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Home 20th April 2014

Homeacres 13.4.14 was weedy field a year ago. All beds on undug soil except the one front left, part of experiment

Here I show you highly productive ways to grow food, enjoy harvests over long periods, all with a lovely way of caring for soil - NO DIG, based on my experience of growing acclaimed vegetables without soil tillage for thirty years. I also share my discoveries in six books, courses, talks and videos, for those who seek to have less weeds and more harvests. 

See 'Dig/No dig 2007-12' for six years of comparing the same vegetables growing in dug and undug soil. Harvests in 2012 were 61.75kg from the dug beds and 66.84kg from the undug beds. From 2007-12, the harvests were 376.24kg from the two dug beds and 400.38kg from the two undug beds.

At Homeacres I have created a new dig, no dig experiment and it has yielded plenty of interesting differences, see under the banner "Dig/No dig 2013" which has photos of growth and harvests through the year. The final results for yield are 81.8kg of vegetables from the dug bed and 83.2kg from the same plantings on the undug bed. They cover the same area as the previous experiment, and a 20% increase from 2012 to 2013 tells you that 2013, was much better for growing vegetables, with less rain and more sun.

  • At Homeacres the rainfall total for 2013 was 817mm (32 inches) which is 15% below the 16 year average. Sunshine was 5% above average and and temperature was average - because the cold first half was exactly balanced by the warm second half of 2013.
  • In January and February 2014 alone, I have recorded 344mm. Over a third of the annual rainfall in the first two months, so let's hope for a fine summer. March is better!

Recent updates:

This review of my Journal book in March 2014 also explains no dig succinctly: www.gardenista.com/posts/charles-dowdings-no-dig-garden-in-somerset-england

NEW FILMS on You Tube, see Charles Dowding channel and videos embedded under banner Videos, on sowing, planting, salads, hotbeds and dig/no dig experiments.

Coming Up has information on talks and other courses I am giving.  

This Month has tips for keeping up to date with harvesting, clearing and composting, and the latest from my garden at Homeacres.

Homeacres garden open June 8th 2-5pm, part of Alhampton open gardens.

Dig/No dig 2013 has final harvests to December 4th, totals are 81.82kg dug, 83.24kg undug. Also PHOTOS of preparation for 2014: one bed dug & compost dug in, the other surface-composted

Under Books you can find a recent one, out in February 2014 -  Charles Dowding's Veg Journal, month by month advice with many tips for a no dig approach. It is reviewed by Bunny Guinness in the Sunday Telegraph here 

And there is a page for my latest book on Gardening Myths and Misconceptions pub. March 2014.

Dates for day courses in 2014, see Courses. On Sunday April 27th I am giving a no dig day course at West Dean College nr. Chichester, see www.westdean.org.uk/CollegeChannel/ShortCourses/Courses/Courses.aspx


Friday May 16th 8pm, launch event for Gardening Myths at Topping & Company Booksellers, The Paragon, Bath BA1 5LS, 

Saturday May 24th 10am to noon, launch event for both the Journal and Myths At The Chapel, Bruton, Somerset with coffee and pastries

An interview for localeyez http://localeyez.co.uk/
Charles is appointed patron of Carymoor Environmental Centre www.carymoor.org.uk

See nurseryman Alan Down's impression of Homeacres in September 2013 at 

Naomi Schillinger's visit to Homeacres in August 2013  (one correction, she says 6" manure/compost on all beds, but there are different depths of 3-7" and many have no boards on their sides, which are temporary until paths are clean of weeds):



Charles at Homeacres November 2013 by Mary Jane Russell www.maryjanephotography.co.uk

my old garden at Lower Farm last year in June.... 

 same view 29.08.2012, more than half of this garden had different vegetables, after I cleared the spring and summer harvests, including from left garlic replaced by intersown beetroot, lettuce by oriental leaves, garlic and spinach by lettuce, pea shoots and peas by lettuce and endive, lettuce and broad beans by land cress and kale, cabbage and cauliflower by fennel and spinach.


TOP FIELD at Lower Farm:

In September 2011, including beds of summer leaf lettuce, and the same beds late November 2011 (for 2012 see below)

 Part of my growing consists of an experiment (photos below, June 2011) where vegetables are grown side by side on two pairs of dug and undug beds. Total yields are quite similar but an outstanding feature of the experiment has been the faster early-season growth of many vegetables in the undug beds, especially spinach and onions. It is as if the dug soil is recovering until midsummer. You can find more details under the banner 'dig/no dig experiment', where the latest harvests are entered.

May 2012: undug bed in front, dug behind.  October 2012 has undug bed on left, gaps in dug bed from slug damage

The EXPERIMENT dig, no dig (see banner) has yielded much information that helps in understanding more about soil and ways of treating it. Compost and manure on top of undisturbed soil gives brilliant results, as with the garlic below: and there are extremely few weeds, making it easy to re-sow and re-plant.

 garlic harvest June 2011; few weeds among the garlic, soil clean at harvest time makes re-planting  quick and simple

and this is the same bed in October: after the garlic harvest it was planted with kale, flower sprouts and dwarf french beans in early July, and oriental leaves in late August. No extra compost or manure.

"I visited Charles' garden some four years ago when he held his annual open day. It turned into a life changing afternoon out. The rotavator was sold and we have never dug since. Our vegetable patch now provides us with virtually all our vegetable needs, is totally organic and looks a picture too. Thank you Charles" - A comment on www.sawdays.co.uk/self catering/blog/no-dig-gardening 16th March 2012 

My first book, Organic Gardening the Natural, No Dig Way explains some fundamentals and has much information on vegetable growing that is often overlooked, especially with respect to soil fertility and weeds, drawn out of many seasons' successes and failures. 

The second edition (October 2010) has more detailed explanations of creating and maintaining a no dig vegetable plot. Also there are new photographs, some of them sequenced to tell stories of patches of ground that have been cleared with surface mulches, followed by the vegetables that grew there. 

There is now an all colour third edition, published in February 2013, with new photos and information.

Producing salad leaves for sale in this part of Somerset has also led me to a keen appreciation of the qualities of different salad plants and how to achieve the best and most continuous harvests. A second book Salad Leaves For All Seasons is one result of this process, with advice for harvests on every day of the year, and the best (different) seeds to sow in each season.

In April 2011 I won an award sponsored by Blackmore Vale media, the plate at a launch of my third book, How to Grow Winter Vegetables, released in April 2011, price £14.95 from Green Books, and currently on offer cheaper through Gardners World magazine of August 2012, where it is featured. Why bring out a book on winter growing in the spring? because that is time to sow and plant for having enough vegetables to harvest in the cold season. In my own garden I had parsnips, garlic, onions, celeriac and leeks all growing by the middle of May, brussels sprouts, flower sprouts and swedes planted in June, then kale and savoy cabbage in July and winter salads after that.

In the book I distil a lot of experience to highlight the absolute best moments for sowing and planting, sometimes at different times to those  recommended elsewhere, such as kale and swede in early June, chervil and coriander in August, and I explain in detail the precise timing for sowings of salads for winter, in September mostly. The book includes hungry gap vegetables too, such as spring cabbage and broad beans, which enliven an otherwise barren spring season, when harvests are often surprisingly meagre, however nice the weather may be.

 Overwintered cauliflower, 18/04/11

The book is all colour and beautifully laid out by Green Books' designers, allowing great explanations of many ideas, including no dig, which has its own chapter. The quality of soil is so, so important and I offer many tips on improving its potential, without the need for any cultivation. There are also great photos of 2010 snow and frost which came at a perfect time! 

  ready for winter, October 2010


And now, another book, published by Frances Lincoln in March 2012

This one concentrates on fundamentals, helping you to lay the foundations for sucessful gardening with less effort, after working hard to clean and enrich soil at the beginning.
The content is based on day courses I run, concentrating on soil, compost, sowing correctly and at the right time, salads and a top ten of vegetables. 
It has been receiving some rave reviews, see the Books banner.

photo Jane Sweetman

As well as writing and gardening, I give talks around the country (see Coming Up  and Courses) and run day courses here as listed under Courses. 

Aerial view!

 Sep 2012 from a friend's plane! shows bottom garden on left, top garden on right and orchard above

The gardens at Lower Farm comprised three distinct blocks. Firstly the old kitchen garden, about a quarter acre in size, had rich soil and cropped for 15 years, having been a goat paddock when I took it on. I was in a hurry to plant beans and garlic, so I dug it over and shaped up the beds in late 1997, the last time it was cultivated in any way. There was also a 14'x60' polytunnel, two hen runs and many apple trees trained along fences.

September 2011, old kitchen garden, second plantings                               and in September 2012

Secondly there was a triangular corner of the larger field above, which I took on from compacted wheat stubble in late 1999. The soil is clay and had been so squashed by tractors that it was airless and dead, and there were few weeds growing - docks and grasses mostly, which I removed before mulching with manure - and then in 2000 the vegetables barely grew in undug beds. However I persevered with simply putting compost and manure on top of the beds I had shaped up, and vegetables grew better every year. In 2001 they were acceptable, in 2002 they were good, and from then on harvests were excellent. Furthermore, drainage became faster than in the cultivated field above. In the bottom corner, where the soil was originally worst of all, was an 18'x30' polytunnel.

September 2011 Top Field, oriental leaves on left          and a different view of the top field in September 2012

Thirdly, in 2006 I took over another north facing, triangular patch at the bottom of the same field, which was considered too awkward for large machinery to cultivate. Apple trees were planted in January 2007, mostly eaters of many kinds, and I experimented with ways of mulching the weedy pasture between them to grow vegetables. From this I can pass on some useful tips about how to clear ground of grass, weeds and of perennials such as dandelion and couch grass, all without digging.

The initial action of mulching with thick layers of cardboard, compost and manure in the first year leads to a massive boost in long term fertility and results in remarkably little weed growth. Subsequent years see much less time and compost needed, while soil continues to improve under dressings of one to two inches compost or well rotted manure.

September 2011, espalier apples, vegetables from the top;  and September 2012 from the bottom

All the garden soil reached a state of fertile, full bodied liveliness and excellent drainage. Its annual maintenance consisted of regular but minor weeding, to keep it clean at all times, cutting the grass edges and an annual spreading of one to two inches (3-5cm) well rotted compost and manure, preferably but not always in the autumn, and on all beds. Those for spring sowings of small seeds such as carrot and parsnip receive the finest compost.