Mulch Queen Ruth Stout was the first person I read about that used the no dig gardening method. Stout was born in 1884 and lived to be 96; by the 1950’s, she had written several books including how to have a green thumb without an aching back. I was introduced to her books and no dig methods through the magazine Mother Earth News.
The no dig gardening method is simply to keep a thick mulch of any organic matter that rots on both the vegetable and the flower garden year round. As it decays and enriches the soil, you add more. You never till or dig up the garden but instead you just add more organic materials and plant into the decaying organic materials.
Several years later I read a book by Patricia Lanza called Lasagna Gardening. No, this does not mean that you grow the ingredients to make lasagna to eat. A lasagna garden is a nontraditional organic layering method you can use to create better soil.
You use things like leaves, grass clippings, straw, vegetable scraps and finished compost. You put down each of these materials in layers on top of the ground without tilling to plant your garden in. Using this method your organic materials are divided into two categories called browns and greens. You want to use about twice as much of the browns as the greens and make several layers of each. The greens can be thought of as wet or fresh like fresh green grass clippings or vegetable food scraps. The brown can be thought of as dried materials like dry leaves or cardboard and shredded newspaper. I also add organic minerals and fertilizer to the layers like AZOMITE (Mineral) and Espoma, a brand of Organic Fertilizer. There are also many other amendments that you may use like Kelp Meal, Fish Meal, Rock Powders, Composted Chicken Manure, Worm Castings and many others. Don’t overdo adding too many amendments because the layers of organic materials will have minerals and fertility that they will release as they decompose.
You will need to add a little finished compost to the top layer so that you will have something less coarse to plant in. If you don’t have any finished compost you can buy bags of it. I like to use a brand called Black Kow. If you make your no dig garden 6 to 8 months ahead you may not need as much finished compost on top because your organic materials will have decomposed more. I have made no dig gardens and planted the same day and they work just as well but they will need a 2 to 3 inch layer of finished compost on top to provide a better seed bed to plant into.
Because you are not tilling you don’t have as many weed seeds to contend with and basically you are creating a compost pile that is your garden so there is nothing hard about planting into it.
It sounds a little crazy but I have used this method and it works especially on a small scale home garden. All you have to do is collect your materials ahead of time and most of them are free.
I have a vegetable bed on the farm that I made using a large pile of rotted leaves and food waste that has been very productive. I have no reservations recommending it as a viable way to grow good food and ornamental plants as well. The first step in creating a no dig garden is to collect the materials that you will need. So start looking on your own property and what others are throwing away that you can use. Once you have collected some large piles of organic materials and it usually takes more than you think. You can start building your no dig garden. You can use raised beds with boards around the outside but it is not necessary. It is usually only done for aesthetics or to keep things tidy. A mound of organic materials with no sides to contain it works just as well.
Start looking at leaves, rotted food scraps, grass clipping and other discarded materials as an opportunity to make your own No Dig Garden!