While many of us will soon be out there making like a human rototiller — turning the vegetable beds in the name of what we were taught “soil preparation” required — Charles Dowding takes a different tack.
He starts the new season by sweeping each bed with either a bow or oscillating hoe. “tickling the soil surface,” He said that rather than upending it. “to disturb any weeds seeds that might be germinating.”
No tilling, thanks — or “no dig,” This is what he calls the method that he has popularized.
It isn’t the only subject on which Mr. Dowding, a longtime market gardener in Somerset, in South West England, and a no-dig practitioner for 40 years, departs from conventional wisdom.
He doesn’t sow cover crops. (His beds get too crowded with repeated plantings, one after the other. And he doesn’t rotate crops in the traditional manner, which calls for not growing the same thing in the same spot in consecutive years. (Last Year marked the eighth consecutive year of successfully growing potatoes in one area and cabbages, fava beans and tomatoes in others.
Certain vegetables, such as onions, beets and turnips, defy the conventional spacing advice. Instead, he “multisows” His greenhouse allows him to grow small numbers of seeds in small groups and then later transplants them into the garden.
His at-the ready hand tool? No, not pruning shears — a pocketknife.
But from a third of an acre of active growing beds on his property, known as Homeacres, he harvests 25,000 British pounds’ worth of organic edibles annually, selling to a local restaurant and shops. Another yield: He has published more than a dozen books and taught online and in-person classes. His YouTube channel has over 600,000. Followers.
People don’t dig. (Sorry, but that sentence was too tempting.
Mr. Dowding finds an arrogance in humankind’s insistence that we must intervene to improve soil. He points out that in plant communities, including forests and meadows he sees leaves and other plant parts dropping and decaying to support soil without any churning.
Tilling doesn’t build soil structure, he contends; it destroys it. He advises that we follow nature’s example, “just leaving the soil alone as much as possible and feeding the surface with compost, so that the soil life does the work for us.”
And maybe the best part: It’s an incredible labor saver. (Mr. Dowding is not a lazy man.
In his recent book “No Dig: Nurture Your Soil to Grow Better…
Further reading: www.nytimes.com