This kale has given 30kg harvests

January 2021 make compost, wood sides or not, greens and root harvests, new module tray, small garden

Winter has finally arrived here with frost most nights. and days noticeably colder, as low as 2 C 36 F maximum. This is okay! Much better to have cold now than in the spring, and all being well you have harvests of root vegetables stored for long-term use.

I explain other jobs of the season below, and one of them is not sowing seeds which can wait at least another six weeks, apart from exhibition onions. The old saying is “Sow seeds in January and you won’t have to eat anything”. More likely, you are buying seeds now, and check this link for my tips on seed companies and varieties which I have found to grow well.


I am heartened to see the growing interest in making compost, and see this post where I share my experience of many decades. There is a lot to learn about creating good compost, yet also once you’ve grasped the principles, results can be really exciting.

I feel safer using home-made compost since I know all of its ingredients, and nowadays I am nervous of animal manures because of pyralid weedkiller, and likewise some municipal/green waste composts may contain these, from weedkiller sprayed on lawns. Scroll to the bottom of this page for more information.

Wooden sides for beds, or not

Almost all my beds have no wooden sides and this works so well, to economise on materials and space needed. Plus there are generally fewer slugs. Therefore I have been keen for a while to remove the sides from my two trial beds right in the middle of the garden!

The planks are made of oak so they had lasted very well, nine years in fact. When removing them I found a fair few slugs, and then set to digging the big bed, and incorporating compost. Following that we spread the same amount of compost on the no dig bed, and I smoothed the sides with my feet.

When making new beds, wooden sides are extremely useful and I recommend them, to contain the compost in a bed shape. After a few weeks or months or even years, you can then remove the sides. There are no rules to this and in some situations, wooden sites are very useful. Here I am encouraging you to think about how necessary they are, and how you might save time and money by not using them generally, see my video about this subject.

This years harvest results from these two trial beds came out once again 15% in favour of the No-Dig bed. I take heart from the plentiful amount of vegetables in 2020 from the single no dig bed of 1.5 x 5 m or 5 x 16′. Since April, we gathered 113.2 kilograms of kitchen ready vegetables.

Path mulches

We apply just thin mulches of preferably decomposed wood chips to all paths, before winter. The wood stimulates fungal action in the soil below, which is possibly one reason why there are so few weeds in the paths, and for sure we pull any if we see them. I do not use any cardboard now on existing paths, and there is no membrane in my garden, it’s horrible stuff!

Discover more about laying out beds and paths in module 3 of my first online course.

Winter greens

The longer that winter goes on, the more I feel like eating green vegetables, and the ones below are great examples of healthy winter food. It’s such a pity that Brussels sprouts have a reputation for being bitter, however we find that roasting them gives a delicious result.

Root harvests

Before it turns too frosty and slugs plus disease get too involved, we pulled the last carrots in mid December. There was more roofly damage than I would’ve liked, despite having a mesh cover over them from early August until very recently. I think the flies must crawl under the sides of the mesh! However Oxhella is still gives plenty to eat because the carrots are so fat with damage mostly near the surface, also they are very dense and store well, as on left in the photo.

Some parsnips are still in the ground for harvest up till March, but here where the soil is quite dense, I suffer some canker on parsnips. In clay soils it’s probably worth harvesting all parsnips now, to store anywhere cool, with the soil or them still.

Leaf harvests at winter solstice

Orders for salad at Christmas are large, so I am always nervous about having enough to keep everybody happy. Once again we were helped by the weather being mild through most of the month, and a big addition to the harvest is leaves from radicchio hearts such as you can see on the table where we are eating. Harvest this year were good and they have kept well, 506TT mostly, plus I am forcing a few Verona for January picking.

Seeds and module trays

For a year now I have been working with the Containerwise company, who make solid model trays of polypropylene. I have been impressed by the durability of the trays, while also feeling for a long time that there is a need for a tray with smaller cells, not too deep, and with a decent sized hole at the bottom. In the photos you see my CD 60 new design, and in this video. Minimum purchase is five at the moment.

My tray is the same overall size as Containerwise’s 40 L, but with 60 cells. Therefore you can fit 50% more plants into your propagation space.

Compared to the 40L, my trays’ smaller cell volume means you need less compost to fill a tray. Each cell has a volume of 21 cm³ compared to 70 cm³ for the 40 L. This fits alongside my recommendation to transplant small plants, which then get away very quickly. Rapid throughput and small cells mean you grow more plants in a smaller area, more quickly and using less compost.

When ready to transplant, plants push up easily, thanks to the 14mm hole size of each cell bottom. This improves drainage too. The polypropylene is smooth and helps plant rootballs to slide upwards. There is little or no damage to the plant roots, and none to the tray.

You can buy it here if in the UK. Containerwise ship to other countries, and also they are looking for an agent in north America. They have been slightly surprised by the strength of demand and are packing today as I write this, cutting short their Christmas holiday! The owners are lovely people, David Meek and his daughter Emma.

SPANISH CALENDAR! and video translations

Now available in the shop. This has been a big enough project to slightly discourage me from more translations. First we have to find and pay for a translator, then there is a lot of work to rejig the PDF at design stage, before then printing a certain number, which is smaller than the English version and therefore more expensive.

At the same time, we are investing in translations of subtitles for my videos, which you can find using the gear cog icon bottom right on the video screen. All of them now have Spanish . Plus we are investing in Portuguese, French, Italian, German, Arabic, Japanese, Chinese traditional and Russian. I am sorry if your language is not among these but there are limits. We simply can’t afford to translate into every language.

Calendar all in Spanish for 2021
We had my 2021 Calendar translated to Spanish.

Small garden

Next week in the frost we shall make a video about the small garden, and these photos are to give you an idea of what is happening there at the moment. I am spreading compost whenever space is available, as well as under the cauliflower and between the kohlrabi example.

For £25 we are selling the module of my first online course which gives details of cropping both the small garden and one single bed, through two whole years. There are dates of showings and plantings, photographs to show them, tables of harvests and a video which is exclusive to the course.

58 thoughts on “January 2021 make compost, wood sides or not, greens and root harvests, new module tray, small garden

  1. Hi Charles,

    I recently discovered your videos of no dig and got hooked. I decided to start a small bed in my tiny garden. In terms of compost I used green waste municipal compost (very black). I find that growth is very slow with these. Could it be that I used the wrong stuff for my beds. I also tried to use this green waste composte to propagate the seeds but it doesn’t grow well (most of them don’t come out), on the contrary it works very well with potting soil (compost).
    Can it be that i also need to use potting compost on the beds as well instead of the green waste compost? I am from Belgium and maybe the term compost is used differently here on the bought bags.
    Thanks for helping me out.

    1. Hi Ronny, I am sorry to hear this. It sounds like the compost you were sold is not fit for purpose, or certainly was not ready to grow plants. Probably was still fermenting. Should improve with age, say for autumn salads.

      You need a compost with normal nutrient amounts, and certainly some potting compost on your beds will be good, maybe the top 50% to get plants going.

      1. Hi Charles, thanks for your quick reply.
        The bag mentioned :green waste compost with 18% organic matter, need to be mixed with soil and never use on its own to grow plants (but i guess thats what they mention on all compost bags). Anyway, now its been bed 4 months since i did the beds, I’m giving it a second try with new crops that will go in soon. Hopefully it will be better now as it has matured.
        Thanks for the advice Charles! Your such a nice person😊

  2. Hi, I have only discovered your videos and webpage in the last couple of weeks and I am hooked! This weekend I have constructed a composter and laid my first three no-dig beds. I live in Valencia area in Spain and it is a shame I did not find you earlier as I would have been delighted to help with your Spanish translation. I was also amazed to find that before I moved here I was living about three miles from you!
    Thanks for sharing!

    1. Nice to read this Deborah and a shame we did not meet before you moved! I hope that everything is going alright there, good luck with the new beds.

  3. Just discovered your site, very interesting and a lot of things I will try especially multi sown onions and leeks. It has inspired me to try to be no-dig (I try and limit my digging at present). However one aspect I can never get past in the volume of compost needed to do this. I assiduously compost every bit of stuff from the allotment and garden but can never make enough to top dress the whole allotment each year which is what it seems to need. I always supplement with a trailer load of manure each year but this is not the same. How do you get enough compost to dress each bed in the way you describe in your videos? Also I have the allotment split into 6 large beds, 4 for vegs in rotation and 2 for soft fruits so given the compost I have where would you advice I spread it to gain maximum effect?

    1. Manure becomes compost so you have enough in my book.A large allotment is a large area and produces a lot of food. In terms of kg food per kg compost, no dig is hugely efficient Use a little less on fruit and even some old wood chip.

      1. Thank you Charles, that is reassuring. I just need to get the manure properly composted. Do you create enough of your own compost to fulfill all your needs each year?

        1. I can create enough compost, but not if I am making new beds for which I use extra, and buy some in.
          I increase my own compost making by bringing in raw materials from elsewhere such as grass, wood, coffee grounds et cetera.

          1. Thank you for taking the time to respond. What you are saying in reassuring that maybe I can get enough compost produced with a bit more effort. Can I push my luck with one other query please? I have been reading your articles about contaminated compost. I have always used commercial composts for seeding and pot growing. Last year I had very disappointing results with Arthur Boyers compost. Seeds germinated a bit patchily, then just sat. Similarly peppers planted into pots slowly staggered along only finally fruiting poorly late in the year. I tried changing heat and watering regimes with no real improvement. Might this have been the compost? It was certainly what I suspected as others on the allotments didn’t seem to have the same problems.

  4. Hi Charles, I’m turning my allotment into no dig so thanks for all your knowledge.
    I’ve just enthusiastically created wood chip paths but am now worried the growing areas might suffer from nitrogen deficiency as the wood chip is fresh.
    Any advice? Many thanks Sheridan

      1. Thank you Charles, that is reassuring. I just need to get the manure properly composted. Do you create enough of your own compost to fulfill all your needs each year?

  5. Hi Charles,
    May I ask your advice, I have 10 sacks of fresh horse manure. Field picked no bedding. In your opinion is it a waste of time to start adding material to compost now. Or best leave it sacked up for better weather and temperatures.
    Thank you.

    1. Hi David, I would not use it fresh because of the weed seeds but there is also a question of whether it has weedkiller in it from hay they might have eaten or maybe they have not eaten hay!
      Yes ideally I would mix it with just a little bit of something else like paper would be best, to decompose until early May say, it won’t get hot but will improve…

  6. Hello Charles,
    I have some 6month old horse manure under a tarpaulin, in an area of my allotment that needs tidying up. Once cleared, I’m thinking of putting it in another bin purely for horse manure from a paddock and adding wood chip and straw. The bin will measure 4x4x4 ft. Once it is full how long should I leave it? I was told that horse manure should be left for 2 years, but I see in your Course 1 book a photo of manure composted in eight months. Is that because you maintained such high temperatures?
    Best wishes,

    1. Hi Michael, and that was not good advice because there is nowhere you can say X number of years, without considering the parameters.

      Yes eight months is fine if it’s warm, but also it’s a question of what other ingredients are in there, such as bedding. Often straw, which decomposes within a year, and I think you are best to use that manure in the spring because adding woodchip will indeed add a year or more to its need for decomposition.

  7. Hi Charles, I’m pondering the quote you mentioned….“Sow seeds in January and you won’t have to eat anything”. Do you mean won’t have anything to eat?? Confused from Cuckfield 🙂

      1. Hi Charles,
        Thanks for the warning about seed shortage. Last year was dreadful along with buying artisan flour ! So I checked out uk which I discovered last year when panicking through Google search. It’s a new company, Soil Association verified as Organic and I had good crops from their seeds both in my raised beds and in straw bale beds. I e just placed an order for this years seeds. They have run out of a few varieties and are limiting sales to maybe 1-2 packs per person, but still have a reasonable selection. Thanks again for all your sharing . I look forward to watching your composting videos, especially if you have ideas of how to deter rats nesting in compost bins? Happy 2021. Charmian

        1. Hello Charmian, thanks for these tips, not too bad! And I have no tips for rats, just allow them to be there. When we turn heaps often we find some and we take action! A neighbour’s cat has kept numbers down this winter. And a stoat I believe.

  8. Hi Charles,
    Just been looking at the link to Containerwise to buy new cellular trays but they are out of stock. In doing this I have just had an idea that I would like to ru past you. Do you think using a cellular tray used upside down could be a way to start carrots and parsnips from seed. Once germination has taken place under cover my idea would be to put the tray in place outside on the bed where they are to grow. Do you think that the hole on the tray would be adequate to allow the development of the root? Would it also be a way to stop carrot root fly attack? If not, the cell tray, being upside down could be lifted off the plants when they are young but in leaf fairly easily and additional compost put around the spaces between the cells. Am I being stupid? I just wondered whether it would allow carrots to be started undercover whilst other crops in the bed came to fruition and where interplanting might not work.

    1. Cheers Robert and wow this is quite complicated! I think it would work but the spacing would be pretty close especially for parsnip. Why not try it!

  9. Hi Charles,
    I’ve recently (last week) created a new no dig bed using your card and compost method. I’m now thinking that I would like to put some raspberry canes on part of the bed. Under the card is just grass, no real weeds. How would you suggest planting the canes in this circumstance? I’m a bit concerned that the new cane growth in spring will be inhibited by the card.

    Any suggestion would be appreciated.

    1. It depends on the depth of your raspberry cane roots, whether they need to go more deeply into the soil below the cardboard, in which case cut a circle through of cardboard to set the roots into soil below it.
      Even if roots were not deep enough to need that, by the time they are growing in the compost, the card will allow them to descend from being decomposed

      1. Hi Charles,
        Thanks for the quick response. I think the roots will need to go below the compost. I’ll cut a hole and will just have a little extra weeding but that’s fine.

      2. Hello Charles, I’ve been watching your excellent video’s and wanted to pick your brains please. In the one you’re planting out pea’s and you mention that you already had planted beetroot for their leaves in the same bed, are you planting Boltardy or is there a better variety that you would suggest for their leaves. Many thanks Gaynor

  10. Dear Charles
    This year will be second full year following your no-dig approach, and last year I had the best harvest for vegetables, fruits, herbs and flowers in the 12 years that I have had an allotment!

    This year following your recommendation on you website I am going to sow onions from seed in my polytunnel, from mid February to plant out in March. What size seeds trays do you recommend for sowing onions please, and any particular manufacturer please?



    1. Nice to hear this John, and for your onions as it happens I have just designed a module tray, the CD 60, see Containerwise website. That size of module about 3 cm diameter is good for multi sowing onions, to transplant at about five weeks old.

  11. Hi Charles.
    I have been watching your videos about composting with great interest.
    You put more things in your compost than most people e.g. roots from weeds. But I can’t find out if you also put seeds in your compost from for example thistle, stinging nettle, flower seeds and so on?
    Thank you for all your wonderful videos.

  12. Hi Charles, I’ve restored our compost heaps and have restarted them enthusiastically with a view to converting our weedy veg garden to no-dig! Thank you so much for sharing your experience.
    After many years of gardening, we have finally bought a greenhouse 8×10 which will arrive soon. I need to make the base, and am wondering about whether to have concrete, slabs or earth with solid footings for the greenhouse to stand on. I’d like to use the greenhouse for sowing and propagating veg seedlings, growing tomatoes/aubergines/chilli/peppers etc. and extending the growing season for salad/herbs in particular. I see you have earth floors and compost beds in your large greenhouse. What would you suggest for a smaller greenhouse?
    I’ve enjoyed your small plot videos, and am going re-watch them all to help with planning our smallish plots.
    Thanks so much, Julie

    1. Hi Julie, this is nice to hear, and for your greenhouse I recommend earth floor, just follow the advice given for any concrete base for the structure itself.
      My big one has concrete footings yours should not need that. Have fun growing.

      1. Great, thank you very much. Do you do anything particular to prevent a build up of pests and diseases (other than add a new layer of compost each year)?

  13. I have just ordered a set of the Containerwise 60-cell modules. Looking forward to being able to pop the modules out easily. Would this size be ok for brassicas and onions/leeks? I think I need bigger modules for peas and beans. Advice gratefully received.

    Just started on an allotment January 2020 and Charles has been such a help. Have followed the book How to Grow Winter Vegetables as my guide – and we are eating lots now. Thank you.

    1. Nice to hear Anne, and the 60s will serve for anything to start them off, but with leeks in particular you may need to pot them on to larger modules or pots. Yes 40s for beans and peas

  14. Happy New Year Charles

    While I have been working though the Couse 1 book, I was also watching videos by Elaine Ingham and thought “I wonder if Charles know about her work?” and sure enough on page 104 of your Couse 1 book was a note go check out her work. Listening to her and seeing the amazing difference that compost made this year in my first no dig garden helped me tie the pieces together of what the microbiology was doing in the compost to help the plants. Module 5 helped me understand this so much better. Thank you. I won’t look at the compost in the same way again!

    I noticed in the Course 1 book that you made a Johnson-Su bioreactor in spring 2020 and I am hoping you will share a video on the results whenever it is ready as I have been reading about these. We had a load of wood chips delivered yesterday and though we should give it a try. Does the one minute of watering of the bioreactor go on year-round or slow down in the colder weather?

    Thank you again for all you do to teach us and quietly encourage us. We still have fresh potatoes, squash, onions, winter radishes and kale. The carrots though plentiful were too delicious to save. I couldn’t have imagined all the bounty from one season…oh and lettuce in my little greenhouse.


    1. Well done Denise, what a fine result. Yes the bioreactor is going well and we spread a little of the woodchip in December, much of it with beautiful white mycelial threads. However it is quite a bit of work to create and maintain.
      The watering however is not so onerous here – because they are in Texas and in the UK it needs much less water. I have not watered for three months for example, and then not much.

  15. Charles! Hi from Toronto Canada! I’m near the lake (Lake Ontario) so in Zone 6a.

    My wife got me your Diary and No Dig Organic Home and Garden books last Christmas and I enjoyed them all last year, and becoming obsessed with compost : – ) And thanks for all the youtube videos, I watch many and often! One thing I didn’t get, in the Diary book, planting timelines, you are fairly specific “…spinach, lettuce, peas for shoots…” except when it comes to brassicas. About which you just say (e.g. p. 38 for February) “early brassicas”, and another example for April “early and autumn brassicas”.

    Actually now that I re-read to make my question specific, I see you also say for May “winter brassicas”, and finally for June you list some specific brassicas: sprouting broccoli, cauliflower, calabrese.

    How do I know which brassicas are which?

    Cheers, and Happy New Year.

    1. Thanks Martin, nice to hear, and best use seed catalogues to inform you because they explain when different brassicas mature. The terminology is all about harvest date.

  16. Hi Charles,
    My CD60 trays turned up today (thanks to the Meeks working over the Christmas break) and I notice they are sold out now. They look great and I can’t wait to put them to use mid Feb.
    You mentioned in one of your videos that you were doing a trial using muslin cloth instead of fleece. I am keen to move away from fleece as its just seems to disintegrate in my garden. Did you come to any conclusions?
    Thanks for all your hard work producing such great quality videos and a Happy New Year.

    1. Cheers David and yes I did use muslin on some cabbaage and it worked very well, however it also decayed rapidly under the stones holding it on either side. I hope it will do another season or two your fleece is falling apart because you have the wrong grade of 17 g/m² instead of 25 to 30!

  17. I have grown sprouts for the first time in a raised bed (no dig), but if they have produced any they all open whilst they are tiny on the plant, so not good. What am I doing wrong, please?

  18. Great update as usual Charles but I’ve a question about the last photo of Bed 3.It shows “broad beans for shoots”? i’ve never noticed mention previously of BB shoots in your garden, what are they?

  19. I have lovely raised beds framed with wood sides that are permanent. My pathways are pavers so weeds are not a problem. I’ve been doing the no dig method in the beds but now the soil level is at the top of the wood sides so I suspect that if I add another 2 inches of compost to them, the soil will tumble into the pathway and won’t hold.. Would it be okay to scrape off a couple of inches of soil in the beds, compost it, and add fresh compost to the beds? I love the permanent sides of my beds as I have a way to attache shade/ frost cloth, plastic over the beds and gopher wire underlays the beds and comes up the sides.
    Thank you for your excellent videos and your response.

    1. Thanks Christine.
      Yes it sounds like you need to remove some bed contents contents. I suspect that some of the original bed ingredients were soil as well as compost. Soil does not consolidate or settle or diminish, while compost does because it’s eaten by soil organisms.
      Beds I have used over the years with wooden sides have never needed to be scraped out. Also they are more fertile than if soil were used, so I am adding just 1 inch compost per year now on most beds

  20. Hi Charles
    Hope you all had a good Christmas! I’m back working through course 2 and I’m going to need yet another notepad! Have ordered the course book from course 1 which will be very helpful.

    I have taken on a second allotment and I am intrigued in the design of your bed layouts. My first plot was fully overgrown with brambles, and pretty much dictated the layout due to a variety of existing trees across three boundaries, huge dips and troughs, it not being a regular shape, and the placement of some existing perennials. It presented challenges, but it is up and running with a polytunnel that is still bursting with a variety of salad leaves thanks to your no-dig courses (which are just amazing), and four filled outside beds.

    The second plot is on a different site, however, and is the complete opposite. It is rectangular, completely level (if located across a slight incline on the side of a hill), with open aspect to the south, and just a five foot hedge at the Easterly end. I have cardboard and manure ready to go, but it is a small plot, only 72m2 (6m x 11.5m) so I want to use every inch of space. I am stuck on which way to run the beds. I have been looking at your photos for inspiration. I notice that in a lot of them, you run the beds lengthwise down a rectangular area, moving from one planting to another down the length of a single bed, rather than running them crosswise in many of the areas. Was there a reason for that? Is it a case of fewer paths = greater growing area, or are there other factors? Many thanks, Nicola!

    1. Hi Nicola, great that you are getting so much out of the courses.
      If it was much slope, I would run up and down.
      Other than that, your choice is shorter or longer beds. Path area is the same either way.
      In my garden, it’s dictated by the pre-existing concrete path, that some paths run away from that. While the main garden has entry from the house, at right angles to paths from the path.

  21. Hi Charles
    I am interested in joining the online course for £25 . I would like to start in February cos I get paid next then.
    Also I am interested in your new plastic cell trays. I have been following your progress on Instagram and I have my own allotment in Winton Eccles called cleaveleys. I have your book on lettuce

    1. Hi Peter

      Just to say, I took course 1 and am partway through course 2. I spent a lot more than £25 on them, but it was still some of the best money I have ever spent! There is so much information in there. It’s very easy to follow, and its deceptive, because before you know it, your brain is full and you wish you’d taken notes. Definitely get a notepad!

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