Digging out a garden bed is a back-breaking effort, but digging in the dirt is not necessary to create a permanent organic garden. Rural farmers in Australia have been using the no-dig garden method since the late 1930s, and the method has become more popular recently for urban gardening in sandy, infertile soil.
Start at ground level with 2 to 3 combined pounds of bloodmeal and bonemeal. These meals add nitrogen and phosphorous to the layers, which will expedite the hay and straw decomposition process. Water the ground thoroughly and dust the meals over a 4-foot by 8-foot area. Use less bonemeal/bloodmeal for a smaller garden; only a light dusting is necessary. Wear a mask to avoid breathing in the dust.
Cover the dusted ground with a 1/2-inch layer of black-and-white newsprint. Layer 4 inches of alfalfa hay pads over the newspaper, and top the hay with another dusting of bonemeal/bloodmeal.
Add a layer of 8-inch deep straw pads, and top with another dusting of meals. Finish with 4 inches of ripe compost. Plant transplants in the compost layer and mulch with a couple inches of straw or grass clippings.
Shallow-rooting plants will work best for the initial crop. These will help break down the layers to create a looser growing medium for subsequent plants. Keep seedlings moist, but cut back on watering after the plants are about 6 inches tall.
Sometimes called a “lasagna garden” or “do nothing garden,” a no-dig garden method always uses layers of stacked organic matter. The layers will be strong enough for a no-dig garden to stand alone but you can also contain it in a raised bed garden frame.