St Nicks

Centre for nature and green living

January highlights: meeting UK’s ‘King of No Dig’ and Open Day

Outreach Officer Ivana Jakubkova and Charles Dowding at St Nicks, by Frank Dwyer
Outreach Officer Ivana Jakubkova and Charles Dowding at St Nicks, by Frank Dwyer

Reflections on and pictures of two big January events, written by St Nicks Outreach Officer Ivana Jakubkova who can be contacted via


No Dig Gardening: talk & seed swap on 30th January

We were extremely pleased last year when Charles Dowding accepted our invitation to visit York as part of his North of UK tour. His methods of growing food in wildlife-friendly ways align well with the One Planet Living principles, which we promote as part of One Planet York.

Charles briefly had time to visit St Nicks where he had some fun posing for the local Press in the Environment Centre garden before dashing off to Askham Bryan College. A whole Horticulture Conference was organised around Charles’s talk which more than 100 students, industry professionals and members of public attended. It proved to be a big success and the college is now looking to make the conference an annual event. Charles Dowding’s talk certainly generated a lot of interest, even some gasps from the audience because his highly successful techniques challenge many established rules of food growing. The College itself, and other institutions such as the National Trust (for example their Sissinghurst Castle Vegetable Garden) or Beechgrove Gardens in Scotland (see some of their results on page 7 of this Beechgrove factsheet), are trialling no dig and finding good results too so it will be interesting to see whether more food growers adopt no dig in the near future.

Charles Dowding talking from the pulpit, by Lewis Outing

Charles Dowding talking from the pulpit of Central Methodist Church, by Lewis Outing

The evening talk at Central Methodist Church brought in around 200 people from within as well as beyond York — we’d received bookings from as far as Lincoln and Chesterfield — who crowded Charles’s book shop at the end. Charles Dowding’s labour saving methods of growing plentiful organic food without disturbing the soil and thus promoting its health certainly appeal to a wide range of gardeners. Some may need convincing that swapping digging for lots of compost making and scavenging is the best way forward but we think that Charles’s trial results speak for themselves.

Harvest from a no dig garden - photo by Charles Dowding, the UK No Dig Champion (see

Harvest from a no dig garden – photo by Charles Dowding, the UK No Dig Champion (see

There may not be a vast overall difference in the yields but using waste materials in compost mulches without digging them in locks carbon into the soil. In other words, no dig is a perfect, low cost solution to growing food in a changing climate. It mimicks the way nature creates fertility – as leaves and other dead materials or creatures fall to the ground, they are turned into nutrients for other life by a variety of creatures from bacteria to worms and birds. Charles even says that slugs should not be seen as gardeners’ enemies; they are amongst nature’s most efficient recyclers and their numbers can be minimised to prevent much damage by only using compost as mulch rather than other materials, and avoiding the creation of other potential places for them to hide such as timber edging (or only using it temporarily until new beds are developed).

seed swap, by Lewis Outing

seed swap run by Edible York, by Lewis Outing

Another good reason to adopt no dig is the fact that most plants on land live and benefit from a symbiosis (a mutually beneficial relationship) with mycorrhizal fungi, including lots of crops. Digging disrupts their entangled networks which carry nutrients and water, while avoiding it helps turn any growing space into a whole ecosystem of its own. When tended well, this leads to a good balanced system where pests are few, yields are high and wildlife thrives. (For more info on mycorrhizae, check out Wood Wide Web or pop the term into a search engine.)

In his talks Charles covered a vast range of topics — from starting to sow as early as Valentine’s Day to get at least two crops a year from his land to his experiences of crop rotation by plant families rather than species or not doing it at all — which we can’t list all here. His main message was one of encouragement for all gardeners to work more with nature rather than against it and to experiment with no dig techniques to see which works best for them. If you do give it a go, please keep us posted on how it goes!

One of the two new No No dig beds at Greenfields Garden created during a workshop St Nicks ran there a couple of years ago

Creation of no dig beds at Greenfields Garden during a workshop St Nicks ran there a couple of years ago

Kind donations from the event not only covered the costs of organising it but also generated a bit extra for St Nicks. This will be used to support our mission of enabling York residents to adopt more sustainable lifestyles, which are good for us as well as the planet. We would like to thank all that have supported the events in any way but especially Audrey Miller who helped us arrange the talks, Charles Dowding for sharing his immense knowledge and experiences, and Edible York for organising a great speedy seed swap before the talk while Abundance York provided fresh apple juice from the last of last year’s plentiful harvest.

Want to know more about No Dig?

Open Day on 27th January

Although it was quieter than in some previous years, it was well worth our while opening the gates to our 60+ York Residents Festival visitors. Some great chats were had about what we do, how to be a good recycler or benefit from Ecotherapy, how delicious the food was that Jane and Seggy made in their energy-saving haybox cookers, and what a delight it is to have recorded our resident Goldcrest for the first time during the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch (usually these lovely little birds are very good at hiding when it’s on). Only two keen bird spotters lasted the whole hour on that overcast and chilly day so we’re very glad their efforts paid off – big thanks to all who took part! It was great to see quite a few new faces popping along who might not come across us if it wasn’t for the Festival – we’re sure to be repeating the event next year.

12 February 2018 | Categories: St Nicks News | Tags: Charles Dowding, ci open day, climate change, compost, no dig, one planet living, sustainability