A Complete Guide To Gardening Without Tools

A Complete Guide To Gardening Without Tools

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Many people associate gardening with using plenty of tools and equipment. But this doesn’t have to be the case. There is a new concept known as the no-dig garden. 

With a few simple changes to your gardening style, you can get rid of most of your tools. Keep reading everything you need to know about gardening without tools. 

Essential Gardening Tools

As we’ll discuss, there are ways that you can cut down on the amount of gardening equipment you need. Heavy equipment, like tilling machines, can be eliminated with a little elbow grease. But, if you are planning on working in the garden, there are a few essential pieces of equipment that you will need. These are: 

  • Shovel: Regardless of whether you are working on a small plot, or an extensive farm, at some point you will need to dig into the soil. This will require a shovel. You might also want to get a hand trowel. This will be better at digging the small holes, ideal for planting out seedlings. 
  • Pruning shears. As your plants grow, you will need to cut off any dead growth. This tool will also come in useful when you are harvesting crops. 
  • Lopping shears. This is essential when you are dealing with trees. You need to remove old branches and pruning shears won’t be strong enough to cut through the thicker growth.  
  • Hoe. This is a vital tool for preparing a garden bed. It is used to strip away any weeds, so you can start from a clean slate. 
  • Hose/watering can/sprinklers. You need to have some way of reliably delivering water to your plants. 

It should be noted that this isn’t an exhaustive list. You might need to consider a more specialized piece of garden equipment. For example, if you are focusing on growing a lawn, you might want aeration spike shoes. These are the best way to break up soil compaction.  

What is No-Dig Gardening? 

A no-dig garden is designed to replicate a natural approach to gardening. Normally, gardening is an intensive process. You will need to continually provide fertilizers. 

A no-dig garden aims to change this concept. It relies on you adding compost to your garden. It will then naturally break down, adding the nutrients into the soil. Because of this, you won’t need to use any fertilizer. 

There are a few other principles that people who use this approach subscribe to, including: 

  • No fertilizer or chemicals
  • No standing in the garden
  • Creating an environment that replicates nature as closely as possible

This approach is based on the idea that you are doing more damage when you are digging. It’s disturbing the soil and disrupting the natural processes that are occurring. Instead, it’s best to step back and allow the garden to grow. 

While it might sound a little unusual, no-dig gardens can be done successfully. They can be just as prosperous as other types of gardens. It’s also better for the environment, as you don’t need to worry about chemicals running off into rivers. 

Setting up a No-Dig Garden

While it might seem like an easy approach, you still need to do some work. The most important part is getting the garden set up properly. If you start with a good foundation, everything will be a lot easier. Here are the steps you need to follow to set up a no-dig gardenOpens in a new tab.

  1. Clear the surface of any rocks or debris. 
  2. Mow any grass and cut back on the weeds
  3. Add a layer of wet cardboard. 
  4. Add around four inches of manure. This should be already starting to rot. 

You will also need to create paths between the beds. You don’t want to be walking on the soil. This will compact it, making it harder to for nutrients and water. To do this, you will need to lay some cardboard boxes out. You can spread some wood chip mulch or sawdust on top of the paths. 

When you are deciding where to put your path, you’ll need to be able to access the whole garden. So, think about the type of plants that you are sowing, to make sure that you can harvest them properly. 

Once you’ve done this, it’s time to leave the garden for a few months. This gives the worms some time to eat the manure and start spreading the nutrients throughout the soil. Then, it’s time to finish making the bed. This will need to be done by creating layers. Each of these layers should be around four inches (10 cm) thick. 

You will need to make the following layersOpens in a new tab.

  1. Cardboard
  2. Compost
  3. Add some woodchips. This layer will only need to be two inches (five cm) thick. 

When it comes time to plant, you will need to push the woodchips out of the way. If you don’t like to use woodchips, there are some other options that you can use. This includes:

The main purpose of the final layer is to help lock moisture into the soil. It’s also a good way of preventing weeds from sprouting up. While these are some suggestions, you can use any type of mulch you want. 

Once you have created a suitable garden, you’ll need to add your plants. At first, you might want to plant out seedlings. This will allow you to get the right spacing, so their roots can spread out. 

If the soil is flat, though, you should be able to sprinkle seeds. The ground should be fertile enough for them to germinate. 

Maintaining a No-Dig Garden

Once you have established a no-dig garden it should be fairly easy for you to maintain it. The most important thing is to make sure that you are adding new compost. Add a few inches every year. This adds new nutrients to the soil. 

It’s best to apply this new layer during the spring or early Autumn. This is when the plants will most need nutrients, as they are actively growing. You might also need to top up the top layer of mulch occasionally. If you prune your plants, leave the leaves and sticks in the garden. This is a good source of mulch. 

Make sure that you are giving the garden plenty of water. Generally, it will need around one to two inches of rain each week. If you are in a wetter climate, it might be getting this naturally. If not, you’ll need to add a little extra water to keep the moisture in the soil. Do this in the morning, so the excess moisture will evaporate throughout the day. 

Finally, you will need to make sure that you are removing weeds whenever they pop up. Unlike other pruning items, you’ll need to remove these from the soil. This stops weeds from germinating in the future. When the patch is new, you might need to weed it frequently. But over time, the weeds will find it harder to get a foothold.  

Tips for a No-Dig Garden

Ideally, a no-dig garden will be easy for you to maintain. However, there are a few tips you can use to get the best results. This includes: 

  • Choose the right plants. The most important thing you need to do is select the right plants. You will need to get something that will be suited to your local conditions. It’s also worth checking the pH levels in the soil. You might be able to change these chemical levels through the type of mulch you are using. 
  • Get the right planting times. It’s important to make sure that you consider when you add crops to your garden. Temperature and climate conditions play a big role in determining how a plant will grow. 
  • Plant in the mornings. Once you’ve found the right species, it’s time to put them into the garden. It’s best to add your plants to the garden in the morning. You can then give them plenty of water. 

Downsides of a No-Dig Garden

While no-dig gardens have started to become more popular, it isn’t a perfect solution. There are a few downsides that you will need to keep in mindOpens in a new tab.. These include: 

  • Lots of mulch. If you are planning on starting a no-dig garden at home, it’s recommended that you also start a compost heap. This will provide the mulch you need for your garden. But there is a limit to the amount of mulch you can produce. This means that there is a limit to the size of the plot you can garden using this method. 
  • Risk of slugs. In most cases, a no-dig garden will be a good way of keeping bugs and insects away from your garden. But there is a risk that it can attract slugs. This is particularly common in cold climates. 
  • Slow process. When you are building a no-dig garden, you will need to be patient. Unlike other types of gardening, it will take a while before you can see an improvement in the soil. If it was an area of high compaction, like a driveway, it can take a year or two. 

How to Till Without a Tiller

If you are pursuing a no-dig garden, you won’t need to till it. The soil is already aerated and rich in nutrients. You just need to make sure that you are adding compost each year. 

If you want to see a fast improvement in the soil, you will need to till it. This has a range of advantagesOpens in a new tab., including: 

  • Protecting against weeds. When you till up the soil, it will tear up the root systems of the weeds, stopping them from germinating during that growing season. 
  • Aeration. This will allow the moisture and nutrients to get to the roots of the plants. 
  • Faster warming. Tilling will help the soil warm up faster after the winter months. This can be a good option for those who live in colder climates. It will allow you to start planting earlier to capitalize on the warmer weather. 

However, this can pose a problem. A till can be an expensive piece of equipment. Considering that you will only use it once or twice a year, it’s not worth the investment for many people. The good news is that you don’t need to purchase a tiller to get results. 

There are a few ways that you can skip the costs and still get good results. These options includeOpens in a new tab.

  • Using a hoe. This can be a good way of scraping up the top layer of soil. This is a cheap tool that can be found at most hardware stores. 
  • Shovel. If you have loose soil, you might be able to use a shovel to break it up. If it’s rocky, you might need to use a mattock to break it up first. 
  • Using a pitchfork. This is similar to using a hoe. You will be able to stick the prongs into the ground. This creates air holes, aerating the soil. It can also be a good option for turning mulch into the soil. However, you might run into problems if the soil is already heavily compacted. 
  • Rake. If the soil is fairly loose, you might be able to use a rake to clear off the top layer.  

If you are looking for a more unconventional way of tilling the soil, you can use animals. As they move through an area, they will scratch their feet and break up the loose soil. They will also poop, adding fertilizer to the area. 

But this comes with a significant downside, they will also compact the soil. Because of this, you might need to go through the area once they have moved on. You’ll need to break up the ground before you anything will grow. 

Turning Household Items into Tools

If money is tight, you might want to consider converting household items into useable garden tools. There are many ways that you can do this. Some ideas includeOpens in a new tab.

  • Makeshift greenhouse. All a greenhouse needs to do is seal the warm air inside. You can use a milk bottle to do this. Just cut the bottom off the jug and put it over the top of the plants. This can come in beneficial in a colder climate, where seedlings will need a little extra protection against the frost. 
  • Pots. You can save your yogurt pots and use them as containers for seedlings. Another option is to turn a used egg carton into a seed tray. You can turn used newspaper into a pot. As this is biodegradable, you’ll be able to plant it directly into the soil. 
  • Collecting seeds. You should aim to collect some seeds after each season, from the strongest plants. This is a long-established practice, called artificial selection. It helps you select what traits you want to be present in the next generation. You can store these seeds in an old jam jar. 

The key factor in this area is to be creative. There are plenty of unique ways that you can use the equipment. For example, you will be able to use an old milk jug as a makeshift scoop. Or you can use it as a drip waterer, by putting a hole in the lid. 

Others Tips for Gardening on a Budget

You don’t need to have a fortune to start gardening. But it can turn into an expensive hobby. Once you count the cost of the garden materials, tools, and seedlings it’s easy to spend around $150 on establishing your garden. 

There are a few ways that you can cut down on the costsOpens in a new tab. associated with starting your garden this includes: 

  • Buying second-hand tools. This is one of the biggest costs associated with gardening. But if you keep your eyes out online, you will usually be able to find a good deal on second-hand tools. 
  • Do it yourself. You can find plenty of kits that help you build things like garden beds. However, if you are willing to source the wood and screws yourself, you could end up saving a lot of money. 
  • Make your own compost. This is one of the biggest costs associated with your garden. The good news is that you don’t need to pay for mulch, you can make it yourself. Plus, it’s a good way of reusing your kitchen waste. 
  • Use cuttings. You don’t need to go to a hardware store to buy seedlings. You can grow yourself. For most species, you’ll be able to grow them from seeds or you can take a cutting from an existing plant. You might also want to go to a seed swap party, so you can share your favorite seeds with your friends and other local horticulturalists. 

Final Thoughts

You don’t need a lot of tools to grow a garden. Things like a shovel or hoe will prove to be invaluable. But expensive machinery, like a tiller, can be avoided. The key is to start from solid foundations. If you get the garden set up properly, you won’t even need to dig into the soil. All you need to do is prune back the plants occasionally and enjoy a bountiful crop harvest. 

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