My first attempt at a no dig garden began on sandy, desolate soil that little else was growing on except a few weeds. It was positioned in an unused area near our toolshed behind where our normal growing beds were located. My colleagues on the farm did wonder what I was up to collecting twigs and stockpiling newspapers.
So it began with a heavy layer of newspaper in a long line, followed with a mesh of twigs and sticks and top. On went a cover of straw and I began watering it all down. We had a bit of compost about, plenty of grass clippings and bags and bags of wood shavings from a local furniture workshop. I inter-layered these on top of the straw as one normally would for a no dig garden bed but the only component I was lacking was manure so I made do with a couple of layers of finely sprinkled dynamic lifter to help the process of decomposition along.
We had leftover lettuce, sunflower, radish and snapdragon seeds so in they went. Everything performed really well in a place that wasn't likely to grow anything particularly well prior to the no dig garden bed. So much so that we decided to lay irrigation hose as I had been hand watering previously. The problem was that we needed a slightly different layout for the no dig bed and it was here that we made a great discovery. By simply grabbing the heavy layer of newspaper underneath we were able to drag out sections of the mounds and reposition them without too much disruption to the plants. Thumbs up for no dig garden beds!
Permaculture encompasses a range of practices. There are four that are an excellent starting place for anyone interested in permaculture farming or gardening - no dig gardening, companion planting, biological control and sustainable harvesting. Here are the procedures for each :
No Dig Gardening
Clear area of weeds. Lay down a heavy layer of newspaper / cardboard to inhibit future weed growth. Follow this with a layer of woody matter such as sticks to create a structure on the bottom that provides aeration. Cover with pea straw. Wet the layers as you go. Cover next with a thick layer of manure and continue to add layers of green and brown materials, this can some from straw, lucerne, dried leaves, grass clippings, compost, manures, and blood and bone. Finish with another layer of straw and again wet down. Plant directly into the no dig garden bed.
Companion planting requires combinations of plants that benefit each other by planting them in proximity. Each plant is different in how it is located with its companion. It may be planted at the base of a tree to repel pests for example, or it may be planted in the general vicinity to attract bees or confuse pest insects. Some plants can be used as windbreaks for other more susceptible plants, some produce chemicals in their roots that deter pests, others reputedly make certain crops grow better or taste better.
Certain animals will prey on others in the environment. By making a farm or garden more attractive to certain predators they can be used as biological control against unwanted pests. Lizards will eat snails and slugs for example, so providing them with spaces under rocks or logs will help promote a habitat for them to thrive. Wasps are a great predator for many other insects so planting chamomile, hyssop or dill for example will attract them. We have layered our walkways in our greenhouses to provide a home for spiders and the resulting demise of a range of pest insects was extremely successful.
Sustainable harvesting focuses on methods that provide a constant harvest while allowing future yields to be unaffected or even improved. Managing crops in a way that ensures the chosen species is correct for the area and matches the weather patterns is vital. Ensuring the correct density of planting is chosen so as not to place pressure on environmental resources is another key aspect. Other techniques involve harvesting plants that don't show as much vigour as others first, which then allows surrounding plants to access more light, water and nutrient, introducing animal species that benefit the crops and carefully choosing the position of environmental elements and structures in a beneficial way.