The key to gardening is digging, isn’t it? Don’t you have to till the earth to make way for new growth? No! This is a very common and prevailing misconception, but it’s beginning to lose traction, especially with small space gardeners. Why are no-dig garden beds becoming so popular? It’s because they’re better for the environment, better for your plants, and so much easier on your back. It’s a win-win-win. Keep reading to learn about no-dig raised beds for urban gardeners.
What is a No-Dig Garden Bed?
You hear everywhere that you need to till your earth before planting. The prevailing wisdom is that it loosens the soil and spreads the nutrients of compost and last year’s decomposing plants throughout. And this wisdom prevails because for the first year the plants do tend to grow at a faster rate.
But in exchange for that faster rate, you throw off the delicate balance of the soil, encourage erosion, kill beneficial worms and nematodes, and unearth weed seeds. You also put a lot of stress on the plants.
Plants’ root systems are specialized – only the top roots are meant to absorb the nutrient-rich topsoil. The lower roots bring in minerals deep in the soil and provide an anchor against the wind. Exposing all the roots to rich compost may make for showy, fast growth, but it’s not what the plant has evolved for.
There’s no better growing condition for a plant than the natural, carefully balanced ecosystem of soil that’s already below your feet.
Creating Raised Beds in Urban Settings
Of course, if you’re making a raised bed for the first time, that ecosystem isn’t there yet. But you make it!
If your desired spot already has grass or weeds, don’t dig them up! Just mow or cut them close to the ground. Lay out your frame, then cover the ground inside with 4-6 sheets of wet newspaper. This will eventually kill the grass and decompose with it.
Next, cover your newspaper with alternating layers of compost, manure, and mulch until you near the top of the frame. Finish it off with a layer of mulch, and sow your seeds by making small holes in the mulch.
The key to creating raised beds in urban settings successfully is disturbing the soil as little as possible. You can plant in your no-dig garden beds right away, but you should avoid deep rooted vegetables, like potatoes and carrots, for the first year while the soil becomes established.
Over time, if undisturbed, the soil in your raised bed will become a balanced, natural environment for plant growth – no digging required!