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)
When do you prune? Below are a few pointers on when you need to think about your topiary and hedges this year, so you can make sure you clip at the best time and not waste any effort doing work you don’t need to do… January & February Roses, fruit trees and wisteria is where the focus lies. Yes, it is cold and the work can be unpleasant because you are often stood on a ladder with your secateurs, barely moving enough to warm the body, but get these jobs done well, with care, and you can enjoy the fruits …
Last September when I and topiary artist (and mentor) Charlotte Molesworth ran a weekend of topiary masterclasses we had a visit from the garden writer Non Morris. You can read more about Non and her garden design work and writings here. She has written a lovely article for the February 2022 edition of The English Garden Magazine about her afternoon working with us and learning about topiary – I’m really thrilled by the piece, because she mentions not just a little of the wonderful history of Balmoral Cottage and how the garden grew, but also shares a little of how …
This Autumn I have presented another ‘Topiary Provocation’ to keen gardeners and designers. If you want to know more about topiary, the report on what we discussed and where modern topiary is going can be read by clicking the link below: Topiary Provocation Report Autumn 2021 This report is free to post on your own website or blog, just credit Modern Mint, and don’t change anything within it. Alternatively you can just share it with keen friends… or enemies? I did a similar meet-up with garden designers in spring 2021. Here is where you can read the Topiary Provocation Spring …