December 2019, no dig ease and success, harvests all year from good timings
The new gardening year is already underway, with winter’s simple and quick bed preparation of my no dig method.
1 Clear any plant residues and weeds – or if a lot of weeds lay cardboard
2 Mulch (cover) the bed surface with 3-5cm/1-2in organic matter, preferably compost of reasonable quality, though it need not be perfect, and don’t worry to sieve it. Compost shelters fewer slugs than undecomposed matter, and it can be of any origin such as homemade, leaves, wood chip, manure, mushroom and green waste compost you buy.
3 Same approach to path weeds, by hand or with cardboard, topped with less fine compost of wood chips no more than 3-4cm/1.5in, preferably part decomposed already.
3 Enjoy your Christmas.
Reasons for tidiness in the vegetable plot
I love wild edges, and I love tidy beds, you can have both and they complement each other. Any overgrown edges harbour the wildlife which is not in the tidy middle, and in damp climates that means slugs.
I was reminded of this while harvesting chicory, where some older leaves were decaying. Mostly we tidy plants of their older leaves, but had not got to these chicory plants. Their heart or head was still fine, but you get the idea of how slugs like to live and breed when given the right conditions.
Caterpillars are another matter, surviving our frosts which are only -2.5C/28F so far. They are making a real mess of chard and beetroot leaves in the polytunnel, and we find a few on lettuce and chicory too! Bright green ones are I believe from cabbage moth, am grateful to hear more if you know.
No dig gains ground, saves time and effort (1)
I was reminded of the effort part while digging (oh yes!) the dig bed of my trial, for the eighth time. At least the soil feels softer every year, perhaps from the compost I add in its trenches, but also I fear because of less crumb aggregation, as shown in this microscope study by Katelyn Solbakk (protozoa princess on Instagram).
- The dig bed of my two-bed comparison takes two and half hours to dig, spread the compost in each trench as I go, then rake level.
- The no dig bed takes 40 minutes to fill two barrowloads of compost, spread it and rake level.
- Each year the dig bed needs extra time spent weeding, compared to the no dig. Weeds keep growing all year, it feels like the soil is healing (it uses weeds for that, such as “chickweed follows the rotovator) – and then I dig it again!
- Harvests in 2019 were 91.5kg dig bed, 107.4kg no dig.
It’s such an interesting study of soil, and about why we do things we have been advised to do. My online course about no dig gardening is selling well and has a lot of information about al these things, including the history, how to clear weeds, details about soil and compost, and cropping plans.
No dig gains ground, saves time and effort (2)
My latest video covers this subject, about the ease of making new plantings in summer, to keep the plot full all year.
I love how some parts of Homeacres have a lot of fungi in the beds, perhaps from the woody bits in my homemade compost. Wood decays in a fungal manner and some in a compost heap is good, just not too much unless you don’t mind waiting longer for the compost to be ready.
On a recent course a participant works on a large vegetable farm where they are harvesting Brussels sprouts, and he sent me a photo to show the difficulty of field harvests in wet weather. He is using my approach in his garden, and there needs more work to develop no til for fieldwork.
In gardening it’s straightforward, and there is a surge of interest on Instagram for example, see this video interview at Homeacres by Lucy Start of @shegrowsveg.
Next April I am speaking at Highgrove Gardens, tickets are on sale 6th December.
Why use compost as the mulch, on beds
A compost mulch is like soft soil on the surface, always easy to plant into, quick to spread, helping to grow food all year. Any weeds pull out easily as well.
Compost is anything decomposed, such as the horse manure in my photo.
Compost holds its nutrients in water-insoluble form, hence the successful and strong growth of second plantings in summer, into beds where no compost is pre-applied. The photo below right shows growth in beds where no feeds or compost have been given during the whole of 2019.
This is not my favourite time of year, however there are recompenses in the harvests of such wonderful flavour. Homegrown Brussels sprouts are top of my list, followed by any root vegetable, and leaves such as kale and spinach which grow sweeter in cold weather. They use sugar as antifreeze, so cool 🙂
Yesterday I sauteed sliced carrots in a little oil, on low heat for 40 minutes. The texture and flavour are out of this world, a delicacy, so simple. See Steph’s vegetable recipe book for many more ideas, it’s available on her website.
For timings and general monthly advice
This leads me to shameless promotion of my 2020 Calendar, for its help with keeping your sowings on track through all of next year, even until autumn. We are running offers on larger numbers and on double packs, of which the Diary and Calendar combination is especially popular.
Salads through winter
I have most plants in the unheated polytunnel, planted mid October. A few are in boxes on greenhouse staging, where there is now free space. Plus some outside under fleece, mostly Grenoble Red lettuce.
and we have one more planting to make, of broad beans sown November, good luck with yours