oh! the joy of sowing seeds...

Charles Dowding’s beautiful seedlings

Charles Dowding’s beautiful seedlings

I recently spent the day in Somerset at the wonderful market garden belonging to Charles Dowding, the no-dig guru.   I was there for his day course - a quick romp through masses of detail and loads of tips about how to get the most from growing veg and flowers the no-dig way.  My veg and cut flower beds are ready and waiting; all cardboarded and manured and it was brilliant to hear all his thoughts and confirm what I did and didn’t know.  

The no-dig approach is exactly what is says on the tin.  You grow your crops in a way that disturbs the soil as little as possible.   After the first, preparatory setting up, each year 10cm of compost is added to the surface of the bed ready for the worms and other inhabitants to do their thing, drag it down and process it  The result is soil that is well aerated and nutritious with very little weed and the yields are amazing. 

Cut and come again spinach and oak choi - healthy and inspiring crops to aspire towards…

Cut and come again spinach and oak choi - healthy and inspiring crops to aspire towards…

I was fascinated by Charles’s belief that weeds are a healing response to soil damage and disturbance - they literally grow in order to heal the soil.  When you don’t damage the soil by digging you don’t get so many weeds.  What a wonderful and labour-saving thought! 

If you’re interested Charles has written several books on the subject and I added ‘ How to Create a New Vegetable Garden’ to my library yesterday.  

It was a really fab day.  I confirmed a lot of what I already knew and learnt a whole lot more.  The area I’ve set up needs a couple of changes but mostly I’m ready to go.  In fact, last Sunday 

I was feeling really glum.  For no reason actually other than it was raining and horribly grey.  We’d had a nice pub lunch, wandered around Henley (in the rain!) and, now home, all I wanted to do was sit next to the fire and watch films all afternoon.  

Thing is - I know when I do, that I end up in even more of a funk - somehow watching too much telly or spending hours on my laptop really depresses my mood; I was feeling really quite dissatisfied with things and very frustrated with how wet and miserable the weather was.  

my new greenhouse is beautiful. Though the vegetable garden is currently empty the potential is huge and so exciting

my new greenhouse is beautiful. Though the vegetable garden is currently empty the potential is huge and so exciting

And then it occurred to me that my new greenhouse was waiting for me.  I’d been and bought seed trays and my seeds had arrived and I hadn’t quite started - partly because I wasn’t sure about the whole heat-mat, inside/outside, thing for seeds and partly because it takes me time to trick myself into trying something new.  

Anyway, cutting the story short, I braved the rain, unlocked the door of the greenhouse and went in - still a little reticent as I’m not yet familiar with it - and the moment the lovely smell of cedar hit me, really strong and utterly delicious, I was hooked as I knew I would be once I got started.  Does that happen to you?  You want to do something hugely and then when it’s within reach somehow it seems less desirable or downright scary?   My response is to ‘Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway’ as the book by Susan Jeffers is so aptly tilted.  

Anyway, it was raining quite hard but the temperature inside was about 15 degrees.  Though I still needed my coat it was much warmer than outside - and I felt really cosy.  The sensation of being in this sweet-smelling light-filled space,  as the rain fell heavily outside, was utterly delightful.  It was quiet and, apart from the drops on the roof, peaceful and very lovely. 

I sowed a few seeds - Calendula ‘Indian Prince’ - which is a lovely single marigold - not at all like the, for me, ugly double petalled old fashioned ones; this one is straight-stemmed and very pretty in a little vase, as well as some gorgeous Rudbekia that I bought from Sarah Raven last year and a few of the deeply coloured sweet-peas.   

I’m actually a bit nervous as to whether the seeds will come up as I haven’t yet got my heat-mat and there’s no room on the window-cills in the house - Charles recommends starting seeds off with warmth and then moving to the cool as soon as they’ve germinated.   I’m also concerned as the seed sat all summer and winter in my studio which can get very hot and very cold so they may no longer be viable. 

In a way, however, this didn’t matter.  Having decided it was worth giving them a go it was the activity, the concentrated filling of modules and delicate planting of seeds, in this lovely warm, scented environment that lifted my spirits.  Twenty minutes later, literally, and I felt like a different person.   All grumpiness had gone and I was felt light and happy.   

I’m getting organised with the heat-mat this week and can’t wait to get sowing in earnest now I know exactly what to do, and with new seed, - so watch this space…