additional into the soil, slowly changing the soil beneath right into a wealthy, darkish humus – actual soil! bear in mind, people don’t dig, earthworms do, they usually do a a lot better job than us, so go away the digging to the specialists, the earthworms, and save your time and power!

Step 2 – Lay down Manure & Compost

No-dig 11

  1. Sprinkle a skinny layer of manure. You can even add compost to create a layer up 5cm (2”) thick, however a thinner layer is simply effective. If there are current vegetation within the backyard mattress, preserve the supplies away from the stems/trunks to keep away from ‘collar rot’ – rotting the bottom of the plant. You can even add different substances comparable to worm castings (a wealthy fertilizer full of a lot of useful soil organisms) or rock mud (a gradual launch supply of hint parts and minerals) into this layer.
  2. Utilizing a watering can or hose, water in nicely. You’ll be able to add seaweed extract to the water, it’s wealthy in potassium which helps fruiting and flowering, and is loaded with a lot of minerals which assist the vegetation develop a powerful and wholesome root system.

Step 3 – Lay down Straw

No-dig 12

  1. Lay down a layer of straw roughly 10cm (4”) thick over the layer of manure or manure/compost. If there are current vegetation within the backyard mattress, preserve the mulch away from the stems/trunks to keep away from ‘collar rot’ – rotting the bottom of the plant.
  2. Utilizing a watering can or hose, water in nicely. You should use seaweed extract with the water as soon as once more.

You should use any carbon containing materials right here comparable to peas straw, hay, sugar cane mulch, and many others.

So, in 3 simple steps, you’ve simply transformed your current backyard to a no-dig system.

Ensure you don’t step within the backyard and compact the soil as soon as once more, use paths – backyard beds are for vegetation, paths are for people! Keep in mind, you and the vegetation have conflicting wants, they want comfortable, unfastened friable soil that they will simply sink their roots into, you need agency steady paths you may stroll throughout that you just received’t sink into!

How you can Preserve a No-Dig Backyard from Season to Season

It’s very easy to keep up a no-dig backyard, it’s a fast twice-a-year process!

At the beginning of spring or autumn, after the earlier season’s crops have been harvested and the layers of supplies on the soil floor have rotted down, it’s time so as to add new materials to replenish the layers of the no-dig backyard.

To replenish the layers of the no-dig backyard firstly of spring and autumn:

  1. Add a layer of manure as earlier than (and compost if you want, which is elective),
  2. Cowl the manure/compost layer with a layer of straw
  3. Water it in

That’s all it is advisable do till the subsequent rising season! Fairly easy actually!

So, in conclusion, with no-dig gardening, you may scale back your time and effort spent within the backyard, save power and water, preserve a wholesome soil ecology, and let Nature do the work. It’s the way in which Nature does it, and it’s essentially the most sustainable manner you may backyard!

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