No Dig Garden Using Raised Beds

There’s this idea that no dig gardening with raised beds is an easier system.  When it comes to maintenance, I would absolutely agree it’s less difficult.

However, setting things up from scratch is where the real work happens.

Bottom line there is no easy way to begin a garden but you can do things in a manner that makes it less difficult as time goes on; this begins with how your space is set up.

Grandma's Shovel

So, what is no dig gardening anyways?  This method is exactly as stated, there’s no traditional digging or tilling like in field gardens.

On our farm the first few years we had an open plot garden that was tilled prior to planting, tilled to remove weeds and tilled again after harvest. We chose this route because we were planting large crops to sell.

It was difficult to maintain and keeping up with the weeds was non-stop.  Basically, it was a lot of work but when it was in full growing capacity it was impressive.

The tilling was never ending and I knew if gardening was going to be in my future for a long time it had to look different.  I wanted to enjoy this activity without being concerned with traditional methods of hard labor each season.

I also remember when my grandma closed off her vegetable garden because it became to much work.  It was a sad time and even though she continued to incorporate her favorite veggies in flower beds it just wasn’t the same.

Nor was she and eventually family encouraged her to hang up her garden shovel and that’s when a piece of her just withered away.  I still have that shovel and it’s a reminder that nobody will ever, I mean ever take my garden shovel away.

So, I decided to make a change early on beginning with this idea of no digging through raised beds.

Keep in mind raised beds are not the only way to incorporate a no dig garden.  You can create what I call mound rows, these rows are lined with cardboard, natural materials and soil.  They stand alone or can be lined with tree trunks.

I personally didn’t like this look because it came across messy.

Raised beds offered a little organization and when I decided on a style that worked full term, everything changed.


What I love most about no dig is that my workload really did decrease and I never dread planting season because the beds are always ready to go.

However I do things a little different than others in that I still dig in my direct compost  year round.  I also don’t lay cardboard down as my liner.  Instead I use debris like sticks, leaves or hay.

The reason for this is because I build my beds higher and smaller than most.   This little transition was a game changer because this also decreased the amount of effort placed on my back.  I’m telling you first hand; 2 x 4 and taller raised beds are amazing!

Even better all this information can be found in my book Startle Garden.  This book will walk you through the entire process of how I garden and how this system allows me to grow my best garden ever.

No Kidding!  I wouldn’t say it if it wasn’t true.


Setting Up a No Dig Raised Bed

Now I know what you’re thinking, it takes a lot of ingredients and effort to fill those beds.  Yes, it does take a lot to fill them but you don’t have to do it all at once.

I’m currently establishing two new beds that I started back in December.  I’m a little behind schedule but they’re coming along and should be ready for my late spring planting in April.

I like to start new beds in the Fall or Winter giving me several months to get them prepped and settled for Spring.

If it’s too cold outside to work during the cooler months then build beds indoors and when you get a cold break move the beds outside where you want them to go. Then begin filling with winter debris cleanup, soil, direct compost and do so in layers.

By working a little at a time you’ll have a couple beds ready before you know it.

If you have kids or grand kids hanging around get them involved and honestly don’t ask for their help just tell them to do it. Be their mentor through the process so they can learn how to establish a garden.

This is how I learned, my grandma put me to work and we did the same with our kids on our farm.

No dig gardening is a matter of letting nature work for you.  It’s a beautiful thing, in nature the soil doesn’t need to be manually cultivated.  I’ve seen proof of this on our own land as we’ve been clearing.  You can’t believe the underbrush I’ve removed recently.

So, when I’m sharing my outings that involve picking up debris, like leaves, twigs and branches it’s not because I don’t have anything else better to do it’s because all these deposits eventually decompose into amazing soil.

In a forest, organic matter in the form of fallen leaves, twigs and branches, even annual plants at the end of their cycle and other plants at the end of their lives, are all deposited on the forest ground.  When they decompose, they turn the soil into a rich loam or as most of us call soil.

Chickens in No Dig Garden

What holds true in Nature also holds true in the garden.

No dig gardening with raised beds will be easier in the long run, so if you’re looking to decrease your workload then this is the system for you.

Startle Garden will walk you through the entire set up from choosing where to place your garden all the way to harvesting.  Get it here.

Get tips for no dig gardening using raised beds. Increase your efforts and grow an amazing garden with less effort. Learn More here. #NoDigGarden, #GardenTips


  1. Patti says:

    I remember my father using a tiller for their large veggie garden as a kid. It’s funny how things change. I love the way you make the raised gardens so approachable and doable. Your book is also so helpful for those who are starting out and some of us who have been gardening for a while.

    1. Carole says:

      Thank you Patti – we had a family friend that let us borrow their tiller in my mom’s and grandma’s garden. It was pretty neat because this same friend did all the work. Gardening has to be approachable because the thing is it’s one of the most important survival skills out there.

  2. Christine says:

    When we bought our current home most of the garden were already established and there was little space left for new. I do have one raised garden for herbs though and I love it!! I’m not a huge fan of pulling weeds but I’d give anything to be out there now doing so!! Can’t wait to check out your book. Your tips are always so helpful!! Have a blessed weekend!!

    1. Carole says:

      I’m telling you go higher and you won’t see the weeds. I love my herb bed too. My chickens though found my parsley again and it’s back to stubs. Hope your weekend is awesome too!

  3. mickie mclaughlin says:

    On this VERY cold and snowy day in Maryland, I needed to read your post about raised beds and which reminded us that we can start building them indoors….a new concept for me. LOL Anyway, just wanted to tell you that last night I dreamed I was outside putzing around in the garden and it was Spring and warm. What a great dream. Of course today, it’s 16 degrees and another inch of snow is expected. Thanks for your post today Carole.

    1. Carole says:

      Hello Mickie – Oh goodness snow I just couldn’t do it. We lived in Colorado for three years and I had enough of snow by the time we left. First year there we had a blizzard and literally had to dig out car out. But it was fun for the kids so that was neat. Keep those dreams alive and yes building indoors is a great way to get a head start. Have a great day! Carole

  4. Sharon says:

    Yes, it works! Especially as we get older and need to be more gentle on our backs. 🙂 I love it!

  5. daisy says:

    Raised beds do offer a tidy look. I’m still debating whether to keep my raised rows or just build some corrogated sheet beds. The raised beds appeal to the organizer in me. I used the huglekultur method of filling in the raised bed with logs, twigs and leaves before filling it with soil. So far, so good. I like that it helps me to use up some of our yard debris and it feeds the soil too.

    I agree with you about lifelong gardening. I hope to be able to continue for a good, long while.

    Hope you have some sunshine today!

    1. Carole says:

      Love the look of the metal corrugated sheets – they do get hot which leads to issues keeping the soil moist which means more water. If you use thick pine they will last up to 5 years and if treated on the exterior sometimes more.

  6. I’m in the process of adding new compost and nutrients. I let it go too long without refreshing them.

    I wish I had made them taller when we put them in but that was $$$. As time goes by maybe Greg can make each of them taller, as time and money permits.

    1. Carole says:

      Well you can always add a new layer at the end of a growing season. I say end because their’s a lot of debris you can use to help fill in as you add the soil. Just pick a few and see if you like it before going after all of them.

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