No-dig beds and puke
|Puke planted out in November||
Manure, leaves, seaweed from winter storms, dead plants, grass clippings, weeds (preferably without seeds or roots) – all these can all be piled up to rot down over winter and be ready for planting in spring.
This technique can be used to fill a raised bed; on top of an empty bed; to make a new bed, or to make smaller mounds or puke (hills), ideal for planting pumpkins or kamokamo into in November. These plants need lots of room, but the puke provide a pocket of good soil for roots- allow about 2m between them for plants to spread.
Building a no-dig bed:
1. Prepare the area: If it is grassy, scythe or trample the grass; if there are pernicious weeds like dock or kikuyu, dig them out. You can make a no-dig bed on top of gravel or concrete. Edgings are good, though not essential – driftwood or sleepers are good.
2. Gather materials:
- Cardboard and newspapers to lay under the bed.
- A pile of greens for nitrogen: grass clippings, manure, vege scraps, green leaves, green weeds (without seeds), blood and bone.
- Roughly twice as many dry browns for carbon: hay, dead leaves, old ponga or bracken fronds, seaweed, straw, lupin or tagasaste branches.
- Completely cover the area with wet cardboard/ newspaper.
- Layer materials, starting with a thick layer of browns (twigs and branches, even logs are good), then a thinner layer of nitrogen and so on. The higher the better.
- End with a carbon layer, sprinkle with lime and water well. Cover with sacks or an old blanket or sheet (not necessary for puke,) leave about 8 weeks to break down a bit.
- For puke, start with a small pile of twigs or hedge trimmings and layer on grass clippings, seaweed, leaves and manure.
4. Plant: In spring, make holes in your no-dig garden/puke, and fill them with compost or garden soil. Plant seedlings into these pockets of soil. Gather the carbon material back around the seedling to mulch. Water well and watch it grow!
Building a puke:
1. Choose the spot: Pumpkins and kamokamo need lots of space- the good news is they will climb up a hedge or over shrubs, as long as it’s sunny. Under fruit trees or on a sunny bank are good positions.
2. Dig a small hollow: This will help hold the puke in place and also help collect water. A circle about 1m across works well. If you are working on a slope, use the soil you dig out to make a lip on the downhill side to help trap water.
3. Start with a pile of twiggy material. This creates air pockets so the wetter materials such as grass clippings will compost aerobically, rather than turning to slime. Fine twiggy stuff like hedge clippings or bracken is perfect.
4. Add fresh green material: grass clippings, manure, seaweed… You are basically creating a mini compost heap on top of the soil, so add also sprinklings of lime, and mature compost or vermicast to inoculate the heap with the right sort of bacteria, fungi and other microbes to speed the breakdown process along.
5. Water well, and keep wet: When the mound is big enough (it doesn’t have to be made in one go), cover with a layer of carbon material (eg straw, leaves, dried seedless weeds). Usually rain is enough to keep the puke damp, but cover it with a sack too if things do get dry.
6. Plant:When things warm up around November, make a hole in the top of your puke. Add a bit of compost if the material hasn’t broken down enough.(it will have by the end of summer!) You can either pop in plants or poke the seeds directly into the mound. Gather carbon material back around the seedling to mulch. Water well and watch it grow!