After four hours of doing this, I'm happy with the result and we are checking the level

Almost-spring late February, wind and weather, sow and plan, heat for plant raising, new no dig, woodchip

January was sunny and calm, February has been dramatic and especially with recent high wind. Nearby at Yeovilton there was a 72mph gust at 1pm on 18th (Storm Eunice), and I’m grateful that the damage was only to temporary structures such as the cage for netting over broccoli, against pigeons. I watched with some trepidation as the greenhouse literally swayed from side to side, but it’s still there! Woodpecker joinery‘s Chris & Louise fitted some braces last summer and I think they saved the day. Likewise the First polytunnels are all intact and did not move at all, the design is good.

The last time we had such strong wind was 27th October 2013 when there was a 76 mph gust, which blew off my garage roof. The atmospheric pressure dropped to 979mb here, this time was 986mb, with more rain in 2013 than yesterday – 20mm compared to 2mm.

There are more high winds coming over the next three days but maybe not quite so severe. Wind can be a sign of season change and there are hints of spring in the air, the birdsong and the new growth of plants and flowers. Spring is in my webshop’s great offers on online courses, available in modules, lessons and bundles including all three together. On the modules page, see the Taster offers of £5 modules to give you an idea of what each course contains.

We have reorganised the online course quizzes by removing the need for 100%. Anna discovered that this allows you to see which are your right and wrong answers, and I’m sorry for the frustrations this has caused.

More on the weather

Weather has always been my keen hobby. This has served me well in gardening because it’s such a key element of everything we do, and Edward had the idea to make this video where I could explain more about it. In gardening, you need to make strategic decisions according to climate, which is the long-term average and gives you probabilities of success. Within that framework, is the interest of weather variations which influence our success.

I’ve seen enough in 49 years of recording weather to have great appreciation for the ups and downs. Despite recent heat in summer, we have not had anything here like 1976. Despite recent winter dramas, there has been nothing like 1963 – I was four years old and remember igloos in the garden. The weather often feels extreme. Some of you might be wondering if I’m denying climate change and that’s not my point, it’s more about expecting and dealing with the drama. It sounds like there is even more in areas of continental climate, mountain, desert, or somewhere like Patagonia for wind.


I was heartened to see on social media how many people have been sowing since Valentine’s Day,  such a lovely time to begin. It coincided amazingly this year with being two days before full moon, which gives a strong start. I follow the moon to some extent but mainly I follow the season, and day-to-day life as well! Sometimes meaning that one is not sowing on the perfect day.

Please see my timeline and Calendar for best vegetables you can sow at different times of the year. Discover more in my seeds & sowing online course module, half price until 20th February. Remember that all advice at the moment is geared to sowing under cover, while I suggest first outdoor sowings after the middle of March, such as carrots and parsnips.

We multisow many vegetables in module trays, and some in seed trays to pick out, and keep all trays in the house for 5-9 days because that gives night-time warmth to speed germination. Germination does not need light (except celery). Then seedlings go into the greenhouse, once I see leaves: at that stage they do better for having full light.

The greenhouse is not heated, which in our climate it’s not a big deal because it’s not too cold. Night temperatures are higher than outside but not by much: if there’s a -5 frost in the garden, it might be -2 in the greenhouse. All the vegetables sown at this time are frost resistant, unless you sow aubergines and peppers (no rush though).

Greenhouse hotbed

The hotbed we create in one corner of the greenhouse is not a space heater, it’s to warm the module trays sitting on top. It’s not an economic proposition, in terms of needing four hours work for two people to fetch the manure in my car trailer, and wheelbarrow it into the structure you see of 1.2m/4ft square, which we create during the process of filling using plywood and wire. It’s simple to erect and quick to dismantle in early June.

The manure is fresh as in two days old or less, which means more heat. The bedding is mostly straw but there is some wood. Straw gives more heat and decomposes more quickly so that’s why I prefer it to wood, because I value the finished compost after one year. Before using that compost, we do a weedkiller (pyralid) trial with broad beans. Early indications are that it’s okay, details of testing are in this video.



Planning plantings

Two P’s are better than three (Precise) because so much weather and life will intervene between plan and planting. I do a rough sketch only, and am happy also for the flexibility afforded by not practicing a four year rotation.

One of my trials is to grow potatoes in the same bed every year. Last year was the seventh, with good results, so this will be year eight and using homesaved Charlotte seed potatoes. See photos below and this webpage about the trial area.

Mulch new ground

If you have some weedy ground and want to grow vegetables and flowers and fruit bushes, any time from now is good to lay covers which exclude light and kill weeds. Some covers feed soil life too, the photos show examples. There is no right or wrong method, just many possibilities –  see this video about mulching Homeacres new area at this time last year.

It’s good to understand which are the most appropriate mulches/covers. according to space and materials available. See my late February video on YouTube about this.


I’ve decided to make a full video about woodchips, because they hold so many possibilities and that one word encompasses so many variations. All of which leads to no little confusion! I’ve been spurred on in this by communication with Brian Pratt from Michigan, recently retired and a keen gardener, on a mission to educate people about woodchip in the garden. He has noticed confusion arising from Paul Gautschi’s original Back to Eden, where Paul is not always clear about mulching the vegetable garden, where he uses woodchip in a composted state, unlike around the trees where he’s using woodchip.

On pathways you can use wood chips in a fresh state, especially if they are from wood of the past year, also called green wood as opposed to old trunks! Preferably they have been chopped in small pieces, and they can be coniferous. If you want to age them it’s easiest to leave them in a pile on the ground, making sure to keep them moist. The photos give an idea of other ways to mature them!

We are filming on Wednesday with Alessandro, for a video release in early March.


My main motivation in growing vegetables has always been their flavour and health giving properties. Your own fresh harvests can bring you much health, not sufficiently recognised until recently, and now I’m encouraged by the attention paid to microbes. This links beautifully to no dig practice, which builds populations of beneficial microbes in soil, similar to those we need in our guts.

In other words, when we eat fresh garden produce, we are giving ourselves health. That is a much bigger statement than avoiding disease. Health is a positive state, of feeling energetic and keen.

Find out more – I’m working with Alessandro @spicymoustache on Instagram, where his excellent reels are giving super recipes, such as this beetroot ketchup.

Salad plants at 5 months age

I do this every year, and I continue to be amazed at the resilience and beauty of these plants, all through the winter and early spring. They include Grenoble Red lettuce, mustards, salad rocket, land cress, endives, chervil and claytonia.

Most of these would survive outside. However they do not give such healthy harvests in mid winter and because I’m growing for sale rather than for eating at home, the leaves need to be high quality. This winter we are getting nice results from outdoor chervil and claytonia, thanks to the mild weather, and mustards under a mesh cover are growing well.

There is just one plant I do not grow in winter for a salad leaves and that is wild rocket, which nonetheless I do sow in September. Then it’s in pots in the greenhouse until February when we plant it out, with a mesh cover over.


Slug reduction

This is a rapid job and highly worthwhile. Every month or so through winter we go through the cabbages, broccoli and Brussels sprouts to remove the yellowing lower leaves. With these cabbage we always find quite a few slugs, which go on the compost heap as well as the leaves. The plants then look fantastic and suffer less pest damage.

Soon the first spring cabbage will be ready because I’ve planted them close enough to remove a few in succession. First harvests are extremely welcome as spring greens and then later harvests have something of a small heart, with more blanched and sweet leaves. They are mostly Wheelers Imperial, see this cabbage growing online lesson.

46 thoughts on “Almost-spring late February, wind and weather, sow and plan, heat for plant raising, new no dig, woodchip

  1. CD – one thing you haven’t shared with us mere mortals is how you get that perfectly symmetrical camber on your beds. I was hoping it might appear in the otherwise inestimable Skills book but unless I’ve missed it… I presume some nifty rakery is involved but do you have a particular technique? Oh and chuffed to see I’m not the only one with nibbled and pooh-ed on PSB! Tho’ still managed a bagload today for Mrs Ps birthday supper.

    1. That is great news on the PSB John.
      As for the perfect camber, I guess it’s something I’ve just got good at over the years, when setting up beds to make them level in the middle really helps. When raking, it’s important not to go too deep, just to skim over the surface to distribute compost from any raised bits into any more hollow bits.

      1. Hi Charles, firstly i am a huge admirer of yourself and what you do. I find your videos so helpful and clear. I have been carry out the no dig method for two years and it really works well.I purchased your 60 cells trays this year so look forward to using them. I have a question on onions. I multi sown some onions 5 weeks ago and put them into the alotment yesterday to find out today that most have flopped and wilted over. They are under a fleece . Do you know the reason for this. They were really healthy putting them in.

        1. Thanks Simon, and oh dear!
          Onion seedlings are both tender yet also hardy and I have a feeling they will recover, after some transplant shock. I hope that’s what it is anyway! I often worry about mine which look so inconsequential and feeble after transplanting. A week later they perk up.

  2. Got a thick seed etc. catalogue in the post yesterday.
    On many pages the F1 varieties out numbered the rest by four to one ore even more.
    Are the seed producers trying to stop us collecting our own seed or control our diets.

  3. Skills For Growing so helpful and inspirational. Looking forward to video on wood chip but wonder, in the meantime, if bark is usable in the same way/value (I have a potential local source).
    Made my first (small) No-dig bed today!

    1. Thanks John, and the answer is both yes & no – bark is more fibres than nutrients and breaks down more slowly as well, making it an excellent mulch for say borders where people just want a cover on top, as opposed to some nutrition.
      Also bark does not encourage the fungal network so much, from what I see.

  4. We have been using your “no dig” methods for sometime and remember the hard work of trying to break down large clods of clay when deep digging.
    We have a flower bed growing michaelmas daisies which unfortunately has taken over the bed. To dig out the spreading roots has been impossible so wondered if you would recommend covering with cardboard and soil.
    Do you think this would eliminate this problem?
    Thanks Eve

    1. Thank you for this Ecelyn, and those plants can be vigorous but they are not deep rooting. I would be inclined to pull them out, while using a sharp spade to cut under the top 2-4 cm of the main surface roots.
      I suspect that if you simply lay cardboard, they will push through. A quicker method could be to use a lawnmower on them to cut really short, almost at soil level and then lay thick cardboard et cetera

  5. Hi Charles, I have some cow manure that was delivered a year ago and I’ve kept the heap covered with black plastic. When I came to spread it, it wasn’t as decomposed as much as I thought it would be after a year. Teeming with worms which was great to see but I believe a sign it’s still being worked on. Now I’m wondering whether it would have been better to have it uncovered, or maybe uncovered part of the time. Do you have any advice? Many thanks.

    1. Often it can slump into a consistency which means too little air, called anaerobic. This makes it smelly and lighter coloured and you would not be seeing worms.
      Therefore it’s a good sign you have the worms and you are right that they are continuing to decompose it – but I have often used it in that state, you put it on top and over time the air gets in further, and it becomes good compost.
      I would look to spread it now and on top of it something lighter, such as your own compost, green waste compost, mushroom compost etc. 2cm or so.

      1. Thanks Charles. And in following you I get lovely veg from the allotment at all times of the year and more fun 😊

  6. Hi Charles
    I am very new to this game. Have a friend doing successful no dig and a brother with green fingers. I’ve taken on an allotment which was untended for a couple of years. I’ve cleared the plot and put down a good layer of well rotted manure a month ago. Will I be able to plant this year, or will I have to clear sections and use compost instead. I’m concerned it might be too wet

    1. Hello Helen and welcome.
      Cow manure even when well rotted can seem very wet but it will dry out, don’t despair. To make things easier you could use a manure fork across the top to ensure it is fully level and then spread a thin 2cm layer of any well decomposed compost on top, for easier sowing and planting. Definitely you will be cropping a lot this year.

  7. Hi Charles, I’m looking to create some beds for my already germinating seedlings, I have two locations in mind one is an uneven slope that I’m not sure if I should dig out to make it more level first. The other is flatter, It has tulips and daffs in do I need to dig out these bulbs as they will block plants.

    1. I would leave the daffodils and tulips to flower, then midsummer remove bulbs to replant, make bed.
      Slopes are ok, best with bed up and down not across.

  8. Hi Charles,
    So, I decided to take the “as early as you dare” challenge. Runner beans (Haricot and Romano) sown 6 Feb (recommended as March here in Western Australia) and planted at 25cm (they grew this tall in about 4 days). I planted them up to the seed on 16 Feb when it was 40C and 35C+ every day since. The A frames went in today, as it has cooled down a bit, and they’re up to 75cm tall. What fun!

  9. Thanks for sharing your experience, it’s so useful as just starting out. I have your calendar and am using it to guide my first steps. I have done first showings mid Feb – do I sow the same things again every few weeks for succession – or just when it says on the calendar? Thanks! Louise

    1. Hi Louise,
      I am encouraged to read of your progress! I must admit I’m having trouble presenting sowing dates in a way that everybody can use them because I find it if I put say just one date for sowing onions, and people miss it for some reason, then they worry that they have lost the chance to sow onions and don’t grow them! Hence I put in a few dates sequentially, as options.
      However that is not suggesting that everybody sows all those vegetables whenever they are mentioned.
      Most succession croppings come from careful and repeat harvesting. Much more than from repeat sowing. For example, sow beetroot now in March, and then not again until June, and you can have beetroot to eat in most months.

    1. They should do if they are not too tall, which results sometimes in stems going black and rotting at this time of year.
      You may notice new stems emerging at the base, so hang in there! And of course it depends on the weather in March

  10. Finally got round to sowing my first seeds of the year.

    Cabbage(Primo), Spinach, loose leaf Lettuce varieties, Mizuna and some Broad Brans to fill in the gaps in the autumn sowed ones.

    I also multi-sowed onions(Ailsa Crag and Red Herald). In one row of the modules, both varieties have gone in by mistake so there will be a mixture!

    It’s good to get started.

  11. This year I have an allotment for the very first time. I am so excited starting a vegetable garden!
    Just after getting that plot I found no dig gardening and the enormous wealth of your YouTube videos. The Skills book and several propagation trays soon followed.
    Now I’ve just received a 1m3 bulkbag of mushroom compost/ bedding. It is still warm and steaming.
    Can I already use it as a weed repressing mulch and plant through it ( rich, mostly clear soil to start on)? Or should I leave it till its done composting?

    1. Hi Pimmie,
      I’m happy that you found my working methods before getting too deeply into the mud!
      Unripe compost is a common problem for anyone starting out on a short time frame. It would be better to leave that compost for another month, if you can bare to wait! You will get better value from it.

      1. Hi Charles
        Thank you for your answer. Would it be better to let the compost sit in that bag for a month or to spread it on the beds and let it sit there for a month?
        And another question, which would be a better addition to the Skills book, the calendar or the diary? I really love the Skills book by the way. Easy to read and just open anywhere and get pulled in reading.
        Thank you!

  12. Morning, just starting off growing anything so trying to learn a lot! I’m a bit confused, what can I sow now, inside? With all the storms I haven’t been able to get outside to start anything yet and I’m concerned I’m going to miss my window of opportunity! I ve only got a tiny plastic greenhouse, which promptly blew over so I’m not risking putting it up again yet but I have purchased all the seeds, compost, pots, seed trays, books etc raring to get going I’m just eager to start! #confused

    1. I can imagine how you may be a little frustrated! However there is no rush and in view of your sparse facilities, you might do better to sow two weeks later than my suggested dates on this timeline.
      If you have space in the house, it may even be worth you buying some grow lights, which are LED and use very little electricity. They will make your plants much stronger and with less thin, long stems.

  13. It’s been a great February for germination for me, Charles. Everything sown has come through beautifully, although interestingly, the lettuce and coriander were slower to emerge than normal (5 days rather than the usual 2/3 days). Peas and broad beans; lettuce and coriander; calabrese and cauliflower; onions and shallots. Finally, a tray with seven different perennial pollinators. That’s me done until early March. The seedlings were outside in the 13C sunshine yesterday afternoon for 4hrs too.

    Woodchips may prove politically to be a great composting resource – hard to see how even the EU/the NATO governments can try and claim there is something dangerous about that. It’s all nonsense what they say about animal manure, but when did common sense ever pervade power-crazy politicians, bankers and corporate suits? My home garden is now covered with 18 month old wood chips – still not fully broken down, so hopefully they will provide regular compost tea to the soil the next two years. It’s time to get another big delivery this spring….

    Here the wind ripped off a carport roof, overturned a wormery (no real damage done, just a pile of wormpiles to put back into the container) and ripped a wooden arch growing climbing roses clean over (which makes accessing the bottom of the garden a challenge right now). The weather reminded me of storms 32 years ago in Switzerland – the very same week, cooler then very mild then cooler again. Those storms ripped rack railway lines due to landslides!

    1. Fascinating update Rhys, and your sowings sound amazing.
      We are about to make a video on woodchip because like you I feel it’s such a great resource, but misunderstood to some extent and it needs care with using correctly. I’m only afraid that demand might overtake supply!
      32 years ago here was heavy snow at this time, amazing difference.

      1. Yeah, that was an amazing week 10-17th February 1990. The alpine resorts that get snow, not rain on a SW wind (the Tarantaise in France, the Mt Blanc massif, along the Swiss-Italian border south of the Rhone valley etc) got 4 metres of snow in a week and it was only rain towards the end of the episode that stopped them getting villages wiped out through avalanches. The rain compressed the snow enough that the avalanches were wet snow, not powder.

        We had two days of snow at 1300m, then it rained up to 2000m for a few hours, dropped down to 1500m for a day or so and then it snowed again down to the valleys. The Jungfrau gets its best snow on NW winds and gets Foehn winds on SW flows in the main…

        I’ve been quite cautious to start with with wood chips, mainly using them initially for paths between beds. I’ve noticed that it turns to compost within one growing season. This year, I’m using broken-down stuff for the growing beds at home because the actual amounts of compost I could make this year were a bit smaller than hoped for, but mostly I’ve put the compost (2cm) first, then the woodchips on top so as to ensure that the soil is still high quality. I’ve also been adding little handfuls of breaking down woodchips along with apple tree prunings into the compost bins as it seems to help the creation of good compost.

        I do think people should do compost for a few years before using woodchips if they can, because the first thing you want is brilliant quality soil. I’ve been doing that for seven years, so I’m happy that my soil is now high quality.

  14. Thank you Charles for all the details in this post!
    I have salad rocket and lettuce growing in the greenhouse for the first time and so far it’s a success! Didn’t know you can overwinter wild rocket and plant out so early. I will try the same next autumn.
    I am very intrigued by the woodchip and composting and also saw your beautiful instagram post with biochar kiln. It prompted me to check out everything about that kiln, and I found that they use woodchip to make biochar.

    Now, I was wondering whether biochar could be a material to replace vermiculite, which is energy intensive to produce and likely causing harm to the people who work in the mines. Biochar made from woodchips should be a pretty inert and nutrient poor material before one steeps it in compost tea, shouldn’t it? The earthly biochar founders don’t recommend it for seed sowing, but they aren’t exactly vegetable growers.
    It would be interesting to know if you are planning to use biochar to improve drainage in any lettuce seed tray, Charles! 😊
    I bought biochar before from a different company and will sow the next batch of lettuce with the leftovers from that bag. Although it came with nutrients added already. But then – my compost also has nutrients and seeds germinate just fine in it.
    Reading your blog sends me off to learn about new things all the time!

  15. As always, I learn a lot from reading these updates.
    After our storm I’ve learned the disappointment they bring. Much more when you have put so much time learning to sow and transplant so well. Now all gone.
    Yet the weather will always be here. I need to invest more in better structures to avoid this. I’ve invested time with no dig now it’s time to use the same approach in the structures around the allotment.

    1. So sorry for you Amy, and I know that feeling.
      It was tough and go here, with the greenhouse actually swaying, the whole structure. But it’s still there!
      And First Tunnels are brilliant,expensive, you get what you pay for as you are seeing. Hope it works for you going forward.

  16. I love the fact that, since following your sowing timeline, February is fast becoming one of my favourite months (despite the storms) as it is so full of hope. I have finally sourced some free manure quite nearby and will be making a hotbed soon. Can’t wait for the wood chip video either – now from which trees will I lop off a branch or two!😉

    1. Nice to hear Susan.
      February is an interesting month!!
      Preview of woodchip, wood of any tree is good, it’s more about size of chip and whether the wood is green, grew last year. Old wood decomposes far more slowly.

  17. Hi Charles,
    We inherited a 72 ft poly tunnel on our property, it runs East to West ( front door facing the prevailing SW / W winds. ) I have been using our HiLux to deflect the huge gusts here in Cornwall! So far so good . Next doors ripped to pieces , theirs runs North South.
    We are thinking of getting another, but lots of conflicting advice. Do you have any recommendations? Which way is yours sited?

    1. Interesting and well done Dave.
      Mine aligns with the hedge so is ESE-WNW.
      Any strong W winds rush in one end, and one side gets hot in summer. But it works.
      I would stay with what works already and I’m sorry to hear about your neighbour’s tunnel.

  18. Good to see you are going to address woodchips in more detail. Could you make a note to address leaf mold? I have unlimited access to deciduous leaves every year. Much less access to compost. In the past, my father used sheep or cow manure for amending soil, I have followed him. In Canada, compost is not as readily available, but manure, wood chips and leaf mold are plentiful. I have major wild animal issues to take into consideration, black bears live locally. Raccoons etc are a bother, bears are dangerous.

    1. Yes sure, and leaf mould is compost once aged, as is manure, so it seems you have plenty.
      I’m glad we have no bears here.

  19. A very long question.
    Sowing timeline question
    Working from your calendar I’m trying to plan succession plantings.
    Cabbage for example, start Feb 14, then every 14 days. I can’t transplant until mid late April under low tunnel. Local planting advise tells me I can plant onions April 11th. My last frost date is May 15. How do I manage all the seedlings? I have a small greenhouse which can be kept above freezing.
    If each sowing I plant 5-6, by March 23, I will have about 30 cabbage seedlings of varying maturity. There would be similar numbers of broccoli & cauliflower seedlings.
    My in ground growing space is not endless, approx 120 Sq feet for all beds. Will be using containers for large plants such as tomatoes & peppers.
    I could plant the oldest and youngest seedlings next to each other, this would give space for growing, with harvesting starting approx 60 days from transplanting.
    Should I move starting date for sowing cabbage, broccoli etc to end of February or March 7th, and move sowing date along accordingly?
    I’m still unsure of how to manage numbers of larger seedlings and still have a good output of these vegetables for my family.

    1. Hi Freda,
      Creativity calls, or a larger greenhouse!
      Yes some sowing later, transplanting smaller.
      Have fun trying a few things, growth varies with weather and results vary so it’s hard to be precise on results

      1. I can see me stashing transplants under lettuce leaves. Once risk of frost has passed, I’m planning to grow all sorts of melons in the greenhouse. What is a vegetable or fruit you would like to grow in the greenhouse if your climate was warmer?

  20. Thank you for a very informative post! Funnily enough I got to like not knowing which question was incorrect as it made you review everything. Painful but great to relearn😏

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