Charles Dowding lightly raking surface compost in early spring to level surface and reduce weeding later on 1 2048x2012

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 Send a Cow 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.”
Charles’ Spring sowing guide: March-June

"Here is a very simple guide of when to sow some of your favourite vegetables. Although you can sow vegetables at any time, each vegetable has a best time for sowing. By taking advantage of these key times, you can expect better results, less pests and disease and much higher yields.

When sowing, seeds require more warmth to germinate. For best results, I recommend sowing ‘undercover’, such as on a windowsill or in a greenhouse, where it is warmer. The recommendations below come from 38 years of trial and error in my gardens.

If you would like to find out more detailed information on how to get the most from your garden, head to my website. For more in-depth learning, I also offer online courses too.

Happy Gardening!"

Charles Dowding

Here is a very simple guide for when to sow some of your favourite vegetables. Each vegetable has a best time for sowing and by taking advantage of this, you can expect better results, fewer pests and less disease and much higher yields.