February 2017 salads, slow sow, Kew Gardens, Q&A, Wikihow

Winter’s cold and more-or-less fine is turning in the UK to mild, wet and stormy, for the first half of February. Either way, I recommend you wait before sowing, except for broad beans. Check my diary and timeline for timings that save you time. Continue with any mulching and weed covering, then sow spinach, lettuce etc undercover from Valentine’s Day.

The cold has been great for softening surface mulches of compost, they look gorgeous now. Leave them on top, no need to fork in, see below.

Pests, birds

Pigeons are now super-hungry. Usually I can fortunately grow brassicas without protection, but in January I erect supports or hoops for netting to keep the birds off, as they are more hungry now.

The link to LBS is for black (so less visible and intrusive to us), UV resistant netting that lasts for many years. It’s a 100m roll, probably too much for many of you, more to give an idea of what to look for. Do avoid any bright green, untreated netting which soon goes brittle and pollutes the soil.

Pests, rabbits

Homeacres rabbits are hungry too, but there are perhaps just one or two most nights, eating almost any leaf, root (including parsnip) and digging small holes.

The same bird netting, over cloche hoops, works to keep them off my crops.

Broad (fava) beans

Unless you have rodents nearby, now until early April is time to sow broad beans outside, 10-15cm (4-6in) apart in rows across beds, 45-50cm (18-20in) apart.

Undercover sowings work well, the modules pictured are 5cm (2in) deep. The tap root soon reaches the bottom, then coils around. This does not matter! they transplant fine.

Salads undercover

Growth has been slow in the recent frosty weather, but plants are revving up a bit now. The real excitement happens after mid month when light levels improve rapidly.

I have had worthwhile picks from the three salad boxes, so precious in midwinter. Since Christmas I picked 80g leaves, three times. The greenhouse is unheated (so freezes on cold nights), plants are in organic, multipurpose compost, no feeds given, and the lettuce is good old Grenoble Red.

Savoys, spinach outdoors

Outdoor plants are surviving rather than growing. Survival is good! all their roots intact and poised to grow soon. Especially spinach Medania, sown early August: best dates here are 8th-12th August, or 1st August in northern UK; make a diary note, it’s easily forgotten in high summer.


Kew Gardens, London

The no dig kitchen garden is kept immaculate by Joe Archer. He has access to Kew’s famous compost, which looks more woody than for example my homemade, but its ingredients are well shredded and the results are brilliant.

I gave a talk in the Jodrell lecture theatre. Harry who organised it said there were more public than usual, and many more questions too. I love to excite and intrigue people, give them new ideas and methods.

Before the talk we had a chance to see Kew’s new metal beehive, huge and intricate with LED lights. They are connected to a nearby beehive, replicate it’s spatial pattern and flash on when bees are communicating. Awesome!


Jan WIlmot, who with Steph and Jodie Kitty Walker run the undug group on Facebook, suggested I post a page on wikihow about starting no dig in temperate climates. Here is the link, it’s for where slugs are likely present,

A lot of gardeners are using it, the first two weeks saw over 500 views.


Q from Mike, UK: I note you don’t mention chitting potatoes. Do you not have time, not believe it’s necessary, or is there another reason?

A Chitting is fine though not vital. It’s more about avoiding the seed making long shoots, which might damage in planting. Place seed potatoes in full light, frost free, until ready to plant. Or if you buy seed potato later, just before planting, it’s fine to set in the ground without chitting.

Q from Todd in Minneapolis: how does one scale this concept for commercial or large scale farming?  It’s great for the home or back yard garden, but can it be done on 25, 50 or 100 acres?

A I have used this method on 7 acres in the 1980s and that was enough!  I think that the current low price of vegetables makes it unwise to go above about one acre, unless one is near a market for high value veg such as salad leaves, spinach, herbs and kale. Possibly tomatoes. With my methods, you can grow great potatoes, cabbage and onions, but it is currently not economic to do so!

Comment From Patricia, UK, her Q answered by the table in my last newsletter: “I am about to cover my beds with compost so will resist any digging or forking over!”

I had shared in my last newsletter the harvests from two strips of 2x9m. The six beds of strip 1 are forked before planting, to 27cm (11in) while the six beds of strip 2 are simply left alone. Same compost on each.

Harvests kg 2015 2016
Strip 1 forked 90.23 120.33
Strip 2 no dig 101.71 142.14
Two strips of six beds. Strip on left is no dig, on right the beds are forked/loosened before planting.

Beechgrove no dig

BBC Scotland are comparing growth in dug and undug beds. So far they are pleasantly surprised by the no dig results.

I mailed them and it’s good to hear from the reply that they are continuing with this:

“Jim and George want to remind you that our observations (not a trial really as it is not replicated) is only in its first year.  Whilst we have looked at the no dig philosophy many many years ago on Beechgrove, this will be the start of this new observation.

We intend to keep this going this year 2017, and probably in 2018, to see what difference there might be.  The differences will become more apparent Jim and George feel, in successive years.”

3 thoughts on “February 2017 salads, slow sow, Kew Gardens, Q&A, Wikihow

  1. Dan this is impressive.
    My experience with carrots freezing has been that they turn to mush, though only if frozen solid and not just singed.
    Perhaps Autumn King resist frost more, thanks for sharing.

  2. Great new blog. I have a little question, I have been pulling and eating autumn king carrots as I want through December/January as if they were parsnips. They have no signs of frost damage or bad taste, is this normally possible with autumn king? I’m Herts, the carrots were in containers and have been completely frozen throughout January.

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