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