There is still time to take 30 seconds out now and then to admire the swallows dipping and diving between the polytunnels; the robins who follow me into the tunnels to see what might turn up for their tea and nest-building; the pied wagtails exploring the newly turned-over ground for grubs and worms; and the masses of ladybirds which have appeared over the last week or so – especially among the parsley, where there at least about 3 per squate foot!
Fresh Start have just launched a new horticulture academy to their current programme of academies: the idea being that people interested in starting a horticulture-based business can learn the business skills they need, from industry experts. It’s being launched here in the south west, since the interest in food-growing and horticulture here is already huge. Yours truly is on the voluntary steering committee, trying to help make sure the right skills are being delivered in the right way (and at the right time, ie not in the middle of May madness); it’s a great-looking scheme, and it only costs £95 per person for the full 10-session programme (the cost is being subsidised by various funders). There are a limited number of places, and applications close on June 13th, so register your interest quickly to be in with a chance of a place!
Charles Dowding very kindly volunteered to host our last meeting on Saturday, and it was a real pleasure to see his site Homeacres, in Somerset. 13 BABOGers were keen to learn about Charles’s no-dig techniques: he kills off perennial weeds by laying plastic or carboard down on top of a layer of compost/muck, then the following year adds more compost and sows or plants straight into it. Each year he adds around 2 inches of compost/muck to the beds and, as the name suggests, doesn’t dig it in, but rather lets worms and other sauna flora and fauna do the hard work for him until there is little to see on the soil surface. This little disturbance of the soil means fewer weed seeds near the surface to germinate; those that do are quickly hoed off at an early stage using bronze (copper with a little tin) hoes and other tools (available from www.implementations.co.uk).
He sells from his 3/4 acre garden to several outlets in and around Bruton, and makes a decent turnover from the small patch – with the grass paths etc taken out of the equation, the total cropping area is more like 1/4 acre, including a small polytunnel, and greenhouse also used for propagation, and a muck hotbed which has stayed at a steady 20C all spring. Members were very impressed to see so much in the ground already on a chilly Saturday afternoon in April; although most of it was tucked under weighed-down fleece to help keep warm, and also keep pests off such as rabbits in these lean early weeks.
Charles has been running dig vs no-dig experiments and trials for a number of years, and has found that most crops yield more from the no-dig beds – apart from the odd crop such as beans; but further ongoing trials will help decide whether all these results are typical or not. He grows a wide variety of crops, but specialises in year-round salads and lettuces (a favourite being Grenoble Red); and follows some biodynamic practices such as sowing to the lunar calendar, and preferring copper tools to steel.
For compost he buys in either green waste compost or spent mushrooms compost by the tonne, and gets delivered horse manure from a neighbour. He also makes his own compost. He has recently planted apple trees from Walcot Organic Nursery, and is also running a small trial drawing on some aspects of Shumei Natural Agriculture (another BABOG member though not present today); so crops are not rototated, but grown in the same place year after year. He does add compost however, contrary to Shumei principles which believe the soil is already perfect and does not need anything else.
After the farm walk, we were treated to tea & cake, including delicious spinach & chocolate brownies: so could feel virtuous while indulging and chatting! Ours thanks to Charles & Steph for hosting us; for more information on Homeacres & Charles’s books and courses, visit www.charlesdowding.co.uk. The next BABOG meeting will be over the summer, please get in touch if you’d like more information or to be added to the email list.
For more info on No Dig Gardening visit Charles’ website, and Steph’s blog: there is also a new No Dig logo that other no-dig growers and gardeners are encourgaed to use to spread the word.