Earth Matters by Jacqueline Milner – No-Dig Gardening? – May 31, 2011 – Cornwall Ontario

Cornwall ON – Yes it is possible.  I attended a “No Dig Gardening Workshop” this week-end organized by All Things Food Bouffe 360’s own Dana Kittle and presented by Karen Carrière.


Carrière has incorporated real, measurable changes in her life to insure she is making the most of all the resources she has available to her.  Concerned about the global impact of climate change, sustainable living and our diminishing oil supplies, Carrière shared easy to use information that each of us can put to immediate use to insure fresh food at our finger tips.

The All Things Food organization was formed in 2008 by individuals passionate about encouraging a local food system that is sustainable and accessible to all.  Thanks to funding from The Trillium Foundation, area resident Dana Kittle was hired to coordinate activities and to develop programming to meet this objective.  All Things Food will hold a variety of workshops throughout the Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry areas this year with the goal of providing residents with the knowledge involved to grow their own fruits, vegetables and herbs.

Information about this workshop landed in my in-box so I decided to attend with the hopes of providing our Earth Matters readers with information that they could immediately put to use in growing some fresh, nutritious food for their tables.  Gardening without digging is possible and doable.

The simple items you will need to begin, is the will to take the first step, a little piece of terrain someplace (could be in your front yard, would suggest a plot about 4’ x4’ or 4’ x 8’), a pitch fork, some compost, some mulch and your seed or plants purchased from your local nursery.  The idea is not to have anything wider than your physical reach to the middle of the bed as it is important not to walk on the bed so you must be able to access all areas of the bed by the outside boundaries.  It is also recommended that the site receive about six-eight hours of sun per day.  If the only area you have has shade, you can grow plants which require little sun and thrive in the shade.  Karen also recommends not locating a bed close to tree roots as they will compete for the nutrients in the soil.  Avoid areas that stay wet in the spring and it is suggested to plant in an area close to your home to encourage you taking the few steps to grab that fresh food for your meal.  Also, to begin with, consider planting foods that you are already purchasing and enjoying at the table.  Avoid larger root vegetables in the first year only until the earthworms and other micro organisms have loosened the soil to a greater depth.

“No dig” gardening is a simple way of starting a vegetable/herb garden for the seasoned and beginner gardener.  So let’s begin.  #1 Choose your site as indicated above.  If there is anything growing there simply mow it as short as possible. #2 Decide what to grow according to the sun/shade received by your plot. #3  With a pitchfork aerate the plot with the fork tines throughout the plot then cover your bed with 4-6 layers of non-glossy, overlapped, wet newsprint.  This smothers the grass which will decompose with the newspaper.


#4 Cover your newsprint with a 4-6 inch layer of ‘compost’ or well rotted manure.  If you live in a Municipality that has a composting program for leaves or Christmas trees, they will more than likely have compost available at your landfill site, free for the taking.  You will need to bring a suitable container to load up the compost for transportation to your site.  Also, call to see when the public has access for this purpose.


You can also you the compost from your own composter or perhaps from friends. #5  Cover your compost bed with a 4 -6 inch layer of Mulch.  This can be your grass clippings from your lawnmower however they will have to be completely dried out before use. You can also use straw, hay or leaves.  It is recommended that this mulch layer be of items that have not had chemicals sprayed on them.  The mulch layer, retains moisture, keeps down the weeds, moderates the soil temperature and will break down to feed the soil.

You are now ready to plant.  For young plants, open the mulch layer with your hands and make a hole just large enough in the compost to plant your new young plant at the height it is in, in the pot it was purchased.  Fill around the hole with the compost, hand water and then add the mulch layer back around the plant but not touching the stem.  This is important, as the mulch layer touching the stem can kill the plant.  The image below shows Karen Carrier (L) and Dana Kittle with a new little herb bed constructed in about 15 minutes of time.

For seeds; open the mulch layer with your hand.  Make a furrow according to the depth required by the information on your seed packages.   Plant extra seeds and thin as the plants begin to grow.  I would not add the mulch layer with seed planting until the plants begin to sprout; you know where they are and have the chance to thin according to package directions.

Harvest crops as they mature.  Watering may or may not be necessary during the season, check under the mulch with your fingers or a hydrometer. If you must water do so early in the morning.  Late day watering can cause mould problems.  As crops are harvested simply cut the tops and leave the small plant roots to naturally rot.  Large roots can be removed and insure a 4-6 mulch layer is maintained.

Rotation of crops is recommended to reduce or eliminate soil nutrient, disease and pest challenges.  It is suggested not to follow plantings of tomato, peppers or eggplant with potatoes or with each other.  Allow 3 years before planting same group in any given bed. Onions can be planted with all groups. Beets, carrots, radishes may be planted among any group and replanted as early crops are removed.

Check out “Weedless Gardening” by Lee Reich and “Lasagna Gardening” by Patricia Lanza for further information.  Remember to check your Municipal Landfill Site for Compost.  Cornwall Landfill Site number is 613-933-6953.  For information on upcoming S.D. & G. “All Things Food” workshops, contact Dana Kittle at or 613-875-3262.  You can read more information about Karen Carrière at

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