When soil is turned over it destroys the soil structure. When you create a no-dig plot you are not disturbing the topsoil at all, this means that the soil microbes, worms and creatures can continue doing what they do best in your garden.
For the best results in your garden, you want to aim for no compaction of the soil. Water, air and nutrients travel through the soil by pathways made by worms and plant roots. When soil is compacted these pathways are destroyed.
By designing you plots to be no more than say 1.25metres (4 feet) across (and however long you want) you can avoid having to stand in it. If you start with a small bed, (1.25m x 2.5m / 4' x 8') you can plan it so that you can expand when you are ready.
No matter what your location, no dig vegetable gardens are a great option for you. It means that it doesn't matter what sort of soil you are starting out with as the layering of materials over the surface will continue to feed and condition your soil. Eventually you will end up with dark, nutrient rich soil.
A No Dig garden bed is made on top of the ground. It can be built over existing garden beds, lawns and even hard or rocky ground - even concrete. It should be situated in an area that receives at least six hours sun (preferably morning sun) a day and that has good drainage.
When preparing the plot it is not necessary to pull up lawn or an existing garden, you will be 'smothering' what is already there.
Building your plot
I like to install irrigation before building my plot as I find it saves me so much time and trickle irrigation (on a timer) is a far better way to water than by hand or sprinkler.
One thing to always remember when handling manures, soil or any organic matter is to always wear tough gloves to protect you from bacteria getting into any cuts. Then wash your hands thoroughly when you're finished in the garden.
1. Form the outside walls of your plot. You can use logs, old planks, pavers, bricks, stones, sleepers etc. If you have disabilities you might want to get help with this.
2. Lay down a thick layer of wet newspaper (I use an old baby bath filled with water to soak the newspaper), making sure it completely covers the enclosed area. It should be at least 6mm (quarter inch) thick and overlap by about 75mm (3inches). This will kill off any weeds and more from growing. Only use newspaper and glossy, coloured paper has chemicals.
3. Lay down pads (or biscuits) of lucerne hay or pea straw, making sure there are no gaps between pads.
4. Add a 20mm (inch) layer of good organic fertilizer (chicken manure is great).
5. Cover with about 200mm (8inches) thick of loose straw.
6. Add another 20mm (inch) layer of good organic fertilizer (blood & bone etc).
7. Finish off with a top layer of compost, about 100mm (4inches) thick.
8. Water well and allow to settle.
9. Plant out seedlings after 2 or 3 weeks (not seeds).
Some of the benefits of creating a no-dig, raised plot include:
- can be built anywhere, any time to any design
- keeping your garden tidy, with easy access
- stops birds from scratching your mulch everywhere
- it mirrors nature by create a rich, organic environment for your plants
- once set up, it's virtually maintenance free
- helps prevent destruction from snails, rabbits etc.
In your new garden the best veggies are potatoes, lettuce, brassicas and cucurbits (cucumber family). Root crops are better once your plot has matured.
It is better to have mixed plantings of vegetables and herbs, rather than long rows or a whole bed of one type of plant. Companion Planting benefits your garden in many ways, including pest and disease prevention and growing healthier, more vigorous plants.
Keeping your beds topped up with compost and/or mulch helps prevent weeds, retain moisture and promotes steady healthy growth.