My first vegetable garden
My first attempt at a vegetable garden was a no-dig garden. Being new to gardening I got some help from a friend and mentor John Carroll (PRANA PRODUCE) No-dig gardens are made by building up layers on top of the soil rather than tilling into the soil. This method was made famous in Australia by Esther Dean in the 1970s. I love this method for vegetable gardens as it can work regardless of the fertility of your soil. It is a great method for those new to vegetable gardening that want to guarantee some success on the first attempt. The materials used: Bale of straw, Lucerne Hay, Horse Manure, Chicken Manure, Newspaper and Compost/Soil.
Just as compost is made by layering green plant material and dry brown material we use the same process in our no-dig garden. My crude diagram above shows where to place the materials. The newspaper is used on each layer to prevent weeds from growing up through the pile. We are essentially building a compost on top of the soil.
To build the garden start with a 5 cm layer of horse manure. When layering the manure it need not be perfect or cover the area precisely. In my case, a small bag spread evenly. Then add a layer of newspaper completely covering the manure and water in well. Then Add a 10cm layer of straw, water in well and cover with newspaper. Repeat the process until complete watering in each layer as you go. It is important to water every layer so there is plenty of moisture and the pile doesn’t dry out. I like to let the pile sit for 6 to 8 weeks before planting seedlings. This gives enough time for the materials to start breaking down.
If you have compost this could be added in between layers or gently raked into the soil prior to construction. Compost piles can become acidic so some people add a sprinkling of lime to the nitrogen layer (manure layer for us) to compensate. For the initial soil preparation, you could add seaweed meal and blood & bone to ensure all the necessary trace elements are available. Ideally, add good biologically active compost you make yourself.
I sourced all these materials locally. In rural areas, you can often find manure for sale in bags, out the front of farms. You can often find straw for sale also. If you are unable to source these materials locally you can purchase lucerne(alfalfa) and straw from stock feed/rural supplies store. This no-dig method is just one of many ways to construct a no-dig garden. I have found that this method creates a good foundation for the soil. Depending on how intensively you grow you will not need to use the no-dig method every year. In the following season to prepare your soil, simply rake in compost and maybe add a layer of mulch to prepare for planting.