No-Dig Garden Beds

This weekend at Cowlick Cottage, we are building a couple of no-dig garden beds. These are pretty easy to do and pretty quick, too. We planted a test no-dig bed last fall, and it’s working really well. In fact, some of the gourmet garlic that I planted in the no-dig bed appears to be doing better than the garlic in my well-established raised beds.

What I like best about the no-dig method is quite obvious. No. Dig. We decided last fall that we wanted to expand our gardening space significantly—enough to start raising extra vegetables and flowers to sell at our local growers’ market. We had the perfect spot for eight (!) 3’ X 25’ beds with plenty of sun. So we drew up a plan and got started with our test bed.

Here’s what you need:

Paper—you may use layers of old newspaper (no colored ink) or you can look for rolls of biodegradable garden paper. That’s what we used, because it comes exactly sized for the beds we wanted.

  •  Hay—Make sure you buy your bales of hay from a garden center. You don’t want hay that has lots of weed seed in it. I buy mine from Esposito’s in Tallahassee. A bale of hay goes a long way!

A Bale of Hay Goes a Long Way!

  • Soil or compost, or a mixture of the two. We had a truckload of mushroom compost mixed with loam delivered and dumped right near our new garden area. It was my birthday present!
  • A good organic starter fertilizer.  I like Espoma.

Here’s what you do:

  • Decide what size bed you want and measure it out. Make sure you have at least six hours of full sun. This is really critical for veggies. Also, don’t make a bed that is too wide. You want to be able to easily reach into the center of the bed without stepping on it and compressing the soil. Three foot wide beds are very comfortable to tend.
  • Start with a good layer of paper. Just lay it out right over your lawn. You don’t need to disturb the soil (or break your back) by tilling or digging. The paper and the layers of planting matter will smother the lawn and weeds and prevent any sunlight from reaching them. Therefore, the weeds and grass will decompose and feed your garden! If you are using newspaper, make sure you make your layer an inch or so thick. Wetting it down a bit helps to keep it from blowing around.
  • On top of the paper, spread a good, thick layer of hay. 3-4 inches will do.
  • On top of the hay, spread a 3-4 inch layer of soil or compost. If you have some manure lying around, you can throw that on, too.
  • Lay another layer of hay.
  • Lay another layer of compost.

Loading up the Mushroom Compost for the No-Dig Beds

  • Spread your starter fertilizer on top of the compost, according to the package directions.
  • Spread another inch or two of compost/soil over the fertilizer.
  • Bask in the joy of your new garden bed.

Wasn’t that easy? Now, you can go ahead and put some transplants in if you’d like. In fact, the sooner you plant the no-dig bed, the better. The roots of the plants will help hold the bed together until the hay decomposes and settles in. Just avoid planting root crops until your bed gets established. I will be putting in some transplants over the next few weeks, and then mulching them with more hay.

There is one more thing to consider. It’s critical to have an easy way to irrigate your beds. The Ted and I use micro-irrigation with excellent results. Micro-irrigation uses about a third of the amount of water than a traditional sprinkler system, and the plants love it. It’s very easy to install, it’s inexpensive, and it’s available at your local home improvement center. It also makes a wonderful soothing sound as well as a pretty mist over the garden. We’ll write more about micro-irrigation later.

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Cowlick Cottage Farm Welcome to CCF. I’m Carolyn Binder, a passionate writer, avid photographer, cook and gardener. My love of gardening and writing have transformed my cooking and our lifestyle (...more)

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