No-Dig techniques are certainly fashionable – but do they work in a busy, productive space growing a wide range of crops?
Medway Master Gardeners visited Sissinghurst Castle vegetable gardens, near Cranbrook, for their In-Service training to find out how the system works there. It was a very blowy day but there were still quite a few visitors at the beautiful National Trust property, once home to Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicholson.
We were met by senior vegetable gardener Helen Silver, who runs the veg garden with an assistant and the help of volunteers. The veg beds are a relatively recent addition to Sissinghurst, part of an attempt to link the castle surroundings back to the kind of productive farming landscape that would have surrounded it in the past.
Sissinghurst sits on very wet clay, which bakes hard in the summer, so the no-dig method is an advantage. 3-4 inches of local authority compost are added in the first year, and a couple of inches in subsequent years. The paths, post and structures are made from wood and wood chippings from the estate.
Garlic was growing strongly in the unusually mild weather and the brassicas were also looking healthy. The clay soil does have its fertility advantages! Rabbits, a problem on the site, were kept out by a stout fence.
The herb garden had been adapted to contain both herbs for the restaurant on site, and young fruit canes and bushes, including blueberries growing straight into the ground and summer and autumn raspberries, some still on the canes!
After the fruit and herbs we walked through the young apple orchard – all local heritage varieties and all doing well despite the windy site. Compost is made at Sissinghurst at Helen’s plan is to make this more efficient next year to supplement the brought-in compost.
Two large polytunnels were still busy with oriental greens, again growing in no-dig beds. We had a peep in the greenhouse to see young Florence fennel plants, sown in September, ready to go out into the polytunnel to make an early summer crop.
After a delicious lunch in the cafe, Master Gardeners discussed the different sessions they can deliver in Medway Schools and plans for the next quarter. There’s really never a quiet time in the garden – always something to plan or to prepare for!
Medway Master Gardeners are volunteers who support other to have a go at growing their own food. Fully trained and supported by Garden Organic. Could you be a Master Gardener? If you have a minimum of two years’ food growing experience and a passion to share your knowledge with others get in touch here.