No dig gardening

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Charles Dowding

We were incredibly fortunate to be given tickets to go and see Charles Dowding give a talk in Corsley Reading Room about the work he is doing at his Somerset home on ‘no dig gardening’. It was a really interesting talk on a subject we have been researching and experimenting with and naturally we took the opportunity to ask him some questions (see interview below).

What is no dig gardening?

In his book ‘No Dig Organic Home and Garden’, Charles Dowding describes it as “growing healthy plants whilst saving time”.

It has its origins back in 1938 with the ‘Do nothing farming’ philosophy of Masanobu Fukuoka and British pioneers in addition to Charles Dowding, include F.C. King and A. Guest.

No dig is exactly as it says. No digging, so that the soil is undisturbed and weeds don’t feel the need to fight back, recover and compete with your harvest for water and nutrients. By mulching, reducing light and increasing temperature through a combination of compost, cardboard / carpet / weed supressing membrane and time even the hardiest of weeds will die off. The organisms in your soil can get on with making growth happen without having been disturbed and the soil will retain water better if undisturbed.

Who is Charles Dowding?

Well firstly and most importantly, he is a Somerset based gardener. He has 35 years growing experience in countless gardens with a variety of soils, climates and techniques. He has written nine books and has a YouTube channel:

He also runs courses at his home, Homeacres, if you would like to learn more. Check his website for information on courses and to buy his books.

Interview with Charles Dowding

Who inspired you to begin no dig?

I came across a book by an American gardener in the 1950s called Ruth Stout who wrote a book called ‘The No Work Garden’. I made an acre and a half of beds in 1982 and didn’t want to rotovate it. I don’t get why no dig hasn’t taken on more than it has as it saves time and you get a lot less weeds.

What should you do if your weeds are waist high e.g. a neglected allotment?

I would cut them down with a scythe or a strimmer and then cardboard on the top. You could try putting cardboard down on them but the mechanics of it would be very difficult.

If you keep on adding compost to your soil would you not just end up with very deep mound?

No, because compost is always being eaten. You know, it is light and fluffy, its eaten and excreted in much more dense form, it just doesn’t, you get a slight rise. If you put none on at all over time your garden would sink.

Why don’t you use wooden edges or wooden raised beds?

As the wood decays, you get crevices in the rotting wood. Slugs can hide during the day and it becomes a habitat. My garden is a slug free zone and I am keeping it like that. I know what they can do!

 You mentioned that watering can be done at any time of the day, this goes against a lot of advice, what is your experience?

In 2009 a study was done in hotter sun than here in Somerset and they did not find any sun damage on the plants. However I have had people on YouTube in Texas, saying that they get it a bit.

What is the best way to stop slugs and snails?

By giving them nowhere to live and growing strong healthy plants. What is the slug’s role in nature? They are tidy uppers; they eat the decaying material. If you take away the decaying material then they have nothing to eat.

On Gardener’s World recently they were discussing removing pests from Hostas and recommended garlic spray. Is that a good way to get rid them?

It’s another job; how much time have you got? If you can stop them before it happens then that’s better but I have heard its effective. Don’t make it too strong though as some people have singed their plants.

Do you put your weeds in compost as obviously the seeds often remain?

They’re easy to deal with in the soil and I want the fertility. Just hoe them, it doesn’t take long. In late February, stay involved in the winter and get ahead, hoe or rake through the compost and the weed seeds will die. Roots and bindweed should also die in your compost.

What is the best mulch to use on your beds?

Depends on what you are growing but for most vegetables which are slug sensitive, use compost.

Do you have any advice for gravel paths that are covered in weeds?

I don’t know; get rid of the gravel!

And just quickly, what is your favourite type of plum?

Did you say plum (laughs, I do like Greengages!)

(Disclaimer: our head gardener may have been showing him her card at this point!)

Words: Jennie Eastick, amateur gardener and admin for Greengage