No-Dig Gardening: An Easier Way to Grow

, written by Benedict Vanheems gb flag

Deep beds made using no-dig methods

You dig, you toil, you reap the rewards. But just how necessary is digging? Have you ever stopped to consider the logic of turning over the soil, season after season, year after year? After all, Mother Nature doesn’t use a spade! It’s no wonder, then, that the practice of ‘no-dig’ or ‘no-till’ gardening is gaining ground with gardeners across the world.

The Downside of Digging

There’s no getting around the fact that digging is hard work, but conventional wisdom says it’s worth it. The logic goes that digging helps you to incorporate nutrient-boosting organic matter such as compost, while creating looser, fluffier soil for sowing and planting. But does it?

Consider the myriad of soil life that’s disrupted every time we dig, from bacteria to earthworms, ground beetles to fungi. Tearing at the soil disrupts this intricate web of life, setting back the natural processes that lead to healthy soil.

Leave soil undug and soil organisms can thrive undisturbed, which is good news for plants. And it also allows for a more natural balance between soil pests and their predators.

Regular digging, especially double-digging where the soil is dug to the depth of two spade blades, quickly tires you out. And it’s not great for your back either. So why do it?

Digging is tiring and it’s disruptive to soil life – so why not ditch the spade?

How to Make New No-Dig Beds

Digging isn’t even necessary when setting out new growing areas. Start by clearing the surface of any debris and any rocks larger than a hen’s egg. Mow down grass or cut back weeds to the ground. Now add a thick layer of well-rotted organic matter. This will suppress the growth of the weeds beneath by blocking out light, and provide nutrient-rich material for roots to grow into. Lay it at least four inches (10cm) deep. Suitable organic matter includes compost, or manure from a trusted source where you can guarantee no herbicides have been used.

Fast forward a few months and any grass and weeds below will have rotted down, while earthworms will work to gradually incorporate the organic matter into the soil below.

If there are lots of weeds on the ground where you want to grow, lay down a layer of cardboard before adding your organic matter. Thoroughly wet the cardboard to help it break down. The cardboard will serve as a further barrier to weeds, exhausting and eventually killing most of them off. Once the growing season gets underway, you’ll find that any weeds that do manage to make it through will be much easier to remove.

Cardboard can be laid to kill weeds and mark out paths

Mark out paths between the beds using thick cardboard laid with generous overlaps. This will help to kill off the weeds between growing areas. You can cover the cardboard with bark chips or similar later.

If the organic matter in your bed is still lumpy at planting time, start vegetable seedlings off in plug trays or pots to plant out once they’ve grown a sturdy root system. This will also make it easy to space plants out at exactly the right distance, saving you time thinning out rows of seedlings.

Mimic Mother Nature

A common variation is to use materials that are readily available to nourish and build soil. Popularised by organic gardener Paul Gautschi in his ‘Back to Eden’ method, materials such as woodchips are used to mimic Mother Nature’s infinite ability to recycle nutrients.

Adding a layer of wood chippings on top of a newly-made bed helps mimic nature

Let’s make a bed using this method. Start by laying a thick layer of paper or cardboard over cleared ground. Add around four inches (10cm) of compost, then add a layer of woodchips about two inches (5cm) deep, taking care not to mix the two layers. Then simply push aside the woodchips to plant into the compost beneath. You could of course use other materials such as leafmold or hay in place of woodchips. The secret of this top layer is to slow down evaporation and constantly feed the soil below, so that no additional fertilisers are ever required.

Mulches Not Spades

The secret behind any no-till garden lies in regular mulching with organic matter. Mulches cover the soil’s surface, protecting it from erosion, locking in soil moisture and suppressing weeds. As they rot down they add fertility to the soil while at the same time improving its structure, without the need to dig. In no-dig gardening, mulching replaces digging.

Replace old mulch as it rots down or becomes incorporated into the soil, so that the ground is being constantly fed and gradually built up. Add mulches around mature plants or wait until the end of the growing season. Suitable mulches include compost, leafmould, hay, woodchips, grass clippings, straw and sawdust. Mulches also need to be weed seed-free, so they’re not self-defeating.

Adding sides to your beds helps contain the soil as repeated mulching raises the soil level

No-Dig Gardening

No-dig gardening suits gardens of every size, including small, city plots. Aim for beds no wider than four feet (1.2m) and you’ll never need to step on the soil inside. This helps to prevent the soil from becoming compacted, which lessens still further the need to reach for the spade. Using raised beds is not essential, but the sides do help to contain all that additional organic matter.

Over time the weeds in a no-till garden become few and far between as mulches work to weaken weeds by smothering them. And because you’re not digging, weed seeds in the soil below need never come to the surface to germinate. No-dig really does save you time!

It’s a wonder any of us still dig! No-dig gardening is kinder to our backs, the crops we grow, and the precious soil we grow in. If you’re already a no-dig convert we’d love to hear from you. What method do you use, and what sort of difference has it made to your gardening? Let us know in the comments section below.

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Show Comments


"A question regarding using wood chips over compost on no-till garden: woody wood chips leach too much nitrogen from compost and soil while breaking down? "
Paula T on Saturday 13 January 2018
"Hi Paula. Wood chips take up a very small amount of nitrogen as they decompose, so the argument goes they shouldn't be added to the soil as they'll cause nitrogen depletion. However, the effect if very minimal. We recommend not mixing the wood chips with the compost too, so that they don't cause as much depletion from the compost layer. You can push the wood chips aside at planting or sowing time, so that the young plants/seedlings aren't affected. But I really wouldn't worry too much about the wood chips' impact on nitrogen levels"
Ben Vanheems on Sunday 14 January 2018
"Hi Benedict. I am starting to experiment with no-dig on my fairly heavy clay. I mulched my fruit garden (16 trees plus fruit bushes) with 4 inches of woodchips (got free from tree surgeons) 3 years ago and top it up each year. The fruit loves it and I was surprised how soft the soil was when I planted bulbs through it last autumn. The oldest woodchips at the bottom are making a lovely black compost and there are many many worms in that soil. This winter I got several tons of chopped autumn leaves from the council from the local parks and I have covered half the veg patch with a 4-6 inch mulch of them and plan to plant through this mulch in the spring and summer, rather than stack them for a year and them move them again. In the past I have rotovated in all sorts of muck and compost and green manures, so the soil is healthy and has no nasty weeds, but I like the thought of no dig if its kinder to soil life. Any thoughts on using fresh autumn leaves this way?"
Tony Shore on Monday 22 January 2018
"I think using fresh leaves in this way would be fine Tony. Over the winter they'll have settled right down to perhaps a half inch thick, so pushing the leaves aside to plant shouldn't present too much of a problem. This is, after all, how nature recycles leaves. The worms will eventually 'dig' the leaves in for you. The only word of caution is that lots of loose leaves could potentially provide ideal conditions for slugs, but I think the benefits probably outweigh any cons. Let us know how you get on with this approach."
Benedict Vanheems on Tuesday 23 January 2018
"Hi, would this work on poorly drained soil that seems to be quite wet most of the time? I'm thinking that as the organic matter is added it would raise the plants up out of water-logged soil? "
Oona on Friday 26 January 2018
"It could do, though it is not guaranteed. Certainly adding more organic matter will help to improve the soil so that it drains better and gets less waterlogged. If it is seriously waterlogged though, you may need to look at other solutions first, such as underground drainage pipes."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 29 January 2018
"I'm about to start preparing some no-dig beds in a community garden - it'll be a small proportion of the total (1/4 acre) as we don't have access to such large amounts of organic matter. But just to be devil's advocate here, I'm not looking forward to the back-breaking work of loading compost into a wheelbarrow and barrowing down to the beds - nobody seems to mention that! "
Alison. on Saturday 17 February 2018
"Hi Alison. You're absolutely right about the wheelbarrowing and shovelling on of the organic matter. But it is definitely easier (and quicker) than digging. Worth mentioning, though, that there is still some physical effort involved. Good luck creating your no-dig beds."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 19 February 2018
"You suggest in your article to lay the compost early in winter to let it incorporate over time. Winter here in Southeast coastal US can be measured in days, so I'm afraid that I've let that part go past me. In that case is it too late to simply add a layer of compost to help re-nourish last year's soil, or should I add more pre-prepared organic garden soil (with maybe some organic fertilizer)? I already have starter seed sprouting in peat pots ready to transplant within a couple of weeks. Thanks so much. Angus"
Angus Campbell on Monday 19 February 2018
"Hi Angus. Yes, just add a layer of compost to help re-nourish last year's soil. That will really help to enrich the ground ready for your transplants in a few weeks."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 19 February 2018
"What do you do with the finished tomato crop. Ground level prune and add compost on top or pull roots and all? Also how would a no dig person add bokashi directly to the garden? Bokashi is suggested to dig a trench and cover. I was thinking to lay on surface and cover with compost. Thanks "
Alan Shrimpton on Wednesday 21 February 2018
"Hi Alan. I would be inclined to remove all the roots of your tomatoes too - to avoid any residual disease hanging about in the soil. As regards bokashi, you have a few options. You can add it to your traditional compost bin, fork it lightly into the soil, or add in tenches and cover. I think you'd be fine adding it onto the soil surface then covering with compost - so I'd go with that technique for a no-dig plot."
Ben Vanheems on Thursday 22 February 2018
"Thanks for the reply. So forking into the surface is okay for no dig? I tend to take things quite literally. In a no dig garden how much of the surface can you disturb? A couple of inches permissible? "
Alan Shrimpton on Tuesday 27 February 2018
"I have just heard about no dig usual soil improvent includes adding grass clippings as mulch during the summer. At the end of growing season i remove the roots and add chopped leaves...throughout the winter i throw my compostatable materials right into the garden, on top of the leaves, and in the spring i rototill it all in and start it all over if i dont rototill this spring (something i would do in the next week or so) do i just spread the 'debris' apart a bit, plant in between, then return the debris, with minimal disruption of the soil? Almost sounds too easy...thanks for any help you have to offer."
Lynne on Thursday 19 April 2018
"Hi Lynne. For no-dig gardening the material laid on top of the soil surface should really be decomposed, so you're able to sow or plant in the ground with ease. You could try what you suggest, but if the material isn't fully decomposed yet my fear is that the ground will be relatively hard and not that fluffy and light, making sowing/planting difficult. There could also be the issue of disease on the only partially decomposed plant material. That said, I don't think there's any harm in giving that method you suggest a go - though I haven't done this myself so can't vouch for its effectiveness or otherwise. Generally for no-dig it's best to rot down lumpy organic matter off-site, in a compost heap, to then add the finer compost as your surface topping."
Ben Vanheems on Thursday 19 April 2018
"Thanks for the reply...i do have an off site compost site but it is a hard walk in the deep.snow here in i will spread the existing compost where i want to plant this fall, with cardboard under it, and let the worms do their thing with it all...i guess i better make a grow plan for next year before "close of business" this year and do it all right next spring.... thanks for your help!"
lynne saucier on Thursday 19 April 2018
"Going no till this year, creating a pocket garden. The grass will be allowed to grow around the mulched areas, instead of tilling between the rolls as in the past. I'll just trim the grass around my little pockets of mulch. Much of my garden is already perennials, and some of the plants are over 10 years old."
Douglas L Canell on Tuesday 1 May 2018
"Hi Douglas. I hope your no-till gardening is a success. Let us know how you get on."
Ben Vanheems on Wednesday 2 May 2018
"Hi. Fantastic article and video as always. Thanks. I would like to know more about using grass clippings and leaves as mulch. Should I use dried out grass rather than freshly cut grass - to prevent grass from rooting again? And for the leaves, is it important to remove fine branches too or can those be in the mix too?"
Jaco Schoeman on Wednesday 11 July 2018
"This is a follow up from my post in January. Using fresh autumn leaves as a mulch has not worked well at all I'm afraid. The leaves were largely oak and where I haven't dealt with them by taking them back up or rotovating in, haven't yet rotted down much at all. I have planted through in areas and the transplants have either been poisoned by the tanins or temporary acidity of the oak leaves (some killed some stunted) or have been eaten by slugs hiding in them. Even crops near the mulch suffered far more than normal from slugs. I thought my established raspberries were an exception, but they are now suffering Manganese deficiency, which I have not had before. Where I resorted to rotovating in the leaves, the crops are doing less well than ususal probably as the soil is suffering a temporary nitrogen deficiency as it tries to break down the leaves. This winter I will do things differently and stack the leaves until they are leafmould and then use that as mulch. No more cutting corners."
Tony Shore on Wednesday 11 July 2018
"Hi Jaco. Dried grass clippings are best - in typical sunshine they only take one to two days to go brown. While they are unlikely to take root again, drying out the grass before using as a mulch makes it less likely to mat together into a less-than-penetrable block. You can leave bits of twig etc in your mulches. They will rot down eventually. That said, if there are lots of twiggy bits it may make it harder to prepare fine seedbeds for sowing, so pick out the larger pieces where you can."
Ben Vanheems on Thursday 12 July 2018
"Hi Tony. Thanks for the update, and I'm so sorry to read of the problems you've had. Oak leaves are perhaps a little tougher than a lot of other leaves, which would make them slow to rot down, so processing them first into leaf mould is probably a good idea. As with many things in gardening, you never know until you've tried, and you had the foresight to give it a go, which is commendable. Good luck for the next season - I'm sure your crops will respond well to leaf mould and thrive because of it."
Ben Vanheems on Thursday 12 July 2018
"I stockpiled a mountain of leaves from landscaping clean up and turned them with a tractor loader for two years until they broke down into black, crumbly compost. Then I windrowed the composted leaves into rows about 24"wide by 24" high and and covered it all with 6" of straw to control the weeds. I installed two driplines on each row with an irrigation timer. I have never had a garden perform and produce so well and it is truly amazing h ow much my garden is producing!"
Jeremey L Kelley on Saturday 14 July 2018
"Wow - what an incredible set-up you have! Really pleased it's producing such good results for you. It just goes to show what value there is in re-using all of those leaves. Keep up the good work!"
Ben Vanheems on Monday 16 July 2018
"i have tall weeds in the garden should i pull therm all out then putleaves down orcan i crutch them andput hay on top plusleves"
peg anderson on Wednesday 22 August 2018
"I would be inclined to cut all the weeds right back to ground level (no need to pull them up - just strim or brush cut). You can then lay the weeds over the ground and then apply your additional organic matter on top. It will need to be nice and thick to suppress the return of any weeds beneath. A couple of layers of cardboard may help in giving an extra layer of weed suppression, before adding your material on top to settle down over the winter."
Ben Vanheems on Thursday 23 August 2018
"Is horse manure, mainly dried out suitable . Also dried pine needles, lawn cuttings or other green grass ok. Is the Lucerne used just green grass and can normal soil be added. "
John Gee on Sunday 2 September 2018
"Hi John. Well-rotted/decomposed horse manure is fine, but it must be well-rotted so it isn't overly rich in nutrients that 'burn' the plants. You'll need to make sure that any manure you add is from a trusted source - what you don't want is manure from horses that have been grazing on paddocks that have had herbicides added, which could then affect your crops. Lawn clippings are great as a general mulch. Ideally they will be applied when they've dried out a little, to stop them forming a thick mat. Pine needles can be useful, though they can lower the acidity of the soil so should be prioritised for acid-loving plants such as blueberries. Alfalfa is good both as a green manure/cover crop - dug in while still green to add organic matter - or applied as dried mulch in the same way as hay."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 3 September 2018
"OK so adding a layer of cardboard in Fall/Winter will prevent weed growth (garden has, sadly mint that I'd love to kill off). So I wet that down, AND add the compost on top at the same time? Or wait 'til Spring for the compost?"
Kerry on Sunday 16 September 2018
"Add the compost as soon as you've laid the cardboard in fall/early winter. The compost will help to weigh down the cardboard, stopping it blowing away, and as the cardboard breaks down the compost will gradually get incorporated by the soil's worms."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 17 September 2018
"Hi, thanks for all this info! I'm going to start a no till garden on my lawn. I'm laying down cardboard today to kill the lawn and am then going to put compost (maybe mixed with steer manure?). I don't have any other organic materials yet but am thinking of trying to acquire some straw. I'd like to make leafmold, but seems like that takes years. My questions at this time: 1) Should I lay cardboard under AND over the compost for the winter? This to kill the grass and also smother any weed seeds that might be in the compost? Any tips would be great, thanks so much! 2) Can I just leave lawn in between the beds (the right width for the mower) or should I plan to also kill the grass there and add wood chips?"
Elena on Sunday 14 October 2018
"Hi Elena. Great that you're trying a no-till garden! Compost, with a little well-rotted steer manure, would be a great material to start with. Straw and leaves can also be good, especially once they've started to break down a bit. You could always put straw and leaves at the base of your beds, then the compost on top. By the time the roots reach down to that level the straw and leaves will be starting to break down, so there's no harm in using these materials as they are. Lay the cardboard over the ground. I wouldn't bother laying it over the top of the compost. The weeds won't grow much over winter, and when they come up in spring as the weather warms, you can simply hoe them off. This way you're exhausting the weed seed bank at the surface, leaving a nice, clean surface for sowing and planting into once you've hoed off any weeds. You can either leave lawn between the beds (wide enough for a mower) and then mow between the beds. Or cover the grass and add wood chips, which is what I have done in my raised beds. The argument for the latter is that the wood chips will break down and feed the soil, which will definitely help the beds either side and build further the rich soil life. Furthermore, thin strips of lawn can be fiddly to mow and look after, though the wood chips would need topping up from time to time. But it doesn't matter hugely either way - do whichever you prefer. Good luck with it - and report back once they're under way to let us know how you're getting on."
Ben Vanheems on Sunday 14 October 2018
"Hi there- I am gardening in a new space this year and intend on trying the no-dig method. I am wondering if it is reasonable to lay my mulch (cardboard, compost, hay, exc.) in the spring and plant my crops into it immediately? I have only moved here a month ago, and the area is established with small weeds and grasses. After this season I will be able to mulch over winter and carry on without the weeds. Thank you for your inspiring articles and input!"
Tiffany on Saturday 9 February 2019
"Hi Tiffany. You can plant into mulches if they are fine enough and crumbly enough at the point of laying. So planting into compost would be absolutely fine, while many leafy crops and brassicas could be planted straight into very well-rotted manure. Coarser materials wouldn't be suitable for planting directly into, but could be laid around the crops once they are growing as a mulch. Good luck with your new garden!"
Ben Vanheems on Monday 11 February 2019
"I do no dig vegetables in south africa. I alternate the vegetables with planting various cover crops eg rye, vetch, tiller radish, cowpeas, sorghum. When mature these are cut down to form a thick mulch. I then plant the seedlings into this. This greatly reduces weeds, builds organic matter and retains more moisture. Does anyone do this??? Any comments. "
Martin Adams on Sunday 3 March 2019
"Hello! i am very intrigued by this article! I have recently taken over an allotment which has been left for about 2 years. There were waist high reeds growing which I've cut to ground level and started to dig the all roots out which is a hellish task! They go down several feet and are rope like. Would it be feasible to start the no till method without getting the remainder of roots up? "
Helen dodd on Sunday 3 March 2019
"Hi Martin. I've not been as thorough in alternative vegetables with cover crops/green manures as you have, but your method certain sounds like it works and is a very thorough approach to building up organic matter in the soil. Good work!"
Ben Vanheems on Monday 4 March 2019
"Hi Helen. There is potential to do that, but it sounds like those reeds go down a very long way and will have a lot of reserves to push through and thwart your efforts to establish a no-till garden. I would be inclined to cover the area with light-excluding mulch for at least a few months first, to weaken the plants as they try to regrow. They can then be cut down again. I think then they'd be weakened enough to begin a no-dig approach."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 4 March 2019
"Hi Ben.Thank you for your positive comment.This is such a dynamic and interesting site. "
Martin Adams on Monday 4 March 2019
"Hi, I have another question! I planted rye seed as a cover crop in my no dig garden (first year). I'm slowly starting to realize that I'm going to have to turn it in. I hate that I'll have to turn in the top layer on my first year doing a no dig garden but I don't think I researched this as fully as I should have. Another thought I had was to cover the rye with a tarp and try to smother it, and then lay compost on top. I don't know, though. It's pretty hardy looking! Any advice for me? Thanks so much!"
Elena on Monday 4 March 2019
"Hi Elena. I seeded stooling rye as a cover crop in the autumn. Before it goes to seed I crimp -flattened it. I made a wooden plank approximately the width of the bed, about 20cm wide, with a rope attached at each end. On the plank I screwed on a length of steel angle iron with a sharpened edge. Then I stand on the plank to flatten and crimp the stalks, approximately every 30cms. With the angle iron contacting the rye. The crimping helps to retard any regrowth. Or you could just cut it up into fairly long pieces down to the soil, with clippers. I have planted seedlings into the flattened stooling rye. Commercial no-till farmers who plant cover crops often pull a crimping roller at high speed to crimp and flatten the cover crop. They have blades fitted in a chevron pattern. Their advantage is the weight of the roller."
Martin Adams on Tuesday 5 March 2019
"Wow! Thanks so much for the response. The home made crimp-flattening thing is way beyond my scope. I'm not a handy person. Also, I planted this rye late and we have had a very cold winter. It only grew a few inches but it's very thick. I don't think I would really be able to cut it because it's so short. Hmm... I wonder what I should do? Should I try smothering it? Thanks again for your advice!"
Elena on Tuesday 5 March 2019
"A question for Ben. I see that Grow Veg is UK based. The raised composted beds that I see in the photo do not have any protective muich cover on top, just the vegetables. Do you not need soil cover because of the maritime UK climate? Compared to South Africa, and where I live, where we get an average of 840mm per year, but occuring mainly in the summer months with dry winters.Today the temperature is 32C, and we can experience these temperatures for 3,4,5 days and then often a thunderstorm with rain. Therefore am I right in the assumption that in Europe and the UK, that is why there is not the need for cover crops. "
martin adams on Wednesday 6 March 2019
"Hi Elena. You could mow down the rye as close to soil level as possible then cover it with cardboard to exclude the light, with a mulch of compost on top of that. Leave the rye covered for at least a month (preferably longer), then cut holes into the cardboard to plant directly into the soil below. If the rye has completely died, you can just remove the cardboard entirely then sow or plant as normal."
Ben Vanheems on Thursday 7 March 2019
"Hi Martin. In cooler, wetter climates such as Britain mulching actively growing crops is considered less urgent (though still welcome) as evaporation rates are much lower. Mulches can sometimes offer hiding places for slugs too. That said, as a general rule, mulching is always good to have a beneficial effect, in any climate, as it helps to improve soil structure and gently feed the crops you are growing. Cover crops are useful for keeping soil covered over winter and building up organic matter in the soil once they are incorporated into the soil. We tend to grow them outside of the main cropping period, though many people grow low-growing cover crops like clover in among their vegetables."
Ben Vanheems on Thursday 7 March 2019
"So nice to see someone is copying my no till garden! My garden area is 20×40'. This year I will begin to add a bench and flower area to about a third of it. Each Fall after harvesting veggys all Summer, I lay down cardboard and overlap as much as possible then apply pine straw over it. I keep my rows marked at the ends so I know where to plant in Spring. Usually shortly after Mothers Day I cut through the cardboard and add worm castings, ground eggs, banana, etc. and plant my seeds or veggys plans. I have to pull some weeds but it is mostly onion grass around the parameter......using cardboard keeps my work to a minimum. You just always have to be on the lookout for all things cardboard. I keep a plastic bin of garden dirt in the garage and once a week add my coffee grinds to it. Less frequently I add ground egg shells to the bin also and i use this in my potted plants and garden. I also give the ground egg shells and some of the coffee to my worms."
Satindoll on Thursday 14 March 2019
"Thanks for sharing your experiences. It sounds like you've got a really good system going there. "
Ben Vanheems on Thursday 14 March 2019
"I am new to no-till gardening. I have been organic gardening in containers. I use a home made organic soil mix. Each spring I remove about 20% each and amend that with worm casting and mold /bacteria starter. Just recently I read tilling/turning over disrupts the soil food it better to just leave the old roots and snipped stems, amend by adding on top or the old way and remix? "
Mark on Thursday 21 March 2019
"Hi Mark. I think in the case of containers it's probably best to remove the old roots by digging them out/turning over. This is because containers won't have as much soil life in them as the actual ground. The old roots etc. won't break down as quickly in containers therefore. I'd be inclined to carry on as you are. But this is only my opinion. I would be interested to hear what others have to say on this."
Ben Vanheems on Friday 22 March 2019
"Hi Ben, what is the best practice after the previous growing season with a no-till raised bed garden? At the end of last year I just chopped off all plants close to the ground then chopped the bodies/stems into a mulch and covered with leaves for the winter. This spring I pulled up those old left over stems and root balls which were like super-dense, fine root masses. If these are left undisturbed, is there enough soil space for a new plant to thrive with the previous roots not fully composted? Thanks for any input."
Roth on Saturday 30 March 2019
"Hi Roth. I usually clear away the old crops by simply pulling them out at ground level and removing everything to the compost heap. Then I add my layer of organic material for the winter. Yes, there is some disturbance of the soil but this is really very minimal with most crops. You could leave the plant roots in the soil as you did, but there is a risk of some disease carrying over in the soil, and of course larger rooted planted may take a while to rot down, though they should have mostly done so by the time you come to sow again in spring. "
Ben Vanheems on Sunday 31 March 2019
"I understand planting transplants in no till but how do you handle crops requiring direct seeding? Corn, carrot, beet, radish, etc.? I use heavy mulching instead of hilling potatoes and then use a middle buster on a compact tractor to dig then. How do you suggest handling the resulting uneven surface? I plan on squash and pumpkin on the plot where the potatoes were last season. "
John Schellinger on Saturday 20 April 2019
"It's a lot easier to plant out transplants into no-till beds. Then there's no issue with bumpy or uneven surfaces. If you want to direct seed - for example radish or carrots - then perhaps move off the mulch along where the drill will go then lay a layer of fine-textured potting soil or well-rotted compost in its place, to sow into this. But most things are easy enough to transplant and will remove any need for thinning."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 22 April 2019
"Hi Ben - I have an old established vegetable garden with metre-wide squares marked out by buxus microphylla hedges which are about 10" high. Altogether, it's about 18m by 6m in size. Unfortunately, Its also bordered by damson trees on one side (about 3m away), and a large red mulberry tree on the other (about 4m away). The soil is very heavy clay. You can imagine with this set-up that the clay dries out very quickly in summer, with the box and the fruit trees sending roots into the patch in search of water. Each year I dig the squares over, which helps to sever some of the roots, but the harvest results are disappointing despite the addition of compost as I dig. All the earthworms now seem to be gone, and the soil feels tired, and is pale and unworkable. I've tried no-dig for the first time this year, leaving the soil beneath heavily watered, weeded, but undug. I've piled 2-3" of home-made compost on top, and planted crops directly into this, from modules. So far the lettuces, beets and cucumbers look amazing ... but have I done a wise thing? Will the tree roots just keep coming up again and again to the surface, as fast as I mulch? Not sure what the solution is: I could grub up the box hedges (though they are lovely in winter) but I really can't cut down my lovely fruit trees. Any advice? Oh - and would box clippings be a good mulch? I have an awful lot...(!)...some a bit woody, but most quite fine. "
KatyVic on Tuesday 28 May 2019
"I would leave everything as it is and see how you fare for now. By adding organic matter every year the soil should improve to the benefit of all plants - vegetables and surrounding fruit trees and box edging. I certainly wouldn't advise pulling up the box plants, as they would have a comparatively small effect relative to the fruit trees. Just keep on adding that organic matter and see how you fare. If the soil is improved (over multiple years) then the worms will return and the soil will improve to an appreciable depth, which will encourage roots of all plants to seek what they need further down, rather than just sitting on the surface. But it will probably take time. You could use box clippings as a mulch, but my concern is that they will be very dry and just sit on the surface for quite a while. Better, if you can bear it, to compost them at least for a year to start them breaking them down, then apply as a mulch. That said, they'd be great as they are around paths and non-planted areas, or around fruit trees and bushes."
Ben Vanheems on Thursday 30 May 2019
"Thank you so much for such a clear and encouraging response. I've now planted more vegetables (sweetcorn and French beans) and everything is bursting with health so far. It's exciting and very positive to be trying something so different after struggling with the soil for so long! I'll use my grass clippings to mulch, and continue to compost the box. Many thanks for the advice."
KatyVic on Thursday 30 May 2019
"No problem, and I hope your garden continues to flourish!"
Ben Vanheems on Friday 31 May 2019
"Hi Ben - I put down a couple inches of compost and then a couple inches of wood chips on my garden bed last year. I want to lay down some new compost to add more nutrients to the soil. Do I need to rake the wood chips aside to do that? "
Karen on Saturday 8 June 2019
"Hi Karen. If the wood chips have softened up nicely and are looking like they have started to break down, then I would just leave them where you are and add your new compost on top. The purpose of the wood chips is primarily to lock in soil moisture and suppress weeds, but also as they rot down to feed the soil. If they are still pretty much as they were, then I would consider raking them aside (if this doesn't take too long), laying down your compost and then replacing the wood chips, so you get another season of mulch from them."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 10 June 2019
"We have a pine straw shortage here in N.C. this year....too much Spring rain I am told. Luckily I have a friend with pine trees and was able to grab 4 large leaf bags of pine straw for the garden. I do have a question, since I use the same rows for planting (I have 7 rows and rotate using 5 of the 7 each year), I would like to use something other than cardboard and pine straw for the walking paths..something more permanent but hesitate due to leaching of chemicals into the ground. Do you have a suggestion?"
Satindoll on Monday 10 June 2019
"Bark chippings last a good while on paths, and although they won't be directly feeding the growing areas as they eventually rot down, there's a lot to be said for improving the general fertility of the surrounding ground, including paths, as this will only help to further improve the microbial life of the garden as a whole, which will have a knock-on effect on overall plant health. But any coarse-textured organic material would be suitable for covering paths."
Ben Vanheems on Tuesday 11 June 2019
"Love the whole concept!"
Carolyn Woods on Tuesday 25 June 2019
"Hi Ben, we have been experimenting with vaious methods of growing for a few years. We totally love the idea of no till gardening. However, we have run into some issues. Our compost generally does contain seeds of weeds, mostly grass as have a meadow to help support insects and birds (is there a way of getting rid of them, perhaps a method of composting where temperature makes them inactive?). When we tried hay, slugs and fiels mice practically ate our harvest, esp. seedlings. Similar (though a bit better) was cardboard. Best solution for us seems to have been compost covered by non-woven textile (though we wonder if there are chemicals in the textile we might like tnot to be putting into the ecosystem?). Any advice re pests, eps field mice who can really harvest everyting before we do? Sofar the only deterrent for them seems to have been placing cat poo near their holes :D. However, we would need a lot of cats to do that... and time. We live near fields, so no shortage of mice supply in the forseeable future.... "
Irena on Thursday 19 September 2019
"Hi Irena, I can see your dilemma here. It seems like compost is preferable, as there are no hidey-holes within it and it's more like an instant continuation of the soil beneath - so no reason for the mice to get involved! Hot composting, where ingredients are collected then all added to build a heap in one go, can generate impressive heat, killing off any weed seeds. You could also be meticulous in what you add - taking great pains to avoid adding weed seeds and covering compost piles at all times to prevent seeds from blowing in. Another option is to order in compost made from municipal waste - food and garden waste collected from homes and turned into compost by the local authority/council. It may be worth contacting your local authority to see if they have a delivery service. I know in some places you can pick up unlimited amounts for free. Sorry I don't have any further specific advice. I do feel for you with your mice problem. "
Ben Vanheems on Monday 23 September 2019
"I just have one question. In a new no-till garden how do root veggies like carrots fair. I have found in a standard till-it-up garden if I don't dig deep enough the carrots don't grow very deep and are just short and stubby if they grow at all. I don't mind the short and stubbby but they just don't grow very well. Thanks"
Kenny B on Monday 4 November 2019
"Hi Ben, I was wondering if you've trued the Ruth Stout Method before? It's basically using hay to grow veg and I find it truly fascinating! Thank you for the great article, I'm especially excited about trying to create some leafmould."
Anna on Tuesday 5 November 2019
"For walking paths in my raised row garden I use used carpet I get free from a local carpet and appliance store. When they install new carpet for a customer,they have to pay to get rid of the old carpet they replace. Helps them and me."
Charlie on Thursday 7 November 2019
"Hi Kenny. On an established no-dig bed root vegetables do just as well than in dug ground. This is because the ground will have become well-aerated and with a good structure over time, naturally. The taproots of vegetables like carrots and parsnips are designed to push through in these sorts of conditions. Initially though, for the first year and perhaps too, some forking of roots is inevitable. But no-dig eventually produces excellent conditions for root vegetables."
Ben Vanheems on Sunday 10 November 2019
"HI Anna. I've never tried the Ruth Stout method but have heard very promising things about it. A friend of mine is currently trialling it and reports promising initial findings. If you decide to try it, please let us know how you get on with it."
Ben Vanheems on Sunday 10 November 2019
"Hi Charlie. This is an excellent idea. The one thing I would be somewhat cautious about though, is the man-made fibres from the carpet getting into the soil. Generally it's best to only use carpets made from natural fibres such as jute or hemp, which will harmlessly rot down over time. But great idea though!"
Ben Vanheems on Sunday 10 November 2019
"This is my 6th season using the Back to Eden gardening method. From the 1st year, my weeds were almost gone...and ones that made it to the surface were easily removed. I add good compost every year as I am planting and I have never planted directly in the wood chips. I have topped my garden 4x with wood chips since the start of my BTE garden. An my soil is amazing...the wood chips break down and create this beautiful lush environment for microbes and earthworms. I wish I had done this long ago, saving my back from endless weeding"
Cecile Smith on Friday 6 March 2020
"It's great to hear of your success Cecile. How rewarding to have such amazing soil and few weeds - a wonderful position to be in!"
Ben Vanheems on Monday 9 March 2020
"In Arizona, the only pause in the growing season is from July to September, when it is too hot for anything except okra. I was going to use Sesbania as a cover crop and then mulch with straw. We don't have leaf litter in Arizona. Our non-productive season is much shorter than yours. Will this be a problem? Any suggestions?"
Sally on Thursday 9 April 2020
"I have to admit I'd never heard of Sesbania Sally. But on looking it up can see it's a member of the pea family, so would be good for helping to build soil fertility and organic content. That seems like an ideal cover crop, and mulching with straw would be a great way to lock in a little more soil moisture. So it seems like a very sensible course of action to me."
Ben Vanheems on Thursday 9 April 2020
"We have a hard time keeping Bermuda grass from growing up the sides of our raised beds and into them. It has taken over a pile of compost putting down deep roots. How do you keep grass from growing into the sides of the garden?"
Elizabeth on Saturday 11 April 2020
"Honestly, I think the only way is to keep the grass cut low, so it can't make the leap up and over the sides of the bed. Or even consider removing the grass entirely from around the beds and instead laying wood chip paths or similar. I haven't experienced bermuda grass, so have no idea how vigorous it is. Though from reports from others I do appreciate it's nothing if not persistent!"
Ben Vanheems on Monday 13 April 2020
"Elizabeth I am a landscaper and just starting the no till guarden this year. I am in Texas and have plenty of Bermuda Grass. I have had great luck using a spray of high concentrate vinigar and orange oil. On a hot sunny day it will take out weeds including Bermuda in a matter of hours. Hope that helps."
Dvae Hoover on Monday 20 April 2020
"Does no dig gardening work with heavy clay soils as we have in Northeast Ohio, USA?"
Kevin Bilant on Thursday 30 April 2020
"Hi Kevin. Yes, any soil can be converted to no-dig over time. Heavier clay soils will take more time to produce that finer, crumblier structure you are after. But with enough organic matter over enough seasons, it will get like that. I would suggest starting off with a much thicker layer of organic material to begin with, to give plants the option of only having to 'dip their toes' into the heavy clay soil beneath in the first year. By next year the top few inches of clay soil beneath should already be starting to nicely loosen up thanks to the actions of worms etc. Keep adding organic matter every season - particularly during the first few seasons to really give you a head start."
Ben Vanheems on Friday 1 May 2020
"We trying no-till this year and covered virgin ground with tarps for a few months. Everything is dead underneath and we just removed the tarps today. Is there anything we should do with the dead grass? Or should we leave it to help with erosion control?"
Steve Parker on Saturday 2 May 2020
" If the grass is dead, I would just leave it exactly where it is. It will rot down under all the stuff that goes on top of it. And help to contribute ultimately to soil structure. It’s all good stuff! "
Ben Vanheems on Saturday 2 May 2020
"Hi Ben, We made a few raised beds by flipping sod two years ago. The beds are a little more than a foot off the ground. The incline of the side of the beds are quite steep- almost vertical, so the compost wont sit without sliding off . So the sides are becoming a magnet for weeds and are not too good for moisture retention either. Do you have any suggestions on how we could mulch the sides of the beds? "
Rhett Carneiro on Friday 29 May 2020
"Hi Rhett. You could either retrospectively hem in the sides of the bed with timber, infilling between the slant of the sides of the bed and the vertical sides of the timber. Then this would hold the mulch in plants. Alternatively you could round off the sides of the bed to lessen the incline, either by adding more earth to the bottom of the sides, or chipping away earth from the tops. The gentler incline would allow for easier mulching. Or simply pile up the mulch at the sides, though this would require quite a lot of additional mulch."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 1 June 2020
"When using wood-chips and or sawdust in your garden soil mix; add manure and or (sprinkle a tiny bit of fertilizer, 16-16-16) as a nitrogen source for the microbes and their fungal friends."
David Wall on Sunday 21 June 2020
"Thanks for that tip David."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 22 June 2020
"It make sence to follow natures way. I dont even make compost. All my organic material ( house and garden ) goes straight to the garden again as mulch. I dont till. I dont have a vegetable garden. I have some fruit trees. Here in South Africa it is cheaper to buy vegetables than to grow your own because of the munisipal water that is so expensive."
Nico on Friday 17 July 2020
"Thanks for that insight Nico. Yes, always good to return as much organic matter to the garden - in whatever way works best."
Ben Vanheems on Friday 17 July 2020
ANGRY on Wednesday 11 November 2020
"We'd recommend not using carpet - only natural coverings like hemp or hessian. But to be honest, cardboard (in multiple layers if necessary) works just fine. And depending on where you live, you can get municipal compost fairly cheap. The compost shown in the video was actually picked up for free, from the council depot. You literally turn up with bags and help yourself. Two trips in a small van and we'd enough to cover the plot. Of course there's effort in picking up the compost and spreading it, but once you get going you need much less of it each year. And the benefits to soil health are considerable."
Ben Vanheems on Wednesday 11 November 2020
"As with CBD oil goods, cbd oil for cats is fast becoming the hottest, best medical breakthrough for people. On the other hand, the whole situation is kind of fresh, with lots of questions still up in the atmosphere. So before you purchase some CBD for cats product, it is well worth taking the time to research all aspects of the treatment. After all, your cat is an important part of your family, and just as you would want the best quality care for these, they should also obtain the best from their owners. Is cbd for cats a fantastic idea? While it is very normal for pet owners to get their pets' medical records looked over, it is rare to locate any research on CBD for cats or dogs. However, it's clear that the consequences of CBD on cats are extremely different from those of dogs or humans. Actually, cats can't be given any kind of medicine under the current regulations put forth by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). So, as is generally the case, many folks left to reason and interpret anecdotal evidence from cats, people and other pets together with comprehensive study data to try to determine whether or not giving CBD for cats is a intelligent idea."
Stuber on Friday 25 December 2020
"Hi Ben, I was really encouraged by your regular responding to everyone over the years! I am in Zone 5B and decided in November to try an in ground garden. Then after watching Kiss the Ground decided to try a no till rather than tilling my garden plot. However I was unable to prep the bed before winter freeze. Once the snow melts (hopefully in March) and I am able to begin preparations, should I be okay to lay down the cardboard and compost then plant in May? For my no till beds I am planning tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, beans, broccoli, and (direct sowing) 2 different squash varieties. Additionally, the compost I got from my local municipality seemed a little hot still last year, is this okay to use in a no-till or should I buy some manure or garden mix from my local store for something to mix in? I don't want to burn my plants. I am trying to locate some mushroom compost. I am sure I am overthinking it!"
Sam on Tuesday 26 January 2021
"Hi Sam. Good on you for veering towards a no-till approach. I do this in now and I have to say it's so much easier. You'll be fine starting your garden once the snow melts and then planting in May. Those few weeks will be enough time for everything to settle, no problem, and what you're planning on growing should thrive in all that compost. If the compost is a bit hot, I should worry. Spread it out as planned and it will cool off a bit, switching from hot composting to finish off breaking down a bit slower. This shouldn't have a big effect on your plants. I was in a similar situation with my new raised beds last spring and all the plants I grew thrived in the municipal compost I sourced. Good luck with your new venture!"
Ben Vanheems on Wednesday 27 January 2021
"I too question wood chips, only because I don't know of a 'clean' source. Maybe a nutritious bark mulch which contains some compost or if you chipped up branches in your own yard. Beware of 'wood chip mulch' from landfills or landscape companies/garden centers. They can contain pieces of poison ivy, invasive bittersweet or even builders wood scraps (maybe some pressure treated mixed in) For vegetable gardens particularly I might stick to straw or a certified clean bagged organic product/manure. Even your own grass clippings-ok if you don't treat your lawn with anything..."
Linda Turner on Wednesday 27 January 2021
"Hi Linda. Many thanks for those precautionary words. Yes, having a trusted source is important. Making friends with a local tree surgeon is always a wise move!"
Ben Vanheems on Wednesday 27 January 2021
"Although I like the no dig method, I find covering the soil with any material, organic or mats, dramatically increases the mole, vole and woodchuck populations in the garden. And these critters can be lethal to the vegetable plants. Do you have any ideas or recommendations? Thanks, Sue"
Sue on Thursday 28 January 2021
"Hi Sue. These critters can be deterred somewhat by keeping the grass around growing areas cut short. You'll also want to avoid straw and cut grass as a mulch. You can trap them, but that somehow seems a bit mean. Better to use materials on your beds that are less likely to attract them. Really friable, well broken-down compost or manure should be fine. If it's a crumbly texture and the organic matter is fully decomposed so that there are remnants of its original ingredients, then you should have fewer problems."
Ben Vanheems on Thursday 28 January 2021
"I am trying to plant english pea seed on a raised bed of leaf and clover litter that has been sitting all winter. I think I need to pull the litter back to bare ground, but what do I cover the seed with? will it work its way through mulch piled on top, or do I need to cover it with potting or other soil and wait to mulch until it is up a few inches?"
sue carlsen on Tuesday 9 February 2021
"I would be cautious and cover the seeds with soil/potting soil once sown. Then, once they are established, the mulch can be returned around them."
Ben Vanheems on Wednesday 10 February 2021
"How does no-till work with cover crops? The cover crops donot completely die in spring and have forked them under in the past. Those that poke back up are pulled so I can see difference between weeds, new seedlings and old cover crop. Is a good raking concidered tilling? Thanks for your input. Linda. Colo grower"
Linda Boley on Tuesday 23 February 2021
"Hi Linda. Cover crops in a no-till set up are either cut off at ground level and then simply left on the soil surface as a mulch. They can then be left or covered over with compost or another type of bulky, fully-decomposed organic matter to help them break down and rot into the ground. "
Ben Vanheems on Wednesday 24 February 2021
"I have Bermuda grass. It runners under my landscape cloth that I now used between rows. It is the bane of my raised strawberry bed. It doesn't die just because I cover it. One little hole and it takes off. Do you have any suggestions on how to control it in a no till garden?"
Jane on Wednesday 24 March 2021
"Hi Jane. Other than continuing to smother it, not really, no. It really is a matter of being really diligent and keeping problem areas covered, with no chink of light let in. Eventually weeds really do weaken and give up. Sorry, that's probably not very heartening, but know that you can win!"
Ben Vanheems on Thursday 25 March 2021
"I'm about to put in new beds. They'll be somewhere between 18-24" high (and yes, I know I'll need to purchase lots of material to fill them, but it will be a big relief for my back). My question is: can I do no-till gardening in deep raised beds? What about galvanized beds that have a bottom rather than being open to the ground? Thanks!"
Kim on Wednesday 31 March 2021
"Hi Kim. You could certainly try no-till in deep raised beds, that should work just fine. And open-ended beds would be great. You'll find the materials will gradually settle, slumping down just a bit, which can then be 'topped up' next season with your fresh material."
Ben Vanheems on Tuesday 6 April 2021
"I am considering trying the no till approach with my vegetable garden this year. I grow vegetables every year and always rototill the ground first. This year I’ll try the no till approach. My question is: since I use the same garden plot every year, I worry about the depletion of nutrients from the plot. Therefore I grow a cover crop to enrich the soil. I don’t have many weeds as the cover crop crowds them out. When I cut the cover crop should I lay down wet cardboard to make sure they (and the weeds) don’t come back, and then lay out the compost on top?"
Mike Manning on Thursday 8 April 2021
"Hi Mike. I know a lot of no-tillers just forego cover crops and use solely compost, once the system is set up and running. However, if you were to also incorporate a cover crop I would cut it down, leaving all the material laid on the beds, before simply covering it over with compost (the layer of cardboard shouldn't be necessary once you are up and running). My only reservation is that a cover crop grown over the winter will be cut quite late, and then the compost will be going on top of this very close to sowing and planting. This is fine, but the surface might be quite bobbly/uneven, making it difficult to achieve a nice, even result. I guess this would be my main reservation about cover crops, or at least taller and potentially woodier cover crops. Compost does a great job of keeping everything covered and on hold till the next session of planting."
Ben Vanheems on Tuesday 13 April 2021
"Hello, I live in NY, on Long Island. Our new house came with a raised bed garden. It was quite overgrown with weeds when we bought it last summer and I did not do anything to it as it was too late to plant, and I didn't have time to research. Today I thought I would do some prep and turned over two beds, but as I was digging it up I noticed a lot of earthworms and felt really bad about disturbing them, and tonight I found this site. My question is, is it too late to layer cardboard and compost over the remaining beds to kill the weeds? Or should I turn over the soil for this season and do the layering in the fall? There are a lot of weeds everywhere, including the ground around the beds. Out here the season starts quite late, and the plan is to plant mostly flowers and maybe some tomato and cucumber plants as this will be my first serious garden and I don't want to be overly ambitious. I have grown container gardens before, but they were small and in the city, so it was a totally different situation. Your advice would be much appreciated! "
Melissa K Chow on Sunday 18 April 2021
"Hi Melissa. The worms are a sign of thriving soil - probably because they haven't been dug recently. It's not too late to implement no-till for this season. I would pull out what weeds you can, or cut them back down as close to the ground as you can. I would then cover the area with layers of cardboard. One layer may be enough if the weeds are just annual weeds - but add the cardboard a few layers thick if not. Then add you compost or other organic matter on top of the cardboard. If you are planting out around mid to late May, then this should all be just fine. But get started pronto!"
Ben Vanheems on Monday 19 April 2021
"Hi, I have just discovered this wonderful site and wanted to suggest something for Kim and other raised bed gardeners. If you are just starting a raised bed garden and make it 24 inches deep, you can use the hugelkultur technique to make it a no-till garden. If you have a source for logs (from large to small to sticks), this kind of bed will not only mean less soil to buy initially but an ongoing fertile bed with good water retention and aeration over the years. "
JoAnne Kraus on Wednesday 5 May 2021
"This is a really great idea JoAnne and I've tried hugelkultur (on a very, very small scale) myself. It's great and, as you say, saves a bit on filling the beds."
Ben Vanheems on Saturday 8 May 2021
"I have access to an infinite supply of spent mushroom compost. How would you incorporate this into this process? It is wheat straw and chicken manure based. "
Steve on Sunday 9 May 2021
"Hi Steve. Yes, you can just add this to the surface of beds as your mulch. I would make sure it is fully decomposed though - this is important. If in doubt, get it in nice and early and leave stacked for a few months before applying to ensure it has finished rotting down."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 10 May 2021
"I have a tiny garden and want to do the no-till approach, but I don't have access to enough compost. I have a compost bin that can supply some compost. But I have access every week to lots of grass clippings from the lawn. But don't I need more than just grass clippings? What would you suggest?"
Bob on Friday 4 June 2021
"If you can get your hands on more compost that would be ideal. No-dig shouldn't use any more compost than a healthy conventional dug garden. You can buy bulk bags of compost reasonably affordably, and the investment is well worth it."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 7 June 2021
"sounds interesting. i have been tilling and adding grass clippings from my compost pile. i will try out this method soon."
TEDROW SWAIM on Monday 21 June 2021
"I've heard that the first few years of no till is hard and that your garden won't be robust for a few years and to be patient. Is this true? I didn't till this year and my garden is quite puny this year. Judt wondering if that's why?"
Sherri smoot on Wednesday 14 July 2021
"Hi Sherri. It would depend on how much organic matter you added on top of your existing soil. Shallower amounts might stymy growth because the roots then hit un-dug ground which hasn't yet had the benefits of a few years of no-dig. This will improve as the organic matter gradually becomes incorporated into the top layers of soil and more organic matter is added each year. Deeper depths of, say, 6in/15cm or more would suit most crops and would mean no impact should be felt in the first year. Keep adding your organic matter - be as generous as you can in the first few years - then I'm sure conditions and the response of your crops should improve."
Ben Vanheems on Wednesday 14 July 2021
"I've tried cardboard, and the slugs love it. All that compost, mulch, straw, cardboard, driving everywhere to get way more time consuming and costly than running my tiller twice a year. Am I doing it wrong?"
Greg on Thursday 18 November 2021
"Hi Greg. I would use whatever is in abundance locally. The cardboard should really only be necessary right at the start, to set up your no-dig garden, in order to suppress weeds beneath. Once they're dead, you're just topping up on organic matter as and when, once or twice a year. I find compost is best for this and can either be made at home, in the garden, or sourced pretty cheaply."
Ben Vanheems on Tuesday 23 November 2021
"How does one verify the safety of any particular cardboard packaging laid down? I save boxes from deliveries, but some have coloring, tape, all that. What is cardboard made of? Straw is a nice mulch, but how does one find herbicide free straw? The only things I fully trust not to have chemicals are maybe leaves and pine straw. What about using a commercially made landscape fabric rather than cardboard?"
Tracy on Sunday 9 January 2022
"I started a no till garden last January. I placed cardboard on the dirt and added compost and cardboard for the pathways and added bark chips. I use the Raised Row method, and my rows are 20 inches in width and vary in length. I had a total of 13 weeds last year! My garden was productive and beautiful. I also incorporated the Companion planting method, and added beneficial flowers such as Bergamot and calendula, and herbs such as catmint(nepeta) and chives, oregano, and Sage. I amended the soil with alfalfa meal and kelp meal. and incorporated small amounts of mushroom compost and worm casting. Yes, initially it was a LOT of work, but now, it is so relaxing and easy. I used a certified organic MOO compost which I bought in bulk. I also mulched with a fertile dark mulch to suppress the weeds. I live in Washington State zone 8-8b. I am very pleased with the no dig method!"
Barb Otter on Thursday 3 February 2022
"The cardboard I used had minimal writing on it, and I did not use any that had that waxy coating or heavy tape. I think its safe to say that being 100 percent organic is near impossible, but I am sure the food I grow is a LOT healthier than some of the produce form the big box stores.( not intended to be rude). I just do the best I can, and finding a certified organic compost in my humble opinion is the best start. Happy gardening and seed starting!"
Barb Otter on Thursday 3 February 2022
"Hi Ben, Thanks for your videos... I always learn a lot. I have been creating a new veg garden for the last 2 years (going into year 3 now). The garden is in an old hay field which has not previously been a garden. I have been experimenting with a lot of different methods- including a double dig (dig once then no dig on top of that), a lasagna bed, and two different methods of no-dig. I have used cardboard in most of them successfully. However, on two beds last year I tried a slightly different version used by Morag Gamble over at "Our Permaculture Life" and I have to say it was the easiest yet and produced unbelievably lush and productive zucchini and watermelon patches. In her version, you gently fork the ground first (not dig), sprinkle over some compost tea, coffee or tea grounds, some fresh leaves (I used a little bit of comfrey and some fig leaves). This opens the soil a bit and feeds the microorganisms. Next add 4 inches of compost, and THEN cover that with thick layers of wetted down newspaper (I used brown paper bags when I ran out of newspaper). Then you top it off with 6 inches of hay or straw. You poke a hole through the newspaper layer and plant into the compost, then pull the hay around. I used so much less water (we have hot summers with day temps in the 90's). I planted watermelons in one bed and zucchini in the other in the summer as transplants. Then i planted (seeds) of collards and garlic in the fall. The plants were among the most pest and disease free in the garden. And they stayed productive much longer. Planning to use this method in my expansion beds this spring. Oh, and I planted right away into these new beds. The idea is that the weed barrier is on TOP which keeps out new weed seeds from being blown in. Untimately the newspaper layer will degrade and become part of the soil. You might want to give it a go. I liked not having to source all that extra cardboard, and the brown grocery bags are abundant and easy to procure. "
Rebecca on Wednesday 9 February 2022
"I live in Colorado. I put a layer of leaves I collected on top of my raised beds last fall; they are getting well snowed on with sun in between through the winter! (I also use grass clippings for mulch during the growing season, so the dried grass is under the leaves.) If the leaves are not completely broken down in the spring, should I just add a couple inches of compost on top and then plant my veggies in that? Also, I've been using a Simple Lawn Solutions' Liquid Soil Loosener- Soil Conditioner along with Super Seaweed Humic Fulvic Acid Blend- Soil Hume to turn my lawn more natural and stop needing to fertilize it; I assume the Soil Hume would be good to use on my vegetable garden before planting as well, to help boost the soil health? (I don't need the soil loosener in my garden since the raised beds have a pretty loose combination of soil components, unlike my clay-soil lawn!)"
Melissa Rawsky on Friday 18 February 2022
"I have a mature Willow tree next to my veggie garden and I want to transition to no-till. I have been digging over the garden yearly to remove roots from this tree, so I am wondering if no- till gardening is going to work for me in this location? I am wondering if heavy mulching and not needing to water will discourage the roots of the willow. Any thoughts would be appreciated. "
Linda on Tuesday 1 March 2022
"Hi Barb and Rebecca. Thanks so much for sharing your experiences, that's really helpful. Melissa - I would just add some compost on top of the leaves and plant straight into that. Or if there is good soil beneath the leaves, just push them aside when you plant and return them once the plants are a bit bigger, so they serve as a mulch while they continue to break down into the soil. I've never used soil hume before, but it seems it would be great to use on your vegetable garden before planting, as use suggest. Linda - I worry the tree may send out roots into the veggie garden once you are no longer digging it over to remove the roots. I honestly can't say whether it would be a problem or not. But raising the soil level above the ground through no-dig may mean it's okay. I guess the only way to know for sure is to try it. I can't imagine the roots would pose an immediate risk at least."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 28 March 2022
"I am on board for the principles and practices, though it is not always as simple or easy as posed. Kikuyu (Cenchrus clandestinus) and Couch (Cynodon dactylon) grass, particularly the former, can be covered by carboard, can be seemingly killed by plastic much, can be covered by more than 30 cm of soil and rhizomes will survive and can quickly take over. Dealing with them requires more than pulling off the tips as they appear. "
Jeremy Bruhl on Friday 8 April 2022
"Thanks for sharing your experience there Jeremy - that's certainly worth noting. "
Ben Vanheems on Friday 8 April 2022
"Hi, thanks for all the great gardening videos! I am wondering how to control bindweed, (wild morning glory) in a no till , or any garden. They seem maddeningly persistent, and able to penetrate any mulch that I have used. Digging out as much of the root as I can see or find only helps for a short time. I have read that the roots can be six feet deep! I have just installed my first raised bed, with the intention of morphing my very large conventional garden to this format over time. I do not want these new beds infested with the bindweed! Any suggestions are welcome. Thank you "
Mary on Tuesday 12 April 2022
"Dear Ben, I'm already anticipating a good second year on my newly-converted no-dig garden, but I've been wondering about the smaller greens and flowers that I usually let self-sow: cress, mache, claytonia, purslane, chamomile, alyssum, etc. I'm worried that adding my new year's compost layer will not only smother potential weeds, but that these tiny-seeded crops will be blocked from germination too. Does no-dig garden necessitate saving seeds every year from these sorts of plants, or is there a good way to encourage *some* things to self-seed in the garden? Thank you in advance for all guidance!"
Jeralynn on Monday 1 August 2022
"Hi there, I was wondering about the homemade mulch. Should I get old leaves and wood shavings and whatever else like egg shells and old food and throw them all in a compost box, mix that around and let it decompose, or should I add it straight to the garden. I want to build a underground greenhouse and don't want to till so I will go with the no till idea. "
Levi Owens on Sunday 11 September 2022
"Hello, It's springtime, I have my plants overdue, time to plant. I'm building flower beds no-till, using cardboard and a mulch overtop. But the mulch is not fine, pretty coarse actually, and you can not plant in it. compost is too expensive, making a lot of beds. so in order to plant the starter plants, the ground is hard to poke in a dibbler unless it is first soaked in water. I wonder how the plants are going to make it planting into a hard, wet clay soil through the cardboard. not my choice, what would you recommend, if feel my plants are going to die struggling with all this, maybe not worth trying. "
Lisa on Wednesday 10 May 2023
"Hi Lisa. I would try and improve each planting hole with some compost - digging it in as best you can. You can then cover the remainder of the area around your plants with cardboard and mulch. You might want to try space-hungry plants that will sprawl in this first season - so squashes for example. Then continue adding mulch on top of the ground area as it's available. Hopefully by next spring you'll have a much richer soil from all the mulch. There will be lots of leaves to come in the autumn, for example, which can all be piled on to help improve the soil ready for more intensive planting the following year."
Ben Vanheems on Wednesday 10 May 2023
"My garden is about 40 feet by 80 feet. I rotate my crops and don't plant the same things in the same spots. If I don't till, it would be like trying to plant in a concrete slab. We add compost every year. How can you plant corn seed and tomato plants without the ground being soft? I would have to buy several semi truck loads of compost to cover this. Then after several 100 degree weeks with no rain makes it all rock hard again. "
Clint on Tuesday 22 August 2023
"Hi Clint. The ground does eventually become soft under no till methods. Starting a no-till garden off usually requires a fair amount of initial organic matter, but after that it shouldn't need any more compost than a traditional dug garden."
Ben Vanheems on Wednesday 23 August 2023
"Hello. I am hoping next summer, to grow a patch of corn in a section of a large grassy area we have. I plan to pile up some organic matter over the winter, hoping it will be ready to sow in the spring. Do I need to do anything to break up the grass first, or can I just literally start piling material straight on top of the grass? I have quite a few options I can use for organic material - homemade garden compost, wood chippings, old hay bales, horse manure, for eg. Any tips on how to do this would be greatly appreciated."
Pam on Friday 1 September 2023
"Hi Pam. I would mow/cut the grass as low as possible to the ground and then lay cardboard (well overlapping) over the top of the grass. This will really help to weaken it. I'd then pile your organic matter over the top. I would put your rougher/less decomposed material towards the bottom, finishing with a top layer of your garden compost or - only if it's well rotted - the manure. If the horse manure isn't very well rotted or has a few lumps in it, I'd perhaps put that further down with the lovely garden compost on top. Hope that helps."
Ben Vanheems on Tuesday 5 September 2023
"I used clay soil in container gardening and compost only on top. Container is 24 inch wide. Mango tree is growing very fine. Not modified with vermiculite or perlite. All you have to look is the ph of soil. Plants have powerful roots. Some plants I modified soil with perlite and vermiculite. They can even penetrate inside wet concrete houses it allowed."
Neeraj Kakar on Tuesday 30 April 2024
"Hi Neeraj. Thanks for letting us know about your experiences here. Sounds like you are doing just great with your container plants. Lovely to have fresh mango! :-)"
Ben Vanheems on Wednesday 1 May 2024
"Hi Ben, 1. To establish a no dig garden, I plan to cut down the grass to the ground level with a brush cutter , lay newspapers over it, lightly moisen the newspapers, lay a 4 inch mix of soil and ready vermicompost, plant seeds into the mix ,water lightly and mulch the field with dry leaves /grass 2. I June, I dug in 6 foot high bamboos in my garden, covered the top with a50% green shadenet open sides, to lessen the effect of the harsh Indian summer heat. The bamboos have been connected with 4 rows of plastic rope to support my cucumber, bitter gourd, ridge gourd creepers. Under the ground is Turmeric and Ginger, along the plastic ropes at ground level are the creepers. Spinach, coriander, fenugreek cover the rest of the field.At the base of each bamboo, I have planted papaya seeds. So I will be taking 4 croprs from one field. 3. Now that summer monsoon has started in July, there is less of direct sunlight what would you suggest to get the best results without removing the shade ? "
Lakhinder Bir Singh on Saturday 6 July 2024
"Hi Lakhinder. It's hard to know what might be best as I'm not familiar with your climate. But assuming it's warm and obviously very wet, you might like to try any number of salads and brassicas - cabbages, cauliflower and so on - they would thrive in the wet and appreciate that extra shade."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 8 July 2024
"Ben, thank you kindly for your response! The clay soils have been breaking down nicely over the past few years!! Thank you for all you are doing. Sincerely—"
Kevin Bilant on Monday 8 July 2024
"Hi Kevin. So pleased the clay soil is improving - great job! :-)"
Ben Vanheems on Monday 8 July 2024

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