Beds of the Three Strip Trial, see below

February 2022 how and when to sow, compost for no dig, trial results, mesofauna, pond creation

Slowly the energy rises in February. I love the feeling of growth stirring, but be patient before making first sowings. I wait until mid February, then sow under cover radish and turnip multisown, lettuce, cabbage of an early variety, calabrese (broccoli of early summer), cauliflower, also onions, spinach and spring onions multisown, and coriander, parsley, dill. Looking ahead, I sow beetroot towards the end of February and tomatoes mid-March, chard and leeks in early April, cucumbers for under cover growing in mid-April. My new Skills book with Calendar has all the information you need, also I have posted a how to sow video.

Timing is important: two weeks ago I was upset to see a well-known seed company recommending their customers sow tomatoes, in the middle of January. This is possible, but for most it’s not practical, resulting even in wasted effort and seed, because it results in large plants by late March when it’s still too cold to put them out even in a greenhouse. With early and in fact all sowings (see this module about seeds and sowing), it’s as much about whether the temperature will be correct when plants are ready, as whether the seedlings will germinate and grow.

Compost making, spreading

It’s been fun to have the glass window into a compost heap and now the contents look quite evenly brown. One characteristic of the compost we make here is a fairly high proportion of small woody pieces, which help to keep it light and aerated and increase the fungal content.

We never sieve it and I value the small pieces of wood as part of the surface mulch for beds. It’s one reason why the soil here is quite white in places and smells of mushrooms! We spread around 2.5 cm/an inch of this compost on beds (measured after it settles), once a year for two crops, and never use feeds or fertilisers. The pathways have woodchip.

See this page of my site for advice on making compost, and this video.

Winter gardening

The first photo below shows the profile of my beds and paths, with the beds only slightly raised. They both have the same depth of mulch material, compost on beds and in this case, old woodchip on paths. You could spread fresh woodchip. Whereas I like to age it first so that it’s already slightly composted, and the goodness is more readily available to soil organisms.

We have finally had what I would call some moderate frost of -6.7 C, around 20 F, and that was enough to dispatch the pak choi. On the other hand plants like chervil and Claytonia are thriving, without protection.


I had a visit from Andy Murray, a chef, writer and soil ecologist who lives locally, and brought his special camera lens. I did not know much about springtails or collembolans, and certainly had no idea how beautiful they are. He found quite a few under a brick which was lying on some compost. They eat mostly decaying matter.

Mesofauna are 0.1 to 2mm in size, invertebrates including earthworms, nematodes, molluscs and what you see in the photos.

Soil ecology, results from Three Strip Trial

One of the three strips in this trial has beds which we fork every year, to loosen soil without inversion, and the compost is applied on the surface, not incorporated at all. That first strip has the same type of compost as the second strip, which is no dig. The third strip is no dig and has a different compost which is cow manure.

During the first six years, strip 2 outperformed strip 1, but lately the variation is less. Forking this soil to loosen it does not increase harvests and is a job not worth doing, here at least. I would imagine that forking breaks some of the mycelial networks.

The measure of harvests from this trial and the one below are of kitchen ready vegetables, after trimming anything you would not eat. Each strip measures 2 m x 9 m (6.5x30ft) and comprises six beds. There is within this a no rotation trial where for example bed 4 of each strip has potatoes and leeks every year. With excellent crops so far, including year 7.

Soil ecology, results from dig / no dig trial

Anna created also the same kind of bar chart for my two bed trial, comparing dig with no dig, both beds having the same amount of compost every December, and exactly the same plants on the same day and the same harvests on the same day. Over nine years the harvests are 855kg dig bed, 953kg no dig, beds measure 1.5 x 5m (5x16ft). Any variations in the harvest totals are a combination of weather, and some changes in the cropping.

Last year the dig bed performed slightly better than in previous years and I wonder if it’s from removing the wooden sides in December 2020, allowing entry to the dug and disturbed soil of fungal networks. The pathway soil is in very good condition thanks to mulches of well-decomposed woodchip.


I still have one or two videos created by Edward last year, including the winter harvests of salad leaves under cover. Edward now is dedicating himself to his final year at Edinburgh University, studying history.

I’m working this year with Alessandro of Spicy Moustache. He is quite the professional and is being very successful recently on Instagram with his reels, do have a look.

Pond creation

I have three children (eldest is Rosalie) and the second one is Edward’s older brother Jack, who runs a business working with diggers and tractors. He’s very proficient at using the machines and has a good understanding of how water flows, or doesn’t, and he was here for six days in early January creating the pond. We shall post a video around 8th February.

Our problem is that there is not any spring, or regular supply of water. His best solution was to dig out some of an existing ditch which had filled in, and to run a pipe underground from that into the pond. The dug-out ditch serves as a catchment area/reservoir and is slightly higher than the pond, to enable flow of water. However if it does not rain, the pond level slowly subsides, as is happening at the moment.

We were fortunate that after he finished the main work, it rained a lot! About 30 mm/1.2 inches. The pond has no liner, no plastic. The puddled/squashed clay is what holds water, but it looks like there might be a slight leak somewhere: we are learning.

And the next project is to plant the edges, which Adam made a start on during very frosty weather, which was handy because his boots did not get so muddy from the disturbed soil and clay. The mess of this process has made me very grateful for no dig in the rest of the garden.

In the right-hand photo below is Kate, on the left, and she has worked it over the last two years, as well as cooking for the courses. Now she is starting her and CSA near the south coast and they are crowdfunding, do have a look.


54 thoughts on “February 2022 how and when to sow, compost for no dig, trial results, mesofauna, pond creation

  1. Hi Charles,
    as I understood from other gardeners’ questions I can transfer the radishes now although we have -5°C? My broad beans should also leave the house – they are about 15 cm now! I am unsure how to handle the growlight: my seeds germinate well but grow on then rather slow and week. Do you recommend a growlight and if so – how many hours a day?
    And I wanted to thank you for the advice to harvest with two buckets – one for weeds and debris and one for the harvest.

    1. Hi Erika
      -5C is limit for radish and many seedlings! I would sow later next year.
      For grow lights best follow manufacturers’ instructions. Wish I could help more.

    1. Thank you John.
      It’s actually not my favourite video, a little bit stylised and I should prefer it without the music and visual effects, because it’s hard to tell where reality ends, and the style begins. However the subject matter is amazing and truly we are blessed to understand and appreciate more about soil all the time.

  2. A connection to all things wet – I am converting large part of an acre of land cradled on the bend of a small river. Initially, i was going to just create a no-dig direct on soil (after plastic mulching over several months), but now i’m worried about flooding. We live in the Scottish Borders, and there’s plenty of evidence that the water can rise considerably! I was creating some raised beds anyway on another area to give a veg injection before the plastic comes off the rest of the plot, but now I’m wondering if i should make the main veg patch all raised if flooding’s a risk. Should i bite the bullet and continue this, or could it be feasible at soil level?
    Thanks a bundle Charles for the effort you put to make no-dig so inviting and putting everyone on the (well mulched) path.
    Regards, Kev.

    1. Hello Kev
      That sounds a nice project.
      I guess you’re thinking that having wooden sides to the beds will keep their contents in place if it floods through. And that does sound correct, which means that maybe you do need to make sides.
      Big expense.
      Another factor could be the speed of flow. If it was not significant, then opensided might be possible.

      1. Thanks Charles,
        I do need to wait for the river to surge (maybe the storm forecast for today/tomorrow will be the tester!) to see the flow rate, but in the mean time i have created an area for raised beds to give some veg for the growing year alongside an area that i laid plastic down on. The ground is a thick thatch of Couch grass, and the plastic area will take several months to remove. On the raised bed area (18x15m) i removed the turf by hand (i know, maybe i’m creating a bigger problem with just making an area for all the remaining and desiccated roots to reflorish. I just, for some reason, felt this might be a partial solution. The area, hopefully will be mulched after a growing year, because initially the raised bed was going to revert to surface no-dig), and built 13 beds of 2.4×1.2x.22 within that area. I don’t know, i’m a slave to my physical needs, and deep down do like toiling the ground.
        The whole thing anyway is supremely exciting. We lived in the French Pyrénées for 16ys, and the challenge is incredibly different………wonder how my toms will do deep in the bottom of a valley with partial sun reduction?

  3. Hi Charles, many thanks for the parsnip YouTube video.
    I follow the adage of buying a new packet of parsnip seed each year. Have you experimented with older seed and have any views on this?

    1. Yes Sheridan, last year I sowed some already-one year old seed and it came up fine, whereas two year old grew nothing.
      It’s risky because when we buy seed, we don’t know how old it actually is and sometimes it may be already a year or two old. So really it is safest to sow fresh seed but you may be fortunate that the seed you bought was already very fresh.

      Glad you like the video.

  4. My red cabbage “Red Acre” and spring cabbage “Durham Early” have been almost ruined, due to soft growth in the mild weather at the beginning of winter, then frosted killing most of it. What varieties might be better?

    Leeks “Musselburgh” have also suffered with soft growth.

    The mild conditions have also favoured the local slug and caterpillar populations

    1. Yes Philip, mild winters bring their own problems, but should be good for new growth on leeks for example.
      I reckon you may have sown your Durham early a little too early! My Wheelers Imperial, which is a similar type of cabbage, are looking pretty healthy from 26th August sowing. Once I sowed spring cabbage in the middle of August and they made a small heart before winter and then did nothing more.
      I’m puzzled by your red cabbage because I would sow them between now and July to heart in the summer to early winter, rather than to overwinter. Worth a try though.

      1. Hello Philip,
        last April I sowed Red Cabbage Granat from Bingenheimer Saatgut, the harvest was so fantastic, that we couldn’t eat all of it in autumn, so I left it in the bed to see how frost hardy it is. Today there are still two nice heads and I think our nights are colder in Germany than in the UK. The taste is very fine and I left two stems in the ground to have them flower for seeds this year.

        1. Thank you Marietheres,
          I think it’s the mild wet that does it.
          In the early eighties in east UK, where we had drier colder winters, I did not have the same problem.
          One year we had 3ft snow drifts in the garden almost covering the beehives

  5. Not a gardening comment or query: as usual, thanks for the advice and videos. Just wanted to say what a pleasure it is to be ‘in on’ your pond-digging etc. There must be quite a large community of us who watch a video on e.g. winter leaves, compost or pond, and look at the bits of the garden you’re not talking about at the time, and think ‘Oh yes, that’s where the — is’. Your garden must be one of the best-known bits of non-royal, non-historic land in the country. All part of the great community you and your methods have brought about. (Oh yes, and we’re eating masses of leaves from the greenhouse.)

    1. Hello Alan,
      Thank you for your comment and I find it almost strange to imagine lots of people watching!
      In fact I’m a little nervous about the pond because I’m in uncharted territory, and there is a chance that we have set it up for some flooding, if it rains a lot.
      There is an overflow pipe which runs to a ditch in the lane.

  6. Good Morning. We are establishing a new flower garden for our cut flower business and want to take down 5 old apple trees . Can we just take down the trees to the surface and then proceed to cover the new row areas with cardboard/mulch and compost? Would love to be able to leave the tree roots in the ground.

    Would love your advice on this.

    1. Hi Lynn
      I have done similar to this with a medium-size wild cherry tree, and the roots have pretty much decayed, three years later but sometimes when dibbing, I hit the central trunk, still there! Plants grew fine.
      Cut as low as you can, maybe scrape away some soil to go just below soil level, also that will reduce the likelihood of suckers coming up which you might need to remove.

      1. Thank you so much for the advice! Now have the task of locating a truckload of compost. (Don’t have enough of my own compost for this project). Have plenty of leaves we saved for the garden for a great first layer. Used leaf mulch mixed with top soil for a shade garden I created a few years ago (right on top of the lawn under the maple tree we planted around). Very few weeds came through and I use hardwood mulch around the plants. Will put my updates in my blog as we go. Ground is still frozen here until March! Thanks again! Here’s to a great year of growing.

    2. Hello Lynn & Charles: I don’t have any experience with tree stumps yet, however I found a Permaculture YouTube video where the fellow uses natural methods to disintegrate the root. He drills half inch holes into the root and pours fresh urine into the holes regularly. Apparently, the nitrogen in the urine helps break the roots down ‘in record time’ he says. He’s tried it a number of times. If you’d like me to attach the link, let me know.

  7. First sowings of the season yesterday and today: amazing how many seeds you can sow in 1hr in modules!

    160 modules of onions/shallot clumps for eating and 160 modules of single seeds for competition; yesterday 40 modules of peas for shoots and 40 broad beans as a second sowing.

  8. Hi Charles,
    Complete gardening novice here, decided to jump in at the deep end with an allotment! Have recently purchased your calendar for sowing dates – as I’m a bit further north (in Leeds), would you recommend adjusting these at all?

  9. Hi Charles, thank you for sharing your knowledge and experience. I’m a newbie to gardening and you inspired me to start growing my food. Now, before I stumbled upon your videos I took advice from someone else and sowed some tomatoes and cucumbers. They’re growing nicely but I realised now that it is much too early and I don’t know what to do with them next. Can I just keep growing them inside until it’s warm enough to plant them out?

    1. I’m happy to hear Julia that you have got into growing your own food. And you have learnt a hard lesson there, not to believe what most people say, however well-meaning they are.
      I doubt whether your cucumbers will make it through because they need to keep growing in warmth and they can’t just stagnate. Above all don’t overwater them, keep the compost a little dry. The seedlings will grow taller than you want, with thin stems because of lack of light.
      I can only say, do your best but maybe sow again, tomatoes mid March, cucumbers mid April, even mid May for outdoor growing

  10. In your harvest comparison chart why the sudden drop in 2018, after a steady rise? It’s the same in the dig/nodig

  11. I wish to make my out soil mix for sowing seeds. You recommended using finely seized compost + 1/3 vermiculite and some wood ash. What proportion of wood ash would you use?
    Many thanks

  12. I have been inspired to start a no dig garden, despite no previous experience with gardening. I have the frames for the beds and plenty of cardboard, however will need to buy compost/soil for the beds. Are you able to give me some guidance/ advice on where to buy some, and what to buy please. I have also just got a Green Joanna, buy I will not be able to make enough compost just yet. There is a bewildering array of various types of compost, soil and mulch online, so any advice will be received gratefully.
    Thank you in advance

    1. That sounds encouraging and well done. Have a look in the links page on this website, where there are many compost suppliers. Do a search as well because it will be cheaper probably to find somebody local.
      Make sure you buy compost and not soil. The latter often has weed seeds and less goodness.
      See also the beginners guide of this website, which has information about different composts. The main thing is that they all vary, but most are good to use and don’t worry about getting any ‘perfect combo’.
      It’s more about what you can get hold of locally and at a reasonable price.

      Sometimes these composts are sold immature, and if you buy a product which is hot, best to leave it for a month before using. That’s a reason to buy some ASAP.

  13. Charles I remember in one of your videos you mentioned you had good success with Dalefoot wool compost for sowing seeds. Do you use the seed compost or the potting compost? Or would the vary depending on what seeds you are sowing in it? I enjoy compost running compost trials, and from my very limited experience seed compost from other suppliers is ok, but pound for pound there are better options, which again I think I have heard or read from you. Thanks!

  14. Charles
    I’ve been gifted a ton of spent mushroom compost, how would you use it?
    Is it ok on potato beds for example?

  15. Hi Charles,
    Can you talk a little bit about hardening off vegetables. I watch a lot of your videos and you don’t seem to mention it. It seems to be of great importance to a lot of other gardeners. I got an allotment in December, and I will be following your methods. I don’t want to loose plants by not hardening off plants if it is necessary.

    1. Hi Jill, no worries!
      I do mention it in all my books and courses, but only very briefly because I don’t harden off. We put early plantings out into cold soil but with a fleece cover over and that is sufficient transition. In my experience, the supposed need to harden off is much exaggerated

  16. CD – you don’t mention here sowing peas for shoots in January. I’ve done some ‘cos you mention it in your Organic Gardening book (or maybe it’s the winter veg one – I’ve got both (and salad leaves)). Anyway, they’re indoors and up but still at cotyledon stage. I was going to put them outside in a cold frame this weekend and transplant under fleece (and in a poly) when they’re at 2 leaf. I did try overwintering some but they didn’t germinate. I suspect the compost I used then – I think it was digestate. This time I used Mercourt organic with perlite and they’ve pretty much all come up. They’re Alderman from Fothergills. Any advice?

    1. Hi Jon and that sounds excellent. You are a very good student to remember that and I couldn’t even mention it, I could also say it’s possible to sow radish in January, which it is. However for for some people in cooler regions it won’t work and generally I find it a lot simpler to put the brakes on, until mid February.
      Do transplant those any time now with a fleece over preferably.
      Interesting about the compost and I would say definitely a problem to do with digestate, it’s tricky stuff, very variable and I don’t trust it! Not to say there are some good ones.

      1. Dear Charles,
        Would you please be able to explain what digestate is?
        I’ve not heard of it. I have been operating a no dig system at my allotment and very happy with the results.
        Thank you.

        1. Hello Alison
          It’s a strange word! A description of the solid remains after anaerobic digestion of any material to make methane, for energy.
          The product varies according to whether the material used was animal manure, or more usually chopped up plants such as maize & grass. For use as a weed suppressing mulch it’s good but the nutrient value is often low in my experience, especially for the plant digestates.

      2. Hi Charles, I have my fleece on hoops (about 3’ at center). Should the fleece be directly on the soil instead?
        Thank you! Katie

        1. It can work either way, but on the ground means that fleece holds warmth closer to plants, and is less likely to blow away or damage in the wind, compared to when it’s supported on hoops

      3. Thanks CD. I am printing the ‘good student’ comment for my fridge and posting it on Insta. Possibly my proudest moment! Thanks for the tip about radishes. Mrs P loves a radish and I can interplant them with my overwintered onions (p. 127 in your ‘Skills’ book – I have that too). Love the pond.

      4. They’re going out today under fleece – my dibber is readied. The difference between the ones I sowed for overwintering and these is amazing: sown 19/1 and some already at 3/4 leaf stage. I guess it has been quite mild but I’m tempted to ascribe a lot of the difference to the compost. Digestate seems fine for some propagation (my Digitalis seedlings and, surprisingly, some hazel cuttings I took in the autumn) and obviously for bed mulching but I won’t trust it for sowing again, at least not on its own.

  17. I’m reassured I am not late in starting the growing in our No dig garden. So looking forward to get out there again, as I didn’t do to well for winter cropping… will do better this year. No to find a good source of seeds. Thank you for all the shared knowledge and inspiration.

  18. I hope your pond gives you as much pleasure as mine gives me. Wildlife found it very quickly and the nets that were surviving in the muddy puddle we inherited were carefully rejoined and started breeding as soon as they arrived. Year 2 I put in a rather pathetic dwarf bullrush and first year it had the spent casing of a dragonfly stuck to it. Year 3 coming up, need to put some more pebbles on the beach loved by birds and thin out the oxygenator which has gone mad. My happiest times are spent just standing and watching insects on the surface, newts sunbathing and trying to work out where the frog that keeps croaking is hiding!

  19. Is the clay perhaps stopping the pond from filling from beneath? Most problems of keeping a foundation dry come from below. Maybe the problem is that it is not ‘leaking’!
    You ardent fan in germany!

    1. Thank you Eileen! The leak is not taking all the water out but just bringing it down to the level of the water table through the field. I don’t think it could fall any lower than that because of gravity, and it does not suggest the prevention of water coming in.
      We shall work something out I hope!

  20. Thank you yet again for an impressive and inspirational report of your successful evolution at Homeacres. I have 100m2 no-dig west of Paris with vines and vegetables. Bad herbs have virtually disappeared. This year adding another 10m2 with focus on herbal plants in a new area with more sun. Thank you for all the knowledge you are offering us which gives so much energy and joy to life.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *