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Courses and talks
Learn about growing all kinds of vegetables and many fruits too, productively, healthily and with less effort
Homeacres in October 2012 after pasture was flail mown, then by April 2013.... a lot is happening, after a wet, cold winter
Come and learn from the creation of a new garden at Homeacres, near Castle Cary, Somerset, on a half acre of weedy grass and pasture. Also I give plenty of advice from my previous gardens, with illustrated talks to show what you can grow.
In the young garden of Homeacres, one can see many of the processes involved in creating clean soil for growing. Days start at 10.30am (arrive a little before for tea and coffee) and finish around 4pm, and the price is still £75 (rising in 2014), including all refreshments and a lunch based on vegetables both stored and growing, with delicious spelt bread made from freshly milled flour.
Numbers are limited to eight people for each course - see also the details for my new mentoring course below.
DATES FOR DAY COURSES
So far in 2013 there have been thirteen sold-out courses.
- Saturday 25th May FULL
- Sunday 30th June 6 places left
- Wednesday 3rd July, day course on soil at www.schumachercollege.org.uk, Dartington, Devon
- Weds 10th July 5 places left
- Saturday 20th July, day course on no dig growing at www.windmillhillcityfarm.org.uk, Bristol
- Saturday 27th July 8 places left
- Weds 14th August 8 places left
- OPEN DAY Sunday 1st September
- Weds 11th September 8 places left
- Saturday 28th September 7 places left
AND BELOW I outline a new, season long, monthly course for regular mentoring with Charles!
With newly planted salads -yes you can walk on undug beds! In the new greenhouse at Homeacres
Most of the DAY course and lunch are outside in (any) fine, warm weather. Otherwise indoors and in polytunnel or greenhouse, and with a wide ranging slide show. Ground covered includes:
- STARTING, clearing grass and weeds in different ways - mulching rather than digging
- THEN tips onkeeping soil clean of weeds - a prerequisite to having time for creative work
- different composts/manures, when and how to use them for best results
- different ways of MAKING COMPOST, what ingredients work best
- SOWING and propagation - directly in modules or pricked out (greenhouse), or into undug soil
- seasonality and timing of sowings for strong, healthy growth, reading between the lines of seed packets
- influences of the moon, biodynamic preparations, copper tools
- uses of fleece and mesh to speed growth and protect from pests
- understanding slugs and other pests, how to lessen them
- best ways to PICK crops and at what stage, especially salads, for healthier leaves off long lived plants
- advice on polytunnels - size to use, orientation, what to grow in them
- advice on fruit, especially apples
NEW FROM MAY 2013
CHARLES DOWDING’S VEGETABLE GROWING COURSE
A chance to learn more, see more and taste more with a highly experienced and successful grower, to meet other keen gardeners and see a season’s progress at Homeacres.
This course runs for seven months in 2013, with timely perspectives and advice for each month.
I want this course to liberate your understandings of how to garden and give you confidence to:
- adopt gardening principles based on practice and experience of what works best in different situations
- question horticultural beliefs (dig/no dig, compost for carrots, water in sunlight etc)
- try a few things yourself at Homeacres
- enjoy applying what you learn on your own plot and discuss it with me and others
Course days from 11-3.30pm
- Charles introduces the day
- the season to date, we look at growth in all Homeacre’s many different beds, nearly all with different mulches and plantings, great for learning
- Steph’s lunch of salads, seasonal vegetable and pulse dishes, and Charles’ bread
- hands on with Charles - current priorities in growing - what to weed and how, picking, clearing, sowing, planting both outdoors and undercover
- monthly topic
- sum up and look ahead to next month
Between each month’s session, the opportunity to swap group emails.
This year 2013, mostly monthly from May to November.
On a Wednesday; £360 for six course days, now fully booked
In the summer I shall publish details of another mentoring course.
Dates May 15th, June 26th, July 24th, September 4th, October 2nd, November 6th
A topic for each month:
Ways with weeds, mulching materials and methods, timings, also clearing new seedlings with quick hoeing/scuffling
Propagation, mostly under cover: composts to use, modules and trays, sowing tips, pricking out, potting on, watering,
Clearing beds after harvest, assessing soil fertility for next plantings. Tips for tomatoes and tunnel veg
Salads for winter: this is the month to sow, tips on varieties, having soil ready or filling boxes for plantings, spacing, picking
Perennial veg and fruit: varieties, rootstocks for eventual size, spacing, soil care for least weeding, cropping between fruit
Preparing soil for spring: starting weed free now, composts to spread, how thick and how lumpy or not
Further possible topics in 2014: making compost, planting plans, successional sowing, understanding and coping with pests, what is soil fertility and how to maintain it, seed orders, keeping records
After the last course in November, Charles writes a recommendation/certificate of each participant’s understanding of growing vegetables and fruit.
FOR PROGRESS AT HOMEACRES - PHOTOS BELOW ARE UP TO EARLY APRIL
Polytunnel just erected and a week later I had some beds ready after putting soil, cardboard, manure on top of the grass
then in early April I spread two more inches of old compost
A hotbed made in January and sown on January 21st, with snow on the ground, then covered with a polythene light
by late March, seedlings are well established and some radish ready
Many experimental beds, of compost or soil, dug or undug, with sides and without. On right is an experiment comparing mulched with dug, no compost for either
Starting in November, I cleared a weedy chicken run (see This Month Dec 12) and sowed/planted straightaway, by January on right there are beans and garlic poking through, salads surviving the winter....
Some of the many responses to my course days:
Here is Naomi Schillinger's blog post after attending a course, and some interesting comments!
"Thanks for the course on 14th March. It consolidated what I picked up from "Winter Vegetables" (which is written in such an inspiring, practical personal style it is a good substitute for actually being with you). But seeing is believing! Especially the no-dig techniques: when and how to spread the compost/manure, the weeding, the seed sowing and planting of potatoes and seedlings (though we never went back to the dibber-holes!). And it was good to see and taste the different salads and see distances, watering and how the picking works, also the tips about varieties." Jillian Creasy, Sheffield
from Hildegard Edwards:
"Thank you so much for a most enlightening day at Homeacres. It was so interesting to receive the information and tips you offered. The delicious lunch that Steph produced was just scrumptious, in all we were all made very welcome and benefited hugely from the experience. I can't wait to put this all into action.
and from Sue Toomer:
I enjoyed the day so much.
Very informative and inspiring as well as reassuring, and what an interesting mix of people! Thank you also for the delicious lunch.
"I attended one of your courses just over a year ago in the snow! Inspired, I have not looked back." Pat Cottam, N. Devon
Charles - a big thank you for such an inspiring day. I came away feeling able to think of my garden as a friend to be nurtured rather than a problem to be solved. Sue Kent, Wiltshire
"I want to say a big thank you to you both for the course on Wednesday I really enjoyed it. Charles— I was amazed by your knowledge and experience and your willingness to share it with us--- I left feeling I had had a veg and salad growing life changing moment. This really is something that should be taught to everyone ,working with natural cycles rather than disturbing them it just makes complete sense." Steve Parry, Swansea
"We have been trying your salad picking method and it has been a raving success. We have lollo rosso and oak leaf lettuces on the go along with various mustards, rockets etc., and have been picking for the last 8 weeks or so in the polytunnel. Despite feeding 8 + people twice weekly and contributing to countless events on the garden, the lettuces hardly look as if they have been touched. The only casualties have been those picked by volunteers stuck into the old ways of doing things. (I’m sure they were enjoyed just as much though)" Jenny Howell, Cardiff Riverside Market, Outreach Project
Impact on my gardening by Lindsay Williams
More seed tray growing with mixed varieties, and pricking out . More focus on spreading compost considering the lack of worm life in the garden soil. Definitely more focus on compost management in my small area. I have always known this was central and my garden design reflects this and it is great to have my enthusiasm for this reinvigorated. I do also want to find a source of cow/horse manure and a source of straw. I was educated about the benefits of turning one compost heap into the other bin, once in the heaps lifetime. Then I definitely need more focus on the routine of planting early, in March and April, and planting again (a second time) in July and August.
“Thanks very much and I feel very inspired. Your system is the most comprehensive development of a no-till principle for British conditions that I know of.”
"I enjoyed the course on Saturday so much. Coming to Lower Farm and seeing your garden in all its abundance and beauty was a pleasure in itself. Seeing and hearing about the way you grow really helped me assimilate what I’d read and inspired me enormously." Ann Askwith
“I found the whole day utterly inspiring and the lunch was delicious!”
"I just wanted to say a big thank you for the excellent course two weeks ago. It was all that I was hoping it would be. As an ecologist, your approach is so respectful and in-tune with nature and so obviously works - your garden is beautiful and inspiring (and I love the ridge and furrow look!). Even more excited about my allotment now!" Tessa Knight, Bristol
“Thank you so much for such a fascinating day on October 4th. Martin, Sharon and myself came back totally inspired. Just amazed at the amount of production from so little energy input and such an efficient use of space and of everything produced. In a world of ever increasing pressure on land resources this has to offer an alternative.”
Martyn Bragg at Shillingford, Exeter
"I just wanted to say thank you for the course on the 1st of October it was a revelation to see such a variety of produce, which looked so healthy on a relatively small site. It was inspirational and has made me rethink the way I am working my own garden.
You might be interested to know that an organic veg garden I visit regularly which has terrible weed problems is rotavated every year.
“Just a quick note to say thank you for Wednesday and how much I enjoyed the day. It was so relaxed and easy going and incredibly informative. I think your style is great and we all could all learn from both the gardening approach and the general 'way to live' approach. It was a very nice group of people, but again largely helped by your style – and lunch was delicious!”
"We had a lovely and inspiring day, and the lunch too, please thank Susie - maybe you set us too high goals that we cannot reach?"
from Penelope Hobhouse
"I would like to book my dad on your next course...we really enjoyed the day and I know he will too."
from Ludovic Blackburn
"Charles I just wanted to write and thank you for the excellent day at Lower Farm. Your holistic and respectful approach rang very true and although a relative newcomer to growing veg I actually found this an advantage as your revolutionary techniques made complete sense."
from Angus Hill
“Charles I came down to your course in early November of last year. You may possibly remember - I was the one who motored down from Scotland and drove back immediately it was over.
The day proved to be invaluable and we have made enormous strides over the last 12 months to the extent that a lot of people are saying a lot of positive things about the range and quality of the salad leaves - so much so that it is our intention to begin selling locally next spring/early summer.”
from Duncan Hector, 10.4.2010: "Just so that you know what happened to my winter salads which I potted in the greenhouse according to your book - they have continued to produce all through the winter. When it was minus 6 degrees I did move them onto a heat mat for a week or two but otherwise no heat. I have cropped weekly (enough for two with plenty to spare) since the first week of November and this is now the 6th month of cropping and the quantity is getting ridiculous. The mustards, chard and endives have gone completely mad and I am still picking from flowering Pak Choi and Rocket plants."
from John Kennet, 11.04.2010: "It's been a year now since Becky and I came on your course, and I,thought I'd just let you know that things are still going well in the garden. Since my last update in the summer I have built a succession of compost bins, and bought a poly cloche/tent so I could overwinter a few things and get going earlier this year. Apart from that, all I have bought is more compost and seeds. The beds that I cleared last spring have remained weed free, despite mostly being left empty over the winter. More proof (as if you need it) that not digging is the best way of gardening. We continued to have lots of salad well into the autumn, and a good crop of mizuna survived the winter under cover providing a reasonable picking on boxing day and lots of early salads in February and March. The Kale eventually outgrew the slugs and the last few stalks have just gone to the chickens, much to their delight. This year's first sowing of salad has been transplanted into the raised bed under cover, and the second is just starting in the potting shed. I've got tomatoes, cucumbers and peas starting off too - with more planned over the next few months. Charlotte potatoes have been chitting for the last few weeks and I planted them out today. It has been fantastic watching the garden come to life over the last few weeks, and I'm looking forward to a full year of produce. Thanks again for showing me how easy it can be."
visit of farm apprentices in September 2011
Accommodation near Homeacres, Alhampton, Somerset BA4 6PZ
Manor House Inn, Ditcheat, 1 mile
Longhill Farm, Ditcheat, 1 mile
Clanville manor, Sally’s large farmhouse and self catering cottages, 2 miles
Oak House, Bruton, 5 miles, trains from north and south: Denise and Martin Bottrill
At the Chapel, Bruton High St, restaurant with (smart, new) rooms £100-150, good bakery and restaurant too
www.atthechapel.co.uk 01749 814070
Lower Farm, Shepton Montague for Susie’s self catering in the lovely barn, 6 miles
The Pilgrims Rest, Lovington, 5 miles, Jules and Sally
Roses farm, Wraxall, 7 miles
I give talks throughout the year, mostly in winter, the cost is around £125 within 30 miles, more for long distances, + travel expenses.
Also I give tours of the garden, using plants, soil and compost to explain better ways to grow vegetables
See the COMING UP banner for future talks and teaching.
Responses to my talks and visits:
from Christine Haines of St Briavels Garden Society, March 2013
Thanks so much for your talk last night. Your reputation drew the biggest audience we've had in a long time and everyone went away inspired! There will be much mulching in the Wye Valley in 2013, as we all hold those pictures of immaculate borders in our heads!
Your generosity and honesty in sharing your knowledge and expertise and your continuing desire to experiment and learn make you a great teacher - and a gardening hero!
from Eve Lloyd of Hardington Mandeville Garden Club, Somerset, 24th October 2012
I have had phone calls and emails this morning saying what a brilliant evening you gave us last night; everyone enjoyed it and many of us stayed chatting over late coffee in the Village Hall after you had left. You have certainly inspired us to look at our vegetable growing in a different way and, from the quality of the produce you brought, your way of doing it speaks for itself.
from Kathy Chiffers, Compton Dundon & Littleton Garden Club, 23rd August 2012
"Four of us came to your open day on Sunday and were amazed at the produce, especially in a year when we have all struggled with the weather. We are very much looking forward to hearing you speak and have lots of questions."
from Alex Nash, Widcombe Association Garden Club, Bath, 28 March 2012
"Thank you so much for your fantastic talk on Monday night. It was brilliant, so informative and inspiring. Many people have told me how much they enjoyed it and how much they learned."
from Charlotte Brooks at Nether Stowey Gardeners, 17th March 2012:
"Thank you so much for coming to speak to us about No Dig Gardening on Thursday. It was a brilliant talk with lovely illustrations, which everybody thoroughly enjoyed -even the non veg growers. The thought of saving hours of back breaking digging has galvanised me into action and we are today going to get a trailer load of horse manure to put on the garden! It was also very generous of you to provide one of your books for the raffle. Lucky person who won it! It was a very good evening and, for us, an almost record attendance."
"Charles, Thank you for the inspiring tour today and your patient answering of questions. I know the group were inspired to see everything you showed us, and very pleased with their book purchases. Those who, in the end, couldn't make it will be sorry to have missed out. Please also thank your cat for his support of the tour." Jane Sweetman, Community Food Group, Somerton, February 2012
"It was a brilliant lecture and I can see that it will take on in the village as well as in our school project." Ann Bethell, Mucky Pups at Nunney, November 2011
"I would just like to thank you on behalf of the club for your talk on Tuesday. It was a tremendous success with many favourable comments from our members. We also had several visitors coming especially to hear you." Ann Brooks, University of Bath Gardening Club April 2010
"The gardeners among us were fascinated by what you said and by your photographs, and much enjoyed your wisdom and advice. It was striking how many people were talking about it afterwards." Lord Wilson of Dinton, Master Emmanuel College Cambridge, November 2010
"Thankyou most sincerely for such an informative and interesting presentation, the members would like you to speak again."
from Liz Lockwood, The Donheads Gardening Club, November 2006
"My thanks to you for giving us such an interesting talk last night, it ended our season a really high note."
from Peter Firmlin, Drayton Probus Group, May 2007
"It is a great pleasure to write to thank you for such an inspirational talk last night. Judging by the questions you were asked and in conversation with folk afterwards, many are keen to try out your recommended methods of vegetable growing."
from Eliaine Northam, Henton Gardening Club, January 2008
"Your talk was very interesting and most enlightening, and the slides of your produce were wonderful, we are all returning to our gardens with renewed enthusiasm."
from Daphne Jones, Duncliffe Garden Club, January 2009
"You sent us all away full of enthusiasm and several members spent the following weekend building raised beds, ready to plant out and using your excellent books as reference."
from Jane Evans, East Pennard Gardening Group, February 2009
"Thank you very very much for coming to speak at EAT DORSET last weekend. Your talk was very much appreciated and we had some really enthusiastic feedback from people who had listened to you." Annette Smallwood October 2009
"It was a great talk which you gave us here in Bristol on December 1st. We all enjoyed it and the lovely photos also...I'm so glad we had a good turnout so that we could share your expertise with other people." June McDermott 2009
Finally....a recently received recommendation from Richard Webber of Cambridge:
"I bought your "Salad Leaves for all seasons" book. While I don't claim to have read it all, nor followed everything you say (through laziness and lack of time not disagreement), we have had the most consistent supply of salad leaves this year. Far better than many previous years of glut and famine. And all this is down to the simple avenue of just picking the outer leaves as needed."