January 2018 the winter garden, new beds, no rush to sow, salad harvests no dig

It’s midwinter, so we can look forward to spring!! Including to sow seeds, just not yet except for undercover sowings of broad beans and exhibition onions. Wait for Valentines Day/mid February to make first sowings, and germinate them on a windowsill where they are warmer than outside, especially by night, or under glass/polythene, where the increase of sun strength converts light to the warmth that is beneficial for strong and even germination.

Current veg at Homeacres are leeks, Brussels sprouts and parsnips, a little kale and spinach which are currently slow to regrow, and some outdoor salads. They are good where protected by mesh, which I prefer to fleece in winter for its strength to cope with wind.beans 

Salad boxes

I planted these boxes in October, from sowings into modules mid September, and they just gave a third harvest, of 230g/0.5lb this time. I pick the larger, outer leaves and never use a knife. They use staging space that is otherwise empty in winter.

The greenhouse is unheated and these plants survive frost. Their current slowness is more to do with low light levels than low temperature: the midday sun is currently just 27 degrees above the horizon, and it’s 8h 15 min between sunrise and sunset.

Salad in the ground, polytunnel

We picked the plants hard on 21st December to give our customers Christmas salad, and so we could take a holiday! On my return January 10th, the growth was impressive for such a dark and relatively cool time, during which I had not watered at all.

Also the tunnel doors were closed throughout, but ventilation is assured by the opening above the doors each end, of 10-15cm/4-6in.

New courses and propagation

By popular request I am offering two different kinds of courses.  One is on making compost, on May 19th. The other is ‘next level’ on April 14th for anyone wishing to go further and deeper: preferably you will have been on a course already, or be familiar with my work and growing a garden already.

Plus you can hone skills for making paper pots while waiting to sow seeds… See Steph’s blog for how to do this.

New beds no dig, created with compost on weeds

We had Croatian TV here 10th October, who wanted to film us making a new bed with compost on the pasture. Then to film us planting it straightaway, for which we used spare plants I had in the greenhouse – this had not been planned.

I covered the lettuce, pak choi, chervil, claytonia and spinach with mesh, against the night-time rabbits and also as wind protection, then left them completely untended all this time. Just to see! Clearly they love the compost, which is homemade, and so far no weeds have pushed through, though I expect to see some bindweed later, and perhaps buttercup/dandelion earlier – there is just 4in/10cm compost, on cardboard which is below it.

Close spacings, second cropping, rotation

These two beds, of the dig/no dig trial, show how closely you can space, and how many second crops you can grow from summer sowings. I detail the spacings and cropping in my Diary, and you can work some out from the photos – each bed is 1.5x5m/5x16ft and gave 100kg/220lb of veg from May to November.

In terms of rotation, last year I simply did a flip from one end to another of 2016’s plantings, a mirror image. This year I shall be more creative because the middle veg barely moved! However rotation is less important than sometimes suggested and two years is mostly good, between plants of the same family.

Reduce slug numbers

I had this You Tube reply to No Dig Abundance, where I explain that compost is the best mulch for damp climates, rather than straw and hay:

Thank you! I had no idea my using too much straw in wood beds was creating my slug problems. I’m on the coast in western Washington State where it is very damp most of the year. You have saved me a lot of headache! I was just about to plant those beds.

Path mulches such as wood shavings are better than large chips and add organic matter as they decompose. Woody mulches also encourage helpful fungi. Below is Homeacres on 10th January 2018. It’s the first year for a while that I have used woody mulches like this., the shavings are mostly oak and have been outside since May, starting to decompose.

mulch beds, no dig

Grow spinach and parsnips

See my channel for the latest video on growing spinach, also calabrese & cabbage, and coriander & dillThe Channel has been attracting a lot of new subscribers and great comments. The most popular video is still No Dig Fourth Summer with 850,000. Do check out No Dig Fifth Summer too, when you have a spare 20 minutes.

I received this testimonial from Ellen Tollervey:

Your No Dig method is just revolutionary! For example my husband loves growing parsnips, at present we have four 5ft x 5ft raised beds in our small garden in Hampshire. Every year for the past six years he has sown the seeds with varying success, sometimes they did not germinate at all but this year I implemented the No Dig method after seeing your spot on Gardeners World, and seeing you live at the Sustainability Centre.

My husband was sceptical, but big success! I think we must have had approximately 98% germination and the best and biggest parsnips we have ever grown. 

Exhibition: The Land We Live In, The Land We Left Behind

In Bruton at Hauser & Wirth gallery until 7th May, and it’s superb, so much to see and learn. Over 2,000 visitors during its first weekend. We were fortunate to meet Adam Sutherland the curator during the private view, a man of many missions, and his partner Karen Guthrie who makes films, gardens and helps Adam to run Grizedale Arts. Here they are at Homeacres on 21st January.

Adam Sutherland, Karen Guthrie, Charles January 2018 Homeacres

Fertiliser Q & A

I was surprised to receive this question, and attach my answer:

Q I have 32 raised bed, most now have mushroom compost, rotted cow manure, or home made compost spread separately on them.

The composts improves the organic matter in the soil and therefore feeds many of the organisms. But the soil for growing vegetables also needs N, P and K. I have read (from the RHS) that if I use Growmore eg for heavy feeders than the application rate is 142g per sq metre incorporated into the top 30 cms (12 inch) of soil one month before.

How. If using Growmore you can incorporate the fertiliser into the soil 30 cms deep on a no dig basis? Or is the same quantity just sprinkled onto the surface the composts?Or is it best to use blood, fish and bone?

Obviously, the quantities are not as high a weight for medium feeders and light feeders.

A You are right that gardening becomes complicated, when you use fertilisers. Especially if you try to incorporate them!

I use no fertilisers at all, no NPK of any kind, finding that all the organisms in soil which is fed by compost and not disturbed at all, enable season-long growth of fine vegetables.

Feed the soil (life) not the plants. Apply the same amount of compost for all vegetables, because you are feeding soil life, not plant roots. The soil life such as fungi can then help roots to grow.

The images show veg growing in early summer here 2017, then September. The September photo has many second planting e.g. cabbage after broad bean. leek after potato and I apply no extra compost for them, just the 2in/5cm in November each year.

Farmerama and… FOR SALE!!

Check out this audio blog on organic, small scale farming, Farmerama podcasts appear monthly or more to subscribers, and here is a January edition.

We just heard that Ryton Organic Gardens is for sale!

Also for sale are my calendar, the book double pack at £28.30 UK shipping included (£10 saving), and my Diary, whose main advice starts in mid February.

Polytunnel, 3 Q & A

Q’s •    How to deal with bare lawn with undisturbed topsoil underneath?

•    The type of layout for most efficient use of the relatively small space inside (I’m guessing not with timber edges to harbour slugs?).

•    Is there an economic method of stopping moles entering poly tunnels? I have the opportunity to install a barrier before erecting the tunnel. It’s design (Haygrove) with a perimeter channel anchors it firmly to the ground, minimise slugs and other pest ingress.

A In the Updates banner is an archive where you can follow the mulching process I used in my tunnel, here is the first month Jan. 2013


Make sure to mulch up to the edges and also on the outside strip say a foot, to stop weeds spreading back in. Again with buried polythene, this is not a problem.

Yes leave all that fertility there, no cultivation, simply mulch on top. Easy, productive.

Northern tour is imminent!

We are looking forward to meeting you all and seeing new places. Steph will do some driving, and was brilliant when we came back from Hereford in dense fog on 10th January, home by 12.30am.

Here is a list of all my talks and courses, so far confirmed, a few more in the pipeline. All have a page of description, see Talks and Events. Because of courses selling out, I just posted a new one on March 17th.

Charles 2018

24 talks

  • Talk at Bleddfa Centre, Knighton 3pm Jan 10th 60 people v full
  • Talk @ The Courtyard Theatre, Hereford 7.30pm Jan 10th, 140 people not full! (rare)
  • Talk at Dulverton Town Hall, No Dig Abundance, fewer weeds – January 18 @ 7:00 am – 9:30 pm
  • Talk: Inside soil, from the outside, Bruton 25th January – January 25 @ 6:30 pm – 7:30 pm
  • Talk in York, no dig gardening 30th January 7pm, arrive from 6.30 – January 30 @ 7:00 pm – 9:00
  • Talk at Askham Bryan College York 2pm 30th Jan – January 30
  • Talk in Durham 31st January – January 31 @ 7:30 pm – 9:30 pm
  • Talk on organic, no dig gardening in Perth, 2nd February – February 2 @ 7:30 pm – 9:30 pm
  • Talk at Newton Dee near Aberdeen, 3rd Febuary midday – February 3 @ 12:00 pm – 3:00 pm
  • Talk on No Dig at Greenock nr. Glasgow PA16 8TT 3rd February 8pm – February 3 @ 7:30 pm
  • Charles’ talk at Ordshall Hall, Salford 4th February, 6pm – February 4 @ 6:00 pm – 8:30 pm
  • Northern tour Jan 30th-Feb 5th 2018 – January 30 @ 2:00 pm – February 5 @ 10:00 pm
  • Talk on no dig in Lytham St Annes, 5th February – February 5 @ 8:00 pm – 10:00 pm
  • Talk on no dig organic gardening, Broadhembury, Devon – February 7 @ 7:30 pm – 9:30 pm
  • Talk on No Dig gardening at Tuppenny Barn, nr. Chichester 16th February – February 16 @ 6:30
  • Day seminar at West Dean College, Simplifying the rules Sat. 17th Feb. 10-3
  • No Dig gardening, lecture at Charlton Musgrove village hall – February 23 @ 6:30 pm – 9:00 pm
  • Talk to NVS Surrey 14th March Successional Sowing & No Dig Gardening – March 14 @ 8:00 -10
  • Talk on No Dig for Leigh & District Gardening Club – April 19 @ 8:00 pm – 10:00 pm
  • Talk on no dig gardening, Chilcompton April 24th – April 24 @ 7:30 pm – 9:30 pm
  • No dig: save time, fewer weeds, healthy plants – April 25 @ 7:30 pm – 9:30 pm
  • Talk near St Albans allotments at Bernards Heath Junior School, in the nearby school, 9th June 11.30am
  • Talk on no dig at Thrift Farm, Milton Keynes 9th June 5pm – June 9 @ 5:00 pm – 7:30 pm
  • Healthy Growth with No Dig Gardening, talk near Portsmouth – November 2 @ 7:30 pm – 9:30
  • Talk on no dig at Aldborough Community Centre, November 16th – November 16 7-9.30pm

28 Courses

  • Course January 20th, Grow Veg No Dig, full – January 20 @ 10:30 am – 4:00 pm
  • Course February 10th, Grow Veg No Dig, full – February 10 @ 10:30 am – 4:00 pm
  • Course February 11th, Grow Veg No Dig, full – February 11 @ 10:30 am – 4:00 pm
  • Day seminar at West Dean College, Simplifying the rules Sat. 17th Feb. 10-3
  • Guardian masterclass with Charles, Alys Fowler, Hollie Newton, in London – February 18 10-4pm
  • Course February 21st, Grow Veg No Dig, full – February 21 @ 10:30 am – 4:00 pm
  • No Dig Weekend Intensive, full – February 24 @ 10:00 am – February 25 @ 3:00 pm
  • Course March 3rd, Grow Veg No Dig full – March 3 @ 10:30 am – 4:00 pm
  • Course March 10th, Grow Veg No Dig, full – March 10 @ 10:30 am – 4:00 pm
  • Course March 11th, Grow Veg No Dig, full – March 11 @ 10:30 am – 4:00 pm
  • Course March 17th, Grow Veg No Dig 12 places 10.30am – 4pm
  • Day course at Sarah Raven, no dig and salads – March 23 @ 10:30 am – 3:30 pm
  • Course April 7th, Grow Veg No Dig, full – April 7 @ 10:30 am – 4:00 pm
  • No Dig Gardening Course, At Special Plants 11th April – April 11 @ 10:00 am – 4:00 pm
  • Course in No Dig gardening at Special Plants nr. Bath/Chippenham – April 11 @ 10:00 am – 4:00
  • Day course, next level no dig & veg growing, 10 places – April 14 @ 10:30 am – 4:30 pm
  • No Dig Weekend Intensive April 21st-22nd, 3 places – April 21 @ 10:00 am – April 22 @ 2:30 pm
  • Course April 28th, Grow Veg No Dig, 7 places – April 28 @ 10:30 am – 4:00 pm
  • Course May 16th, Grow Veg No Dig, 12 places – May 16 @ 10:30 am – 4:00 pm
  • Day course about compost, making and using, 8 places – May 19 @ 10:30 am – 4:00 pm
  • Course May 26th, Grow Veg No Dig, 12 places – May 26 @ 10:30 am – 4:00 pm
  • Day course in no dig gardening at Ballymaloe – June 11 @ 10:00 am – 4:00 pm
  • Course Weds July 4th, Grow Veg No Dig 12 places – July 4 @ 10:30 am – 4:00 pm
  • No Dig Weekend Intensive July 21st-22nd, 10 places – July 21 @ 10:00 am – July 22 @ 2:30 pm
  • Course Aug. 11th, Grow Veg No Dig 9 places – August 11 @ 10:30 am – 4:00 pm
  • No Dig Weekend Intensive August 25th-26th, 12 places – August 25 10:00 am – August 26 2.30
  •                                       November 10th-11th

6 thoughts on “January 2018 the winter garden, new beds, no rush to sow, salad harvests no dig

  1. Charles

    Reading around a bit, it strikes me that Garden Organic aka HDRA have cost control issues and are thus looking to move to a model with less fixed assets and associated fixed costs…..

    What they may end up doing is being like a Research Council, awarding grants to researchers on a competitive basis, rather than maintaining their own centre/buildings and doing all the research centrally. Someone like you may have opportunities to benefit from such grants if they come into being……

    They may end up renting places to run courses on a more regional basis, rather than having a conference centre in one location. They might also contract others to run them, which might also be a revenue opportunity for you.

    Finally, they may partner with organic gardens around the country to showcase organic principles, using their brand as a badge of organic respectability.

    Obviously, I do not know what they will decide, but you might benefit from taking soundings to see if opportunities might emerge for you as they reorganise….

  2. Did you also hear that the Organic Gardening Catalogue is now part of Dobies? For now, they are still maintaining a separate catalogue, but it does make you wonder….the Ryton sale does raise questions about whst sort of rent escalator they were on: are the current occupants moving elsewhere or simply calling it a day?

    One thing I have found this winter is that Sicilian Radish (Real Seeds) is quite happy staying in the soil, even with snow lying for five days. Still harvesting and using in winter soups with Cavalo Nero, chard. I sowed it as a third crop after spring onions and dwarf beans – pushing it at both ends of the year but seems to work ok, at least in a year with a warm and sunny June accelerating dwarf bean cropping.

    Like the bags – a great advert for those buying your books to carry around!

    All the best for a productive 2018.


  3. In North Georgia, my planting season begins a little earlier, so this past weekend I did my first sowing of the year. Multi-sown (for the first time) onions! They will be planted on no-dig beds in March. I am super excited!

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