THE MODERN MINT BLOG
The team at Modern Mint have recently visited the teacher and vegetable grower Charles Dowding, who runs courses at his market garden in Somerset.
Charles Dowding is best known for his ‘no-dig’ approach to gardening. Seeing how he grows his vegetables and fruit first hand, we can tell you it looks fantastic (and the vegetables tasted great!)
Read Charles’ book – No Dig Organic Home & Garden
The basic gist of the idea is to use compost mulches on your soil to grow your food. When you get your vegetable patch, instead of digging or (god forbid) double-digging, you just thrown down a mulch – preferably compost.
By putting so much compost on top of the earth you can reduce the amount of weeding you have to do as the compost excludes light that will help weed seeds to germinate. Perennial weeds with lots of energy stored in their roots have to grow up and through the mulch, which weakens them and makes them easier to weed out with a trowel, while the compost also conserves moisture saving you the effort of having to water so much.
Vegetables need a fertile soil – the use of manure and compost does all the feeding you need. It also helps to loosen the texture of clay soils or build structure into sandy soils. Finally, an easy tilth is created for sowing into.
You get all of these benefits without having to dig, remove a layer of turf, or spend hours pulling out bindweed. Doesn’t that sound good?
Why did Charles Dowding start his no-dig experiment in the first place? Having been a market gardener for over three decades it seemed he needed to find a way to grow more vegetables on less land with less work. So now he manages to get £20,000 worth of vegetables from about 1/3 of an acre, with two crops on a piece of land through the growing season. And because of his no-dig method, he can spend less time weeding and more time sowing and harvesting – the best things!
Notes From Our Day With Charles Dowding
Below are a few more of our notes from what we learned on our day with Charles Dowding…
How much compost should you use? Start with about 6 inches, then top it up in the Autumn. If you run out of compost (and Charles varies what he uses, from horse manure to mushroom compost to his own homemade compost) you can also use cardboard and or a black matting.
Raised wooden boards are a good way to start, because that will guide you on how much compost you need, but the boards will harbour slugs – especially as they get older.
The compost makes a springy soil surface – which you CAN walk on.
Vegetable growing is just common sense. Yet a thread of Victorian enthusiasm for work is running through all our ideas about how to grow our food. Cut out the rubbish ideas – you don’t need to remove all of your tomato leaves…
This was a brilliant idea (and makes complete sense) – sow seeds after they want to flower. By sowing later than what is recommended on the seed packet you aren’t fighting the plants nature e.g. it wants to germinate, grow and race to flower. What you end up with is a plant that germinates, grows, can be harvested on a continual basis, before finally flowering months later… smart stuff!
As a general rule of thumb – sow seeds as deep as they are wide.
Get the right seed variety.
Add seaweed to sea vegetables.
In your polytunnel, have the ventilation higher so that a cold draft doesn’t roll over your plants. A polytunnel may also be better than a greenhouse as you get more light (the wooden frame of a greenhouse stops the light entering.)
With so much compost around, you probably only need to water every two days. But remember – for vegetables, water is important!
Charles Dowding uses copper tools. So do we here at Modern Mint.
With the lovely soil structure he has copper tools are perfect for use – he uses a spade, hoe and trowel (pictured above.) We prefer the Mira trowel for weeding, because it is longer and thinner and tapers to an incredibly useful sharp point, and the slightly lighter spade.
We also heard about Shumei from Charles Dowding – it is another system for growing vegetables and tending your patch of earth. We shall do some research on this and get back to you about it…
Could this approach work in an ornamental garden? Henk Gerritsen suggested in his 4 commandments not to disturb the soil. Charles Dowding is doing something similar to grow his vegetables – and reduces the work load too!
Should You Visit Charles Dowding’s Garden?
You definitely should, whether you are a vegetable grower, gardener or someone who loves fresh food and a way of growing that enhances life all the way down the food chain! It is a great day, with lots of interesting ideas brought into the light, and Charles is a brilliant resource for your questions.
Go see him at work!
(Or, if you can’t make it, try one of his many books on vegetable growing, like this one – No Dig Organic Home & Garden)
I compiled a list of books using Bookshop, a new online shop to rival Amazon. I like it because it is supporting independent bookshops, helping them out by giving them an audience whilst their own physical premises are closed. The books I’ve listed are not all about gardening, but worth a look through and an order anyway as they are wonderful and have seen me through lockdown – and I hope they bring you some joy too! Check out the books I recommend here.
Hedge laying is something I’ve been meaning to try for a long time, a type of pruning that can bring huge benefits to wildlife as well as looking amazing. So last year I went down to Dorset/the edge of Devon, to spend a day learning to lay a hedge. Hedge laying is a way of building a stock proof fence. It does take time, and some practical and physical skill, but once you get the hang of it I would think developing your instinct about what to prune and where to lay the branches is where the true proficiency arises… …
Fernando Caruncho is a garden designer from Madrid. I am always inspired by his work – his clean lines, ‘green architecture’, sense of proportion, balance and minimal plant palette. This seems to bring out the atmosphere of the garden, the space, intensifying its… spirit. I have written about him a lot – here, for example… and here. But recently I have discovered a few more interviews with him, so thought I would link to his words as he always has something interesting to say, the opposite of prosaic. This first interview from the Society of Garden Designers will give you …