No Till/ No Dig Gardening/Charles Dowding

kma's picture


I stumbled across Charles Dowding recently and wanted to pass this along in case people like watching YouTube gardening videos. I could watch them all day but YMMV. Watching these videos has been both educational and relaxing. (I told my husband he's like the Bob Ross of Gardening).
(link to youtube videos on his site)

I've been doing a version of No Dig in my own home garden for years but in watching these videos I've definitely realized how to up my efficiency and production next season. I already started mutli-sowing my winter greens with good results and was like "Why didn't I do this before?! Easy way to 3-4x production.

If this is your thing - enjoy!


lathechuck's picture

... and where you live. I just read about winter greens gardening, and also early starting of other crops (e.g., carrots and onions). Caleb Warnock has published "Backyard Winter Gardening", which I assume expands on a chapter in his book that I actually have: "More Forgotten Skills of Self-Reliance". (He's also enthusiastic about seed-saving, btw.) However, he's gardening in Utah, and I'm in central Maryland.

Sweet Tatorman's picture

The USDA plant hardiness map seems to think I am in zone 7b which is an *average* lowest low of 5-10F. A couple of decades here of observation is consistent with zone 8a which is 10-15F. The late December cold snap that the media made such a fuss about produced a low of 6F here for a couple of days in a row. For plant impact, duration of low is also important. I had a stretch of 23 hours out of a 27 hour period where it was below 10F. I believe that is the longest period of sub 10F I have had gardening in this location. The picture attached shows my Kale on the right and Leeks on the left. Pretty much all of the Kale foliage was killed but the lower portion of some of the Leek leaves seem to have survived. Following the cold snap I have been having above average temperatures with the 10 day forecast showing no overnight freezes. I figured if either of these have a chance of pulling through they will do it soon. Sure enough, this morning I can see a tiny bit of new green foliage in the crowns of the Kale and a few new leaves emerging from the Leeks.
The Kale variety is Dwarf Blue Scotch and the Leeks Bleu de Solaize.

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Sweet Tatorman's picture

Growth proceeds very slowly in the Wintertime. The photo below was taken today at 7 1/2 weeks after the killing freeze pictured above. Shown below are the very largest of the recovering plants. I estimate fewer than 25% of the kale is coming back. Only in the past few days have I picked even a couple of salad servings worth even though average temperatures have run above typical in the past 7 weeks. Since these plants are growing on rootstock which formerly supported much larger plants I believe that the increase in plant mass for a given temperature is geometric over the total sunlight harvested by the leaf area over time. When to pick is rather like the adult version of the famous "marshmallow experiment" testing the delayed gratification of children; 1 marshmellow today vs 2 tomorrow.

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mountainmoma's picture

Wow, 6' F is very cold for an area that is not used to it ! It never gets that cold here either, so kale normally grows thru the winter. It is amazing the kale is coming back

kma's picture

Winter Greens Update

My experiment on cold hardy growing and microgreens. I’m zone 5b but it’s 40F
and raining here in January so a very mild winter so far.
We have had deep freeze but it keeps warming up.

Multisowing ala Charles Dowding is going well. Everywhere the plants survived,
they are fine with their plant buddies. Faster than planting in rows and spacing out,
no downside in my limited experiment so far,
Although you can’t seem to kill kale so it has yet to be seen with other plants.

Kale vs Chard. Definitely kale. The chard outdoors died in the cold snap,
kale was unfazed. Indoor chard is weak, kale just keeps chugging along no matter how I treat it.

In October, I started seeds for Lacinato Kale, Red Russian Kale and Rainbow Chard.
I put some in a caterpillar tunnel in the garden, some in an overturned clear plastic
storage container on the backporch to simulate a small greenhouse, and then some indoors.

The caterpillar tunnel is the clear winner. I looked at it for the first time since October yesterday
and the kale is alive, hardy, and growing slowly. If I had planted a lot,
I would have harvested baby greens. As it is, I’ll wait until it gets some size on it in a few months
and eat it then. I’m definitely going to do this again next winter in volume. If it’s warm, baby greens
in January. If it’s cold, a big harvest of greens in early spring. Although I definitely note that I
had to batten down the hatches to keep the critters out. I weighed every inch of every side down
with firewood so no one could get in.

The faux greenhouse is ok. I put the seedlings in black nursery pots and left a jug of water in there
in an attempt to keep the heat up. It was not enough for the chard. Kale is hardy but small.
I did realize I have to water it though which is too much work. I prefer the set it and forget it caterpillar tunnel kale.

The indoor plants I forgot about during the holidays and they got weak and leggy.
They were simply by a southern facing window. I potted them up and started giving them
a little extra light. The kale recovered, the chard is limping along. Not enough to harvest for baby greens
so far, takes up too much window space for the benefit.

Microgreens are a success for me. Over the summer I built a fancy new stand! I bought this off
Craigslist and painted it. ($50). It is a nice, quality stand, Pottery Barn or some such fancy store,
and keeps the cat out.

The one thing I always hated about microgreens vs sprouts was the plastic trays.
So I decided to try with some crystal I bought at the thrift store ($18 total). I thought the lack of drainage
might be a problem but no, they just don’t stop growing. Sometimes, they greens will droop a little
from lack of water, so I water them and within a few hours they pop back up without fail.
Initially, I was filling the containers all the way up with potting soil, but determined I could get by on much,
much less if I was willing to have an occasional droopy set of greens to rewater.

We are getting more than we can eat at this point with a small family. I do nothing for lights,
just a southern facing window. Yes, they can get leggy but they taste the same. I will give them a 180degree
turn every few days to even them up. I also find them lower maintenance than sprouts.
I do a quick mist once a day for new starts but when harvesting, I don’t have to spin for the seed casings
in a salad spinner. It’s also prettier to have a plant growing in winter vs a jar of sprouts imo.

I bought a bunch of seeds from True Leaf Market online and have been happy with those.
Pea shoots are definitely the one to go to for a beginner or small growing setup. Fast, easy, lots of greens.
I’m also very happy with radishes, parsley, broccoli, and generic salad mix.
The one I haven’t loved is nasturtium, it’s slow and a bit fussy with water levels.
I prefer sunflower microgreens vs sprouts because then I don’t have to fool around with cleaning the seed casings off.

A few of my containers came with lids. I use those as humidity domes for older seeds or
smaller seeds like parsley. Other than that, I have seen no problems in not using humidity domes
on others, just the daily mist of water.

I’m so happy with the microgreens. My next step is to figure out the best mix to get optimal nutrition
through the winter that is easy and low maintenance. I should also mention my Malabar Spinach plant at this time
. I couldn’t have treated this plant worse over the last few years and it keeps going. I believe it is also a
good source of Omegas. So I should upgrade my treatment of it! I started seeds a few years ago
in a summer warm spell. I keep outdoors in the hottest part of the back porch in summer
, and in the winter I bring it and leave it in a southern window. I harvest lightly but it loves it and keeps getting bigger.

I’m still optimizing my fancy growing vessels and getting bigger ones when I see them.
I’d like to get more big casseroles like on the top shelf and when I have chickens again
I can sprout food for them in the winter on the bottom shelf.

SweetTatorman - I'll have to try the Dwarf Blue Scotch variety, looks good, fedco says cold hardy.

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mountainmoma's picture

that is a lovely indoor winter grow set up.

For me chard is also not a winter crop, it is not cold hardy. I like red Russian kale and while it does not snow here often, when it does, it generally does not kill the kale, kale gets sweeter with frost

lathechuck's picture

Last fall, I cut the bottom out of a leaking 5gal water jug, and used it as a cloche over a lacinato kale (after it was the lone survivor of a vicious mauling by a groundhog). That plant now has leaves ready for harvest, about the size of my hand.
The onions and arugula that I sowed in a shallow trench, under an old double-glazed window are growing, slowly. I transplanted a bunch of each from crowded seedlings to individual plants, and have picked some of the untransplanted arugula as "baby greens".
I sowed tomatoes a couple of weeks ago in a multi-pack, and enclosed it in a clear plastic salad box, which went on top of the water heater to promote germination. When I checked on it a week later, the seedlings had not just sprouted, but sprawled threadlike in all directions as they sought light in a warm, humid, environment. Only the "straggler" seeds are likely to survive, the ones that were just emerging. (The seed packet said that it would take at least a week!)
Kale seedlings that I set out last fall, inclosed in wire mesh for protection from birds, rabbits, and groundhogs, have been producing a few leaves a week for harvest. My favorite is to chop a leaf into an omelet (/fritatta). Lots of lettuce is getting crowded in the multipacks, and will be going into the dirt as soon as I can get the next wire enclosure done. I saw two adult rabbits in the yard last week, so there are likely to be more soon.

lathechuck's picture

In getting the garden ready for setting out my indoor-started lettuce, I turned over some soil and, as I expected, ended up digging out a tree root about 4 feet long and 1/2" in diameter. If I didn't dig, the moisture and nutrients would be appropriated by my trees (maple, apple, and pear). I have no interest in roto-tilling, but the tree roots must go!