no dig raised garden bed

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Everyone would agree that gardening would be more fun and less backbreaking if not for all the digging needed. However, it may surprise you that digging is not an important part of gardening! 

You may ask, why did people make it a habit to dig gardens? Well, it is because of traditional practices. Back in the old days, people treated their gardens like mini-farms. Since most people see how things are done in huge farmlands, they also did the same with their gardens at home.  

Most farmers still do tillage because it helps loosen the compacted soil, rips up the weeds, and buries leftover scraps from the harvesting season. This makes the soil easier to plant into. 

why you should not dig 

For many, they treat soil as “dirt”. However, what most people do not know is that they help plants and tree roots to anchor down and grow healthy. Soil is also a complex ecosystem that is teeming with a truly diverse life. 

Soil is considered more abundant and more complex with life unlike other ecosystems above the ground. In just a tablespoon of soil, there are already 50 billion microbes.  

Organisms found in the soil include Actinomycetes, Algae, Bacteria, Fungi, Nematodes, Protozoa, and Yeast. It also includes arthropods and other insects such as earthworms that are all beneficial in growing healthy plants. 

When you dig and turn over the soil, you are exposing a delicate ecosystem to the air that eventually dries out. It also exposes the soil to ultraviolet rays from the sun than sterilizes it and killing its organisms. 

By digging, nutrients such as nitrogen and carbon are removed from the soil. This also loses the organic matter in the soil and prevents it from retaining water well. As the structure of the soil is disturbed, soil compaction occurs and leads to hardpan formation. This also reduces water infiltration, which causes more runoff on the surface leading to an increase in soil erosion. 

Earth has 60 years of soil life and digging shortens that life span. Also, chemical fertilizers are used in the dying soil. This kills the small amount of life left in the soil. 

Many would agree that it is not ethical to destroy what little is left in the soil life just for a one nutrient boost just to grow plants. It only shows the ignorance of people in understanding soil ecology and sustaining the soil life while growing crops. 

the more you dig the soil the more the weeds grow 

Whenever the soil is dug, turned over, or loosened, weed growth increases as it is the way to recover from the disruption. The regrowth is from the perennial weeds growing as the soil is tilled and dug out regularly. 

When the soil is left undisturbed or uncultivated, there is less need for the soil to recover and the fewer weeds will grow. No dig soil is packed with beneficial microbes and organisms that help plants in finding more moisture and nutrients. This also conveys health to you as the gardener as it is feeding your gut biome. 

the increase in interest for raised no-dig garden beds 

The no-dig bed method can also be done when building a raised bed. It is a good method to consider especially when you do not want to use disturb the soil underneath the area where you want to build the raised bed. 

This method ensures a successful healthy growth of plants mainly because of the absence of weeds. You can save more time in being more creative with your garden as there is less need for constant weeding.  

Regardless if you are creating flower borders and a vegetable garden, weeds are not always welcome in growing crops. No dig allows you to enjoy an organized and clean garden with a variety of productive and beautiful plantings. 

what are no-dig garden beds? 

You would often hear from most people that you need to till the earth before you can start planting. The wisdom behind this is that it helps in loosening the soil and spreading the nutrients from the compost along with the decomposing plants from the last harvest.  

Most people hold on to this belief as most plants grow and thrive for the first year in the tilled plot. However, what most people miss in this process is that in exchange for the faster growth rate is the loss of important balance in the soil. In turn, this encourages erosions, kills beneficial nematodes and worms, unearth weed seeds, and puts all the plants in a lot of stress. 

The root systems of plants are specialized as the top roots are absorbing the nutrients from the topsoil while the lower roots are bringing in minerals deep from the soil and act as the anchor against winds. 

Plants will grow better with a more natural and carefully balanced soil ecosystem instead of exposing the roots to a compost-rich soil. You want to promote the plants’ ability to grow naturally. 

how to build a no-dig raised garden bed 

Building a no-dig garden bed is easy. Also, you can start building anywhere regardless if your garden soil is not ideal for planting. Just follow the steps below: 

1. Pick the spot where you want to build the garden bed 

When picking the location, just make sure that it gets a lot of sunlight and the surface is flat. 

2. Prepare the materials for building the bed 

Choose the material you want for your bed. Say, for example, you are choosing wood. The smallest size you can build is a 4×4 garden bed. Cut all the wood planks 4 ft in length and screw all the corners once done. This will create a small square garden bed. 

3. Now after building the sides you can cover the ground with newspaper or cardboard.  

This will kill the grass eventually and decompose with it.  

4. Next is starting to fill the bed. 

The first layer can be made of compost that is not completely decomposed. The least decomposed compost would usually have bits of wood chips and other organic materials in there and still a bit warm. You do not want this warmth to reach the roots of your plants, so it is best to be at the bottom layer. Level it before adding the next layers of compost. 

Add in a layer of manure or your compost if you have any. You want this layer to have al the good nutrients for your plants. You want to fill it up and tamp it a bit to keep it compact. You should keep layering it with as much layer of compost on top of the least decomposed one as possible since it will start going down a bit after a couple of weeks. 

As Charles Dowding said in one of his videos, you can stop at this layer if you want but what he did is he added a top layer of mushroom compost. You can always fill it up above the bed instead of filling it up again after a few weeks when the soil starts settling down. 

5. Start planting 

Since you already have a perfect blend of soil, there is no need to add fertilizers. You can now start planting. For your organic garden, you can plant any crops you want and ensure that it will all be healthy as the growing season comes. 

Among the gardening methods used in these types of garden beds is square foot gardening. This method allows you to plant a variety of vegetables, herbs, and even flowers. Once done, you can put mulch or dried grass clippings on it to keep the soil moist. 

perks of making a no-dig garden bed 

There are a lot of perks from making a no-dig garden bed. These are the reasons why many are turning into the use of garden beds and incorporating the no-dig soil method as they prepare their gardens. Some of these perks are: 

  • You can set up the garden anywhere – over the lawn or concrete. 
  • They are easy to make. 
  • If your soil in the garden is not ideal for growing vegetables, you can create the right soil blend in a no-dig garden. 
  • These gardens are known to be very fertile. The decomposing organic matter in the gardens becomes rich, black compost quickly. It also attracts certain micro-organisms beneficial for your growing crops. 
  • Moisture retention is up to par in these gardens. 
  • Since the soil is not turned over, it discourages weed growth. 

With these perks, you can start building a raised garden bed that is weed-free and can grow beautiful and productive crops. Get started now with your gardening adventures by trying this method. Good luck! 

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