Sustainability Book Chat
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If you are intimidated by gardening because it seems like too much work or you don’t want to invest in a tiller, then you should check out no-dig gardening.
In Charlie Nardozzi’s newest book, The Complete Guide to No-Dig Gardening, he covers everything you need to know to be successful with your garden. But why not dig?
In today’s episode, Charlie talks about the benefits to you, the plants, and the planet of no-dig gardening. To be sure that you put your garden in the best location, we talk about some simple, free soil tests you can do at home with supplies that you already have on hand. Charlie talks about how to start your garden from scratch, as well as how to transition an existing garden. And we even talk about container gardening and why it should not be reserved for those without a yard.
Charlie Nardozzi’s other books on Bookshop:
- New England Month-by-Month Gardening
- Foodscaping: Practical and Innovative Ways to Create an Edible Landscape
- Urban Gardening for Dummies
- Vegetable Gardening For Dummies
… on Amazon:
These are affiliate links. This means that if you purchase something after clicking on a link, Thrifty Homesteader will make a small percentage while you still pay exactly the same amount as you otherwise would.
Learn more about Charlie Nardozzi:
Listen right here by clicking on the player above, or on your favorite platform:
More on gardening:
- A Beginner’s Guide to Gardening
- Garden Vertically With a Sandwich Board A-Frame
- Thinking of soil
- Get ready to garden!
No Dig Gardening – Transcript
Deborah Niemann 0:00
Hello, everyone, and welcome to today’s episode. This is gonna be an awesome treat today! We are talking to Charlie Nardozzi, author of The Complete Guide to No-Dig Gardening. And, I’m always looking for ways to save time and energy, so I think we’re gonna learn a lot of cool tips today. Welcome to the show, Charlie!
Charlie Nardozzi 0:22
Thank you, Deborah. It’s nice to be here.
Deborah Niemann 0:24
This is really gonna be fun, because you talk about a lot of things in your book that I used to think were like, “Oh, why would you do that?” And, since starting to do some of them, I definitely see the appeal. So first of all, let’s just talk about what exactly does it mean when you say “no-dig gardening”? Does that mean that, like, you can just, “Oh, I don’t have to buy a shovel. I can just go out there and start growing dinner.” How do you define no-dig gardening?
Charlie Nardozzi 0:56
Yes. It’s not like those… What are the—wildflowers in a can. You know, you remember that era where people sold cans of wildflower seed, and they said, “Oh, just sprinkle it out in the field and they’ll grow!” It’s not like that. There are processes, and this is a technique that’s been around for a long time. I am not the originator of this. In fact, it’s an international technique; you’ll find people in Australia and Japan and Europe and England and the Americas doing a version of no-dig gardening. It’s also called “lasagna gardening”—you probably have heard of that—or “sheet mulching” or “sheet composting.” The idea with no-dig gardening is pretty simple: It’s the idea that we’re not going to turn, till, or dig the soil, because in the process of doing that, what you end up doing is a couple things that are not going to be beneficial for you and for your soil. First of all, you’re going to be bringing weed seeds up to the surface, which, as you know as a gardener, is something that’s going to keep those weeds germinating right through the summer. So your weeding will not end in the spring; you’ll be continuing to have to weed. But the other, more important thing that’s happening when you turn the soil is you’re destroying the microbes that are in the soil. There are billions of microbes in the soil. In fact, in 1 teaspoon of a healthy soil, it could be 4 billion microbes. So, these are microscopic things. We’re not seeing these. These are like fungi, and bacteria, and viruses, and protozoa, along with all the macroscopic things, like earthworms and beetles and stuff like that. So, every time you turn the soil, you’re destroying them.
Charlie Nardozzi 2:19
You’re destroying not only them—you’re destroying the structure of the soil that they helped create. And that’s a structure where water can flow through the soil, air flows through the soil, and the roots can actually penetrate the soil easier. So, with no-dig gardening, what you’re doing is you’re creating an environment that mimics nature. So, if you think of a forest, for example, you know, no one’s tilling the forest, and all these huge trees are growing. What happens in the forest is all the deciduous leaves and the needles all drop to the ground, and, over time, they break down, creating this rich humus layer on the soil that allows the trees to grow. That’s kind of what we’re doing here with this no-dig gardening idea. We’re not turning the soil, we’re adding a lot of organic materials when we build them and as we maintain them, and so we just allow the natural processes to help break down those materials so that they start feeding the microbes, which help feed the plants, until you get healthier plants with less work. And it’s better for the environment, because every time you till, you release carbon into the atmosphere, which of course contributes to global warming. So, there’s lots of great reasons to be a no-dig gardener.
Deborah Niemann 3:22
And the other thing, too, about tillers is that they’re quite expensive. You are spending a lot of money on something that you may only use one day a year, maybe two days.
Charlie Nardozzi 3:31
Yes. I confess, I used to be a tiller owner. I saw the light and finally got rid of the tiller, but yeah, it was like that. I used it maybe twice a year; I’d use it in the spring, and then maybe if I was going to till under a cover crop or clean up things in the fall, I would use it again. But yes, it’s a big machine. It was… My wife never really liked it, because it was kind of oily and dirty, and it is expensive. So yeah, you save money on that end of it, too. And the labor involved. You know, if you’ve ever used a walk-behind tiller, you know it bounces around. You hit a rock and it jolts your shoulder. Many times I’ve gotten kind of banged up just using my tiller. So this is a safer way to garden, too.
Deborah Niemann 4:09
Yeah, definitely. I remember that. My husband years ago, we had a tiller that he would walk behind, and it just kind of reminded me of, like, riding a bucking bronco. The way that it was just—and he would be so sore afterwards. You know, his arms would be sore, his legs would be sore. It was really like he was beat up after trying to use that thing.
Charlie Nardozzi 4:33
Right. And a lot of that is due to, you know, you’re hitting rocks, you have clay soil, you have soil that’s hard for the tiller to dig into. The nice thing about no-dig is it doesn’t matter what kind of native soil you have, because you’re building on top of it, and you’re building kind of a new soil, or fresher soil, that will still allow the roots of your plants to get down to the native soil, but it creates a beautiful layer of humus and composted materials that will just feed your plants all season long.
Deborah Niemann 4:58
And that is a perfect segue to the next thing I want to talk about, because you have this terrific chapter on soil considerations. And one of the things I love about it is that you mention some soil tests that you can do, that you can just do at home, without having to buy anything. So, you know, it’s free, it’s easy, and it helps you to really understand your soil better. Like, I know, one thing years ago, you know, when people would say, “Well, is your soil well-drained?” And I would be like, “I don’t know. What does that mean?” You know, so like, that was one of the cool ones I really liked; you’ve got some tests in there that you can do to see, like, how do you know if your soil is well-drained?
Charlie Nardozzi 5:40
Yeah. And that’s something I wanted to include, to really have the basics of soil in there, because I want everyone to understand that your soil is a living entity, and it’s got all these characteristics to it. And even though we are building on top of it, it’s still good to know what you have underneath your beds of no-dig gardening. So, one of the things I talk about is knowing the texture of your soil. So, is it dominated by clay, silt, or sand? And there’s a couple tests in there that you can do that… One of the simplest ones, of course, is just to grab a handful of your soil when it’s wet and try to roll it into a ribbon—and roll it into a ball or a ribbon. If you can’t do that at all, you have mostly sand. If you can do it, so you create, like, a 2-inch-tall ribbon, you probably have about 25% clay. If you can make a ribbon higher than that, maybe 4 or 6 inches, then you’ve got a lot of clay, like 50% clay. So, that’s a simple thing that just kind of gives you the idea—and even the field test of it. You know, if you just rub it between your fingers, if it’s slick and greasy, that’s clay soil. If it’s kind of gritty, that’s more sandy soil.
Charlie Nardozzi 6:36
If you want to get a little deeper into it, you have the jar test, where you can put an inch or two layer of your soil in a jar, mix it up with some water, and just let it settle. And what’s going to happen is that the sand is going to settle out first down at the bottom, and that’ll be a certain depth, and then the silt will settle on top of that. And then, maybe even a day or two later, the clay will settle out. And when you look at it, you can measure it and get a percentage. So, for an inch-deep layer, maybe you have a half-inch of sand and a quarter-inch of clay and quarter-inch of silt, and then you know you have 50% sand, 25% silt, and 25% clay. So it gives you an idea so that if you know your soil has a lot of sand, it’s going to drain really well, not have a really good fertility; it’s going to be a hard soil to keep moist season long. Whereas if you have clay soil, it’s going to hold water and nutrients better, but it’s gonna be hard to work, especially if it dries out—then it cracks and then it just becomes like concrete. So, knowing what you’re dealing with will help you as you’re building that no-dig garden.
Deborah Niemann 7:34
Okay. And I love the way that you have your book organized. You start out with building a garden from scratch, and then you talk about converting an existing garden. So, let’s just go ahead and go with that here, and explain to people, so if they want to start a garden from scratch—they don’t have one yet—how would they do that in the no-dig way?
Charlie Nardozzi 7:57
Sure. So, the first thing you want to do is—like any garden—you want to site your garden in a place where it’s going to get the most sun. And mostly no-dig is used for annual things, annual flowers, herbs, and vegetables. You certainly can grow some perennials in there, too. So, you want to make sure you have full sun. That’s gonna give you the most options. And you want to have well-drained soil. Going back to those tests, you know, a simple test you could do for well-drained soil is to dig a hole that’s a foot deep and a foot wide, fill it up with water, let it drain out, fill up again, and if it takes more than 4 to 8 hours to drain, then you’ve got pretty poorly drained soil. And you might want to find another spot in your yard to do that, because if you get all these summer downpours that we’ve been getting, and thunderstorms and things, you can easily inundate your garden with just too much moisture. So, have a sunny spot, well-drained soil, put it somewhere also where you’re going to walk by it every day, because one of the best things for a garden is to have the gardener in there, even if it’s 5 minutes or 10 minutes a day, just going in to check things, pull few weeds, harvest things, that kind of thing. If it’s close by, you’ll take care of it. If you have it out back behind the garage or behind your house somewhere, a barn, you’re probably gonna forget about it.
Charlie Nardozzi 9:04
So, once you’ve got the right site there, then the no-dig process is pretty simple. If it’s a lawn area, just take your mower and mow it down. You know, scalp it pretty low. And then you’re going to put about four layers of newspaper on top of that garden bed where you’re going to be planting things. And this could be just regular newsprint—even if it has colored ink in it, it’s okay, because it’s still soy-based. You want to avoid glossy newspapers—those inserts you often see in newspapers—because those have heavy metals. So, you wet the paper a little bit so it doesn’t blow away, and you just lay down about four layers of it over that area. Then on top of that, you start putting your multiple layers, which is what the basic no-dig gardening technique is. So it could be a layer of hay or straw. It could be a layer of fresh grass clippings from your lawn—from an untreated lawn, of course, no pesticides used. It could be some topsoil that you have. It could be even some weeds. You know, when you cut the seed tops off, and you cut the roots off, and you have the real leafy parts of it, you can have some of that in there, too. So you’re just going to be alternating those layers up till you fill up the bed. And it could be as high as you want. If you have a structured raised bed, you know, it could be 8 inches tall, 10 inches tall, whatever, and then cap the whole thing with a couple-inch layer of compost. And what’s going to happen, just like in a compost pile, that’s all going to start breaking down.
Charlie Nardozzi 10:22
Now, if you did it this time of year, middle of summer, you probably are not going to be able to plant it in a northern climate until next spring. If you’re in a southern climate where it’s warmer, and the season goes much longer into the winter, you probably can plant it this fall. So, it’s going to take a few months for everything to break down. And what you also would want to do, of course, is have a thicker layer of compost on top if you’re going to try to plant it earlier, because that’ll give the roots of the plants more to work with than this 2-inch layer. But that’s pretty much it; you’ve created your raised bed then, and you’re ready to go.
Charlie Nardozzi 10:52
Now, there’s a few caveats, because there always are. If you have an area that’s perfect, but it’s kind of weedy—you know, it’s got brambles or goldenrod or things like that that are coming through it—again, you want to chop it all down to the ground. But you might want to use a layer of cardboard on top of that as your base layer instead of the newspaper. And you want to get just regular corrugated cardboard. Don’t get paperboard. Don’t get the stuff that you use, like, for cereal boxes, because that’s not good to put on the soil. But corrugated cardboard is fine, just take off the tapes and the staples, things like that. And lay that down. What that’ll do is that’ll smother those plants so that they’re less likely to break through and get into your raised bed. And then you just build your beds on top of that. And the other caveat I talk with people about, especially if they’ve had problems with mice and voles kind of going tunneling underneath their bed and then eating their carrots and their beets and Swiss chard and things, is put a layer of hardware cloth. And this is something you can get it at a hardware store or a home center, and it has a quarter-inch wire mesh so they can’t get through it. Just put that as a bottom layer, attached to the bottom of your raised bed. And then again, build right on top of that. That will prevent those animals from getting in. So it’s pretty simple. It takes a little time to get it built, sure. But once you have it built, then maintaining it is pretty easy, because you just keep adding organic matter each season and a little compost and just keep planting.
Deborah Niemann 12:11
So, for those of us who have a farm and livestock and stuff, would it be good to just, like, make rows of straw and manure, and then add grass clippings on top of that, and then add more straw and manure? Or do we need to add something else to the mix?
Charlie Nardozzi 12:26
I think that would be fine. You know, if you need to do the newspaper, you can. but you don’t necessarily have to. The thicker and higher the pile that you make, the more likely it’s just by itself going to kill that grass that’s there. So yes, I think a mixture of manure—animal manures if you’re raising animals, chickens, pigs, goats, whatever it might be—mixed in with some hay or straw is a great material. And then you can just mix other materials you have around there. Some people would just use that, and just let it break down; it would take a little while, but it will break down. And then I still would cap it with compost, though, just to have the nice, consistent medium on top of it all. But yes, that would be a perfectly fine way to create these beds. And in fact, there’s one gardener in England named Charles Dowding, he’s a market gardener, and he does no-dig. And he just does that; he creates a lot of compost, he brings in manure and organic materials, he composts it down, and all he does for his beds is he just adds compost to the bed every year. And when he builds a new one, he just fills it with compost. And then he just keeps adding it year after year. And his garden is fabulous. So yeah, it would work really well.
Deborah Niemann 13:29
I love this idea, because we built raised beds, and unfortunately, they’re only about a foot high, which means rabbits can jump into them.
Charlie Nardozzi 13:38
Deborah Niemann 13:41
But they are starting to fall apart. You know, and all of the raised bed ideas that I see that look like they’re gonna last also look like they’re gonna be really expensive.
Charlie Nardozzi 13:51
Deborah Niemann 13:51
So, I really love the idea of—especially because we’re on a farm, you know? And so we’ve got all of this organic matter. So, I really liked the idea of just putting rows of straw and manure down, and then collecting grass when we mow the front yard, and putting that on there. And just and being able to do that because it’s free. Like, it’s not going to cost us anything.
Charlie Nardozzi 14:15
Yes, that’s the nice thing about this. I emphasize that in the book. I talk about, you know, check out the free organic materials wherever you live. So if you live in a place like Illinois or Vermont where I am, of course we have a lot of leaves. Leaves are a great additive to there. I live out in the country where there’s a lot of hay, so I get bales of hay pretty inexpensively, sometimes even moldy hay, which is fine, especially if you’re going to let it sit there for a while to break down. Grass clippings, if you’re in an area where you have lawns, is nice. And even if you’re in a suburban area, a lot of times people will bag their leaves, and the municipality will come through and pick them up. Go grab those bags of leaves and use those, because that can create a nice organic material. If you’re by the coast, you can even get seaweed and use that as part of an additive to your compost pile or to your beds. So there’s lots of options. And a lot of them are just being kind of aware of where you live and what kinds of organic materials are there.
Deborah Niemann 15:07
Now, if somebody has a garden already, and they want to convert it to no-dig, what are some special considerations that they might need to think about?
Charlie Nardozzi 15:17
Sure. You’re gonna have to have an honest conversation with yourself as far as the quality of your garden. So, if you have a garden, a raised-bed garden, for example, that maybe it had wooden sides to it, the boards, like you’re saying, are rotting out, or it’s been weed-infested with really tenacious weeds that have, like, underground roots that spread all over, like a bindweed and things like that, you might want to just start all over from scratch and just do that. Might be the simplest thing to do. But, if you have a bed that’s been doing okay, but you just want to try this new method, or you want to see if you can add some more fertility to that bed so that grows even better, then all you really need to do is start adding that organic matter on top.
Charlie Nardozzi 15:58
So, the whole key with no-dig gardening is to protect the soil. So a way we protect the soil, besides just not digging it, is to always have something growing or on top of that soil. Because again, think about the forest. You know, the forest, you will rarely see bare soil there unless a tree blows over. You know, there’s always leaf material or understory plants growing or something growing on it. So during the growing season, of course, we’re growing our vegetables and herbs and our flowers. So that’s not a problem. But in the offseason, from fall to spring, if you’re in a climate where you have a winter like that, you want to make sure you have mulches on top of it. It could be hay, it could be straw, it could be the chopped leaves that we’ve been talking about, grass clippings, those kinds of materials on top. And then every time you go to plant, you want to add another layer of compost—so it just could be a couple-inch-thick layer on top of whatever’s left of that organic material. So in the spring, you know, I keep our beds either in a cover crop, or having organic materials on top of it. Come springtime, those organic materials are broken down, pretty much, you know. There’s a little bit left. So it’s easy just to put in a little compost and just plant. And that’s it. If there’s still a lot of organic material left there that didn’t break down, or if you have, like, a cover crop that you haven’t cut down and let die back yet, then you might have to put a thicker layer of compost on top of it to plant through it. But the idea is that, just by adding organic materials time and time again, like they do in a forest or in a grasslands, like we have in the Midwest—those grasslands die back, and then they break down, and then they feed the roots for another season—you’ll be creating enough fertility that all your plants will grow really well. And you find out, over time, you won’t have to add fertilizers as much anymore, or even use a lot of pesticides, because you have less pest problems.
Deborah Niemann 17:37
Okay, so that was my next thing. I’ve said for years that really the only thing we use in our garden is compost and manure and stuff. And so it sounds like, like, I haven’t been shooting myself in the foot by not buying fertilizers and you know, like, I probably wouldn’t be getting a bigger harvest if I was purchasing fertilizers.
Charlie Nardozzi 17:58
Right. As long as you’re happy with what’s growing there, and you’re getting a good harvest. I mean, if you’re a farmer, you have to really stay attuned to the yields and how much yield per acre and all of that stuff, because it’s your livelihood. But for a homesteader or a gardener or even a market gardener, you don’t have to necessarily be so attuned to that. And it’s okay if you have a little damage on your plants. And it’s okay, maybe, if they didn’t get as many tomatoes one year versus another because the weather was extreme. So, as long as you’re happy with it, yeah, there’s really no need for fertilizing. The only time I might fertilize is that in the spring, when I’m putting either seedlings out, or little seeds are germinating, and we get a spell of cold weather or really dry weather, or those seedlings just seem like they’re struggling—you know, they’re the kind of yellowish color and they don’t really look very vigorous—then I might come in with a liquid organic fertilizer, like a fish emulsion or seaweed mix, something like that, and water and with that, just to give them a little boost. But short of that, no, I don’t really do any kind of fertilizing of our plants.
Deborah Niemann 18:56
Is there anything special that people need to think about in terms of pest control in this type of a garden?
Charlie Nardozzi 19:02
Well, the nice thing about it—and I talked about this in the book, too—is that with the no-dig technique, the idea is to create an ecological garden, meaning that you have a diversity of plants. So, no longer do we have, like, the flower garden over here, and the vegetable garden over there, and the herb garden over there. We’re trying to put them all together. And the idea of putting them together is that it’s going to create an ecology in the soil and in the environment, so the good bugs will come in and help take care of the bad bugs. Now, does it work 100%? Of course not. Nothing does. I’m still picking Japanese beetles; I’m still picking tomato hornworms. It’s just part of what we do. But in general, though, it’ll keep the plants healthy so that you’ll have less likelihood of having to resort to sprays to kill them. Certainly, once in a while, you might get a big outbreak of cucumber beetles or something like that that it’s, like, “All right, I gotta do something about this or I’m gonna lose all my plants.” But I find, over time, the more you keep doing this, that it just seems like the natural predators kind of come in and they help take care of that. And they keep a balance. So nature never is gonna just wipe out a whole insect. That rarely happens. But what happens in nature is there’s a balance, so you get some of them, but they don’t cause so much damage that it’s going to really curtail what you get from your garden.
Deborah Niemann 20:19
Now, if people don’t have a yard, what about container gardening? And actually, I don’t even think container gardening should be limited to people who are forced into it from lack of a yard. I actually have a tomato plant on our deck right now, because when September comes and we have a weird early freeze, like, three weeks before our first real freeze—
Charlie Nardozzi 20:42
Deborah Niemann 20:42
—I can just pull it inside, you know? And then when it gets warm again, the next day, I can put it back out there. So, I think there’s a lot of really good reasons to have plants in containers other than simply because that’s your only option. Can you tell us a little bit about this type of gardening and containers?
Charlie Nardozzi 20:59
Sure, yeah. I mean, growing in containers doesn’t preclude not growing out in the yard, too. We do the same thing. We have herbs a lot of times in our containers. And for the same reason: We want to extend those fresh herbs as long as we can into the fall so we can use them when we cook. So, you can grow things in a container; you can even use this layering technique in your containers, too. Certainly you can just get potting soil—and I always recommend people getting potting soil with compost in it, because that’s going to be more of an organic soil, a more… A soil that has some life to it versus a sterilized potting soil which is just really just peat moss, vermiculite, perlite, and maybe a few other inert ingredients. So having that in there is fine. If you want, I have some recipes, actually, in the book about if you want to make your own potting soil that’s organic; it’s a pretty easy thing to do.
Charlie Nardozzi 21:45
If you want to try to follow this method of layering, you can do that, too. But the one thing you have to remember with containers is that it’s going to take a while for things to break down. So I tend to recommend people shred the organic materials. So, if you have hay or straw, you kind of shred it down, break it down into smaller pieces. Same thing with leaves or grass clippings, so that it’s going to be more of a lighter weight material that you add as a layer in there. And then you just layer them as you normally would in the bed. And again, cap it all with compost on the top. So, that is a way to kind of create that organic, rich material in a container. Of course, the bigger the container you have, the easier it is to do that. If you have a small little 1- or 2-gallon pot, you might just want to stick with a regular container soil. That might be easier. But if you have, like, a half wine barrel or whiskey barrel, then that’s a lot of room to play around with this whole idea of no-dig gardening.
Deborah Niemann 22:36
Okay. And then I noticed that you also had a chapter on indoor gardening, which kind of sounds like, “Really? You can do that?”
Charlie Nardozzi 22:46
Yes, it’s a kind of the same idea. The indoor gardens, of course, are going to be container gardens, so it’s the same idea of if you want to do the layers, that’s fine, too. But really, what I was trying to do is encourage people to think of their garden as not just during the growing season, but something that they can extend indoors, as well, and bring plants indoors, and put them in sunny windows, extending the harvest of a tomato, for example, or a basil plant. Or, growing things right through the season, like herbs in the window sills. And the idea, again, is to have a rich, healthy soil. So a compost-based potting soil is usually gonna be the best thing. You can even look for some that have mycorrhizae in them. And mycorrhizae is a fungus that’s naturally occurring. You see it, a lot of times, when you dig around in the soil, or you dig around in the forest; it has those white hyphae that you often will see when you dig into the soil. And what that does is that mycorrhizae makes water and nutrients more available to the plants that are growing there; it helps create kind of a linkage between plants that are growing in the same place. So, you’re seeing potting soils now that have mycorrhizae in them. And that will be helpful for you when you’re trying to grow things indoors.
Deborah Niemann 23:50
Okay, awesome. Now, one of the things I always like to do is help people avoid making mistakes, because I know I have certainly… I feel like I’ve made all the mistakes sometimes. So, what are some common mistakes that you see people making when they first decide to delve into this?
Charlie Nardozzi 24:08
Yeah, and making mistakes is just how you learn. I mean, I still make mistakes all the time. I won’t even tell you how many plants I still kill every year. The shrubs and the trees and the perennials and the vegetables—I mean, it just happens. And that’s just part of what happens with nature and what happens in the garden. So, you shouldn’t get intimidated or frustrated because certain things aren’t working out as planned. You just take it as an opportunity to figure out what’s going on. So, when you’re doing no-dig gardening, I think some of the things that I often see people stumbling with is that they site the garden in a place that’s not ideal. Maybe it’s too shady, maybe it doesn’t have well-drained soil, maybe it’s too far away from the house and they forget about it, or too far away from the water and they get frustrated with dragging a hose or buckets over to water, and they just, say, by July, they’re just like, “Yeah, it’s on its own. I’m not going to do it anymore.” So, try to make it as convenient as possible.
Charlie Nardozzi 24:57
Also, start small. It could be a simple, little, 3-by-3 bed or, you know, a 4-by-6 bed that’s raised up 10 to 12 inches tall. Keep it really easy the first year, especially if you’re new to doing any kind of annual gardening, and follow those recipes. If you don’t have a lot of organic materials, or you don’t have a mix of them, it’s okay to really put—like in your case, you have a lot of manure and a lot of straw. Just use a lot of manure and straw. It’s okay to do that. If you have a lot of leaves because you have trees nearby, shred them up and use those. Use whatever is the most convenient organic materials, and don’t get caught into this “Oh, it’s got to be layers. It’s got to be like a compost pile—green layer, brown layer,” that kind of thing. You don’t have to worry about that, because you’re going to give it some time to all break down.
Charlie Nardozzi 25:38
I think, once you get that soil kind of worked out, and then when people start planting, of course, one of the things a new person always does is they plant too much, because they go into a garden center, and they buy a six-pack of tomatoes, or a twelve-pack of tomatoes.
Deborah Niemann 25:52
Charlie Nardozzi 25:52
And there’s two people in the house! I still talk to people who start them from seed, because they like the idea of starting from seed in winter when there’s not much going on. And they tell me in May or June, “Well, I’ve got 32 tomato plants. I couldn’t kill them, because I started them all from seed! So I planted them all.” Yeah, that’s gonna be an issue. So yeah, just kind of curtail how much you’re planting. It’s always better to plant a little bit less, or a little less variety, and a little bit more of those so you have a nice harvest. You’re really trying to be successful, especially the first year of doing that.
Charlie Nardozzi 26:28
The nice thing about no-dig is it’s very forgiving. So, because you’re creating soil and you’re not turning the native soil, you’re not going to be doing as much weeding, so you don’t have to worry about a lot of weeds popping up all over the place. Because there’s so much organic matter in there, it’s going to soak up a lot of that moisture that naturally comes from rainfall, so you won’t have to do as much watering. And if you get a lot of thunderstorms, the organic material is porous enough that water will drain through it. So, those are two main things that people really struggle with is weeding and watering. And with no-dig, that kind of eliminates a lot of the problems you’ll have with them. You just have to be careful about planting things too closely together, giving them enough space to grow. If you’re growing a Brandywine tomato, even though it’s a little tomato when you buy it, it’s gonna grow to be 6 feet tall, especially in this fertile soil. So, you’ve got to give it enough room and make sure you take care of it.
Deborah Niemann 27:18
That is so much good information. I wish I would have heard all of that 30 years ago, because I think I made every mistake that you just listed. So, if somebody has gotten started, and they’ve made half of those mistakes already, this is great, then we’ve saved them from making the other half of those mistakes.
Charlie Nardozzi 27:36
Exactly, exactly. So yeah, if things are not working out so much this year, don’t worry about it. You know, take what you can from it. If you’re really gung ho, you might try to do a fall crop of things like greens, lettuces, and argula. That would be easy. And that’s the other thing about no-dig is that we don’t want to turn the soil, so when you’re removing plants, like at the end of the season, instead of pulling everything out and really disturbing all the soil, I do a thing called “chop and drop.” So, as long as those plants are healthy, they weren’t really heavily diseased, I just take my pruners and I just cut them off at the soil line. And then I chop them up into little pieces, and I just leave them there. So, I do that with the broccoli plants, or even pepper plants and eggplant and zucchini plants, even tomatoes—as long as they don’t have a lot of disease on them. And that is your cover for the winter. That will protect the soil in the winter. Now, if you do that, say, this summer, with some plants that didn’t do so well, then you can come back in a couple weeks later, after they’ve broken down a little bit, put some more compost on it, and replant again for a fall crop. So, it’s never over.
Deborah Niemann 28:34
Yeah, that’s awesome. The first time I heard the phrase “chop and drop” was from a local chef, restaurant owner, and farmer, where it’s all farm-to-table everything. And they do everything organically. And that’s what they do, is chop and drop in the garden. So—because I visited their farm. It’s really so much fun. If people get the chance to visit a big garden or something like that, especially an organic garden. It’s awesome to learn their tricks and stuff.
Charlie Nardozzi 29:03
Yes, exactly. Market gardeners in your area, a lot of them are organic, or even some of them use permaculture techniques, which a lot of this no-dig is similar to. It’s always nice to go there, and if the farmer is free, or some of the workers are free, they might have a little time to explain what they’re doing. But just to even visually see what they’re doing would be helpful and gives you some tips.
Deborah Niemann 29:22
Well, I love your book. It contains so many beautiful photographs that I think are going to be really helpful to people when they see those, so they can really understand what you’re talking about. And the information in it is just priceless. Really. I always feel like there is nothing—there isn’t a stock anywhere on the stock market—where you could get the kind of return that you can get for a garden, you know?
Charlie Nardozzi 29:47
Deborah Niemann 29:47
I think like the National Gardening Association says something like the average that a person spends on a garden is around $70, and the average harvest is worth around $700 or $800.
Charlie Nardozzi 29:56
Right, right. And it’s fresh, and it’s healthy, and you know what’s been sprayed on it, and it tastes great, and you can play around with different varieties of things. There’s so many benefits to having a garden.
Deborah Niemann 30:07
Yeah, I absolutely love it. So, if people want to connect with you online, where can they find you?
Charlie Nardozzi 30:13
They can go to my website, GardeningWithCharlie.com, and “Charlie” is spelled a C-H-A-R-L-I-E. “Charlie Nardozzi”—you can just search for that. You’ll find it. I’m the author of seven books, so No-Dig Gardening is one of those. You can find my books there. You can find all kinds of articles, podcasts, and videos that I’ve done over the years; you can just search through the website and enjoy those. You can sign up for webinars—I will probably be doing more starting in the fall, because summertime is a busy time. And I also do tours—garden tours—so you can take a look at. So, there’s lots of different options to interact with me.
Deborah Niemann 30:45
Oh, that sounds like so much fun. I’m definitely going to be following you.
Charlie Nardozzi 30:50
Deborah Niemann 30:50
Because I bet you’ve got some amazing photos, too, that you’re sharing regularly.
Charlie Nardozzi 30:55
Yes. And I will share those with you, so you can share those with your listeners.
Deborah Niemann 30:59
Yes! So, thank you very much for joining us today. I think people have really gotten a lot of helpful information from this. And, good luck with the newest book.
Charlie Nardozzi 31:09
Thank you very much. Thanks for having me on.
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