Courses

Learn about growing all kinds of vegetables and many fruits too, productively, healthily and with less effort. You can request your own course too, see below. 

DAY COURSES 2014-15

10.30am to 4pm, £95 includes all refreshments and Steph's amazing lunch

You learn about using compost  and mulches of many kinds to clear ground and grow food without digging the soil. I show how this worked in my garden at Homeacres, near Castle Cary, Somerset, which in December 2012 was a half acre of weedy grass and pasture. By May 2013 I was selling vegetables from the new beds. Now the couch grass has given up and beds are producing well, with few new weeds. All the clues to achieve this are there to see when you come on a course.

Gardeners of all abilities come on these courses and enjoy them. Because I explain the basic principles, you can quicky see how to create a productive garden, even when a beginner. And how to be on top of weeds, including couch and bindweed. Experienced gardeners can learn many time-saving methods and see ways to increase the growth and health of their plants.

Days include a look at growth in polytunnel and greenhouse, plant raising including on a hotbed in the greenhouse, and special tips on growing salad leaves. 

We start at 10.30am (arrive a little before for tea and coffee) and finish around 4pm, and the day includes a culinary celebration (lunch), made from vegetables both stored and growing, with Steph creating a colourful range of dishes, also with delicious spelt and rye sourdoughbread made from freshly milled flour. 

Paypal is available by clicking on the dates at top right of this page.

Numbers are ten people for each course, so plenty of chances to ask questions.

See below for other courses.

2014
Wednesday February 26th  Full
Sunday March 2nd  Full
Wednesday March 12th  Full

Saturday March 22nd  Full
Wednesday March 26th Full
Saturday April 5th  Full
Sunday April 6th  Full

Saturday April 19th Full
Saturday May 17th Full

Weds June 4th Full 
Weds June 11th, Full
Saturday July 12th Full
Saturday July 26th, 2 places
Saturday 2nd August Full
Saturday 6th September Full
Wednesday 17th September Full
Saturday 27th September Full
Weds 8th October Full

Saturday 8th November Full

2015

Saturday 28th February
Wednesday 11th March
Sunday 15th March
Wednesdy 18th March 9 places
Saturday 21st March 9 places 

Such good food, everyone is paying close attention         A look at propagation, Sept 14
Lunch in the conservatory in June 2014 - all the dishes were just so tasty, including a broad bean hummus - and learning about propagation, September 2014

Much of the day course is outside in fine, warm weather. Also indoors and in the greenhouse and polytunnel, 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
  • a look at all the growth and experiments happening at Homeacres
  • 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

                                                          
Steph's salads on April 6th, including a pesto of wild garlic, roasted kale and squash, raw parsnip and mint. All course lunches are a feast of seasonal vegetables, often a soup too, and Charles' sourdough bread from fresh-milled flour, rye and spelt mostly, some oats.

From Paul Spargo who came on July 12th 2014:

Thank you for a fantastic day on Saturday - a really fruitful (should I say vegeta-ful) day. There were so many useful tips about composting, seed sowing and growing vegetables in beds and in polytunnels or greenhouses. I learnt more in a few hours than I have in a decade or more.  
Thanks also to Steph for a superb lunch.

 

 

  
Out in the garden, October course, after feasting on Steph's apple cake, by www.maryjanephtography.co.uk. 

 

     
June 4th: the Briscoes came on a course in February 2013, made beds and sowed, and are thrilled with the harvests

 

COURSES BY REQUEST

Group of hen party ladies in July

YOU CAN CREATE  your own course day at Homeacres for any number up to eight people, for £480/day, with a similar format of 10.30am to 4pm and all refreshments provided. Send me an email to enquiries@charlesdowding.co.uk and we can discuss your wishes. Also I run courses at other venues, such as West Dean College.

A course I ran at West Dean College, Chichester in April 2014

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VEGETABLE GROWING COURSE Mentoring  

This may be just a two-day course in 2015, to be confirmed


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 WEEKEND COURSES ON NO DIG MARKET GARDENING


Saturday 22nd, Sunday 23rd February  

Full

Saturday 29th, Sunday 30th March 

Full

Saturday 10th, Sunday 11th May

full

Saturday 23rd, Sunday 24th August
Full

Saturday 15th, Sunday 16th November

Full

 

A response from the first weekend in November 2013, from Anna Greenland, vegetable gardener at Le Manoir in Oxfordshire @annagreenland 

 

I loved meeting you all and  hearing what everyone is doing - as Dan said, growing can be such a hard old slog at times and it's good to know we are all in the same boat, pondering the same questions.

Charles and Steph - thank you for your wonderful hospitality, welcoming us into your home. I haven't eaten so well in a while and feel like I've been on a detox, healing weekend as well as a gardening course!!
Charles - if only all horticulture teachers were as wise, interesting and god damn cool as you, we'd have a whole generation of eager growers raring to go! 
 
and from Martin Obst after the August 2014 course, he is working with Tony Lowth on a new city garden in central Dublin:
Thanks again for all your wisdom and hospitality. I am applying all the new knowledge and keep enjoying tasty produce. Looks like nice a month ahead, so i need to get all those seeds growing... I am focused now to fill up the beds for winter and keep on top of the slugs.
 

Charles takes you through:

  • Day one, Costs and benefits of creating an undug growing space 10am-5pm

 

1 Setting up an area for market growing: how big, how quickly, mulching inputs. How to describe your growing to the public.

 

2 Maintaining productive soil without cultivation, key to healthier growth with less weeds and better returns.

 

3 Time needed proportionate to costs and returns for different vegetables, depending on local market.

 

4 Tips for selling.

 

 

 

  • Day two, Details for good growing 9am-3.15pm

 

1 Weeding, often the Achilles heel of soil cultivators. No dig, no weeds - the details

 

2 Propagation - composts, seed inc. seed saving, trays, sow or prick out, watering, hardening off or not. Heating a propagating space, a look at hotbeds.

 

3 Finer points of both growing and picking salad leaves, currently the only profitable crop for smaller growers

 

4 Growing in tunnels and undercover, including use of fleece and pest-protection covers.

 


Background to this course

Charles started commercial growing in 1982 on an acre and a half of Cotswold brash soil. Pasture was tractor-rotovated than shaped into beds and undug thereafter. By 1987 he was cropping seven acres with four apprentices in season. He became well know for abundant harvests and few weeds.

From 1992 in southwest France he ran a half acre, undug garden on white clay for five years, supplying the local market.

Back in Somerset he established another garden on clay soil, mulched and undug, supplying salad and vegetables to local shops and restaurants from 2003, off an acre of undug beds, with output close to £30,000 in 2011 and 2012.

In 2013 he created a new and smaller ⅓ acre garden on weedy pasture, of clay soil again but with more loam on top, for salad and a few vegetable boxes, with many experiments and trials in the garden too, comparing dig/ no dig and compost/ no compost, among other things.

He runs day courses and monthly mentoring courses at this garden, and courses at other locations too.

 

 No dig

Benefits for growers are less weeds, access to ground in all weathers, better moisture retention and healthier plants.

Using the market/experimenting garden at Homeacres, and slides of my previous gardens.

 

1 Clearing weeds initially, using many examples from Homeacres:

Polythene

Cardboard

Compost/manure

The setting up stage may include cultivations: each site and situation is different, and today is a chance for each person to contribute from their own experience, and seek advice. The first year can be difficult if you are used to cultivating soil.

 

2 Once soil is clean, best results are from an annual one to two inch (3-5cm) surface layer of compost to give higher output from a smaller area.

  • Consider the use of mypex and other mulches to plant through
  • How to maintain pathways, edges too, with a look at sides for beds

 

Composts A look at their different qualities, they may be anything from 

Green waste (municipal), with food waste or not

Mushroom compost

Your own compost

Year old or older animal manure

 

Water and watering as many questions as answers, a few fundamentals:

How much is needed?

How to capture and store it?

How to apply it?

 


Details

Two days, from 10am to 5pm Saturday, and 9am to 3.15 pm Sunday. 

Accommodation on Saturday night can be at Homeacres in your own sleeping bag for free, or you could book into a local b&b. See recommendations below.

Food and refreshments are included, and kitchen facilities for Sunday breakfast: lunch is soup, bread and salads 

Cost is £190.

 

FROM THE FIRST MARKET GARDEN COURSE IN NOVEMBER

  

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FOR PROGRESS AT HOMEACRES - PHOTOS BELOW ARE UP TO JANUARY 2014 - see This Month for later pics

POLYTUNNEL

                
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  -  and by late May, everything is growing well inc tomatoes stringed

 
By August the tunnel was groaning with tomatoes, melons, basil etc and then, straight after pulling them out, I planted salad for winter which is photographed just before a big pick for Christmas 2013. These plants are still producing now (Jan. 2014) and carry on giving leaves until early May.

HOTBED

               
A hotbed made in January and sown on January 21st 2013, with snow on the ground, then covered with a polythene light

                
by late March, seedlings are well established and some radish ready, then plenty to harvest by 10th May

EXPERIMENTS

               
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....

  
and how it looks on 30th May, same salads on left, garlic on right - and the final picture is November 2013, one year on, with garlic planted after beans on left, autumn salads in the middle bed and kale after garlic on right.

Some of the many responses to my course days:

From Phil Roberts June 2014: "Thanks so much for today Charles. My mother really enjoyed the day and how you presented it to us all. We all got something really useful and positive from the day, and the food was wonderful."

From Peter Lowman November 2013: "Thanks for an amazing and inspirational day yesterday. And a great lunch – I look forward to the cook book coming out.

I was a firm believer that the ground needed digging at least twice a year and I was very sceptical. I came for a nice day out with Val. I’m pleased to say you have a convert and thanks for saving me all the time I would have spent digging. Your approach, based on your research and experimentation, is totally validated. I look forward to better crops and more time spent doing other things. We just need to find a good supply of compost as I don’t think we will be able to produce enough ourselves."

From Pat Johnson, November 2013
"The day course with Charles reinforced and expanded on what I’d already learnt from his book - inspiring and enjoyable. Highly recommended."    (See Pat's other comments at bottom of No Dig banner)

Here is Naomi Schillinger's blog post after attending a course, and some interesting comments!
http://outofmyshed.co.uk/2012/04/01/no-dig-with-charles-dowding/

"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

 

March 2013
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.”
Patrick Whitefield

"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!”
              Julia Sawhala

"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.
       Thanks again
Debbie”

“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!”
Laura Cowan

"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.”
Phil Howarth

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

Kate and Geoff Webber, The Barn, Ditcheat BA4 6RB, 1mile

www.thebarnb&b.co.uk  

 

Longhill Farm, Ditcheat, 1 mile

www.longhillfarm.co.uk

 

Sue and Nigel Begg,  Ansford, Castle Cary BA77JJ 2 miles

www.ansfordparkcottage.co.uk

 

Lark Hill, Hadspen, nr Castle Cary BA7 7LX,  2 miles, £80 per double
www.lark-hill.co.uk

 

Oak House, Bruton, 5 miles, trains from north and south: Denise and Martin Bottrill 

denise@oakhousesomerset.co.uk

 

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 self catering in the barn, 6 miles

www.lowerfarm.org.uk 

 

The Pilgrims Rest, Lovington, 5 miles, Jules and Sally

www.thepilgrimsatlovington.co.uk

 

Chris & Prue Banbury, Cadbury Cottage, South Cadbury, Somerset BA22 7EZ, 7 miles

www.cadburycottage.co.uk

 

Roses farm, Wraxall, 7 miles

www.rosesfarm.com

 

The Pines b&b in Cole near Bruton, Willie and Jean Constantine, 7 miles

www.thepinesbruton.co.uk.

 

Manor House Inn, Ditcheat, 1 mile

www.manorhouseinn.co.uk