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No-Dig Garden Bed Basics: How to Create an Easy Starter Plot

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Learn how to make a no-dig garden bed with this easy guide. No-dig gardening is a great alternative to traditional gardening that can save you time and effort. In this guide, you’ll discover how to create your own no-dig garden bed with just compost and mulch.

Silverbeet in no-dig garden beds

When we moved to our little country homestead on a 1/3 acre, I was eager to start growing our own food and living more sustainably (you can read more about our story here). But I soon realized that gardening was not as easy as it seemed. I struggled with hard, heavy clay soil, poor drainage, weeds, pests, and low yields. That’s when I discovered the “no-dig” method, a simple and effective way to create a healthy and productive garden without tilling or turning the soil.

This method is inspired by the natural processes of the forest floor, where layers of organic matter decompose and enrich the soil over time.  In this post, I’m going to share with you everything you need to know about no-dig gardening, including its benefits, techniques, and how to get started with your own no-dig garden bed.

You’ll see how this method can transform your garden into a thriving ecosystem that supports your plants and nourishes your family. 

Why Choose No-Dig

No-dig gardening is based on a simple and powerful idea – the soil is alive, and we should treat it with care and respect. Healthy soil is home to millions of microorganisms, fungi, worms, and insects that work together to create a fertile and healthy environment for plants. When we dig, we disrupt this balance and trigger a weed response. The soil naturally wants to be covered and protected by plants and organic matter.  Instead of digging and disturbing the soil, this method preserves its structure and drainage, as well as its complex web of life.

Hand holding compost
Benefits of No-DigDescription
More Fertile SoilWhen undisturbed, the soil structure improves over time and supports more soil life, from soil organisms to fungal networks to roots. It can even improve poor soil, like heavy clay.  
Less WeedsWeeds are naturally suppressed by layers and mulch. Digging less means fewer weed seeds come to the surface. Annual weeds are greatly reduced. Weeding becomes easier and faster.  
Less Time and EffortNo-dig beds are low-maintenance once established. Planting is quick and simple. The best time to make a bed is at the end of winter or summer, so the soil can settle before planting. Arranging vegetables in rows makes it easier to care for them, rather than scattering them randomly.
Compost bucket and gumboots

How to Choose Compost and Mulch for Your No-Dig Garden Bed

One of the most important considerations for your no-dig garden bed is the quality of your compost and mulch. These are the materials that will feed and protect your soil and plants. We love making our own compost from our kitchen scraps and garden waste, but we also use other sources of compost and mulch to fill our beds, especially when we were just starting out or needing to build whole new beds.  Here’s a rundown of some of your options: 

Making Your Own Garden Compost

One of the joys of gardening is making our own compost from the scraps and leftovers of our kitchen and yard. We have a small worm farm, which provides worm castings we can use as an organic fertiliser.  For our garden compost, we use a simple three-bay compost heap system to create rich and organic compost for our no-dig garden bed. Here’s how we do it:

1. We start by collecting green and brown materials in separate bins. Green materials are things like fruit and vegetable peels, coffee grounds, tea bags, fresh grass clippings and weeds. These provide nitrogen to the compost. Brown materials are things like dried leaves, straw bales, cardboard and wood chips. These provide carbon to the compost.

2. Layer the green and brown materials in one of the bays, following a ratio of about two parts brown to one part green. Add some water to moisten the pile, but not too much to make it soggy. Repeat this process over time until the bay is full, and then we cover it with a tarp or piece of colour bond to keep it warm and moist.  Let the pile decompose for several months, turning it just once into the next compost bay to aerate it and speed up the process. 

3. We know the compost is ready when it looks dark and crumbly and smells earthy. We then transfer it to another bay to decompose for a few more weeks.

4. We apply a new layer of compost to our no-dig garden bed in the autumn (around the equinox), spreading it evenly over the soil surface in a 2-3 inch layer. 

Using Woodchips as Mulch

One of our favourite ingredients in our compost is woodchips. Woodchips are great for mulching because they are the favourite food for many soil fungi species. The fungi form networks of mycelia that break down the wood and release nutrients into the soil.  We collect wood throughout the year and borrow a neighbour’s wood chipper to create a lovely pile that sits next to our compost bays.  We can then layer this into the compost pile as needed.

Using Horse Manure as Compost

We are lucky to have access to horse manure from our neighbours who have horses and small farms. Horse manure is a rich source of organic matter and nutrients for our soil. But we don’t use it fresh. We let it sit in a heap for at least a year, so it can break down completely into lovely, well-rotted manure.

Kohlrabi in no dig garden bed

Saving Money with Green Waste Compost

Another option we use is green waste compost, which is made from garden trimmings and shredded by our local council. It is not fully composted and it has some seeds in it, but it is cheap and plentiful. We mix it with other types of compost to improve its quality. It has a lot of carbon and texture, which helps the soil over time. It is a good way to use what we have and save some money.

Boosting Our Soil with Mushroom Compost

One of our favourite composts is mushroom compost, which is a mixture of cow or horse manure and pea straw.   It is a leftover from the mushroom growing industry, and we can buy it at a reasonable price. It has a great balance of nutrients and organic matter for our soil. We like to mix two parts mushroom compost with one part green waste, to make a great blend for our beds. We get it in early spring, so it can settle before we use it in autumn.

Father and son digging from large pile of mushroom compost

When to Plant in Your No-Dig Garden Bed

The best time to plant in your no-dig garden bed depends on the weather and what you’d like to grow. We like to expand our beds for spring planting by adding mushroom compost at the end of July. This gives the soil enough time to settle and become ready for new plants. If you have a different growing season, you can adjust your planting times accordingly.

How to Start No-Dig Garden Bed

Making a New Bed

To make your first no-dig garden bed, you need to follow these steps:

Pick Your Spot: Look for a sunny spot that gets at least six hours of sun per day. This is where your plants will thrive the most.

No dig garden beds

Cover the Ground: If your spot has grass or weeds, you need to smother them with thick layers of cardboard or newspaper. This will kill them without using any chemicals or tools.

Soaked cardboard is layered down in preparation for compost to create the no-dig garden bed

Spread the Compost:  We have found that creating a simple raised bed is the best way to go.  In our vegetable garden’s first year we used wooden planks to make garden beds, but found in our climate they encouraged too much slug activity. Charles Dowding recommends six to eight inches of compost, but in our hot climate, we like to go for a 10 to 12-inch thick layer of organic matter.  This helps the soil stay moist and cool during the summer.  

Man with wheelbarrow filled with compost
No-dig garden bed is ready for planting

Plant Away: The beauty of using well-rotted compost is that you can plant directly into it without waiting.

Young plants in no-dig garden bed

Caring for Your No-Dig Garden Bed

The beauty of a no-dig bed is that it doesn’t require much work. In the autumn, we spread a two-inch layer of compost over the bed to feed the soil.  We don’t mulch until November, because mulching too early can invite slugs and snails to feast on our plants. We also add another layer of mulch in January to help the soil retain moisture.

For fertilizing, we use “Seamungus”, a natural product made from chicken manure, fish emulsion, and seaweed. This gives the soil a gentle boost of nutrients. During the growing season, we just sprinkle some of this mix every few weeks to keep the soil moist and happy.

Seedlings in propagation trays

No-Dig Garden Bed Questions and Answers

1. What do you put in a no-dig garden bed?

In a no-dig garden bed, the secret is in layering. Start with a thick layer of cardboard or a layer of newspaper to suppress weed growth. On top of that, put compost – the best is aged homemade compost if you have it. Wood chips and mulch come next, giving moisture, weed control, and protection for your plants. Remember, the aim is to make rich soil that emulates nature’s way of nurturing plant life.

2. What are the disadvantages of no-dig gardens?

While no-dig gardens have many advantages, there are a few things to think about. At first, making the layers and getting good compost might take more work and upfront investment. Also, getting used to a no-dig method might need some time. Some gardeners might miss the pleasure of traditional digging. But, the benefits usually make up for these issues.

3. How do you make a no-dig garden in Australia?

Making a no-dig garden in Australia is the same as anywhere else, but think about your local weather and resources. Start by picking a sunny spot with enough sunlight. Put down cardboard or newspaper, then add compost, mixing in wood chips or other good mulch. If you’re in an area that experiences intense summers and water restrictions like us,  here are a few tips: 

  • When making your new garden bed, start off with at least 10-12 inches of compost and condition it with other organic materials that are excellent at improving soil moisture retention, such as biochar and seaweed. 
  • In the early summer (beginning of November) apply a thick layer of mulch, such as sugar cane mulch or pea straw.
  • Set up a watering system: using either drip irrigation or soaker hoses are good options.  

4. How do you top up a no-dig garden?

To add to your no-dig garden, just follow the layering method. As the seasons change and your compost sinks, put a new layer of aged compost in autumn. This gives back nutrients and keeps the soil healthy. If you see the mulch layer getting thin over time, put more mulch to keep weeds away and moisture in. The aim is to keep your garden bed fed and happy all year round.

5. What is the best mulch for a no-dig garden?

Wood chips, sugar cane mulch, and pea straw are great choices.  Wood chips make a nice home for soil fungi.  Straw mulch protects, holds moisture, and slowly breaks down to make the soil better. Pick mulch that works for your garden’s needs and think about using local options for a green choice.

Abundant salad harvest

Resources for Your No-Dig Gardening Journey

How to Learn More About No-Dig Gardening

The pioneer of no-dig gardening is Charles Dowding, a renowned gardener who has been practising and teaching no-dig gardening for decades. I’ve learned so much from Charles’s books and videos, and I’m so grateful for his wisdom and generosity. His approach is not only practical and efficient but also beautiful and harmonious. His way of gardening has taught me how to respect the soil and the life within it, and how to grow more food in less space with less work.  If you want to know more about no-dig gardening, here are some great resources from Charles to check out:

  • Organic Gardening: The Natural No-Dig Way by Charles Dowding: This is a book that covers everything you need to know about organic and no-dig gardening. Find it on Amazon
  • Charles Dowding’s YouTube Channel: All things no-dig gardening.  This is where he shares his knowledge and experience on his YouTube channel. You can watch his videos and learn how to grow your own no-dig garden bed. Watch his videos
  • No-Dig Southern Hemisphere Sowing Guide: If you live in the Southern Hemisphere, you need this guide. It tells you when to sow your seeds for the best results. You can follow his advice and have a successful no-dig garden. Read the guide
  • Charles Dowding’s Veg Journal: Expert No-Dig Advice, Month by Month: This is a handy journal that you can use to plan and record your no-dig gardening journey. There are tips and tricks for every month of the year.  Get it on Amazon

Local No-Dig Gardening Materials for Central Victoria

  • ASQ Garden and Landscape: We rely on ASQ for our source of green waste compost and mushroom compost, essential components for nourishing our no-dig garden beds. Explore their offerings here: ASQ Garden and Landscape.
  • Neutrog Seamungus Garden Fertiliser: Our choice for organic fertilization is the Neutrog 15kg Seamungus Garden Fertiliser, available at Bunnings. Elevate your gardening with this enriching resource: Neutrog Seamungus Garden Fertiliser.
  • The Diggers Garden Club: We proudly partner with The Diggers Garden Club to source heirloom seeds and rootstock. Their commitment to preserving heritage varieties aligns with our no-dig gardening philosophy. Explore their offerings here: The Diggers Garden Club.
Harvested vegetables, turnip, carrot, beetroot, rhubarb and herbs in colandar in sink

Enjoy Your No-Dig Garden Bed

No-dig gardening is an easy way to take care of the soil and grow productive gardens without the hard work of digging. I hope I’ve inspired you to create your own no-dig garden bed. You’ll be amazed by how much your plants will thrive in this no-dig system, how little maintenance they’ll need and how glorious it is to only have to deal with an occasional weed or two.  If you have any questions, please share them in the comments below. Good luck and happy gardening!

Silverbeet in no-dig garden beds

How to Make a No-Dig Garden Bed

A no-dig garden bed is a wonderful way to grow your own food and enjoy gardening. It’s perfect for beginners who want to start gardening but don’t have much experience. Here’s how you can make your own no-dig garden bed in a few easy steps.


  • Cardboard or newspaper
  • Compost (homemade, green waste, mushroom, or any kind)
  • Mulch (wood chips, straw, or other organic material)
  • Water (from a hose or watering can)


  • Pitchfork
  • Spade
  • Rake
  • Gloves
  • Dibber (for making holes for seedlings)
  • Watering can (for keeping the bed moist)
  • Garden Diary (to record wins, struggles, and lessons for future seasons, optional)


Pick the Right Spot

  1. Find a sunny spot that gets 6-8 hours of sun every day.
  2. Remove any weeds, rocks, or debris from the area.
  3. Think about how big you want your garden bed to be and make sure it fits well in the spot you chose.

Collect Your Materials

  1. Cardboard or newspaper
  2. Compost, which can be homemade, green waste, mushroom, or any kind.
  3. Mulch, such as wood chips, straw, or other organic material, helps keep the soil moist and the weeds away.
  4. Water, from a hose or a watering can.
  5. Garden tools, like a pitchfork, spade, rake, and gloves.

Get the Ground Ready

  1. Put Down Cardboard or Newspaper: Cover the whole bed area with a thick layer of cardboard or several layers of newspaper. Make sure they overlap so no weeds can come through.
  2. Wet the Cardboard: Soak the cardboard with water to help it decompose faster. This will also make the soil more moist for your plants.

Layer the Compost and Mulch

  1. Put a Thick Layer of Compost: Add a 4-6 inch layer of aged compost on top of the cardboard. Make this a 10-12 inch layer if you live in an area with intense summers (like us). This is the main growing medium for your plants.
  2. Cover with Mulch: Spread a 2-3 inch layer of organic mulch, like wood chips, pea straw or sugar cane mulch over the compost. This will help keep the moisture in, the weeds out, and the compost protected.

Plant Your Crops

  1. Dib Holes for Seedlings: Using a dibber, make small holes in the mulch and compost layers where you want to plant your seedlings.
  2. Put your seedlings in the holes and press the soil around them gently.
  3. If you’re planting seeds, drill a section in the compost, pre-water, scatter your seeds, lightly cover with some more compost and press them lightly.

Water and Care for Your Bed

  1. Keep the Bed Watered: Water your garden bed often to keep the compost layer moist but not soggy.
  2. Add More Mulch if Needed: Check the mulch layer and add more if it gets thin over time. Mulch helps save water and prevent weeds.
  3. Watch Out for Pests: Look for pests, like snails, slugs, and aphids, that might harm your plants and take steps to control them.

Enjoy Your Harvest and Plant Again

  1. Pick Your Produce: When your plants are ready, harvest your fresh and delicious produce.
  2. Get Ready for New Crops: After harvesting, get the bed ready for new crops by adding another layer of compost and planting new seedlings or seeds.

See Your Garden Grow

  1. Over time, the cardboard will break down, letting the plant roots go deeper into the soil below.
  2. Good microbes and worms will live in the soil, making it healthier and more diverse.


  • Try companion planting to keep pests away and help your plants grow better. For example, planting calendulas, marigolds, Queen Anne’s Lace and cornflowers with your veggies can protect them from bugs.
  • Check for weeds and pull out any that pop up through the mulch.
  • If you’re making your vegetable beds in late winter or early spring, you can make them decompose faster by covering them with black plastic to keep them warm.
  • Keep a garden diary to record your wins, struggles, and lessons for future seasons. This can help you avoid mistakes and do better in the future.

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