December 2021 feed soil life, new no dig, 50% discounts, new wallchart, broad bean planting, events

The wonderful and life-increasing jobs of early winter, if you have not already done them, are to feed soil organisms with mulches of organic matter on the surface. We are using 2.5cm (measure after it settles) of home-made compost mostly, and a similar depth of woodchip for the paths. This is the only preparation you need to do, before spring, unless you have a lot of weeds in which case it’s good to lay cardboard on top of them, before spreading the mulches.

Some say that winter starts on 1st December, some say at the solstice, and I reckon it begins now with the cold and winds, just after the latest full moon. We have swapped southerlies for northerlies, frosts are more common if not severe, and growth is almost stopped.

Prior to this it has been a lovely mild autumn and harvests continue to be good, ever since the warmth arrived exactly 6 months ago at an analogous time, on a full moon in late May.

To celebrate winter’s opportunities for learning, we are offering 50% discounts on all online courses until 31st December, using the coupon #nodigforlife before checkout.

We also now have product and event pages for next years courses here, together with open days on 22nd May and 4th September.

Bitter is better?

I am surprised that more people do not enjoy these leaves, which are so nutritious and easy to grow in the autumn. All these plants are sown in early July, and that makes them so easy to find space for, after onions, broccoli peas et cetera.

Many course participants have commented on how mild are the endive leaves, even though outer leaves are unblanched, and I attribute that to a combination of no dig soil quality, together with the excellent varieties Diva and Bubikopf. Both chicory and endive are bitter tasting, there’s no disputing that, but this bitterness is good for the liver and they are fresh leaves of gorgeous colour.


First year no dig

The new land continues to impress me a lot, such as the celeriac, cabbages and mustard. Adam sowed the latter after we lifted the black plastic, which had been suppressing bindweed while the amazing harvest of winter squash grew and matured They are now a staple of winter food here and in a few vegetable boxes, plus for course lunches next spring.

In one of those beds we sowed four year old seeds of mizuna and mustards – which all grew! – and they are fantastic for cutting to put in the salad bags. We also harvest some tips of the white mustard, which will eventually be killed by frost, so it’s a good green manure for no dig. In two other beds we sowed broad beans to cut as whole plants in early May, as a green manure. I cover them with Thermacrop as bird prevention and wind shelter.

Broad beans

We have transplanted some broad beans and shall transplant the rest next week, from sowings in late October to very early November. I used to reckon on 5th November as best date to sow broad beans but I now sow a week or two earlier despite the mild autumns. Last year they were damaged by the cold weather, partly from not being established in time. It’s a balancing act between having them too small and too large, and many of you have said that you prefer a spring sowing, which I quite understand.

We did well this spring with beans sown in January in the greenhouse, with a mouse trap alongside. I use 5cm modules and prefer polystyrene to polypropylene, for more air around the roots, but the latter is possible. My CD60 trays are small for broad beans.


Wallchart, Calendar, new book

We have an exciting new product, a sowing timeline wallchart to remind you of all those opportunities! It is perennial and not date specific for any year.

We are really sorry about the calendar-template mistake, even though it does not affect any sowing dates. We are almost finished sending out calendars of the new printing, to people who ordered them before 26th October.

In mid December here my new book should arrive, self published, all about skills for vegetable growing. It’s been a huge job to write, edit and design this one, after it started life based on the second online course Growing Success. Turning the content into a book meant it kept developing, under the guidance of Anna my editor, and I wrote a lot of new material. It’s on back order and we can’t promise you would receive it by Christmas. If printing goes to plan, we shall post it and also the double pack offers, by about 18th December.

In the USA and Canada, the book will be available from Chelsea Green Publishing. For North America, it’s being printed as I write this by Marquis Printing in Quebec. I am happy to have decided to do that, rather than shipping across the Atlantic because that process has become very long and expensive. I shall have more to say about that in the spring, in relation to another book I am writing.

Bees and videos

The three colonies of bees which arrived here at solstice have given us so much pleasure, and now have even yielded some honey. Black Bee Honey were amazed by this, in such a short time. They have been caring for the bees this year.

The honey is so tasty, highly floral, and here is the video we made, edited by Alessandro of Spicy Moustache. His YouTube channel is about his suburban, no dig garden in London, and also he made a video comparing Homeacres to his garden..

Seeds and

Where will you buy seeds this winter? I was expecting to be unable to purchase from my favourite Bingenheimer Saatgut in Germany but apparently you can, it just takes longer. Otherwise I recommend the Seed Cooperative in Lincolnshire, Real Seeds of course and Vital Seeds in Devon. Of mainstream companies I like Marshalls.

I have grown Puntarelle chicory and have forgotten why I did so because finding it delicious. The tomatoes we picked a month ago in a huff right state I know in beautiful condition, lovely in dishes of beans and stews of winter vegetables. Parsnips are not brilliant because we always seem to get canker here in the wet soil, not waterlogged at all but it’s heavy silt, great in summer but less good in winter, even with compost on top. Gladiator F1 does resist canker somewhat, even better is White Gem.

Workshops, and articles on weather, winter, repeat cropping, making compost

On 7th and 8th December I give two, day workshops near Inverness. There are still places but two thirds of tickets have sold, and the gardens are well worth a look, even in December.

I continue working with Which? Gardening whose approach fits with mine – share practical information. Ceri the editor is in the photo below, with top garden photographer Jason Ingram. He is fun to work with and has some photos in my Skills book.

Photo right is a taster of an event in six months time, top secret!



25 thoughts on “December 2021 feed soil life, new no dig, 50% discounts, new wallchart, broad bean planting, events

  1. Hello Charles. I am a big fan of your CD60 trays, and some of the bigger ones ContainerWise supply, however, in many cases I often do not require all 60 modules from a particular sowing as I only have a small allotment. Are there any plans to design/make smaller versions – 30, or even 15 modules say? Thanks!

    1. Hi Seth, that’s good.
      We have been thinking the same and a moulding is soon coming into production to make these smaller trays. I shall announce it in January. It is actually possible to cut the trays in half with a sharp hacksaw!

  2. Hello from Catalonia, where I have been very inspired by your no-dig videos and have begun the not easy enough task of sourcing compost while I’m waiting for mine to break down. I have read through a lot of your material online and looked at a lot of videos and am thinking about buying one of your courses, but I’m not sure which one I should try: are they sequential? Do they overlap? Should I start with No dig and go on to Skills or have I learned enough through your videos on Youtube that I’ll be able to follow the Skills course already? I’m anxious to prepare my new garden (in a cooler part of Catalonia, but still probably warmer than the UK)! Thanks so much for all your teaching!

    1. Hi Liz
      How exciting. Glad you are underway.
      I think you would benefit most from Skills now. It has some no dig hints! They overlap a little but not hugely,
      They are not sequential but no dig is the base for success, and it sounds like you are underway.

  3. I’m a novice allotment holder and inspired by your no-dig work, I’ve been hunting around for materials to make lots of my own compost for next year – seen a huge pile of grass clippings and leaves I could ask for – – does this have composting value? (I stuck a hand in and it’s pretty hot so I guess it’s active!). Thankyou.

    1. Hi Louise, nice to hear and this sounds promising, they are an excellent mix of green and brown, great you are being organised

  4. Hi Charles,
    I want to thank you for having changed my view on gardening as well as on soil. When you wrote about your soil being tested lately, I had just found out about Elaine Ingham. I am wondering why not more people know about no dig gardening. With soil biology it is the same. I don´t know any farmer who would know about the state of the life in his soil because common soil tests only give chemical results. How can we have such a lack of knowledge in 2021?
    About the endive: I love the bitterness, but if you let endive soak in warm water for a little while, the bitterness will disappear (some vitamins may as well).
    All the best,

    1. Hello Daniela
      How lovely to read this, thanks for writing and yes on the endive, I do wonder about losing vitamins and other qualities. I have found that eating more bitter leaves makes them taste better!

  5. Hi Charles
    Thankyou for the green friday course offers. Could you tell me how much space the courses take up to download as I’m worried my iPad wont have enough space.

    1. Hi Kay
      This is an interesting question because you don’t actually download them, rather you look at them with your password. So some people use their phones or whatever, but interestingly, iPads have had a few issues, and I’m unsure why.
      If you do buy one and cannot make it work, we shall refund you if you email Nicola on [email protected]

  6. I have had success this year with trial Parsnip seeds Sabre F1. Absolutely no canker. Have always had it other years. Now available from D T Brown. I have ordered more.

  7. I have collected leaves from our garden, shredded them and put them on our veg garden as a mulch. I’m I doing right.

    1. That is a great mulch to feed soil life over winter Rob.
      If sowing carrots direct in the spring, I would rake leaves off that area before sowing.
      Check that slugs are not liking to under the leaves in spring, before planting

  8. Hi Charles,
    A question about adding home made compost to my beds. I have two 1 metre square bays of compost that each reached between 65 and 70 degrees and have been turned and cooled. However, I still see remains of straw within the compost. I am concerned that given that it has not yet fully composted that it may encourage slugs and other pests if I put it on beds around plants and between plant rows where I have spaces. Will it still be best to put this on now or would you advise me to wait a little longer? One of the bins has lovely mushrooms/fungi growing which I seem to remember you saying was a good sign. Am I correct.

    1. Hi Rob
      All good! Well decomposed is what that sounds like.
      Mushrooms suggest woody fibres decomposing, a sign of health.
      Spread now!

      1. Thanks Charles. I will get on it. Your advice on composting has helped enormously this year. I’m hoping to be able to avoid having to purchase any at all next year. I certainly have enough to cover my beds this autumn which means all but one of my bins will all be empty and ready for refilling in spring and summer.

  9. Hi – this has been amazing to read about and see. I’m just a little confused about what is added other than compost during the growing of these plants. I see BT is used but what about other natural pesticides or fertilisers? Are fertilisers added to some plants, like phosphorus or rock minerals to tomatoes? Or is the growing from the compost in a no dig garden enough to sustain the full requirements of the plants? Thanks.

    1. Hi Chris, thanks.
      I add a little basalt rockdust to compost heaps, and trialled it on some beds, was not convinced by any difference.
      So yes it’s compost, I would say if I used fertiliser or feeds, I do not
      Occasionally we spray Bt, on brassicas in summer, and that is the only insecticide.
      No slug killers, no nematodes.
      I hope you feel inspired and empowered: growing is simpler than often made out to be.

      1. That’s excellent. Genuinely a novel way to approach it and so much easier, and better for the environment, too. Thanks for all you do and congratulations on building such a fine enterprise.

  10. Hi Charles. Am I right in thinking I should put mushroom compost for next year onto my purple sprouting beds. Even while the plants are still there in the autumn. I was going to wait until spring after they have been harvested. To refresh the bed for new crops. But it looks like you are putting the yearly mulch on now for the following years crops. Is that right? Thank you for all your wonderful and informative posts.
    Many thanks

    1. Hi Tess and yes absolutely, now!!
      Your word refresh is interesting because the soil benefits from organic matter which feeds its inhabitants, who never grow tired but just like to be busy and helping plants to grow, because then the plants can give them carbon as another source of food and energy.
      Any compost we apply now is part of the long-term process of building soil fertility. It makes probably little difference to existing plants such as the broccoli. Is great for winter soil cover and food.

  11. I think the earlier mild weather has helped Broad Beans. The ones I sowed in to 1″ of compost on the plot are looking very healthy indeed. It be down to the seed but they seem a lot better than previous sowings direct in to the clay soil.

    I still have more manure and mushroom compost to get on to the beds when I get a chance. It will be interesting to see the results next year.

    Are you planning on having any open/visiting days next year?


    1. Hi Mark, good to read this, well done.
      We hope to open on 22nd May, depending whether there are open gardens in the village, and we are definitely opening on Sunday 4th September, I look forward to meeting you.

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