Food House Project™

The Food Growing, Cooking, Preserving & Healing Self-Sufficiency Adventure

The "No Dig, No Dirt, No Problem" Garden Bed

Having a large wooded acreage results some serious biomass. When the snow finally melted on our property, we were amazed by the number of branches, leaves and even full-size trees that had come down during the winter. Additionally, large areas of the property had been cleared and planted with grass so we had a long uncut lawn that needed serious dethatching and trimming.

On other properties we owned, it was always a challenge to manage yard waste because we grew a lot of plants in small spaces.  We would compost as much as we could but that can take time and space as well. Now that we have some space, we have a great solution: make another garden bed! In late May, we did just that with our yard waste in anticipation of having a rich and healthy vegetable bed next year. We were amazed by the result.

Based on the yard waste and space we had, we decided to create a hybrid garden bed combining no dig techniques with hugulkultur, a technique that uses wood and other debris to form a composting mound that is covered with topsoil and planted with produce. We didn’t want a mound and opted for a raised bed about a foot (30 cenimetres) off the ground, knowing that we could add to it in the fall and increase its height for planting next spring.

We started with rotted logs and large limbs – pieces of wood that could not be used in our woodstove. We spread them out in our chosen space and covered them with smaller branches, over which we heaped both grass clippings and wood chips that we chipped ourselves. Based on the size of the bed, we had enough topsoil to give it about an inch and a half (4 centimetres) of coverage.

At first we thought this would be adequate to hold all the biomass in place over the summer, generate some heat underneath and start the material composting. However, our curiosity got the best of us by mid-June. ‘What if we planted some food in here?” We found some inexpensive organic peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers and squash starter plants and stuck them through the meagre topsoil into the crevasses between the branches and wood chips. We had some beet seeds and we through them in, as well as some organic potato pieces and sprouting garlic cloves. Would it grow? The answer is yes.  This is what it looks like now.

Remember, this garden bed is about 95% branches, twigs and grass clippings. It illustrates how you can clean up your yard waste, make your topsoil go much further, and extend your garden many times over with little or no cost (especially if you plant from seed). I am still amazed that the beet seeds, potato chunks and garlic grew in so little earth.

We didn’t expect to have any harvest from this garden bed this year and now we have an incredible amount of food. It is late July and we have already enjoyed cucumbers and various chili peppers. The tomatoes are ripening and the squash are increasing in size.

Next year, the garden bed will be even more nutrient-rich but for now, we are enjoying the harvest we didn’t expect to get. The next time you look at those grass clippings, twigs and branches, try to imagine delicious tomatoes, cucumbers and squash!


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