No-dig garden

Discussion in 'Gardening & Plant Propagation' started by culpeper, Aug 18, 2006.

  1. culpeper

    culpeper Well-Known Member

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    Because of age and disability, I can't dig. So I'd like some advice on how to start a no-dig garden. I have only a very small area to work, luckily! Also, if the top layer is a mulch like straw, how deep do you plant the seedlings into it?
     
  2. jnap31

    jnap31 garden guy

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    You need a lot of straw to kill the grass The first year I imagine potatoes would be about all you could grow with out having plowed it atleast once, I always plow once then go to no till, that way I can make sure the soil is loose and get rocks out. If you lay the mulch down now you may be able to remove some areas next year and dig a little and plant where you take back the mulch.
     

  3. Alice In TX/MO

    Alice In TX/MO More dharma, less drama. Supporter

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    Just make sure the top leaves are above the mulch. :)
     
  4. Maura

    Maura Well-Known Member Supporter

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    I think you want lasagne gardening. Lay a heavy layer of newspaper down, then compost and soil and compost and soil. You want enough above ground garden to be able to put your plants in. The mulch layer on top (your straw) would not be counted in the height of the garden as it will sink down and become quite thin, but it will help to keep weeds from sprouting. If you put the straw down as your mulch, just brush it away from the seedling so the young plant can get light. You will need more material for layering than you think.

    If you want to start this year, try beans. It's not too late, and they are a nitrogen fixer. At the end of the growing season, pile on the layers. All of your kitchen scraps, manure if you got it, and straw.

    You can build a form from wood or blocks to make a raised bed, but you don't have to. I don't dig either, except to stick the plant in the ground. Do you have chickens? If you use straw on the floor of the chicken house, by spring you will have wonderful compost for your garden, and while it's decomposing in the chicken house, it's keeping the chickens warm. Chickens, however, will disrupt your garden as they scratch in the mulch looking for bugs.
     
  5. Marcia in MT

    Marcia in MT Well-Known Member Supporter

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    Try looking for Ruth Stout's books on no-till gardening.
     
  6. MsPacMan

    MsPacMan Well-Known Member

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    An easy way to build a raised bed garden that works for many disabled folks:


    Mow the area you want to put the garden in, good and short.


    Place 8 sheet thick piles of newspaper down on top of the area. Wet it down to keep it from flying all over the place.


    Buy some top soil or organic humus either by the bag (e.g WalMart or Lowes) or else get a truck load of top soil or garden mix trucked in. Put it on top of the newspaper, at least 8 inches thick. 12 inches is better. If you cannot handle 40 pound bags, perhaps you can get a relative or neighbor to help you out.


    Get a complete fertilizer like the Garden Tone or Plant Tone sold by www.espoma.com . Mix that in to the newly bought soil. I use more than the bag says to use per foot. Because it is not a chemical fertilizer, using extra will enrich your plants without running risk of burning your plants like the chemical fertilizers do.


    If you have access to some aged, completely composed manure or other compost, mix it in too. Compost will make your bed richer, quicker.


    Dig holes the right size and put your plants into your newly built garden bed. Altenatively, you can plant seeds in the new bed. Water as appropriate. If you use transplants, you can mulch your garden that very afternoon. (Three to four inches of shredded tree bark is what I use, but you can use four inches of shredded leaves -- the bagged leaves your neighbors put on the street for the garbagemen to pick up will do).


    Voila.... you just built a garden bed that you can use for years on end if you maintain it properly.


    And how do you maintain that bed?


    For starters, pull up all plants right after harvest so that they will not sit around and attract pests or disease.


    To keep the soil nutritionally rich and crumbly without having to use a tiller on it, at the end of every season, you will want to pull up your plants (I discard them -- too easy to harbor insects and disease if you try to plow them under). Then get one or more sacks of either cottonseed meal, soybean meal or blood meal, sprinkle it very liberally on top of the mulch you have been using all season, then use your shovel to fold the mulch into your still soft and well tilled soil. The meal is used as a composting accelerant (it is a nitrogen source), and will help turn last year's mulch into next year's organic compost. You might need to add some powdered lime or bone meal into the mixture, if your soil pH leans towards the acidic side. (If you live east of the Mississippi River, you probably need the powdered lime. West of the Misssissippi, you might not need it.)


    Water the garden every week if mother nature does not do it for you, and cover your bed during the winter with plastic to keep the bed warmer if you live in frostier climates. Every now and then, fork some air into the soil after wetting it, since the composting process requires both weekly water and air.


    I don't know if this method can work in areas where it is frozen most of the winter, but it works quite well down here in zone 7.


    By planting time in April, most of the mulch has already turned into organic compost. Nice rich soil -- and absolutely no tilling ever!
     
  7. VALENT

    VALENT Well-Known Member

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    MsPacman, that sounds like a wonderful way to go. However, being a non-chemical fertilizer does not mean it cant burn your new plants roots.
     
  8. MsPacMan

    MsPacMan Well-Known Member

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    I have heard others say that too, however, I use about double what the bag recommends per square foot of cultivated soil and have never had any problems whatsoever.


    Actually, one thing that I neglected to mention in the earlier thread is that you actually need to add organic fertilizer only about the first three or four years that you use the bed.


    If you are vigilant about folding in the organic mulch (shredded leaves or shredded, fine bark) with a composting accellerant (eg, cotton seed meal, soybean meal or blood meal) each and every year, then after about three to four years, you will not need to use any packaged organic fertilizer anymore.


    Just keep on folding in that organic mulch with the composting accellerant every year, at the end of the growing season, and that move PLUS the activities of the multitude of earth worms who will move into your garden bed will provide plenty of nutrient for even the heaviest feeder of crops.


    In fact, the biggest advantage of this method, in my humble opinion, is that the soil actually keeps improving year after year after year, and it becomes both easier and cheaper to grow food in future years.


    Invest in your soil today for better crops tomorrow....


    Know what I mean...
     
  9. culpeper

    culpeper Well-Known Member

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    MsPacMan, I live both east AND west of the Mississippi River - depending on which way you're travelling. You'll have to travel a long way to find me - to Australia!

    But - some very useful information here, and thanks to all who have replied. My entire garden is about the size of your average lounge-room, it has no lawn, and the actual growing space isn't much bigger than your average dining table. I live in the subtropics where, at present, it is still officially winter, but we're expecting 30C over the next couple of days. We are on water restrictions because of the worst drought in recorded history (buckets only, and come October with no rain, it will be no garden watering permitted at all). I'm hoping to create a self-sustaining garden bed as far as possible. I think it can be done.
     
  10. MELOC

    MELOC Master Of My Domain

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    i second the advice about reading ruth stout's books.

    you can grow pretty much anything in the garden as long as you keep up with the mulching. once you kill the turf, just pull back the mulch and drop seeds right on top of the soil and back fill the mulch a little at a time as they grow. maybe if you plant seedlings it would be a good idea to drop a little compost or potting soil around them before you replace the mulch you pulled back...at least until the mulch garden gets old enough to have a layer of compost of it's own.

    i would start by mulching the area asap and as deep as you can. don't plant more area than you can maintain with mulch. you need to keep the mulch deep enough to discourage weed growth so you cannot let it get too thin. try to plan ahead considering the amount of mulch you can get on a regular basis and keep layering it on.
     
  11. culpeper

    culpeper Well-Known Member

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    The garden is heavily mulched with sugarcane straw. One bale covers the garden 30cm thick about 4 times!! I have no space for a compost bin, but buy it in bags as needed, ditto manure.

    My concern is that the soil underneath is never going to get dug through - after all, that's where the roots are, isn't it? And even though layers kept being built up, the lower layers are going to get compacted as well. Worms can do only just so much digging!
     
  12. Salmonberry

    Salmonberry Registered Nut

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    culpeper,

    It's hard to believe, but with mulching heavily, you will not have to worry about digging deeply. Before you do anything, read a book or two by RUTH STOUT. How to Have a Green Thumb Without an Aching Back is a good one. Many people do it her way and get similar results.

    Salmonberry
     
  13. Pony

    Pony Well-Known Member Supporter

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    I'm all about Ruth Stout -- at least this week! ;) The only one of her books our library has is Gardening Without Work: For the Aging, the Busy and the Indolent, and I find it very interesting.

    While I am not sure if things are as easy as she said they are, I am still going to give it a shot. I'd like to avoid rototilling the new beds if I can, and her method does seem to be straightfoward and low-impact -- on the soil and on my middle-aged body!

    I've already started 3 of the 12 new 3x9 beds we're planning for next year. I must admit to a bit of "cheating" -- I laid down an old area rug, folded in half, and let that get a start on killing off the grass. After a few days, I move the rug to the next designated area and start piling up the straw.

    Really, it's just sheet composting without concerning oneself about ratios of nitrogen to carbon.

    The book is a quick and delightful read. I enjoy the late Ms. Stout's style very much. :)

    Pony!
     
  14. Shazza

    Shazza Well-Known Member Supporter

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    Culpeper....use the old Aussie inititiative...go down the pub, ask where the local goat dairy is...tell the bar flies there's a slab in it for 'um if they come and help spread goat pooh and straw in ya yard. ;)
     
  15. Maura

    Maura Well-Known Member Supporter

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    Don't worry about the soil under the raised bed. The roots from your plants will begin to work their way down there at some point and will loosen the soil. Many plants do not send roots that deep anyway, so they won't be effected. As the roots from the grass and weeds die down there, they will decompose and help to loosen the soil. Besides, nobody will be walking on it and compacting it.
     
  16. marcir

    marcir Well-Known Member

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    There is a charming book I'd like to recommend; out-of-print, but easy to find in libraries: One Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka. Try reading him for the philosophy behind untilled gardening. Thanks
    Marci in Nor California
     
  17. jnap31

    jnap31 garden guy

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    I enoyed Ruth Stouts books immensely but I just want to add though she did much to popularize her method of gardening she by no means invented it as it has been around a long long time in other cultures besides ours even. For example in Kiribati they being a low lyeing atoll grow swamp taro (Cyrtosperma chamissionis) as a traditional staple in pits that have been dug out of the sand down to the fresh water lense level that is floating on salt water then they add loads of organic matter and they build speacial woven fiber baskets around each plant in which they add speacially prepared and closely guarded secrete compost mixtures to the individual baskets and grow big organic delicious taro one of my favorite foods though in short supply in AR LOL
     
  18. Spinner

    Spinner Well-Known Member

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    For my new flower garden I put down cardboard, covered it with loose hay from the pasture, then newspapers, grass clippings, more newspaper, and a little bit of top soil on it, just enough to keep the paper from blowing away. I was worried that the hay would grow and I'd have a mess, but nope, it turned out fine. I dug a few of my iris from the old iris bed and moved over there. I could hardly believe it this year. The iris that I moved into the new bed are about twice as tall as the ones in the old bed! The hay never grew up thru the paper. It turned out to be the best soil on the place. I plan to use the same method for my veggie boxes this fall. Very little work, easy to do, and great results.

    edited to add:
    My reason for starting with cardboard was to hopefully kill the grass under it. It seems to have worked. But next year, who knows, all that grass might find it's way back to the surface.
     
  19. Alice In TX/MO

    Alice In TX/MO More dharma, less drama. Supporter

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    The soil underneath will actually loosen over time, not compact. Earthworms are wonderful things. :)
     
  20. jnap31

    jnap31 garden guy

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    I love earth worms great for the garden and fishing also:)