Step 2 - Cardboard and Compost

How I Started My No-Dig Allotment

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In this post, I will take you back through the journey of starting my new plot. I know lots of you out there are just getting started on your own plots, so this could be helpful information.

I will talk about what worked and what didn’t, the pros and cons of no-dig and why I wish i’d done it sooner!

My Plot

My new plot is just that, brand new. it is a subdivision of a larger plot that formerly just kept chickens.

So it was just grass and a concrete bed where an outbuilding had once stood.

By the time I had got it the grass was long and full of weeds, sort of the standard place a lot of people begin from with their new plots.

Step 1 – Strimming

I started by strimming down all of the grass/weeds

I started by trimming down all of the grass and weeds.

I went through and took everything down as low as possible, trying to cause as much damage to any big clumps of grass I found along the way.

My intention here was to hurt the weeds as much as I could before I put my weed-suppressing layers down.

I left all of the clippings on the surface. In my mind, they are another mulch layer.

Step 2 – Cardboard

Step 2 - Cardboard and Compost
Step 2 – Cardboard and Compost

I then rolled out lots of cardboard and put down layers of boxes I had saved in preparation.

Getting some cardboard on a roll made things easy and quick. But as you can probably tell from the photo above, I got thin stuff.

I did this because I was on a tight budget, but if I had to do this again, I would definitely get thicker cardboard.

Step 3 – Compost

Then I added a good thick layer of compost on top of the cardboard to create my beds.

Again because of budget constraints, this was just the cheapest I could find at the time.

I ended up using a lot of bags of B&Q’s own compost.

It wasn’t great and was very woody, but it did the job and can always be improved over the years.

Used My Old Compost Bags As Path Liners
Used My Old Compost Bags As Path Liners

Step 4 Paths

For the pathways, I used up a lot of my compost bags and old grow bags. I laid these down and covered them with woodchip.

The bags are just there to act as a landscaping fabric.

Weeds Between Edges!
Weeds Between Edges!

What I Would Do Differently

The first thing, which I have already mentioned, is to use thicker cardboard.

I bought a roll of cardboard to help as I was covering a large area and was never going to be able to save enough cardboard to cover it all.

I bought a thin card, almost like craft paper. It did work and stopped a lot of weeds from coming through, but it did also rip in places.

The next thing I would have done differently is make sure the overlap was between the edges of my beds and the paths.

You can see in the bottom left of the photo above how a lot of grass is coming up on the edge of the path.

This was a problem I was fighting all year, and it could have been easily solved by a better overlap of my weed barrier at first.

Pros of No Dig

It is so much easier than digging.

Once you are up and running, weeds just become much less of an issue and you aren’t spending all of your time at the plot digging and turning over soil.

Cons of No Dig

The expense of getting started. You either need to have a good supply of compost already, or you will be buying in a lot.

You need to make a lot of compost, this is only an issue at first though.

Now that I am up and running on my plot I make enough compost of my own to cover topping up the beds every year.

I am only on a small plot, and I still manage to make enough. So it is doable, but you have to get resourceful and sometimes seek out materials to add to your pile!

It sort of turns into a game all of its own sourcing materials to add to the heap.

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    1. If you can then around 6inch is best, but don’t worry if not as the cardboard will rot away after a year

  1. First of all, I would have turned over the Grass, so it would rot. Then I would have torn up Free newspapers, with Torn up Cardboard all available from Asda and shops like that. The next thing would be to add as much raw vegetable matter from the kitchen scraps, Add used straw, not hay or even Buy a bale or two, mix together, Grass cutting’s banana skin’s even potato peelings, add Urine, which is supposed to be the best for plant’s before Stinging Nettle tea or comfrey. I tried this on 3 shrubs and they grew amazingly. PS. You are Not using this on your vegetables, because you will be covering it up with more Cardboard and more newspaper. I did this for a couple of weeks and the result was nearly everything had rotted as long as you watered it as you went on. The cardboard although wet took longer to rot, and the amount of worms under it more than doubled my expectation’s. Last of all I would add sheets of cardboard on top to keep out pest’s etc. The next step is to lay your purchased compost on top to start your growing.

    1. Hi Barry you must be careful about not encouraging rats with straw (nesting material) and food scraps laid about your garden, we live alongside a field and chickens and have a plague of them

  2. Putting old compost bags under wood chip paths may not be a good idea. They will disintegrate leaving you with a mess to clean up. I am even having to check my no dig cardboard from last year to remove the plastic packaging tape that is appearing everywhere as I prepare the beds for re-use.

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