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’ garden beds.
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 crop 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.