How to Make a No Dig Bed

One of the most immediately striking ways in terms of practical activity that permaculture gardening differs from common gardening and agricultural practices is that it emphasizes, wherever possible, leaving the soil undisturbed. In most cultivation techniques, tilling, Ploughing or turning the soil is a common practice, but permaculture recognizes that doing so upsets the complex ecosystem that exists in soils, involving the plants that grow in them and the organisms that live within them.

As in many aspects of permaculture design, we can see the template for the no-dig garden in nature. Natural ecosystems rarely feature an element that digs the ground, yet plants still thrive in many systems. Take a deciduous forest, for example. As leaves fall from the trees they form a ‘carpet’ on the ground, disturbed only perhaps by the rooting of animals and the efforts of the wind. Nothing other than plant roots digs down into the ground. Yet seeds germinate and establish new plants and the forest system flourishes – with no digging.

Permaculture gardeners can design to replicate this natural system, by instituting a no-dig garden bed. This is a planting bed that is layered with organic material, rather than soil, in such as way that it does not require digging. Vegetables and fruits are planted into the layered material and are able to access the nutrients they need. The labor required to maintain a no-dig bed is minimal, saving the gardener time and energy. Establishing a no-dig bed is pretty easy and can be done in almost any location.

Select Location
Ideally, you would build a no-dig bed on a piece of earth or grass, but they can also be constructed on concrete, so are feasible growing options for those gardeners with, say, just a courtyard at their disposal. As your no-dig garden bed will typically be used to grow fruit and vegetables, it needs to be sited somewhere that gets a good amount of sunshine, ideally no less than six hours a day. In very hot climates you might prefer partial shade so the plants don’t overheat, but generally the more sun your no-dig bed receives the better. You might also consider orientating your bed north to south, so that the maximum number of plants get the maximum amount of sunshine as the sun moves across the sky during the day. You want to avoid a site that slopes too much as this can cause the bed to ‘creep’ and moisture to run from the higher part to the lower, depriving the plants at the top of moisture and potentially causing waterlogging at the bottom.

Prepare Site
If you prefer you can build your no-dig bed as a raised bed, using recycled materials like boards and bricks to create a frame for the organic material inside. But you can also simple institute the bed directly onto the ground. If you are making your no-dig bed on grass or soil water the surface well before starting to construct it. It you are building on concrete or similarly hard surface it is advisable to place a layer, approximately 4 inches deep, of dry sticks and leaves, in order to assist drainage.

Bottom Layer
The bottom layer (or technically second-bottom layer if constructing on concrete) will comprise newspaper and/or cardboard. Make sure there are no glossy pages in the newspaper you are going to be use, and do not use any cardboard that has a plastic coating. Both these forms contain toxins that you do not want to introduce into your garden bed. If using newspaper, layer sheets to a thickness of around half a centimeter; if using cardboard, a couple of layers will suffice. This layer is primarily there to suppress weed growth, so make sure your sheets overlap to stop the weeds getting through. Water well.

Straw Layer
The next layer should be made from straw. Lucerne straw is a good option if you can source it organically, as it has a night concentration of nitrogen, which is essential for robust plant growth. However, pea straw can also be used as is typically more readily available. Avoid using hay for this layer, as it will likely contain seeds that can germinate in your no-dig bed. Make a layer of around 10 centimeters deep and water the straw well.

Compost Layer
Over the top of the straw layer is where you will place the most organically rich material. Depending on what you have available this could comprise organic compost, a mixture of soil and compost, manure from your chickens, kitchen scraps or worm castings from a worm farm. You could use all of them, if you like.

This layer should be around 5 centimeters deep and, like the previous layers, needs to be well watered when complete. Keep some compost mixture aside for your planting holes. Obviously, using the measurements above might not bring the no-dig bed up to the level you want (for instance, you may want a higher bed to avoid bending over when it comes to harvesting), but rather than making thicker layers, repeat the layers, straw and compost, using the same proportions, until you have the desired height.

Top Layer
However many layers you institute in your no-dig bed, the top layer should always be straw. This acts as a mulch to keep weeds down and to retain moisture within the bed. Again water this layer when it is laid.

Make Planting Holes
Having completed the layering of your garden bed, it’s time to plant. Make holes in the top layer of straw not quite no dig beddown to the underlying compost layer. Fill the holes with some of your compost mixture, and plant your seeds, seedlings or plants. (Space your holes according to the space required by the mature versions of your preferred species, but consider integrated planting to maximize yield from the bed. Also, think about companion planting to give benefits to your vegetables and fruits, such as shade plants or insect attractors as required.) Water the plantings well.

Over time the layers of the no-dig bed will break down as decomposition takes place. To keep your plants provided with nutrients, add layers of compost and straw as the previous layers break down. You can also add a deeper layer of straw to the top if weeds or moisture retention become a problem. The straw should keep the bed moist, but make regular checks and irrigate if the bed dries out.


Ruth Stout No Work Gardening Book, been around since the 60’s

Back To Eden Film

what about the birds and those that take the seeds up

Animals dig

Hmm, yeah kinda. It’s no “digging” per-say. There is however soil disturbance. The forest animals disturb the surface soil and move seed. Deer hoof the dirt, digging for food; birds scratch the soil, squirrels dig nuts from rain trodden soil. So, while the conventional idea of “no dig” is somewhat true, it needs to take into consideration, that in nature, the soil does in fact get disturbed.

This is beautiful.

so what do you do? just stick your finger in the dirt and throw in the seeds?

this picture is so enchanting-garden size appears so doable for one person!!

there is an abundance of “digging” in the forests, but not by humans. water percolates, worms feed, rodents burrow, the list of “diggers” habitating the forest is extensive

why does my garden never look this good 🙂

The permaculture bible : Permaculture a Designers Manual by Bill Mollison can be found via torrents. If you don’t want to read the text book on it there is a version I like for back yard sized spaces. Gaia’s Garden by Toby Hemenway

I very much like

I’ve always thought, IT HAPPENS IN THE FOREST SEAMLESSLY! Why not in our gardens?

the only way to garden is No dig and I love Ruth Stout’s book which I have had for a very long time!!!

Susan Cato

I have been warned that in this area there are lots and lots of gophers, voles and moles… how can we work them in to the mix?

I look forward to reading it, even though I have a permaculture design certificate, can always learn more. “One straw Revolution” was an eye opener, thank you.

and now I have to ask. Just what is wrong with digging a garden bed.. Might cut a worm in half with your shovel. What is wrong with doing something that has been done for centuries.. Never any rest from some thing.. A garden is a great thing to have exercise galore , fresh veggies, A pumpkin for pie. Potatoes to “dig” and exercise. Don’t wanna dig plant in a bucket and keep it in your window..E-gads

Rita Rubino Frere Zoe Henderson

Where I live the weight of the snow accumulated over the winter so compacts the compost rich soil in my beds they must be dug to make them friable and aerated for the roots. I have created Permacultured beds however.

More veggies, less work!

my carrots LOVE this style

ok so I don’t get this no dig


To the people who say that there are many animals that dig the soil. I’d say look at it comparatively. A small animal scratching will make little impact. Lots of little animals scratching will have a bigger impact. Large animals can do quite a bit of damage. Burrowing animals too, like moles. Still, I’d say there’s little comparision between a mole and a determined person, with only a shovel, let alone a tractor.

The problem with doing something that has been done for centuries, is that we get a situation that we have now … unsustainable with the number of people we have on the planet, and the lifestyles that many of us have, and that many more of us strive for.

Remember that old saying … Think Globally, Act Locally.


I think it would be impossible to keep the layering moist enough in Southern California where I live.


This all sounds nice, and almost too good to be true. But let’s be clear. In forest ecosystems, the apex species are _rare._ The population density of grazers and browsers is much lower than the human population in urban and suburban areas when compared with the available acreage for growing. There are many good reasons to model human habitats after natural ecosystems, but when it comes to forests, yield isn’t one of them. Most of the food-producing annuals we grow do not live in forests. They live in alluvial plains–deltas like the Tigris/Euphrates or Nile deltas where the agriculture we’re familiar with developed. It takes a _lot_ of nutrients to sustain the fast metabolism of these plants. Temperate forests are optimized to conserve nitrogen through cold winters in leaf litter, but that is not the goal of a production garden. Yield is. A sustainable production garden needs to generate far higher yields of edible nutrients in the storage tissues of the plants themselves or their fruits.

That being said, the instructions here for simulating the soil structure of an alluvial plain are excellent–but we do need to be clear what we are modeling for the plants we want to grow. A bed like this would likely kill a maple tree if its root crown was to become submerged during the summer.


Phyllis, a thick layer of mulch on top will do an amazingly good job of retaining moisture, even in desert heat. If you really want to keep in the moisture and keep down the weeds, cover the bed with a layer of cardboard and cut out holes for your plants. Let the cardboard soak up some moisture for a day or two and it is easy to cut into. You can put some decorative mulch on top to hide it.

Weeds are my biggest problem.

Weeds are simply plants growing where we don’t want them. MULCH! DEEP MULCH!! LOTS OF DEEP MULCH!!

This is a great bit of knowledge to have. Wish I had a garden space!

Moving to a place where such experiments loom… homegrown nourishment…

This ones for you Sara Acosta.

Vinegar works great for knocking down weeds and washes out easily.

Permaculture have you hear of a book called “The Plowman’s Folly”? I haven’t read it yet, have you? This old idea represent what your talking bout above?

One day I will have the land to put some of these practices to work.

we like to use a permanent much, cement pavers, and large floor tiles, are easy to place and move as needed. -NOTHING- grows through them, the small gaps around them are much easier to keep up with, and the floor tiles can be double stacked, so there are almost no gaps. A cow stepping on the floor tiles will break them, (horse too probably- people, goats and pigs haven’t)

As a landscaper, LOL I know exactly what you mean. Make sure you get “natural” mulch as it is usually safer to put around your food. But you should really limit your mulch to your paths and don’t use anything but natural mulch and talk to your provider about where they get their wood from. I knew company around me started and I found out part of their wood comes from recycled pallets and who knows what they were carrying around that may have contaminated the wood, in return contaminating your garden. But just a thought.

Find a book called ” The Plowman’s Folly” it will tell you about composting and what putting a healthy layer of compost will not only do for the feeding of your plants, but weeds and the few weeds you have, they are so easy to pull because of how loose the soil is from years of healthy composted layers.

PS I have yet to read the book, I only know from what I seen on a B-Organic show on PBS, not sure if it still airs on TV or not. And what I have experienced in Landscaping.

an A Healthy bed of Mulch, not only helps deter weeds, but the few that you get can be so easy to pull. Which at some houses, makes my job easier.

Oh gosh that was long Linda, I tend to get into ramble mode 🙂 when I can relate to something.


Visit in Sebastopol CA. Farmer Paul is great. We just had a fantastic tour with him. They are a CSA/farmers market farm 120 boxes year round on 2.5 acres. Amazing really. Completely no till.

Well, that’s partly right, except squirrels often dig holes to bury nuts, other animals dig burrows, many carnivores scratch their feces, which could bury seeds, same with the deer family. And worms have been filmed dragging whole leaves from the surface down into the soil. .

Linda, study everything you can by Rodale Press (see if you can find someplace with the old magazines somewhere for free, they go back a number of decades. You’ll learn how to abate your weeds. I’ve been a horticulturalist for 37 years, without even knowing that’s what I was at first, and weeds can be mulched out, but not completely, but the weeds, generally depending on soil and the weed, that come up and be cut and left in place to help build the soil, The nicer, healther, more biologically rich (and diverse in species of fungus, bacteria, microorganisms) the easier it will be to remove your weeds and then use them as mulch to and so on.

Dear Beth, give guerrilla gardening a try. It’s what I do and have done here in Oakland CA for about 12 years (since I moved here). Find all the books you can on it to learn what it is and the motivations for doing it and I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you that you live in a City that is sympathetic to guerrilla gardening.

Hi Frank-we have a backyard but it’s low and gets soggy in the spring. I am thinking raised beds and gravel paths but I think the same concept could apply to the raised beds with mulching?

Also does not use any dangerous chemicals.


The garden in the top picture does not practice a no dig/till method. I have worked this garden before.

I put the layers in a different order myself when I work with clients at Barefoot Edible Landscape and Permaculture or teach through Rochester Permaculture Center.

Boy, what anyone wouldn’t give to have a garden that looks like this one!


Seems like a lot of work. I think I will just roto till and add compost.

The forest isn’t trying to grow rows of corn and other varietys of plants. Tree seeds can even regenerate on the surface soil. Not really a fair comparison

Look up Paul Gautschi on youtube– the guy bring the Bible into a lot but his knowledge is pretty amazing for an “amateur”. His results are incredible. Similar to Brett Baker’s comment above. — Also, many of these weeds are edible either to humans or other animals.. chickens or rabbits. Then you have manure from your weeds!

Would have saved my back. Great idea.

Mycorrhizae as well as a myriad of other fungi and soil organisms are key. This is sound advice. The more you till, the more you enable weeds. Leaving the soil intact and allowing the mycorrhizae to grow and flourish prevents weeds.

AFTER you have broken it up a bit I hope.

Are you aware of the toxins that are in newspaper, the paper and especially the ink?

I have an idea. How about don’t do nothing garden? I bet it will grow some wild weeds in it. If you’re willing to eat grass…
I’ll call my system, something like lazyculture, I think it sounds trendy enouh. Whatch’all think?


I really like this gardening concept except for using newspaper &/or cardboard because of the toxic chemicals that are in the ink & whatever is in the cardboard that may be unhealthy or possible toxic. What would be a non-toxic solution for this layer of the no-dig garden?

have to love this !

I made it easy , weeds are much , I just turn them under …

Eva Kliwer

Or, you can keep pigs. Jackie Milne has wild boars that did up forest ground and manure it, making it ready to plant.


Each step needs a photo to demonstrate.


What do you mean there’s no digging in nature?? There is TONS of digging on the surface by wildlife and subsurface by soil bugs and worms. It’s the digging that helps to oxygenate the soil!! Not to mention to major digging and soil disturbance of prairie ecosystems: tornadoes and buffalo stampedes of the past. And the more distant past of giant armadillos, sloths, etc. That being said, I do not do much work in my own garden. Instead, I set it up to attract as many soil bugs and worms as possible so that they will do the work for me. And what you’ve described above will do just that: attract soil digging creatures.


The responses are amazing. Firstly, saying yes or no to anything in totality is insanity. Calling this a no til system doesn’t mean one never digs. be realistic. of course you have to dig your roots and tubers to get access. and of course things in nature dig. but there are no tractors or rototillers in nature. even pigs cannot do in a month what i can do with my tractor in a day. Next, don’t try if you don’t think it will work. Close your mind and world to possibility, how fun! But remember, permaculture also encourages the growing and eating of more perennial plants. By using perennial plants and not annuals, one does not replace anything ever. the plant stays in place, no digging, no tilling. The Oak savanna is a productive system that could feed humans if mimicked. Substitute a few plants with more edibles and you have quite a system. Nuts, fruit, berries, greens, roots, herbs, honey, tobacco, animals, its all there, everything we need. Plug your annuals into gaps. Find nice microclimates in the system that can nourish and grow the more demanding annuals. Base the system on no til principals, involving more perennials, and stack the systems functions so everything does more than one thing. By using our ability to reason, we can follow the model but make it more productive for our needs. We can use our incredible brains to solve these issues. Or we can use our incredible brains to do nothing at all ever.

Squirrels dig my no-dig beds.

Wayne Ashlin – my kind of gardening 🙂


But is this feasible on a larger scale? My garden is nearly an acre – I grow for market. I till every spring and fall, and would love to move towards a different approach but….honestly…putting out an acre of broken down boxes or newspaper? Especially since our farm is ALWAYS windy….the papers blow away….


It seems there are about three questions those above have posed as to no dig gardening. I will try to answer all of them. They are:
1. Can we really apply the methods of a forest system to a vegetable garden?
2. Is this system really labor efficient?
3. Can this system be implemented in a larger garden (say, an acre or two)?

Answer to question 1: First of all, the forest is not our only example of a self-mulching non-till system. Every natural environment where plants grow (that would basically be forrest, prairie, or a mixture of the two) follows this system. To say that vegetables are the only plants that requires soil disruption is rather bold. Yes, it is true that animals do disturb the soil, but there is a difference between this and tilling. First, animals disturb the soil to a far less extent than a plow does. Second, animals do not normally remove the soil’s covering. Worms make paths through the soil, moles tunnel, squirrels dig holes, but you will still rarely see exposed dirt. We can actually encourage such natural soil aeration (especially from worms) by leaving a covering on the soil.

Answer to question 2: When you till, you destroy the covering. A covering retains moisture, builds soil, encourages a healthy microorganism ecology, and helps you in other ways. When you disturb the soil you are ruining this system. This means you will have to keep tilling each year to keep the soil loose, Weed constantly (and the weeds will be harder to pull), and fertilize. Sound easy? Having been gardening non-till method for a couple years, I can certify that it saves you tons of time and trouble. Now let me mention, the no dig method above does seem a little bit laborious to get started. In fact you will be taxed to find this exact system in nature. So just save your self the trouble and don’t worry about anything but mulching.

Answer to question 3: Certainly! All you need is a good supply of mulch. There are two ways to mulch a large (or small) garden. Imported mulch and self-mulch. Imported mulch could be wood chips, straw, leafs, grass clippings, or vegetable scraps. Generally, there will be enough of this type of mulch in your area to supply you with enough covering for over an acre, but if every gardener and farmer in the world were to use imported mulch, we would run out. The solution is self-mulch. If, for example, I were growing lettuce, once I was done harvesting it, I would simply pull it up and drop it right were it was. The one thing about self-mulching is that it requires dense planting to create enough mulch. This has been done very successfully, though I don’t have much experience with it, so have fun experimenting.

If you don’t want to deal with building the beds in the backyard we could try this Chelsea

not only less weeds,better soil but easier too!

I would check out the link, but I hate the pop-ups!

its a less is more kinda approach. trying to get work interested 🙁

This is for Charity !!!

its not what you do its what you do do 😉

You kind of have to violate the soil a little, but turning it over and exposing it to the wind and rain is a very bad thing.

I’m growing Malabar Spinach

so right and so true. Never thought of it like this. Thank you!

I prepped a portion of my garden for this. Giving it a try in the Spring 🙂 It’s approximately 2 1/2 – 3 feet high right now but already noticed some decomposing happening…which is good. Come Spring, it should be only a couple inches high.

Jim Carl

i so want this come spring

The picture above is a well dug bed.

I have a no dig garden, but it doesn’t look this organized & pretty!

I cant wait for spring!!! I LOVE my gardens!!!

☀ <3 ⚡ ⚡ ☀ <3

Does this work for heavy clay?

no Eric, heavy clay needs amendment with organic matter such as compost, leaves, peet moss and is difficult to mix in the clay without a tiller

Ruth Stout wrote books on mulch gardening many, many years ago. She didn’t do any tilling. I have a couple of them.

If you had as many rocks as me you would be a digging…….

I garden “patchwork quilt style” where I make very small mounds, plant them, and then let the weeds grow in the paths where I walk. I get a lot of criticism for not weeding, but they don’t really bother me all that much. Some are pretty.

Noble ideas for permeable soils, which would waste less rainfall and benefit water tables; however: 1) Cultivated plants, e.g., most edible vegetables, which are not native, do not grow well in a completely natural ecosystem; 2) soil like that in a natural forest does not receive the requisite six or more hours of full sunlight needed to grow most vegetables; 3) many soils need amendments and tilling to support non-native vegetables.

Naturally Beautiful!!

Mycorrhizal fungi….

Naturellement ceux qui creusent la terre pour l’aérer et la nourrir sont les vers de terre, les taupes et toute la vie qui se passe sous la terre…. Cette photo ne démontre pas du tout la permaculture telle que je la conçoie. En effet dans la nature, on ne voit pas de monoculture en ligne, des clotures pour empêcher les petits animaux d’apporter leur bien fait au jardin, ni de terre en jachère l’exposant à la dégradation… Il y a des concepts de base de la vie qui sont carrément oublié ici

I think I’m missing something here. The photo afixed to this post looks to me to be completely Dug, including prepared -beds- north west of the lettuce. Heres the question, How does it matter. The garden shown here has not been a ‘low’ maintenance garden. Beautiful.

I might use upright hay bales that you hollow out about 1/2 way and put your soil in. No dig and it keeps most of the critters out! Herbs, tomato, pole or bush beans…etc.

That is such a lovely picture. And I wonder how in blazes they keep the deer out of that garden? Last year it was deer 99.5 and me .05 – onions and corn. That’s all I got. I almost dread planting this year – and it was the first year in 10 that they found my little oasis, but I imagine “once found…..”

Elena Marguerite Agustin we should make the whole area where we want our cover crops a giant no dig bed!

probably how they ended up on a spit in the first place. can’t be a vegan if the critters keep eating your food supply. something had to give.

save all your hair from all the hair brushes in the house …. and line edges of the garden with it… also moth balls help —

It’s sounds crazy but tin pie pans on a string off a post work too….

great info

I read somewhere, that apparently there are chains of something( that feed the plants), can’t remember what it is but they’re disturbed when we dig. Will have to try and find it and will post it.

share this —

Tara Chaney, Andrew D. Powell

Love It !!!

What does this picture have to do with Permaculture, aka Agroecology?

Whitne Drake may already know all this , but if not …


I live in Victoria TX and I can not find anyplace that I can get straw I’m told that hay will be just fine ….lol . So is there anything that I can use instead of straw.


If you want nice carrots and potatoes, you HAVE to dig. Also, just digging a pot size hole for Tomatoes is no big deal. We do use a lot of straw and compost, and rather then raised beds we just add a few inches of compost and other rich material each year.

This photo makes me doubtful it illustrates the permaculture method.

Misti Walters

Kimberly Porlier did you see this?

Tasha Potiuk I didn’t till know. Tks. Check out the documentary “back to Eden”

We now have 14 no dig beds…been in place for about six years and because the beds are not walked upon, the soil is so very easy to plant.

In a natural ecosystem, the soil is constantly being mixed by earthworms.

‘Slightly idealized’ nature- what would nature do? Garden as Nature would. nb- nearly all of our veggies evolved from ocean side ancestors… Look, it’s a miracle!- the vegetation, leaf litter, ash (just a few limbs burned overhead), seashell, seaweed, dung, animal carcass, etc. amply fell on this convenient pile! How lucky! Months later a creature stirs the layers, still later the mix is thrown where a bunch of nutritious, delicious veggies grow: they love it! Each year this coincidence occurs, till the veggie spot is thick with layered mulch and soil. The rains arrive when the plants are dry, nutrient rich teas soak the roots. Creatures eat competing plants and creatures, until the veggies are ‘ripe’. Creatures then eat the veggies, sometimes digging for roots, yet many seeds are ‘missed’ and fall where they hadn’t the year before. Each year new types of veggie seeds fall on the spot. A human builds a shelter next door…

Never use moth balls in or out of the house – they are toxic. Human hair and aluminum pie pans work though!

love the shed and fence…

fun and MUCH EASIER!!!

I have been reading a book called Soil and Sacrament – a Spiritual Memoir of Food. He has so many ideas of small Perma Culture. Planting a Mulberry tree in the midst of a future hen house: The Japanese beetles come to the tree and are sluggish in the morning. the tree is shaken by the farmer, the beetles fall and eaten by the chicken. they will also eat ripened berries that fall to the ground

Would love to have this garden – but was put on water restrictions in MAY of last year…the only thing I miss about the south…

would love a Permaculture garden…:)

Wow! I never knew there was such a thing! God Bless you for opening my eyes. It is my intention to learn all I can and do this. Also to spread the word. Thank you again.

<3 this <3

tell that to the doggies and kitties

Thanks for these great ideas. Looking forward to spring!

This wouldn’t work in my area since the soil is mostly clay. I grew up on the coast and the soil was very sandy. You could push a shovel down a good way with little effort. Also, my mother taught me to dig a hole and put the top soil back in the hole first after planting the seed, so turning the soil worked well in the southeast.

And just HOW do YOU do that?

Hi, New at this…question…Would starting plants in soil filled cardboard boxes be acceptable ? then with watering the cardboard breaks down and the surrounding dirt mixes with the soil in the box.

Please make available to Pinterest

mushrooms in bed, worms and micro fauna , and finally animals will dig and turn over ground here and there

Interesting, love gardening but at age 64 with all my health problems I can’t dig,

That would work fine. Poke some holes in the boxes before filling w/dirt.

You can grow in pots. Small ones, big ones. No digging.Or like Nancy (above) cardboard boxes.

I plant right into the bag the dirt comes in. I just set the bag into a container that fits it. Flowers do not need root space. Squish them together, they don’t mind. Water daily. Stick your finger in the soil. Some vegi’s like carrots,and other salad mix also don’t need lots of root space.Tomatoes also.

Read Plowman’s Folly.


I get what they’re going for and there is definitely a lot of good science behind the importance of aggregation in soil. Aggregation is a very important property as is not disturbing the fauna that work together to fuel decomposition of detritus making nitrogen available to the plants. Porosity is also an extremely important property of soils being used for food production.

Tilling is usually done to increase the porosity of hard compacted soils that have been traditionally harvested for years and can definitely me very necessary to keep production high. Growing in your home garden without tilling is completely different than expecting a farmer to produce ten times the yield/ft2 you are in your tiny home plot with their field that has been producing at a high rate your generations and has massive equipment driving on it regularly.

Despite the many advantages of aggregation in soil, claiming that “nothing other than plant roots digs down into the ground” in your imaginary deciduous forest simply shows a complete lack of understanding of soil science. Period. People that know literally nothing about the fauna that live in the soil and drive decomposition, and therefore nutrient availability, are sure as heck not where I’m getting my organic gardening advice. Worms dig, both endogeic and anecic, sow bugs dig, spiders dig, centipedes and millipedes dig, beetles dig, basically all other soil borne arthropods dig, etc. I don’t want to take the time to find the study, but in a soil ecology class I took in college as part of my soil science minor, they found that it was not uncommon for as much as 90% of the soil volume in the upper horizons (O, A, and B) to have passed through worms. In these cases that means that 90% of the soil in those horizons was effectively dug through by worms; this is a far cry from not dug up at all and shows a complete lack of understanding of soil genesis.

In 1970 I started my first garden, and mulched the hell out of it with old hay. The next year I just pushed the hay back a little and stuck the seeds in the soft earth. No digging after only one year. Ruth Stout’s How to have a green thumb without an aching back was my bible.

It is the right thing to do. How do you pay the property taxes??? You might have to work off the farm to support the farm. Sad.

this is the approach we use at the Fcc garden.

I like fresh vegetables, I want to eat.

I assume the soil is undisturbed outside the fence.

Promising, Margie Canon, Ann Thompson, Leslie Junkin, Isabella Junkin Qua Austin

gurss they dont care if you till just dont dig,,,, that is a nice garden well tilled

Planter boxes are my ‘no dig’ garden solution. also much less weeding.

Yes. just use plenty of mulch, at least 3″. That holds down the weeds and feeds the earthworms.

Set up an electric fence and it will help with the racoons as well as the deer.

The weeds and twitch grasse would over run mine!!!

Does this work in very rocky soil?

Don’t use peet moss if you have acid soil, I also here it disturbs natural peet bogs by collecting it.

It works for me – how about this Chris Davis!!!

spread the word – topsoil is being ruined in the US with pesticides everyday 🙁

I am a member of Permaculture. It’s done the old-fashioned way, the way our grandparents did it.

I did that one year, easy, but the mice I had that year ! They just loved the cardboard or whatever, must’ve made a mistake somewhere!

There is some good eating right there in that garden.

I do this everywhere all of my life,, watch out for the Least Schrew ,,, they love this habitat . I have the “scars” to prove

We had some type of mole that ate all the root vegetables, rabbit and deer got the rest!

If you’re in the Pasadena, CA area, contact Dwayne.

Joe Hall

We just had a workshop about thus at NOFA and will be trying it out thus tear at Holly Hill Farm

I use this method. Less weeds more product. Works great

I used this last summer! Worked wonderfully!

That’s fine if you have good soil to start with. Everywhere I’ve had a garden, the soil was severely compacted. So I dig the top two feet of clay and loosen the subsoil with a spading fork. Then I double dig for 10-12 years until that clay becomes a light sandy loam. At that point, it’s ready to switch to a no-dig garden and top dressing with equal parts compost and biochar.

Have it ready , just waiting for Spring

I am all about the no-dig. Pile it up people!

Ruth Stout from years and years ago.

Hey Steve Steven Grady, think this would work on our cement like clay?

Is this “my” farm at the Oconafuftee Visitor Center in Cherokee, NC at the entrance to the Great Smokey Mountain Natioinal Park???? I want to LIVE here :):):)!!!

bugs and ants do lots of stirring do skunks and other small mammals and reptiles that dig for grubs and stuff ..nature has so perfected itself after so many thousands of years.


Kevin Moore, we have areas of hard clay and just started right on top of it…added a layer of DE and for a couple years we add layers of leaves, twigs, small branches, compostable materials, grass clippings, etc. After 2 years we plant carrots and other plants…just let them stay and cover with card board and pile more dead plant material. Sometimes we do it one more year. Then its ready to plant and use! We never dig any ground unless we are planting a tree.

that garden in that pic omg

Ever since I built my hugel mound garden bed, I haven’t had to till and have AWESOME plant growth. Tomatoes, peppers, beets, and strawberries galore. And all I do with the tomato plants after they are done is to chop them to the ground and let them compost and plant cover crops in their place.

millions of years. 🙂

can it be accomplished just south of Albuquerque, NM, some water, irrigation??

check out the rain gutter grow system group page on fb…

nice. its food for thought !!

cost cheaper???

Sorry but I don’t like this idea. Anyone with a compost bin knows it needs to be aerated and so while turning soil might disturb things a little, its still beneficial. Besides, it gets you out in the garden more and may make you more aware of what’s going on with your plants, pests and soil.

We had some frozen beans from our last summer’s garden tonight with our roast beef.

I saw a nice youtube today of just adding coffee grounds on top of mulch as an additional soil amendment.

so exciting this no dig idea!

We are doing that this year….got our first layer of cardboard down yesterday. Can’t wait to start building up. Has anyone used Pelletized straw?

My compost bin has red wrigglers. No aerating required.

Angie Synstelien Panza is this sort of like what you did?!?!?

Point I was trying to make is that most often, soil needs to be aerated and creating a no-dig garden bed may not be beneficial to all types of plants.

I had the best garden of my life last summer. I killed the grass [thick sod, absolutely necessary] in the whole plot the fall before, but in spring I only dug where I had to. I made trenches and filled them with lowes manure, which is just good rich soil by the time we get it, then planted. I dug holes where I would plant tomatoes or make cucumber and squash hills. I put grass clippings here and there as I had them, but I had crowded the rows. Weeds were not much problem. Can’t wait to get started again!

I am puting mine in Now!

I covered my garden last year with horse dung andwood chips then manure.In the fall I layed down four inches of compost ontop of the wood chips.I hope it was a good decision wont find out till late april fingers crssed.Last year there were hand fulls of earth worms that is a great sign.

yes, we have decided to garden this year without disturbing the soil. Using the ” Back to Eden Method”

You only have to dig a garden bed once, if you do it right and get out all the bermuda grass rhizomes. That’s why a tiller in Texas is usually a mistake, it cuts up that grass into millions of bits and buries those little rooting rhizomes a foot deep. Better do a little at a time with a spading fork and then try this method. You’ll be gardening longer and more successfully of you start it small, start it right, and then use lots of compost and mulch. Also, be sure and put collars of paper cups or such with the bottom cut out around seedlings to prevent damage cut worms. i just added to this good post a cupla tips that will insure success and avoid frustration.

Permaculture really fits in well with my laziness.
I had something in my grow room start to rot which feed the flys which got my tomatoes pollinated which I only got in the first place cause I just threw some old tomatoes in the worm bin and the seeds sprouted.
Right now I don’t have land so I don’t know what my beds will look like but raising seedling in the worm bin seems to do a great job.
One trick I found is have a perforated basket in your worm bin filled with worm dirt resting on top of more worm dirt then you can remove the basket and put the food in the middle of the worms.

Just love that garden. I just don’t have a place to do it

I have no dig all the time. I buy the plant, buy soil and wala. Put plant down and cover with soil. Works so far. Maybe I’m lucky?

Don Wagner, Eilis Wagner Byrnes

Pam, this is what we’re doing and the results are amazing!

Tracyandjohn Evers Brandi Malone

manage your microbes and life is easy!

Works very, very well! We just add our compost mix and let it work on its own, then plant the next round after a couple of months.


Will the roots of the new plants go thru the cardboard to get to the soil underneath?

This is the way my mom started her bedding!

This picture confuses me. Looks like a well tilled garden to me? Am I missing something?

Angela Cooper

Thanks I am one of them.

This works if the soil is loose already, and very fertile. Poor soil needs compost and amendments added.


This doesn’t really work if you have slugs or snails. They hide in the mulch layer and eat your young seedlings before they get established. I’ve found you need to keep the soil bare until the plants are well established OR do major slug control constantly until they’re well established.

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