Introduction: Easy Organic Garden Any Where - the NO DIG GARDEN

Picture of Easy Organic Garden Any Where - the NO DIG GARDEN

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What is a No dig garden?

A simple, easy and great way to grow your food!!

The No Dig Garden is essentially a great big compost heap containing all the things that plants like best, arranged in layers just like big lasagna.

It can be built any where (on concrete, earth, clay) having no essential relationship to that surface (all though on earth it will contribute to the improvement eventually thanks to MR worm.)
I encourage you to use your imagination and also to follow the principles of both companion planting and permaculture to maximize the benefit of the system.

While me and nature prefer lots of curves and no straight lines or rules, i have formated this instructable with in a set of rules, so those who are not familiar with it can see how it works to start with, when you have the hang of it feel free to experiment.

The advantages: No Bending, NO digging, NO weeding, (use weed free straw), friendly pest balance, (use companion planting / learn to share with nature), Reduced watering, (Keep it moist) Creates humus, Attaches them friendly worms, your crops love it!

Step 1: Ingredients

Picture of Ingredients

For the purpose of this instructable the ingredients list is for the square 1.5m x 1.5m x 1m shown in the picture.
The garden can be made of pretty much any thing so long as it includes a good equal mixture of nitrogen and carbon rich materials, below are my favourite ingredients.

-- A flat site on any surface - concrete, earth....
-- Forming material of your choice - i prefer chicken wire, you can us any thing to hold it while it settles, some choose to leave the form on.
-- Cardboard boxes, clean, broken down and flat - 0.11m cubed
-- Pea straw - one conventional bale - 0.5mx 0.5m x 1.0m
-- Veggie scraps -8 x 20 litre bins
-- Cow manure - 2 x 20 litre bins (solarised - black plastic bag)
-- Organic Blood and bone fertilizer - 6 handfuls
-- Straw - one conventional bale - 0.5mx 0.5m x 1.0m
-- Compost - two handfuls per plant
-- Roll of chicken wire or shipping pallets for edging
-- Water supply to soak

The total construction cost depends on how much you can acquire ( check out in your area) and how much you have to buy.

Step 2: Design

Choose the site to reflect what you want to grow.- NDGs don't do well in full shade unless you desire to grow only toadstools and the like!

The best being an open, sunny spot on any surface - preferably level

Your garden can be any shape and size provided its no smaller than 1.5mx 1.5m x 1m, below this it looses moisture to fast.
The shape is largely dictated by your ability to reach the center of any part of the bed ,with perhaps a bit of overlap, with out having to stand on the bed its self.
Its a good idea to stand balanced and comfortable at the side of your proposed bed and sweep your arms to indicate the centers of the bed.

In order for a NDG to work properly ( particularly when you start using your imaginations a bit more) the following 2 ingredients must be present;
> ingredients that contain Nitrogen and those that containing Carbon.(generally its one or the other)

There must be an equal amount of both, for the system to work well..
> Water

Step 3: Construction

Picture of Construction


Choose a retaining wall (temporary) - in this sequence I have used shipping pallets, subsequently as you will see at the end of construction i have changed over to chicken wire that is easier to shape, handle, acquire and lets in more light
Erect in the shape you desire.

the purpose of the retaining wall is to keep the pile vertical while it settles, or in a area where you have limited space.

Step 4: Construction - Layers

Picture of Construction - Layers

lay the base matieral of your choice out with in the walls you have created to a depth of approx 75mm ( 3 inches)
As you lay the materail down soak with water, this also helps to prevent it blowing away on a windy day. Since this bed was built i now prefer to use only heavy clean cardboard boxes broken down as the base layer.and layer flat to height of 75mm.

Step 5: Construction

Picture of Construction

Place a layer of pea straw next (future gardens have demonstrated at least 0.5m tall is best, broken straight off a compressed bale.)

Getting good quality weed free pea straw ensures that there are no weeds in the finished No dig garden

Step 6: Construction

Picture of Construction

A layer of vegetable scraps, collected free from the back of my local fruit and veggie store. Minium of 50mm thick.

Remember that any thing that contains seeds might grow - this is either a bonus or....

Step 7: Construction

Picture of Construction

A layer of cow manure sprinkled with generous amount of blood and bone organic fertiliser (commerically avalible organic fertilser in NZ - made from crushed bone, dried blood from slaughter house)

you can use other animal manures, all though chicken needs to be thoroughly seasoned other wise it can make a huge and fatal change in the ph of the garden and kill plants - as it dose when applied to a normal garden bed.

horse manure tends to very full of seeds in comparison to cow, and like your pea straw any seeds introduced to the mix will only grow later...

when collecting cow manure fresh form the paddock its a very good idea to solarise it for a few weeks to kill off the partially digested plant material etc in it -this is best done by placing it in a black plastic bag , closing the bag and leaving it in hot sunny location for a couple of weeks.

Step 8: Construction

Picture of Construction

Followed by a loose layer of normal straw – also about minimum of 0.5m height

Like the Pea straw and manure - take the extra effort to find weed seed free straw, particularly as this is close to the top of the layer.

Step 9: Soak and Rest

Picture of Soak and Rest

just like making bread, Soak the whole pile thoroughly and leave to settle for about three weeks, in this period the pile (just like a compost heap) creates heat and breaks down a bit, while settling.

Don't feel tempted to plant earlier, like i did and wonder why all the plants keel over.

See the picture for a summary of the layers.

Step 10: Planting

Picture of Planting

choose your favourite plants and companions.(as seedlings) Scoop out about a two hand full hole in the top straw layer and fill with compost,plant in to this, and water the compost.

If you live in a particularly hot environment you will need to monitor the moisture content and water ever week or two.

For more pictures of gardens so far, visit my collection pagevisit my collection page.
Under Albums ( right of page ) veiw the different No digs..

just go down below the 'adds" and review the sub albums. under the album called "what is a NDG" you will find my reference list with heaps of useful book titles on organic gardening in general.

Step 11: Recommended Reading

Picture of Recommended Reading

See image below, my collection so far on all things NO Dig.


vlatro (author)2009-06-17

Love the tutorial, however I would make a few suggestions. In regard to Manure, I believe you have it backwards with the seasoning. Chicken Manure is for the most part ready to use the moment it drops from the chicken. Horse, Sheep and Cow Manure on the other hand is usually Seasoned for 2 years before it's sold for garden use. This as a general rule may not apply to this type of enclosed micro-garden, as fresh chicken manure is acidic, even a little bit could spike the pH. However, fresh manure should be neutralized with Lime before application anyway (unless you are correcting the soil pH). Hint: Invest in a cheap soil pH meter ($29 at most garden stores). Then look up you plants with the Dept. of Agriculture, or at Cornell University's website to determine what the proper pH should be for that specific plant. That will save you lots of confusion later when trying to figure out why your Blueberries did great and everything else died. Most such issues are related to pH. The proportions of ingredients will also vary depending on your climate and the types of plants you intend to grow. In a wet climate for instance, lowering the green plant waste and increasing the straw will help prevent mildew and other fungal infections. The rain will bring ample nitrogen to substitute for the lack of decaying foliage. In a dry climate, it will help the soil retain moisture with the need for excessive watering which can erode many of the nutrients in a raised bed. Likewise, the plants will have individual requirements. Nitrogen in excess (even from organic sources) can damage plants. It aids in the growth of the leaves primarily and will help plants like cabbage. For Peppers and Tomatoes, lot's of dark green leaves may give the appearance of a healthier plant, but lead to reduced fruit production. Thus less Nitrogen would be beneficial. That means less Green matter, and less manure. Drainage is another consideration. Your setup appears adequate for most plants people will grow. But again, research each plant and find out what it needs. Your setup is very well thought out, so multiple box gardens with the proper corrections for different classifications of plants would be easy. What I particularly like about your garden is that a small cold frame could be made to fit over it very easily, allowing for greenhouse growing without the actual greenhouse. For those looking for Blood and Bone fertilizers, here in the US, they are widely available in most garden shops. However, some states have put restrictions on the sale, for fear that you would inhale some while applying it and contract diseases. That's never happened to anyone that I'm aware of, but you know how these frivolous laws get passed... As such, some states require the contents to be sterilized. This is done through irradiation, since heat or chemical sterilization can severely degrade the quality of the product. When the price jumps from $5 a bag to $45, a lot of stores stop carrying it. The good news is, a 10lb bag should last you decades. While it's available everywhere, it is understandably difficult to find in some regions. All in all, a very good article, I give it 9 out of 10.

agatornz (author)vlatro2011-11-08

hey thanks for your compliments and extensive reply :-) wow must be at touch typer like me hey..

the only thing ill have to agree to disagree on is the animal poo thing - seems your information and experiences on this is totally opposite to mine.., my dip hort tutors and my subsequent experience - chicken manure needs to "cool down" cow and sheep manure is good straight - horse manure to be avoided due to undigested seeds.

vlatro (author)agatornz2011-11-08

I stand corrected. I've always free-ranged chickens in the garden between fruiting cycles, leaving the dropping to fall where they may, and never with an adverse affect on the plants. However I understand that people buying manure are likely to apply it in much larger quantities, which would definitely burn the plants.

I can agree on horse manure needing composting for seeds. Ruminants like cows, sheep and goats may digest the seeds, but I've always composted it anyway. It may just be a habit of mine, whether it's necessary or not is debatable. Most people will muck-out the stalls for these animals a pile it for later use anyway. In retrospect, my methods may be born more out of the need for managing the volume of manure and less from a gardening perspective.

Tamaresque (author)2011-11-01

I thought that Esther Deans had started all this with her book in 1977 called Growing Without Digging, but according to this Wiki article, it's been around a lot longer than that.
Very interesting read.

And while I have Esther Deans' book, as others have said, I find this Instructable much clearer and easier to follow.

agatornz (author)Tamaresque2011-11-02

hi there,

you may well be write there - i learned it from some where - perhaps during my hort course - research.. the intention of the instructable wasnt to re invent but just as you note - to show how easy it can be;-) thanks for your compliment:-)

mcshawnboy (author)2010-05-02

 What would be a substitute for "Pea Straw"?  I've never heard of it as a commercial product in the USA.  When I Google searched to buy it all the vendors were NZ addresses.

mash-2 (author)mcshawnboy2011-07-31

My best educated guess would be that 'pea straw' is likely to be the same as alfalfa or clover hay here. They are all high protein and nutrient dense forage for supplementing the feed of animals. And, all three are legumes.

timmycutts (author)mcshawnboy2011-05-19

The beauty of this is that you can use anything. If you can't get pea straw, something like conventional mulches or even autumn leaves. Pea straw is just like any other straw, it just comes from pea plants, so you should be able to get something similar at your local nursery.

Brackinese (author)2009-02-17

Ooo, great instructable! Since the roots don't seem to ever hit the ground (or do they?), could this potentially be transported? It might not be easy, but sort of "if necessary," like the diners of old. Could I use any bone for this? Like, the bones I get from chicken thighs? Because while I'm sure it's a good use of resources, I'm on the fence about using dried blood. xD

agatornz (author)Brackinese2009-02-18

Hi there, no in my experience the roots have no desire to contact the ground, allthough the worms tend to do a bit of trading between the two eventually. As it happens I have actually moved a no dig garden ( the one you see in the main picture actually from another location to that one.) It took a trailer and a bit of huffing and puffing but was worth it. If you were going to build one with the likely hood of moving it i would suggest from my experience that you place and extra thick layer of flattened cardboard boxes ( eg) and newspaper... even better if you place the garden on a hard surface like concrete too... Well not sure about your miss giving about using dried blood, ( its a totally natural and organic substance, hence it is made in to blood and bone fertiliser just like any decaying animal would in the wide...) equally, i hate to bust your comfort with bone but, as far as i remember thats where allot of blood is actually made - in the bone marrow when the animal is alive,..... The blood and bone fertiliser that is iconic here in New Zealand is dry brown powder - sure doesn't look like the red stuff.... thanks for your comments

gingertech (author)2008-09-06

I really like this idea might try it when i get some spare time *blames GCSE* lol favorited XD

agatornz (author)gingertech2008-12-31

hi there, dont you know time is only spare when you make it? try making a garden and suddenly while you are doing it you will find spare time under the mulch haha

agatornz (author)gingertech2008-11-19

its amazing how time appears when you get a nice big pile of ingredients.. ready then it happens so fast you wonder why you waited!

agatornz (author)gingertech2008-09-06

well here is a trick for getting spare time - go out and haul the straw and pea straw bales to your place, start stockpiling vege scraps or find a vege shop who is ready to give you their off cuts, find a farmer with a nice supply of cow dung or other manure - and get pile of it and pop it in black plastic bags to solarise for a while and before you know it you have a big pile of ingredients just waiting to be put together and it takes no time.... youll kick your self for waiting that long;-)

nerdmom920 (author)2008-12-29

Nice instructable. Any reason why you use a en for your ndg. I am doing it in a 500 square foot area, but don't really want to build a fence around it.

agatornz (author)nerdmom9202008-12-31

i assume the spelling error is asking why i put a fence around it. this one was one of my first - at the most i only use chicken wire for fence now. the reason i have fenced it is that i was exploring gardens for people with limited space - example in and urban area. Love to see photos of your garden thought - where abouts are you in the world>? perhaps you will put up and instructable too>:? thanks for your comment

BigAl323 (author)2007-11-30

I have a gardening book which shows the same type of gardening. They call it "Lasagna Gardening" because of the layers. good job, I was planning on doing the same thing.

agatornz (author)BigAl3232008-07-29

yes that is right - lasagna gardens are another name for it - all though i think lasagna tastes better!

agatornz (author)BigAl3232007-11-30

yes you are totally right - the idea has been around for a long time i believe as it should - and its also called lasagna gardens and i am sure the worms think the same.

BigAl323 (author)agatornz2007-11-30

I just found the book I mentioned. It is called "Lasagna Gardening' by Patricia Lanza. The book has a lot of good information (and pictures). You would probably be interested. Alex

plzspoilme25 (author)2008-02-24

i love this type of garden, i did mine in a trampoline frame with chicken wire around it, basically as just a compost bin, for my worm farm.....but after it heated up it was a great garden with all the benifits plus the nutrieants from my worms...and its was great to have some pumkin seeds start growing the next year from the left over pumpkins that didnt sell for halloween, that was put thrown in compost.

agatornz (author)plzspoilme25 2008-07-29

love to see your gardens - how about an instructable :-) i have a friend who has heated his house from a green house full of compost and pipes laid in it!!!

SheShe (author)2008-07-04

This is an excellent idea. My dogs seem to find anything that is freshly planted and proceed to dig it up. Sooo... problem solved! Thanks!

agatornz (author)SheShe2008-07-29

well heres hoping that the garden is made high enough that they cant climb aboard - perhaps leave an enclosure around it???

speltbaker (author)2008-05-03

agatornz - an update on my NDGarden: i started the process and am most impressed! i do have some weeds, but i'm trying to just smother them until the plants grow big enough to cover them. i haven't done as fancy a job as you (my layers aren't as neat, nor as comprehensive) but my plants seem very happy. i've put in a couple of plots already - i'm surprised how much compostable material our family creates. i'm looking forward to harvest time! thanks again.

agatornz (author)speltbaker2008-07-29

hey there ! thats great to hear.... i tend to find there are two main causes for weeds in a ndg.... poor quality straw / pea straw - ie it has weed seeds in, its really just a matter of trial and error to find out which supply is clean. or if you have used cow and particularly horse manure fresh from the paddocks it needs to be solarised for at least a couple of weeks to kill seeds . Once the weeds come up the best way to deal with them is to just weed them right out - as leaving them means they get to munch on the plant food and also act as refugees for bugs... the illustration here was done real clean for demo purposes i can guarantee you :-) ha ha love to see some pictures and detail on your experiences - have you thought of an instruct able your self?

agatornz (author)speltbaker2008-05-04

hey there great to hear, love to see some pictures of your endeavour - or a link at least - just working on my own web site about it -

what part of the planet are you in ? generally weeds in the garden are related to how seed free the straw is ... good clean straw ( or pea straw) of course if its pea plants popping up - nothing lost - pea being a member of fabaceae fix nitrogen and are nice to eat too...

Full Frontal Graphic (author)2008-03-21

favorited for later... looks awesome at first scan

speltbaker (author)2008-03-07

thanks - i've looked at several no dig garden plans and yours is the most comprehensive (with great photos i might add). appreciate the help! great instructable.

agatornz (author)speltbaker2008-03-08

hi there Speltbaker, thanks for that, hope it has inspired you to have a go - remember there are no hard and fast rules other than getting a good mix of carbon and nitrogen stuff, and letting it cool down before you plant - love to hear how you go - am currently working on my own web page and going to have a nodig garden page - love to put your photos and experiances on there...

Gmastefluffy (author)2007-11-07

What country are you in?( if you don't mind me asking). Because they don't sell blood and bone in America.

dchall8 (author)Gmastefluffy2007-11-08

You can get blood and bone meals in 5-pound bags at any garden store, nursery, Home Depot, or Lowe's; and you can get it in 50-pound bags at many feed stores. Blood meal is considered a "hot" organic fertilizer and should be used either in preparing bare soil or in very small amounts - no more than 1/2 pound per 100 square feet. If you use it too heavily, directly on soil with roots in it, you may "burn" the roots of your plants.

agatornz (author)2007-11-08

Hi - Gmaserfluffy.. I am in New Zealand. Blood and bone is and organic fertiliser that is I believe made from dried blood and crushed bones - waste products from the freezing works ( meat works / slaughter house - what ever you call it) its is thus very rich in nutrients and we use it for every thing :-)

rimar2000 (author)2007-11-05

Very useful, thanks.

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