Starting with a weedy mess is normal and, if this is the case for you, my video has tips for clearing ground with no dig.

Here is advice that may be applicable to your situation – take the bits which work for you. Every site is different, every gardener has different needs, abilities and resources.


Allotments are big, too big for most people to dig over and clear in a weekend. However you can mulch any sized area quickly, with cardboard or polythene – see my video about clearing weeds without digging.

The key point is to starve weeds of light.

Making beds – compost

With clean soil you could make some beds of any size by simply putting compost or well rotted manure on top. What compost or manure? I can’t advise for every situation, sometimes municipalities sell ‘green waste compost’, sometimes not. There may be a local stables but you need to find a car (or tractor) and trailer to bring in enough manure, preferably dark and well rotted.

Organic farmers don’t usually sell manure – they need it all and value it too highly – and there have been problems with contaminated manure from horse manure. It has been realised, too late, that some animal dung contains herbicide from their diet of treated grass or hay, so try asking questions of your source like “was the feed grass sprayed with aminopyralid herbicide?” Yes, we live in a rotten world!

It is mostly horse manure that has this problem, because horse owners like clean hay.

Making beds – sides

Beds with compost on are often bordered with wood of 6” (15cm) width, but this is not obligatory. Enclosed beds are clearly defined and look neater, but their edges can dry out more in summer than un-bordered beds where compost is allowed to spill slightly into pathways. The compost is not wasted because roots feed into paths and also use them as a moisture resource.

A further issue with wooden sides is how they harbour slugs and woodlice, especially as they begin to age and decay. You can save money and trouble by not using them but paths then need to be more weed-free, so that weeds don’t spread into beds.


These need to be weed free, as much as beds. I use cardboard to mulch paths for 6-9 months, enough time to kill most weeds. You need to put more cardboard on top every three months, before weeds can grow through the older, decaying cardboard.

So you will be using polythene or cardboard in year one, to clear perennial weeds. This is easier if you remove any old wooden sides before starting.

Path characteristics:

  1. They are permanent, in the same place every year.
  2. Mulched soil in paths maintains structure, fertility and moisture, available to plant roots from the bed edges.
  3. They are not just ‘ground to walk on’, but part of your growing space.

Path mulches

Think of mulches as feed for the soil, as well as to suppress weed growth. When soil is undisturbed and its inhabitants are well fed, fewer weeds grow, so the two go together.

  • This is one reason I don not recommend path mulches of membrane or polythene, which add nothing to soil fertility unless you lift them annually to spread an organic mulch.
  • The other reason is soil pollution; read on.

Beware the tendency for mulches of any kind of plastic to disappear below surface level. It seems impossible at first sight for this to happen, but I frequently hear stories of  people taking on new allotments in the UK, then discovering synthetic carpet, plastic and membranes buried and out of sight. Once some soil or compost and weeds land on them, nature quickly colonises the surface. Such buried materials are impermeable both to the roots of our plants and to larger organisms in the soil, and are therefore a general hindrance to growth. Plus they are a pollutant in the case of non-wool carpets, i.e.99%+ of carpets available.

  • Cardboard is not pollutant-free, but I have not observed problems to worms and plantings from using it just occasionally. In the case of path mulches, one to three layers of cardboard serve to kill most weeds, and this is necessary only in year one, if there are lots of weeds to clear.

I like to use woody mulches on paths, where practical. When beds have no sides, don’t overdo the depth of woody mulch, to prevent a lot of it ending up on your beds. A little is fine, more is fine too if the wood is half or more decomposed.


If your compost is soft and even, you can sow or plant straightaway. Otherwise it works well to make beds a month before starting to sow or plant, so that a little weathering can happen and perhaps a first flush of weeds can be hoed off or hand weeded.

Is it your first time growing vegetables? If so, take a good look around at how neighbours are doing, and what crops are growing well. Be prepared for some failures until you have enough experience to appreciate what works for you.


The uncultivated remainder of your space could be mown or scythed and then covered with black polythene or old wool carpet. Cardboard can be used but will decompose before perennial weeds such as couch grass, docks, dandelions and buttercup are dead, so it will need renewing every 2 months or so, depending how thick it is. When used for clearing ground, cardboard is best weighed down with a few stones or poles around its edges.

Perennial weeds that are mulched take different lengths of time to die off, according to how much food and energy they have stored in their roots. The following lengths of time in complete darkness are to give you an idea: buttercup 2-3 months, dandelions and stinging nettles 4 months, ground elder 12 months, couch grass 9-15 months, bindweed and mares tail 18 months plus. These are approximate numbers, times can be less in summer and more in winter.

If you are faced with only annual weeds (bliss!), cardboard is still useful as the first layer of a weed free mulch, with 7-10cm/3-4in compost on top which can be sown or planted into.


From two to six inches of compost is the one-off, initial application. Once a no dig system is up and running, with perennial weeds gone and only vegetables growing, the annual application of organic matter is no greater than on any other well run garden, about 2.5 cm/1 in per annum.

  • Compost is to keep soil alive and healthy, as well as for the nutrients it brings in. All the soil fauna and fungi that are not damaged by digging can become more abundant and help plants to grow more healthily.

Putting compost and composted manure on top serves to create, over time, a soil that is well structured but firm, free draining but also moisture retentive, and darker on top, with a superficial tilth that can be sown or planted into. This approach works well even for carrots and parsnips, crops that are supposed to fork when compost or manure has been added. Potatoes need loose compost or soil, but only near the surface for their tubers to swell, and “earthing-up” with compost replicates this.

It is a fair job to mulch and set up a clean, no dig plot, but by the end of a year you should find gardening becomes more enjoyable and creative, with less of the routine weeding above all. Just do not allow any of the (smaller) number of weeds to go to seed!

Allan Cavill, Regional Director and South West Mentor of the National Allotment Association, says that no dig allotments stand out for their fewer weeds and healthy plants; he is surprised there is not more take up of no dig on allotments. He is worth contacting for advice, having practised no dig on his plot since the 1960s.

Claire Lassman, a biologist from Frome in Somerset, wrote in June 2016 that, “On the allotment site where I have a plot, it is easy to tell those who use no dig because the veg they grow is so vibrant.”

Below is a tale of two allotments…

Nottingham Allotment, reclaimed and run without digging

Here are some pictures of Robin Baxter’s no dig allotment in Ilkeston, Derbyshir,e which he took over in a dire state, just after visiting Lower Farm in 2008. The images are testament to his commitment and to the fact that he is no stranger to hard graft where it is needed, mostly at the beginning stages. The plot is now clean, fertile, and needs much less input of time, and he grows a lot of delicious food there now.

Robin now is master gardener for Garden Organic in Rye Prison nr Coventry, running a hugely successful programme, helping prisoners through their involvement in creating a beautiful garden, on Ministry of Defence lack-of-soil! Robin’s work is receiving much acclaim from university researchers.

Bruton, Somerset: Steph Hafferty

Steph no longer lives in Bruton, but here are some photos of the allotment she used to have there.

Instead of digging in 2008/9, Steph spread green waste compost and some cow manure on beds that were already in place, just slightly raised soil with no wooden edges or borders of any kinds. Before that she had done a thorough weed, although many annual weeds would have been smothered by the three inch covering.

The soil is heavy clay, and perennial weeds are endemic to the site-creeping tourmentil, couch grass and bindweed, but no marestail. Steph had got on top of the perennials during the two preceding seasons but was not harvesting a huge amount of vegetables, especially in autumn and winter.

By this stage we had fourteen slightly raised beds with narrow pathways between them. The green waste compost contained quite a few small bits of wood, and not hugely rich in nutrients, but was free of weed seeds and served as an initial weed suppressing and life enhancing mulch. Worms could now get busy while fungi, bacteria and all the vital organisms needed for healthy, fertile soil could multiply.

Then, in 2012, Alan did a sponsored bike ride and was absent a lot so he suggested that Steph help out with his allotment. Her idea was to spread cow manure about two inches thick and weed any plants pushing through, with winter squash planted in June. However… the weather messed this up rather as a combination of residual weeds and slugs and a lack of good weeding weather meant that harvests were small on Alan’s plot, although good as usual on her own allotment, with few weeds.

In 2013 and 2014, she mulched Alan’s plot with polythene and composted manure, before planting squash, beans, potatoes and brassicas, with good results.
On her plot she grew great garlic and onions, followed by some stunning autumn and winter brassicas including calabrese, Brussels sprouts and savoy cabbage.

Steph's plantings and mulch before squash
Spring 2014, a tale of two allotments – now they are both left undug! Still mulching some couch grass on the left.


113 thoughts on “Allotments

  1. Hi Charles, I have just taken an allotment that was a farmers field that was all grass for animal grazing. He has not stopped farming livestock, ploughed the field and letting out as allotments. So my plot is weed free and just lumpy from the plough, but is raking fine to level it off. Do I now need to add anything to the surface such as compost or manure, or could I plant directly and use chicken pellets as a feed say? Would greatly welcome your thoughts.

    1. That sounds quite an easy start Neil. Good you are levelling before too dry.
      If it was me I would definitely add a good inch of any compost to the surface, and woodchip for paths, to make weeding easier. Weeds will still grow but in fewer number and will be much easier to remove.

      1. Many thanks Charles. Greatly appreciate you taking the time. I’m so excited, my first allotment – my late Dad would be proud – he had two of them for years. Thanks again.

  2. Hi Charles, I’m a big fan – thank you so much for your clear fuss-free advice re No Dig which makes anything seem possible! I’ve just bought your 60-cell trays (already giving great results), No-Dig Diary and today was my first day at new allotment. It is in pretty good nick but I have 2 questions if you don’t mind? 1) I spent today clearing carpet & plastic off the plot. Is it safe to plant edibles where rotting carpet has been? Do chemicals stay in soil? I’ll put cardboard and compost over top but is it better to use this area for flowers? 2) A HUGE area (c 8m x 4.5m) is planted with Jerusalem artichoke! Do I need to dig them out or can I treat as perennial weed and put cardboard and compost over? If I need to take out can the tubers go in compost heap or will they grow again?! Many thanks for all the time you give to give advice to others, best wishes

    1. Thank you Caroline.
      That sounds exciting and regarding the carpet residues, I don’t know. I wonder if anybody knows because all of this sort of thing has not been considered or measured. My inclination would be to eat the vegetables because I’m sure they will still be more nutritious and cleaner than any you can buy. On the other hand if you want to grow a lot of flowers, that gives an option!

      Regarding those artichokes, it’s a pity they’ve been allowed to proliferate, more than you can eat apparently! I would indeed dig out the main amount, and that will make it manageable when there is some eventual regrowth, between or through the cardboard

      1. Thank you very much for replying so quickly, that is very helpful. Unfortunately any amount of Jerusalem artichoke is more than I can eat! Would it be ok to put the tubers on the compost do you think?

  3. Hi Charles, inspired by your book and videos we’ve decided to start a no dig allotment. We’ve just taken on the allotment this month and it has very stony soil. We’re told the soil is very shallow also. We’ve been removing the large stones we can see on the surface, and some of the smaller ones – but there are so many! It seems to be mostly weed-free, having been covered for nearly 2 years with garden sheeting by the previous owner. My plan was to lay 2 inches of topsoil before adding 4 – 5 inches of well rotted manure, mixed with some other compost or soil improver. Would you suggest anything different? Would love to know your thoughts on whether we need to more intensively remove stones, and what you would suggest we layer on . Thank you!

    1. That sounds exciting for you Jesse. And I don’t think you need to remove any more stones, you could be there forever!
      I reckon it’s also not vital that you add soil before the compost, especially if it means you’re buying soil because that’s usually a waste of time.
      Fair enough if you have some there anyway.
      Organic matter on top is what you need and your plan sounds good for that, except no need to mix it. put finer material on top, for easier sowing and planting.

  4. Hi, I’ve been loving reading your books and following on social media. I have just been told that we are getting an allotment once they’re ready on our new build estate.
    I really want to apply the no dig method to our allotment but wondered if you had any particular advise for an allotment that would have been a building site not long beforehand and not previously used? We have heavy clay soil here.
    Thank you!

    1. Hello Sarah, that is exciting! With such a plot, this soil may have been squashed and damaged by having machinery. I would recommend putting a fork in to have a look and see whether the soil is airless, or has little air holes in reasonable distribution (not big ones).
      Also, see if you can tell how easily the fork goes in. It should not be loose, you want it to be firm but it should also not be rock-like, especially if them there is moisture. If it is rock-like, work through systematically with the fork, pushed each time in a vertically downward motion, and then lever to lift soil up a little bit not too much, to open the soil up to air and a flow of moisture. It should not look upheaved by the end!

      1. Sorry for the slow reply, but thank you so much for your advice that’s really helpful! We’re really looking forward seeing what we can do!

  5. Hi Charles, I’m learning so much from your website and videos, thank you. We’ve just taken on an allotment with very stony soil. I’ve been hand picking out any large stones that I can see on the surface, and some of the smaller ones. It’s fairly weed-free having been covered for nearly 2 years with garden sheeting by the previous owner. My plan was to lay 2 inches of topsoil before adding 4 – 5 inches of well rotted manure, mixed with some organic green energy waste product. Would you suggest anything different? Would love to know your thoughts on whether we need to more intensively remove stones. Thank you.

  6. Hi Charles, I’m Kearny g do much from your website and videos, thank you. We’ve just taken on an allotment with very stony soil. I’ve been hand picking out any large stones that I can see on the surface, and some of the smaller ones. It’s fairly weed-free having been covered for nearly 2 years with garden sheeting by the previous owner. My plan was to lay 2 inches of topsoil before adding 4 – 5 inches of well rotted manure, mixed with some organic green energy waste product. Would you suggest anything different? Would love to know your thoughts on whether we need to more intensively remove stones. Thank you.

  7. Hi Charles, I’ve just taken on an allotment and I’d like to get it all ready for planting things out in March.

    But in my enthusiasm, I’ve gone and spread a lot of fresh manure on it – and have since read that you are supposed to use well rotted. Is there any way I can salvage this before march? Would covering the manure with something help it rot down quicker? Should I dig it in? Or do I need to dig it all out and chuck on the compost heap? Help!

    P.s. I am based in Somerset (Mendip area), so would welcome any recommendations for decent quantities compost/manure that wouldn’t break the bank.


    1. Suzi, that could still work, depending a little on whether the manure has wood or straw bedding. I would rake off the least decomposed bits and they could go in your pathways, then spread say mushroom compost on beds, and you can buy some from Woodhort near Street – cheapest way is a 2 tonne small tipping lorry, if they can tip on your plot or near it

  8. Hi Charles, thank you so much for a really helpful article.
    We’ve just been allocated an allotment which is largely couch grass, with some membrane and carpet creating clear spaces (mostly between the existing wooden beds, rather than on them, unfortunately!)
    Am I right in thinking that we need to mulch the couch grass with cardboard/plastic to get rid of it first, before we can start on the cardboard and compost system, and then beginning to plant? Will that mean we won’t be ready to plant on those areas in the coming spring?
    Thanks for your help!

    1. Hi Justine
      Thank you, and that sounds quite a classic takeover situation! You have time now to be generous with cardboard, put even two layers wherever there is weed and couch grass, then a little compost on top to hold it down.
      Next I would put another load of cardboard on top from mid March just before you transplant, with minimum 5cm compost on top, preferably 7 or 10cm. You can plant into that and will then need to keep removing any grass blades you see before they get too big, so it’s hard work but you are weakening the couch root system at the same time as growing vegetables. In 2023, you won’t have this extra job but next spring will be challenging, and worth the effort. Also make sure that you eliminate couch from the edges so lay cardboard on any pathways where you see it and around the edge of your bed.
      If there are areas you maybe won’t need to crop next year or where you can plant say winter squash, you could simply lay black polythene now and plant through it. Maybe pull the polythene back temporarily, before transplanting, to remove slugs!
      Good luck

  9. Hi Charles Thank you so much for your invaluable information. I recently took on a plot in a pretty neglected state. There is membrane down over most of the plot with a few inches of soil on top which has a lot of weeds and some shallow rooting plants. My plan is to pull all the membrane up and create no dig beds ready for next spring. I have access to a supply of fresh cow/horse manure, my question is whether to spread the manure fresh over the beds, and cover with black plastic until spring. Or whether to pile the manure and let it rot before using it on the beds next spring. Any advice would be really appreciated.

    1. Hi Adam, that is a good plan, firstly to remove all membrane, and them to cover with polythene against weeds over winter, since it’s a mew & weedy plot.
      Plus it will be good for soil life to have something to feed on, through the winter so although I wouldn’t normally recommend using fresh manure, in this case I would, say 5cm will be good to feed earthworms etc, until you remove plastic.

  10. Hi Charles,

    thanks for sharing so much wisdom about the no-dig approach. I am about halfway through your book No dig gardening Course 1 book and loving every moment of it.
    My question is about the black fabric type membrane on an allotment that I have recently taken on – It’s pretty much everywhere about 3-4 inches down with lots of weeds and grass on top. When I route around into it I can see it’s starting to disintegrate. I see in a previous comment about membranes you seem to err on the side of removing it. Can I ask, is it better to dig it all up and risk damaging the structure of the soil underneath, or just leave it to disintegrate completely over time and plant into (with new cardboard and fresh compost on top)?
    Thanks for any thoughts you may have,

    1. Hi Geoff and thanks for your nice feedback.
      Your problem with that membrane highlights exactly why I hate the blooming things! They are not looked after and should never be allowed to become overgrown like that. I would dig down to remove all of it.
      Sad though it is to do that, in the longer run you are doing a great service to the soil there by removing it.

      1. Hi Charles,
        many thanks for taking the time to reply. A time-consuming job, but as you say, doing the soil a great service is what’s important. Thank you!

  11. Hi Charles,

    My sister and I have recently got an allotment and we are desperate to try no dig. We have bought your book and watched the youtube videos, but I feel a little overwhelmed by the plot, it is very uneven and covered in couch grass, weeds, doc leaves and some veggies including sweetcorn and blackberries from the previous owner.

    Today I started to pull out some of the longer weeds that have flowered and gone to seed, but realise this may be a mistake. I think I read somewhere that tall grass and doc leaves should be cut to ground level, which we can do. But what is the best method to deal with the uneven soil? Do we just fill the uneven dips with soil, then cover with cardboard and compost?

    I think due to the sheer amount of weeds and grass covering the plot, I don’t think it would be possible to rake the ground to make it more even.

    Really appreciate your help and knowledge.

    Many thanks,

    Nicola and Neveen

    1. Hi Nicola, that is a big challenge! Uneven ground under rough weeds does need levelling. Bringing in soil might be the best way, using it to fill all the hollows.

      Before that I would use a spade to dig out the larger parts of any big dock plants. Also the blackberries unless you want them, and remove the sweetcorn plants after harvest. Anything with woody stems and roots.
      Then leave everything else in place, cut or squash it flat and start with your cardboard.

      It may be a bigger space than you can cover properly straightaway. Maybe cover half of it for a few months with black plastic, until you have more time.

  12. Hi Charles,
    Hope you are well!
    I have just acquired an allotment plot and am so pleased to have found your site. Over the course of lockdown last year we started growing salad leaves in our small, rather shaded back yard using your methods. I have your no dig diary and calendar which are so useful.
    I am 31 weeks pregnant with our first baby and so we are working as hard as we can to get as much of the plot set up and growing before our bundle of joy arrives! We’re planting wildflowers at the entrance then as many no dig beds of vegetables as we can create in the time we have.
    Your knowledge and passion has been invaluable in inspiring our love of no dig gardening. Many thanks for all you do and share. My child will grow up with a knowledge And experience of nature and growing, thanks in large part, to your influence.

    1. Hello Laura and thank you so much for your comments, I feel honoured to help the new generation.
      Not to mention yourselves! Good luck with the new beds. And your joyful arrival!

      1. Hello Charles!
        Well our daughter has just turned 6 months of age and is an absolute joy! Having the allotment was a Godsend during pregnancy. We have had a little break from growing (we’ve been quite busy as you can imagine!!) but are now starting to prepare for the new season down at the plot with baby in tow.
        There is a little work to do to reclaim some paths/uncovered ground due to our absence but the majority of our beds are ready for simply a quick weed then a covering of compost before sowing and planting begins!
        We got so many positive comments from other plot holders last year about the speed we were able to get the plot going. Your approach made all the difference. I’d love to send you some photographs of our progress!

  13. Hello Charles I have won a allotment patch very late into April …I believe the site is a mess so I was going to do the obvious cut down weeds to soil level one maybe 2 layers of cardboard then my compost but is it to late to put in well rotted manure under the soil and plant same day or even at the end of april we do have cold night still at the moment so its pushing us back for time regards jonny

    1. I would go for it Jonny, and you may want to add some water if there is water there, even wet the cardboard for example because of the incredibly dry weather

  14. Hi Charles!

    I have recently covered one of my beds on my allotment using the no dig method. I work my allotment on my own, and laid down thick cardboard in mid March and covered only with a thin layer of garden centre compost, perhaps 2-3cm only as that is all I have had access to!
    Given the very thin layer of compost, I am wondering how long I need to wait to plant anything into the bed? My current thoughts are using it for squashes and courgettes from June. Is this too soon, and as the compost layer is thin, I assume I will need to make a hole through the cardboard to plant the plants out? Is this okay?

    Many thanks for the help and for all your amazing information you share!


    1. Fine Amber, correct on both counts and they will be fine to plant into the soil below in early June

  15. Hello Charles

    I’ve just taken on a half plot which has five beds with wooden borders plus a couple of strips where the previous tenant grew brassica. There’s also a patch covered in black material which I’ve been reluctant to move at the moment and has a few spindly brambles growing from under it.

    As I’m a bit strapped for cash, is it worth me focussing on just a couple of the beds for the moment and what can I do to get the remaining beds in good shape for me to start working on later in the year? And as a beginner, do you have any suggestions on things that are simple for me to start with? I do have a small greenhouse on site too if that’s any help!

    Thanks in advance.


    1. Jacky, I would work manically this weekend to cover as much as possible with cardboard, just a little compost on top would help. Maybe there are heaps of woodchip on site where you could find some black compost-like material at the bottom.
      Before doing that I would consider removing the wooden sides if they are starting to decay, because of all the slugs they will be holding. Then it will be easier for you to cover with cardboard the whole area, pathways as well as beds. Use your foot to push down on and round the sides of your beds so they can be covered.

      One more thing is to remove that horrible plastic membrane, which will just be in the way in the future and it does not stop weeds growing underneath, where also slugs accumulate.

      1. I visited the extremely impressive no dig veg garden at Wisley this week and bought your book while there too. I have a new allotment from which I have removed 4 very heavy layers of non-wool carpet, plastic membrane, tarpaulin, shoes, broken panes from a greenhouse etc etc! Although it seems I have removed the worst, I can still see small-tiny pieces/fragments of carpet, plastic etc buried further down in the soil. I really want to do no dig but I hope it’s ok to ask you if I should I dig the soil over just this once to remove as much toxic carpet etc as possible before layering with cardboard, compost and going full-on with no dig?

        Also, I have a fear that I will not be able to get hold of a large enough quantity of compost materials in future. (I have some decent compost at present). I am on a very low budget but am determined to go fully no dig. Any tips on how to get max materials would be great?

        Any time you can give to help with my dig/no dig carpet and plastic fragments question is much appreciated. Thank you.

        1. Hi Penny

          It’s sad that so much plastic material is on and in the soil. I would dig out what can be accessed, then start no dig as you suggest.
          The only time in no dig that I recommend using more compost is at the beginning, to create fertile beds long term, and make weeding easier.
          You can still use the method, with probably smaller harvests and more weeds to remove. But fewer weeds than if you dig.
          Look out for woodchip which is often free. There may be almost-compost at the bottom of any old pile on the allotments.

  16. Hi Charles
    I acquired an allotment in September 2019 however fell pregnant and so wasn’t able to get on with much last year. I did however mow and cover the entire plot with polythene which seems to have done a good job in killing the weeds with the exception of some bindweed which has gone white. I am keen to get beds ready for Spring but wondered whether I should first lay cardboard (which I have in abundance from a recent house move) and then compost, or whether it’s fine to lay compost without the cardboard if the weeds are dead? I also wondered if there is any merit in keeping the polythene over the compost once the beds are ready?
    Thank you

    1. That sounds very promising Victoria and you don’t need to lay cardboard since there are no weeds.
      It sounds like you will need to be pulling some bindweed, but not yet. And since you have few weeds, there is no reason to keep polythene on the beds, it might harbour slugs.
      Enjoy your year!

  17. Hi Charles, I love your videos and have just found your website. I have just acquired an allotment. Most people on the site use raised beds because there is dense clay soil. The previous owner of mine did not use the soil at all, the whole plot is covered in impermeable plastic with raised beds on top. It was flooded when I got it. I would like to begin to restore the soil and use it. Do I need to dig? Many thanks, Priya.

    1. No need to dig Priya, soil life does that, once you have removed that membrane from all of the plot, including under the beds. Your harvest will be much better when your plants can route into the soil below.

      1. Update: I have cleared some of the plastic and the water has pooled there. A foot deep! The surrounding allotments are wet but mine is definitely much worse.
        I have looked on the website and the soil is “Slowly permeable seasonally wet slightly acid but base-rich loamy and clayey”.
        I wonder if I should test the soil first or just get on with adding organic matter. Which is best? I have manure and compost. Should I add anything else? How long might it take to improve the soil enough for planting? I would rather do this than continue not using the underlying soil at all. I am resisting raised beds but thinking this might be better initially?
        It may be possible for me to move to another area where there is less flooding but, for some unknown reason, I am kind of attached to this plot. Thankyou

  18. Hi Charles – is mulching with cardboard and inches of compost possible over nettles on an allotment straightaway or do you have to kill off the nettles first? thanks

  19. Hi Charles,

    Thank you so much for your videos and all the information you give. I have been following you for about 6 months now, I love what you teach!

    I’ve recently moved to Cyprus and I now have a large garden to practice permaculture/no dig agriculture. I have started a large compost heap but its by no-means enough for the space I have and I don’t have the funds to invest in compost. However, I do have access to a HUGE pile of goat manure via a local farmer. Ive marked my beds on a previously, heavy weeded area of about 150m squared. For a few beds I want to experiment with green manure such as alfafa or clovers to decompact and fix nitrogen into the soil, but some of the beds I would like to get started with ASAP. My question is, can I literally sow seeds straight into goat manure if I add 5-10cm on top of the existing, weedy soil (which i have cut back with a strimmer)? Also are alot of weeds likely to come through or should I definitely use cardboard too?

    Its difficult for me to know how old the manure is but the pile is literally huge and even has some mallow growing on the peak so I’m assuming it should be rotted enough but as I lack the experience, I’m a bit anxious before going all-out with this method

    Thanks in advance and keep up the great work!

    1. I would use that manure Pete.
      Put the oldest and darkest as top layer of about 10cm thickness, no need for card unless the soil has roots of vigorous perennial weeds.
      Yes you can sow & plant into it, if physically fine enough.

      1. Thank you so much Charles – your response through experience gives me motivation I needed to go ahead and do it!

        1. Hi Charles, I built a 2400 sf terraced garden and need some more compost for it. I went to my local landfill to get certified state compost about 2 tons worth and found, at home of course, that it has small plastic bits every now and again. They said I need to mix this with top soil as its super high in N. Not sure what to do. I just laid down cardboard. I was going to use manure compost but seems too rich and not broken down yet Any ideas? Thanks greatly!

          1. Yes you have to pick out those plastic bits. I found out after being in the garden my pocket gradually fills up!

            They are absolutely wrong because green waste compost is not high in nitrogen. Plus it is compost not fertiliser so the nutrients are not water-soluble and it would be a huge mistake to add soil, which brings nothing to the party! Except probably weed seeds.

  20. Hi Charles, We are just looking to apply the no dig method to our allotment and love watching all of your videos to help us get started.
    We have covered it all with cardboard but aren’t sure how much compost we will need.
    The area we want to cover is around 10m by 8m. Would you be able to give us a rough idea on how much compost will be needed for this sort of area?

  21. Hi Tom,

    We were able to have a trailer of well rotted manure delivered to our garden for free by asking on a local Facebook group. There are often horse owners who are eager to move on manure from muck heaps so will gladly drop it off for you – especially if they’ve been loading up a trailer full. We were also reluctant to spend so much money on a bulk bag delivery of compost.

    Hope this helps,

  22. Dear Charles,
    I am just starting out on preparing some no-dig beds on pasture land that has not been used for anything except grazing animals for many years and have found quite a number of horseradish plants with abundant root systems. I can find a great deal of information online about how difficult it is to control this plant but there appears to be very little written about it in the ‘no-dig literature’. What would you advise?
    Thank you in advance for your expertise.
    With best wishes,

    1. Good question and I would treat it like large docks/rumex, best lever out the top 15cm/6in before mulching.
      There will be some regrowth, use a trowel on that next summer, probably several times.

  23. Hello Charles,
    While the plot was under compost and black plastic I dug over a small area and planted onions, to have something growing at least. ( Incidentally, it took me longer to weed than it does the whole plot. ) I have now planted fruit trees and lavender there. Can I mulch this area with well composted wood chip alone, containing brandling/redworms, or do you suggest I lay cardboard first and wood chip on top?
    Also, what do you use to support the mesh behind you on the front cover of your excellent recent book?
    Best wishes,

    1. Interesting comment Michael and yes, just wood chips will be sufficient, unless there is still say couch grass.
      Tha asparagus stems are supported by post and 4mm wire.
      Glad you like the book.

      1. Sorry Charles,
        I was referring to the hoops supporting the mesh in the front cover photograph. I want an alternative to plastic tubes used in plumbing.

  24. Dear Charles, our village allotment was moved last year to a sloped field that has been unused for 30 years. It is West at the top, and East at the bottom. The land is extremely stony, and as we found out last year extremely wet, probably due to the clay soil about 6″ from the surface. I have adopted your “no dig” method, and luckily have access to leaf mould which I make myself, and lots of horse manure from neighboring stables, and my own compost which at the moment is not enough. My problem, also my fellow plot holders, is that the plots are already beginning to get waterlogged. I am a fit 81 year old, but not into digging ditches. Help please. Most grateful for your advice which will be passed on to my allotment chums.

    1. Impressive Rosemary.
      The slope surely means water runs downhill and leaves most of the area free of water? So it’s hard to advise.
      Your best answer is to keep adding organic matter to beds so they and plant roots are above the water level

  25. Hello Charles
    Thanks to you I am about to make an allotment on virgin soil that is feet thick with couch grass. This piece of land has been wild and untouched for at least 40 years if not a lot longer. The first thing I want to do is mark out the area that will become my no dig vegetable beds.

    My question is can I simply put black polythene over the high couch grass and leave that then for a few months before putting down the cardboard and then compost.

    Also the land is on a slope and I was wondering would I be better to make the beds across the site or will I be able to run the beds down the hill. The plot is south facing along the river with no water so I will be looking for ideas to harvest rain water and later if funds allow I will be able to take water from the river when the tide is out. Lots of seaweed about the area too. North West Ireland so lots of rain. I have green fingers and used to be a florist but have never grown vegetables so I do have a lot to learn so I will take things slowly and visualise 2022 as being fully ready for bumper harvests.

    Thank you so very much for your wonderful videos and great advice.

    Blessings to you and your followers.

    1. Hello Jennifer, and what a great adventure.
      Yes cover now with black polythene, and keep it on until making beds eg roll it back bit by bit.
      Beds up and down work well with no dig, soil being stable, unloosened. South facing is ideal for NW Ireland!
      Spread seaweed now, a few inches on the whole area if you can, then with the plastic over.
      An exciting time in prospect, and be thorough on the couch!

  26. Dear Charles,
    I have recently acquired about a third of an acre of land that has not been used for anything except grazing for the past 20 years or so. There are a large number of brambles as well as some other weeds that I am in the process of removing. A local farmer has some excess turkey muck that has been composting for about four months. Would this be a suitable manure to lay on top of cardboard to start off the beds?
    Best wishes,

  27. Good evening Charles,

    Many thanks for your wonderful willingness to share your knowledge and expertise with us all. I am very much looking forward to going no dig on my allotment ready for next year. I wonder if you could let us know where Steph managed to get such a lot of green waste compost for only £95? I must be looking in the wrong place, as I can only find compost at much higher prices!

    Many thanks for all of the inspiration,

    1. Nice to hear Tom.
      Sorry this was in 2009!! Prices have risen for sure and especially since first lockdown spring 2020.
      Using less compost is possible, check out wood chip and above all make your own, longer term.

  28. Dear Charles, myself and my young family have recently had the pleasure of getting a plot at my local allotment (7x15m in High Wycombe). I have no expereince regarding growing but I am keen to start with a no dig plot and therefore gained a lot from viewing your site and videos on you tube . I officially move in this weekend (Nov1st) and have so far collected enough free brown cardboard to cover 1/3-1/2 of the plot. My initial plan his to strim the site of weeds then cover bedding areas with cardboard. Main paths I am to cover with sheets and wood chipping. My question is:
    > I have access to the local stables to collect as much manure as needed. Can I use this initially to cover the cardboard/planter areas? (will take us some time to get the money together for a sizeable compost delivery)
    > I dont actually aim to grow much over this winter so does it matter if the manure isn’t completely decomposed?

    1. Sounds a plan and good to hear.
      I would cover paths with cardboard too. And again next spring, until perennial weeds are dead.
      Yes you can use fresher manure as you write. It may cause an increase of slugs. Lots to learn, try things, be rigorous with any weed regrowth until they die next summer.

  29. Hi Charles, I got my plot at the end of April and have not been digging and
    only clearing weeds when I need space. I have only made enough compost over the summer to cover a metre square and I don’t drive so accessing more compost is difficult. I have been covering weeds with cardboard recently. Do you think I could get away with comfrey and nettle feeds without having to source compost from elsewhere please. Many thanks Chrissy

    1. Hi Chrissy and yes that is possible, will simply be more work to get plants in, with lower output but still better than digging!

  30. About to start a no-dig plot and wondered if I can use hardboard instead of cardboard as I have some to use up?

    1. I would not, and definitely not under compost. It could possibly sit on paths with cardboard underneath and outside its edges, where weeds would otherwise grow out from.

  31. Due to my ailing back, I have adapted the no dig method. Thank you for all the inspiration! I see that your paths are very narrow with a thin layer of woodchips. I have ca. 100m2 veg garden with all sorts. I need mores space to get around than the 50 cm concrete tiles I now have between the beds. What would you recommend for covering for the 1 m paths between 1 m beds that I am planning?

    1. Those are wide paths and wood chip can help you. First lay cardboard in case of perennial weeds, then spread them thicker than I do say 5cm/2in

  32. On my allotment I’ve gradually reduced my digging over last 10 years using both carpets and plant-through weed membrane This year I was given permission to take some very old stable waste (6 yrs+) from a disused riding school close by This has been hard work but I’m about a third of the way through covering my beds in cardboard and 3″ of the stuff but the sheer size of my brassicas and sweetcorn has been a big surprise! Mine is hungry free draining sandy soil so I’m a bit worried about leaching over winter Do you cover with anything I’m in Leamington Spa Many thanks for your inspirational work😁

  33. Hi Charles! I’ve just found your page after doing some research on a new allotment (a little late as I’ve already dug perennial weeds out of the poly tunnel) I have another 6 meters sq or so on the allotment covered in brambles, nettles and marestail- I would ideally like to be planting this spring, if I cover with cardboard, compost/manure and then mypex do you think it’ll be ready to sow for this spring? It’s my first allotment- thank you for your help!!

    1. Hi Chanelle, I would lever out the main bramble stems then yes cover now. I suggest not mypex, either nothing or just black polythene works well, and yes plant in spring after rolling back the plastic

  34. Good morning Mr D!

    I have an allotment that we started in Feb, and then the current situation started – so our little patch hasn’t had the best care. I’m starting your no dig method now. I’m slowly converting my previously dug patch with no-dig beds, using a mixture of pallet collars and compost for some raised beds and now starting some un-edged beds further into the plot.

    I’ve bought your books (which are WONDERFUL by the way!) but I’m still a little confused on paths. Do I simply treat the paths as I do the beds (cardboard ->compost) but a little less compost compared to the beds?

    Thank you so much! I’ll see you soon – I’m treating myself to one of your weekend courses for my 40th next year!


    1. Thanks nice to hear, and simple answer, yes. Paths are party of the rooting space, want to be weed free and soil fed. A little compost initially, then a little woody mulch among many options.
      See you soon!

  35. Hi Charles I am very new to this….but have been offered a patch of ground that is fairly clear of weeds. I read above that you say you don’t really need cardboard if there are ne weeds, just compost…is this right? I’m also a little concerned about the area around the patch of ground….can I put wood chip or similar down around the plot to mark where the plot starts and ends? Excited but a bit daunted…….
    Many thanks for all your wonderful advice

    1. Sounds promising Mo. No card and no weeds means an initial compost depth of say 5cm/2in, so you need less.
      But any large weeds would grow through so lever them out first – or lay cardboard, and wet it as it’s summer, then compost over.
      Yes make an edge – card overlapped, then chips say 3-5cm.
      Good luck.
      You have a lot to learn!

  36. Hi Charles….just extended my plot and cleared a very overgrown plot next to me to create one bigger area. I want to start “no dig”….have selected a couple of areas which I have cleared. I intend to lay cardboard and then organic compost on top…can I then sow directly into the compost?
    Many Thanks,

    1. Yes Michael for sure. Make sure tha card is damp, and have enough compost for roots to explore for two months or so, until the card softens Compost depth min 10cm/4in

  37. I am about to start a no dig approach on my 80ft grass covered allotment. Also have goose grass and horse tail to contend with. Was planning on starting with a few raised beds at one end and covering the rest for the autumn/ winter. Will lay cardboard but you’ll you recommend mulching with compost or with rotten manure? Easier for me to get the compost I think. And then cover with plastic?
    Can’t wait to get going

    1. Any of that is good Rosie, whatever is easiest for now, even just with polythene, on the unused ground

  38. We have lots of thin rubber backed carpet available. Can this be used for a base layer instead of cardboard for a new no dig bed? Thank you

    1. Lorraine I think not, would be surprised if there are no synthetic products in there, even flame retardants, unless it’s say 50-60 years old.

  39. Really enjoying your videos and blogs, Charles. I’m fully converted to no dig on my allotment. One question. We have quite a big patch of brambles. Last autumn we dug out a lot of the big roots – and disturbed 30 or 40 slow worms which we relocated to the compost heap. There’s some brambles we didn’t get out plus some regrowth. Can we mulch with compost and plastic and then plant through that? Thanks!

    1. Wow that is a lot of slow worms!
      Problem with brambles is how they push up through mulches.
      Can be done but you would need to use gloves to keep snapping off new growth, for more than a year probably.

  40. Many thanks for sharing your knowledge. I’ve enjoyed watching some of your YouTube videos too. As I’m just getting started I don’t have my own compost yet and doubt I’ll ever be able to produce enough. Some of my neighbours bury green waste, to make bean trenches etc. Could I spread garden waste on the soil instead of putting it in compost bin? Was thinking I could then cover with cardboard and black plastic. At moment cardboard is easier for me to get hold of than purchasing manure.

    1. Nice to hear Patricia, except about crazy people who bury waste in trenches 🥵
      You can mulch with waste matter, unless you live in a damp area where it would harbour slugs.
      It would be difficult to sow seeds.
      The cardboard is not needed unless you have a lot of weeds to smother. I would lay it first, the organic matter on top.

  41. I started last year trying no dig and was very pleased with my red king pots and followed through with leeks and then onions. I laid down poly and old carpets for 11 months I have seen a farmer for beef manure 2 year old seeing him this week for a load or two I have 3 allotment as well as a big patch between my plots

  42. I’m just starting a ‘no dig’ on my allotment which is full of weeds and very uneven. Do I need to level out the plot first before I cover with cardboard?

    1. Hello Margaret and I would make it level, which sadly means some soil disturbance, but worth it in the end.
      It will make every operation more pleasant, and it’s then easier to spread all mulches evenly.

  43. Me and my wife have recently took on a allotment we’re doin raised beds with no dig we want to grass round the boxes what’s the best grass seed for the job

  44. Hi I have had a 10 rod allotment for a year now, I have now decided to have a no dig allotment as there were so many weeds.Istarted with putting cardboard down and rotted down manure on top. Its going to take a while but I think its worth it. cheers for now.

      1. Hi Charles I’m starting a no dig allotment. Do I just cover my allotment with cardboard, then a good thick cover of compost? Do I put more cardboard on top of the compost next year if weeds come through? Really want to get this going asap.

  45. Hello, Charles. The link to your pdf seems to be broken. Thank you for putting your work out there. It’s been enlightening! Best regards from Spain.

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