Making no dig beds on lawn: the card and compost method

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 compostMulching 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.

back garden
Back garden before mulching, drone photo taken by Huw Richards

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.

checking the depth

My plants weren’t ready so I started planting a few days later on 4th April.

first plantings in bed 1

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.

First harvests – radish! And a slug….

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. 

 

13 thoughts on “Making no dig beds on lawn: the card and compost method”

  1. Wow! Steph, that is amazingly impressive and will be productive so quickly. That is a lot of energy and focus you are using. Do look after yourself and get as much rests as is possible for an Energizer Bunny such as yourself. Once those plants are in, is it possible to take a bit of a breather before Hampton Court? You have a lot of followers who support you, and want to make sure you are OK.

    1. Stephanie Hafferty

      Thank you Suella, so kind of you.

      It’s all very full-on until Hampton Court but I am making sure I take some time out to go for exploring walks here, or to the beach, or out with friends 🙂

  2. I am a new follower of your blog and I love it, thank you!

    I tried switching an existing flower bed to a no dig bed recently – I put down cardboard and covered with a thick layer of manure. However something dug in and exposed the card and ripped it – do you have any tips to avoid this, or has it happened with your no dig beds at all?

    That’s said, I have put it back together and there are far fewer weeds than usual!

    1. Stephanie Hafferty

      Thanks Naomi.

      It’s frustrating when something starts digging, quite often it can be birds looking for their lunch! Prickly branches can help deter birds and also mammals.

  3. Monique Reijnders

    Hello Stephanie Hafferty,

    I am also a new follower and just starting out this year with No Dig-gardening.
    I have made my beds in the same way you are doing, with about 7 cm compost on cardboard.
    I have planted transplants different brassicas and kales, some lettuce and peas.
    They don’t seem to grow much, but it has also been very cold and windy weather here in The Netherlands, so that might be the cause.

    I do have a question:
    I would also like to sow parsnips and carrots directly in the new beds, but I was wondering if this would work already? (Because the cardboard is not fully broken down yet)
    Will you be sewing these vegetables in your new beds?

    Thank you for sharing your experiences.
    Looking forward to your next blog!

    Greetings,
    Monique Reijnders.

    1. Stephanie Hafferty

      Hi Monique, thank you for your comment.

      Yes, the parsnips and carrots should be absolutely fine, assuming that the card has been moist underneath the compost. Problems can occur during very dry spells, if the card is very solid.

      I have sown both carrots and parsnips into these new beds.

      The weather is horrible here too, so cold and dark. Things are just sitting there, looking mournful. As the weather improves the plants will perk up.

  4. That is so good to know. I am trying to get the allotment sorted but simply can’t afford huge amounts of compost, or lug it up a hill (I am in Bath) to the plot. I will definitely try this method. Thank you.

    1. Stephanie Hafferty

      Thanks Sara. It does work really well. A few more weeds sneak through, but it certainly saves money

  5. Lovely and so helpful!
    I’ve just made a couple of these little beds in my front yard (I live in Oregon, in a neighborhood with lots of veg growling in front yards). One will have a mix of flowers and herbs – I transplanted some Yarrow, self heal and plantain from the lawn in as well. I harvested compost from my one bin, and used from a bag on top in both beds.
    The second bed had euphoria (and some violets) under that were easy to pull out.
    Thanks for the inspiration!

    1. Stephanie Hafferty

      That sounds wonderful, Nadya. I’m planning the herb garden in the front garden here, using herbs I brought from my old garden and some new ones. Just have to remove the gravel and plastic first!

  6. Pingback: Creating No Dig Beds – Growing Homestead

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