my no-dig garden – starting afresh

by Sharon Santoni

no dig beds in vegetable garden

I try hard to improve my garden in small ways each year.   Some ideas are bigger or more ambitious than others and some succeed better than others.  And that’s all part of the enjoyment.  It’s an ongoing learning curve,  it’s creative and productive and I love it.

no dig beds in vegetable garden

 

My current new project is these no-dig beds in the vegetable garden or potager.   I’m sure that many of you have no-dig beds already, but this is all new to me.  Last Spring I visited the Jardins du Prieuré d’Orsan, with its famous raised no-dig beds.  I loved their wattle fencing and was amazed at how beautiful yet how low maintenance the garden is, especially for its size.   A few weeks later I was in Vita Sackville West’s garden at Sissinghurst and there again were some lovely no-dig beds, yielding impressive quantities of fruits and vegetables in the potager.  It got me thinking …

detail wattle fencing

The garden here is rather high maintenance.   I love our mixed borders, and  we have lots of roses and various perennials that need dead-heading regularly.   Keeping up with the flower beds leaves little time for weeding the vegetable garden, but I hope that the no dig method is going to prove miraculous.

vegeatable garden with white fence

For the past ten or more years, our little potager has been fenced in with some home made picket fence and has quietly produced cutting flowers alongside tomatoes, salads, beans, courgettes and pumpkins.  It comprises 4 beds, each measuring 3metre square

The white fence was designed to lift off the posts for lawn cutting, and was repainted every other year …. pretty for sure, but an additional garden task to handle

vegeatable garden with white fence

I read a lot about no dig beds, and watched videos too.   The principal is simple.   Smother the existing ground with  cardboard, and layer with leaves, compost, humus, and soil to create rich fertile ground that the worms will adore and to prevent the old weeds, grass etc from growing back.   Having read all about the technique I finally decided to make the leap of faith and go no-dig.

no dig beds in the making

The wattle fencing was easily created from hazelnut branches woven in between wooden stakes.   To my surprise it actually took longer to measure and trace the straight lines on the ground than to weave the branches.  Next I covered the ground with cardboard, followed by horse manure, autumn leaves, grass cuttings, compost, more leaves and a thick top layer of compost.   Finally, for good measure, and because I’ve seen it done in the tutorials, I added half a bale of straw to each square.

no dig beds in vegetable garden

 

As you can see the weather has been pretty cold here, but I like to think that the worms are feeling warm and chirpy in the soil, and that come next spring they will have cultivated these beds for me, so I can leave my gardening tools aside and simply plant or sow directly in the ground, without any digging or hoeing.

So now of course, because I am sure that so many of you know alot about this gardening method, I’d love to hear about your experience please.   Have I done it right?   What should I expect in the way of weeds next spring?   How long will the wattle fence last?….. I have so many questions, and am excited to see how this plays out.

 

Enregistrer

Enregistrer

Enregistrer

Enregistrer

47 comments

Barbara Warren January 18, 2017 - 11:58 pm

I have had much success with this type of bed in the heavy clay soil in my area. My plants have thrived in them and I have been very pleased.

Reply
Our French Oasis January 19, 2017 - 12:01 am

This is just too much of a coincidence. I had never heard of this method but just last week a very close friend who lives in Devon directed me to the following website, charlesdowding.co.uk, telling me I must read it as she thought it would be a great solution for the constant battle with weeds we have in our vegetable garden. She has visited us many times and knows how I struggle in the spring and summer to keep on top of them all. I was intrigued and now just as I was heading to bed I see your post! One thing he didn’t do was the hazel fencing, he used cardboard on paths from what I can see. We have an entire hedge of hazel which we were about to majorly cut back and thin out so I am intrigued to see if we could use this. I think I have a lot of reading to do. I loved your white picket fence, but these new raised beds also look fantastic.

Reply
Stephanie Guillory January 19, 2017 - 12:28 am

I am a Louisiana Certified Master Gardener. I teach many others this method, we call it Lasagna Gardening, because the layering of natural materials mimics nature.i use this layering method in my gardens. I do have weeds sometimes but the overall quality of the garden is what my plants thrive in. Love the fence.

Reply
Ida Duplechin January 27, 2019 - 10:52 pm

Hi. I’ve never heard it called Lasagna Gardening; however, I’m not far from you and the #gumbo_soil we have here is such a challenge. I’ve used the RaisedBeds technique in Arizona and here in Texas with great success. The weeds seem to blow in. BTW, I hope someone explains the difference between hay and straw before people start growing hayfields in their gardens. Thanks for your note, Stephanie.

Reply
Deborah January 19, 2017 - 12:40 am

I live on the west coast of Canada.In the beautiful city of Victoria.Last year we used this method in our new raised beds.I love the hazel,wish I had seen this when I was building the garden.Alas the cardboard and straw attracted the raccoons .They dug up the whole garden and managed to destroy most of the new plants in one fateful night .I had never heard of this being an issue until it happened here.Perhaps I need to move to France!
I love your garden and wish you every success.

Reply
Lin Powell January 19, 2017 - 1:14 am

I also live in Victoria BC Canada and was warned that this method could also bring out the rats looking for a warm home. Yet I really think it sounds like a wonderful way to set up a garden.

Reply
Sharon Santoni January 19, 2017 - 7:49 am

UGH! How discouraging for you Deborah! Luckily we don’t have raccoons here in Normandy

Reply
Steven Yancey January 19, 2017 - 5:39 pm

We had one (raccoon) living in our attic until recently. It pulled a gutter down and tore off part of the soffit fascia to gain access. I caught it with a no-kill trap and a fried chicken leg! I took it to a local conservation area near the river to release it. I was not aware that there is a no release law in Georgia for such offenders – you’re supposed to put the animal down so that it doesn’t become a nuisance for someone else. A perturbed but otherwise polite park ranger hailed me just as I opened the cage door. The ‘coon didn’t wait around to hear the conversation – it bolted when the door opened. Rather than receive a fine the ranger gave me a warning (fines are pretty stiff). I understand the concept but the practice seems cruel. I don’t own a gun and would have a hard time dispatching something that is basically two sizes larger than our daughter’s cat! But, forewarned…

Reply
Vicky from Athens January 21, 2017 - 12:12 am

Wow, I had no idea! I’ve been catching and releasing (a very long way from home!!) pesky squirrels for several years!

Reply
JaneEllen January 19, 2017 - 12:42 am

Has never heard of this gardening method either, so interesting and exciting to contemplate. If there’s anything we have lots of it’s unwelcome weeds. Used to spend hours pulling weeds in Spring in back yard, ugh.
Looks like lot of work at outset but maybe big improvement afterwards if it truly chokes out weeds and allows plants to grow in better way. Will be watching when you post about your garden.
Where did you find all those hazel branches long enuf to make fences around beds?
Enjoy rest of week, they go by so quickly it seems or is that cause am getting old?

Reply
Bettyann Lamott January 19, 2017 - 1:07 am

I wonder if that method will work in Southern California?

Reply
Ciel January 19, 2017 - 7:43 am

Yes! Look up Lasagna Gardening.

Reply
Peggy January 19, 2017 - 3:40 pm

It most definitely would! I personally have used this method in NJ, Alaska, Nebraska, and Ohio.

Reply
Margarita January 20, 2017 - 12:18 am

In California we do the raised bed method with cedar wood planks which would be easy to find at Home Depot. My girlfriend has been very successful with this method. Although we do have critters which could wipe out the garden pretty easily.

Reply
Dana Veach January 19, 2017 - 1:37 am

My sis and I use this method quite successfully in our garden beds in the East Texas woods. We use hardwood mulch which decomposes down to produce a lovely rich soil. We’ve had no problem with pests such as rodents or coons…or even rabbits, as I think our big Livestock Guardian Dogs discourage their forays. I love your Hazel fences. We’ve made ours with shipping pallets! Best of luck. I’m sure you’ll do well!

Reply
Lynne -Australia January 19, 2017 - 1:38 am

Love your garden edges. Not sure how long it will last, I would just replace as needed. I’ve had a no-dig garden for approx.15 years now and modified and simplified over the years. Here’s my latest method. We have many deciduous trees in our old garden, so instead of overloading the compost heaps, I place them thickly on the beds and walk up and down on them to flatten. Then I put a thick layer of horse manure (we have 9 horses) chook poo and straw from the chicken house, then approx 1/2 metre of compost. Lastly I add a thick layer of sugar can mulch (I’m in Australia) you could use straw or lucerne hay. To plant seedlings I put a couple of handfuls of compost in the much and put a seedling in each, or for seeds such as peas or beans I plant directly into the compost layer and only mulch thickly around the edges of the beds. Sounds a lot, but its a continuous cycle and very easy to top up and maintain. Sometimes I add a layer of garden lime over the top of the leaves too.
It makes the most magnificent soil and is virtually weed free. In the past I put a layer of wet newspaper over weeds before adding, but I don’t need to do that now.
Please keep showing us lots of photos of your garden.
Lynne

Reply
Darlene January 21, 2017 - 10:08 pm

I live in Northern California and have used cardboard and even old cotton clothing as a base…of course, remove zippers from jeans and buttons off shirts but it’s an effective way to recycle. Enjoy your beautiful garden!

Reply
Lynne -Australia January 19, 2017 - 1:44 am

Sorry, I meant to say “sugar cane mulch”

Reply
Josephine January 19, 2017 - 1:58 am

I had a raised garden for a dozen years. We put 1×10 inch boards of cypress, you never want those pressure treated boards, lined the bottom with much newspaper then horse manure, compost and away I went. Throughout the years I added soil, compost, manure, leaves, ect , that kept the weeds to a minimum and more fun for planting edibles. After those years the boards started to decompose. So now am getting a new garden. Love your blog.

Reply
Patricia January 19, 2017 - 2:31 am

Dear Sharon, you constantly continue to inspire me. I know nothing of these no dig gardens until you blog arrived. Thank you for sharing

Reply
Jackie January 19, 2017 - 6:16 am

Also in Australia in a cold climate garden where it snows. I have used the lasagne method with great success in both the vegetable garden and the flower beds. Do not have a weed problem and this works best for us as we have very poor soil due to the prior owners using a fair amount of poison to control weeds. The proposed plan looks lovely

Reply
Bird January 19, 2017 - 6:52 am

Sharon, where did you find the hazelnut wood? I love the wattle fencing and would like to give it a try, but that part is throwing me (a local Norman supplier would be great!)

Reply
Sharon Santoni January 19, 2017 - 7:51 am

Hi Bird, actually my part time gardener gave me a hand with that, and spent a couple of hours cutting hazelnut saplings from a nearby forest for me! Lucky me, because that was the longest part of the job

xx

Reply
Chrysanthemum January 19, 2017 - 8:10 am

I started each of my flower beds and gardens with newsprint and/or cardboard underneath and they all have grown beautifully. The worms love the soil and the plants flourish… in the spring I always add mulch to keep the roving plants at bay…I’ve had my gardens for twenty years.. love this method…from Ontario….Canada I didn’t raise mine but might try it now…

Reply
Taste of France January 19, 2017 - 9:28 am

This is so useful. I had been considering raised beds, but had never heard of “no dig.” I don’t enjoy gardening, but I do like the produce. And our clay soil turns to stone in the hot summers here in the south. It makes weeding difficult. So no-dig is just the ticket.

Reply
Diana January 19, 2017 - 11:12 am

Gosh Sharon, you certainly don’t let the grass grow under your feet! How busy you have been this winter! Luckily we have such wonderful soil here in Scotland, a part of St Andrews that was tilled by the monks since before the Reformation. I had not heard of this method but will try it next winter in our new potager in the Perigord, where we have clay. Sounds great! Thanks again for sharing . X

Reply
Peggy January 19, 2017 - 3:48 pm

Oh Sharon, you actually visited Vita Sackville West’s gardens in person? How wonderful!!!! These are some of the gardens and methods I studied years ago while attending a local college studying horticulture. Your gardens look lovely and I look forward to seeing their progression!

Reply
sharon santoni January 21, 2017 - 10:24 am

My mother lives 10 minutes from Sissinghurst Peggy, I’m lucky to be able to visit the gardens often

X

Reply
Bebe April 15, 2017 - 5:04 pm

I have been there just once. Beautiful. Unforgettable. The White Garden and the allee of fragrant tall yellow azaleas (we have azaleas in Southern California, but not like those!)…

Reply
maude Ciardi January 19, 2017 - 3:54 pm

I am older now and can not dig like I did when I was young. I read the book Lasagna Gardening and now make all my beds with the layering technique. Always a success. Keep us updated in the spring. Oh I live in Ohio USA. Tank you for a wonderful blog. It is my favorite. My dream is to visit you someday

Reply
Renee January 19, 2017 - 6:00 pm

Sharon:. Hope you’ll follow this project along on your posts. Would love to see how it all works out.

Reply
Susan January 19, 2017 - 7:56 pm

My sister-in-law has a garden like this, minus the worms. It produces the most wonderful vegetables. I am starting new raised beds and this is the method I hope to incorporate. I’d much rather be doing almost anything else on a summer day than weeding the garden!

Reply
Jeanine January 19, 2017 - 9:26 pm

I love the fencing around the garden; it reminds me of our little garden with the picket fence. Your gar den is so big and I love that stone fence behind it. Our grandkids get to plant the tomatoes, peppers and basil (usually all in one spot) so by July we can’t even walk between the tomato plants. Someday (maybe) it will look beautiful and orderly. For now, every summer its all a mystery until the plants start to bare fruit.

Reply
Nancy January 19, 2017 - 9:36 pm

here in So. California we call this method sheet mulching.

Reply
Ann January 19, 2017 - 11:51 pm

If you don’t have access to cardboard, thick layers of newspaper will work, too.

Reply
Ian January 20, 2017 - 12:41 am

Hello Sharon,

I think that you will find no-dig a very successful method. I have used it for some years, and it saves an awful lot of work. The only thing that I would question is the use of straw – You are providing a five star hotel for slugs! It might well be worth removing the straw before you start to plant out your veg. I would strongly recommend the books by Charles Dowding, as he is very much the doyen of no-dig gardening.

Best wishes for the future,

Ian

Reply
Sharon Santoni January 20, 2017 - 8:06 pm

thank you for your comment about the straw Ian. I wasn’t even sure that it was the right thing to do, but having seen it used in several no-digs, particularly at the Prieur d’Orsan, I just decided to give it a go. Generally we don’t get many slugs here, so if I have a sudden slug population I’ll know why they arrived! 🙂

Reply
Miss Priss January 20, 2017 - 1:03 am

Love your garden with such a beautiful array of flowers!!

Reply
Yvette January 20, 2017 - 1:04 am

Love your garden with such a beautiful array of flowers!!

Reply
Gogo Buzz January 20, 2017 - 6:02 am

I am running a food garden at a local farm school. I live in Africa. This is very inspiring. I shall be watching this space with great interest

Reply
Amanda January 21, 2017 - 7:57 pm

Hi,Charles Dowding is an expert in this.i went to a course run by him and he regularily audits amounts grown etc.i have used this method,but you do need to hoe between plants.he has a website and has published several books

Reply
Carina Ljung January 26, 2017 - 1:16 am

Lucky you that you don´t have slugs! Here in the south of Sweden we have a lot, so this kind of beds is like restaurants for slugs. That´s sad because it´s so beautiful with the hazelfence! I can give you a little tip though. If you let the grass grow so close to the beds, you will have a problem to cut it, and it will soon grow into the beds. I suggest you take away the grass a bit from the fence so you easy can cut it. I will help you a lot to avoid that kind of weed and a lot of extra work too. I´m execited to follow your new project and see what you decide to grow!

Reply
Jeanie March 17, 2017 - 12:48 pm

Hi Sharon, I live in Kuwait where we just have sand, so I use this method in garden boxes on the roof of our house. I have 3 4 X 4 boxes that are filled with 1/3 each vermiculite, peat moss, and compost. It’s amazing how much produce one gets from this small area. Our growing season begins in late September/early October. Your garden is beautiful!

Reply
Georgia May 18, 2017 - 2:10 pm

This is such a great idea. I only heard about this a few weeks ago so unfortunately it’s too late for me this year but I’m def planning it for next. My neighbours can’t understand why I don’t use weedkiller and laugh at me when they see me on my hands and knees weeding the veg garden!

Reply
Ida Duplechin January 27, 2019 - 11:00 pm

I love your website and commented earlier in response to Stephanie Guillory. This is one of the few blogs I follow. I have used raised beds in Arizona and Texas. My newest project is the hanging garden project on a fence. I have the water bottles to prep when it’s time and am researching the various methods to attach them to fence: net, trays, etc. I now own a Townhouse w/backyard that (while bigger than my neighbors) is a challenge to garden, especially when I need room for my dog.

Reply
preparing my spring garden - MY FRENCH COUNTRY HOME March 24, 2020 - 8:14 pm

[…] created the potager a few years ago, using the no-dig method.  You can see it at its start here. and […]

Reply
Bethany March 26, 2020 - 6:47 pm

I’d love to know more about the wattle fencing. Did you buy the hazelnut branches? What did you use for the stakes? Did you use any other tools beside the branches and stakes? Thanks!

Reply

Leave a Comment