Having received our first rain of the season in Southern California, Charles Dowding is more relevant to us than he was a week ago. Dowding is a market gardener in England, rainy England. And he goes beyond growing and selling wonderful vegetables to writing, teaching, and making videos about vegetable gardening.
I own three of Dowding’s books, which I appreciate, but I have probably learned even more from his videos, which his son helps him make and post on YouTube for free viewing. Gardening is physical, it is action, and the videos show this and so allow for deeper learning.
I’d like to share a handful of my favorite Charles Dowding videos, in case you haven’t seen them and in case they might inspire and guide your vegetable gardening.
Watch how Dowding sows carrot seeds and then steps all over them in this video:
You can sow and step like that when there is enough compost on the surface. Compost is at the heart of Dowding’s style of growing vegetables, and it is his sole source of continuing soil fertility. He has made some excellent videos showing his routines for making compost:
And this one from just last week:
This is not theoretical stuff. This is how Dowding does it, and then you can see what the compost does for his vegetables. He even tests the results from different kinds of compost (well-rotted cow manure versus greenwaste and mushroom compost):
Dowding also has been recording for a handful of years vegetable beds that have been tilled compared to beds where the soil has never been dug. Is there a difference in yield, weed growth, water infiltration?
Constant sowing and planting
Dowding constantly sows and plants, and you’ll never see wasted space in his garden. The efficiency is astounding and beautiful, and it reminds me of how much one can get from a small plot that is intensely managed.
Caveats for Southern California gardeners
It’s handy to first have some experience growing vegetables in Southern California before watching Dowding’s videos so that you can avoid trying to use some of his techniques that don’t apply here. The major thing to avoid applying are his planting dates. The far colder winters and far cooler summers of his area make his gardening calendar different from ours. Just disregard dates and references to seasons.
Also, unfortunately in Southern California we can’t water our gardens exactly like Dowding can. Our summers are hot and dry while his summers are warm and periodically wet. He can fill in gaps between rains by handwatering. We can do the same in our winters, but handwatering is more difficult in our summers and approaches unrealistic if your vegetable garden is larger than a couple of raised beds because it requires so much time. (See my recent post, “Handwatering vegetables.”)
I could watch Charles Dowding garden all day, but at some point while watching one of his videos I often feel so motivated that I don’t even finish but rather run out to the yard to apply something I’ve just learned.
Charles Dowding’s website, where you can find his books.
Charles Dowding’s YouTube channel, where you can find all of his videos.