BABOG Meeting with Charles Dowding

Bronze hoe and spade
Charles explains how no-dig works

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

Overwintered spinach still producing well
The polytunnel is full of garlic, lettuce & other salad leaves

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.

Perennial kale Taunton Deane
The dig (right) & no-dig (left) trial

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.

Even the mushroom compost pile is neat

FIMG_2595or 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 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.


Logo March 16For 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.


Polytunnel Skinning Party: Thursday 5th May

IMG_20150521_113318I was thinking of trying to call in the troops to re-cover one of the ripped polytunnels this Thursday; however the forecast is looking a little too windy for my liking, plus rain showers are due too. So I’m now hoping that the following Thursday (5th May) will be a bit nicer. This polytunnel covering or ‘skinning’ will need plenty of volunteers to help hold down corners and get the huge sheet of plastic over the frame; we’re hoping to start at 10am and it should just take a few hours to get it into place, dig in the edges and baton it to the doorframes. We will then enjoy a free, delicious lunch from the Kitchen at Hartley, while looking proudly at our hard work, hopefully in the sunshine! If you’re interested in coming along and getting involved, please drop me an email, and I’ll keep you updated on the plans – and the all-important weather forecast!

Future Farmers II

Screen Shot 2016-04-18 at 17.11.58A new guide on how to host trainees on your farm has just been launched: Future Farmers II is available to download now. A joint effort by the OGA, Groundspring and Sustain, plus lots of valuable input from the Soil Association, Biodynamic Association and many other knowledgeable individuals, the guide will help signpost new entrants into what kind of work experience, traineeship (paid or unpaid), apprenticeship or paid job they should be looking for; but it is mostly aimed at helping potential host farms and holdings work out what kind of opportunity they could and should create on their farm, to best suit their circumstances.