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Cardboard Gardening

One of the biggest obstacles in designing new living plant space, is the labor intensive process of tilling. However, beautiful flower and vegetable gardens can be obtained without ever disturbing the topsoil.

No-till farming is the method by which gardeners and farmers grow crops from year to year, without disturbing the soil by tilling. Studies have shown this will increase organic (carbon based) matter in the soil, which is a form of carbon sequestration1. This means you're simultaneously saving the planet, and your back.

The first step in this project, is to identify the spot where you want your planting space to be. Consider the conditions of the space in regards to what it is you'd like to plant. (Ex.Tomatoes need full sun, peas do not) Also consider the wild vegetation in your space.

Remove only the top layer of vegetation. This method doesn't require you to remove the roots of the natural vegetation, as they will decay and become organic matter in your soil.

Start with a discarded box, with depth that suits your needs. Unwaxed, or flat cardboard is ideal. Not only is it decomposable, but it's a favorite food source for fungi. This will encourage mycorrhizae, the partnership that forms in the roots between fungi and plants. Fungi provide plants with increased water and nutrients, and plants provide fungi with carbohydrates2.

Fill your box with high quality topsoil. If you’re not composting yet, and creating your own rich soil, it is recommended that you purchase a bag of “Organic Topsoil and Organic Mushroom Compost”. This project required 1/2 bag of each. Mix the soils together before adding. Fill the box completely to the top and pat firmly.

When your box is full of dirt, begin protecting the outside with a layer of “Hardwood Bark” mulch. It is important that you use some type of untreated hardwood mulch here. Using other mulches (such as pine bark, or chemically treated mulch, ie. color, weed killer) are not good for the soil. This will help to do two things. It will help to retain moisture in the cardboard and thus your plants. Second, it will slowly breakdown and feed the multitude of organisms in your healthy organic soil. Everybody wins!!

Now you have your No-Till planting space. Keep it moist, and plant your seeds or transplants according to growing instructions. As the cardboard beings to soften, the shape may shift some, exposing some paper. Simply pack the mulch back up around the box. You can rest assured that your bed is weed free, feeding the microorganisms in your soil, and environmentally friendly.


  • 1 "Better Management Practices: No-Till/Conservation Tillage". WWF. Retrieved 4 April 2011.
  • 2 Stamets, Paul E. Living Systems from Cardboard Packing Materials. Stamets Paul E, assignee. Patent US 20080046277 A1. 21 Feb. 2008. Print.