No Till, No Dig Garden 101
No Till, No Dig Garden Intro
More than ever before, it is vitally important we all do our bit to preserve our top soil and regenerative damage soils either from years of heavy agriculture abuse on farmland to decades of heavy garden fertilizers and weed killer use in the suburbs.
Creating a No Till, No Dig garden is a great way to let the soil in your own yard recalim its innate health and vitality.
What is No-Till Gardening?
No-till gardening (also known as no-dig gardening) is a cultivation method that minimizes topsoil disturbance and tampering with harsh chemical-based fertilizers, weed killers or pesticides.
It is very similar to no-till farming, a technique often used in regenerative organic food farming systems where the soil is not intentionally disturbed or exposed.
By not disturbing the soil and keeping bare earth covered, nitrogen and carbon remains trapped within the soil where it needs to be.
No Till gardening relies heavily on mulching and composting to cover the ground and to also fertilize the soil naturally. By avoiding digging or turning over the top soil you are also preventing top soil erosion from rain and wind.
An Organic No-Till, No Dig Garden
No-dig gardening is a terrific way to grow our fruits, vegetables, grass, and flowers organically. It also helps restore and maintain soil health, which is imperative as our earth’s topsoil is vanishing quicker than we could have ever predicted.
Soil is important for our environment, our food supply, the air we breath therefore, we all must do our part, even in our own backyard gardens, to repair and preserve our soil no matter where we live. . Having an organic, no-dig garden is a great and inexpensive place to start your home permaculture journey.
In the video below, organic no-dig gardening author Charles Dowding gives a great into into the basics (and simplicity) of No Dig Gardening.
Why Have a No Dig Garden?
There are many reasons to start a no-dig garden:
- Improving the quality of our food.
- Restoring soil health from years of residential fertilizers and weedkillers.
- Utilize food waste for composting.
- Doing your bit to help draw down atmospheric carbon aka Greenhouse Gas.
- Water Conservation.
- Rewilding your yard
- Satisfaction of growing your own chemical free food.
Benefits of Having a No-Till, No Dig Garden
One advantage of utilizing no-till, no-dig gardening methods is soil conservation your own garden’s soil. Soil health is of utmost importance in food farming as well as carbon sequestration. Though it is equally important in your backyard garden as well, ensuring that you and your family are consuming top-quality fruits and vegetables.
Another benefit of having a no-dig garden is that your vegetables and fruits appear healthier and will be cleaner and healthier for your consumption due to the avoidance of chemicals.
A No-Till garden will quickly become a thriving ecosystem and attract all manner of insects, beetles, butterflies, fungi, earthworms, bateria and countless small animals that would otherwise not survive in a typical modern garden.
- Weed control is much easier and weeds in general become less pervasive.
No-dig gardens also require significantly less maintenance than standard gardens as you are not out every weekend turning over the soil and/or flower beds.
- Water Conservation. No Till No Dig Gardens requires as much as 90% less irrigation since you are allowing wild vegetation indigenous to your area and local climate to take hold and using compost and mulch which lock in moisture. Since the healthy covered soil retains moisture more efficiently and will hold more roots which in turn builds soil health and vitality.
- A No dig garden is your very own mini regenerative organic farm growing food whiles leaving the soil undisturbed and also enriching the soil with organic matter.
- The simplicity of No Till, No Dig Gardening makes it easy for anyone to take up and enjoy.
Disadvantages of Having a No-Till, No Dig Garden
While having a no-till garden is an excellent option for organic gardeners, there are some disadvantages to starting one.
- One of the biggest issues gardeners come across is finding enough high-quality compost to maintain their no-dig gardens. You need to start off with at least 6 to 8 inches of compost and will likely need to add more as you go.
If you are worried about starting a no-dig garden because of a lack of compost, you can slowly build a collection 5 to 6 months before the gardening season. Stock up on leftover food waste and invest in an affordable bag of compost from a local nursery or Home Depot.
If you pride yourself on perfectly manicured deep green lawns and cookie cutter flower beds, a no-till garden may be a little too ‘wild and unkempt’ looking for you.
- Your neighbors may not appreciate the rewilding of your suburban back or front yards.
How to Start No-Till Gardening - Layering!
Do you want a no-dig garden but don’t know where to start? No worries, TruBeef Organic has got you covered.
1. First, you will have to measure and map out your garden, especially when using raised garden beds. You can do this using online tools like GrowVeg.com or by marking the spaces with cardboard. We think starting with a single raised bed is ideal for first-time no-till farmers or gardeners.
2. After everything is mapped out, place thick pieces of cardboard directly on top of the soil or grass where you want your garden beds to grow. Dont dig the grass up to expose the soil- you can leave it undisturbed.
Photo Credit: UMaine Cooperative Extension
3. The cardboard will act as biodegradeable compost and prevent weeds from sprouting up naturally. We also suggest creating a side barrier around your garden bed to keep pests out using items like river rocks or old wooden planks.
4. Next, cover the cardboard with a series of layers compost , wood chips and a top layer of manure. Aim to have at least 6 to 8 inches worth of compost on top.
5.Give this raised bed a generous watering the first time.You know have an incredible rich and fertile base to grow vegtables, flowers or tubers.
5. When planting your seedlings, you want to ensure they are placed right on top of the compost. This will allow the soil’s subterranean ecosystem to do its thing without tillage.
Main No Till, No Dig Garden Methods
Image Credit: Back To Eden
There are not too many rules for starting a no-dig garden, essentially giving gardeners the freedom to plant and cultivate the soil as they wish.
The general rule of thumb is to limit tillage to the ground. With that said, a few key methods separate successful no-till gardens from unsuccessful ones.
As mentioned earlier, utilizing compost is crucial when planting a no-dig garden giving your planting beds the much needed organic matter to flourish in growing season. . But remember, too much compost may actually harm your garden beds in the long run. You should aim to stick with approximately 6 inches of compost for optimal results.
Furthermore, it is essential to use a cardboard layer in between the soil to prevent weeds from sprouting up in the garden.
This is a more natural way to keep weeds to a minimum without using harsh chemical-based pesticides. Besides, it is also a great and sustainable way to recycle all those Amazon boxes you may have lying around your home.
What To Grow In A No-Till, No Dig Garden
You can grow just about any type of fruit and vegetable in a no-dig garden. Some of the best seeds to plant include:
- Bell Peppers
- Herbs (basil, parsley, cilantro, etc.)
In addition, many types of flowers will thrive in a no-till garden, such as hydrangeas and peonies. The compost and cardboard on top of the garden beds will help the soil grow botanical seeds as it would with fruits and vegetables. It will also limit the development of perennial and annual weeds.
Best Compost and Manure for No Dig Gardening
Keeping the soil nourished and well-maintained is essential if you want your garden to thrive. Luckily, utilizing compost in your garden can help you achieve just that.
Instead of using artificial fertilizers and harmful pesticides, no-dig gardeners employ organic matter to fertilize and grow food and keep weeds out.
Mulch, manure and compost are excellent all-natural alternatives to such fertilizers, allowing you to produce a lively garden while minimizing your carbon footprint.
Speaking of carbon, a key element of organic gardening is allowing the soil to naturally sequester the carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses from the atmosphere. This process, known as carbon sequestration, mitigates emissions from greenhouse gasses by trapping them inside the soil’s intricate plant root systems.
Image: Organic Waste from the Kitchen makes great compost.
Examples of what kinds of compost you can use in your no-till garden include:
- Unbleached Cardboard
- Fruit Peels & Waste
- Grass Cuttings
- Manure (Chicken, Cow, or Horse)
- Vegetable Peels & Waste
Examples of mulch you can use in your no-till garden are:
- Grass Cuttings
- Wood Chips
- Shredded Tree Bark
- Pine Needles
- Paper and Unbleached Cardboard
In our experience, wood chips are the best performing mulch and work very well in all soil and climate conditions.
3 Types of Wood Chippings for Mulch are:
Raw Wood Chips come fresh off a tree, are not aged/composted and are best for ground cover/ weed control.
Composted Wood Chips have been given several months to decompose and compost. These wood chips are best suited for planting and weed control.
- Screened Wood Chips have been composted then put through a wire screen / garden seive to give a very fine wood chip which is ideal for spreading on the top surface of your planting bed and for planting seedings.
Books on No Dig Gardening.
By far and away our favorite book on no till gardening is " The Complete Guide to No Till Gardening' by Charlie Nardozzi.
This publication is full of wonderful tips and tricks to make a successful no till garden from scratch and written in an easy to read style that any total beginner will understand.
Another favorite book of ours is 'No Dig Organic Home and Garden' by Charles Dowding and Stephanie Hafferty.
Podcasts on No Dig Gardening
Here are a few of our favorite podcasts on the spotify platform that are both easy listening and wealth of knowledge for aspiring No Dig Garden enthusiats:
Gardeners World Podcast with Charles Dowding
The Seed Pod Podcast interview with Stephanie Hafferty
- A No Till, No Dig Garden is one where the soil is not dug up or disturbed in any way.
- No Till, No Dig Gardens are simple to do and create an ideal growing environment for homegrown veggies and fruits.
- No Dig Gardening relies on mulch, composting and manure to create fertile layers of organic matter to grow in.
- No Dig Gardens do not use artificail fertilizers, persticides or weedkillers.
- Cardboard makes a cheap and effective biodegradeable base for your growing areas.
- Organic household waste such as vegtable peelings are idea for composting.
- Wood chips are an ideal mulch.