Small garden no dig, spring

April update, warmth loving veg, no dig cropping and weed plus slug control, small garden

A season change is happening and most of us can make new sowings undercover of vegetables that need summer warmth to germinate and grow.

The frequency of cold nights is reducing but you need to know your last frost date. In London and big UK cities this has mostly passed, likewise near coasts. Whereas gardens in rural valleys, such as Homeacres, may (or may not!) experience a frost until mid May. Therefore I raise frost-sensitive plants in the greenhouse until then, after germinating them often on a windowsill.

Vegetables that need warmth – sow undercover

Sowings to make now include courgette/zucchini, winter squash, summer squash and cucumbers you plan to grow under cover. These are all fast growing cucurbits so after about two weeks, be prepared to pot on seeds from modules into say 3cm pots, and give them more space.

Sweetcorn, tomatoes for growing outside and basil are also good to sow now undercover.

Sowings I don’t make yet include French and runner/pole beans, and cucumber for planting outside. They need full warmth, and May sowings of these grow more healthily than April ones.

Vegetables that tolerate cold

This category of plants include many that are already growing outside, such as onions, lettuce, peas, broad beans, spinach, cabbage, broccoli and coriander. Check my sowing timeline for when these are suitable to sow again, or others which are especially good to sow now, such as leeks, chard, and leaf beet spinach.

You can also sow kale, Brussels sprouts and autumn cabbage now, but I prefer to wait until May 10th before sowing them, because then I can set them out after clearing overwintered spring onions and salads, or spring sown spinach. Or the Brussels we plant between carrots which are cropping.

Potatoes, parsnips, beetroot

There is still time to plant seed potatoes, even if they happen not to be chatted. I find that Charlotte and other second early varieties planted now can often be ready to harvest my mid July. We still have some Charlotte in sacks, from last summer’s harvest, such a useful vegetable!

Parsnips also can be sown until June, as long as you keep the bed moist until seedling leaves appear, at least two weeks. See Weeds below, best sow in a weed free surface.

Beetroot are looking great and thanks to compost mulch with no green manures, forking or covers, there are few slugs and no damage to leaves.

New video on fleece and mesh

Edward and I filmed this video on a wet afternoon, a rare event recently and there was only 3mm rain on that occasion. So far we have had 30mm/1.2in in April and the ground has been drying on the surface in east winds. This helps reduce slugs, and means you need to water new plantings until they have got some roots down into the moisture below.

This weekend may be 21C/70F in parts of the UK and it may be worth removing fleece covers between Friday and Sunday.

Spring photos, not fleece related

The no dig broccoli has rooted well and stood up in the gales. No dig means no soil disturbance, no forking, just leave soil life to build structure. Feed soil life with compost, which harbours no slugs.

Sarah Raven hosted me teaching no dig at her lovely garden in Perch Hill Sussex, and I shall teach the same next year at Perch Hill, 8th April 2020. They have a lovely compost palace which people mistake for a wedding venue.

Dig/no dig compared, no dig bed on right

The dig bed continues to underperform, but not for all vegetables: mainly brassicas, beetroot and peas, the same as last year.

Potatoes look stronger on dig, as are the weeds. Watering is more difficult/slower on the dig bed because new water smears the surface soil, making the water run sideways.


Perennials – Keep removing any new growth of perennial weeds, especially bindweed which is revving up as soil warms.

Annuals – If you see a lot of new seedlings, run a hoe or rake through the surface to dislodge them, on a dry day. Then they die in situ.

All weeds can go on your compost heap. My online course has a lot about clearing weeds, no dig. I just received this course feedback from a student in Hamburg:

I really enjoyed the course. I wasn´t sure what more than in your Youtube videos could be in the course. But now there is the whole picture, all the pieces fell in the right place.

Wood mulches

I was upset to hear of poor growth except for potatoes and onion sets, from someone who had spread (fresh) wood shavings over the compost, Generally I don’t recommend this for vegetables, whose new roots are so near the surface and may suffer from nutrient competition. The potatoes and onions start off deeper and below the wood, so were not affected.

On the other hand you can use wood mulches around perennials and fruit bushes, whose roots are established and deeper.

Small garden

Many new crops are established and I removed fleece today 18th April, as the days warm to 19C/66F, for a while at least. Harvests this week were 380g Claytonia with pretty white flowers, 290g spinach, 240g spring onion, 200g radish, 110g coriander, 60g pea shoots, 50g land cress, 40g chives, and 40g chervil = 1.25kg/2.8lb fresh leafy veg and herbs.

The first two photos are by Jason Ingram who is here monthly for my series on the family garden, in Which? Gardening 20120. My current series on no dig is featured monthly this year.

See my online course for last year’s cropping and planting plans.

Courses coming up

The no dig courses at Homeacres continue to sell out, but there are places still for compost making and using on June 1st, and “next level” on June 8th. Both of these courses include a lot of information about no dig fundamentals, namely getting soil fertile and weed free.

Also in June is my talk about no dig in central Bristol at the Tobacco Factory Theatre. Before that I am giving a day course in NW England at Marbury Hall.

35 thoughts on “April update, warmth loving veg, no dig cropping and weed plus slug control, small garden

  1. Hello Mr Charles I’m from Grecce,I see you from YouTube 2 years ago. I see, you make compost, I make compost and I want to communicate with you and send you photos to tell me my mistake and tell me your advice, if you can please, I wrote and my email [email protected]

  2. We are trying to start a no dig farm but we have a huge problem with slugs. We did a trial last year and the cardboard we put down became a nice shelter for the slugs so nothing we planted survived. Do you have any suggestions of ways to do no dig without having this problem?
    We are on instagram @thehilliestfarm if your interested.
    Also love your work!

    1. Sorry to hear this. To answer such a question, I would need to know where you are, your climate & rainfall, what you tried to grow.
      Slugs do not just appear and it may be that you put cardboard down quite late in winter to middle of spring, with perhaps not enough good compost.
      Perhaps then you planted slug-sensitive plants very soon. Perhaps also your weather stayed damp and dull, perhaps also your new plantings were a little bit marginal for the weather, with seedlings not very strong.
      In the first year, what I call year one, slugs are more problematic as I say over and over so this year should be a lot easier for you.

  3. Hi Charles, I came across your book Organic Gardening and have tried to keep to your ethos. It makes complete sense to work the way nature intended.
    I would like a copy of your calender and also your gardening diary, I see you are out of stock of the diary. It did show that you might be getting some more of the diary by the end of April, if this is the case then please may I have the signed double?

    Yours in hope Peter

  4. Hi Charles, I am now in my second year of no dig and it’s all coming together nicely – except for one thing, ground elder. One side of my plot is bounded by an old stone wall with a dense growth of ground elder along its length. I have a two foot strip of grass between the wall and the plot that we keep mowed but the pesky ground elder just keeps coming through. It’s stubborn stuff.
    Any suggestions? I am reluctant to spray but may yet be driven to it.

    1. Nice to hear except for the ground elder, an option is to cover the grass strip with say black polythene for a year.
      On the other hand your regular mowing is weakening it’s roots and yes you will need to remove new invading growth for a while, but less all the time

  5. Hi Charles,

    I am in year one of my veg planting journey and wanted to know your advice on how much water to give? I have 2 beds and some veg planted in pots, at the minute I am watering every day and veg seems to be growing well, I have harvested lettuce and radishes so far. Should I continue this way or am I watering too much? I tend to water the germinating seeds in my greenhouse a bit less, perhaps every 2-3 days. Weather has been very nice so far this year (I am midlands).

    1. Keeley I would water veg in the ground less often, say every 4-5 days in beds if it has not rained, and as you are for pots, depending on size of plant, and 2-3 days for germinating seeds is good at this time of year

  6. Thank you Charles for passing your knowledge on to all. On finding back copies I note you used to write in the Organic Gardening magazine in the 80’s.
    I am so pleased you now have such a wide audience via the blogs, etc as all you extol really works.
    I see you have flea beetle in your, radish would this be whats eating the rocket here as well?

    kind regards Barbara

    1. Ah yes the ’80s, another world!
      Thanks for your comment Barbara and yes, flea beetle eat holes in rocket and all young brassica leaves in spring and summer. I grow pea shoots and lettuce instead.

  7. Thank you for all your wonderful advice and optimism Charles! I am an allotmenteer of 10 years trying to convert to no dig at the moment and in a suburb of Notts getting enough compost isn’t always easy. I am gradually increasing my home composting and fetching a few bags of horse manure at a time to rot down. I was wondering if you have tried any module plantings using Coconut coir based composts as it is becoming a bit more available as a peat replacement and is a bit more portable in dried blocks? I am thinking of mixing it with home made compost for tomatoes particularly.
    Happy Easter!

    1. Nice to hear Pip and I have not tried coir.
      Look for coffee grounds to add to your compost too.
      Hope it goes well.

      1. Thank you Charles. I will do that, there are a few places I can sometimes get them from around here.

      2. If you have a Waitrose store locally they will probably be happy to give you spent coffee grounds (from their in store coffee machines). In Winchester they put them in a bin outside the store

        Also after reading one of Charles’ comments on compost and the possibility of incorporating spent hops I thought about asking local micro breweries if they give these away.

        I bag up loads of leaves in the autumn and rot them down for two years. I add chopped up comfrey leaves to add nutrients and use this particularly to mulch no dig potatoes as the shoots emerge

  8. Dear Charles
    I have just discovered you and no dig via Twitter & ordered your book & diary on Friday so really looking forward to reading what I need to do as I have so much to learn. Faced problem no 1 yesterday I have 2 old raised beds in my garden which I had covered all winter & about to plant veg in them (carrots etc as you suggest the time is right) but find ants have taken over. Is it ok to plant around them & if so what would you plant? Or is there anything I can do to remove them that won’t harm the worms etc. I guess the cover I used was too accommodating & kept the beds a bit dry so the ants liked it. I’ll guess I’ll try something else next year. I was prepared for slugs not ants the garden always challenges or should I say surprises you!

    1. Hello Fiona, nice you are underway however it was a mistake to cover as ants like that, as you say. I would remove any wooden sides too as they like them too, for dry warmth near the wood – but then you need to mulch paths with cardboard to stop weeds invading beds.
      Some chilli powder or chillies in boiling water + garlic can deter ants.
      You needed to have your carrot bed open for say two weeks before, there may be slugs now as well!

  9. Hi Charles. You have really inspired me to make a serious effort on my allotment this year. You have probs been asked this many times but to get started do I put cardboard down and then compost- using bagged from BQ – or just compost on to soil?

  10. Dear Charles,
    It’s almost 6am and I have enjoyed my cup of coffee in bed whilst reading your latest update. Thank you so much!
    It was not just full of very useful information but it was a total joy to read. Great to see the photo of the course participants in Co. Offaly. Gardening can be such a solitary occupation, if like me you have no neighbours so it’s great to see others enjoying the “Sport”. Yes Sport! Gardening keeps us fit physically and our minds active with all the planning and knowledge needed. And it’s competitive. Gardeners versus the Weather, versus the Weeds etc. and like all good Sportsmen gardeners need the right psychology to win.

    So thank you again Charles for providing that, for illustrating your successes, and highlighting the easy path (like hoeing weeds before they get big), and pointing the best way for us to achieve success like advice to not sow runner beans etc yet.
    You are wonderfully generous with all your knowledge and inspiration.
    Great job!
    Lynn in Hampshire (no reply necessary)

    1. Haha Lynn I like this, gardening as sport, and it’s true we all like to compare with others. Thanks for your comment.

  11. Charles

    Last frost dates can be very variable in the London area. It is not that unusual to have a ground frost the last week of April, although some years it has been as early as March 10th. Last year I was caught by a late frost when trying planting out some very early dwarf beans under fleece, trying to emulate one of your Somerset-based readers!

    Nature can be fooled too. The ‘rogue’ potatoes unharvested from last year came through around the equinox this year, but a frost ten days ago did bad damage to my Casablancas growing in pots. I usually plant my maincrops the second half of April up here.

    From experience, 1st April onwards is reliable for direct sowing of parsnip, radish and turnip, 15th April usually works for Amsterdam carrots and I have found maincrop carrots do better with a May- rather than April sowing.

    1. Hello Rhys and many thanks for your comment, helpful for many readers.
      I would still sow parsnip earlier, so there is less risk of the surface drying out before seeds germinate. Mine are only two leaf stage now, from sowing 5 weeks ago 12th March.

      1. Re last frost dates…
        Hard frost here in Hampshire last night. I do live in a frost hollow on the 250foot contour line so I guess some other Hampshire places will have escaped unscathed.
        I did cover all the new potato growth with leaf mould last night and loads of fleece covering in poly tunnel so fingers crossed!

  12. Hi Charles,last year I got my first allotment. Unfortunately, I wasn’t aware of no dig at the time and therefore started to dig over the plot. Upon seeing the less work needed for better yields with your no dig method,and also my inability to continue digging on account of my back, I have decided to convert to no dig.

    My questions are: How much compost would I need to spread on the beds initially? And also, I am having problems sourcing compost. The counsel don’t sell their green waste to the public, we have a rented car with no tow hook so we can’t transport manure from farms etc, and we can’t afford to spend hundreds of pounds on deliveries.What should I do?

    1. I would use black polythene in year one to kill weeds on say half your plat, or even more, then concentrate on the smaller remainder.
      If starting in winter you could have used cardboard and just a little compost, say 1in. But now it’s growing season and cardboard for new plantings needs minimum say 3in compost on top.
      Or perhaps you have no weeds? Hard to give a course of action with no knowledge of the plot.
      To grow fine veg you need some compost, say a few sacks of the cheapest, one or two beds, you may be surprised at the harvests.

  13. Hi Charles, what are you doing answering e-mails at 4.55am? You should be outside in your pjs checking your garden for rabbits – like me. Seriously though, thanks for all the excellent advice. You have transformed my vegetable garden here in France. Bon courage!

  14. Hi there! Thank you for your wonderful videos and website! In this post, is the no dig bed on the right and dig on the left? Thank you.
    All the best to you!

    1. Hello Kathleen and thanks for your comment.
      Yes the dig bed is left, no dig right in all the photos, I shall make that clearer.

      1. OK so no dig is right in all the photos — makes sense. (BTW, one of the captions still suggests otherwise). Anyway, interesting update and great stuff as usual!

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