Broad beans flowering, sown November

April 2020 no dig methods to sow and plant, transplant size, what is compost, keep sowing

There is now an epic amount of interest in food growing, and this is seasonal advice. Also about starting out. It’s based on no dig and seasonal methods, keeping things simple and in a well informed way, as my online courses explain.

Now there are many “newbies”, yet in a way we are all beginners, starting afresh every year, with more to learn. The beauty of no dig is that it’s easy to understand and quick to maintain. See also my Instagram for updates, and Stephanie Hafferty is posting daily advice there.

Top sowings coming up from 5th April are basil and leeks under cover, in warmth to get them germinated. You can still sow tomatoes now, I have a few more to sow – and later sowing is good for tomatoes to grow outside.

Sowing and transplanting no dig

Seedlings need to be a certain size – but how big in fact? I suggest you study the photos, for an idea of the size we transplant here. Quite small and direct from small modules of 3-4cm/1-1.5in diameter and not too deep. This makes them quick to pop into a pre-dibbed hole. Then we water the new plants, straight onto each module hole. See below for planting depth.

For seeds I use a hoe to draw drills in surface compost, about 2-3cm/1in from top to bottom, so seeds are 1.5cm/0.5in deep approximately. At the moment it’s dry and we pre-water along the bottom of each sowing line. There is plenty more about this in Course 2 Growing Success.

Transplant size

Small is beautiful. The main thing to avoid is growing seedlings beyond the “carrying capacity” of their module rootball, and the light available to each seedling in the tray. Older seedlings tend to draw upwards.

Plus they may run short of nutrients and go pale, with lower leaves yellowing first. This results in a delay after planting while their roots need to replenish the existing stem and leaves, before new growth can happen. It’s all more of a “shock” than need be, when plants go out quite small.

Planting depth

For potatoes, the top of each potato needs to be about 3in/7cm below surface level, See new Start No Dig video. If you cannot buy potato seed, use some from the store, which are sprouting. (If not sprouting they may have have been treated not to sprout). See if there is a variety name, so you know when they will be ready to harvest.

Watering new plantings

 It’s good to water all new plantings, after popping them in and pushing down on the modules, to ensure good contact. We use a can with a rose to wet the surface compost just around each planting hole, and not all the bed. That saves time and water.

If it stays sunny after planting, even now in April it’s worth going back to give a little more water to new plantings, after say 3-4 days. During the first week their roots are still confined mostly to the module compost.

New videos

We have found time for as much filming and editing as possible. There is a surge of interest since Covid lockdown, and many new subscribers to my You Tube channel.

If you have not yet seen it, so check out Grow your Health. The next one Start No Dig goes live on Monday morning 30th March. It would be live now if I had faster upload speed. It includes a bed I planted as soon as I had made it – there is no need to wait.

In the pipeline are videos about no dig bed prep and planting, and early cropping in French.

Manure becomes compost

These are confusing words. Compost is anything decomposed, so old manure is compost. How fine it is depends partly on the bedding and if that was wood flakes, it may be two years before you would want to fill a bed with it.

Wood chip becomes compost

The miracle of wood chip – if you can have some delivered, a wonderful free resource. I hope that tree surgeons and arborists continue to work now, if so they have this useful waste product. Do enquire of them. 

Discover a lot more about making and using compost in my No Dig Course 1.

Pests & problems in April

I have been dismayed to find caterpillars on spinach, lambs lettuce, chard and kale. They have profited from a mild winter. However there are too few to make much difference. Slugs can be more problematic, the little grey ones of spring, and keeping a garden tidy is a big help, with no old pieces of wood lining beds for example.

April flowers

Such a lovely time for flowers. See Sarah Raven, for many bulbs and plants although despatch is now slow, and they are overwhelmed with seed orders. The freesia came from her in 2012 and flowers every spring, with a gorgeous scent – I have some by the computer while writing this.

Overwintered vegetables

As we head for the hungry gap, the plantings of autumn come into their own. They have developed strong root systems which profit from spring sunlight, even in low temperatures.

Here is a photographic tour of them at Homeacres in late March this year. They are in order of sowing dates, leeks first and broad beans are the latest sowing of these.

Q/A No dig starting out

Rubble in soil

Tom:

How would you tackle some brick and concrete in a potential no dig plot? I have been trying to remove as much as possible but not sure I can remove it all.

Charles

I would leave most of it, just remove any stone or concrete which is protruding above soil level. Then mulch over.

Plants will root between the soil rubble. It’s like that in a few places at Homeacres, especially the small garden.

Rock and rotation

Laura:

I live in central Texas and have about 8 inches of soil depth before I hit limestone bedrock so I have 3 questions.

1. What is the optimal soil depth for growing veg?

2. What is the optimal soil depth for dwarf fruit trees?

3. Do you advise crop rotation in no dig beds?

Charles – 8in (20cm)  is not bad! Limestone also, holds moisture and food, responds well to the increasing biological activity from no dig, releasing minerals.

1. Vegetables will grow nicely in say a foot of soil, so a 4in (10cm) mulch of compost would be good for your conditions.

2. The trees also will grow in that, with but stout stakes to support their dwarf root system..

3. Crop rotation is worthwhile but can be less stringent than a strict four years. Also in small areas, plants of each family are closer to each other. I allow say a year between growing plants of the same family.

Online course for Australia and different climates

Travis

I’ve seen your videos on youtube and love your style. I saw your online courses and was thinking about signing up. Only issue is, i’m based on Melbourne (Australia) and i’m not sure your content would be as applicable here? I’ve studied permaculture overseas and found it difficult to bring home the learnings, so before signing up, I wanted to know how adaptable the learnings from your online course are to Australia? Obviously, we’re in a different zone (Mediterranean) and soil (sandy loamy) is a bit different where i am too.

Charles

  • I see similar with permaculture, that it’s not taught always to adapt methods to conditions. I have three thousand Instagram followers in Melbourne and excellent feedback, even though summers are hotter etc.
  • Followers in Florida on sandy soil, comment on the success of no dig with compost mulch. This is compared to other techniques such as wood chip, although that can work if they are well composted, i.e.compost!
  • Time-wise you would adapt to sow say a month earlier in spring, then 3-4 weeks later after midsummer. There are a fair few participants for the courses in Australia, even Queensland.

More on wood chip

Cathrine in Denmark asked about wood chip for paths

Charles – Any wood chip is good for paths, and it does not need to be deep, say 3cm.

Quicker soil improvement is from older, half composted chips; but fresh works too. Conifers take longer to decompose and are better for paths than in say a compost heap.

Spacings

On page 158 in the chapter, ‘Early sowings and plantings’, you have the spacing recommendation for calabrese and early cabbage at 30-40cm distance. On page 175 in the chapter, ‘Successional sowings and plantings’, you have the spacing recommendation for calabrese and early cabbage at 45cm distance. Could you tell me the reason behind this difference in spacing between the early and later planting?

Charles

The early plantings grow quickly to head or heart, before summer flowering.  Brassicas flower in summer. Therefore new plantings in early spring have less time to grow large, unlike in autumn.

Membrane leave it down?

Charles – Ah no, please remove, it shreds and often even disappears below ground. You never want it in the soil, a barrier to life and growth.

Digestate – any good for mulching?

Charles – I have encountered two types of digester waste – from plants (maize and grass), and from manure, usually cow slurry.

In containers, the former grew weak plants and the latter grew strong ones.

In mulching, the former just sat on top and was not eaten much by soil organisms. Have not tried the latter.

New beds on couch grass?

Charles – For vigorous couch grass (crab, twitch, ) I suggest two layers of thick cardboard, including on the paths and areas adjacent to new beds.

No need to try and remove the couch grass or other weeds first.

Yes compost on card for beds, maybe a little wood chip for path and edge.

Seed saving – will my Cavolo Nero seeds come true?

Charles –Seeds come true if there are no other flowering plants nearby of the same family.

Plus most vegetables (not pea, French bean, tomato and lettuce) need cross pollination by nearby plants of the same variety.

So the Cavolo Nero will come true if there are say 6-8 plants flowered together.

Don’t overwater seedlings

A reader had poor growth, had assumed that “because there is no much roots this means more watering until there are enough roots to suck the water from the bottom using the developed roots”

– no they are just little plantlets!

Noticeboard

55  yr old needs help with 3/4 acre garden. Please help, near Kinsale, Cork, Ireland.

[email protected]

57 thoughts on “April 2020 no dig methods to sow and plant, transplant size, what is compost, keep sowing

  1. You mentioned the hungry gap – this year for the first time I planted in the autumn spring cabbage to help when the sprouting broccoli and kales etc finished . One lot uk classic spring greens , other lot local “repollo “ cabbage plants ( Galicia, Nth Spain ) . Unfortunately, we had an unexpected heatwave for about two weeks, 20c in late morning January, and both plantings just went to seed . I presume from the abnormal heat ? However , I have to report that I have been picking the flower sprouts and they are absolutely delicious.

    1. Hi Deborah, yes I heard about that heatwave! And likewise our mild winter here has resulted in my Greensleeves “spring cabbage” going to flower now, also with delicious stem as you say.
      I think it’s also about poor seed maintenance. Spring cabbage is not a hot seller for seed companies, fewer people now grow them. Imo they are neglecting to look after them by seed selection.
      My recent sowings give less strong growth than I experienced in the 1980’s. And Greyhound from Kings last year was appalling, plus others reported the same.

      1. Oh, this explains why almost all of my autumn sown brassicas are going to seed. If you have found any varieties that work well from an autumn sowing, please let us know!! I did not have this problem so much last year.

        1. I also experienced this problem with cabbages not hearting and now producing flower shoots. Have been harvesting leaves and shoots. I wondered why this happened to me. Relieved to have an explanation.

    2. even after years of growing them in my polytunnel I regard cabbage as a bit tricky, not totally predictable!
      For spring cabbage I always sow Duncan from Kings in September. Last autumn the plants were small ( partly as a result of a problem experienced with poor bought compost last year and also perhaps a lack of sun and inattention from me.) so when I transplanted them late – 17th December – about a month/6 weeks later than usual they made little growth in the cool weather. However in the sunshine of the last few weeks they have more than quadrupled in size. I shall be interested to see if they do form hearts. Last year I harvested the first Duncan on 3rd April and last 3rd June. so the plants this year are way behind. Just when they are badly needed!

      On this point was very impressed Charles with the photo of the lovely veg from your new dig larder

  2. Hi Charles, whilst I make my own compost, I don’t nearly make enough and I end up buying bags from different nurseries. I should have learnt my lesson from last year when half my broad beans (24 plants ) amounted to nothing which I discovered -thanks to your video – were poisoned (aminopyralid). I have had a bit of a fright as I think it has happened again as lettuce plants in my greenhouse have all the signs of aminopyralid poisoning. This is so frustrating , can I really not trust bags of compost ? I have now taken 25 samples of compost around my veg beds and am now running broad bean tests. I am now paranoid that the cow manure I get from the farm where we live could be problematic as the cows eat hay and we have added this to our compost heaps. Anyway the tests will take time and I need to get plants in the ground but should I wait ? Do you run tests on all the external manure and compost you put on your beds?
    Thanks so much! Victoria

    1. Hi, I think best would be to ask the farmer how they treat their grass fields, explaining the reason why you care about it. Also, if you run tests this year, I think it’s fine to “trust” this source of compost in terms of the results won’t change with next delivery.

      Official sources here in Germany advise to not plant any of the following plants for at least 18 months when Aminopyralid has been used: Any of leguminose or nightshades families as the herbicide is targeting these families explicitly. https://www.lfl.bayern.de/mam/cms07/ips/dateien/pr__sentation_aminopyralid.pdf is German but contains a list of plants to avoid to plant when the herbicide was in use: Potatos, sunflowers, peas etc, tomatos, salad, carrots.

      Here in Germany it’s also strongly advised by officials to not use horse manure for horticulture. The reasons are what Charles said in various articles, videos already — it still contains all the bad stuff that was used on the grassland. If you have a trusty source of horse manure where you know what they eat, where you know how and when they’re medically treated, it should be fine. Just wanted to point out that governments and other officials know about these problems and have advice for it. Finding good compost is hard work. Fingers crossed you find or already have some good one now.

  3. I think my “Hungry Gap” is the time in between one post/video of yours to the next! This was a fantastic post! Thank you!

  4. I absolutely agree with the miracle of woodchip. Our garden was so overgrown and wild when we moved here that I’m trying to cultivate it bit by bit. I riddle the chippings to get smaller bits to add as brown for my rotating composter. I also use them for paths and over cardboard to mark out new flower beds. I can scrape it off 6/12 later and the old wood chip becomes the border. This year I cleared one wood chip pile and the soil beneath was weed free so I could pop 2 new beds down by simply adding compost! No sides and no digging so easy! Thank you Charles I wasted so much effort before I found your videos!

  5. I also have a question! I saved lots of marigold seeds from last year and absolutely no germination at all!
    Could this be because the plants were too spaced out and did not cross pollinate? Same with Tarragon, I only had one plant. The parsley seed I saved is fabulous as is the oregano and there was only one plant of each of these. I have a lettuce in the polytunnel that I’m waiting to seed but although it has bolted and seeds heads appeared nothing has happened for a while ie they don’t seem to be drying out. should I pull it up to dry it?
    I also have bulb fennel from last year that I hope will flower and produce seed, any advice?
    Do you cover seed saving in your online course?
    thanks again Charles all your advice is really appreciated!

    1. Are you S hemisphere to have lettuce already flowered?
      Yes there is seed saving in Course 2.
      You have broken a ‘rule’ by saving from only one parsley, congratulations!
      Mangold, spinach etc are difficult, not seeds but clusters, need to be very dry before harvest.

      1. I’m in Ireland. The lettuce was from last summer and it has bolted in the polytunnel. Now you say so its is probably flower buds I’m looking at not seed heads! Think I’ll need to get the online course!

    2. Chris, have you tried germinating marigold seeds without covering them with compost? I just sowed some in trays and the instructions on the packet said ‘light needed for germination’. Two days on and there are already visible signs that germination is occurring.

      There are quite a lot of flower seeds like this, as I have learned this year sowing lots of different pollinators for the first time.

  6. Hello Charles. As usual, such a helpful and informative post. The current lockdown has helped me to get ion top of all my seed sowing this year and I’m potting on my teeny seedlings as per your advice. Thank you for your encouragement. Stay well. Suzie x

  7. Hi Charles!
    Writing from Northern Poland, where it’s been snowing all morning… I’ve been delaying moving beetroot and spinach seedlings outside undercover because it’s been so cold at night, and now the snow… I’m running out of space indoors for the seedling trays…
    Anyways… I’m writing to ask your advice on sowing onions.
    This year, for some reason I delayed sowing onions and still have not done it. At this point, would you still advise to multisow them indoors to move out later or should I just sow them direct now (well, not now now, but when it stops snowing 🙂 ? According to your timeline, these will no longer grow to fully develop bulbs, and will be good as salad onion, is that correct? Have I completely missed my chance to grow onions this year?
    Thank you for another great post – I’m off to watch your new video!

    1. Sara

      Last year I sowed onion clumps in southern UK in modules in the second week of April, transplanted out first week of May and still got a pretty reasonable crop. They lost absolutely no time to cold upon transplantation and were the healthiest young plants I have ever grown.

      So I am pretty sure you can still sow modules in Poland.

  8. I have waited too long to plant out my bolthardy beetroot, they were pot bound and had some pale leaves. I have now planted them, will they recover?

  9. I am impressed with the quality of the Purple Sprouting Broccoli in your no dig vegetable larder photo. Could you tell me please the name of the variety?

  10. Thanks, Charles for another brilliant and inspiring post. Like many other commenters, this ‘lockdown’ combined with the nicest weather of the year has allowed me to devote a lot of my time to getting my garden started. I am a definite newbie, but I have my beds, built and my compost should be in by tomorrow. Fleece should arrive tomorrow and my first seeds and seedlings (peas and some pretty lanky looking boltardy 😕) should be going in with my first early potatoes. Can’t thank you enough for the knowledge and wisdom you have shared here and on YouTube.

    All the best,
    Brian

    1. Cheers Brian, I like that people are getting stuck in!
      Do firm the compost, and plant the long stems below surface level.

  11. Thanks Charles as always.

    Couple of questions
    1) I sowed broad beans Feb 15th as per your calendar (which is amazing by the way!) I have now planted them out a week ago. I used a deep root trainer. They are very leggy and floppy and just sit on the ground, do they need staking or will they rise as the roots get stronger?

    2) I notice your boltardy beetroot planting in modules seem much more stocky and stable than my leggy ones (while in the module), do you sow the seed deep in the module? How do you attain that stability?

    Thanks!

    1. Thanks Gareth.
      It sounds like your seedlings have grown on a windowsill? If so it’s the half-light making them grow tall. Mine are full light in a greenhouse, after germinating 5 days in the house.
      You need to transplant more deeply, same with beans. They take a while to grow, are making roots first.

      1. Charles, I am wondering … is your greenhouse heated?
        Or are the beetroot placed on a hot bed.

        With just having a polytunnel I find moving germinated seeds from indoors out to pt a bit of a challenge while we are still getting cold spells

        1. Hi Lynn,

          I notice your Question remains unanswered. If you look Up charle’s Videos on Youtube you will find some on Propagation – his greenhouse is unheated and yes he uses ahot bed…

    1. Yes it does.
      Horsetail still grows but is easier to pull and less inclined to take over.
      Still a difficult weed though.

  12. Hi Charles,
    I’ve been thinking of how to get more varieties of plum and gage trees into my kitchen garden. I already have a fan and a pyramid plum, which are coming into maturity, but I’ve had the idea for some time now since building my 1.2m wide raised veg beds, of having a trained fruit tree at the end of each one. It’s a thorny one as 1.2m is not much to play with, certainly too narrow for a conventional fan, and there seems to be conflicting reports on the suitability of cordons for plums.

    I see you have your Opal grown more as a bush, but trained back against the shed – does this work well for you? I can’t say I’ve seen this before, but it might be the answer to my problem.

    Thanks for the post – your diary is becoming invaluable too!

    1. Cheers Mike and yes Opal on Pixie/Pixy is not too vigorous, could work like that. Prune hard from May to July only.

  13. Just a quick follow up to one of Charles’ insights from two weeks ago:

    I germinated two sets of lettuce seeds this spring. Both sets germinated absolutely beautifully, but then I transplanted the first lot into what might euphemistically be called ‘rubbish module trays’ (my good ones were full of other things) and the second lot I transplanted into ‘proper polystyrene 48 module trays’ (after transplanting peas and beetroots freed some up).

    The first lot had some eaten by slugs, some just died off, some survived but did not thrive so well.

    The second lot, 100% of them transplanted beautifully, all look perfect and none seem under any danger of pest attack.

    Just shows the big difference that seemingly small things can make.

  14. Thanks for such a comprehensive update Charles – Always eagerly awaited and appreciated.

    I have a Question About when to remove Fleece. Next week here in my Corner of Switzerland the forecast is for constant sunshine and temperatures ranging from 5° in the night to 25°C in the afternoon. Is this too warm to use Fleece?

    Many thanks and stay healthy

    1. Thanks, and it depends on fleece thickness and vegetable growing. And soil moisture.
      For lettuce, spinach, beetroot I would remove it. Perhaps onions too. Those night temperatures are fine.

  15. Thanks for answering my question about fleece, now one about animal manure…
    I think you have previously mentioned on your website that you use this only after it is 2 years old – why is this?
    I ask because last summer I collected very fresh cow and horse manure on straw from an organic farm and after less than a year it now looks fully broken down and perfect to use on my new beds….

    1. Normally Peter I say 6-12 months, while two years is even better.
      It’s partly because farmers are not compost makers and one year in an anaerobic heap sees little decomposition.
      Yours however sounds good to go.

      1. Thanks for the clarification, I’ll spread it on the new bed I’m making following your recent excellent Video. Then I’ll be off to the City farm and see if I can help them dispose of some cow and pig manure Ready for next year….

  16. Hi, Have seen your latest YouTube video about making new no dig beds, Would there be anything you would do different if a glass greenhouse (8×6) was placed on the grass?, Would Tomato’s, sweet peppers and basil be ok to plant into the new compost ?

  17. Looking like a record early harvest of radish for me this year. I followed your advice to sow in modules and plant out under fleece in mid-March and now roots are starting to swell and we should be eating them within four or five days. A good 10 days earlier than I have ever had them before.

    Looking like an early year for asparagus too.

  18. Charles

    I sowed Kohlrabi in modules for the first time this year and, not knowing what to expect, put two or three seeds in each.

    With almost 100% germination, it looks like I have potential clumps to plant out.

    Do Kohlrabi grow well in clumps, do you know? I am happy to try out two clumps and three singles in a 1.5m row if you have not….

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *