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The no-dig garden: vegetable gardening made easy

You've made the big decision to start a vegetable patch and you've selected the right spot for it. But what do you do next?

Apart from container gardening and the square foot method there are 2 main vegetable gardening methods; the no-dig garden and raised beds.

What is the no-dig garden?

As the name implies this method of vegetable gardening doesn't involve digging. I feel this method particularly suits some vegetables (especially potatoes). Also, as very little physical exertion is required this gardening method often suits people who experience physical difficulties with some of the more strenuous aspects of gardening.

How do you start?

So how do you start? Mow the grass where you're locating your patch. Then spread out some heavy layers of newspapers and thoroughly water them (so they don't blow away!) Now its time to get your hands a little dirty. Start spreading out thick layers of lovely organic matter. Use what's cheap and locally available. Because of our sub-tropical climate sugar cane trash is usually available at a reasonable price. You might try straw or seaweed, and of course grass clippings (pretty much available everywhere). Start mixing in lots of old manure like sheep, cow, horse or poultry manure. Then sprinkle in some good handfuls of blood and bone, or if you can't buy it already mixed buy blood meal and bone meal separately. Blood and bone is high in phosphorus, nitrogen and calcium, but lacks potassium. To get around this deficiency add 1 part of sulphate of potash to 10 parts blood and bone. Other potash options include wood ashes or finely pulverised rock dust. After this is all mixed together water it heavily and leave it for a few days to settle down. For more information on organic fertilisers click here.

One thing to always remember when handling manures, soil or any organic matter is to always wear tough gloves to protect you from bacteria getting into any cuts.

You'll find seedlings are far easier to plant then seeds in the no dig garden (at least initially). Create planting holes for the seedlings by parting the newspaper, filling it with your homemade compost or old manure. This way the nutrients in the mulch flow down the hole to enrich the roots. When you're sowing seeds you'll need to push aside the mulch and newspaper before direct sowing. Work the soil and add compost or topsoil before sowing. A little earlier I mentioned how well potatoes grow using this method. Place the tubers in the newspaper and layer it heavily with mulch, up to half a metre, or almost two feet thick. Your mulch will compact quickly over the first few weeks and it's so important to make sure your spuds are covered from the light. Otherwise the potato will go green and become toxic.

Advantages of the no-dig garden

There are a few big advantages to this method. The first is the lack of digging and its low maintenance. Raised beds require a lot of initial physical activity (unless you hire a rotary hoe or tiller), but heh the work will do you good! All the organic matter will help retain moisture (especially in summer) and the mulch will suppress weeds, prevent erosion, retain moisture and keep the plant roots from getting too hot. You'll find over time the mulch and organic matter will break down and really enrich the soil below. Two years ago after harvesting a wonderful crop of potatoes, I sowed sweet corn, pumpkin and watermelon seeds. It was a great success. But its not all plain sailing. You'll need to continue replenishing your mulch and organic material, keeping it to a 20-30cm level (a little under a foot). But one of the main problems (and advantages) is the mulch itself. Yes it'll do wonders in summer retaining water and keeping the soil cool, but it does the same in winter. It keeps the soil below cold which will slows down growth.

You can get around this problem with raised beds by pushing aside your mulch which warms the soil. You can't do this initially with the no-dig method as the soil isn't that rich. You'll find raised beds will work for almost anyone, anywhere so click here for the raised beds companion feature.


Last updated 23 October, 2008

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