Food is getting more expensive all over the world and this year that situation will become much, much worse. So what can we do to lessen this problem and keep our food costs at an afordable level? If you live in a urban or suburban area finding the space to grow food can become a problem. In my part of the world, most suburban houses will have a large area of the garden devoted to growing a lawn. You can't eat lawn grass.
Well... you can, but it won't be very nutritious and it definitely won't keep you from starving.
You could dig it up and try to turn it into a vegetable garden but that's a lot of work and some favourite lawn species are very hard to remove completely, no matter how much you dig and pull out. How about a method to turn that lawn into a productive, organic potato patch with no digging, no hand weeding and no weed killers required?
The No-Dig Garden system was developed and promoted by Australian gardener and author, Esther Dean in the 1970's and is still being used around the world as a way to turn wasteland into productive gardens.
This method does require a large amount of organic material to begin with, in the form of straw and animal manures and to a lesser extent, good quality compost. These are long term investments because once the no dig bed is made it can be used many times over with minimal regular additions of organic matter to top up the bed or improve soil fertility. In a crop rotation system a green manure crop can be added to the rotation to help fulfill this ongoing need, along with compost or worm castings which can be produced on-site as well. Eventually (quite rapidly really) you can end up with a fertile raised bed, full of earthworms and other soil life, that is easy to maintain and requires little or no external materials.
So let's get on with growing our potatoes. Potatoes are a wonderful starter crop for no-dig beds, by the way, as they love the straw around their roots and stems and will produce more and bigger tubers than they would in normal soil.
Mark out the area and edge it with boards, bricks, rock or any other material that will hold the material within the bed. This is a great opportunity to re-use some waste. You can usually find something nearby to use for this. You might use old roof tiles, dug in a few inches to keep them upright, or even just chicken wire on wooden stakes with a heavy cardboard liner, if that is all you can find.
If you have a large area that you are converting to no-dig it may be better to build a number of rows that are just wide enough to work on without having to stand on the bed. A good height for borders is around 250 - 300mm (10 - 12") minimum but you can go higher to make maintenance work easier if you have the materials available.
Alternatively, you can build a bed with no edges at all. The edges just help to keep the materials in and establish a permanent raised bed. If you can't find good edging material, just omit step 1.
You can make a no-dig garden edge from just about anything