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!



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

  1. Hello Charles. Very pleased with the Skills book, and thank you for signing it. It will be my relaxation reading over Christmas. We are also getting lots of salad leaves and stir-fry greens from the greenhouse: a revolution in my life!
    A question: on one bed of my plot, after having spread home-made compost about 6 weeks ago, I am getting loads of little grass seedlings. I rake, but more come – and the ground is damp anyway. I suspect it may be because I started my first heap off with some hay – there was no straw available – as well as the usual kitchen waste, spent compost, old plants, mushroom compost, grass cuttings etc. The other three beds are OK, bizarrely.
    I’m thinking I may have to put cardboard on now for a couple of months. Any other ideas?

    1. Alan, good the book arrived, and yes hay can cause that!
      I would indeed spread cardboard, the quickest option. Don’t let the grass establish for sure.

  2. Dear Charles
    just finished my 3rd successful year using your methods. must say rather addicted to making compost !!!
    a question – there seems lots on utube re using wood ash from our wood burner
    what are your thoughts we produce lots !!!


    1. Nice to hear that Barbara.
      Best use of wood ash is adding it to the compost heap but if you have say more than 10% of the total materials added, I would store some in sacks and keep adding it then during summer.

  3. Charles – a few comments to end the year:

    1. I’ve actually found that home made Alderman pea seeds 3 years old are still much better than newly purchased commercial ones – the latter usually give 70% germination, whereas my home made ones are still in the 85-90% range after 3 years .
    2. I’m trying an experiment a la ‘Return to Eden’ approach of putting 2-3cm of home made compost on top of a no-dig bed (now already very fertile and healthy) followed by 5cm of 14 month-old woodchips which are starting to rot down nicely. It should, in theory, give fertility for 3-5 years without needing to compost every year. We’ll see in 2022 how things pan out. It’s thirteen (4+9) 35 litre buckets per 7.5sqm bed in total – good warm work on a December afternoon!
    3. It’s very interesting comparing the nature of soil which has been no-dig for two seasons (my allotment) vs 7 years (the home garden). Visually, the difference is very obvious although I wouldn’t be able to describe it in words. It feels to me as if after 5-7 years of no dig, the soil starts to reach a ‘contented state’ of healthiness. Growing potatoes early in the no-dig cycle does seem to promote the creation of more uniform texture of soil after inheriting very lumpy forms of clay.
    4. After three seasons of annual pruning of the Cox Orange Pippin apple tree, it does seem that a somewhat neglected tree is now close to perfect architecture. Hopefully that will be reflected in the cropping. The larger tree may still take 3 more years of dedicated remodelling before it is fully rejuvenated.
    5. After seven years of no-dig, cabbage heads are finally being produced, albeit nothing like the size that you manage. I have two Filderkraut heads and a few January Kings, but I wonder if where I live simply isn’t a great place to grow cabbages? Spring cabbage leaves always did well, but growing them over summer seems challenging. A new cage from Harrod has arrived, so perhaps that will help??
    6. The Containerwise 40 hole trays seem OK for broad beans – mine went out this week two weeks after germination.

    Have a good Christmas/New Year!

  4. Tidying the Brussel Sprouts and spotted a green caterpillar. Not unusual you might say.
    BUT this is mid December!
    I remember back in the fifties when we had ice on the inside of the windows.
    Where has winter gone to??

  5. Thanks for your blog, I always read it. For the first time this year I sowed broad beans in modules, as it was really old seed. (Aguadulce). However I am now struggling to get them out of the modules, a problem I sometimes have with other plantlets. I am a great fan of module sowing but when I encounter their reluctance to come out ‘clean’, it is very frustrating. I should love to hear what I might be doing wrong.

    1. Hi Deborah, you are not alone – I had the same problem extracting broad beans from modules from the garden centre I reused. I’d even cut out the bottoms of each module to mimic the CD 60 trays but to no avail. I wondered if I’d let them get too big. How long had your’s been in the trays? What size were they?

    2. It could be the fault of the module trays, as Peter suggests.
      You need trays with smooth sides, such as the Containerwise 40L for broad beans

  6. Hi Charles my husband and I started no dig exactly a year ago. We bought a trailer load of compost and completely cardboard Ed and composted our plot. The compost was steaming I thought this was good but not sure it was now. However we have limited time to spend at plot at present as I care for my dad he is 101 with dementia and can’t be left alone. But we are aiming to grow everything we need in fruit and veg sufficiency. We have had some successes and failures but weeds down by at least 80% making it easier for us with not a lot of time to be there. We have had a lot of probs with slugs and snails they ate all my carrots wen they came up every sowing so we don’t have any. They Also somehow ate my seedlings on the staging in the greenhouse. This was our biggest problem. Slugs and snails. Also I have never seen so many sparrows and they ate everything red.aubergine plants were strong tall and healthy in polytunnel which we purchased in march. but no fruits came from flowers. But other things were bountiful and the plot looked amazing. We don’t have sides on any beds and have wood chip paths. We grow flowers amongst the veg and herbs and have had masses of bees and insects. We won’t use slug pellets or preventatives or comfrey as you say no dig soil has it all. So we are hoping as we continue nature will balance itself out we will cover from butterflies and I found rose pruning spread around helped keep slug numbers down a bit.we share the land with all these insects and animals so we want to try to get along without directly killing anything.mice ate every single pea I sowed last January but I prevented them the second sowing. They must have been hungry. My saved early potato seeds have largely been eaten in the shed by rats so will have to think again where to store those next year. We live and learn and adapt. All this is thanks to you Charles. You have changed my life helped keepme sane through lockdown. Opened up a whole new vision for me for the future. One of my sons is part timely interested and my 2 young grandchildren have grown their own early potatoes sown seeds harvested beans and tomatoes and with their little barrows carted wood chip for the paths. I hope to inspire them and hope they carry it on. We are probably only doing it 75-80% properly but we are learning. We have 3 square compost bins and only using our own compost this December we are so so chuffed. and instead of watching tv I watch other no diggers videos on yutube and follow many. This was down to you Charles. My husband and I went to Hampton court RHS and visited your plot and met Stephanie unfortunately the only day we could go was when you couldn’t. But hope to meet you one day. I have a couple of your books and diary and I follow Stephanie now too in her new adventure. I do watch your videos over and over as they teach me bits at different times as I could never remember it all. I try to get others to change but most if not all on our allotment plot are set in there ways and dug over and set their plot to rest for winter. There hardly any space on ours. I have tried field beans for first time and green mustard so hoping that will feed the soil and help produce well next year. But the rest are still growing veg which hopefully will take us through the hungry gap along with squash and lots of dried beans and food in jars and in the freezers. All we need are some chickens and we will be happy. Not allowed them on plot though and we have no room at home. I was given some sheep’s wool which is used for packaging of dog food. We put some on our paths with wood chip and hahahaha the foxes pulled it all about they must have smelt food. We tidied it up and they done it again so we have just left it now as it’s still suppressing the weeds. We have just taken on another half plot right next to us so stanley my husband has to build a new fence which is dog proof. But there is an established asparagus patch which I am very excited about. I have grown asparagus seeds and they are planted on our new asparagus patch on main plot so we will do really well in the future. So excited. Over the years I asked for plants or trees for Christmas pressies so now I have pear plum 3 different apples cherry fig peach and quince oh and I planting a walnut tree soon for the planting a tree project. I also have raspberries redcurrants blackberries blackcurrants goosegogs tayberries loganberry. Not loads and they still becoming mature and developing. I successfully grew the 2 patches of salad leaves your way 6 different kinds and they produced from march through to summer but the second lot of seedlings got eaten so I need to perfect that. But multisown things like beetroot are amazing we have masses and now will never run out like we have b4 I grew swede which completely got decimated by slugs absolutely nothing left of tops so I put the briars over the top and hoped they would grow back and they did and I have for first time ever got a quite decent size crop of them I so chuffed. I have also grown celeriac fir first time ever kohl rhabi. And celery. The celery I couldn’t use to eat as a piece of celery with cheese but it was anazing with the Sunday roast as I always buy celery for cooking underneath the meat.
    I really must stop there as I could go on for hours. I sorry it’s so long but you can see how excited you have made me. I would love to be a yutube blogger but I not sure I technical enough and I don’t have the time at the moment with dad he will be 102 14 th January he isn’t too well at the moment so we hoping he will reach his birthday. He was a FEPOW and if you google cliff burgess fepow there are one or two videos of him being interviewed by bbc. Anyway Thankyou Charles so much you are doing so much for so many and also for everyone if only they knew. I promise not to make it so long next time. Take care and I wish you and your family a very merry Christmas and I look forward to the new year and your first indoor seed sowing video which I will be following again. Last year my window sills and floors in rooms were covered in seed trays😂happy new year tooo. Mandy🤗

    1. Hello Mandy!
      This is a nice read.
      Your enthusiasm and happiness shine through. We all need more good news 🙂
      It’s sad about your fellow allotmenteers, when they have your example right there. I am not impressed with them, and their digging is depleting fertility + losing carbon to the air.
      Happy Christmas and say hello to your dad!

  7. Thanks for the tip about Bingheimer Saatgut, CD. I’ve been itching to get my hands on some 506TT chicory but haven’t been able to due the B word. Tell me, do you save seed from chicory and endive? I’ve also ordered a bunch of other stuff from them and just ordered the calendar from you. The credit card has taken a bit of a hammering but it’s nice to be thinking about next year. I think an angle grinder might be better for chopping up CD60s!

    1. Thank you John for your purchase, and yes I have started now to save seed from endive, which like lettuce needs just one plant, and it has been successful in the second summer.

      In principle this should work for chicory to but I have not yet tried it. We would need to overwinter a lovely radicchio and let it flower in spring and collect seed by late summer.

      Yes good idea on tool to use but hacksaw was good for me, needs precision.

  8. Hi Charles
    Sorry, this is rather a long one. Like Daniela above, I’m perplexed at the low awareness of the no-dig/no-till/regenerative farming approach, which practically eliminates any need for artificial fertilisers and pesticides. While scientists are looking for an effective means of carbon capture and storage to mitigate climate change, there’s a means of storing carbon right under our feet, if only growers were informed and helped to carry it out to restore their carbon-depleted soil. After following your no dig methods, I found Gabe Brown’s very informative videos (and book), I’m a big fan. And this also led me on to finding Elaine Ingham and her excellent scientific explanations. (she even explains why good soil biology reduces weeds) Looking after the soil biology and increasing soil carbon in the soil is the key. And it seems that keeping plant roots in the soil year-round to feed soil life with their exudates is an important aspect.
    I see you are using cover crops of mustard and beans this winter and I’m intrigued to know if you are taking Dr Ingham’s ideas on board? I think I’ll give this a go next year on any ground that doesn’t bear any crops into winter. I assume you will use this green manure for composting, whereas it’s usually assumed it will be dug in. If we can make a cover-cropping system work in our gardens, do you think this would reduce the quantity of compost mulch that we need?

    1. Re Geoff’s comments: as I have more ground not carrying crops in winter (more than Charles I would guess), I too am wondering about cover crops. This is in light of people such as Elaine Ingham who seem to be saying having plant roots in the ground ALL the time is good for soil health. But it seems many US people then cut down cover crops and leave as mulch. But is it better in the UK to clear and compost because of slug and snails?? So much to learn!

      1. Elaine says this as a scientist, while in practice it’s less straightforward, especially for growing intensive vegetables.
        In damp climates, it works well to clear old leaves to compost, and to have no plants growing in beds needed for early sowing and planting. Often they will have been cropping until late autumn or early winter, and then the soil is mulched/covered with compost, so is not bare.

    2. Referring to my previous comment: by plant roots I mean plants rooted in the ground doing photosynthesis. I guess in colder areas than me in Norfolk, it will be harder to have plants doing that in winter without some form of cover.

  9. 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!

  10. 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.

  11. 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

  12. 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!

  13. 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]

  14. 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.

  15. 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

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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.

  19. 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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