We were delighted to achieve Soil Association certification back in February, but certification is not an end in itself. Rather, it is just the beginning of an exciting journey for Organic Blooms as we continually seek ways to improve our organic and ethical practices.
Director Jo is doing a masters in organic farming and from her studies are flowing lots of ideas, questions and discussions about how we can become more organic. One of the key areas we are looking at is: to dig, or not to dig? That is the question the team has been debating recently and we decided to turn to the one person we knew would be able to help resolve the issue: the great no-dig champion and market gardener Charles Dowding.
Soil health underpins all organic growing. The soil is a living ecosystem that we need to nurture and feed – if we do this well, lots of the common problems that we solve with digging and rotavating will not occur in the first place. Cultivation damages the soil structure and interferes with the natural microbial and other processes that release nutrients and create a balanced healthy soil. We know this, but short-term problem-solving by digging is an easy option and the leap to minimise cultivation is a big one to make.
We asked Charles Dowding to help us work out if and how we should make that leap. We spent a fantastically informative and inspiring afternoon with Charles at Organic Blooms this week, discussing our operations and touring our site. Our soil conditions vary greatly according to how long and what we have been growing in each area and the condition of neighbouring beds varies depending on whether they contain perennials, rotating annual crops or green manures. Charles used his wisdom and experience to advise how we could, following no-dig principles, improve our soil in each context and how we could grow without digging from the outset as we extend into our new field, currently under conversion. He also advised on improving our composting and how we could better process and store organic matter such as manure and wood chip.
So the answer to our question is: not to dig, as far as possible. Charles’s visit gave us the encouragement we need to try a no-dig approach. Realistically the transition will be gradual but our growing season is over so this is a great time of year to start and in the longer term no-dig could also mean less intensive labour. With some investment and a lot of hard work we should be able to make a good start over the winter and early spring.
The soil is central not only to what we do at Organic Blooms, but to the sustainability of life on Earth, and we are excited about doing our bit to improve and care for the long-term health of our small part of it. For inspiration and knowledge to try no-dig at home, Charles Dowding’s website and YouTube channel are great places to start – as well as the potential for less work and improved growth in your garden you will be playing a small but increasingly important part in protecting our soils for future generations.