February 2019 a few sowings, compost and mulching, courses, snow and pigeons

Be careful of sowing too early, there is no rush in spring because later sowings often catch up as it warms and lightens. For example I plan to sow tomatoes on 18th March this year.

In the next two weeks and undercover only (windowsills, greenhouse etc) you can sow broad/fava beans, lettuce, spinach, cabbages which are early hearting varieties (read the small print), calabrese, onions and spring onions, radish, coriander, dill, parsley and peas for shoots. All of these grow in cool conditions and are not killed by frost. I shall sow Boltardy beetroot towards the end of the month, and peas for pods. All of these can also be sown in March, this page tells you which are suitable to multisow.

Sowing question

I had this question and it highlights an important point:

Do you sow your seeds directly into the compost you make for your beds or do you buy/make something separate for your seeds?

The answer is yes, seeds love germinating in compost, why would they not. The important point is that this person had believed somebody, warning him not to sow seeds in compost.

Just don’t believe everything you read or are told, as in life generally. And especially in gardening where there are so many ‘experts’! Trust your common sense.

More of the same

I see this comment too, that “caffeine in coffee is harmful to plants”. Well, the best place for coffee grounds is in a compost heap, because coffee is very raw and undecomposed, only it happens to be brown and of fine texture. If there were much caffeine, it will decompose.

My compost heaps are about 5% coffee at this time of year when there is less green matter. Kitchen waste, wood ash, a few weeds and vegetable trimmings. And there are rats which do not cause a nuisance here, rather they mix and aerate the heap.


We had around 15cm/6in snow on 1st and 2nd February, with temperatures close to freezing so some of it melted while falling. Before the snow melted, we had one night of -7C/19F and the snow protected beetroots which otherwise might have been damaged.

Courses, talks

My online course about no dig has proved a huge task: it’s now nearing completion and available within a month. The price will be around £150 which includes VAT. There are 24 new videos, new and not available on You Tube, 50,000 words and hundreds of photos.

There are quizzes too, which aren’t designed to catch you out! Just a way of checking your understanding and to help digest your learning. You’ll receive a Charles Dowding no dig certificate on passing the final quiz.

Day courses here continue to sell out and the next one with places is 20th March, then 6th April and 7th too.

My talks season has begun and the first one at Wrington had a sold out audience of 130, with a lovely atmosphere. Having a lot of gardeners together definitely increases the happiness quotient. See what’s coming up here, including a talk in Nottingham 2nd March and the conference in Norway mid March.

No dig at Kew Gardens, London

At a recent event I caught up with Helena Dove who runs the vegetable/kitchen garden at Kew, all no dig. She has some lovely compost to mulch with and the beds are beautifully maintained, worth a visit if you are nearby.

All the Kew students are learning no dig: each has a bed to grow vegetables, and these used to be dug. This is year one of no dig for them.

No dig and few weeds

It has been mild enough this winter for some weeds to germinate even, as well as grow some more. The beauty of no dig is how little this happens and I have barely weeded the beds or paths anywhere. Nonetheless if I see weeds, I pull them. For no dig basics and growing information too, check our double pack offer.

For your diary – Homeacres is open on 19th May.


Animals and birds are getting hungrier and here, unusually, I have pigeons eating brassica leaves. The broccoli and kale are my main priorities for covering, whereas swede/rutabaga and kohlrabi are barely growing so I let the pigeons prune their leaves.

There are still no rabbits at the moment, following the fever which they succumbed to last August. I have seen one or two though.

Climate zones

In the UK we are surrounded by ocean which is warmed by the gulf stream. This February we had snow but with temperatures no lower than -7C 19F, then three days later there was hazy sun and 10.5C/51F.

That was a great day for showing visitors the great results of no dig, a group from the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements.

They were from all continents, and how can one categorise the range of climates experienced by just these few people? At school I learnt the Koppen system, easy to understand, and we are temperate. The USA has adopted a more precise system, USDA’s zonal classification and it has been matched by the RHS, for use in the UK. In this one, Aberdeen and London are in the same zone (9a) which seems strange. Somerset is zone 8b but never that hot in summer (daytime is 22C/72F) and with last frosts early May, first frosts late October.

I look forward to checking the Swedish climate and lovely long days in the last week of June, at Ridgedale Farm. Richard Perkins and I are running a 4 day course in market/no dig gardening from June 25th to 28th. Then I give a one day course on Saturday 29th, also at his farm, which is 3 hours from both Oslo and Stockholm, and Gothenburg too.

49 thoughts on “February 2019 a few sowings, compost and mulching, courses, snow and pigeons

  1. Hi! Thank you for the great videos and site! I am looking forward to the online course!
    I have a question – when there isn’t enough compost available, would you advise using bought soil, like say, gardening soil from local garden centre? Where I live, I am unable to find a source of large amounts of compost and my own homemade just isn’t enough. I have a source of free horse manure which I have added directly to the beds and to my compost pile, but I am afraid it isn’t enough to create the first 10 cm you advise. Would the soil plus the horse manure work?

    1. Sara thanks for checking that because I advise no! to save you money and have better results, avoid buying soil, which is often dead and full of weed seeds. Why not buy compost instead, it must be similar price? Just buy enough to add to your own for topping the beds, perhaps with some extra manure underneath if it’s reasonably decomposed.
      An initial investment in compost pays many times over in better harvests and less weeding.

      1. Yes, I was afraid you would say that 🙂
        OK, I’ll look for compost – I was trying to avoid buying it because it comes in 50L bags max (the soil I could get by the ton) and that is a lot of plastic… But I guess I’ll need to compromise somewhere and hopefully next year my own compost will be enough to just top up the beds.
        Thank you very much!

  2. Mr. Dowding, I have a question about no-dig an phosphorus. Our small village started a community garden (believed these are called an allotment in the UK) and a soil test showed extremely high levels of phosphorus. The soil tested with a level of phosphorus of (548 V) or (m3-ppm 548) with a recommended range of 50-80. The land was previously commercially farmed. I have enjoyed watching your “no-dig” videos series over the winter and wanted to give it a try. My question is in regard to your experience with managing no-dig and phosphorus levels. Have you noticed if the amounts of compost that you add to the beds has increased your phosphorus levels? Do you routinely do analysis of the garden beds and if so have you noticed any changes?
    The local organic compost producer recommended that we not order his compost for the gardens this year. Hopefully we will find a source of organic matter that will not increase our phosphorus. I do wonder how much fretting about phosphorus levels is necessary. Personally, I don’t think high P levels constitute a crisis requiring emergency action. It sounds like the P is tied up, and stable in the soil. On the other hand, I don’t think high P levels is something to ignore, either. Hence this question.

    1. Hi Jeff
      Hmm a puzzle, how can these guys farm like that and crop – when they are supposed to be the ones managing nutrient levels with all their chemistry…
      I don’t do tests as you notice. I know that high P means that peas don’t grow much – have you noticed that? Any other plant symptoms?
      I reckon you need some compost for life not nutrients and homemade is great for that, spread a little anyway and keep an eye on all crops for normal growth or not!

  3. Hello mister dowding,

    I am living in the Netherlands. I am planning to sow leeks inside this week. Is this too early?
    Kind regards, Anne

    1. Anne, yes too early because they then risk flowering in the summer, best wait until mid March for early varieties, and early to mid April for other leeks

  4. Hello Charles, I have recently started volunteering at a children’s community garden where we have a new water collection butt attached to the greenhouse roof. The bin has filled really quickly, which is great news, however there is clear slime on the tubing and floating in the water. Can you advise please?

    1. Sounds ok Liz, or scoop it out if it bothers you and worth cleaning the guttering.
      I brush my gutters twice a year and empty + brush all my butts every two months or so, less in winter months

    2. Liz I had an algae problem with my water butts but when I added a lid which blocked out the light it cleared up. It might be worth a try to save the slimy bit which may or may not put off some children! 😉

  5. Hi Charles.
    I have recently found your videos on you tube and have since bought your diary and your how to start a no dig garden book.
    After having a polytunnel still in it’s wrapping for 3 years,the foundations are going in today and hopefully have the frame up this weekend. I have already prepared some no dig beds ready for planting. Now I have found the system I have been looking for I can get my organic veg growing this year.
    My reason for doing this is my sister lives with her family in America and they are all now diagnosed as Celiacs, and this they have put down to the food grown commercially with pesticides. Since going vegan and growing organically themselves their health has much improved. My family now want to do similar.
    I will keep you posted on our successes and failures this year.

    1. Hello Ian
      Nice gardening job, sorry about the coeliac and I wonder if it’s related to lack of microbes. Nutrition research is showing similarities between gut and soil microbes, and suggests that health is helped by eating plants grown in healthy soil (no dig!), so I am sure you will have great results in every sense.

  6. Goeff, one of the things I love about gardening is the process of finding solutions to my challenges.
    Charles, thanks so much for sharing your knowledge! I’ve learned so much from you, your YT videos which are so we’ll done, and your books which Grace the tables near my favorite chair and bed. I share your links with anyone who is interested in gardening!

    1. Hi Stephanie it really helps to know that sometimes the gardener wins.
      Thanks Charles for having this great site with all the knowledge and information you give freely to everyone.
      Cheers Geoff.D.

  7. Hello Charles,
    I attempted to create a hot bed in my small greenhouse. All was well for a while, lot’s of saled greens coming on which I then planted in the soil. Then disaster struck. Something had burrowed in through one side and out the other and in the process buried most of the new plants. I salvaged what I could, lined some plastic crates with news paper and transplanted the survivors. Cleared up the mess and put a couple of mole-traps in the run. But I think it is something bigger, that ignored the traps and had another go at sabotaging my attempts. I think it may be rats and that they may be under the hot bed. I’ve got to clear it out but not looking forward to it. My neighbour (a dairy farmer) almost died from Vials Disease some years ago.
    My question is: Do your Green house and Poly tunnels have a floor or are they directly on soil?

    1. Linda sorry to hear that.
      My heap is on earth, is probably too hot for rats. Your hep may be smaller and not as hot.

  8. Hi Charles,
    Would it be Ok to put old strawberry bags on my no dig beds,
    Its full of old roots and coir, with a little feed.
    Kind Regards
    David McLay

  9. Dear Charles,
    today I discovered your YouTube videos and I am very interested in no dig gardening. I am a complete newbie to the gardening scene and so I would be learning from scratch. What would you recommend for me? I would love to be able to do one of your courses but do you think that this would be too advanced for me? I hope you can help me out.
    Yours Sincerely.
    June Brown

    1. Hello June and great you like the videos. The courses work for gardeners of all levels of experience and a fair few beginners come along.
      Sometimes they understand the methods better than gardeners who need to unlearn things!

  10. In reference to Geoff’s problem with mice, I’m in northern USA, zone 3, and had a year where voles ate hundreds of beets, leaving me two beets. I decided to place 3 foot high 1/4″ hardware cloth around the veg plot, buried 6″ deep, with a 90° bend out at the bottom. I was also having lots of hares. Both problems seem to be solved the two seasons since. I continued the fence up another 3′ with concrete reinforcement wire for the deer. All worth the investment. I do think taking steps to encourage vole eating critters has helped also.

    1. The grow bags were not the first thing I tried to stop the Field mice eating my veg. Field Mice tunnel just below the surface of the soil to get to the veg not to be eaten by their preditors so I buried twin wall plastic sheets 10inches in the ground around the beds. There were no more holes or damage to the veg for that season then a mole decided to tunnel under the twin wall plastic barrier the mice then decided to use the moles tunnels and continued eating veg and burrowing under cabbage plants causing them to wilt and die same with leeks and other veg.
      That’s why I tried the grow bag idea but did not realise the drainage holes in the bags would block up so easily hence the Anerobic conditions that then followed.The cost of using wire mesh was considered but now if I use a small amount of mesh to cover the large hole I intend to cut in the bottom of the bags is may work and obviously be a cheaper option.It is nice to know other veg growers get these problems. The fact that I have 6 one metre square compost bins in close proximity to my veg beds might have something to do with my problem with the mice but I have no room for these bins anywhere else so you win some and you loose some.The only plus side to the mice is they do eat some of the slugs because when I fist stopped the mice the slug population increased.
      Cheers Geoff. D.

  11. Hi Charles when I cut the potatoes open they smelt and tasted fine with no blemishes on the skins or inside I just want to ease my mind as if the VOCs have in some way altered the bacteria inside the potatoes what are the outcomes or am I just worrying over nothing.
    Many thanks
    Geoff. Dulson.

  12. Hi Charles to cure the drainage problem I intend to cut an 8inch by 10inch hole in the bottom of the bag and then secure steel netting with 1/4inch holes across the hole but am unsure if this will then encourage the mice to eat a way in at the side of the hole. I will let you know when I have tried it out.This size hole should act like a wick to suck the water at the base of the bag up into the bag so adding to the watering as it is buried 10inches into the ground and should give me all the drainage necessary as well as the water from the automatic watering system I intend to install to save on all that watering time I had to do last year.
    Is there a way that the VOCs can be tested in the potatoes I have not eaten yet to see if the plants did take in and store the VOCs or any other nasties.?
    Many thanks
    Geoff Dulson.

    1. Geoff you are very organised, wish I could help with that knowledge. I imagine if there are VOC’s, there would be unpleasant odours when you cut potatoes open.

  13. Dear Charles, I was at your talk in Wrington last week and left feeling…well every emotion really, excited, enthused, relieved and also feeling that I was doing lots of things wrong but capable of putting them all right quite easily. I’m desperately trying to reduce my plastic consumption, as I hope everyone is, and it really galls me to have to buy vegetables in plastic…so I’m really hoping this year to finally conquer my vegetable beds and be much more self sufficient. Having been unable to find and council produced compost (aparently all the green waste in our area gets sold to the farmers) I have finally braved the massive compost heap at the bottom of my garden (overcoming my fear of skewering and rats) and found pure gold!!! Perfectly rotted down compost – enough for three of my beds. I’m removing the rotten raised bed edgings today – massive relief that that decision has been made and am going to tackle my second compost heap…the one I call the bad one…ie the one where I put all the troublesome weeds….lets see what this one yealds.
    Good luck with the rest of your talks this year…Vegetables here I come!!

    1. Cathy I am moved, what a lovely comment and I am so pleased to help.
      Great news on the compost!
      I wonder if I may quote some of your comment publicly please and I don’t need to put your name?

      1. Hurray…of course you can – feel free to quote away…I don’t even mind you putting my name….there are not many of us Marjorams about and in the circumstances it seems a pity to waste it!! x

      2. Dear Cathy and Charles,
        After hearing Charles speak at Valley Gardeners in Hampshire on 12th February I felt very much the same as Cathy – excited and inspired and I left with more knowledge and ideas about no dig than whenI arrived.

        I have got loads of Charles’ books and regularly watch You Tube, but nothing is as good as hearing Charles in person.

        Thank you so much for the generous way in which you share your expertise.

        1. Lynn thanks for sharing this.
          I enjoy sharing my knowledge and experience because it then rewards me to see how much enjoyment others gain from the easier growing methods and bigger harvests!

  14. No dig at Kew Gardens, London
    At a recent event I met ??????????????????? who runs the vegetable/kitchen garden at Kew, all no dig. She has some lovely compost to mulch with and the beds are beautifully maintained, worth a visit if you are nearby.

    In this page I think you have forgotten to put the good lady at Kews name !

  15. Hi Charles I started organic growing fiive years ago and have had a number of problems to try and overcome but by far the greatest was the problem of field mice eating everything and I mean everything.They eat parsnips completely hollow so you do not know they have been eaten untill you pull them up because they are still growing that’s how clever mice can be.I have now tried growing vegetables in large grow bags buried 10 inches into the earth which seems to have worked so far even though the mice could easily eat through the plastic bags.However growing in bags has other problems and I found out how important correct drainage is because during. 2018 I had to water with tap water every other day which due to poor drainage created Anerobic conditions and I did not know if I had caused VOCs to be created with the Chloramin in the tap water.If these VOCs then entered the potatoes and I then consumed the potatoes would these VOCs alter the bacteria Flora in my stomach
    as since eating these potatoes I have had digestion problems for months.This next growing season I will now be creating much better drainage in the bags and also be using vitamin c tablets to clear the Chloramin out of the tap water before watering the bags.So the question is can VOCs enter plants and stay in them and then affect me.
    Many thanks if anyone might know the answers to my questions I think it will be you.
    Geoff. Dulson.

    1. Geoff that sounds horribly difficult with the mice, such a pity your solution had this extra problem, and I simply don’t know re VOC’s.
      Could you use fine mesh/wire instead of plastic? Only the expense would be a lot more.

    2. Hi Geoff, may I ask where you are in the world that they seem to be adding a chlorine type product to drinking water?! May I also suggest you search Amazon for some sort of solar powered device to ‘scare’ away the mice. I have looked at various for birds and rabbits and plan to try a few this year as none have a 80+% rating. I have a device for mice/spiders in the house but that works on the electricity system. Many years ago I used to put mouse traps in my cold frames. One night I killed a shew, I’ve never forgiven myself 🙁

      1. Hi Deborah I live in the UK. The water supply companies I think went from using Chlorine to using Chloramin some years ago.Chlorine gases out after a few hours once it leaves the tap I think but when bonded to Ammonia to form Chloramin the Chlorine content stays in the water for much longer.I know some countries in the rest of the world do not use Chloramin though.
        I did try the solar mole and mice scaring devices but found they only worked for a short period of time before the moles and mice got use to them and the attraction of fresh compost and all the creatures that come with the compost was too much to give up.
        Cheers Geoff. D.

    3. Geoff I am in North Wales 1,000ft up on a mountain side and your field mice/parsnips problem reminded me about the first time I tried growing celeriac. I went to fetch my first celeriac specimen for dinner only to find a complete and perfect empty shell where a week or so earlier there were lovely celeriac growing beautifully. Don’t know whether they were mice or field mice but if they had only left a little thicker ‘skin’ they would have made me quite a few perfect celeriac ‘bowls’. I have never tried growing them again, but I wonder whether thingss left out over winter like swedes for example might be similarly enjoyed by my rodents? Can anyone advise?

  16. Hello Mr Dowding:
    I live in Canada zone 5 and my understanding is that this is the hardiness of plants to survive the winter. Our last frost date is about 3 weeks later than yours and the earliest is about the same. So if I was to sow and plant 3 weeks later than you do (I do have low tunnels and am adapting the no dig method) would that be correct or am I totally off base? Thanks for your help.

    1. Hello Debbie and I reckon 2 weeks because your springs heat up faster than ours. First sowings like onions, lettuce, spinach are frost hardy as well.

  17. I always look forward to your posts and am really enjoying your veg journal and gardening myths books. Thanks for showing people like me gardening can be easier and therefore even more enjoyable!

    1. Nice to hear this Malcolm especially because it’s my aim, to help people garden more easily, productively and happily

  18. Dear Charles,
    we discovered you one year ago on Youtube and since then we are enthusiastic about you and your no dig garden. Thank you very much for all your inspiration and positive loving energy. We write from Southern Germany and since my English is not perfect, we have a question about starting with no dig in the garden. Would you please be so kind and help us out with the following question?
    We have read your information about your start in 2012/13 here on the website and have the following ambiguity/uncertainty: Did you really only spread well rotten cow dung on the beds at the start or did you add another compost before the actual planting / sowing?
    We live very rural and it should be easy for us to get either a large amount of cow or horse manure. Depending on how rotten the manure is, we would start this or next year with no dig in our garden. Would you rather recommend cow or horse manure for the start if you had a free choice?
    We also have a large public green compost collection point here in the community. However, we are inhibited from getting (more or less rotten) compost from there, as we do not know if and how the other garden owners who brought their garden waste there fertilized and sprayed it against pests. We would like to continue having a biological garden. What is your opinion on this, would you still get compost from the public collection point in such a case? Thank you in advance for your answer and all the best for you! Best regards Marc

    1. Thanks Marc and in 2013 I tried many combinations of compost. Some plantings were in old manure and they grew well. I do prefer to have a little finer compost on top and have used green waste for that but do increasingly worry about lawn weedkillers. Almost nothing is chemical free. It’s easier after year one when one needs less compost.

  19. Somewhere on your YouTube videos I asked about where to find out more about the small plot series of videos you have done and whether this was covered in detail in any of the books. You answered and I’ve stupidly forgotten what you said. Alzheimer’s is coming for me I think!
    I’ve searched all that I can amongst the answers on YouTube but can’t find it. Could you kindly explain again your plans for this plot and how we can find out more? Thanks!

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