Organic Gardening – the natural no dig way.
I’m always saying that composting is the most important thing that all of us can do; full stop – or period - as they say in the States. Charles’s book really underlines why. He is a no dig gardener like me, and the only problem with being a no dig grower is getting your hands on enough material, especially in the first stages of setting up a no dig system. In fact it was largely this great lust for compost that drove me to investigate setting up a community composting project in the first place.
Like all proper organic gardeners and growers Charles has a deep understanding of soils. If you can try and understand soils and treat them with respect then everything else in gardening flows from that understanding.
Charles recommends spreading 50mm a year on top of your beds – I think this is about two inches in old money. The great thing about just mulching on the surface is that you do not have to worry about nitrogen robbery, which is endlessly and pointlessly discussed by the diggers on Gardeners Question time, this is because the materials are only very gradually incorporated into the soil by worms.
So Chapter one of ‘Organic Gardening’ is ‘the art of not digging’ and Charles asks what are digging and rotovating supposed to do?
• Loosen the soil – so that roots can more easily travel through
• Incorporate composts and manures
• Remove/bury weeds to clean the soil
• Create a tilth for sowing
Well if your soil is really so hard that plant roots cannot penetrate then something is deeply wrong with your soil. It’s very common in new build gardens where the soil is compacted and there is all kinds of builders rubble left and sometimes the top soil has been removed. The remedy is – lots of organic matter; so if you provide that for your soil, then the worms will be happy and they will aerate the soil for you and do all your digging – naturally.
Worms of course also incorporate material and Charles refers to another famous Charles (Darwin) and the only book of Darwin’s that I possess ‘The formation of vegetable mould through the action of worms with observations on their habits’ 1882 (snappy title eh! – unfortunately my copy is dated 1883 so I missed out on the first edition) Darwin spent far more time studying worms than he did working on natural selection and he thought that his book on worms would be far more significant – wise man! So in a nutshell – look after your soil and you will have happy worms which will in turn look after your soil.
Ah but what about those weeds! The answer as Charles tells us is – Don’t let them grow in the first place. The mantra when I was a student at Henry Doubleday’s Research Association – (now Garden Organic) was ‘Hoe Hoe Hoe!’ It’s simple – no plants growing means no plants seeding and the maxim one year’s seeding is seven years weeding was never truer. Winter weeding is crucial. The groundsel is just about to flower on my allotment – I must get on top of it now! As Charles says a stitch in time saves 99. Of course applying compost as a mulch means that hoeing is dead easy – your hoe will go through like knife in soft butter and if your compost wasn’t hot enough to kill the weeds then the regular hoeing will sort them out.
And that brings us to the final point – tilth. Digging and rotovating to provide a tilth also compacts the soil and knock a lot of air out – whereas no diggers can just get straight on their soil and sow – no problem. Charles Dowding has also written a great book on salad production a must have for all keen gardeners – buy them both and look at the website