I have fading memories from years back of working on a small organic farm in the beautiful Brecon Beacons. I remember the stunning landscape, waterfalls, swimming in the nearby River Wye and the beautiful, thriving vegetable gardens which surrounded me whilst I worked. I say ‘surrounded me’ because I wasn’t permitted to work directly with the vegetables. Instead I was put to work on a quarter-acre plot choked with couch grass and my job was to remove the gnarly weeds by hand. My manager often reminded me that leaving behind a mere sliver of root would cause the infernal weeds to rise up once more and overwhelm the plot. So my days were spent on hands and knees dragging out lengths of the creeping, tough white roots through impenetrable soil. When I closed my eyes to sleep I was haunted by visions of field upon field of those hardy, white roots rising up and waving at me mockingly.
Imagine my surprise then when I attended Charles Dowding’s inspirational talk in Newton Dee last February and heard this veteran gardener extolling the virtues of a NO digging technique that clears weeds and increases soil fertility. After 35 years’ experience of using no-dig organic gardening to grow flowers, fruit and vegetables, Charles is considered by some to be the Guru of no-dig growing.
During his talk, he explained that whenever soil is dug or turned over, it recovers from the disruption by increasing weed growth as cover. Conversely, when the soil is left uncultivated, it has less need to recover and weed growth is far less. Instead of digging out weeds, Charles recommends clearing them by using a thick mulch of organic matter such as compost and/or straw. This not only smothers existing weeds and deprives them of light – thus clearing them naturally – but it also provides life and vitality to the soil. Seeds and seedlings can then be sown and planted directly into the mulch straight away without waiting for the weeds to die away.
Charles assured the audience that this method not only saves time and labour but has shown to increase yields, be more ecologically beneficial and encourage a far healthier soil biology. For any of us who found this too good to be true, Charles’ photographs proved an awesome testament to his theory, demonstrating the transformation of his own rather unpromising tract of land into a beautiful, fertile market garden.
Amongst other things, Charles’ talk inspired a whole debate in my mind about how we treat the earth during our time as her custodians and the practices we imbibe and perpetuate without questioning. It led me to look up my old workplace to see how the hand-weeded plot was doing and whether the single strand of root I may have missed had by now taken over the whole farm. I was amazed and reassured to read that the farm now practiced no-dig organic gardening and the gardens were thriving. It seems that Charles has indeed ignited a welcome revolution.
For more info go to: https://www.charlesdowding.co.uk/