January 2020 plenty to see, eat and learn, mulch if you have not already


New decade, no dig, no dogma.

If you aren’t yet using the no dig method, now is a fine time to start – cover the weeds, feed the soil.
Then you plant into compost, in early spring.

See my two latest videos, on Planning, and Mini rotation, to gather ideas about keeping your plot full of plantings in 2020.

Annual mulching

Whenever beds become vacant, or when there is space to mulch between plants as with the Brussels and kale above, you can cover with an inch/3cm good compost, or a little thicker if lumpy. That is enough for a year of plantings, even of two or three crops.

  • MULCH means any soil cover. In damp climates, mulch with compost not straw, to give less living place for slugs.

Any much of organic matter feeds soil organisms, which in turn excrete say wormcasts, which roots can explore for food. Plus the undisturbed, no dig fungal network helps to organise healthy feeding.

I shall explain this at my first talk of the year in Lyme Regis on 15th January – it’s free. See my Events page for the full list of talks and courses. First available course date here is 12th February. Then West Dean 15th and Guardian, London 16th February.


Don’t yet. The saying is, sow in January and you won’t have to eat anything.

However you could source some decent compost, say from Dalefoot (high cost, high value), or sieve some of your compost (takes time). Dalefoot and Bathgate’s Champions Blend are organic approved, to avoid issues of aminopyralid weedkiller.

Buy your seeds, be patient, check out my sowing timeline and Calendar. One possible sowing in house warmth is onions, such as The Kelsae for show.


Second online course

I have been writing a lot of material for my new online course “Growing Success”, about best skills and methods for growing vegetables easily and quickly. It comprises 53000 words, 880 photos and 25 videos you won’t see elsewhere. Going live soon.

My first online work, the no dig course is selling steadily, and I have updated some of it just recently. It’s totally contemporary, well placed to meet the booming interest in no dig.

Small garden

We just finished filming a year of planting and cropping in this 25 square metre (270sqft) plot. Photos are all by the double-award winning Jason Ingram, for this garden which is now a monthly Family Garden feature in Which? Gardening magazine. The January issue includes my plan for the whole year and their subscription offer is here.

Edward recently filmed me for a small garden, midwinter video, releasing this weekend on You Tube. I think it’s an epic!

Epic gardening

Kevin is the @epicgardening man from San Diego California, who has built a career in gardening social media, and it was a pleasure to meet him. Briefly!

He missed a train at Paddington London, and rocked up at 2.30pm on the shortest afternoon of the year (which happens before the solstice, on 14th December) when if it’s cloudy, the light goes by 3pm.

Yet no sooner had he appeared than a sun appeared from the murk and mist, what do you make of that? He shot a one hour video as we toured the garden and I explained what we were seeing. It was informal, impromptu and I answered his unplanned questions, and the video is proving hugely popular.

Thanks to Katelyn and Simon of @inatinygarden who helped arrange Kevin’s visit and appeared on the day as well. They run a no dig allotment in London, and are beginners.

Winter salads – chicory star

Check out July-sown radicchios (my You Tube video) if you have not already.

This summer and autumn we made a long video about growing them as a second planting after wild rocket, for the Growing Success course.

My harvest of these radicchios for Christmas salads on 19th December was over 40kg/88lb, a big help to meet the large orders. We picked the polytunnel and greenhouse salad plants tightly, and they have bounced back thanks to picking not cutting, and the mild weather.


Harvests still in the ground

There are still plenty, and pests are eyeing them up. Still not too many pigeons, but I have a net over the Brussels at least. Plants like chervil and Claytonia amaze me, how they grow in the dark and cool.

Compost loo poo

Martin the potter (here 2 days weekly until Christmas) emptied the bay of 18 month old poo, with bedding of straw and wood shavings. It’s light in colour and smalls sweet, (in my opinion!) – Martin was pleasantly surprised. There were three wheelbarrowfuls, thanks to all you visitors and workers, enough compost for Homeacres front garden.

The main weed will be … tomato seedlings.

16 thoughts on “January 2020 plenty to see, eat and learn, mulch if you have not already

  1. I’m interested about using compost as a mulch. Here in Victoria Australia, we are told to mulch with straw to keep moisture in the soil. Is this information correct in your opinion? We have lost so many seedlings to snails this spring, I’m wondering if the straw may actually be hindering more than it’s helping

    1. Yes it’s an issue! In your hot summer, I am sure that a straw mulch will be great to hold moisture.
      Best however not apply it until seedlings have become plants.
      In damp spring weather, seedlings are vulnerable to molluscs.

  2. Hi Charles i have just acquired an allotment which is anything but level. Most of your excellent cardboard and mulch videos show an even ground as stsrters, without digging how do I start with such uneven ground.?

  3. Hi Charles

    I’m hopefully starting on my no dig allotment soon this year after reading two of your books aswel as the diary. I was wondering if you could help me. I have a question in relation to cattle manure…I spread raw manure across my plot in November and covered with polythene, I now realise that I should have composted this till it breaks down, but I was wondering when do you think this will be safe / ready to plant into? Any tips would be gratefully received πŸ™‚

    Keep up the good work



    1. Hello Martin, nice to hear and you did a fair job there because the earthworms and other soil life will have been feeding on that manure πŸ™‚
      Yes it’s preferable to spread it in decomposed form, when possible.
      I would remove the polythene soon and see what’s going on, remove slugs too!
      Main problem for new plantings is undecomposed material harbouring slugs, but there may not be too much.
      And it’s certainly safe to plant into and through, despite what others may say – there is much superstitious nonsense talked about compost and manure πŸ˜€

  4. Hi Charles. I am on the cusp of starting my no dig garden and my kids (7 and 11) are just as exited about it as I am! Due to recently moving back to Ireland we are a bit late with mulching so I would appreciate your advice to get off to a good start. We will be starting with 3 small beds which is now a grass field. It hasn’t been ploughed in years and has seen plenty of cow action. Is it better to deep mulch with cardboard under now and start sowing when the weather warms a bit in march (gonna follow your calendar) or first cover with poly or cardboard to kill the grass / weeds for a month and then to mulch and sow. I see both methods on your site but am unsure what’s the best for us. I have a large pile of semi-rotted cow dung at our disposal which I checked this morning but it’s still far from the crumbly compost needed. It’s still “strawy” and has plenty of worms. I’m inclined to leave it to do its thing till completely mature and buy in what’s needed to get started. Would that be the correct approach or could I use some of it as a surface mulch on the grass and top up with a mature compost to plant into? I don’t mind the extra expense of bought compost to get started if necessary. My dad keeps cattle so no shortage of dung moving forward if I plan well. My last question is if advisable on this weedy grass to use a poly cover over the compost and plant into cut holes. I hope to plant a variety of veg to feed the hungry tummies!!
    Thank you soooo much for your inspiring videos and advice – they’ve been key in motivating us to move not only from a busy European capital to my family home in Ireland to create a self sufficient life and a better value set for our kids. Can’t wait to get started.
    Many thanks

    1. Hi Kieran
      Sounds promising, and pretty much all your ideas are good.
      I would mulch cardboard now and the most decomposed manure on that. As you fork it out, discard to a new heap the lumps with more straw, for later use. I would cover the whole area like this, since you have lots of the cow compost, and need weed free paths.
      Then, perhaps in March, add some finer compost to make beds slightly raised.
      Always a Q of how much couch/twitch grass is there.If a lot, polythene would help but I avoid it where I can.
      I wish you well in your new life πŸ™‚

  5. Charles

    My take on rotation or not is that there may be an element of context to it. If you feed 5cm of compost every year, you are probably fully replenishing the soil so there is never a deficit of any nutrients, never any major pH change etc etc. That may mean that you can grow pretty much anything you want, pretty much any year. ON the other hand, if composting is more minimal or partially absent, it may be that in time the soil becomes closer to starvation state and therefore diseases start seeing opportunities to attack weaker plants as particular nutrients start to become limiting.

    As a young man spending weekends up in the Scottish mountains, we regularly loaded up on Friday night with a greasy ‘fish supper’, as they call fish and chips in Scotland. On Saturday morning, our skins all looked revoltingly pasty, but after 2 days in mountain winds, our skin was restored to perfect health. We were stopping our skin drying out by filling it with oils. But if we had been couch potatoes all weekend, we would still have looked disgustingly greasy come Monday morning….

    Another aside: I saved Kelsae onion seeds three years ago and decided to risk another sowing this January. Because I thought they might be verging on being unviable, I sowed rather more than necessary onto leaf mould I started creating in autumn 2017 and started using last spring. The germination has been sufficiently successful that I will have to thin my tub in a couple of weeks, with some clumps germinating 8 or more seeds within 10 days! So home made seeds seem to last longer than advertised and home made leaf mould is a great medium to germinate seeds on even in January.

    Not having a greenhouse, my germination strategies in spring are:
    Jan/Feb: indoors on a window sill;
    March: indoors to 15th then in a covered lean-to from 15th onwards for hardier seedlings. Indoors for warmth-loving plants.
    April: in lean-to outside for many sowings. Indoors/atop a gas boiler for tomatoes, squash, courgette etc.
    May: on a table outdoors for many seedlings. Indoors for beans.
    June: on a table outside.

    By the way: do you have any strong views on when to do winter pruning of apple trees? Some strongly suggest March, others seem to imply that any time from November to March is fine. Obviously if it is OK to do in January , that means it can be done when time pressures are absent in other parts of the garden…..but better to have healthy April trees than a convenient pruning date.

    Happy 2020.

  6. Hi Charles,
    I took on my first allotment last year and this was the start of my first gardening experience (I’m 47yrs old), I initially installed 10 raised beds for growing veg and my wife to grow cut flowers, however, I still had an awful lot of unused space. I luckily came across one of your videos on youtube and it intrigued me, therefore I dug deeper and watched and absorbed more and more. I have since started no dig in the rest of the allotment and created 10 more growing areas using your cardboard mulch and compost system (begging everyone I know for cardboard). I believe I am set up ready for the growing season, with each bed having 2-3 inches of compost ready to accept its new occupants.

    I am also halfway through your online course which I can thoroughly recommend and also was the grateful recipient of your calendar and diary for Christmas.

    I do have a question though when i started the mulching with the cardboard and compost I now feel I didn not lay enough down or thickly enough and I can see in some areas grass starting to make its way through. will the veg reduce this when they are planted or is there a solution before I start planting plugs in the spring?

    1. Hi Darryl and thanks for your feedback, glad you like the course.
      I suspect that is couch grass growing through and if your beds have wooden sides, it’s more difficult to mulch because of light available along edges, to the weeds below.
      Paths need mulching as much as beds.
      Yes use a trowel to extract as much grass and any root attached, before planting. Do that now even.

    1. Neil an inch feeds soil organisms for best part of a yer, nut does not suppress living weeds.
      If you have a lt, lay cardboard first them compost over.
      If only a few, pull them then compost, and no need for card.

  7. Very interesting, the idea to use compost both as a mulch and as a growing medium, as when you are sowing. I’m excited to try this out moving forward.

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