Creating an Easy No Dig Garden by Tristan Lienhard

I thought I'd create the article below as an approach worth considering, if you are starting a garden or want to improve soil health and minimize weeds and weeding.


This is my documentation of creating a new garden area last year, directly into lawn, without the need to do lots of heavy digging. This approach improves the soil immensely and pretty much cancels the need to do any weeding.

I started by spreading out a layer of composted farmyard manure directly onto the lawn. I spread it thick enough to completely cover the grass at roughly 3cm thick (see nearest corner to the camera in the photo below). I followed the layer of manure with a good 10-15cm thick layer of 2 year old somewhat rotten silage, which a nearby farmer gave me as she could not feed it to his cows  anymore.

  • Top Tip: The silage/straw is very important as it ensures good airflow below the plastic. It is also a great source of carbon to feed the soil biology and improve soil structure.  

After spreading the manure and silage, cover the area with silage plastic (this is the plastic farmers use to cover silage pits, not the plastic they use to wrap bales with).

  • Top Tip: If you can't get hold of silage plastic make sure whichever plastic you get is UV treated so it doesn't disintegrate in the sunshine.

Cut the plastic about 15cm larger that the final size of the bed, giving yourself enough spare to tuck the edges into the soil.

You can watch the video below to see how to tuck the plastic into the soil. 

 

Once you have tucked in the plastic put a few on the plastic to stop it flapping and working itself loose in the wind.

  • Top Tip: It is best to do this preparation when you have the plants ready to plant out into the bed, so that slugs don't have the time to multiply before you plant.

This new section of the garden is 4m wide by 7m long and I laid out my planting in 3 beds, made up of 5 x 90cm squares with a cross made of 4 x 60cm cuts. In some of the squares, I planted 4 spreaders in each of the outer corners (pumpkin, nasturtiums and cucumbers). 4 climbers in the middle of each of the four cuts (runner beans and sweet peas) and 4 tall plants in the inner corner of each cut (black mallow, borage and cosmos). See photos below:    

  • Top Tip: It is best to grow plants out into 0.5l pots so they are good and established going into the ground. When planting, push the silage and manure to the sides, dig out a small bit of soil and make sure you bring the silage back around the plant as a mulch; to stop weeds from growing through the cut in the plastic.

Below is the garden after a couple of months, at which point I planted out the middle bed of 5 squares with a combination of purple sprouting broccoli, borage and nasturtiums.

  • Top Tip: Try to include as many different genera and species of plants into this system as the diversity of roots will result in a greater diversity of sol bacteria and fungi which boosts plant and sol health.

As the plastic had been down for a couple of months by the time I planted the purple sprouting broccoli, I grew them on in 1l pots so they were fairly big going into the ground, so that they did not succumb to the slugs population which inevitably develops in this system.

  • Top Tip: Straight after planting the later crops, spread a circle of seaweed meal around the base of the plants as a barrier to stop the slugs. 

Below is the bed at the end of the season after some frost and quite a lot of wind

Once cleaned up, the bed is left weed free with purple sprouting broccoli and a couple of perennial herbs, flowers, madder, Chinese woad and black mallow. The next step in spring could be, to take off the plastic and cultivate the soil for the next crop, which would be much easier now than digging into lawn. Alternatively, taking the plastic off to spread more manure and more silage/straw, would be the way to carry on with the no dig approach. It would probably not need the plastic the following year as the grass and weeds have been eliminated.   

The photo below shows the remaining layer of silage under the plastic, which has mostly broken down into the manure.

The photo below shows the surface of the soil when the silage and manure have been removed.

This last photo is of the soil profile dug up with a spade showing the improved soil structure in the first 3cm of soil. The soil in this garden is really not very good and demonstrates quite how good this approach is, for having a bounty full first year, even when starting with poor soil.    


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