Urban Permaculture Design Melbourne

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The no-dig gardening concept was popularised by Sydney gardener Esther Dean in the 1970s as a way of minimising gardening effort while kickstarting a garden with maximum fertility.  Any more fertility and you're likely to have triplets.  A no-dig garden consists of layers of organic material that are stacked up to form a rich, raised garden area.  The no-dig garden can be whatever height you desire.  Vegetable seedlings, flowering annuals, herbs, bulbs and strawberries all thrive in a no-gig garden.

Why?

  • This type of garden can be set up anywhere – over a lawn, inside a box frame, or even over concrete.
  • No-dig gardens are quick and easy to make.
  • If your soil is not ideal for vegie growing, a no-dig garden creates a great soil mix to plant into. 
  • No-dig gardens are very fertile as the decomposing organic matter quickly becomes rich, black compost and attracts beneficial micro-organisms.
  • It retains moisture well.
  • It discourages the growth of weeds as the soil is not turned over (burying weed seeds in moist soil).

Materials

  • Newspaper (let's turn bad news into good!)
  • Manure – eg. horse, cow, sheep
  • ‘Brown organic material’ – eg. pea straw, lucerne hay, autumn leaves, dry grass clippings.
  • Blood-and-Bone organic fertiliser OR chicken manure (if building garden over grass or weeds)
  • Compost (black, rich, broken down organic matter)


How to make a No-dig Garden

  1. Slash the grass or weeds
    1. If over concrete, place a 10cm layer of dry branches onto the concrete to allow air into the bed, and head to step 4.
  2. Over the grassed area, sprinkle with ‘Blood and Bone’ and water it in (this will aid in breaking down the grass and weeds).
  3. Soak your newspaper in water (eg. in a wheelbarrow or large bucket filled with water).
  4. Cover the area with thick layers of the damp newspaper (at least 6 pages thick -- more if any runner gasses are present), overlapping by 10-15 cm.  Be thorough!

  5. Soak your “brown organic material” in water (eg. in a wheelbarrow or green bin filled with water).
  6. On top of the newspaper layer, alternate the following -

          10cm of the soaked “brown organic material” (eg. Autumn leaves or straw)

           5cm of Manure – eg. horse, cow, sheep

    Water well after each layer is added

  1. Keep adding these layers until you get to your desired height.  We recommend building up the garden at least 30-40cm.

    NOTE: The no-dig garden will approximately half in height in the first six months as it composts away.  Therefore, if for example you want a 30cm high vegie bed, build a 50-60cm no-dig garden.

  1. Make sure that the top layer is the ‘brown organic material’, which acts as a great mulch to suppress weeds, hold water and insulate the soil.
  2. To plant seedlings, pull aside the mulch and add one or two handfuls of compost to the hole that you’ve created.  Make a hole in the compost and plant the seedling into this compost. Make sure your no-dig garden is in a fairly sunny position.

This garden usually settles to around ½ its height over the next 2-4 months (one season).  In this time the layers that you put down will turn into fertile black compost.  After these few months any vegetables should grow very well in the no-dig garden.  However, in those first 2-4 months (the first growing season of the bed), the following vegetables will not grow especially well in a no-dig garden, so don’t be disheartened:

  • Root vegetables – eg. carrots, onions, beetroot
  • Beans or peas.

These vegies will grow well from the second season onwards.

To maintain the health of the no-dig garden area VEG recommends adding home-made compost at least once a year (the start of Spring), but preferably twice a year (the start of Spring and the start of Autumn).  See the VEG compost info sheet or come to a VEG “compost and worms” course to learn the keys to increasing soil health.

We also recommend VEG garden edging for no-dig gardens that are 40cm or higher.