no dig garden and new field

February 2021 new no dig land, winter harvests and vegetables stored, wait to sow, compost and woodchip

February looks to be cold.  And we have not done much garden work in January… oh wait, I bought an acre of new land, the pasture to south east of Homeacres, which used to have horses. I find it exciting and daunting to look around and see how much space is there, and I do not intend full-scale cropping on the whole area for sure! It’s new no dig land for vegetables, and more!

  • A lovely thing about no dig is how you can create incrementally, bed by bed, taking in new ground.
  • Another lovely thing is how, once this first year process of thorough mulching and weed suppression is finished (while cropping all the time), there is so much less to do.

In Homeacres existing garden, we have done almost no jobs all January because the ground is quietly ready to grow, soil is mulched/covered and well fed, and grows almost no weeds. Furthermore we can walk anywhere on the heavy soil, say to harvest vegetables in wet weather, without getting muddy boots.

Jenny’s pasture

I am so happy she agreed to sell this almost acre of rough pasture, which her yard manager calls a poor field! So it may be for horses but it looks nice soil to me, we dug a little hole and found plenty of worms, and lots of bind weed roots too! I expect slugs and leatherjackets at the beginning.

I have no precise plans except to see what happens as we make new beds, perhaps have a pond dug. I am not rushing to plant trees because there are deer and rabbits. Over the years I have lost a lot of trees from planting before I was ready to protect them, alsoI want to mulch new trees thoroughly against weeds.

Compost, how much?

For my existing garden I have plenty of compost. That now changes with the new land, for which I need extra compost. It’s the difference between year one, starting out, and ongoing. Or you can use polythene with very little compost, and with probably lower harvest amounts, more weeds too. There are no rules with no dig (except no dig!), just a lot of possibilities, learn more in my book, on offer with the Calendar of sowing dates.

On existing beds we spread 2.5cm / 1in each year for two crops often. No feeds or fertilisers, few weeds, few slugs. soil life fed and protected, many harvests and minimal bed preparation between them.

For new beds, I shall spread about 10cm / 4in to make the new beds. Hope to find enough cardboard, and also we are using polythene / tarp. I bought some Revive green waste compost made by Viridor, from Wallee Watson 07989 580872, at £50 per ton delivered. Shall use others too. I explain the process in this You Tube video, although this time it’s less compost and some use of plastic to kill weeds.

  • If you start no dig with few weeds, you don’t need to use cardboard.

Broad beans sown November

They look worse for winter, but also are ok. They always amaze me with their resilience, and a lot of the good work is happening out of sight, as the roots establish all winter in any mild weather.

No dig really helps with this because the soil structure is intact, drainage is good.

Broad beans are a great vegetable to overwinter because they finish cropping in early summer, allowing many possibilities for new plantings. Have transplants ready: in module 2 of my second online course, I explain all about planning and succession. You can buy it as a module, for £30.

Weedkiller in compost

All is not good on this front because already I have heard from Anna, a gardener in the Wirral (hers is the first listed comment) who has suffered poisoning from both Wickes and Westland’s compost. It’s such an issue because most of the compost you buy will be fine, but clearly some of it is not, and we cannot know. Plus the authorities are not interested or able to help, whatever they may claim.

Once you have some compost you can sow beans in it to check for healthy growth hopefully, see my videos about pyralid in compost. We have sown beans in my newly delivered compost, but we shall be spreading it before I know for sure, am reasonably confident.

I have been trialling digestates also, from methane digesters. So far I am not hugely impressed because their microbial quality must be extremely low, after the anaerobic process. Growth initially is poor, however after keeping the product here in a sack for six months, brandling/re/tiger worms arrived and the broad beans look pretty healthy, compared those in some fresh digestate.

Woodchip, is clean!

Do look out for deliveries of woodchip from anyone trying to get rid of it.

  • Don’t worry if it has conifer material, because pH is very difficult to change, whatever others may claim.
  • No worries about honey fungus either. I am still checking this one but there is a lot of myth and misconception. It ‘s not so terrible after all, certainly not a cause to dig out your whole garden!
  • Best not use fresh woodchip as mulch for beds you plant into. It’s better when say 6-9 months old as a brown ingredient for compost making, and as a thin layer on paths.

Something different

Thanks to his nice comment on one of my YouTube videos, I am in contact with William DeMille of high desert land in Nevada, where his family run cattle on a 16,000 acre ranch. William has a fascination for using the excess winter sunshine, and converting it to food. The latitude is 39°, equivalent to Madrid in Spain. Where they also had snow recently!

William calls the structure a walipini, and it includes those amazing boulders on the north wall, to store heat from daytime sun. For an Englishman like me, the scale of it looks so American! Such as that very ‘minuscule’ door, ten feet high!

My polytunnel

Salad growth under cover has been slower this winter than for several years. We have had several nights of -5 C 23 F which freezes the plants even undercover. This does not kill them but slows any new growth. It can also damage some stems of the mustard and make them a little mushy.

For this reason and because I have been so busy writing, I decided to leave the plants to grow slowly, no picking and without any watering at all since 21st December. The doors are open all of the time and I am happy to say there is little fungal damage. Mildew can be a problem in winter because our climate is so cloudy and damp. Our sunshine total for January is 46 hours, just 1.5 hours every day.

We have had 12 frosts, night temperatures average 2 C 36 F, day temperatures average 6.5 C 44 F. Rainfall this January is just over 90mm/3.6in. You can see Homeacres weather any time, right here!

Propagation

It is still best to hold off sowing seeds, unless you feel like extra work in looking after them for longer. It is possible to sow aubergines and chilies now for example, but I am not convinced how much you gain from sowing now compared to in say three or four weeks time.

The photos show I have a few plants in the greenhouse from sowings last autumn.

So much to learn

Growing food on this scale, all hand work, has the wonderful aspect of continual contact with nature, and receiving her feedback. I feel privileged to do this and even more to be able to share it, and love the feedback from around the world. A man in Cuba for example was expressing joy at the large harvests from his lettuce, thanks to my method of removing larger leaves regularly rather than cutting.

You amazing work, I put the test of only cutting only the largest leaves of lettuce and it has given incredible results. Thanks from my heart. Greetings from Cuba, Freddy Araujo

One simple thing making a significant difference. Also I see many lovely comments of how gardening is helping people deal with the awful pandemic and all the issues surrounding it.

If you want to delve (dig! – words are so strange) deeply into how no dig works, how to practice it and then how to develop all your gardening skills, my online course package will certainly take you there.

The photo shows Leslie from Puerto Natales in Patagonia who took both courses, and has been enjoying success in a difficult, very windy climate. I have a large following in Patagonia and that is a remarkable thing about the internet, it gives worldwide reach. Turns out there is a lot of worldwide interest!

Also we have divided the courses into module packages which you can buy separately, to learn particular aspects of gardening. For example this one, module three of course one which is about bed layout and pathways.

I receive many questions about how to set up beds on sloping ground, and the answer is pretty simple, to run beds up and down, not across unless your slope is more than about 10°. I know this well from experience this is not a theoretical statement. Everything I teach is rooted in experience.

Winter garden

Edward and I filmed a video in early January on a frosty morning, all about what you can harvest fresh from the garden in mid winter, in our temperate climate. I do find it amazing how you see plants frozen or covered in snow, and then later when the ice has gone they look fine!

Clearly it depends on growing the right plants for this season, and my video should help you understand this, as will my new course three, and do remind yourself of sowing dates if you need that. Keep remembering in spring that there is no rush to sow, because later sowings often catch up.

Winter staples

And to finish, these are vegetables I would not be without in winter. The Brussels take a long time to grow and do not give a huge amount of food per area, but if you like them they are so worthwhile for cropping regularly, through weather when not much other fresh green is available. These were transplanted among carrots in June.

I sowed the parsnips direct in March, and multisowed the onions in late February… soon!

99 thoughts on “February 2021 new no dig land, winter harvests and vegetables stored, wait to sow, compost and woodchip

  1. Oh no! I have just mulched all my beds with fresh wood chip! Hope they will survive. Why dont you use it fresh?
    I also have some other questions: do you grow aspargus in no dig beds? If you do, dont you even dig when planting them the first time? Or do you have realy tall beds for this plants?

  2. Oh no! I have just mulched all my beds with fresh wood chip! Hope they will survive. Why dont you use it fresh?
    I also have some other questions: do you grow aspargus in no dig beds? If you do, dont you even dig when planting them the first time? Or do you have realy tall beds for this plants?
    And the last, but maybe the most important: How do I get rid of gossip cabbage? I have tried to cover the ground with carboard and newspapers, but the weed gets into all my beds.

    1. I guess that you mean Ethiopian cabbage, which I have not heard referred to by that name. It is prolific because of self seeding and I don’t understand why you can’t control it using surface mulches and occasional weeding or hoeing.
      See my video about growing asparagus, No-Dig, it’s on YouTube

      You can use a thin mulch of fresh wood chuck but no more than 3 to 4 cm, otherwise it makes transplanting difficult, makes sowing very difficult, with more woodlice and slugs often.
      More than anything, it is not adding much goodness to the soil for several months to come.

      1. Haha! I just used google translate for that word, and I didnt double check the translation. Now I have. The right name is Ground Elder. So sorry!

  3. Is there any commercial seed compost that’s free of pyrolid weed killers? I’ve managed to avoid it so far but all my block sown pea seedlings are dying . It’s really noticeable because I sowed the first lot in some of last years compost and they’re fine, but the next lot in new compost are dying.

  4. Hello Charles,
    I put about 3 inches of well-rotted cow manure from a local farm, on my beds, before Christmas. The frosts have broken it up a lot, and I’m disappointed just how much wood shaving and chippings there are in it. I will be adding another 3 inches of homemade compost on top soon, but am worried about how the wood content will affect growth and cropping. Is there anything I can do to combat this?
    Kind regards,

    David Newson

    1. It’s interesting how rain washes out the compost part of manure and then you see all the wood! It may be worth raking it off into the pathway, depending exactly how much there is. I would be inclined to do something like that before adding compost. Fine to leave a little wood there, but not too much.

      1. Hi Charles,
        Thank you for your swift reply. Yes, now that the temperatures are higher and the manure has defrosted I will try raking off some of the bigger pieces. The farmer told me that the manure was at least 1 year old, so I figure the wood chippings are at least that old as well. So part decomposed. Thanks again for your advice! David

  5. Charles,

    I live a few miles from you in Frome.

    I have just inspected the garden, Leeks dont look that clever and the Land Cress and Chard seem to have had it which isnt entirely surprising, but the Purple Sprouting Broccoli and the Kales look like they have given up, leaves are very wilted.

    Will they recover?

    I think next year I may have to do something to shield them.

  6. Hi Charles, I have a question about seed raising mix (compost). I have always bought a few bags each year to raise seeds then pot on etc. As my plants were badly effected by Pyralids and herbicides last season, I’m determined to only use my own compost from now on (thanks to your awesome instructions 😊).
    Can I grow everything in just sieved compost or do I need to add pumice or coconut husk?? You advice you be very much appreciated

    1. Hi Kelly, and I am sorry to hear about your problems last year, can you please join the campaign we are starting on Twitter and this is the address. It has become such a big problem that somehow we need to stop use of this horrible poison.

      On a positive note, home-made compost rarely has sufficient nutrients for growing in small cells, perhaps in larger ones. It needs some sieving or breaking lumps and yes it needs some extra drainage property, such as perlite, maybe course sand, but I am not too convinced by that. You will have to try a few things! Everybody’s compost is so different.

      1. Thanks Charles, yes I shall have a look at the link you have posted. Here in New Zealand it is becoming a massive problem too!
        It’s going to be tricky growing my own seeds from now on. Maybe a worm farm could be worth a go?

  7. Hello Charles,
    Thank you once again for your wonderful insights. They are always a joy to read!
    After reading your book How to Create a New Vegetable Garden, we want to try making a hot bed at the end of the month to give us some early vegetables. However I am a bit wary of sourcing horse manure due to pyralid contamination. What questions do I need to be asking the stable owners, or would woodchips heat up enough to do the same job? I suspect they wont as they’re high in carbon, not nitrogen.
    Thanks in advance,
    Danielle

    1. Good questions Danielle.
      Unfortunately horse owners know nothing about these weedkillers and are happily giving it to thire prized animals. I’ve had experience here of explaining it to the stable yard manager and he looked horrified, then nothing happened after that. I still use horse manure and accept that it’s a gamble in terms of eventual use as a compost, but it is still effective for heating.

      Yes you are right that green wood chips, freshly cut, do make heat which is fewer calories over a slightly longer term. So if you can make a big enough heap it can work. Last year we added fresh woodchip to fresh horsemanure, great heat result and excellent compost which fortunately has no weedkiller, tested with tomatoes etc

      1. Thanks for your reply. Thankfully, my allotment have a reliable source which we get sporadic deliveries, but in order to make this hotbed we will need to source our own to make sure it’s as fresh as possible and we dont take more than our fair share!

        1. That’s a great idea to add fresh woodchips to it. They will break down much faster in a high nitrogen environment, and in turn act as a bulking agent for the manure to prevent it from being compacted. What ratios did you use for this?
          I guess I need to find some manure asap and try sprouting something in it. Will chickpeas or buckwheat be affected in the same way? I’m sprouting these along with beans for some fresh shoots and they seem much more vigorous (probably old bean seeds).

          Kind regards,
          Danielle

  8. Hi Charles
    Looking forward to the development of your new field, really good news.

    My beds are ready, my greenhouse is cleaned, just waiting for the weather to improve. It’s really cold here in Staffordshire.

    I bought some seed potatoes before Christmas and I’ve just taken them out of the packing. Some of the sprouts are about 4″-5″ long and I’m wondering whether to trim these off? I have Bambino, Annabelle, Cara and Maris Piper. Your advice would be much appreciated.

  9. Hello,

    I have mizuna, red mizuna and other winter lettuce in our green house that was sown at the end of August.

    When do these varieties finish?

  10. I’ve just discovered your site (via Youtube), Charles and am thoroughly enjoying watching as many of your videos as possible.
    At the moment a colleague and I are in the process of creating an allotment/garden at the school where we both work as teachers. We have been lucky enough to find some funding to help establish the plot, something we began just before Christmas. Before discovering your videos we removed the turf from a site 10 x 25 metres – my question is whether this would affect the no dig approach? After seeing the success of your endeavours I hoping to follow your advice and go no dig. Any advice on the subject would be most appreciated.

    1. Thanks Stuart, good to hear this except for you removing the turf! That represents quite a lot of fertility and was totally unnecessary work!! However it is done now so you just need to carry on as normal, you won’t need cardboard at least, just compost on top

      1. Thanks for the reply Charles – the turf removal was hard work, and as you say totally unnecessary. We have some more land we hope to expand into eventually – I will make sure to leave the turf in place when we come to that.

  11. Charles, thank you so much for the pleasure of your beautiful videos (thanks to the videographer, too), and all your inspiring information.

    DIBBER: I notice yours is short enough that you have to stoop over a bit to use it. Do you wish it was longer, or does the length let you lean into it better? I’ll be pruning some hardwood branches of about that thickness, and making a dibber before spring planting.

  12. hi Charles , i would like to start by saying how much i enjoy your youtube channel and website . I really like how relaxed you come across in your videos and also how informative you are . I have just built a new raised bed and having run out of homemade compost i am going to have to buy some in to fill the bed but i am worried about pyralid weedkiller , so my question to you would be does soil association certified compost guarantee it is pyralid free ? thanks very much , keep up the good work . Ross

    1. Thanks Ross, and the organic certification process absolutely should guarantee that but one can never say hundred percent because this horrible stuff has got out there a bit. But yes you should be fine!

  13. Hi Charles, I’m very interested in what you are going to do in the new field. I’m a ‘custodian’ of a glebe meadow field in our village (0.9a) and have been doing a no dig growing space behind the wildflower field over the last 3 years with a polytunnel, outdoor beds and fruit cage. So I can’t wait to see what you do! Good luck!

  14. Congrats on your new field! I don’t underestimate how hard it is to buy land in this country, nevermind land that adjoins your existing garden. Thanks for all the info and looking forward to what you come up with.

  15. I have learned so much from Charles’ videos. They are somhelpful now I have an allotment and especially while we are in lockdown. Sadly I didn’t know about Charles when I lived in Somerset, and I do have to take into account we live now in Cumbria, but it’s all good stuff!

  16. I started a (slightly modified) no dig method in earnest in 2019 and I am getting more produce because I’m spending less time weeding, and more time getting on top of interplanting and succession planting. I have way less worry about always being behind in my weeding!

  17. Hi Charles thank you for all the updates to date I love getting this information. Can you please point me in the direction of your membership please.
    Thank you
    Carol

    1. Thanks Carol, and it’s on my YouTube channel, there is a blue Join button top right I think on the screen which you click and follow the steps after that.

  18. just to say having had pyralid problems with both compost and horse manure over the years i have converted to woodchip and my own compost from the kitchen garden and allotment, the woodchip is amazing and i either mix it in with the rest of the green and brown on an open heap or let it heat and turn to beautiful soil after a couple of years, i also use it on the paths and after a couple of years i turn the paths on to the beds as mulching in winter and relay fresh woodchip on the paths, we are very lucky to have free loads of woodchip here at home and delivered to the allotment for all the allotmenteers to use. We used organic sheep fleeces as mulch as well this year, great to keep soil covered but sadly the slugs ate all our young cabbages we planted through it!!!its was our sweetcorn bed last year ( a block of about 60 plants very productive) before mulching with the fleece this winter after harvest, so will be interesting to see what the sweetcorn harvest will be like this year, we will plant large greenhouse grown plants through the fleece !!!!

    1. Thanks for sharing this Susie and yes you are fortunate to have all that with you, it is an amazing resource. Interesting to about slugs under the wool, since often wool is claimed to be a slug deterrent! Clearly not in every case, or probably often not.

      1. I mulched with sheep fleece on my strawberry bed two years ago, to deter slugs and keep in moisture/prevent weeds. I had composted first, then laid the fleece. I have not seen a single slug on the strawberries in those two years. They were on my cabbages in the next door bed though!

        1. Hi Susan, This is of great interest to me. I have 4 Ouessant sheep, a breed noted for their wonderful fleeces. At first I disposed of the fleeces as I couldn’t find anyone who wanted it. I went to Great Dixter to find that they were experimenting with using wool fleece as a slug deterrent. Knowing that you have been using it above your compost on your beds means that I now have a use for the fleeces I have stored from last years shearing. How thick have you laid down the wool and do you wait for a while after planting or is it laid down and planted through? I don’t have a massive slug problem, but that isn’t to say I dont have damage I would like to avoid without the use of chemicals.

    2. Have you tried sowing seeds in decomposed woodchip? I once saw someone on Gardeners World who did this, and also I heard about a man who used to grow bedding plants in hardwood sawdust. Just thinking about alternatives in case I can’t get hold of ‘proper’ seed compost.

      1. Hi Kevin,
        The primary ingredient of most commercial potting medium and ‘seed starting’ medium is composted wood chips or bark (at least it is here in Australia, I would assume the same in the UK), so you are probably already growing in decomposed wood chips!
        I usually make my own potting medium using (sieved) decomposed wood chips either from a pile left to age, or from my paths, which I then refresh with newer wood chips. So it’s certainly do-able, but obviously you need the time to let it break down. I haven’t tried sawdust or wood shavings, but presumably if it’s well broken down it would also work as a base for a seed starting mix.

        1. Thanks for that, Tracy. I have sieved some quite well rotted woodchip that I was given about 18 months ago. It had quite a lot of leaves in it, which I think has helped it to decompose. So I will give it a go – it can’t be worse than some of the branded compost I’ve bought in the past.

  19. Hello Charles, ready for my second season of growing veg no dig in the south of France, thanks to your videos and books ! I discovered your you tube Channel during our first lockdown in marché. among others I managed to grow 35kgs butternut squash, 15kgs courgettes, 10kgs potatoes plus kale beetroots, salades. All that on no more than 20m2and today I still harvested 2 romanesco cabbage sown last april. All that thanks to your advice. So thanks a lot and eagerly waiting for ghis New season ahead. Chers. Norbert

  20. I have a veg garden in West Cork, Ireland. Every year I get quite a bit of damage from southwest winds even in summer. I put up wind fabric around the outside of the garden, but it is 143′ wide and the protection doesn’t reach the whole way. I am thinking about planting blueberry bushes in the beds in the middle. Wondering if the sun I will be blocking in the afternoons will outweigh the wind protection?

    1. Hi Jerilyn, this sounds worth a try as long as your soil is acid, in order to grow the blueberries. I would be concerned less about shade than about the moisture they will extract from nearby soil.
      However, you are in West Cork so this move will probably be fine! Less pain some gain.

  21. On ‘suitable crops for winter’, I have two inputs to share:

    1. Spanish Round winter radish – I have grown this for three or four years now and it is a really, really reliable staple for us now. You sow it the same time as autumn turnip (late July to around 10th August), thin three times and end up with rows of black skinned vegetables (I thin to 10cm within the row, 25-30cm between rows but could quite possibly be closer) and it is still standing happily down at my allotment at the end of January (I am tending to pull quite a few now to store in the shed at home).

    It makes excellent soup (you can combine it with turnip and/or swede just as easily) and is a tasty addition to casseroles along with carrot, potato, parsnip etc.

    I would guess you can sow seeds in modules, but I’ve never done that to date…

    I find it germinates more reliably than turnip and getting an even stand seems trivial even to an amateur like me. I bought seeds from both Real Seeds and the Seed Cooperative with excellent results all round.

    2. Valdor winter lettuce – this year I planted them out quite late as I was doing a four sequential crop trial – as a result, the lettuces were not full size by late November, so I have left them to stand through the winter with the intention of letting them grow in early spring for harvest then. They are standing really happily at the end of January (still not quite touching each other) having had no protection from the weather whatever. I’ve not tried this on multiple winters yet to see how reliable it is, but this one has had three snowfalls, a few hard frosts and unbelievable amounts of rain.

  22. No Dig can get into your subconscious!
    I attended a Homeacres course in July 2017, have been getting better crops every year and have convinced two neighbours to ‘convert’.

    Last night I dreamt that I was trying to teach an unruly bunch of allotmenteers about No Dig and woke giving them your website address!

    With your new space, you could plant some hazels for coppicing which will provide bean poles and pea sticks for ever!

    I have recently bought some square aluminium netting supports which give a much increased volume of protected space compared to curved hoops.

    1. Hi Colin. I put my hoops down each side of the row overlapping, rather than across it. Once the fleece is pulled taught and fixed with a half brick, it gives me a similar frame to the aluminium square ones but virually free as I am using 6mm wire which was about £20 for 200 yards from farm supplies.

  23. I set up a Trial no dig bed on a new plot I took on in September next to my plot I have had for 3 years, the new plot had mares tail and had been grassed as they could not eradicate it. I have managed to eradicate it from my original plot.
    I set up the bed with Card Green compost and Horse Manure on November 28th 2020 filled it and planted Garlic, Kale and Savoy plants and sowed Broad Beans, on the same day. I covered with fleece and Scaffold netting. My Grandson is filming progress for a school project. Jan 28th all plants are growing and Beans have germinated! Amazing start My Grandson is constructing a no dig bed at home, I think he has got the bug. I have your Course 1, a Diary and Journal so have planed the year ahead. Thanks Charles I am looking forward to gardening without weeding. Gary Bale of Birstall.
    We are looking forward to attending your 1 Day course when able to.

  24. Charles

    Patagonia has a large population of folks who emigrated from Wales generations ago (some of my mother’s family from West Wales farming stock ended up there), so maybe it is not so amazing as all that that you find adherents there?

  25. Have just found you (!) and am hooked; busy watching all your you tube videos and reading articles. We recently moved to Devon and are about to embark on our first veg garden and cutting garden this Spring. The site is part of an old quarry with bed rock and so all planting will need to be in raised beds. I wondered how deep you think we should make the beds to cater for a range of veg and flowers and what you think we would fill them with? We were thinking of a mix of soil and 5cm compost layer on top. Thanks for your help – you will be our constant guide as our growing adventure begins. Best Wishes.

    1. Thank you charlotte and I expect you need 30 cm 12 inches of mostly compost. I would use very little soil because it brings not so much to the show, compared to compost which can be for example well rotted manure

  26. Good morning Charles,
    Having grown veg for years along basic no dig principles I found your YouTube. I am so excited about this year’s growing season, as I am biting the bullet and going full no dig this year. I have an allotment which is on heath land in Norfolk UK, and is very very well drained. Last autumn I spread 18 month old pig muck over most of the plot and then covered with weed suppresent membrane. I am short of home grown compost having used this on some new no dig beds. My question is can I plant straight into this, or should I try and cover it with some municipal compost if I can get it delivered. The pig muck was still a little smelly with some form when I spread it.
    Sorry for the long question.
    Many thanks,
    Jo

    1. Hard to say for sure Joe but I would be inclined to spread a little compost over the hopefully well decomposed pig manure, say 1 inch compost, and good luck

  27. Morning Charles.
    I discovered your website last year and was really inspired to grow my own veg using your no dig method. After purchasing an 18×30 polytunnel from Ferryman tunnels last spring, we finally got it up in our field in the summer. We made raised beds (!) and layered thick cardboard in them, followed by a good 8″ of mixed topsoil and horse manure. I planted pretty much straight away and had a great late harvest of beetroot, spinach, lettuce, mizuna, coriander, snow peas and chard.
    I am trying to now get the tunnel ready for spring planting but am finding alot of celandines growing in the beds. How would you tackle them as I know they are very invasive?!
    Also, we have a lot of grass growing behind the raised beds. We thought about chucking some black plastic on it to try to kill it but I fear the sunlight will seep through from outside and keep it growing. Any words of wisdom? I’d really like to keep the raised beds if possible as I have 2young children helpers, who without a physical barrier would be in the crops!!
    I have an endless supply of horse manure if that can be of any help?
    I really love reading your blogs and your videos have taught and inspired me so much. Thankyou and I look forward to hearing from you!

    1. That sounds mostly very good Vicky apart from the problem of grass, which is such a pity that you did not do some cover behind those beds before assembling them, which would have prevented this problem. It sounds like you need to somehow get behind and pull as much as you can then I would put cardboard on top and tuck it down into the sides of the poly tunnel between soil and polythene.
      Lots of horse manure sounds fantastic! Great that you are involving your children.

  28. Let’s hope the impact on commercial compost is very limited, as not always easy to produce enough home compost. Out of interest do you put fresh wood chip on your paths or wait 6-9months?

  29. Great update! We had about 40cm of snow here in Western Germany (500m above sea level), but very mild temperatures so far (coldest was -6°C), so very calm January, not much to do in the garden. I am curious to see if the broad beans and garlic I have sown in November can deal with this much snow for 4 weeks. The ones in the poly tunnels look fine, the ones outside? Can’t tell due to the snow.

    I have always been so jealous of the crazy amount of sunshine the US gets. We got maybe 10h this January here, it’s ridiculous.

    I have sown some mustards and spinach two weeks ago to grow in the temperate greenhouse, where I also grow lemons and oranges, so I have to heat it anyway. But I have decided to add some growing lights, because they got really long.

    Really looking forward to Feb 14, which marks the end of the Persephone Days here in Germany! 10h+ of daylight from then on, can’t wait to use your sowing calender!

  30. Hi Charles, I’m a fairly new gardener and located in Seattle (47 degrees N), with similar climate and day lengths to yours. I’m planning to follow your recommended sowing dates closely this year. However, I think I remember from your videos that your last average frost date is mid-May, whereas ours is mid-April. Would you adjust your timings for sowing/planting at all given an earlier last frost date? Or are light levels the more important factor to consider?

    1. Thanks Aya, yes many factors count. Roughly similar! just sow frost tender vegetables a week or two earlier.
      Good luck

  31. Charles, I shall be watching with keen interest how you develop your newly acquired field. I am hoping to buy an area of land that adjoins my garden. The farmer has agreed in principle to sell it, but doesn’t know how much it’s worth. Since October, he has been going to get a valuation: things move slowly in Wales, especially with the very restrictive lockdown we are under.

    We do have a reasonably large garden but most of it is ornamental (the domain of my wife and I dare not expand into it). I do have to admit that, since discovering your no-dig methods, the amount of produce grown in the three beds I have, has far exceeded what I was able to produce on a full-sized allotment using conventional methods. However, I would like space to errect a polytunnel, and grow more potatoes and things like brussels sprouts, which occupy the ground for a long time but are so much more tasty when freshly picked.

    I think we had three inches of rain in 48 hours (goodness knows what the January total is) but the woodchip paths have made the garden accessible. I would like to mention a website where you can register as a “tip site”, so that tree surgeons know that they can dispose of woodchip on your premises. Go to arbtalk.co.uk/recycling/ and click the button to ‘Add new tip site’.

    I hope our lockdown eases before I need to buy some compost, because all the garden centres are closed at the moment. Last year, I bought some professional seed compost from Medwyn Williams (the prize-winning veg grower – medwynsofanglesey.co.uk) and had the best results ever, but you have to collect it in person, which is not allowed at the moment. I purchased some of my seeds from him also and found that the
    germination and vigour was excellent.

    1. Thank you so much Kevin this is all helpful information and good to hear, except for your very restrictive lockdown, I hope it eases soon. Nice tip for the woodchip, may help some others as well

    2. Kevin

      I have also regularly bought seeds from Medwyn, mostly for showing, but he was kind enough to allow me to trial some new strains he has bred/had bred himself in the 2020 growing season and they were truly awesome – a leek and a cauliflower. As neither are in his 2021 catalogue, I will refrain from naming them at this stage….

      I find the germination rates for his onion and carrot seed to be quite superb. Both get germinated in my home made leaf mould atop a bog standard MPC from our local garden centre, in the main. But I tend to get germination rates for both of over 90%. Onions in early February, carrots in late April usually.

      The other nice thing about Medwyn is that, for anyone not so au fait with modern ICT, he still lets you send cheques or even cash in the post along with his ‘fill in with a pen’ order sheet if that is the best way for you to order and pay. Admirable flexibility toward customer needs….

  32. I’m sorry to hear of my misinterpretation of Google Earth. I was assuming better access for your compost to your new paddock than the treck from your front. a faux track deceived me.

    Still a brilliant purchase however. Exciting times ahead. Looking forward to learning more.

  33. Dear Charles
    Many thanks for your brilliant work!!
    What is the meaning of mesh woodchip, couldn’t find an answer with google….?
    ‘Don’t use mesh woodchip as mulch for beds you plant into’

  34. Thanks, Charles. Insightful post as always and what excitement ahead with the new land! Just thought it’d mention a source of green waste compost I recently found. Simon of Phoenix Green Solutions based in Frampton Cotterell. 15T for £120! I took on a very large allotment plot last Nov and used about 10T, the rest went to my new neighbours which went down very well indeed.

    Simon – 07831 729790

    1. Thanks so much Annabel. Important question about quality – is it good? Sieved to 15 mm max, not too much plastic and gravel or stones? I have heard many horror stories about green waste compost!

      1. 15mm – not quite, maybe more like 20mm but I could be wrong. Some small stones but overall I was very impressed with how clean of plastic it is. I covered the bottom of a bucket with random bits from the whole load. I discovered Simon via Edible Bristol. He is very nice to chat with so I expect he would enjoy a phone call.

  35. Hi Charles, I have been following your teachings for a couple of years and have most of your books. First time I read about beds on a slope being up down lengthwise(I assume for better drainage). My new, year old allotment has about a 5-7 degree slope but I established the beds across it. Should I change them? Best Regards Norm Kirkham Lancashire

    1. Thanks Norman, most advice is based on the assumption that you are digging, which loosens soil and makes it more likely to erode in rain.
      With no dig this is not the case and hence you can run beds up and down, which makes it easier to apply water and compost without them running into a path below.

    2. Norm, I read somewhere that Singing Frog farm in California (that is also practicing No Dig) had their beds washed away when they were parallel to the slop . They acted like a dam for a while but then the middle gave and the water just plowed through all the beds. Maybe you don’t have this kind of rain where you live or their slope angle was different than yours but I thought I gave you this info just to let you know what others have experienced.

      1. I’d be interested to see almost anywhere cope with 14 inches of rain in 3 days that San Luis Obispo county had the past week!

        Even here in the UK, after the torrential October and normal November and December rains, a very wet January has meant 7 year old no-dig beds have had the odd puddle on them the past few days – we have had a small lake form at the bottom of the garden which really only happens about once a decade.

        The new wood chip paths are perfect to walk on even after all the rains.

        I must say if I were likely to experience 14 inches of rain, I would certainly be thinking that 10cm of wood chips covering a mature no-dig bed might well be the way to go…..just push the chips to the side when transplanting modules…

  36. Hallo Charles,
    This year I’m going no dig in my garden for the first time. I bought greenwaste compost to fill my new beds. When it was delivered I filled the beds with still steaming compost. Is this a problem?
    Greetings from Belgium, Bo Knaepkens
    P.s. I really love your video’s and books!

    1. Thanks Bo, and it would be a problem if you immediately sow and plant. However spreading the compost in winter, gives it time to mature before planting in say mid spring. Could be a small issue still and growth will improve through the season

      1. Hi Charles, and thanks for sharing your knowledge! It’s very much appreciated. I’m in the same situation as Bo, except I filled the beds now in late March. I plan to add organic chicken manure pellets to compensate for the nitrogen binding. Would that be enough? Are there any other issues with “immature” compost?

        1. Hi Joakim, that sounds ok! It’s difficult to short-circuit a natural process such as the decomposition of organic material and the manure will help, growth will be stronger with every month.

          1. That’s great to hear! Now I can sleep a little better. Again, thank you so much 🙂

  37. Congratulations on your new land purchase. Can I ask how you will look after the rest of the field while you gradually start to make new beds? Will you mow it or just leave it? Thanks!

  38. I am very concerned about the question of weed killer in commercial compost,especially as I have just purchased some Westland vegetable growing compost. Although you say there’s nothing to be done about this, in view of the fact that it is obviously not what it purports to be ie an aid and beneficial to growing vegetables it must surely be ‘unfit for purpose’. I wonder if this should be taken up with Trading Standards but as I don’t have any personal proof if this your experience would presumably carry considerable weight ?

    1. I have tried so many things, I have put so much time and effort into protesting and notifying the authorities left right and centre all to no avail. There is a limit to my resources, but if other people want to pursue this then why not?
      Having “scientific proof” is difficult because ‘science’ can be used to prove or disprove almost anything, unfortunately. I quite agree, unfit for purpose is a good description. But a lot of the compost is fit for purpose! Your Westlands may be fine.

  39. Another excellent article Charles.
    I’m putting your principles into practice in a new walled kitchen garden just down the road from you in your village!
    Hopefully one day we can have a chat over a mug of tea.
    Stay safe

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