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No Dig Gardening - How to Make a No Dig Garden Bed

What is no dig gardening anyway? The no dig garden method involves creating a garden on top of the existing ground, without digging to remove the grass, plants, or weeds that are currently growing there. No dig gardening benefits the soil by not upsetting the soil's existing microbiome. Have you ever wondered how plants seem to grow so easily in the wild, with absolutely no human care, and you struggle to grow similar plants when you carefully water and care for them each week? Part of the reason is this important soil microbiome layer.

If no dig gardening sounds too easy to be true, I promise I am not pulling your leg. Building a no dig garden bed works amazingly well and requires minimal effort. As well, it is better for the soil. Let's take a look at how to make your own no dig flower or veggie garden out of cardboard and compost.

How to Make a No Dig Garden Bed

No Dig Garden Layers

The first layer of your no dig garden bed should be cardboard or layers of newspaper. You want to lay a thick enough layer with no gaps exposed so that whatever is growing underneath will not survive. In my own no dig garden beds, I have used one layer of cardboard but have tried to make sure it overlaps by 3 inches to adjoining cardboard. Once you have laid down your cardboard, water it until it is completely drenched to help it adhere to the ground beneath, as well as to help it begin the breaking down process.

As this organic material under the cardboard breaks down it will add nutrients to the soil. Over one to three years, the cardboard or newspaper will break down as well. Once the cardboard layer is broken down, your garden will have access to the nutrients below it.

The next layer of your no dig garden should be 10 to 12 inches of compost. (It will compact when you water it. Aim to have it 6 inches deep once wet.) Once the compost is added, give the bed another good soak with water. The compost will start the process of breaking down the cardboard and ground beneath it.

If you are simply wanting a slightly raised in-ground garden, you can leave these two layers and plant right into it. Once your plants are a few inches high, add a thick layer of straw. The straw will provide more even moisture to your plants and help your garden retain water - thus conserving water.

How to Make a No Dig Raised Bed

If you are planning a raised garden bed, using the no dig method of placing cardboard on the ground and wetting it down will build the perfect base, providing weed control from the ground, for your raised bed. As above, add 10 to 12 inches of compost, then layer that with a few inches of top soil. You may also want to add a layer of peat moss, depending on the quality of your compost. If your compost is light and airy, not compact and dense, you can skip the peat moss. Otherwise continue the layers in this order: compost, top soil, peat moss. Continue until your raised bed is filled, then top off with 2 to 4 inches of straw.

If your raised bed is deeper than two feet, add branches and compost that has not yet broken down to the base. This provides a hugelkultur type base that will break down and provide nutrients to the soil over time.

My No Dig Potato Garden

My first experiment with no dig gardening was building a no dig potato garden in our back yard. The ground where we live is incredibly hard and rocky and our soil pH very high. Potatoes thrive in loose soil with lower soil pH. I was somewhat skeptical on how well the garden bed would work, but wanted to grow more potatoes and realized growing them in my deer fence area was unnecessary. (Deer generally pass on the night shades.)

We built our garden bed in the fall, using about 10 inches of our home compost on top of the cardboard. In the spring I added some bone meal and moldy hay we had laying around to the top of the bed. I planted potatoes in May, placing them under the compost and almost right on the cardboard.

Once the potato plants were about 10 inches tall, my husband and I spread 4 inches of straw on top. (This packed down to about 2 inches once wet. The summer was a hot one and we only watered the potato bed three times all summer.

No dig garden potato bed made with cardboard, compost and straw in zone 3 Calgary Alberta.
Our no dig potato bed only required watering 3 times all year, even during an unusually hot summer.

I was ecstatic when it came time to harvest the potatoes! The potato production was much better than it had been in the previous garden, and the best part... they came out clean! No digging and no washing potatoes. I would simply lift the plant and sift through the compost for the potatoes.

Disadvantages of No Dig Gardening

The one consideration to keep in mind when using the no dig garden method is that the soil you place your plants in should always have approximately the same depth as the height the plant will be at maturity. The exception is very tall plants like corn and sunflowers.

When building an in-ground no dig garden, it will take time for the cardboard to decompose and the layer underneath to break down.

Another disadvantage is that building a no dig garden requires large amounts of compost.

If you have any questions on no dig gardening or would like to share your personal experience about no dig gardening, please add your comment below.


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Words "the ultimate guide to no dig gardening" with photos of no dig gardens being built on grass.

Words "no  dig gardening the easy way" with photos of no dig garden potatoes and an in ground no dig garden.

A no dig raised bed garden being built on grass in no dig garden in gardening zone 3 of Calgary Alberta Canada.


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What do you do with the straw after garden is done in fall

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I leave it there. It doesn't take long until in breaks down and becomes part of the soil. If I feel there is too much straw I may also sometime remove some and add it to the compost pile to break down more there.

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