My 3 Fav Ways to Start a Vegie Patch

A finished no dig bed a la kath

Here are my three favourite ways to begin a vegie patch. All are variations of no-dig, and all grow brilliant vegies with no bought fertiliser. The only buy ins are greencrop seeds and perhaps compost, if need be.

The first method, and my all time favourite is – “No dig à la Kath” – its free, but takes time. The second “No dig à la Charles” is costly, but can be planted up right away. The third “Greencrop + Rotation” is in the middle – not as cheap + long a wait as the first, nor as expensive + quick as the second.

All 3 are interchangeable and play nicely together. Use them as your resources/ energy/ time dictate. Run out of compost – turn to greencropping + rotation, run out of time – turn to Charles, run out of money – turn to Kath!

The success of your vegie beds depends on a good location, kick ass shelter, ground cleared and beds marked out – phew! Ready? Let’s go!

No dig à la Kath

Putting a cover on a newly made compost pile
A newly made no dig a la Kath, covered with a fadge and ready to be left to compost down.

This is my favourite way to garden! It’s so satisfying to start your vegies off in your own compost, and though you have to wait for it to be ready – its worth it. It’ll grow you your best ever vegies. And its free! If you are gardening on sand – this is your best option.

Lay wet cardboard or newspaper all over the prepared area. Overlap pieces generously. If the grass and weeds are vigorous, slash them back before putting the card on. Then make one of my easy peasy compost piles on top, and cover it.

For smaller piles, like the one above, you can’t beat a fadge (wool sack). Otherwise, use a thick layer of hay, sacks, old blankets – something that rain can penetrate but that shades the top and sides from the drying wind + sun. Leave it to compost down.

And though you have to wait before planting (container gardens to the rescue!), this waiting is a one off, as long as you continue to make a new no dig bed à la Kath every week/ fortnight/ month/ season, whatever frequency suits. In this way, the only long wait is for the first bed, once that’s ready the others come on stream in steady succession.

No dig à la Charles

Broccoli seedling in a no dig a la charles bed

Charles Dowding is a vegetable growing legend. He pioneered no dig market gardening over 30 years ago, and is the genesis of the worldwide movement. He still uses the same simple recipe I’m sharing with you today. When something stands the test of time, you know its good.

Lay wet cardboard or newspaper all over the prepared area. Overlap pieces generously. If the grass and weeds are vigorous, slash them back before putting the card on.

Spread a 15cm layer of compost on top, which seems alot, but this deep layer minimises weeds coming through and creates a good foundation for your bed. It’s expensive but its a one off. From here on in, an annual fine layer of compost a top the bed is all you need.

Such a quick start!, if you can afford it and if you can find good compost. Charles makes his own – homemade being far superior and safer ie: free from damaging residues. If you don’t have enough of your own, choose your compost with care.

To safe guard bought compost, saturate the bed pre planting with a biological brew, mix in your own compost – even if its a little bit! and add a handful of vermicastings with each seedling.

Plant the bed up right away, and mulch it. Put up bird protection until the plants are established and completely covering the space.

Greencropping and Rotation

phacelia and marigold greencrop

This is the way I’ve worked most of my garden life. In this method, the fertility comes from teaming a small amount of compost with greencrops. Reduce fertility needs further by using my easy peasy crop rotation. If you’re keen to use your own homemade compost – reducing how much you need in the first place, makes it do-able.

First up though, we need to clear the ground because this method doesn’t have a deep bed of compost to smother growth. 2 ways:

  • Lay black plastic and wait for the weeds to melt back into the soil. This happens fast in hot weather, as long as the weeds aren’t pernicious, in which case you are in for a longer haul.
  • If you need the garden right away, scrape off the turf layer (add it to your compost). You’ll remove alot of goodness but it’s a one off, and the soil will repair. If determined weeds like dock, buttercup, or even worse convulvulus are part of the equation, you’ll need to get the roots out because, once again, the shallow bed of compost wont hold them back and before too long they will be through and amongst your vegies.

Aerate the ground if you are on heavy clay.

Spread a couple of overlapping layers of wet newspaper – card is too thick in this instance, then spread a 2cm layer of compost on top. Sow a lupin greencrop next, and scatter some mulch on. The greencrop acts as a bridge, bringing soil biology into the compost, preparing it nicely for the first crop.

As the greencrop gears up to flower – in about 6weeks depending on the crop you’ve usedslash it down. Spread the chopped down greencrop back over the bed as mulch, pour on a biological brew, then make pockets in the mulch and plant the bed up. If the first round of crops doesn’t grow so well, don’t panic, they’ll improve as the bed establishes.

There after use my simple crop rotation: cycle the bed from heavy feeder to light feeder to greencrop, add a 1cm layer of compost and start again.


  1. Hi Kath – thanks so much for all the excellent information you share. I immediately bought your book after stumbling on your website when researching how to improve soil. An excellent read, that I am continuously referring back to as I embark on managing the garden for our first home.
    Whilst I complete the sitemap and garden design, I’ve got few veggies going in pots to get some experience and an experiment going on to improve to see if I can improve the soil quality. My husband is convinced we are going to need to dig up all the soil that is currently there (heavy clay) and get fresh top soil added. I think it can be done naturally but we will just need to play the long game with it.
    So my query is regarding my experiment area – I went for the greencrop approach as weeds are growing heartily in this area and I wanted something pretty. Mixed greencrop seeds have been sown and plenty of little seedlings have sprouted. However, I got a bit mixed up and put wet cardboard down instead of newspaper, with only 2cm of compost. This is drying out very quickly and the combination of heavy watering plus the very hot humid weather has meant that a layer of white mould has grown between the cardboard and compost. Should I start this experiment again, with newspaper instead of cardboard? Or can it be salvaged? If start again, can the compost & seedlings be reused or is the mould damaging?
    Thanks so much!

    • Hi Kay, its alot in the beginning I know.
      First up, yes I agree with you, far better to transform your existing soil. Like FAR BETTER! Bringing in topsoil rarely ends well – importing all sorts of issues from weeds to contaminants. Read this post here –
      Though it seems like one stumbling block after another – each is a valuable learning.
      Clearing the area of weeds first makes your life so much easier! My fav is to cover with black plastic.
      Don’t worry about mould – its just biology coming into do the break down – not dangerous at all. An indication of the bed being new. Build a compost on top of the bed, or create a new bed on top perhaps or recycle the plants into a compost.

      I do 20 min garden coaching sessions if you hit big stumbling blocks like this one!
      Enjoy the journey
      K x


      • Hi Kath,
        Thank you so much for your reply, it is super helpful! I am going to turn it over to get out the cardboard and use the compost & seedlings as the base for the next experiment round 🙂 luckily as this is a smallish test area that will be easy to do and I had killed off the weeds with a black tarp cover before I started this, so hopefully nothing has grown further under the cardboard.
        Thanks again and I definitely have a growing list of questions so will reach out shortly for a coaching session!