Gardening in Virginia – Creating a No Dig Garden

One of my goals last year was to reclaim our old vegetable garden, an area of the yard that we let go back to lawn several years ago. Very honestly, I wasn’t looking forward to it. Our soil is heavy clay and a pain in the butt to dig and amend. A daunting chore to say the least.

Then we discovered Charles Dowding’s (we’ll call him Uncle Charlie) no-dig method of creating planting beds. Go ahead and fall down that rabbit hole. I’ll wait right here for you.

Excited about the prospect of creating a large garden without having to excavate it, we ordered a truckload of compost. We needed six cubic yards of compost for our 20′ x 24′ garden. We’d already planted our asparagus babies in a trench, so we included enough compost to begin filling that in.

With No Dig, the process for creating a garden is the same regardless of the garden size.

You’ll need:

  • Uncoated, unbleached, brown cardboard – remove all plastic labels, tape, etc.
  • Compost – calculate how much you’ll need to cover your garden to a depth of four inches, subtracting paths between rows
  • Mulch of some sort to cover pathways – we used wood chips
  • Seeds or transplants
  1. Place a single layer of brown, uncoated cardboard down over the planting area.

2. Leaving room for paths if necessary, cover the cardboard with compost to a depth of four inches. Firm up the compost by walking on it.

3. Place mulch over cardboard in the pathways.

4. Start planting directly into the compost.

Really! It’s just that simple.

Some of the benefits of no dig are:

Compost beds don’t compress like soil. You can walk on them, and work in the garden when it is wet. Compost doesn’t stick to your gardening shoes/boots like soil does.

Weeding is easy. Just dig or pull the odd weed that pops up in the beds. To keep the paths weed-free, simply place cardboard over the weed(s) and mulch over top. Repeat this process as often as needed until you’ve successfully killed the weeds. Uncle Charlie says no weed is inexhaustible, it takes about four layers of cardboard and mulch to kill tenacious weeds.

There’s no need to amend with soil. Each year, add a 1″ layer of fresh compost to the planting beds. The compost feeds the soil, and earthworms do the “tilling” for you!

We created this garden last July and immediately planted some of our fall crops of carrots, cucumbers and corn, leaving room for radishes, kale and several varieties of lettuce.

If you’ve wanted to start a garden, I hope you’ll give this no-dig method a try! Leave me a note in the comments below if you do. I’d love to hear from you.

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