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Permaculture Techniques - No Dig Gardening


A no dig gardening bed is essentially a slow working compost heap, where organic material is placed on top of the soil and plants grown in it, instead of cultivating and adding organic matter to the soil.


  • Success is not dependent on base soil characteristics - can be placed on existing lawn, concrete pathways, rock (eg limestone or granite outcrops), water-logged or polluted sites, etc.
  • Maintains existing soil structure/profile, retains (or improves) drainage.
  • Does not bare soil, less opportunity for erosion of surface soil.
  • Fewer weeds, weeding is easier
  • Less work (no digging, levelling)
  • More intensive - can obtain more levels of plants because of very nutrient rich growing medium
  • Can be placed at height suitable for people with bad backs, or to avoid back problems Can include gardening in pots and window boxes if space is limited.


  1. Select site (if prone to waterlogging ensure adequate drainage is built into base of no dig garden, eg layer of small rock, coarse gravel).
  2. Remove weeds
  3. Form walls of garden to desired height using suitable materials (bricks, timber, rocks - preferably use recycled materials that are readily available in your local area).
  4. Gather materials to be used - mulch, compost, newspaper or cardboard with coloured ink sections removed, straw (or lucerne hay if reasonably priced), old sawdust or wood shavings, animal manures, blood and bone or other proprietary organic fertiliser, mushroom compost, lime (if needed), vegetable and plant scraps (these may be from weeding the site, but ensure they are seed free, and don't contain plants which propagate from cuttings), seaweed (may need to be washed first to remove residue salt). Spoiled hay may contain seeds and should be composted well first.
  5. Aerate the soil with a garden fork.
  6. Put down a layer of organic material - compost, animal manure, vegetable or plant matter, add lime if necessary.
  7. Cover with wet newspaper (to a thickness of 50 sheets) or wet cardboard (to a thickness of 15mm), taking care to overlap each layer. This prevents weeds from growing. Other materials which can be used to form barrier include any degradable material - cotton or woollen fabric, old carpet or felt underlay (not synthetic and be sure to check history as they may have been treated with chemicals for pest control).
  8. Put down garden material, coarsest first (straw/lucerne hay at least 10cm thick) and then finest material like compost soil, rotted manure, organic fertilisers, old sawdust, shavings, etc. Ensure materials are friable to resist compaction and crusting.
  9. Water well.
  10. Cover with mulch. Any bulky organic material which will resist being blown away can be used, eg straw, wood chips or shavings, pine bark, seaweed.
  11. Plant seedlings directly into top layer. Root crops are generally not sown in first year. To plant pull back mulch, make a small depression into top layer and plant seedling in a couple of handfuls of compost. Replace mulch taking care not to place it next to stems (can cause collar rot). To plant seeds pull back mulch, sow seeds into top layer, and cover with mulch or leave until germinated then cover.
  12. Water plants gently.



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care for earth,
care for people,
return surplus,
reduce consumption

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Copyright © Beverley Paine 2002-14. Article from this website may be downloaded, reproduced, and distributed without permission as long as each copy includes this entire notice along with citation information (i.e., name of the periodical in which it originally appeared, date of publication, and author's name). Permission must be obtained from the author in order to reprint this article in a published work or to offer it for sale in any form. Please visit Bungala Ridge Permaculture Gardens for more original content by Beverley Paine.