Stephanie Hafferty is a leading no-dig gardener. Her major job these days is as vegetable gardener at an estate in Somerset. She kindly asked Cathy and me to visit her at the garden, and what a pleasure it was!
The abundance of produce and the health of the plants were both impressive and testament not just to Stephanie’s skill and the no-dig method but also to the abundance of compost on the estate. They make a mix of everything available, including cattle and horse manure and garden waste and she’s able to give all the ground a good, deep dressing every year. This to my mind his how gardens should be, recipients of fertility from the wider landscape. Gardens are a tiny proportion of the land area but produce a disproprtionate amount of food compared to other land uses, so it’s quite sustainable for them to exact a light tithe on the land at large.
I always learn from visiting other gardners and especially from someone of Stephanie’s calibre. The main thing I learned on this visit is the importance of protecting your crops. It’s not much fun carefully nuturing your vegetables only to have them eaten by cabbage white butterflies, pigeons and other unwelcome guests. What Stephanie is doing got me thinking about changes I’ll make in my own garden.
Young plants under mesh.
Horticultural fleece and mesh are something I don’t use nearly enough of. Not only do they protect against pests like carrot root fly and leek moth but they get the little plants through their vulnerable first few weeks in a much improved microclimate: they raise the temperature and cut down the wind. They do make weeding a bit more difficult but in a no-dig garden weeds aren’t usually much of a problem. Many weed seeds only germinate when exposed to light and if you don’t dig this doesn’t happen.
She also uses a series of steel hoops to hold a net over vulnerable crops, such as cabbages. These are made by a local blacksmith and he has invented a useful piece to hold the end of the net down, simply and effectively. All this steel work must be expensive but it’s a one-off expense which will last generations, and it’s easy to use. What puts me off using netting is the fiddling around with sticks and things which is always such an irritating job, and not always 100% effective.
The bit that holds the ends down.
Much the same goes for a fruit cage. It’s expensive to set one up but once you’ve done it you’ve got it for life and you can double the harvested crop of bush and cane fruits. On the other hand, I don’t lose much to birds in my garden. For years they didn’t take my raspberries, then they seemed to suddenly notice them and started taking a lot. But a few years later they stopped again. I think it may be learned behaviour and if you get a hard winter when most of the song birds die it doesn’t get passed on to the next generation.
Fruit cage with currant bushes.
It’s all food for thought – as well as the body!
For more pics of the garden see our facebook page.