You want to live a greener lifestyle and reduce your carbon footprint. You want to eat tastier and healthier vegetables. You know that growing some of your own food is the best way to make a start. But just the thought of digging for hours to start your wee veggie plot makes your back cry out in anguish. Well guess what? It is possible to grow your own organic food without the digging.
I discovered the no-dig method of gardening about a year after I moved into my suburban house. The first year I had tried to dig a vegetable plot, but my hard clay permitted little more than aching muscles and the barest dent in the surface. I planted seedlings but even the force of their roots was unable to make much headway against the solid mass of of my clay and the harvest was meagre to say the least.
It was about this time that I started to get more involved with my local permaculture enthusiasts. Here were people who not only provided delicious organic foods for their families, but also avoided most of the backbreaking spade work.
The following method is the one I use to set up new vegetable beds. As with most forms of gardening there will be variations depending on the type of soil you begin with and the micro-climate in your patch. Listen to ideas from other gardeners and play around with them to find out what works for you.
First choose an area of your garden that gets at least six hours of sun per day. While some plants will make do with less than that, and some even prefer some shade, most vegetables need plenty of sun to grow and to ripen properly. Some people like to mark out their beds with untreated timber to keep things neat and to begin a raised bed. I have done this for one of my beds but it isn\’t really necessary.
Give the chosen area a thorough soaking, with collected rainwater if possible. Then cover with sheets of cardboard, making sure you remove all the staples and sticky tape first. This provides a barrier against weed growth. Water these sheets so that they are totally soaked.
At this point you could, of course, go to your local garden centre and buy topsoil and compost. Sometimes this is the only option, but if you have access to some quantities of organic materials then it\’s usually best to make your own growing medium. It\’s certainly cheaper.
Manure is the best foundation for your soil. Any vegetarian animal manure will do fine. I tend to use horse as I have easy and free access to it, but sheep, cattle, deer and chicken manures are all good too. Don\’t be tempted to use dog or cat manure as these can carry diseases that could be passed on to your vegetables and then to you. Ideally, the manure should be at least six weeks old before you spread it, but if fresh is what you have then use it and delay your plantings for a few weeks. Spread a thick layer, about 15cm or 6 inches deep, over your cardboard. Water it well.
Your new soil also needs some mineral content. I like to use river sand as the next layer over the manure. You could also use regular topsoil from your garden but be aware that it probably contains weed seeds too. It doesn\’t need to be as thick as the manure but get as much as you can on there. Water this well too.
Your new bed now needs a barrier to stop all that water evaporating into the atmosphere rather than going to your plants. Mulching is the answer. Just about any organic matter will do for this. Think about what you have available. I have used straw, seaweed, untreated grass clippings, leaves saved from the previous autumn, chipped bark, even hair from the local barber shop floor. Women\’s hairdressers are not such a good source of mulch, as many more women use strong chemical dyes. You want to spread this as thickly as possible too.
When you plant out your vegetables it\’s often a good idea to buy a small pack of sterile organic seed raising mix. Make a depression in the mulch about the size of a coffee mug, place your seedling into it and bed in with the mix. This gives the small and vulnerable plant a chance to get established before it has to contend with the inevitable weeds.
At the end of each growing season you will need to replenish the nutrients in your soil. Simply repeat the layering of manure, sand and mulch and you will continually improve the quality of your soil.