An interview with Charles Dowding - No Dig Gardening

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We love spending time outside – and we know you do too! We spoke with gardener and Ripple Effect supporter Charles Dowding about his No Dig approach to gardening and how it can be a great time-efficient way to grow vegetables.

What is No Dig?

“Be calm outside, work with nature, reap the rewards. No Dig is about doing less and saving time. Leave the soil undisturbed, feed at the surface with organic matter, just as nature does. Spend less time weeding. Like all organisms that are alive, soil is happier when not disturbed and damaged. It does not then need to recover, a process which involves growth of weeds! This method gives superb and timesaving results in both small and large gardens.”

What are the benefits of No Dig gardening?

“My dig / No Dig experiments on the farm are now in the fifteenth consecutive year. The harvest results illustrate how most vegetables grow more strongly and healthily on No Dig beds.

Fewer weeds germinate in undisturbed soil with compost mulches on the surface, which make it easy to pull weeds or to run a hoe lightly through the surface. No Dig soil means a better balance of well-fed soil organisms, including slug-eating beetles, helping to protect your plantings from slugs.”

What are your top tips for beginners?

“If you are new to gardening, your best option is to start small with just one bed, say 1.2 x 2.4m, filled with around 6 inches of compost. It can simply be on top of some unused grass, with the grass and weeds left in place, compost on top is sufficient to smother them, with no digging needed.

If you cannot source that amount of compost, lay cardboard on top of any weeds, then 2-3 inches compost on top of the cardboard. In both cases, you can sow and plant into the compost, even while weeds are dying underneath.

  • A smaller area means you can concentrate your time and resources, and it makes management easier too.
  • Sow in season. Each vegetable has a best time when it crops most healthily and abundantly.
  • Invest in some basic crop protection, such as a piece of mesh to keep insects from eating your vegetables.”

Join our community of growers!

Twin a garden and grow side by side with a family in rural Migori, Kenya. Your donation of £60 could help a family living in Kenya with three years of training in sustainable organic farming. Starting with small kitchen gardens, families can grow enough to eat, set up businesses, and go after their dreams.

In recognition of your donation, you'll receive a vegetable growing guide from Charles Dowding our No Dig expert, a sustainable wooden plaque to display in your garden, and some wildflower seeds to get you started!

Hear from another grower, Lis, about why she loves being part of the Garden Twinning Community.

“I love to grow vegetables and flowers in my small garden. When I found out I could twin my garden with Ripple Effect, I was over the moon that I could use my garden to help families in Africa grow themselves out of hunger and poverty. I am enjoying learning about how clever gardening techniques can be life-changing for families in rural Kenya.”

Lis Garden Twinner, Cumbria