April 2021 new plantings and beds, growing seed from winter root vegetables, bioreactor of woodchip, cold ahead

Transplanting times are here, but watch out for cold weather too. Plants ready now are frost hardy, such as lettuce, peas, onions and broccoli. I advise to wait until mid April before sowing frost tender cucurbits, even under cover. While beans can wait until May.

My new online course 3 is full of these details. It’s a huge resource with many new Edward videos! Soon we shall release it lesson by lesson, so that you can choose the vegetables you want to know more about.

Old and new

There are still plenty of winter vegetables, so we are not yet in the hungry gap. The parsnips I harvested recently will keep for two or three weeks in the shed, where also we have beetroot, carrots and celeriac. In the conservatory are onions, garlic and squash, while outside leeks should continue through April, and grow more.

Plus broccoli is beginning, always an exciting moment. I value it more now, than if it was an early variety in winter.


New plantings

Transplants from the mid February sowings come ready to plant out at different times, according to the size of module trays you use, and the quality of compost. My new online course 3 has the range of transplanting dates for 40 main vegetables, and also a harvesting timeline.

So far we have transplanted salad onions, lettuce, spinach, peas for shoots, beetroot and some onions. We are about halfway through this first batch of planting. Usually we do it with two people – I dib the holes and Adam or Briony or Emma pop in the plants. I do not harden off, plants come straight from the unheated greenhouse., this saves much time, and fleece protects them after planting.

Root damage from transplanting? The main thing is that the general integrity of each plant’s root system stays intact, while there may be a little damage around the edge, and plants quickly recover from that.

Sowings under cover

There is still time to sow tomatoes undercover. Mine are just appearing from being sown 10 days ago. Early April is a top time for sowing leeks and basil. Around mid April I sow chard, after finding that if sown earlier, some plants tend to bolt during the summer. See my Calendar for more dates.

I am pleased and relieved to notice that the Moorland Gold compost, which started so badly, is now growing very nice plants. 

I think it was too fresh at the beginning and this affected the early germination in particular. I have never found it necessary to use a special seed compost but in this case it would have been better.

If your sowing has fallen behind, a great source of transplants is the Delfland Organic Nursery, and here is their newsletter which has detail about vegetables to sow and grow now.

DAMPING OFF is a sudden collapsing  of seedlings, soon after germination, caused by too-frequent watering mainly. Also from insufficient ventilation, and trays which have probably too many seedlings. The results of these three things is that leaves stay wet all the time, and fungal parasites can turn them mouldy. Then the seedlings die.

  • Water less often, give more air, sow trays less thickly.

New trays – available in Europe now

I am pleased with this first spring of using my new module trays, and I hope you also are having good results. I find it needs about 2 L of compost to fill them, and you can see the size of plants which grow, which are fine for transplanting outside. They slide out nice and easily, and the trays are firm  which makes them easy to hold in one hand, while popping seedlings into holes with the other hand. In the UK, top sellers are The Refill Room.

I was sent photos of broad beans growing in the CD 60, by Jan in Cambridgeshire. She had noticed that I advised against doing this, and her experience shows you can! But let seedlings grow a bit so that all seed energy is used, otherwise rodents may eat the still-emptying seeds after you transplant.

Sowings outside

It’s still early for sowing outside, and the only seeds we have put in direct are carrots and parsnips. We put just a few radish seed in the drills about 5 cm apart, and the sowings are now covered with fleece for warmth.

Cardboard for weed elimination

We have used a lot of cardboard this spring for making new beds. If it were not for taking in new ground, I would not be using any cardboard for beds or paths.

Common questions about using cardboard are how soon after making a new bed with card at the bottom, can you plant. The answer is immediately. As long as it stays damp, cardboard decomposes gradually and within say two months, roots of vegetables from above can pass through into the soil below, while also weeds can push upwards. The effect is temporary and very useful.

Do you have to remove it? No never, it decomposes in situ.

Does it have poisonous chemicals? I cannot find evidence for this and the glues appear to be mostly starch and water. However there apparently are studies in Germany indicating some problems.

New beds creation

We are gradually creating new beds and planting areas on the new land – see my Course book for details. Around 280 m² or 10,000 ft² has been under polythene since January, also with varying amounts of cardboard, soil, and compost.

Some of the pasture growth is dead, most is half dead and needs light exclusion for longer. Plus we need to keep removing some strong regrowth of for example wild chervil and burdock.

Beds are 1.2 m wide and pathways 40 cm wide.

Grow seed

We selected some of the nicest Boltardy beetroot from last December, and transplanted them at 40 cm spacing. All being well they grow strong stems, flower and cross pollinate and we can collect seeds in late summer. I have not done this before so I’m not certain of success! 

Likewise we have transplanted 10 onion bulbs, and seven carrots. After doing that I read that 40 carrots is advisable for a good gene pool, and I do not have that many excellent ones. I had not covered the carrots, and rabbits found them! So now they are under mesh.


Small garden

By mid March about 2/3 of the small garden bed space was available for new planting, and we filled it all up at equinox. I find the spring equinox is a nice time for sowing and planting in this climate. You can see progress in the new video, publishing 31st March on You Tube.


When I started gardening 40 years ago, this resource barely existed. Now it is amazingly common and has so many uses. Its value, clean with no chemical residues, has also been heightened by problems with weedkiller in manure.

I am delighted to have found a source of both old and new woodchip, from the pile of a local tree surgeon. He sells it for £60 plus VAT for around three tons.


The Johnson Su method is getting a little more known now and we just made a proper version of their bioreactor, after my initial rather botched attempt last year. The main difference is that I purchased some proper weld mesh, which I believe is mostly used in making concrete floors. It’s much stronger than shockproof fencing.

Adam filled it with new woodchip, after cutting holes in the pallet which keeps the drainpipes in place. About three days after filling and watering, he pulled out the pipes, which leaves nice air holes right the way from top to bottom. It’s an aerobic way to compost wood chip.


69 thoughts on “April 2021 new plantings and beds, growing seed from winter root vegetables, bioreactor of woodchip, cold ahead

  1. Regarding wood chips in the bioreactor. In his video – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c9BWFcfJ8t0 – David Johnson says NOT to use wood chips unless you have to, to keep the density of the pile down. The pile should be made with the sort of ingredients you would use for a “normal” compost heap.

    1. hanks Adam.
      I did not know, having only watched an earlier video where he uses woodchips. On the other hand, there is this video where woodchips are decomposing pretty well in the middle of a reactor heap!

  2. Hi Charles, I have loved following your videos and reading your books over the last few months and I am enjoying watching the garden burst into life follow your recommendations. We are hoping to move house in the next 12 months or so and I was wondering if there’s anyone you can recommend I can follow for learning about garden design in general for when we get our new garden?

  3. I have been a UK (Sussex) NoDig allotmenter for 5 years now, thank you Charles for all you are doing on teaching. Looking forward to course books 2 and 3. Loving my new CD 60 cell trays – as the others say, perfect size for minimum waste of compost and transplanting at the right stage.
    I am struggling however with fleece. Tried it for the first time last spring, it certainly helps those early transplants, but I’m finding it shreds into micro plastics in days, I think because my allotment is a bit windy and exposed (this is the ‘heavier’ 30 gram). I remember you mentioning Charles that you had tried muslin as a non-plastic alternative, but not got on with it that well. Can we have a non-plastic fleece equivalent of the CD 60 cell?! I see a reader above is trying nylon net curtains. Appreciate any other suggestions for non-shredding, non-plastic insulation for transplants on a windy allotment that have worked well for the NoDig community.

    1. Thanks Charlotte, this is good to hear. I especially like that you are getting on well with the new trays.

      It’s the holy grail, non-plastic plant protection and the muslim does work, but costs four to five times as much, and degrades where it stays wet under any rocks put on it to hold it in place.

      It sounds wrong to me that your fleece is degrading so fast. It’s pretty windy here but we secure it tight, over transplants set deep so they are not being too pushed down and it lasts for 3-4 years, sometimes longer. Still it is plastic I know.

      There is a very fine, soft mesh you can buy which would give less warmth protection but good wind protection and will last for 10 years and more

  4. I’m just starting the no dig method on my parents old veggie patch – it’s been covered by cardboard and some chipboard panels for 6 months so not many weeds. the soil is however rather compacted – should I just put the 4in compost medium straight on top (after watering) or should I gently aerated with a fork first? Thanks for all your wonderful advice – my back is especially loving the no dig gardening.

    1. Sarah, soil does not need to be loose and crumbly for roots to enter. What you call compact is firm.
      No need to fork!

  5. Charles,

    I have started seedlings under grow lights in my basement with steady temps that resemble room temperature (being a basement the temps can fluctuate a bit more then the rest of the house). Could I plant my seedlings straight into the garden without hardening off like you do from the green house? Or should I take more caution?

    Seedlings are: onions, bunching onions, parsley, cilantro, thyme, spinach, broccoli, Swiss chard, romaine lettuce.

  6. Looking at 30g fleece substitutes, I now trying plain nylon net curtains. They are tightly woven, and petrochemical based but they are very robust and last for years. Mine came from the charity shop but I have had some from Ikea off the roll so length is no object.

    I have no idea if being woven they are less warm than30g fleece. I feel an experiment coming on…

    1. Suella, I’d be very interested to hear how you get on with net curtains. I have thought of using them too, but not got any yet. Do keep us updated as to your experience please.

  7. We have a huge population of mice this year. Does anyone have any experience or suggestions? The shop recommended a special poison but I am afraid of killing the neighbors cats of which I am rather fond of. Should I get some cats of my own? I am unsure how to set traps as the classical ones are to be inserted in their tunnels which crumble in the compost layers of 20+ cm. So far they have eaten most of my Brassicas (roots) 20+ and some spinach and carrots.

    1. Hi Alexandra,
      Are you sure these are mice doing the damage? I live in California and I have had gophers do the kind of damage you are describing. They will eat the roots and sometimes the entire large plant disappears under the ground. Sometimes they will just leave a wilted plant behind and only eat the roots and stem of the plant. You can check if it is gophers by digging with your hand in the soil to see if there is a tunnel. Gophers can be trapped, just cover the trap which is inserted in the tunnel with a cover to keep out light to fool the gopher and to keep stray cats from being caught.
      I have cats which control the rodent population, sometimes even gophers. The cats love the garden and do patrol in the garden during the day. Do be careful of poisons because it can kill the cats if they eat a poisoned mouse.

      1. Humane traps from E-bay, carry them off to some other spot. It worked for me this year, when I gave up on traditional traps. It was too much like slaughter after 6 mice and one vole. It was the vole which clinched it.

  8. Thanks for this. Always something new and exciting happening on your place. Thanks so much for all the sharing you do.

    Interesting to see your 2020 Johnson Su bio-reactor results. How will you be using it? Or just continuing the experiment?

    I seem to remember you once said that you watered less frquently than the originators did in Arizona(?) I would imagine to get that Weldmesh bent took some muscle. I wonder if doing it half scale with stock fence would get hot enough? That would be very tempting to try at home.

  9. After 30 years of gardening the “conventional” way I decided it was time to change. At the end of last summer I switched to “No Dig” and created new beds with a layer of seaweed mulch, cardboard and homemade compost. On Tuesday I was very happy and planted out my healthy module grown cabbages – protected with collars and covered with fleece. Today I am grumpy. Half of them have been eaten by Cutworms. I can only assume my bed of seaweed and compost was particularly attractive to the parent moths because closer examination shows it is full of larvae. I won’t give up though and have already sown some more cabbages which should be ready for planting out in 5 or 6 weeks but I am tempted to fork through the top couple of inches of compost and let the birds and the forthcoming cold snap do their bit.

    1. Ah shame.
      In a similar vein we have leather jackets and wireworm here, but not in catastrophic number. I hope that as your soil quality improves, the cutworm population will stabilise.

  10. Hi Charles. Am I right on understanding you sow everything but parsnip, carrot and broad beans in the Containerwise 77 or 60. Including runner beans?

    1. Almost Graham, but I do not use the 77, find it too deep and holds too much compost, bottom hole too small, so for runner beans / broad beans I use the 40L

  11. Hi Charles – I’ve noticed you don’t seem to grow Japanese onions. Is that simply because you prefer to overwinter salad onions or is it ‘cos they don’t keep well. Or some other reason? My PSB is all but over now – we’ve eaten it nearly every day for the past month and we will miss it. It seems a lot earlier than yours – is that just a varietal difference do you think (mine is Mendocino sown in July)? I can’t think of any other time my stuff has been ready before yours!! My wife thinks I’m holding out on her over the radishes – I also sowed mine in mid-Feb but they’re still practically seedlings.

    1. Not sure how are you conclude that because I do not grow Japanese onions. The ones you see are White Lisbon which are Allium cepa, not the fistulosum type.

      Yes it’s a varietal difference, Claret. Sown June.

      And soil quality – you will get there!

  12. Hello! Thanks for all the great content, it inspired me to start a market garden myself, in Germany. I fully trust the no dig system, but so far I’ve been running into some problems.
    First, we ordered a lot of mushroom compost, but that was way to hot to use still so we’ve decided to let it sit till next year. Then we decided to use greenwaste compost from a company that was recommended to us. It was not completely ready yet, so we let it sit for a month and now Im finally sowing out in our new beds. However, no matter how much I water, only the top centimeter of the compost stays moist for an hour or so and afterwards Im left with a very dusty, dry bed which I cannot imagine will be any good for seeds/seedlings.

    Have you experienced this before, or any tips on how to deal with this? Im a bit scared that I wont be able to get any crops this year with this compost.

    Thanks in advance!


    1. I am sorry to read this Sam and yes I have experienced this same problem, which is why I advised to buy these composts a few months before using them.

      However, life does not always run so smoothly and even here this spring I have been buying some compost and using it straight away, and have this issue exactly! It is just a question of it being too fresh, also the green waste compost is made too hot really and takes time to fill with the life organisms which help it to behave like normal compost.

      The best remedy I know is to spread say 3cm on top, using any fungal rich compost such as two year old woodchip, leaf mould, or home-made compost. Possibly old animal manure if you can be sure it has new persistent weedkiller!

      Your beds will grow great plants this autumn but yes, spring could be difficult.

      1. Charles, you’re an angel. Thanks for your comforting words and I’ll give your solution a shot for sure. Best of luck with your garden aswell!

  13. Is there a source in America for the 60 cell tray made by Containerwise?
    Forrest Gill
    Chehalis, WA

  14. Hi Charles
    I am trying to find a way of getting a weather forecast online that specifically deals with frost risk but failing. Is it sufficient to expect frost when overnight temperatures fall below 3 degrees Celsius?

    Any advice most welcome.

    1. Yes +3 to 4 C and you need to allow for microclimate, so if your plot is in a hollow or deeper valley, you will be colder.

  15. Hi Charles,
    I patiently waited for 9.30am uk time to order your seed trays the other day, only to find that they were only available in UK. I have since read somewhere mention of German or Belgium manufacturers. Is there a possibility of them being available to us in Europe at sometime in the future? You seem to have a lot of followers here in Spain. Thanks for your inspiration.

  16. Thanks for the latest post Charles, like many others I’m very appreciative of your wisdom, enthusiasm, and dedication. I have a quick question about planting dates for potatoes – why the delay in planting 2nd earlies and maincrop if we can plant first earlies now? Are they less frost resistant?

    1. First earlies planted now will have leaves before the last frosts of mid May, needs work to protect them.
      For the other potatoes there is less rush or need for that early growth, which results in potential damage

  17. Wood chip is pretty rare in rural Spain , but recently I was able to make a huge quantity from a neighbours felled walnut tree , just the ramial branches . Composted manure is non existent too , but I obtained some very fresh strawy stuff from a local organic goat herd . I have mixed equal quantities by volume of wood chip and manure , watering well each layer . It’s now wonderfully hot and the slow worms have moved in ! I am hoping this works , I have been composting all my life but using fresh wood chip and fresh manure is a first , hope it works.

    1. Deborah
      We live in NE Spain, wild northerly winds , gusting upto 120kms.
      We’ve put down our first lot of compost and are now ready to plant, probably a bit late this year.
      Which planting calendar do you use as a guide?

  18. My wife unknowingly endorsed the no dig principles by commenting that I had brought back so much more produce from our 100 sq metre allotment last year than in previous years. Largely due to your Youtube videos. I received your Course 1 book and Course 2 online as a Christmas present.

    I bought CD 60 trays as soon as I saw your comments and agree with all the comments above. Much easier at home and on the plot.

    A thought on the sizes of mini trays. At home I only have one south facing window and that is in a room that is used frequently by my wife. The trays fit nicely into a standard gravel tray and I have a small heat pad which accommodates one full and one half tray. I have kept some trays at full size for onions, lettuce, spinach and other “large” sowings. Others I have cut to 6, 12, and 24 cells for such sowings as radish, beetroot and brassicas where we only need a few plants. I can then fit small sowings into the one full size and the one half size gravel trays and move individual sowings to another gravel tray in the light once they have germinated. A much tidier solution which has received domestic approval.

    On digestate I used used some as mulch and was also not impressed. Two weeks ago I put a thin layer of well composted stable manure from a bag bought at the local garden centre. Planting first early potatoes, I was impressed with the rate of decomposition in that time. So were the earthworms.

  19. One interesting point of note is that the Valdor lettuces I kept growing over the winter (when we had three bouts of snow and two very hard frosts of at least -5C) have survived beautifully and are now ready for harvest.

    Obviously, if you have a polytunnel you will not be thinking of growing lettuces outdoors over the winter, but it does appear to be possible in the southern UK (here in NW London, in general our winters are just a bit more severe than Charles’ down in Somerset).

    But if you would like juicy fresh lettuce leaves in the month of April, before the early sowings are ready to start picking leaves from (rarely before May here in my experience), this may be one viable strategy.

    I got my seeds from Seed Cooperative and have grown them successfully the past two years, although it is only this year that I grew them on through the winter.

  20. A good read. Thank you. Delighted to hear that new trays are to be made. My husband has cut all of ours into 10s with a saw.

    1. i cut 3 of mine too, into various shapes and sizes, some of them as small as six! This is wonderfully useful in my large propagator as you can rearrange them as different seedlings germinate at different rates and need to come out, so I use the space better. Also my 35 year successional-sowing-without -gluts learning curve is greatly aided!

    2. Ahh I was wondering if that would be successful as I wanted the ones I’ve already bought cut to fit my propagator and was thinking of cutting them into 30’s.

      Are you pleased with the result, Caroline?

      1. Yes, they are brilliant. Just an ordinary saw.

        You need to be careful to cut between the rows. He only got one slightly wrong but I can still use it.

  21. HI Charles
    Just want to say how wonderful your new seed trays are. They are economical on compost, just the right size, and its so easy to slip the young plants out to transplant. Finally I can succeed at your method of dibbing a hole and slipping them into their planting place.
    No more struggling with flimsy plastic trays and destroying plants in the process!
    I have just placed a second order.
    Many thanks!

  22. Thankyou for your post Charles. I am particulary interested in your woodchip compost experiments, having watched the Paul Gautschi, Back to Eden film several times.

    1. I have made several trials with the back to Eden method and my conclusion is that the layer of compost underneath the woodchip is vital. The Woodchip mulch should be thick in areas with prolonged drought and hot summers. If you get rain practically every week, you can skip the chips alltogether and lower slug pressure significantly.
      If you look closely, Gautschi puts chips on his orchard only, the veg garden gets the compost his chickens produce, and he uses that rake a lot.

  23. A happy evening when there is a new post from Charles. It’s great seeing his new adventures and even more happily I have done quite a lot of the above!!! Apart from the fennel😌celery and celeriac doing well in the propagator and can’t wait for the basil sowing. Thank you Charles ! Deborah

  24. I don’t think you can emphasize too strongly that the smaller cell size such as in your custom modular trays is far better for the simple ease of removing the young plants with an intact root ball.
    I had to use some too-large modules and the root system had not developed throughout the over-roomy cells leading inevitably to the contents falling apart when planting out yesterday. No significant harm done, as I managed to recover the root ball, but I am looking forward to ordering your trays as soon as funds permit!

      1. I had exactly the same problem today whilst planting out onions sown into 4cm module cells on 28th February. Next year I will revert back to 3cm cells….

    1. Hi Jeuan,
      I have a couple of trays I will willingly send to you. When you order them from Containerwise you have to order 5 and I definitely do not need five
      If you email me your address I will send to you
      [email protected]

      1. I am also happy to hear that others have been able to cut the trays to make smaller ones ie 10 cells
        Hopefully I am proficient enough with the saw and don’t need to visit the local A and E !

      2. Hello Julie,
        I’ve just seen your message. That is extraordinarily generous and kind of you.
        I would be very grateful for them. I will email you.
        Again, many thanks

  25. Nice to hear Danielle and that sowing of melon should be fine.

    For the seed saving, I am not being ambitious, with just one variety of each vegetable, otherwise it can be pretty scary and difficult, to get a good result

  26. Hurray! Another post. I have been getting itchy feet and checking daily for the last few days!! Haha!!
    Oh dear. I sowed my Minnesota midget melons last week to take advantage of the full moon! Hopefully they will be ok, and I will just have to pot them on if they outgrow their little pots. They are in our glass roofed south facing conservatory so shouldn’t suffer from frost.
    I’m excited to follow your progress on seed saving biennials! Will you try saving from more than 1 variety at a time with all its trials of preventing cross breeding? Or are you just planning on a few different veg?

    1. Is it still legal to send seed outside UK? We have watched in dismay how most producers stopped sending to EU and I rely now on my family and friends to send me some seeds now and then.

      1. Any plants, seeds, and animals need permits and certificates after Brexit. Inward or outward bound alike…

        1. I believe there is a small mistake in the sizes of the new beds. They are probably 100cm or 1m and the paths 40cm instead of 4cm…

          1. Alex, it does say “Beds are 1.2 m wide and pathways 40 cm wide.” Hope I did not write 4cm elsewhere!!

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