No Dig Gardening - Gardens and Vegetables the Easy Way

No dig gardening is a great way to garden without back-breaking work. Follow our 10 easy steps to no dig gardens. Many of us are in a situation where the soil that we have is no good for growing dandelions, let alone flowers and vegetables. Today I will show you that you can grow wonderful vegetables, even if you have clay, sand or concrete around your house, and that is with a concept that was coined in the 70s by Australian, Esther Deans, called "no-dig gardening".

NO DIG GARDENING: Choosing a Site

Basically, what you do is to chose a sunny site where you will get at least 6 hours of sunshine a day, and preferably your site is level. Then, start building up your growing material layer by layer.

NO DIG GARDENING: Choosing Material

Anything that is biodegradable and organic can be used for your no-dig garden and it is very similar to what you would put into your compost heap. However, the aim is to get a good proportion of high carbon and high nitrogen material that when added to your layers will give the best results.

NO DIG GARDENING: What you will Need

* newspapers

* blood and bone

* garden lime

* bricks, sleepers or similar for border definement

* coarse vegetation such as shredded prunings

* grass clippings, soft prunings and chopped weeds

* lucerne

* animal manure

* compost

* straw

* sawdust

* seedlings

The high carbon materials are finely shredded tree prunings, straw, fallen leaves that have been raked up. The high nitrogen materials are lucerne, commercial compost, chicken, sheep or cow manure, blood and bone, and grass clippings.


Although these gardens can be free standing, I personally find them rather untidy. I like to have a neat effect by having them contained with old railway sleepers, concrete breeze blocks or even shutter board. You can make them either rectangular, square or round, but make sure that you have access to all parts of your garden to water, weed and collect the produce.


1) If there are only 2 of you, 4 sqm is more than enough. Mark out the area. If you are placing the bed on concrete your first layer will be the newspapers. However, if you are putting your bed over grass or other vegetation you will need to kill this first, otherwise, you will be constantly battling with the grass. To do this, put generous amounts of blood and bone on the area, add garden lime and water well. This will kill the weeds and aid in the breakdown of your vegetation.

2) Now add a layer of newspapers. These should be 1.5 cm thick, and each newspaper should overlap the other to prevent grass and weeds to grow through. Don't forget to wet the newspapers first to prevent them from blowing away when laying them out.

3) Now add a 10 cm layer of coarse material consisting of leaves and shredded prunings. Wood chips can also be added here. Sprinkle with blood and bone and lime. Water.

4) Add a 10 cm layer of grass clippings, chopped weeds (that haven't flowered or seeded), and soft prunings. Sprinkle again with blood and bone and lime. Water.

5) Add a 10 cm layer of straw. Sprinkle again with blood and bone and lime. Water.

6) Add a 5 cm layer of well-rotted manure. I prefer chicken manure as it has the highest rate of nitrogen out of all manures, which is needed in growing most vegetables successfully.

7) Add a 10 cm layer of lucerne or some other green manure. Sprinkle again with blood and bone and lime. Water.

8) Add a 5 cm layer of well-rotted manure.

9) Add another 10 cm layer of lucerne or some other green manure. Sprinkle again with blood and bone and lime. Water.

10) Finally, add a 10 cm layer of compost to the last layer of green manure.

Having Patience

Although you will probably want to plant your veggies straight away, you will need to be patient. When you have finished layering, your bed will be about 60 cm in height. You will need to wait until most of the vegetation has rotted down over the next 2 weeks or so, so that it is half the height it was. Now it is time to plant.

NO DIG GARDENING: Planting and Caring for your No-Dig Garden

Plant your seedlings into your prepared area, making sure that you have left enough space for future growth. Water them well after transplanting, and feed them from time to time with either compost tea, seaweed tonic or fish emulsion, or a cocktail of all three.

As more material breaks down over time, you will need to top up your garden with more compost, lucerne and manure so that the height remains around 30 cms.

NO DIG GARDENING: Old Methods Versus New Methods of Planting for your No-Dig Garden


No-Dig Gardening Old Method: Heavy soils do not grow good beetroot; the plants are prone to make lots of foliage and roots are inferior. Dig soil deep in autumn, using no stable manure, as this makes them split and fork; add basic slag and sulphate of potash, forking it in. In the spring, lightly fork the soil to give it a fine tilth for sowing.

New No-Dig Gardening or Zero-Cultivation Method: Make a drill 1 inch deep and fill with a mixture of one part soil and one part sifted compost. Set seeds in this, press down with a board and cover with a 1/2 inch of compost. At thinning time, thin out and add 1 inch of sawdust; give no more attention until lifting time.


No-Dig Gardening Old Method: Take out the soil from the beds to a foot and fork in the subsoil. Put nine inches of good decayed stable or chicken manure and tread well down. Next add 3 inches of good mould. In autumn add 4 ounces of lime for every 2 yards of trench and for it in. A week before planting, fork in 3 pounds of superphosphates and 1 1/2 pounds of wood ash to every 30 yards of trench. When growing freely, apply liquid manure and a dressing of nitrate of soda; 1 ounce to every 2 yards of trench, every fortnight, watering it in.

New No-Dig Gardening or Zero-Cultivation Method: At planting time, cover the bed with 2 inches of compost, then plant with a trowel and water in, making the soil firm. During growth give plenty of water and liquid manure.


No-Dig Gardening Old Method: Form a bed, or mound of decayed manure, weeds and other vegetable matter, 2 - 3 feet thick in a warm and sheltered part of the garden. Cover this with 6 inches of good soil.

New No-Dig Gardening or Zero-Cultivation Method: Plant firmly and add compost to form a mulch 2 inches thick. If setting seeds, sow in drills as for beetroot but apply only 1/4 inch of sifted compost or sawdust. Cover the ground with straw and as the plants grow mulch as above, leaving the straw as bed for the fruit.


No-Dig Gardening Old Method: Make a trench 18 inches wide and 10 inches deep and break the bottom to a depth of 6-8 inches. Then lay a barrow of cow manure to every 7 yards of trench. Now work the soil back into the trench and at the same time mix in one barrow of load of thoroughly rotted manure, half harrow leaf mould, half bushel wood ash, one spadeful of slaked lime and one pound bone meal; previous to planting work the soil to a fine tilth.

New No-Dig Gardening or Zero-Cultivation Method: Dibble plants in 6 inches deep and water in. When well established add 2 inches of compost and occasionally water with liquid manure.


No-Dig Gardening Old Method: Fairly rich soil, dug at least two spades deep, in which is incorporated a liberal dressing of farmyard manure. Apply soot liberally as a protection against slugs.

New No-Dig Gardening or Zero-Cultivation Method: Apply a sprinkling of compost and roll it as you cannot make the ground too firm for lettuce. Sow in a drill as for beetroot and cover with a 1/4 inch of compost or sawdust, adding a little more when thinning out. In transplanting, dibble plants in and make firm. By this method they will grow nearly as fast again as in dug soil. If you start the lettuce off by seed use a mixture of 4 parts soil to 1 part compost in your seed boxes.


No-Dig Gardening Old Method: A rich and generous soil is essential. Heavy soils should be deeply dug and have and addition of grit, decayed vegetable matter, well rotted stable manure and decomposed leaves; at the same time apply 4 ounces of ground limestone per square yard and fork it in. Once a week, in fine weather fork the surface of the soil to get a fine tilth. A fortnight before sowing mix together equal parts of soil and soot and sprinkle 2 -3 handfuls per square yard, forking it in. When growing scatter 1 ounce of sulpher to every 3 yards along the drill as a preventative against onion fly.

New No-Dig Gardening or Zero-Cultivation Method: Sow in a drill as for beetroot and cover with 1/4 inch sifted compost. Apply a little more compost at thinning time and again with the bulbs begin to develop. Occasionally water with liquid manure.


No-Dig Gardening Old Method: Choose soil that was heavily manured for the last crop. Dig 2 spades deep in autumn or bore holes and fill with compost containing old plaster, grit, sand, wood ash and old refuse.

New No-Dig Gardening or Zero-Cultivation Method: Sow in a drill as for beetroot and cover with 1/4 inch sifted compost.


No-Dig Gardening Old Method: Prepare a trench as for celery, 1 foot deep and 2 feet wide. Put in 6 inches of good decayed manure, forking this into the sub-soil. Then add 3 inches more of well rotted manure and 3 inches of good soil, mixing it with the manure. Fill up 2 inches from the top with goof ordinary soil to which has been added 4 ounces of basic slag and 1 oz of wood ash. Water frequently and occasionally apply liquid manure. The pea is a deep rooting plant, hence the need for deep digging.

New No-Dig Gardening or Zero-Cultivation Method: Place the peas on the soil surface and cover with 2 inches of compost and 1 inch of sawdust and make firm. When they begin to pod, and are about a foot high, add a little more compost between the plants.

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