21 March 2020

How to build a veggie garden quickly – or revamp one

It is a perfect gardener’s storm. Restricted to home, panic buying creating chaos, the need for good food to build a healthy immune system …

Time to activate the vegetable garden. But how to do it quickly so it works?

 The answer is simple. Use the no-dig gardening method, so this week, full details. And by the way, this blog provides another excuse to use my all time garden photo brag pic (thanks to Peter McConchie) so indulge me...

Also to say it is a deep sadness for Ruth and myself to need to cancel the Pre-Easter retreat due to the unprecedented circumstances we all find ourselves in. This is the first time in nearly 40 years of running programs I have ever cancelled, and our hearts go out to those inconvenienced and disappointed. May you all be well and safe. We hope to present the program in November and more on that soon,  but first

         Thought for the day

Do not surrender your loneliness
So quickly.
Let it cut more deep.
Let it ferment and season you
As few human or even divine ingredients can.

Something missing in my heart tonight
Has made my eyes so soft
My voice
So tender
My need of God


Way back in 1978 as I emerged from an extended time of illness and recovery, I leased a veterinary practice in the South of Adelaide. With very few resources left after the illness, and living in a small flat, the only prospect for a garden rested with the vacant block adjoining and a part of the vet practice.

Covered in rocks and overgrown it was not a particularly inviting sight. To clear it and dig a new garden would have been time consuming and backbreaking.

Yet within one afternoon a no-dig garden was established and within 6 weeks the first produce
(lettuce) was being picked.

That garden fed us almost entirely for the next 2 years and literally flourished.

So I can assure you, this works.

You can convert a lawn into garden in a few hours.

You can revamp a garden full of weeds and plant it out anew within a few hours.

Then you sit back, add water if needed and enjoy…

The simple steps for establishing a no-dig garden

1. Select your area 
Ideally you need as much sunlight falling on your future veggie garden as possible.
With this method, what ground you start with is not so important, however, if you can, areas with good drainage are better long term. You can cover just about anything with this technique, but remember, eventually your new garden will reunite with whatever it is on top of, so best to clear anything that even hints at being toxic – like old building rubble. Anything organic is fine to mulch over.

2. Gather your materials
This may well be the most time consuming part, and in these extra-ordinary circumstances you will almost certainly need to go shopping, so be careful.

What you need

a) Old newspapers – enough to cover the area approximately with 5 – 6 sheets of paper.

Obviously, the more you need to screen out what is underneath, the more paper you will need.

Think of approximately 1 large newspaper per square metre.

Or you can use cardboard - think old boxes - or anything that is an effective screen and will fully decompose (old natural clothing is very effective).

b) Bales of lucerne hay – approximately 1 bale per 2 -3 square metres.

c) Bales of straw, ideally free of seed (so be careful with pea straw or oat straw. You can use them and they work well, but you may end up with a pea crop too – or lots of weeding) – approximately 1 bale per 2 square metres

d) Good quality fertilizer or straight chicken manure (suggestion is Dynamic Lifter or equivalent) – approximately 1 Bag per 2  square metres.

e) Good quality compost; your own or bought in bags – approximately 1 bag per 2  square metres.

f) OPTIONAL Consider a border for your new garden.

This makes for a neat finish, but involves
more cost and time and the system works fine without it.

You can use sleepers or any solid timber to construct a frame about 15 – 30 cm  high to contain your new garden.

Or you can use bales of straw or hay and leave them to rot down over time.

Either does look good, but you can always add this later…

3. What you do - build your new garden in layers

a) Cover the selected area with 5-6 sheets of newspaper, making sure the edges of the sheets overlap well. If it is windy, have a hose nearby and very lightly water the newspaper to keep it in place.

b) Cover the newspaper heavily with the fertilizer; almost enough so you cannot see the newspaper

c) Divide the Lucerne into bats and add a layer about 15 cms thick. When you open your lucerne bale, it will fall apart – maybe with a little help - into these bats. Do not tease out the bats, you need them to be thick and solid

d) Add the next layer - a lighter sprinkle of fertilizer – about one half as much as the first layer.

e) Add the straw as the next layer, this time “fluffing” it up. Straw bales fall apart naturally and you help this by running your fingers through it to make it light and fluffy. The straw layer needs to be about 30 cms thick.

f) Use the compost to make “nests” in the straw that reach down to, but do not pass into the lucerne layer.

g) Plant individual seeds or seedlings into the compost.

h) Add water

i) Relax – job done

4. Enjoy eating your own

Fresh beyond compare; picked when fully ripe

Zero transport miles

You know where your food came from and what happened to it

Very cost effective

Very satisfying

5. Repeat

When the first crop of veggies has been picked; repeat the process, probably without the need for newspaper, but all else the same. Within a short time you will have created beautiful deep soil and a thriving vegetable garden. Worms love this approach.

6. Final tips

a) You can plant root crops like carrots using this method, but you may get some curvey results.

Once your garden has had a few layers built up, they will be excellent.

b) Plant a few flowers amidst the veggies – they are all good friends and appreciate the company.

c) Give thanks and offer a blessing both as you pick and before you eat…


  1. Sounds great. Have ramped up my vegetable garden. Fresh home grown is best to juice and eat. Thanks for artical. Cheers Sandra x

  2. loved it...I am going to give it a go...thank you

  3. Thank you Ian!
    I'm already doing similar but picked up a great couple of tips

  4. Moocho Gratitude Ian! Any ideas how to stop a family of possums feasting on every single leaf of my 'true-green' vegs. All happening over just one night. I wonder if they are more attracted to green. I'd appreciate your thoughts. Bright Blessings, Lana

  5. Hmmm... possums... Not an easy fix Lana. Best might be a resident Fox Terrier who lives outside at night :). Otherwise, very hot chillies carefully mixed into a spray have been known to work well. Recipes on line - ABC Garden show probably would have it. Good luck :)

  6. Apologies to the anonymous person from London whose comment was deleted by mistake; please write again if you like :)

  7. Hey Ian, love the big grin photo,such a bounty, great memories to have and thanks for the reminder re no dig.
    A thought on 'no dig' indoors, great time to be sprouting and if you have a pond, water cress. :)