Building Soil Over Winter- No dig garden beds

A vegetable plot built from layers of newspaper, mulch and compost, where nature does all the hard work. Too good to be true or a dream come true?

I side with the latter, I am a major fan of ‘No Dig’ gardens.

What exactly is a no dig garden bed?

It’s a garden bed that relies on nature to do what nature does best. It’s made with layers of newspaper, mulches and compost that whilst decomposing, encourage the growth of worms and millions of microorganisms that benefit plant growth.

When you physically dig up a garden you disturb the amazing frameworks underground that are built by these organisms, as well bringing up buried weed seeds that will start growing. A no dig garden eliminates this.

My soil is hard clay, will this still work?

Yes it will, but time is a factor. Luckily nature has some helping hands for you in the form of worms.

Earth worms are amazing, a gardener’s best friend really. The larger amount of earthworms you have, the better your soil. These wonderful little creatures turn over and aerate your soil brilliantly, whilst simultaneously excreting worm castings which are bursting with nutrients. You can encourage more worms by adding manure and compost to the layers in your bed.

When should I make a no dig garden bed?

You can make one any time of the year but I think autumn is the ideal season. Starting this garden bed in autumn means over winter all the layers will start breaking down in time for you to use it in spring.

If you’re not using your garden bed straight away, plant green crop over the bed as these plants have long roots that will grow down and help break up the soil, whilst also providing a cover to stop weeds from growing.


First, find a spot that will get lots of sunshine, especially in spring and sunshine. You can make a border if you like to mark out your plot. I don’t bother in my own garden as I have little vegetable plots everywhere. Weed eat, or mow the little section first.

Then lay out layers of newspaper, about 5mm thick, making sure it overlaps the edges where you have marked out. Water the newspaper, then cover with a layer of fallen leaves or grass mulch. 

On top of the leaves, add a layer of pea straw and a generous sprinkle of blood and bone, followed by a layer of manure and compost. I used a mixture chicken manure from my own chooks and sheep manure. If you are using sheep or horse manure, make sure it’s either well rotted or in pellet form as fresh manure can carry weed seeds. 

Follow this again with another layer of pea straw, blood and bone, manure and compost. The last layer will be a final layer of pea straw but as I want this bed for spring, I first covered it with a layer of green manure which will a) help break up the soil, b) help keep the soil covered from the harsh winter weather and c) act as a mulch come spring, when you mow it down.

Finish with a final layer of pea straw and water it well.

The end result is a nutrient packed garden, about 10cm high. Now the worms and microorganisms can get to work, breaking down and enriching the soil without any hard graft from you.

When spring comes, the green crop will be nice and high. When you mow or cut it down, it will create a rich mulch for your spring seeds and seedlings.

April in the Garden- Autumn to do List

April in the Garden- Autumn to do List

Little steps now will result in big leaps come spring. Use this time, before it gets really cold to get organised around the garden.

Clean up your leaves

Rake up those leaves that the trees have kindly dropped for you, into a pile. If they’re wet, let them dry out for a day in the sun. Then, shred them by running your lawnmower over them. Add this carbon rich leaf goodness to your compost bin, alternating with green materials (such as lawn clippings and kitchen scraps).

Green Crop on your garden

Will you be using all of your vegetable patches in the winter? If not, it’s a good idea to plant a green crop to add nitrogen back into the soil come spring time on those unused. Green crop can include a mix of mustard seeds, peas, lupins, buckwheat and oats.

Plant spring flower bulbs.

Welcome in spring with a colourful display. Plant your spring bulbs now and when the time comes they will pop and let you know the end of winter has come and spring is here. Add Tui Bulb food whilst planting to ensure bigger and better flowers.

Daffodils, freesias, crocus, tulips…

Comfrey Mulch and Liquid Fertilizer

Comfrey  is super beneficial plant in the garden. It grows like crazy, with deep roots that take nutrients from the soil and stocks these in its large leaves.

Comfrey leaves can also be shredded and used as a nutrient packed green mulch all around the garden or made into a liquid fertilizer, a ‘comfrey tea’.

In a large bucket, fill it about 3/4 full with cut up comfrey leaves. Fill with water until the leaves are covered. Cover with a lid and let it sit, stirring with a stick every week. The leaves will break down and rot quite quickly and the water will turn a very dark brown- then it’s ready to use. Dilute to a ratio of 10:1 and use as a fertilizer for all your vegetables.

To grow comfrey, ask around to see if anyone has any growing already and if you can have a piece of comfrey root of one of their established plants. It’s such an easy and rapid growing that it’s a shame to buy it. As comfrey grows so rapidly, take care that you don’t end up with a weed instead of a super herb. In spring, split off some of the comfrey root to keep the plant at bay.

April in the Garden- The Quintessential Quince

April in the Garden- The Quintessential Quince

My in laws live in Martinborough, a town in the beautiful Wairarapa region. They live in an idylic setting, their cottage style house surrounded by fruit trees and an olive grove in their back yard. My husband and I got married there and will always be a special place for me.Their driveway is lined with huge, well established quince trees that welcome in spring with stunning blossoms and in summer and autumn are always heavily laden with fruit.Quinces are delicious and can be cooked and prepared in many ways. They’re sort of a like a really hard and slightly fuzzy pear. The down side of a quince is that it is way too hard and sour to eat raw so it has to be cooked. The upside? Think, quince crumble, baked quince, poached quince, quince jelly, quince paste. I like to stew them with a bit of sugar and spices and serve them over cereal or porridge for breakfast or serve them as a delicious dessert. I have included a recipe at the end of this post.

Quince are easily sourced at this time of year at fruit and vegetable markets and supermarkets. I don’t think you always need to buy them though. Ask around, someone with a quince tree would be sure to have some spare. They tend to fruit a lot and it’s hard to go through that many quinces!

Baked Quince in Cinnamon and Ginger Syrup

Roasted quince takes on all the flavour of this cinnamon and ginger infused syrup, making this a flavour packed and melt in the mouth sensation. 


6 Quince, peeled and quartered
2.5 cups cold water
zest and juice of 1 lemon
3 cinnamon quills
2cm ginger, peeled and grated
1 1/4 cups white sugar

Heat your oven to 190 degrees Celsius.

In a large oven tray, spread out the quince evenly. Cover with water and all the remaining ingredients and stir gently.

Bake in the oven for 30 minutes. Take out the tray and baste the quince with the syrup, then place back in the oven and bake for another 20 minutes.

Take out the oven tray and use a soup ladle to ladle most of the syrup into a small heavy bottomed saucepan. Bring the syrup to boil and then let it simmer until it has thickened slightly.

Whilst the syrup is simmering, place the quince back in the oven under a hot grill for 5 minutes until they are slightly caramalized.

Serve warm with ice cream and a drizzle of the syrup.

April in the Garden- The Humble Beet

April in the Garden- The Humble Beet

Sow from seed this month: beetroot, carrot, broad beans, lettuce, bok choy, peas, radishes, silverbeet, onions. 

Plant from seedlings this month: beetroot, broccoli, cauliflowers, brussel sprouts, cabbage, lettuce, celery. 

Leaves are falling and covering the ground in a crunchy blanket. The (few) deciduous trees we have, that I swear have only just grown their green leaves, are starting to shed and change their colouring. The seasons seem to go so fast but luckily I love each and every one of them.

April in the garden

Autumn is a busy time in the garden. Spent summer crops need to be pulled out and winter crops put in. Garden beds that will be unused in winter can be covered in green crop so they’ll be revived for next spring.

People have often asked me what I grow to feed my family in Autumn/Winter. The answer is: a lot! It may seem like it’s is a tricky and bad time to grow vegetables but it’s not really. Sure, it’s not the most pleasant time to be out in the dirt (especially if it’s raining) but with a bit of planning ahead you can have a grow a feast with not too much work.

Planning ahead is quite key, because plants do grow slower in the colder seasons.  If you plant seeds just the once and wait for them to grow, you won’t have anything whilst they are growing and then nothing again once you’ve eaten them. I like to continuously sow and plant my vegetables, staggered over time so that there is always something that is ready. A great vegetable to do this with is the humble beetroot.

I have been direct sowing beetroot seeds every three week to keep a continuous supply coming. Over the next few months, when Autumn turns into Winter, I’ll be starting my beet seedlings inside to transplant out.April in the garden

When growing beets from seed, they’ll need to be thinned out. Each beetroot seed will produce more than one seedling and you’ll need to give each beet plenty of space to grow.
April in the gardenI like to grow my beets in soil enriched with plenty of compost and well aged manure. Not too much nitrogen though, as this will encourage a lot of leafy greens and not much actual beetroot. To encourage a bigger root, beetroot likes a lot of phosphorus so to boost phosphorus levels, I add in chopped up seaweed to my soil, sourced from my local beach (rinsed well to remove as much salt as possible), as well as Yates Thrive Natural Blood & Bone.

Mulch around your beetroot. In summer you do this to retain the moisture in the soil and in Winter you do this to keep your beets a bit warmer.April in the garden

Don’t forget, the beetroot leaves are also edible! In fact, beetroot used to be harvested only for its leaves. The baby leaves are great, fresh in salads and the older leaves can be treated like silver beet and sauteed.