Charles Dowding’s no-dig Lower Farm on a hot Sunday in August was a perfect place to visit and dream about growing beautiful and happy vegetables.
I always hope that one day, somehow, I will figure out how to do all this sowing and planting business properly; in the same way that I slowly figured out how to make the bread we want to eat.
The similarities are there and I could ramble on about how time and temperature are really important but like many people who bake or cook I am seduced by the apparent ease of following a recipe or set of instructions and want that to work first time out.
So I’m going to ramble on about Variables.
If you have a wander through some of the pages on Charles’ site you will see that he keeps records of what happens each month and his experiments, these must be invaluable to any would-be gardener.
I wonder if bakers keep such detailed notes.
I know I tried, sort of, when I started this blog. It was meant to be a record of what I baked each month with the baking group Mellow Bakers, so that I could look back and find out what the difference was say, between Rustic Bread and Country Bread. But the truth is that while it was fun doing the bread posts, I don’t know if they are that useful as a record, though they were constructive in that they made me think about what I was doing and be honest about where I had changed things, where the variables had crept in, whether it was substituted ingredients, or a particularly cold day, or a dog walk that had gone on much longer than I thought…
Gardening and growing happens in an ever changing world and if nothing else it brings home how little we can control most of the experience of being alive. The fact that many of us have the luxury of food on the table each day is one that no one should ever take for granted. When I was a child, my autistic brother lived in a wonderful Steiner community in Northern Ireland. When he was home in the holidays, we would adopt their practice of holding hands around the table and saying ‘Blessings on the Meal’. Sometimes now, even though I live a very secular life, I say it still in my mind just before we eat.
So back to Variables. Science is all about Variables; isolating them; figuring out what they are; and the designing experiments to see what changes what, and whether what you thought in the first place was wrong. We only progress by figuring out the inadequacies in our experiments. Getting it right tells you nothing new.
Baking, gardening, raising children for those of you lucky enough to have them, training a small puppy for people like me, are all grand experiments and need to be approached in a spirit of honesty and humility.
It’s no good rushing to conclusions and it is good to be gentle and thoughtful, ask for help nicely, be kind to others, don’t put them down, don’t be too quick to say I’m right and you’re wrong, it’s all just a bit more complicated than that and life is not about being right, it’s just about itself, whatever metaphor you employ, a journey, a story, a revealing. Life is what it is and there is not that much you can do to change it. All we have control over is our judgements, rarely over events themselves. So I aspire to gentle thoughtfulness, I don’t always manage it, but that’s how I would like to be.
Hang on, wasn’t this going to be a ‘look at this lovely place type of post’ and ‘let me tell you about the no-dig vegetable method?’ But what about Charles Dowding? Well, he has a great site here, where you can read all about his practice, the plants he grows, the methods, the years of experimentation. There is a fine interview with him on Michelle’s wonderful Veg Plotting site which will give you a brilliant introduction to his work. Really I just wanted to show you some photos that Brian and I took and tell you that we had a lovely time. Mitch from Twitter came along too which made it even more fun!
I just stood and looked at the fields, and wandered around, read Charles’ notices, had tea and a half a scone, bought a book and some garlic grown on the farm, chatted to other people visiting that day, asked questions and it was very peaceful. I felt the good sun on my face and smiled at the beauty of it all and felt happy for the first time in a long while. There is still a little after-glow now.