No Dig beds created June 2020

How I created my No Dig Gardening beds

This is the area I’ll be using for No Dig Gardening.

We haven’t had any rain for the past 3 months here in London and this has resulted in the earth being extremely hard to penetrate. Not wanting to lose any growing time I thought I would turn an area of the garden over to ‘no dig’.

Nearly 10 years ago I interviewed a man very few people had heard about on social media. His name is Charles Dowding and he is the UK pioneer of the ‘no dig’ method. Since then his fame has grown and along with his gardening methods they have both become very well known throughout the gardening scene here in the UK. In the USA and Canada he is similar to the earlier pioneer of no dig (no till), Ruth Stott.

What is No Dig Gardening?

No dig gardening is exactly that, a method of gardening where you don’t dig the soil. On top of a weedy patch of earth you place layers of cardboard, this will help suppress the weeds and exclude light getting to them so over time they weaken and die. On top of the cardboard you put a few inches of compost and in this you sow your seeds and plant.

Where to get compost for No Dig Gardening

Ideally you would use your own homemade compost but in the beginning it’s a case of chicken and egg. You can’t make compost if you aren’t growing anything. In my situation I bought in a ton of organic compost mixed with top soil. Being in London this wasn’t cheap but the best supplier I could find cost Β£49 per ton and Β£15 for delivery. Search on google for local bulk soil delivery. This was by far the cheapest way so I ordered 1 ton and it arrived a week later to my allotment site gate.

Showing the different stages of No Dig Gardening.

How to start No Dig Gardening?

Prior to the compost/top soil arriving I walked over the area I wanted to develop and removed any large bricks/stones, old plant pots and pieces of wood. I didn’t cut the grass first, I thought this would spur it into making new growth so I just left it as it was (see picture above). On top of the grass I placed layers of cardboard which I had sources from a local cycle shop, they are nice large pieces of thick cardboard. I laid these of top, making sure to double up where two pieces would meet each other. I also layered the adjacent path with cardboard. From experience I learnt that if you are too strict with only keeping the cardboard on the growing area then weeds and grass will creep back in from the path.

Once the area was covered with cardboard I then placed woodchips down to mark out the paths. Our site gets free woodchips from the local tree surgeon who drops it off every few weeks. I didn’t make the beds too wide as I want something which is comfortable to sit down on the path and work the beds without stretching too far.

Paul giving me a helping hand with moving the ton of compost.

Along with help from my plot neighbour Paul, we barrowed the compost/top soil and placed it between the woodchip paths. Having help certainly makes the task get done much quicker so it wasn’t long before all the compost/top soil had been moved to my allotment.

Once all the materials were on the ground I watered the entire area so that everything would settle down. Once the water had soaked away I slowly walked over the paths to firm them down and went over the compost/top soil beds with the back of a rake in order to level and firm the areas.

By the time Paul has gone home I was exhausted so after a well earned cup of tea I sat back and smiled at how beautiful this area is now looking. At the moment I’m not sure what crops I’ll grow here, maybe some carrots and parsnips, but that’s for another day.

No Dig v Weed Membrane

I admit that buying in a ton of compost is expensive. I remember back in the 1990s a new product came onto my gardening radar, weed membrane. Like everyone else at the time I bought some and put it down in my garden. Within a few weeks I found that weeds still came through the woven plastic sheeting and wasn’t any good at all. So for me I haven’t spoken very highly of the stuff since. But in recent years I’ve seen more plot holders using it and they seem to have great results.

Around 10 years ago I tried again with it. I pegged it down and made slits where I planted crops through, straight into the soil. On top of the membrane I scattered some woodchips to make it look nice. Experience now tells me this was the wrong thing to do. You see the woodchips over time do keep the weeds down but it slowly turns into compost itself. Then into this new compost weed seeds can take a hold and in no time you’ve got weeds again but with the added problem of them being difficult to remove because the weed membrane is underneath. You end up with thin strings of plastic clogging up your garden tools and it gets so frustrating you end up ripping the whole lot up and having to start again.

Putting some weed membrane for the Winter Squash.

Next to my new no dig bed there is another large area of earth. Here I want to grow my Winter Squash and decided to give weed membrane another change but this time I won’t be covering it with woodchip but leaving it exposed. Research conducted by Which? Gardening magazine concluded that exposed weed membrane helps to reflect light back under the plants and retains heat in the soil which is slowly released as the evening temperatures drop. Ok, it doesn’t look good in the early days but hopefully the Winter Squash will love this new home and in no time at all their big leaves will cover the area to hide the black plastic beneath.

So here I am, sat outside my shed with the radio quietly playing in the background and the birds chirping their own evening musical melodies as I look out upon two large areas of the garden which are ready for planting. What a glorious day it has been. Time for another cup of tea me thinks.

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  1. I love your no dig beds, I think it will be well worth the expense and save tons of time and effort. I agree with you about the landscape cloth. My experience is that if you cover it with mulch or gravel airborne weed and plant seeds land and start growing. I guess there is no easy answer to avoid weeding

    • I have never fully understood the no dig method of gardening I suppose I have always been blessed with great fine soul and easy to dig allotments
      That is sure looking good sean

  2. looking great Sean

  3. It’s all looking great, Sean – everything looks so healthy! 😊

  4. Looking really good Sean!

  5. Hi Sean, I have been using the no dig method for some years now and would really recommend it. The whole thing boils down to feeding the soil and it has taken me some time to learn how to make good compost. If you had an area where you could have say 4 compost bins, I have 4 in a square. One has ready compost for use this winter, one is on going, one for horse manure and the last for leaves. It takes me roughly an hour to go and collect horse manure from a stables that puts it outside on their rather large verge! I use to think it was only well rotted horse manure that you use as a mulch but have since learnt that it should be added to the on going compost as the green and browns. You can never stop learning things on how to garden and should always keep an open mind. Wishing you the best of luck.

  6. I will miss your videos, but The covid crisis has hit many people in many different ways, so it is completely understandable that videos must take a back seat. Best wishes in your new endeavours!

  7. Ah, the compost conundrum. Have you worked out how many decent sized bins you will need for next year. Your buddy Charles seems to spend almost as much time poaching stuff to put in his bins and turning them as he does in the garden. I think you went down the correct route this year and possibly doing the same next year, it works out less than the price of a weekly cauliflower.

  8. Hi sean, starting to look good, every thing starting to grow fast now, l do no dig beds, it was watching you that got me into it, as you say little and often πŸ™‚

  9. No dig works for me

  10. All your hard work is really coming together now Sean, I love the way you’ve designed the plot to have interesting nooks and crannies, there’s something different to spot along every path. I love your use of brick as planters, and the chipped bark paths, and your trademark picket fence. I agree, the long grass and verbena combination is gorgeous. Thank you, I’ve found it relaxing just to watch the video so I imagine for yourself it’s a perfect space to relax and enjoy a cup of tea.

  11. I’m heading in the no dig route too. So, next year will see no dig for all the crop areas on my plot. I just want to say thank you for recommending Urban Herbs from your ‘Creating a Herb Garden’ video – my first order with Urban Herbs was delivered this afternoon and I am so pleased with the 6 from the Bee Collection. I shall definitely be making more orders. All the best with the no dig route, What you have done thus far looks great πŸ™‚

  12. Thanks so much for continuing to share your gardening journey. When I’m out in my backyard, trying to tackle the seemingly enormous projects that have been building up during my working life (I will be retired from full-time employment in about 2 weeks), I continually hear your voice in my head, “Do a little, do it often”! That philosophy is working! Best wishes for a wonderful summer and thanks again!

  13. If you heat a empty tin can around the edge ( on your cooker) you can make holes in the plastic membrane and it won’t fray

  14. Don’t cut holes in that weed membrane it will fray and you will have a negative experience with it again. Cut it with a soldering iron or a hot tin to melt a hole to plant through. I make up planting sheets to grow through of different configurations and I have some that are now seven years old and still going strong. They are all 2.4m x 1.2m to suit my beds. Nice to read your blog and a short video that’s better than nothing from you. Keep Save and Look after your physical and mental wellbeing and hopefully we will bump into each other again at next years Gardening Press Event if I’m not still shielding the wife by then.

  15. looks great what a difference

  16. Sean that new area looks good ,I love the no dig idea as I believe it is better for the health of the soil..sadly I cannot afford to buy in compost etc.I am going to have two pallet collar beds as no dig and hopefully they will be ready to use next year if not the Autumn.Im going to look forward to your blogs to see how you are getting on.
    All the best

  17. I am down to the last 10 days of heavy gardening for 2 or 3 months. Then will be on weight restriction due to surgery. Wedding only. Good luck on the plot it’s looking good.

  18. No dig is an excellent way of producing good crops ,, Love all your tips and having tried membrane on my daughter’s garden, found that old carpet was much better and stayed down easier ..

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