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To Dig or Not to?

Stephanie Hafferty, no dig gardener and author of The Creative Kitchen and co-writer with Charles Dowding of the award-winning No Dig Organic Home and Gardener, is speaking on no dig gardening at Toby’s Garden Festival on Friday 3rd May. We spoke to Stephanie to find out more:

What is no dig gardening? It’s a method that’s been around for centuries of not turning over the soil. Instead of digging over the ground every winter as we were taught to do, you mulch the ground once a year with about an inch of composted mulch. We do it in winter when there are fewer crops in the ground but you can do it any time of the year.

What are the benefits? It saves a huge amount of time and it’s good if you have a bad back! When you turn over the soil, it exposes the weed seed, so not digging means there are significantly fewer annual weeds and it preserves the soil life, the worms and the fungi. It’s becoming more important as we learn about soil, and how mycorrhizal fungi maintains moisture and plants’ access to it, meaning no-dig can help with the impact of climate change. Digging kills the fungi, but if you leave the soil alone, it will come back within about six months. 

Can anyone do it? Yes, it’s suitable for all soil types. There are different methods; some people use raised beds but we just add compost to the surface of the soil instead as we find wooden boards are good places for slugs to hole up.

How did you get into it? It was when I came to work for Charles (Stephanie’s partner Charles Dowding) ten years ago. He’d been practising no-dig for 27 years and his one and a half acres was immaculate with just a couple of people working on it. 

Do you need any special tools? Research has shown in Britain composted mulch works best – that can be composted manure, compost you’ve made in the garden, leafmould, mushroom compost or municipal waste. Not only does it significantly reduce the habitat for slugs, it increases the habitat for black beetles which is a slug predator.

What’s the one question people always ask about no-dig? People always ask if it works for carrots and parsnips because of the way they fork in manured soil. The difference is if the compost isn’t dug in, they don’t fork.

What do you grow? Only edible plants, please don’t ask me about shrubs! We grow £25,000 worth of crops annually on just a quarter of an acre.

Stephanie is talking on Friday 3rd May at Powderham Castle and is free to festival visitors

For information and tickets


Stephanie Hafferty is a no-dig organic kitchen gardener, plant based cook, award winning author, blogger and writer for Kitchen Garden Magazine, Permaculture Magazine and other publications. She grows year round for her family at home and on her allotment in Somerset and is known for her recipes using homegrown fruit, veg and herbs for delicious meals and also homemade products for the garden, home and body. Stephanie has worked as a no dig kitchen gardener for over 10 years, for clients including Sir Cameron Mackintosh and Hauser and Wirth. With her partner Charles Dowding she helped to create Homeacres, a quarter-acre no-dig market garden which produces over £25,000 of veg a year. Stephanie is author of The Creative Kitchen and co-wrote with Charles No Dig Organic Home and Gardener (winner Practical Gardening Book of the Year). She is currently writing a book about small scale homesteading.

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