No dig gardening

Away from the allotment which, by the way, one of my lovely allotment neighbours has neatened up by mowing the paths down the sides in time for the annual “tidiness” inspection on Saturday, I have 2 board enclosed, west facing vegetable beds measuring  8 x 4 feet in the back garden at home.

We made them a couple of years  ago to define a salad growing area in the garden. The soil is better here, the garden is walled-so no “animal” pests  and the water tap handy. As is the back door and the kitchen. Last year, as well as growing salads, I raised plants for the allotment.

I attended a talk at Bath Universitylast week, given by Charles Dowding, a leading exponent of the no-dig growing method. I have toyed with this method before, but I have decided this summer to start giving it a real go-Charles was very persuasive and the pictures of his vegetable garden inspiring. To be fair, these beds are already well cultivated with no perennial weeds, but I have covered them with a thick layer of horse manure mixed with garden compost, and have started to plant through it.

One of the principal ideas behind no-dig is to cover the soil with organic matter to a sufficient depth to suppress weed growth. Worms and other soil organisms then slowly work the material  into the soil, improving the structure and helping to release the nutrients by effectively passing the mix of soil and organic through themselves. I know that there is less worm activity in the garden, despite the better “look” to the soil than on the allotment where I thatched the plot with manure last autumn. Dowding’s mantra is really “feed the soil, not the plants”  as fertile soil naturally leads to healthy plant growth.

The first plants are some commercially grown lettuce plants -a cos and some mixed lettuce varieties. I have trays full of seedling plants but they are still too tiny to plant out.  I am sowing everything out of doors this year, so am a bit behind. The larger plants at the front of the right bed are some self sown perennials that need moving but it’s a bit late now-the foxgloves will be throwing up flower spikes very soon.

Over the summer months I will see how the plants respond and more tellingly, how anything that follows on performs. If you are interested in no-dig gardening, Charles Dowding has an informative website here.

threadspider’s -ahem-acres

To describe the allotment and tiny garden as Threadspider’s Acres is , to say the least, misleading. Threadspider Metres is more like, but doesn’t quite conjure up the sweeping, beautifully manicured estate I have I my head. But this is what we have , so we continue to refer to it affectionately as T’s Acres.

A trip to the aforementioned  allotment yesterday yielded more rhubarb, proving the efficacy of a load of old horse manure for invigorating a plant. The manure was carried in the back of my car-in bags, I add, last autumn, 12 at a time, 3 trips.  My heavy clay soil said thank you, please can we have more, and even a racing stable would be hard pushed to supply enough. My plot was neglected when I took it on and despite 3 autumns worth of feeding with bulky organic matter, another 3 years similar treatment will barely make much difference.

It looks especially hungry in this dry shot-look at the cracks in the soil! The potatoes had their first earthing up yesterday, the strawberries, foreground, are in flower, in the distance and right, leeks, Japanese onions, shallots and garlic, broad beans and peas under the net cloches and beyond that,  on the distant horizon, fruit. There is a bed sown to parsnips and carrots, intercropped with spinach. It was looking good-proper tilth, seedlings through. Excellent. A mole thought so too, so now it is a bed with interesting ridges. And a resident mole. Putting a positive spin on this latest pest-(badgers in the sweetcorn last year) the soil must be sustaining a goodly population of worms for  a mole to bother. So that’s good news. We like worms.

Given the stiffness of the clay, the distance from the nearest water point and the fact this is  not home, but a local authority site a brisk 10 minutes walk away, I am going to grow most of the salads at home , using Charles Dowding’s no-dig method. Which I will tell you about next time.