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    Growing Without Digging the no-dig garden


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    Growing Without Digging the no-dig garden Empty Growing Without Digging the no-dig garden

    Post  Carol on Fri Apr 09, 2010 1:42 am

    Pat Marfisi carries alfalfa hay into his Hollywood Hills backyard, but there aren’t any animals to feed. It’s for his “no dig” vegetable garden.

    Pat Marfisi applies the low-water, layering technique to his Hollywood Hills plot and reaps an abundance of organic produce.

    By Lisa Boone, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
    June 12, 2008

    PAT MARFISI carries bales of alfalfa hay and straw into the center aisle of his Hollywood Hills vegetable garden and begins tearing off pieces of the stuff. He doesn't have any animals to feed, just his "no-dig" landscape: raised beds using lasagna-like layers of fodder, bone and blood meal and compost -- and remarkably little water.

    Now that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has declared a statewide drought, Marfisi's 300-square-foot patch seems more relevant than ever. It's his personal horticultural laboratory for a low-water, sustainable technique he learned working on organic farms in Australia last year.

    How to start a no-dig garden
    Since he began gardening in this fashion, he says, he has been "inundated" with food. With the exception of some recent losses to raccoons drawn to the soil's abundant grubs and earthworms, Marfisi's garden is thriving with beets, collard greens, chard, celery, tomatoes, chives, peppers, basil, chives, lettuces and leeks. He estimates he grows enough food to feed three people daily.

    When asked how much he waters, Marfisi shoves his hand deep beside some Swiss chard and pulls out moist, decomposed soil laced with remnants of straw. "I haven't watered in 10 days," he says. "This is what I want people to know: You can have beauty and abundance without a lot of water."

    The retired Marfisi came upon the method while working as a volunteer farmhand Down Under, where the technique has been used since the 1977 paperback, "Esther Deans' Gardening Book: Growing Without Digging," promoted it as a solution to poor soil, rampant weeds, water shortages and costly food.

    "Today, L.A. faces a lot of the same issues," Marfisi says. "In addition, we have global warming from pollution, and home gardening is a significant way to reduce transportation cost and related pollution."

    He points out that noted food and science writer Michael Pollan, author of the recent "In Defense of Food," estimates that the distance traveled by food to the plate of an average American is 1,500 miles. "This number is 150 feet for most home gardeners," Marfisi says. "That is a huge reduction in transport cost and pollution."

    UNTIL HE had time for hands-on yard work, gardening was a passionate intellectual pursuit for Marfisi, who likes to sit for hours studying bugs with reference books in hand. But after leaving his job as a management consultant, he enrolled in UCLA Extension's horticulture program, which inspired him to dump water-hungry annuals and replace them with California natives. Then last year, Marfisi, who has a doctorate in economics, decided he wanted to become a farmer.

    At age 60, Marfisi became a WWOOFer -- he joined World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (, an international cultural exchange program that provides organic farmers free labor in exchange for providing workers with food and lodging.

    The former consultant for big-name clients such as Sun- America thought it would be the ultimate work-study program to learn about sustainable farming and lifestyles.

    "The attraction was to get into the heart of the world of permaculture and biodynamics and experience it firsthand," he says. "Being retired, I had the time. I thought, 'I'm still healthy and strong.' I figured now is the time to do it." (He hopes to join WWOOF again next year in Costa Rica).

    He started on a farm in New Zealand. Moving to Australia, he eventually worked on farms in six cities in Tasmania, Southern Australia and the Northern Territory. His friends thought he was crazy.

    "Here is a guy who made the transition from corporate board rooms to the deserts of Australia and New Zealand to examine horticulture," friend Perry Parks says. "I couldn't get my head around it initially. At his age . . . hiring yourself off to various farms? Digging fence posts?" he says, chuckling.

    "But tracking him through his e-mail messages, it seemed to be a real change of pace and it took on a kind of a meditative quality. Everything seemed to be slower, simpler and clearer. He got a lot out of it. Now he's come back and put it into practice," Parks says.

    THOUGH there is some debate over the origins of the no-dig method -- Ruth Stout's "How to Have a Green Thumb Without an Aching Back," first published in 1955, and Masanobu ***uoka's "One Straw Revolution," translated to English from Japanese in 1978, are other references -- one thing is certain: It is easy and it works.

    Veteran gardeners will say that the greatest amount of work in creating a successful vegetable garden goes into soil preparation. One of the best things about this sustainable alternative: You don't have to break your back digging and pulling roots.

    "It's a wonderful movement," says landscape designer and garden writer Rosalind Creasy, author of "The Complete Book of Edible Landscaping." "So many gardeners presume you have to start with a rototiller. That only destroys the soil structure and burns the organic matter."

    No-dig beds are created by layering organic materials above ground on newspaper. Marfisi starts with alfalfa hay (Deans recommends Lucerne hay, but it's hard to find locally), then straw and finally compost. Marfisi dusts the newspaper, alfalfa and straw with blood and bone meal. (Details in accompanying story). The layers then decompose, turning into a nutrient-rich mixture much like compost.

    Marfisi says no-dig is more efficient, water wise, because once a plant has a 10- to 12-inch root system, the layers of compost and straw keep moisture around the roots. And you can keep layering it over and over again as the organic matter breaks down.

    Aside from its looking a little messy, Creasy finds few negatives to no-dig. She does urge novice gardeners, however, to learn about soil nutrients that vegetables need. "You still have to fertilize," she says. "You still have to renew the nitrogen. Peas are legumes and they have nitrogen-mixing bacteria. Broccoli is a heavy feeder. You [also] have to think about crop rotation."

    Marfisi concedes that it is harder to get nitrogen and the acidity or alkalinity right in a fresh no-dig bed than in conventional soil. But once the organic matter has been in for two or three months and fertilizer is added, these imbalances seem to correct themselves, he says, and his harvests have been bountiful.

    It seems Marfisi was destined to become a locavore from an early age. He clearly remembers the first seeds he planted as a 7-year-old in Missouri. The simple act of pushing seeds into soil and waiting to see what happened was the beginning of a lifelong yearning that would haunt him until he retired.

    "I was blown away that seeds manufactured flowers," he says of discovering pink and orange zinnias weeks later. "Even to this day it still amazes me. . . . That picture remained in the back of my mind, while I was working 80 hours a week."

    Now vegetables provide that same fascination. "Reconnecting to earth is huge for people who are contemplating retirement."

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    Post  Carol on Fri Apr 09, 2010 2:15 am

    Well we finally got the garden terrace built and now filling it up. The garden terrace boxes are d feet deep, 3 feet wide and 8 feet long. 24' by 16' in an L share. We started off using the Lasagna type of formula and then modified it a bit for our area.

    Lasagna Gardening
    by Patricia Lanza

    Note: wet down each layer as you build the beds.

    1. Soak b&w newspapers in water, then overlap sections in a single layer directly on top of premarked sod area. This smothers the weeds/grass underneath.

    2. Then put a 4 inch layer of moistened peat moss over that

    3. A moist 4 inch layer of organic shredded green material in dry areas or alfalfa with manure on top of it where it rains more.

    4. Another 4 inch layer of moistened peat moss

    5. A 4 inch layer of moist compost (or yard waste in dryer climates)

    6. Repeat the peat moss/organic matter pattern until your bed is built up to at least 18-24 inches high.

    7. Finish with compost on top, then either let it break down for a few months for certain crops or plant seeds and transplants directly into the matrix by pushing aside layers and inserting.

    As the layers break down, the earthworms will be eating the sod and breaking up the newspapers, mixing the layers together. The final result is an organic, self-tilled soil that's rich and free of disease and weed seeds. It's so simple.

    As a bonus, no need to fertilize because the soil was already is rich in composting organic matter. Best of all, no soil-borne diseases! Truly, this style of gardening is an organic gardener's paradise.

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    Post  Ladyfreedom on Wed Jun 16, 2010 12:43 pm

    I have a friend who does this layer type gardening. Makes it look so easy. Me I'm still trying to figure out where I'm going to build the raised beds.

    Was wondering if anyone knew how to kill weed seeds in horse manure?
    I own horses. And have lots of manure. I used to put it in the garden after it was a year old. So that it wouldn't burn the garden, but quickly found that sitting for a year doesn't kill the predominate pasture weeds such as burdock, wild sunflowers (12 feet high!!) and milk weed.
    How can I organically kill the weeds and their seeds that are now growing in my garden space and in the horse manure before I apply it to my garden?

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    Post  Carol on Wed Jun 16, 2010 10:10 pm

    I put the horse manure in a black composting drum Lady and the heat is what kills the seeds.

    What is life?
    It is the flash of a firefly in the night, the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.

    With deepest respect ~ Aloha & Mahalo, Carol

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    Post  Floyd on Sat Jun 19, 2010 6:16 am

    good info this Carol..keep em comin hot stuff!

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