No dig allotment gardening will provide you with many happy years of healthy plants and soil using an environmentally friendly method without chemicals or fertilisers.
The principle behind the idea of a no-dig approach is to feed the soil with nutrient-rich decomposed organic material which will in turn feed your plants.
Great looking flowers and great tasting vegetables are wonderful and will be abundant on your plot when you follow a no dig system.
Although converting to a no-dig allotment can be started at any time of year the best time is at the end of Summer going into Autumn when chemical free organic material for composting such as leaves and the last of the summer harvests are available for composting.
But if you’re keen to get started straight away simply follow the simple guide below.
Step 1: Create a system of making good quality compost
Many allotments have access to compost and manure, others do not and a no dig allotment needs compost to survive and thrive.
Creating your own compost will save you time and money plus you’ll be able to recycle many of the plants you grow on your allotment by composting leftovers from harvesting and weeding.
Start by sourcing some compost bins like daleks which a relatively cheap on places like Facebook Marketplace.
If you’re feeling energetic then you can always create a compost bin out of pallets.
Twisting off carrot, beetroot and potato stems (unless you eat them) and placing them into your compost bin before you take them home will soon add up to a plentiful supply of compost for the following season.
Weeds, animal manure, cardboard, newspaper, squash vines – they can all go into the compost bin.
Make sure you stick to a good mix of browns and greens and that you turn your compost just once to produce great compost in a shorter timescale.
Pro tip: start sourcing cardboard for your compost bins and for placing on the ground for your no-dig beds
Step 2: clear the weeds
The vast majority of no dig gardeners will tell you that there is no need to clear weeds to convert to a no dig allotment. Often the advice is to simply lay cardboard straight on top of weeds to begin building your no dig bed.
I’ve found that clearing weeds on an allotment before starting a no dig bed can significantly reduce the occurrence of them growing back. View it as the first phase of their destruction.
Each of the the subsequent steps to creating a no dig allotment will also help to destroy weeds as you add light excluding mulch (cardboard) to completely deprive them of the ability of photosynthesise.
Step 3: Rake the ground
The resaon for raking the ground after weeding it twofiold.
Firstly you’ll clear the ground of all manner of debris that may be lingering from years of neglect from previous tenants.
When I converted to no dig and raked over new ground I removed plastic, a shoe, scaffold pipes, glass, tins and enough stones to supply my local builders merchants.
What I was looking for was anything that could be contaminating the soil or anything that would otherwise prevent the root systems of plants from thriving.
Secondly raking will allow you to gently level your soil and remove any lumps and bumps.
Step 4: Lay down some cardboard
You can swap cardboard for newspaper but you’ll need to use newspaper 4-5 sheets thick to mimic the thickness of cardboard.
My preference is for cardboard because it’s easier to manage in wet and windy conditions.
Before you start collecting cardboard for your allotment, make sure that it’s non glossy – the traditional brown is ideal.
Remove any staples and sellotape before laying it on the ground because these will not decompose.
If you’ve got a bindweed on your plot then a double layer of cardboard is best to start getting rid of it and help prevent it from returning.
Step 5: Create your no dig beds
If you’ve access to enough compost then lay it directly onto the cardboard using a bed system.
I use beds of between 50 centimetres and 75 centimetres wide for the full width of the plot. You also have the option of using raised beds but be aware that you’ll attract plant eating slugs who like to hide in the sides and the soil of the beds.
The great thing about using finished compost is that you can plant or sow seeds into it straight away.
If you don’t have access to finished compost then mulches such as partially rotted animal manure, partially rotted compost, grass clippings or finished compost can be used to create a lasagne garden.
Using partially rotted material will mean waiting until the earthworms and their mini beast associates have incorporated it into the soil and broken it down.
How long this will take depends on how well rotted down the material is which is why Autumn is the best time to convert an allotment to no dig so that the the beds have time over winter to completely decompose and be ready for planting in the following Spring.
I chose partially rotted animal manure because I’m close to a horse owner and have a never ending supply which lead to a beautiful rich soil into which I planted the following Spring.
Because animal manure contains weed seeds you’ll need to cover it to prevent the weeds from germinating such as plastic sheeting or tarp.
Step 6: Leave space for paths between the no dig beds
Leaving space for paths between the beds means that you can access your beds for weeding, planting and harvesting.
Mulching your paths with organic material will also mean that your beds will bed fed extra nutrients as path material breaks down over time.
Wood chip is best and you can often obtain some from you local tree surgeons from Facebook if you put a shout out.
I literally cold messaged about 6 or 7 in my local area and was able to get hold of some.
Mulched paths between no dig beds will also
- suppresses weeds between the no dig beds
- give a neat and tidy finish to your allotment
The width of the beds can be anywhere between 10-25 inches/25-60 centimetres. If in doubt measure the width of your garden rake and use it’s width as a guide to spacing out your paths.
Allotment success with feeding the soil
The no dig conversion process may seem like a lot of work but once it’s done you will have a plentiful supply of compost all year round to keep feeding your soil.
Weeding will become significantly reduced and plants will thrive.
You will have more time to enjoy your allotment and maintaining your beds and plants is as simple as spreading a layer of your finished compost onto the beds once a year to a depth of about 3-5 centimetres.