Waitrose & Partners Weekend Issue 613

18 AUGUST 202 2 4 1 Photography: Alessandro Vitale, Edward Dowding WEEKENDING If you want to keep soil healthy and save time watering and weeding, the no dig technique is an excellent way forward, writes Lizzie Briggs Rooting for a fresh approach to growing UNEARTHING THE TECHNIQUE READ Charles Dowding’s new book No Dig (published on 1 September, Dorling Kindersley) is a comprehensive guide to nurturing soil and growing great veg effortlessly. VISIT The grounds of Sissinghurst Castle, Kent are home to a thriving no dig vegetable patch, grown in heavy Wealden clay soil. nationaltrust.org.uk EAT Michelin star pub The Cross at Kenilworth, Warwickshire, serves produce grown using no dig methods, and regularly hosts dinners where attendees can meet growers (thecrosskenilworth.co.uk). Homewood, in Freshford near Bath, serves produce grown by Darren Stephens in its no dig garden on site (homewoodbath.co.uk) There’s an unconventional method for growing your own that has steadily gained traction over the past few years. You can grow veg without all that digging – and it means less watering and weeding, too. No dig is the process of layering compost on top of soil instead of digging it in. Over time, this mulch is integrated into the earth by worms and other organisms. The result is stronger soil that locks in carbon, protects the delicate fungal networks beneath our feet, and nourishes plants – all without lifting a spade. While it’s not new, themethod has enjoyed a resurgence thanks to horticulturalist Charles Dowding. Having practiced it since the 80s, Charles’ YouTube channel has more than 560,000 subscribers. “No dig is good for the environment,” he says, “and it’s a lot easier than people imagine.” If you’re tempted to try it, you can start any season. First, create a no dig bed. This can be done in any soil type in just a few hours and will be ready for planting right away. Charles suggests starting small, with roughly one 1.2x2.4metre space. Woody brambles must be removed, but grass and other weeds can be eradicated by laying down cardboard to block out light. Cover the cardboard with a 10-15cm layer of compost and your bed is made. If using a dug patch, leave soil undisturbed and feed withmulch. Tomaximise the growing time, seedlings can be planted straightaway. Charles recommends sowing undercover, then transplanting into the compost once established. At this time of year, you can sow rocket, spinach, salad onions and cabbages. As weeds die and the cardboard softens, they will root into the soil below – flourishing in the firm structure, which keeps them anchored against the wind. Once summer crops have been harvested, maintain your plot bymulching with compost of any kind – and you’ll be rewarded with abundant yields in seasons to come. “No digmimics natural processes,” says Darren Stephens, who transformed an acre of disused land into a prosperous vegetable garden at the HomewoodHotel near Bath. “Leaves fall to the ground, then their nutrients filter into the earth.” That’s why compost is so vital for keeping soil healthy. Darrenmakes his using spent co ee grounds, egg boxes and food and garden waste. He has noticed fewer weeds and less need for watering. And with the soil’s natural structure intact, he can walk on the beds, meaningmore space for growing. Luciole Brosse took this leap of faith when she set upMill Piece Gardens in 2017. Now, she uses the no digmethod to grow Michelin star-quality produce for restaurants including The Cross inWarwickshire. “I’m told what we produce tastes amazing,” she says. “People say they’ve never had such good carrots or courgettes.” But she warns: “No dig is nomiracle. Gardening is always hard work. It’s well worth the e ort, though. “When I step into the garden, I feel I’ve achieved something great. I was very nervous to try no dig, but you have to have faith in the process. It really does work.” ‘People say they’ve never had such good carrots or courgettes’ easy does it Horticulturalist Charles Dowding on his no dig plot (bottom and left); Darren Stephens on the former disused land at Homewood Hotel (below)