Nifwl Seirff

No dig gardening

When people think of vegetable gardening, they usually think of a lot of weeding, and digging. I hate weeding, more than any other job in the garden, so I avoid it where possible. Using the no-dig recipe, developed by Esther Dean in the '70s, results in a lot less work for me, and much healthier soil for the plants. I have also found that the insect life will vary a lot more in a no-dig garden, than in a conventional garden, but I haven't found any research to validate this.

It is also a useful technique to use in a rental garden, where the soil is often poor, and there may not be much time to improve it, before moving to the next rental. The cost of the materials used to build the no-dig garden do need to be considered, and it is best to start small until you can estimate how much of each component you need. Un-edged beds are obviously cheaper, but you may need to remove the pesky weeds that flourish at the edge of the bed.

Some people maintain that, due to the large amount of mulch used, a no dig garden saves water, as it protects the soil from evaporation. Personally, I haven't seen a difference in my water bills, but the plants are definitely healther, and I'm happier to do less weeding.

Potato patch

Making a no dig garden

New garden bed

First layer of the new garden bed



  1. Cover the area with a very thick layer of newspaper, overlapping the newspaper thoroughly. Aim for a layer about 0.5 centimeters thick. This smothers the weeds, and ensuring there are no gaps means there'll be fewer weeds for you to pull out. Wet the newspaper well.

  2. Cover the newspaper with mulch: pea straw, lucerne, sugar cane mulch, or any other straw that you can get cheaply. Lucerne is the best as it is high in nitrogen, but is often expensive. Make a layer up to your first knuckle, and water it lightly.

  3. Add a layer of manure and compost. You can use any type of manure, but the most nitrogen rich is chicken. Mushroom compost is also excellent, but may be more expensive.

  4. Add another layer of mulch, this time about 10-15cm deep, and water lightly. Watering helps the mulch settle, so it is less likely blown away in the wind. It also helps to break down the mulch.

  5. Add another layer of manure and compost, and mulch. You can keep adding more layers as long as you have materials to do so.

  6. Let the bed settle for a couple of weeks. When you want to plant, put several handfuls of compost around your seedlings, and nestle them deep into the bed.. For larger plants, you might want to cut through the paper layer to allow the roots to grow deep into the soil.