Gardening Magazine

‘No Digging’ with Charles Dowding (part 2)

By Outofmyshed @OutofmyShed

Charles Dowding at Homeacres Back in spring last year I went to visit Charles Dowding on his well-established ‘No Dig’ farm in Somerset. I’d read his books on ‘No Dig’ gardening, packed full of useful advice and information, but it was wonderful to see first hand how well his vegetables (and fruit) were growing on soil that had never been dug over.

However, this year Charles has moved a few miles away to a new farm, Homeacres, and I popped by recently to see how all was progressing.

To create his new beds, Charles has used a 50:50 mixture of well-rotted manure (broken down over about 18 months) and the council’s recycled green waste compost, building up the new beds on top of grass to approximately 6 inches high. These new areas have been contained and defined using scaffolding boards and netting has been used to keep off pesky badgers.

Charles admits that it takes a lot of effort to initially build up the fertility of his soil, and luckily he had a plentiful supply of well-rotted manure from his previous farm. He keeps a sharp eye on perennial weeds, such as couch grass, thistles, bind weed and buttercups, pulling these out  as they pop up through the newly composted beds, and eventually these will be weakened enough not to return.

Charles Dowding in his greenhouse
Apart from a few experimental areas, all his new beds (outside and in his greenhouse) are ‘No Dig’, never once disturbing the structure of the soil beneath the beds, and his lettuces and other veg have been growing impressively well this spring and summer.
Uchiki Kuri squash in hotbed (one plant)

As ever, Charles has been trying out some interesting growing methods. Above are some hot beds, created by filling palettes with fresh cow manure and then adding a 6 inch topping of his well-rotted manure and green waste mixture to plant into. As the manure starts breaking down, heat is given off and this allowed him to sow as early as January, growing and cropping carrots, lettuce, spinach and early peas within 6 weeks (I think these were covered in fleece too).  A rampant Uchiki Kuri squash has now replaced the earlier crops and is romping away in these rich growing conditions.

Puntarelle, Marazatica and Treviso chicories ready to be planted out

Unlike in his previous farm, Charles doesn’t have electricity in his new greenhouse for a heated propagating mat, so he’s used another  hot bed palette (roughly measuring a meter square) to start off  seeds in small modules. He’s found that this method works really well, but he needs to re-fill the palette with fresh manure after 6 weeks for a constant supply of heat. He recommends Jack Fist’s book on hot beds for more information on this intriguing topic. By the way, the leaves above are Puntarelle and Treviso chicories (available from Seeds of Italy).

Sungella tomatoes
As I wandered through the greenhouse, I thought this ‘No Dig’ method had miraculously produced larger than usual Sungold tomatoes, but they are actually a new hybrid called  Sungella  that Charles has been trialling. These are a cross between Sungold and “a larger fruited orange skinned heirloom favourite” (with seeds available from Thompsons and Morgan).

Daubenton's Kale

It’s always great to hear about new veg to grow and I also loved the look (and idea) of Daubenton’s perennial Kale (stem cuttings are available from Alan Carter’s fab Scottish Forrest Garden website). Once your own plant is established, cuttings can be easily taken to grow more plants and Alan Carter also supplies a gorgeous variegated variety too.

As I marvelled at many new (to me) varieties of lettuces and other veg, Charles informed me that many of his seeds come from the Real Seed Catalogue, the Organic gardening Catalogue and Seeds of Italy, and flicking through these exciting websites, I’ve started to make a list of more varieties to try out next spring.

Charles Dowding

As in previous years, Charles is supplying local businesses with fresh leaves and seasonal vegetables, but plans on concentrating more on teaching from his new farm. There are still places on courses this October and November and next year he’s running monthly mentoring courses from March until November. With an intimate 8 people on each course you’ll learn a lot and you’ll pick up new practises that could change the way you garden forever.

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