December II: core inventory for no-dig gardening

After three years of no-dig, I have acquired a core inventory of tools etc for the gardening year. The list is quite small:

1) Polystyrene module trays – these are far more solid than the plastic ones sold in garden centres (which tend to warp and tear after a couple of years) – they have gone out of fashion but I found some on eBay. A dozen 48 module trays is more than sufficient for 50sqm of garden.

2) 1m * 30cm plastic trays to stand module trays, polypot bags etc on. These are essential if you start germinating seeds indoors to prevent damage to carpets etc. I purchased four for £20 at a local garden centre.

3) A small lean-to for keeping young seedlings protected from wind and cold in the spring. I have found that a four level 1m * 30cm lean-to is sufficient. The plastic exterior starts to degrade after about five years, but may be replacable. New lean-tos cost £30-100 depending on make, size etc.

4) Copper tools: I have five core tools which I use regularly (all bought from

i) A Hydra Hoe – ideal for preparing spring tilth, removing spring weeds and smoothing ground after harvesting a crop.

ii) A Perseus rake – used after hoeing to produce a flat surface tilth.

iii) A Trowel – used to dig holes for no-dig potato planting, holes for planting larger modules (beans and brassicas) as well as harvesting smaller crops.

iv) A Nunki weeder – my most valued tool used throughout the summer to aerate surface soil and kill small weeds in between rows of vegetables.

v) Dibber – this is probably a luxury as a wooden one will work perfectly well.

The two additions I might make would be a Pollux hoe and a spade for edging and harvesting parsnips.

The total cost of all, including additions would be £500-600. Quite a cost, but they will last a lifetime.

5) A wormery. This is useful for generating high quality vermicompost and costs £60-70. For those being serious, three wormeries working on a three year cycle may be the ideal.

6) Water butts -useful for collecting rainwater in winter to use on seedling trays in spring and whenever droughts occur. 200 gallons is a useful volume to have available. The water can be harvested from the house roof, from a garden shed’s sloping roof etc.

7) A two tub set up for generating concentrated comfrey extract: the lower tub has no holes, the upper tub slots into the lower tub and has holes in the side of its base to allow extract to drain into the lower tub. The upper tub is filled with harvested comfrey, this is weighed down using e.g. a 20kg sack of rock dust, the set up is enclosed using aluminium foil to prevent evaporation and left to produce the liquid for 4-8 weeks.

8) Rock dust, friendly bacteria and friendly fungi. Rock dust contains essential trace elements and can be added to compost piles when they are made. Friendly bacteria and friendly fungi can be added to seed compost mixes when sowing seeds – these cause better and stronger root systems to develop.

9) Comfrey Plants – a dozen Bocking 14 plants will be worth their weight in gold.

10) Polypot bags – certain crops grow very well in 17 litre black bags ( can be purchased from Medwyns of Anglesey). Carrots, garlic, parsnip all do well.

11) 30 gsm fleece to protect young seedlings in March, April and May. 25m * 2m is sufficient for my 50sqm garden, costing under £30.

12) Compost bins – 4 daleks and two wire cages is sufficient for me, with a builders bag of 1 cubic metre for storing ripe compost until use. Alternatively, a triple wooden bin with lids might suit others.


Overall, an investment of around £2000 will supply essential tools etc for your no-dig garden.

Author: Rhys

Rhys trained as a research biologist, working for a decade in the cancer research charity sector, before completing an MBA and working in management consultancy, technology transfer and early technology investment spaces, mostly working with UK academics to turn their scientific discoveries into value for society. AS a younger man, he was fascinated with mountains, both climbing them and ski-ing down them. Whilst living in Scotland, he completed a round of (then) all 277 Munros, the independent mountains over 3000ft originally complied as a list by Munro. He also spent his holidays representing the Ski Club of GB, as a Representative and Party Leader between 1990 and 1997. During that time, he found to his bemusement that he was able to predict, without understanding fully why, to a remarkable degree of accuracy, when good snow conditions would occur in the Alps, gaining an unworthy reputation for predictive genius in 1990 when predicting the evolution of the 1989/90 winter in Wengen, Switzerland for his CEO boss. He used this skill for the next seven years to ensure that he enjoyed powder snow pretty much every time he went ski-ing. An MD student he was training in Oxford also impressed his wife by taking Rhys' advice about when to take her to Italy in the mid 1990s! In recent years, Rhys has turned his mind toward how to grow prize tomatoes, winning several prizes in local and London shows and has, in the past 3 years, moved toward taking over a 50 square metre urban vegetable patch, which he has turned into a no-dig area since autumn 2014.

4 thoughts on “December II: core inventory for no-dig gardening”

  1. Hi Rhys, this is a good list for people getting started with no-dig and veg gardeners in general; helpful. All seems to be going well with your plot and great to see you are developing and refining your methods as time passes. The developmental aspect of veg gardening, making improvements here and there, even if just a small difference, help to keep up motivation and interest. Best with your growing next season. Tris

  2. For me, module trays – those seed trays divided up into rows of individual cells – are a real godsend. Module trays are what plug plants are grown in and allow the ultimate in regimented planning. Alongside meticulous record keeping they’re what keep my vegetable plot shipshape and regular. If you’re unfamiliar with module trays or have never used them I’m hoping this piece might encourage you to start. Far from being an unnecessary middle step between sowing and planting out, module trays save time and, crucially, will allow maximum use of the land you have available

    1. I agree with you Albert, module trays bring precision to sowing and growing which I would no longer wish to be without. I plan my desired number of plants and sow accordingly in modules and usually I obtain just the crop size I desire.

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