How to start a new no-dig bed

I’m not a fan of digging, so it’s no surprise that I’m a huge advocate of no-dig plots.

I’ve wanted to increase my growing space quick and easily this year, and being well over the half-way mark in my pregnancy and with a slightly dodgy back to boot, a no-dig plot is the perfect solution. And luckily for me, someone who has very little patience and an ever-decreasing attention span, creating a new no-dig vegetable patch is quick and relatively fuss-free.

So how did I do it?

My new plot was going straight onto lawn, so I mowed the lawn down first and quickly removed any perennial weeds. If you have time, you can lay down a layer of cardboard or pond liner to exclude light for at least six months. This weakens invasive perennial roots (think nettle and bindweed) and they eventually give up (or are really easy to pull out). As my patch was mostly grass and clover, I simply laid out some bamboo canes on my lawn as a general guide for where I wanted my new plot to go.

No dig plot - cardboard

Next up, I laid out a layer of quick thick cardboard. I initially had a few large pieces of cardboard to hand, but having completely underestimated how much I actually needed, managed to pick up some little bits for free from my local plant nursery and layer those to ensure all the grass was covered.

Next, I emptied a load of well rotted organic manure onto the cardboard to weigh it down. I used 8 x 50litre bags which, spread evenly, gave me about a 3-4″ depth. To be honest, I probably would have put another 200 litres of finer compost down on top if I could, to add some depth and a finer till. But if you can get your mulch/compost/manure delivered in bulk or make your own compost (we’re getting there), even better. I always go for organic… just because I don’t know what the hell could end up in other non-organic compost mixes!

Mulched no dig bed

I then gave the compost/manure mulch a really good soak. It can be quite prone to drying out at the moment with these warm temperatures so I’ll keep an eye on it. The aim is for the cardboard to do its thing and break down to allow the worms and soil life to flourish underneath.

For this year, I’m going to keep my planting on this new plot light – think salad leaves, radishes, beetroot… Just quick-growing crops that don’t require a huge amount of soil stability or need to root deep down. I also planted in four little ‘Cambridge Favourite’ strawberry plants too, just to see how they get on. I’ll try and keep the strawberry runners in check and it’ll be interesting to see if we manage to get a teeny tiny crop of fruit this year.

strawberries in a no-dig bed

Come autumn, I’ll mulch liberally again and will probably for this first hot growing season keep adding a bit of rich organic compost every few weeks to build up the soil.

We’ve gone from 25C and pure, unadulterated sunshine to persistent rain (but still relatively warm) – which, if I’m honest, is great for the new plot.

I’ll keep you posted on progress!


2016 is Go… Finally.

Hello, there. It’s been a while. Sorry about that. You know how it is… Christmas, the strange in-limbo week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve (my birthday), and then all of a sudden it’s back to normality and you’re firmly in the mix of work and everything else.

lazy lounging

I admit I have barely stepped outside in the last three weeks. I am rapidly becoming a lazy lump and in danger of resembling a plump Christmas pudding unless I get myself motivated. It’s been so utterly miserable weather-wise – those few times when I have ventured into the garden the ground has audibly squelched beneath my feet (but thank goodness East Anglia has as yet evaded the awful flooding of recent weeks) – but today I woke up to large swathes of blue sky and birdsong, and I’m ready to get going with 2016. Finally.

bedfordshire morning - sunrise

I’ve decided that this year, we’re going with my plan to get rid of scrappy lawn and put in some more no-dig veg plots. I half-heartedly attempted this last year, but made the mistake of dumping horse manure directly on top of the lawn, leaving it for a while, and as a result the deep tap roots dandelions and clumps of grass just enjoyed the nourishment and flourished. That’s ok though, because we got a big wild patch filled with sour thistle, dandelion and thick grasses that we’ve been using to feed the bunny rabbit for free, who in turn provides us with lots of lovely poop for compost!

How to make no-dig plot

Laying out the no-dig plot

This time around, I’m going to smother the grass with cardboard and then dump the compost and manure on top. I have some organic compost that I bought last year on offer, but we have a big job of turning our three compost heaps ahead of us as buying in all your compost is just not an economically sound approach.

Chitting Potatoes on windowsill

Next up is getting the potatoes chitting. I’ll be on the lookout for Picasso again as they were a storming success last season (we finished the last one from our harvest over Christmas), and I might even try and find space for a row or two of Charlotte.

Kitchen Garden Experts Book Review

Kitchen Garden Experts

I was sent a copy of Kitchen Garden Experts to review, and happily took up the “challenge” of sitting down with a piece of (vegan) cake and a hot squash, with my feet up in the garden whilst I pored over the pages. It’s a hard life, sometimes.

Kitchen Garden Experts celebrates twenty chefs and their head gardeners. The book explores the working kitchens gardens of said chefs, and offers up a variety of special growing methods, signature dishes and growing tips to boot. I have to admit, I’m a sucker for pretty images. I could spend hours looking at grand kitchen gardens, potagers and little veg patches on Pinterest, so the very first pages seduced me somewhat.

Kitchen Garden Experts

The book is split into sections, with each section dedicated to a chef/restaurant, its’ kitchen garden, a focus a few choice vegetables or herbs, as well as a handy recipe. As a vegan, I will probably to struggle to make even half of the recipes in the book, but there are some such as the Uchiki Kuri Squash Soup in the Vallum Farm section that I will be able to adapt easily.

Kitchen Garden Experts

I also have to admit that although I’m an avid reader, I am also a very impatient person so rather than reading from cover to cover, I have a tendency to flick through gardening or foodie books until something catches my eye. Luckily, this book has lots of stunning pictures that serve as inspiration for my own modest backyard plots, and as such I have been inclined to keep the book for myself rather than offer it up for a competition (sorry!).

Kitchen Garden Experts Star Inn

I particularly loved The Star Inn section, detailing Jo and Andrew’s growing spaces – Rich and I are planning on rigging up some cooking apple espaliers and I would love to emanate the rambling-organised-chaos rustic appeal of The Star Inn plots.

The Felich Fach Griffin section has also been bookmarked (I couldn’t live without onions and garlic), and I am completely and utterly envious of Jack Stein and Ross Geach’s coastal Padstow kitchen garden. That’s the dream, right there. Kitchen Garden Experts also features a Wimpole Hall section, an historic estate which is not far from us at all (I pass it on my way to work in Cambridge each week) so a trip there is definitely on the cards now.

I have a feeling that I’ll be coming back to and referencing Kitchen Garden Experts lots in the coming months, and it will definitely be something I’ll pull out of the bookshelf (along with my John Seymour Self Sufficiency bible) on those long, dark winter nights to keep me inspired about the coming growing season.