I moved here two months ago, and I’ve been busy making new no dig beds in the garden here, using different mulching methods, in the back garden and orchard. In the back garden I decided to make the annual veg beds using the tried and tested method of cardboard and compost on top of grassy lawn, but using less compost than is often recommended.
Mulching with 15cm (6″) compost is a great way to make new beds. I have done this many times at work, at Homeacres, and for three beds in my old garden. These were 20cm (8″) with wooden sides, on top of old builders’ rubble. This method requires access to a lot of compost, which is fine if you have plenty, or making just one bed, or can get large deliveries of well rotted manure, council waste compost, or mushroom compost etc.
However it isn’t possible for everyone to get hold of so much compost especially if you have nowhere for it to be delivered (most homes don’t have a place for big loads of compost to be dumped). Also, it can be prohibitively expensive for many people to buy enough compost if they are covering big spaces. I was able to buy excellent composted cow manure in Somerset for around £30 for 5 tonnes, but that wouldn’t be quite so easy in the middle of Manchester.
Having recently moved I have no home-made compost ready yet, and can’t afford to buy enough compost for 15cm (6″) beds because I am covering quite a big area – the whole of the back garden lawn. My location down a very narrow lane makes it not so easy for large bulk deliveries. Fortunately it is possible to make new no dig beds with much less compost and cardboard. Mine are only 5cm (2″) deep.
How to make no dig beds on grass using 5cm of compost and cardboard
A simple and effective way to make beds on lawn using fewer resources, without digging.
I am making beds to cover the whole of the back garden, except for the patio area near to the house (where the compost sacks are). There is a small veg patch made by the previous owners, which is being mulched with just compost.
1. Remove any woody weeds, such as brambles or docks. Most other weeds are fine to leave including couch and bindweed. You’ll need to be vigilant during the first year with these weeds and remove them as they pop up. I am fortunate that there are no weeds like that in this lawn (loads of brambles in the flower beds though!) The weeds in my lawn are mostly dandelions, daisies and buttercups.
(Don’t worry, there are plenty of these flowers in other parts of the garden – the wild things will find plenty to eat!)
2. Mow or strim the grass. Rake up the clippings and add to the compost heap.
3. Remove tape and staples from the cardboard and open out into sheets. Discard any shiny card, this usually has a thin plastic film on it.
I have loads of cardboard because I’ve just moved house. Good places to find card include bike shops, white goods shops, ask your neighbours on recycling day or use one of the online local groups (such as Facebook) where stacks of card are often being offered for free.
4. Cover the area with cardboard, taking care to overlap so that there are no gaps. Use smaller pieces of card to fill in any holes.
5. Water the cardboard. This helps it to ‘stick’ to the ground and the compost, reducing the likelihood of it blowing away if the weather is bad during the first weeks. If there is a lot of rain forecast, skip this step.
6. Spread compost on the beds, using a rake. “Fluffed up” it will be a bit more than 5cm at this stage, more like 7-8cm (approx 3″). Here I am using around 60 litres of compost per square metre.
7. Do the No Dig Dance to firm the compost, which will make the depth around 5cm (2″). It’s a gentle dance, you don’t want to completely squish the bed!
This provides a stable bed for your seeds and transplants. It also helps the compost ‘stick’ to the cardboard. You can now sow and plant if you wish.
My plants weren’t ready so I started planting a few days later on 4th April.
8. Use stones, wood, compost sacks or other heavy weights to keep any extra card secured.
9. Make as many more beds as you want! I made the first bed on March 31st, the second bed on April 12th and the third on May 12th.
My son Ruairi helped with the first bed, and I made the rest by myself.
10. Mulch the paths with a sprinkling of wood chip, or sawdust, or compost, or leave as card.
These beds are 1.2m (4ft) wide and the paths so far 30cm (12″) wide. Bed and path widths are completely flexible, make them as wide or as narrow as you wish.
Annually, these beds can be mulched with around 2cm (under 1″) compost. The annual mulch provides ideal conditions for growing food year round, great for the soil, soil life and for growing healthy food.
In the orchard, I am experimenting with different mulches, mostly using resources that were here already. More about that in another post.
I used Dalefoot compost which is peat free and certified organic. Ordered before we moved, it was delivered the Monday after we got the house keys, on pallets. The delivery man had to reverse up the lane and then make the last part of the journey with a special kind of pallet truck, leaving it on an area of driveway next to the lane. We did try to have dumpy bags delivered but it wasn’t possible in this situation. Looking on the bright side, the sacks will be reused again and again before being recycled (they can be recycled in Wales) and it is handy knowing exactly how much compost I am using per bed.