How to Build an Instant Garden


Ah. You’ve caught me littering. I’m dumping out the garbage. No, I’m not. No, I’m not. I am actually throwing out the garbage. I’m putting down old trees. I’m putting down paper and cardboard, which were made from trees. I’m putting down a sheet mulch and I can put it down
in a really rough form. There’s old books here, I’ve put down a bit of manure, there’s old paper bags, there’s those silly things that arrive in the post all the time, there’s egg cartons, there’s a haphazard mix of stuff. If you like it a bit tidier than this, although you’re not going to see it, you can put down big, layers
of cardboard like this. You can put it down,
straight on the grass, after you’ve put down a bit of manure. You could put down a bit of cardboard. You could put down a bit of compost. You could put down some
actual vegetable scraps from your kitchen. All of it will feed the worms. Put down your big cartons. What you’re doing is,
you’re sheet mulching and you’re cutting out all the light. Some of those weed seeds only take a thirtieth of a second of flash of light. If you want to start doing double digging, you’re going to have to dig pretty quick to get it quicker than
a thirtieth of a second. That’s really nice stuff
’cause it stays moist and the speed that moisture goes through this material is extremely slowly. It’s almost, not quite, it’s almost as slow as
plants’ roots themselves move. Now, you’re in the business. Now, you’re in the game. Now, you’re at the right timing. So, the next, I don’t want to mulch the dog, although she’s probably be pretty good, I’m going to put down
a load of rough mulch. Now what I’m doing, and it could be tidier than this too, but this will work fine. I’m imitating the forest floor. The soil organisms stand there. Those millions of organisms. Tons and tons of them. In every square meter, there’s millions. In acres, there’s tons of organisms. Literally tons by weight. They think, if they think at all, right now they’re thinking, that a beautiful forest
has just landed on top. This imitates the forest litter and you can’t really go too thick. You can definitely go too thin. Just shake it up a bit. Shake it down. Pat it down. These are all cheap materials. This is not expensive straw. This is just lashings off
your local park, lawn, mixtures of organic material, pruning, shredded hay, seeded hay, there’s a bit of old
vegetable scrap there. That can go on. It’s all a great, big feed for the soil. This’ll hold huge amounts of moisture. This’ll be warmer in
winter at the soil surface. It’ll be cooler in summer at the surface. Moderate in temperature. It will greatly moderate the water flows. One tenth the amount of water required, which is crucial, if you
have a water shortage or a watering ban. But most important, it’s benefiting those
wonderful organisms in the soil that we need to cooperate
with, harmonize with. We’ll tuck that little bit
of paper underneath there. Don’t leave any paper showing, tuck it in. Just like you’re tucking
your children into bed because these are like your children. They’ll feed your children, with some of the best food that
can be grown on this planet. Food like this, food like this. Students of mine have put these together, just for a bit of personal
therapy and understanding that, this is a very simple,
instant garden system. Now that’s done. He’s done. Double reach bed, I can
reach in the middle. Double reach bed, I can
almost use it as a bed. You can almost lie down on it. I don’t want to lie down on it because I don’t want to compact it. I don’t want to crush all
those organisms in there. I want them to be very active. All I have to do now, is I have to make a
little hole, like this. Get down to that cardboard. Make that a nice, little smooth hole and make a hole in the cardboard. I might be stabbing a few
organisms but that’s alright, there’s plenty there. I then get my compost, put it in this hole, pat it down a little bit, make sure it’s nice and cozy, and put my seedling in there, or my seed, and it’ll do that, it’ll grow a vegetable garden and it’ll get better,
and better, over time. Here we are, the instant
garden, after just five weeks. Our pak choy, our lettuces,
our cabbages are coming along, everything’s happy and underneath here, we’re building soil. We’ve got soil building layers of mulch, the cardboard’s still here and the worms, here they are. This little worm here,
there’s worms in here. There’s soil building activity
with bacteria, fungi and all kinds of imitations of layers. This system is so simple, but it creates soil as quick
as it creates surplus produce, with so little work to establish it. This is the ultimate,
easy, use surplus material, this is the easy system to
put an instant garden together and it’ll create half an inch, a centimeter, two centimeters, three, four or even five centimeters
of soil in one year, as you garden. You are never sustainable in a garden, unless you’re creating more soil than you are using to produce. You must be creating soil
as you produce your food, and then you’re sustainable, and if you keep going
that way and using that as the indicator, soil creation, you’ll be sustainable forever, and you’ll be on a great
learning curve of understanding how to interact with the soil and the soil ecosystems
to supply an incredibly diverse possibility of food
for you and your family.

100 thoughts on “How to Build an Instant Garden

  1. I respect Geoff Lawton a lot, I have learned so much from him. On the "sheet mulch" subject the Permaculture world seems to be divided in 2: the "pro cardboard sheet mulch" and those against cardboard. The latter is my position (and Paul Wheaton's).

    The use of cardboard is controversial. As an engineer I worked in Paper mills… There are nasty chemicals added to all kinds of paper. I have been making lots of veggie gardens over some decades, I just use lots of mulch (dry grasses) and the result is very good.

    The so called "weeds" will appear, I just leave them as "companion plants" for my vegetables, as long as they are not taller them the edibles. Plants compete for sun. In the root system… they ALL produce exudates (food for the microorganisms). The fantastic soil microbiologist Dr. Elaine Ingham explains that so well. There are dozens of video hours fere non Youtube with her.

    As the garden take shape and get more variety of edibles, the "weeds", which should rather be called "pioneer little plants" will be less and less.

    So… pick your side… if you "like" to use cardboard sheet mulch your garden will grow, if you choose "no cardboard" it will grow as well… My "thumb rule": in my vegetable gardens there is no place for anything coming from a factory, being cardboard or any kind of plastic.

  2. You're very smart man. May I ask what type of climate in your state? Your tropical fruits tree are doing super good.

  3. I love this idea. Last fall I started a sort of mini one. And already it's plantable. Granted, the layer of the sticks were already disintegrating. But I am hate to dig up sod so anywhere that I want to have a veggie/shrub and flower garden, this will be the way I start. Thanks so mulch—hehehe–pun intended.

  4. Hi Ecotransition, Sorry I did not get your name. Any way for your post on Anti cardboard mulch. Have you tested the soil/ compost created out of cardboard? Have you found harmful chemicals that are active and water soluble? or gave you tested the plants grown in such much containing these harmful chemicals?

  5. How can I best aerate my "compost in place" pile? My other compost pile has a rectangular screened column running up the middle of it.

  6. i can not even think of how to thank Geoff Lawton about changing my thoughts on farming just by a single video from youtube. you sir, are a great teacher to me. thank you so much. much gratitude from S.Korea.

  7. "Lots of free ranging chickens, problem solved." Yes but chicken will disturb your garden. I using an old plank in the garden little stone (2-3 inches) under this plank and every morning you collect snails and slugs and feeding your chicken. After 1 or 2 weeks, you got less and less snails.

  8. may I put cardboard over a yard full of wild raspberries ( or blackberries) and build a lasagna garden? do the cardboard stop them from coming back?

  9. Ive tried this works great lots of worms but i wonder about all the glue and ink and crap in the cardboard and paper, maybe i am being a bit over the top?

  10. What to do the next season with the mulch? Do you leave it and just plant something else next year or you stack a new layer of mulch?

  11. Geoff Lawton you are a legend!
    I am watching as many uploads of yours as I can find.
    Thank you so much for spreading the permaculture principle. You know it is vital for our planet"s future. You have truly made me happy with your message. Thanks also to Bill.
    No GMO, no roundup, just natural biome.
    Pete from FNQ, on my way to a food forest 🙂

  12. If you see my comment, think about this , Geoff is one of the best living examples of what permaculture is and should be! So please leave a like (thumbs up) and subscribe to his channel, his videos are very valuable! Most people replicate his teachings, along with the founder of Permaculture, the late Bill M. But there is probably no better teacher than Geoff L. So please support this channel, thanks for your time.

  13. The layer of cardboard and paper is good for isolating weeds, if you got plenty. But, as my experience with sheet mulching methode showed, the layer of carbon is not that mandatory. A thick layer of hay + layer of autumn leaves does the same job: keeps most of the weeds under control for 6 months, from early spring till midsummer.

    However, some of the most pestulant species, like wild blackbury, hogweed (Heraleum spp) and wild prune sprouts may survive and break through the layer of mulch. But cardboard would hardly restrain them, since it rots almost completely over the winter.

    So the principal is to keep a layer of mulch thick anough and add annually new layers of organic matter between the rows of growing plants. But the layer of fresh organic matter should not be layed thicker than 8-10 inch (20-25 sm), since dense organic matter starts overheating in the process of hot decomposition and may harm your plants, especially during hot summer months.

  14. Thank you so much…learning how to create a sustainable garden is great for me trying to depart from being a city person.

  15. Thanks for this video. One question – are you just putting compost on top of the established grass underneath the cardboard, or digging out the grass, then planting in the compost? Thanks for anyone giving some advice…

  16. oh my God thank God that I watch this before I went any further you just saved my life and save me so much time and money it's unbelievable thank you kind sir you are a gentleman and a scholar God bless you!!!!

  17. Can someone help me with a doubt I have please. When we make a raised veggie doing a lasagna for example, wont the bed eventually be compacted and get down? and then what should we add?
    The answer would be to redo the lasagna again? This way don't I have to add the final layer which is soil? Thats a lot of investment deppending on the size of your zone 1 garden beds.

  18. All your lessons are great. I'm a bit concerned about snakes and scorpions where I live. But I'm listening to you say all the time "work with the earth" so I'm going to figure that out. One thing I've thought of is keeping the bull or king snakes living around, because that will deter the poisonous rattle snakes. Chickens are good for keeping scorpions in check. A big stick to poke around before reaching into anything would be good to remember. 😄

  19. Thank you so much for sharing this. Permaculture should be the positive aspect of any ecological culture-critical philosophy. Here I see a joy in engaging in ever richer processes, a re-affirmation of the human's place in Nature rather than a return to it as an archaic concept.

  20. is it possible to make a lasagna garden with food scraps vegetables and fruits) in an apartment? Im thinking that there wont be enough bacterial activity to decompose properly all the scraps.?
    Best regards

  21. My husband and I just bought a 2.5 acre plot of land. I would like to plant a garden like this. Can you use grass clippings instead of the straw mulch you put down? Also, since it is now the Autumn, would it still be okay to make the garden and not put the plants in until the spring? I wonder if snow might compact the garden, but my thought was it might start the soil composting process ahead of time, and I assume I can add more mulch in the spring to add aeration?

  22. Hey, wait a minute, is he actually creating new soil? Cause I learned at school that it is non-renewable resource… haha

  23. Does one really need cardboard or anything else other than 100% natural resources, as a first barrier layer?
    I say this, because, i might have more access to 100% natural resources, than cardboards, news paper and such.

  24. Hello! Is it possible to use the sunflower stem as a suport for the tomato plant? As it grows, the sunflower leafs should provide mulch, and the stem suport… what do you think? Thank you!

  25. This is exactly what I'm doing to my yard:)  Last Spring I made a plot for hundreds of jalapeno seedlings,  one for a dozen huge, free Goji bushes I got free off CL and the same for 20 blueberry bushes (I did amend that soil to make it more acidic, though).   I just scalped the area w/ the mower, layered w/ free  cardboard I get from work,  and covered thickly w/ free chips I'd let compost for a year.   HOLY COW!   The  best crops out of everything I was growing.  My garage is chock full of cardboard, and my drive is loaded w/ aged chips, and adding a lot more beds this Spring:) Also have a huge compost pile, which I uses the same way when planting.   Yay for healthy soil and easy garden beds!!  Cheers!

  26. Hey Geoff, first and foremost thank you for the knowledge and the time you take to imparts this knowledge to all. I was wondering if you would be keen to do a BOOK RECOMMENDATION VIDEO for all those book worms out there that may not have the knowledge yet but have all the enthusiam, (myself included) if you have already done such a video could anyone forward that link. Thank you in advance. Be well, H

  27. My mom used this method of starting a garden 30 yrs. ago. started ever bear strawberries.

  28. Thanks for teaching me. I did this in 60X10 feet a couple years ago, because I'm not healthy and strong enough to dig a garden. This year my dwarf fruit trees, berries, and comfrey went in. The kale, beans, peppers, squash, asparagus, sea kale, and herbs did really well–melons and tomatoes not so much. I added another 250 square feet of mulch in the form of hay and straw this year over the native vetch like before. I finally settled on pea shrub and lupin as my nitrogen fixers. I can't keep chickens, so I simply bury food scraps and paper all around the garden as they come out of the kitchen. They compost in no time. My mulch is always damp even though this area is in drought. I only watered in the hottest part of summer.

  29. This is a quick easy technique to start a garden and does not need to be repeated it you build fertility quickly, maybe once or twice more if fertility is slow to build.

  30. Great demo Geoff that will help those people thinking they need raised garden beds and a whole lot more , so they never get started. PS – I'd rather be exposed to some biodegrading and diluting chemicals on the cardboard than not starting a garden and buying from the big box stores where you never know what has been used in production for growth and shelf life. Keep up the fantastic work @geofflawton

  31. After watching you , Dr Elaine and Paul Gauchi, I want to be able to feed me mom and my neighbor! It is very exciting to get in the garden knowing this land can feed people / my animals with organic food and produce healthy people and healthy animals! Even the compost they make will be healthy ! Thank you and continue teaching us saving one family at the time – or more

  32. I do something quite like that, but I call it "extreme mulching". Almost anything to block the light (for a while). However, I also, here and there, use upside down pallets and used tires as weights because of the wind. Both, movable and constantly moved. I also, at times, use translucent material. Thanks for this. it is really good.

  33. Dont these cardboards and printed papers contain chemicals harmful to the soil and human health ? Like heavy metal or similar.

  34. I love Geoff Lawton's complete connection to all things. You just feel him in constant attention to all around. Even his funny comment about not wanting to mulch his pooch! I really want to start a food forest or two but am on a shoestring budget, so gotta ask for help. Always good for organizing anyway, methinks. I am very glad he gave us a close up of the random/not select items in his living layer. It doesn't have to be "melted down" yet to be good enough. Thank you. Always thinking i gotta grow the compost and wait. Nope. Lesson here…Why wait?!! Never again!

  35. One question I always had was whether or not the colour on the cardboard or the chlorine o used for bleaching white cardboard will harm the environment?

  36. Evrytime i mention permaculture people look at me like im mentally ill. Nihilism is rife in modern societies. and whats saddest, its not even true nihilism.

  37. You are the best!!
    But: don't you worry about the colours? Is that not bad for us when we put it in the soil?

  38. I'm so grateful I came across this channel. I seek inspiration from REAL humans, daily. Gardening can be hard without the proper guidance from people who genuinely care. Thank you so much! I started in Feb. My backyard is thriving with life and evolving every day, as am I. It has become my passion and purpose. I needed the confidance boost with the compost, today. It hasn't grown on me quite yet. 😁🌍💕

  39. I have created my small garden like this but the mulch has attracted maany slugs which are eating vegetables I am trying to grow

  40. I wonder what these 19 people "dislike" about this video! Too liberating for people who wish to free themselves from the bloody business enslaving game, probably!

  41. It would be great to count with you for www.pachacamac.org.pe or pachacamac.org the oracle of the andes used to live there and you might learn a thing or two of our culture while giving us some knowledge about Nature's Harmonious Ways. Thanks for your videos.

  42. YESSSSSS!! The part at the end: You are never sustainable in a garden if you are not producing soil as you grow!!

  43. in a newer video you don't seem to make a hole in the card board (but do add some compost and soil)…. which method/tweak would you recommend?

  44. Also, i want to use squarefoot gardening method, but that requires putting seeds in…is there a way to do that with this method…or only seedlings/established plants can be put in?

  45. Hi Geoff, I just started watching your videos quite recently, thank you for all the excellent instruction. Re the generous applications of mulch in the instant garden – does this not attract rodents (mice/voles)? I live in southwest Saskatchewan, Canada, and we already have voles in the garden. I'd love to to try your instant garden method, but I'm concerned that all that mulch would supply extra cover for the voles. I'd be interested in hearing about your experience/comments. Thank you.

  46. Thank you for sharing. The world is lost from the simplicity of nature. It all seems to be right in front of us but we look for science to tell us how-to-do-it-wrong. The answer and truth is idden in plain sight.
    Blessings to you.

  47. Lovely! We're converting our grass into food. This will work lovely in most areas. I wonder about over compact rocky places? Might try to use a digging fork as a broadfork to loosen a bit first.

  48. Hey Geoff, you remind me of a really tall, long armed farmer Mick Jagger! in them there bluejeans now !!😅🎇🎄 Thanks for the gardening tips. I enjoyed listening.$

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