December 2020 Bumper Blog prep for winter, new no dig beds and old sides, harvests, broad beans, energies
Autumn has continued very nicely here, as in my new video. November has been almost as mild as October, and less wet with a close-to-average 76mm/3in rain.
However winter is now arriving in the northern hemisphere. There are roots to harvest, ground to clear and tidy, soil to feed, and perhaps new beds to make. Stay busy in winter.
If you have not already, do get in touch with a local tree surgeon or arborist who can deliver you a load of wood chips. These can be used fresh, or better left to decompose for use later. They are an excellent source of fertility, without the worries of contamination caused by the frighteningly poisonous pyralid weedkillers. Scroll to the bottom of this post for more about them.
Spread compost autumn or spring?
You can do either, even sometimes in summer. My preference is for spreading compost at this time of year, as soon as beds come clear, and here are some reasons:
- To feed soil organisms
- Keep soil covered through winter months
- By early spring, winter frost has softened lumps in compost
- To save time in spring, with one job less to do then.
A downside may happen if the compost has many weed seeds, which can germinate if winter is mild, and then be hard to hoe in damp winter weather. Either pull them all, or use some thin cardboard in say late February.
Bed sides old bed
Wooden sided beds look fantastic for perhaps the first couple of years. After that as the wood decomposes, where touching damp compost, problems can begin. For example there are now perfect hiding places for slugs during the daytime. They eat at night when you are not there!
We made a video about removing wooden sides, and showing what I found. I was surprised how rotten the wood was, five-year-old treated timber from a builders yard. The photos show before and after and how I laid cardboard on the nearby grass.
One advantage of sides to a bed is how they prevent or delay incursion of grass and weeds. Therefore if you don’t have sides, you need weed free paths.
See module 3 of online course 1, for details of this and how to lay out paths and beds, when starting out in particular.
Bed sides, new bed
World soil day is almost here, on 5th December. It’s organised by the FAO who want to highlight the value but also fragility of our soils, and how we can improve them. We are marking this day by collaborating with Kevin Espiritu of Epic Gardening in San Diego, California.
Both of us are filming the making of a new bed, no dig and with compost, then we are editing the shared footage. Our idea is to compare and contrast our approaches and results, in two contrasting climates, using probably-different materials, and on different soils.
We filmed a zoom meeting before starting, and shall film another one just before the day. Both of us will edit the footage in our own way, and each will be released as distinct entities on our respective channels. Neither of us has tried something like this before, and I hope it creates good learning opportunities.
No dig success
I receive a lot of lovely testimonials, you can see many of them on this post. Just today a lovely one came from Australia, and thanks to all of you for encouraging feedback, which also encourages others.
“I have over the last 10 years attempted to garden with average results and over those six year I have read many gardening books and tried many methods. I even volunteer at a large market garden one day a week to gain as much knowledge as I can. I am a builder by trade but my true passion is gardening. So to stumble across your books and channel 4 years ago blew me away to the point it gave me confidence to actually start a no dig garden. 4 years later starting with a few simple beds and bought compost we began. So at present we have mapped our growing season while also always pushing the boundaries of the old must do’s and don’ts. We make all our own compost and currently have 20 x 10m beds all no dig organically gardened and grown.
So thank you again for inspiring change and self belief that it can be done.”
Unless your winter is bitterly cold, which do not stop growing! Winter is actually a great opportunity to reduce with numbers and maintain the garden or plot in a tidy state, which means that it’s always ready in from early spring for new showings and plantings. In dark climates, this also means fewer slugs because weed leaves often hide those little grey fellows.
At least with No-Dig, weeds grow much less in the winter nonetheless it’s worth pulling any you see before they go to Seed. It’s also great therapy to be outside in full light full, I feel a lot better after any small sessions in the winter garden.
The word bean causes confusion because broad beans share it with say French beans. The former are hardy to frost, while the latter are definitely not!
We sowed broad beans four weeks ago and transplanted them just before a very frosty night. I brought them straight out of the greenhouse with no hardening off, and they are sitting in the ground unprotected, and they are fine! You can cover them say with mesh or thermacrop, if worried about pests or winter winds. I describe more time-saving tips about propagation and other aspects of gardening in Online Course 2.
In the module trays, I did a compost comparison:
Homeacres harvest day
We currently do most of all picking on a Thursday, ahead of the weekend. At this time of year, I always hope that it’s not too frosty when we start! Last week there was just a light frost and we began by cutting radicchio (chicory) and Chinese cabbage in the shed, before moving out to pick leaves in the polytunnel, and finally some outside. These included dill and chervil, super winter flavours especially chervil.
By 1 o’clock we are ready for a good lunch, and fortunately Kate who helps on Thursdays is an excellent cook. The eating part is what got me into growing four decades ago! For flavour, nutrition and that wonderful feeling of connection to the soil.
It’s only now that we are realising the value of soil microbes. Yet another reason to be no dig, for healthier microbes in both soil and gut.
Harvests & to store
If frosts are slight say -3 C 27F, many vegetables survive well including carrots, beetroot, celeriac and leeks. Bulb fennel however does not stand freezing well and I managed to harvest mine just before it would have been damaged. Then it keeps well in a cool shed for example, for up to three even four weeks.
Before our nights grow even colder I plan to harvest all the beetroot, leaving a little soil and compost on the roots. Next step is toplace them in crates in the shed. Edward and I made a video about such methods to harvest and store winter vegetables. It will be in online course three. There is already a storing vegetables video on YouTube.
Making compost see new video compost Q & A
Compost heaps in the winter do not get as hot, because of lower ambient temperatures and because there are less green materials to add. I should love to gain heat by adding some fresh horse manure from my neighbour Jenny, however I cannot risk that because of possible residues of aminopyralid / paranoid / paralysed!! (autocorrect).
The video has tips on adding weeds, on coping with rats, and how to set up a composting area.
Therefore heaps take longer to mature through the winter, and weed seeds may survive. Nonetheless it’s possible to make lovely compost in the cooler months, and we have recently been spreading some made a year ago. Also we turned a heap which was made in late summer.
Woody ingredients are good, and have resulted here in some delicious muchrooms amongst the celeriac. No dig allows mycelia of all sorts to spread and fruit.
Problems stand out! Therefore I find a tendency to ignore the good bits, in favour of worrying about the odd issue.
Just at the moment, carrot root fly is more prevalent than I would like. And also we have a lot of great carrots! While there is canker on many parsnip shoulders, resulting from wet weather and heavy soil. Perhaps we should harvest them all now and store in boxes, but they would perhaps be less sweet, for freezing less!
I don’t believe everything taught in biodynamic gardening. I also definitely believe there are some really good bits as explained in Monty Waldin’s book. In particular I use the horn manure preparation to enliven soil, just before winter and just before spring.
This involves an hour of stirring the water to make vortices, which bring energy down into it. Next we distribute it all around the garden using a paintbrush to flick droplets of the energised water.
This may all sound vague, however it also feels right to me. There is a lot in nature which we do not know or understand, and which we cannot measure. I have an issue with interpretations of ‘science’, which dismiss anything which ‘scientists’ cannot measure and quantify.
Among other dangerous results, this takes feeling and love out of things we do. Science really should be about understanding nature, a much grander task than quantifying it/her, using the limited means currently available.
The international interest in my work is resulting in new translations, on both my own website, and for You Tube videos. We have invested a lot into having all videos in Spanish, and many languages on other key videos.
Thanks for translations on this site, to
- Spanish by Leslie Sirvent @un_huertito_en_patagonia on IG,
- Anamarija Petkovik for translations to Serbian
- Willemijn Lindeboom for a translation to Italian.
If you want to help by translating video subtitles to your language, we need to add them from an SRT file which you would email to [email protected]
We are also translating the Calendar to Spanish, for digital sale, but formatting has taken longer than I expected! Below is the English version available as double offer here and with my new book here, and as single here – also with my Diary on offer. An excellent Christmas present, to others and to yourself ❄️
Old wheat type, Emmer
One of our lovely course participants gave me some weight from South Devon. It’s an old type called black Emmer. I ground it up in my SAMAP electric stone mill, and made my no knead, sourdough bread it is delicious, and rose very nicely as well.