January 2019 myths about no dig, events, winter jobs and food
The garden is quiet, even though plants have been growing in the milder weather, as the photos show.
However, winter has arrived in the UK and it’s best to sow nothing now, for at least a month. For example, a March sowing of tomatoes works fine, and is a lot less work than January sowing, followed by needing to look after plants in early spring when they often grow too big, before you can plant them.
I am busy creating and writing an online course, available early March from this website. It has 20+ new videos, 600 photos and new descriptions all about no dig gardening, covering the angles I am so often asked to explain. It explains and shows you the beautiful straightforwardness of no dig.
Myth about no dig
You can walk on beds, as I show in this recent video, filmed the morning after a long spell of rain. For another myth, see Mulching now below.
I posted a lovely video on flowers at Homeacres too, memories of summer, filmed June 12th.
Sweden workshop, Homeacres and other courses
As well as hearing two wonderful talks by Eliot Coleman from Maine USA, I enjoyed chatting with Richard Perkins at the Oxford Real Farming Conference. We are teaming up to offer a 4 day market gardening course at his farm in Sweden. I am really looking forward to the trip and to seeing some of you there.
Plus I am staying an extra day to give a no dig course for gardeners on June 29th, also at Ridgedale, which is 3-4 hours from Oslo, Gothenburg and Stockholm. Before that I shall be in Norway to speak at the Stavanger University conference in mid March, along with Elaine Ingham, Joel Salatin and Professor Dag Jørund Lønning, whose second book on soil is being launched at this event.
Homeacres courses are sold out on 26th January and 9th February, with three places still on 13th February, just one place on the weekend intensive late February, three on March 9th, and many more from there, do have a browse of the dates.
For those in Ireland, I am giving a day course at Ballymaloe Monday 20th May, and at Glebe Gardens 25th May. Also a weekend at Birr Growery 13th-14th April, tbc. Check out the Events page for any talks near you, including near Bristol February 7th, near Southampton 12th, Dorchester 14th, West Dean College Chichester 16th, and London Guardian 17th with Alys Fowler and Hollie Newton.
Plenty of gardeners believe that rain washes nutrients out of composts. Yet if this were so, planet Earth would be way less abundant than now, with all that food washed away, which in reality is held in humous/compost on forest floors and grassy fields.
My gardens would not work either, because I apply compost as food for soil organisms before the winter. This means beds are ready for planting early in spring, and plant roots love the soft, weathered compost surface. A lot of rain washes through before plants start to grow.
Not covering beds with plastic is another job saved, and money too. The only time you may need a polythene cover is to kill rampant weeds, in year one.
In any mild winter there can be weeds germinating from newly spread compost, and a little hand weeding is worthwhile. The weed roots are easy to pull from such a soft surface, so different to the stickiness of soil.
Watch for pests, as birds and rodents grow hungry. I suddenly have a rat(s) in the compost heap, don’t mind as long as they stay in there and keep aerating it!
Another job is to buy seeds, use this link for help in choosing varieties. To plan sowings, use my calendar and Diary on offer at £18. The calendar is still good to buy as first sowing dates are not for another month.
On a dry day, run a rake lightly through the surface compost to break up any lumps. Keep mulching any unfed soil, including paths. If your paths are wweedy, lay cardboard then small wood or any less perfect compost, to keep the cardboard down and improve the soil. Paths are an important part of your growing space.
Eat well in winter
It’s the best part of veg growing, all the lovely healthy food we can eat. We have been enjoying a hugely varied repertoire and value the greens above all. I saw a lovely quote about my Winter Vegetables book from Mary Czarnecka on Facebook, “It’s brilliant, I’ve been self sufficient in winter greens since buying this three years ago”.
I sum these up as delicate and rather thin leaves, on sturdy plants. Always I am impressed by how they manage to make new growth, in such dark conditions, just eight hours between sunrise and sunset.
Between mid December and mid January, these plants had just 35 hours of sunshine.
I had this query on my You Tube How to Clear Weeds video, from James Compton:
I have a friend with land which has been turned over with a tractor year after year simply to keep the growth away and now he is working on it with lots and lots of weeds. He wants to adopt the no dig method, but if it has been previously dug how long would he likely have to contend with weeds using option 1 until weeds don’t come back and he can plant a wider variety of seeds, etc?
My answer, James I am sad to hear of soil life being hammered like that. The weeds are a response for sure.
However soil life can recover quickly under a decent dose of organic matter on the surface. Soil organisms eat it, procreate, excrete and bring structure and back.
I suggest 4in/10cm in this case, it could be old manure, not perfect compost except for the top 1in/3cm for planting into. A big investment initially, but so worthwhile, will repay for years to come and save so much time from fewer weeds, less watering and better drainage.
This is my advice about no dig in reply to an (not the) RHS level two teaching, via Instagram’s fakenhamgardener, who sent me this RHS explanation of no dig which she is being taught. She was puzzled and I wrote this to clarify misconceptions about how to start no dig, how to mulch, and what is “compact” soil. Plus to know the difference between fertiliser (often leaches) and compost (mostly doesn’t).
• there is no need to dig or double dig first, because you damage structure and waste time – very very few soils are “compacted” and any soil growing strong weeds is in decent condition
• there is no need to wait between applying compost and planting
• there is no need to dig out/remove perennial weeds before mulching, better not to (damage to soil, weed stimulation)
• there is no need for black polythene unless sometimes in the first year to eradicate many perennial weeds very easily, compared to using cardboard with all the overlaps
• it is often better to grow vegetables than green manures
• compost is a soil feed and cover through winter, so there is no need for green manures, and often one is cropping veg until late autumn/winter
• nutrients do not leach from compost
• the approach is to feed soil life, and everything follows from that: compost is way more than NPK/just nutrients, because it’s full of life and gives life
• check out the success of no dig at RHS Wisley, Kew Gardens, National Trust Sissinghurst and many more.