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How to Prep a No-Till Garden Bed

Autumn is a great time to prep your beds for next spring. Get a start on this garden project before the ground freezes.

Maybe you want to convert a section of your lawn to an abundant vegetable garden. We were able to accomplish this in just a few hours of work together using simple tools and readily available supplies.

From lawn to garden bed

Photo: (clockwise) select a lawn area with good southern exposure & access to water, clear weeds, lift and aerate soil with pitch fork, define the border of the bed, add organic fertilizer and amendments, lay down a weed barrier, dress with compost & topsoil.


A no-till bed preserves the structure of the soil, especially the top soil. By limiting disruption within their habitat- worms and mycelium are more active in areas that have not been tilled.

No-tillage of the soil along with a top-dressing of mulch helps to slow evaporation from the bed. This created a favorable condition for plants to grow in more arid or windy climates.


Supplies you may need:

-Round-nosed shovel


-Garden rake

-Material to make the borders of the bed: we used logs and wood scraps

-Paper bags to be up-cycled into a weed mat

-Mulch: we used coconut coir that was discarded by a local farm. You may also use brown grass clippings or leaves from a deciduous tree.

-Compost or fertilizer


How to make the bed:

1. Observe and determine the best site for garden to live. Be sure to choose a site that is free of toxins such as pesticides, herbicides, or runoff from asphalt.

Consider the path of the sun, patterns of wind, slope of earth, proximity to home, access to water, presence of critters, and overall health of existing soil. 

2. Prepare the site by establishing borders of the bed and walking paths. 

3. Clear the planting bed area of any large rocks and weeds. 

4. Fork and lift inside garden bed area with pitchfork. Loosen and aerate down about 12” deep. Be careful not to walk over freshly fluffed soil. 

5. Add bio-char to earth and water it in. 
Amend the soil with organic supplements such as worm compost, greensand, composted manure, or comfrey leafs.

6. Lay down a weed barrier of wet brown paper bags that have been soaked for a few hours. Lay staggered, reverse shingle pattern uphill to slow down water runoff and direct it deep into the planting area.

7. Build a layer of organic soil mix, about 3-6’ deep on top of the brown paper bag barrier. Our potting mix includes soil, compost/fertilizer, coconut coir, organic earth snacks. 

8. Lay 3” of mulch on top of top dressing and water it in. 

9. Clean up the garden walking path. We repurposed soaked cardboard, with an added layer of mulch, for a more substantial weed barrier on the walking path. Thanks #earthrunners.

10. Plant the border with beneficial barrier plants such as:

-comfrey: deep tap roots help to stop grasses from invading the beds. The leaves of the plant make an excellent mulch. Comfrey is a source of medicine for people and animals.

-chili pepper bushes: help to create a wind-block and discourage animals from rooting around in the bed.

-marigolds: attract pollinators and discourages squash bugs, horn worms and whiteflies. Harvest the flowers but leave the roots in the soil to repel nematodes.

-lavender: forage for pollinators, repels mice and deer. Can be harvested for herbal remedies and also used in beekeeping to wick moisture from the hives.

-rosemary: excellent perennial herb to grow in a culinary garden, crates a sturdy wind block, attracts pollinators while deterring pests.

-spring onions: deep roots help to prevent erosion and this aromatic allium helps to repel nematodes.

Now you are ready to let your bed rest for winter. Or if you live in a location with a mild climate, or where it is not winter at all, you can get planting!



1. video on how to create a no-till bed:

2. video on permaculture design for slope:

3. video on permaculture design by sector:

4. video on permaculture design for food:

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