No Dig and Sustainable Food Growing, by Sheila Das

Grayshott Gardeners kicked off the New Year with a fascinating and thought provoking talk by Sheila Das, Garden Manager Edibles at RHS Wisley.

Sheila shared her passion for growing edibles.  She believes that the transformation of a tiny seed into a huge cabbage is nothing short of magic.  And if that’s not enough to excite you, then being able to eat food that you are confident has not been doused in chemicals, reconnecting with the seasons, avoiding the huge amount of packaging waste that is in built into our current food system, and enjoying the mindful pleasures of being outside in your garden or allotment are other advantages to consider.

Sheila has an aspiration of “minimum intervention” which guides many of her gardening decisions and choices.  Nature does it best when it comes to establishing a balance in our environment, so by mimicking nature we can encourage a favourable balance in our own plots.  That can translate to encouraging a healthy equilibrium of pests/predators rather than reaching for the pesticides, or to growing a mixture of plants that complement each other rather than a monoculture.  Another tip Sheila passed on was to harvest crops at soil level and leave the roots in the ground to rot and provide nutrients without disturbing the soil ecosystem.

No Dig fits in with the aspiration of minimum intervention.  Mulching the soil surface is what happens in nature (although perhaps not at the concentration at which gardeners apply mulch), it avoids traumatising the soil health and structure, it aids moisture retention and adds to soil fertility, without the use of chemicals.  And for those of us that enjoy digging, shovelling mulch can be just as good for your muscles as excavating a trench. 

These things are all put into practice in the World Food Garden at RHS Wisley.

Scientists have now shown that there are more organisms in a handful of soil than there are people on the planet.  And yet we know so little about the earth beneath our feet.  Research in this area is badly needed.

Sheila encouraged us to observe closely and to adapt to our own circumstances, rather than trying to follow a rigid set of rules.  And when we need guidance, Mother Nature is a good place to look.