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Retire Your Tiller -No Dig Beds

By Debbie Roland and Emmy Ulmschneider

Many gardeners are using no dig beds. I follow several gardeners on YouTube, one of which is in England. His yard is comprised of nothing but these beds and the plants he grows are incredible. No dig gardening aims for minimal disturbance of the soil so that the structure of the soil is preserved allowing improved plant growth.

The finished bed is for gardening and never for walking on. When planning the site and the size be sure that you can reach the middle of the bed when kneeling. Four feet or less seems to work best.

Your bed will be about 12” deep and edging isn’t necessary, but I find it easier to manage and maintain the organic matter you will be adding if there is a border of some type. There are many options available on the internet.

This project will give you a reason to go outside on nice winter days as you build healthy soil.

1. Mow or weed eat any plants or grass growing in the area you want to use. Don’t worry about pulling them or tilling, we are going to smother them instead. Annual weeds and grasses are short lived and depriving them of light will have them killed off in no time.

2. Lay several thick layers of sturdy brown cardboard or newspaper. Most stores are willing to let you have the cardboard that their products arrive in. Generously overlap the sheets. This is what will smother the weeds so I use several layers. Then generously water the cardboard. After the weeds die, the cardboard deteriorates.

3. Shovel on your organic matter. This can come from your compost pile or be store bought compost, hay, potting soil and/or well-rotted horse manure. If you have a source for organic horse manure that is the best way to go. You don’t want to spread manure from a horse that grazed a pasture containing herbicides, especially since you will probably be growing vegetables for your table.

4. Through winter continue digging in table scraps (no meat or dairy please -they attract pests), your fall leaves and any other organic matter that does not contain weed or grass seed. Many people are more than willing to give you the leaves from their yard. I’ve even had friends that bagged them for me! If we are having a winter with little precipitation, a deep, periodic watering will help break down the organic matter.

By spring you will have a bed that is healthy and contains worms and other microorganisms resulting in beautiful and delicious plants. And along the way you will also be doing the Earth a favor by capturing carbon in the soil.

If you have questions, please call the AgriLife office in Odessa at 498-4071 or in Midland at 686-4700 for more gardening information. Additional information is available at and


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