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Planting in a no dig garden

 
Adam Buchler
Posts: 70
Location: New Jersey
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So this year I wanted to do no dig garden bed. Basically I threw down a small amount of horse manure and coffee grinds on top of the existing suburban lawn that I have. Then I threw down a large layer of leaves which I covered with 1-2" wood chips. I'm realizing now that this was poorly planed. I will be doing three sisters in this garden. How should I go about planting seed? Just right into the wood chips? If I pull back too much chips and leaves the grass will grow through. Any suggestions?
 
Charles Tarnard
Posts: 337
Location: PDX Zone 8b 1/6th acre
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Pull the mulch away, dig a patch of grass, chop it to tiny bits, put it back with seeds embedded. Re-cover with thin layer of mulch. I HAVE NOT DONE THIS YET! but I will be doing something very similar soon, and this is the best I've come up with, and you have no other replies yet .

Good luck.
 
Alex Ames
Posts: 404
Location: Georgia
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Adam if I were you I would dig out an adjacent bed shaped as you
want it. Dig down about a spade depth. Then break up the soil in the bottom of the
hole with a garden fork. Shake the soil off of the grass clumps and throw the grass
down in the bottom of the hole. Add leaves, logs sticks and whatever you can find until
you have loosely filled the hole. Then start piling your present bed on top of that.

Save some of pile and mix it in with the dirt from the hole and add that on top.
Mulch with wheat straw and plant through that. If you are planting seed just pull
the mulch back and plant and when the seedlings get big enough draw the mulch back
up to them.

This initial digging has provided the soil. Otherwise you will need to haul it in.
 
Myron Weber
Posts: 67
Location: Orange County, CA, USA
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Adam, I think it's great that you jumped in and did it. Planning is good, but sometimes action feels pretty satisfying, and no harm done.

I've never taken a no-dig approach, and I'd say there's a pretty good chance that grass will grow right up through that relatively thin layer of mulch. I think you would need 4 inches of mulch minimum. On the other hand, maybe you have a less hardy variety of grass than I'm used to.

Alex has given some pretty good advice about how to dig a bed, but if you are committed to the no-dig approach, I say go way heavier on your mulch and then plant dense enough to shade out any grass that makes its way through. You mention 3 sisters, which I suppose is a good candidate for this approach because I assume you would be planting in clusters. I would pull the mulch back in a circle larger than what you want to plant for each cluster, dig up the grass within that circle, then pull the mulch back in around the edges to make sure there is no turf exposed. Then it's kind of a race to see if your squash shade the area before the grass comes back to take over.

Keep us posted - I'd love to know what you decide to do and how it turns out.
 
Alex Ames
Posts: 404
Location: Georgia
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You need to import soil. As you describe what you have done you don't have
anything to plant into that is likely to grow a plant. So if you are intent on not
digging put soil on top of what you have and wheat straw or wood chips on top
of that as a mulch but you do need soil and as it is now your soil is under grass,
which is under horse manure and coffee grounds, which is under leaves, which is
under wood chips.
 
Myron Weber
Posts: 67
Location: Orange County, CA, USA
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Alex Ames wrote:As you describe what you have done you don't have anything to plant into that is likely to grow a plant.


That's a really good point - and not to hijack Adam's thread, but you've got me thinking. No question that you are pushing in the right direction, but wouldn't there be some variables at play? If "no dig" means absolutely no digging, then of course you are right. But I'm interpreting it to mean that Adam would still poke holes into the grass to plant into the soil. Of course, that introduces another variable, which is the quality of the underlying soil -- if it's good topsoil, then fine; but not if it's nutrient poor and compacted. It also opens the issue of how effectively the mulch will suppress the grass, which is kind of what I was mostly addressing.

I look at it this way. If Adam wants to maximize his chances of success right out of the gate, he should definitely do it the way Alex recommends - either dig a bed or import soil. But if Adam has some tolerance for experimentation, there might be some approaches that work without digging up the whole bed or importing soil. I have a pretty high tolerance for experimentation and learning by failure on my little slice of earth, but not everyone has that mindset.
 
chip sanft
Posts: 354
Location: 18 acres & heart in zone 4 (central MN). Current abode: Knoxville (zone 6 /7)
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Although not the three sisters, I had pretty good luck with flipping over small sections (very small, like one spade worth) of turf and planting seeds into the dirt on the underside. You might be able to pull back a little mulch here and there and do that.
 
Cj Sloane
pollinator
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Location: Vermont, off grid for 24 years!
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You don't need to import soil.

You just need a mulch that the grasses in the lawn can't grow through. You put manure/compost down, then a barrier like cardboard, then cut holes out, then plant into it. Cover the barrier with mulch so the cardboard can't wick moisture away.
 
Cj Sloane
pollinator
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Here's an article from Geoff's PRI on how to do it.
 
Alex Ames
Posts: 404
Location: Georgia
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Cj Verde wrote:Here's an article from Geoff's PRI on how to do it.



According to this Step #4 is to add a layer 2" thick of compost or soil. In the PRI
example they had no compost so they imported soil "from a building site".
 
S Bengi
Posts: 1356
Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even distribution
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Most no-dig garden farms. Do dig the 1st year to create swales, pathways, to add amendments, and also to get rid of the existing vegetation.
Not to mention to prepare the soil. Most likely you are going to have to dig to plant annuals, I would recommend double-dig/hugleculture.
If you want to plant fruit and nut trees you are going to have to big to plant a bare root trees too.
 
Julian Cantu
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If using old cardboard boxes don't forget to pull any metal clips out and take off any plastic tape.
With newsaaper try to use only black and white pages due to heavy metal content, but if you do need to use some with color on it just don't use any of the shiny stuff.
 
Myron Weber
Posts: 67
Location: Orange County, CA, USA
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Julian Cantu wrote:With newsaaper try to use only black and white pages due to heavy metal content


This is widely repeated, so no one can be faulted for passing on the warning with the best of intentions. But I heard recently that although it may have been true at one time, it's not necessarily the case now. I will need to check my source, but I'm pretty sure it was the podcast of either Howard Garrett or Mike McGrath - neither a permie per se, but both reliable on clean organic methods. Whoever it was, they said that it varies widely based on the actual batches of paper and ink used, and in some cases the color can even be better than monochrome - and they cited their sources, but I just don't remember the details.

Anyone have hard facts on this?
 
Cj Sloane
pollinator
Posts: 3717
Location: Vermont, off grid for 24 years!
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And according to geoff lawton, plants wont take up heavy metals unless the soil pH is less than 4.5.
 
Julian Cantu
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Upon further research I think I'll retract my previous statement on newspaper.

Couple of passages on what's in newspaper ink.
****
A number of different chemicals are used in producing newspaper ink, though the most prominent ingredient is typically soybean oil. This is called the “vehicle” in the ink and was previously usually made with petroleum oil, though recently has been made primarily with soybean oil. A number of other ingredients and chemicals are then added to this to produce the ink. These include dyes and pigments, which can be organic or inorganic in nature, as well as other additives such as paraffin or wax to help the newspaper ink dry faster. The other ingredients added prevent the soybean oil-based ink from being completely biodegradable, though it is somewhat easier to recycle than petroleum-based ink.

Newspaper ink is used in the printing of newspapers for daily distribution and reading. For decades, these inks were made using a petroleum-based vehicle that could dry fairly quickly and create quality printed images and text. As petroleum became more costly, however, efforts were made to find alternatives. This led to the development of several different organic oil compounds for use in creating ink, with soybean oil being the preferred vehicle that is now used by many of the major newspapers in the United States

www.pneac.org/sheets/all/biochemicals_for_the_printing_industry.pdf

I apologize for all the edits. Kindle wants to crud out every few minutes.
 
Peter Ellis
Posts: 1424
Location: Central New Jersey
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Adam Buchler wrote:So this year I wanted to do no dig garden bed. Basically I threw down a small amount of horse manure and coffee grinds on top of the existing suburban lawn that I have. Then I threw down a large layer of leaves which I covered with 1-2" wood chips. I'm realizing now that this was poorly planed. I will be doing three sisters in this garden. How should I go about planting seed? Just right into the wood chips? If I pull back too much chips and leaves the grass will grow through. Any suggestions?


IMO, You are going to want to put your seeds into the ground, not just into the mulch layer above the grass. That's going to mean a hole in to the soil, through the grass, and leaving the mulch back a bit so your seedling can get up through it. Having done a little experimenting with seeds planted in the mulch and not in the soil beneath, and a little with seeds planted in the soil and still under the mulch, I think you can have some success with either of those approaches, but not a satisfactory degree of success.

If you do a little bit of digging, at each of your planting sites, I think you can increase your success rate over either planting into mulch or planting under mulch, while still minimizing the grass coming up. I am thinking basically just turn the pile where you want to plant, getting the grass down under the dirt and your mulch mixed into it a bit. Then plant your seeds in these "islands" of open soil amidst the mulch.

It involves a minimal amount of digging and doesn't call for starting over entirely. It does qualify as a bit of an experiment and you might run into a variety of problems, with the grass coming up through your mulch and competing with everything else likely to be the biggest one.

I've got a few experiments to play with this coming season myself. One bed I used last year, double dug then and mulched since, won't be digging other than to plant in it. Another bed Double dug last year, mulched a bit differently, again not going to dig this year. A hugel bed that got started last year but has not been fully covered or planted yet. A bed where I am just planting straight into the "lawn" (the pitiful weedy excuse that grows in my sand) with no mulch and no decompaction. And I will be doing some more hugel pit beds, where I bury a bunch of decomposing wood a couple of feet deep and cover it back up, trying to work in some compost and with a mulch over the top. That last seemed to work pretty well for watermelon and cantalope last year, want to try some other things on it in some other locations this year.

My sand is so barren, practically anything I do is an improvement
 
Roberto pokachinni
pollinator
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Location: Fraser Headwaters, B.C., Zone3, Latitude 53N, Altitude 2750', Boreal/Temperate Rainforest-transition
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I'd have to reiterate a few statements to the effect that if you do make a bed on top of grass again, Adam, then consider a barrier near the initial stage.

I do have a history of success with this method: The best way to begin such a project would be to cut the grass down as low as possible; shave it so that it is struggling to grow. Water it intensely so that the fallen cuttings will rot, and help rot the living material. Then add cardboard, being sure to overlap each cardboard section, slit, or hole by at least six inches, creating a total barrier to light. Saturate the cardboard with water, and/or compost tea. Then begin mulching.

Regardless, the deeper the mulch the better, so if you concentrate your garden in a smaller area and be more intensive in your mulching, you may have more success in keeping the grass from rising up out from under it.

Also, as previously mentioned, importing soil and/or digging through the sod is important, but only needs to be done in the islands where you cluster plant your three sisters. heavy feeder plants like these will love the horse manure and coffee grounds, but would also much appreciate some soil and compost.

Another thing that can be done, if you have more mulch available, is, after you plant, lay down strips of cardboard on all the non-planted areas, and wet this cardboard down and cover with more mulch. This will be a weed barrier to help stop more of the grass from coming up.
 
Johan Thorbecke
Posts: 39
Location: The Netherlands
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Here's a nice video that shows the starting of a no-dig garden on top of grass:
 
J W Richardson
Posts: 75
Location: Council, ID
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You need about a foot of compost minimum to kill grasses. I used a single layer of contractors paper, the equivalent thickness of a paper bag, under the mulch too. it rots down really fast, but seems to help, maybe because it cuts the light for a week or two? If you edge the beds around the perimeter by taking about a half shovel depth of soil out, then you have an air moat that the grass won't cross, and you can throw that soil up on the bed and plant into it. You don't need much soil to seed into if you keep it moist while germinating. Remember, most potting soils is mostly peat moss or coir, and no actual soil.
You might have some grass make it through, but if you keep it pulled for the first few appearances or so, it wont make it. If you have a lot show up, put more mulch down after pulling.
 
Leila Rich
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Location: Wellington, New Zealand. Temperate, coastal, sandy, windy,
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I think it's really important to keep in mind what kind of grass we're dealing with.
Clumping varieties are pretty pathetic and easy to kill.
Rhizomatous species are something else, and can take years to kill, fully buried with no access to sun.
Some grasses are very, very dedicated to surviving!
 
J W Richardson
Posts: 75
Location: Council, ID
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Agreed! This worked for me with couch grass, no claims for success with bermuda. Didn't slow the bindweed either.
 
Alex Ames
Posts: 404
Location: Georgia
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Johan Thorbecke wrote:Here's a nice video that shows the starting of a no-dig garden on top of grass:


Thanks for posting this. I like this better than anything I have seen
for converting grass or weeds into a useful vegetable garden.
 
2017 Permaculture Design Course at Wheaton Labs
http://richsoil.com/pdc
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