The same plants 25 days later on 28th December, and you can see how they have grown even during winter

January 2022 no dig so easy, trial results, winter growth and new shoots

No dig gardening and farming are easier because soil can “soak up” the extremes of weather. For example by draining freely, as in the German floods of July this year, and by holding moisture,  and growing fewer weeds for larger harvests. Growth has been good here in the variable weather of 2021, as in every year preceding.

The weather here has been a whole degree cooler than last year, which was very warm. The cold spring made quite a difference, but then we had a pleasant summer and rainfall has been consistently average. We receive about 70 mm monthly or just under 3 inches: see all about the weather at Homeacres on my weather station pages, (they need manual refreshing).

Now in winter, we have top dressed all beds with 2.5 cm/1 inch (measured after it settles, say following rain) of 6-10 month old compost of any origin, often not perfect and we never sieve it. Any lumps are broken by occasional frosts, then we rake off any larger bits of wood into the pathways, which also receive a dressing of woodchip. I like to keep heaps of woodchip for up to a year before spreading them on the paths, so that their goodness is more accessible to soil organisms.

Maintaining soil fertility for delicious, healthy food

No dig is such a win-win, see my latest new area video, and one of its best attributes for me is the quality of food we harvest. I used a little oil and no salt for the dish of roast vegetables below. Not that I’m against adding condiments but when the base flavours are so strong, often it’s a shame to add other ones.

Another aspect of no dig which I love is the ease of maintaining fertility. For example the Brussels below are a second harvest of the year, after carrots, and with nothing added to the soil since the previous December. I never use any feeds or fertilisers, which makes gardening so much easier. We can just rely on soil life!

Learn more about the ease and benefits of this way of growing with my online courses, which are half price until 31st December with coupon #nodigforlife. Last week I received this feedback, from a gardener in Pennsylvania USA:

“I took one of your courses last winter, and received much appreciated advice from you on planting times in New England. It was a remarkable summer in my vegetable garden, much more productive than I had ever managed” Violetta Faulkner.

I shall be explaining more about no dig and health at a virtual conference in the middle of January, the Health Freedom Revolution summit, where I am speaking on Sunday 16th January at 11:15 am.

Trial beds 2021 results and 2022 prep

I started this trial at my former garden in 2007, so this is the 14th successive year of comparing growth in adjacent beds where we apply the same amount of compost, and set out the same plants or seeds. The only difference is that the soil in one bed has been dug and its compost placed 15 to 20 cm down, while the adjacent bed has the same amount of compost simply placed on top. See the results below.

One difference this winter is I decided to grow something, between now and when we do first plantings in the middle of March. At that point we shall cut off the broad bean & pea stems to leave their roots in the ground and harvest everything else, to start with clear soil in spring.

It will be interesting to compare the plantings through winter – see this video to compare growth of other late plantings from the autumn. So far in these beds, there is a little more growth in the dig bed, probably because of bacterial oxidation resulting in nutrient release. Also I am sure that the digging will have caused some carbon to oxidise, and I’m still waiting for figures about the carbon content of each bed from Jane the scientist.

The tables give you an idea of how intensively these beds are cropped, more details on this page, and maximum cropping for less effort is one subject of my new Skills for Growing book It’s also available with many videos as the Skills for Growing online course, half price until 31st December with coupon #nodigforlife. We have a few advance copies of the book at Homeacres, and have sold 700 already. In North America, order from Chelsea Green Publishing.

My desire in writing Skills is to help gardeners achieve better results for the same amount of effort and from the same amount of ground. Make all your time and space count, even double. It’s easier than you think once you understand how to do it and the no dig bed of just 1.5 x 5m / 5 x 16ft gives 100kg+ / 220lb every year, of trimmed and kitchen ready vegetables.

Pond imminent

My son Jack, who runs a contracting business with, wait for it, diggers and tractors, is free in early January so he will be digging the new pond then. Meanwhile, Adam dug a hole and it’s fascinating to see the profile of soil, down to below a metre.

The hole had no water in, then by the following day it did have some and now the water level/water table is only 60cm / 2ft below the soil surface. Jack is confident that we can have a decent amount of water for most of the year, and has some plans about making that more certain.

Chervil and claytonia for winter harvests outside

In the temperatures we’re having, these continue to grow impressively outside. I took a big harvest just before Christmas and there will be more to come.

I’ve also been noticing how the Claytonia attracts bees because its flat leaves hold  droplets of water which they can drink from, on days when the temperature is 12-13C or more. Not often!

Cover cropping or green manures

A big subject but these are two descriptions of pretty much the same thing. I feel that cover cropping is the more accurate term because there is not a huge addition of “manure” to the soil, over the short time period we use them between vegetable plantings. However these plants do a valuable job of covering the soil surface and adding biology + carbon, through root growth.

From the time we take a final harvest in November-December, until we replant in March, I like to leave beds empty of cover crops but covered with compost or woodchip. The soil is covered, but not growing any leaves which harbour slugs, and also it’s then very quick to sow or transplant in March, with often a success rate of 99%, thanks to the surface being so perfect for new seedlings. In the case of the broad beans here, we shall cut them off at root level at whatever point we need to, once asparagus looks strong. Maybe leave a few for pod harvest. There will be addition of nitrogen nodules and organic matter, both valuable.

Sheep wool

I was given some wool in June and we spread it on the surface of an area before transplanting brassicas, on summer solstice day. They grew very well, then six months later we twisted out the cabbage, kale and Brussels sprouts stems, lifted the black polythene (was to prevent bindweed) and spread compost on top of the wool. It’s early to say how much the wool is improving soil but it looks promising and a lot has decomposed already.

The middle photo below is 27th of August, and in the middle section of it you can see broccoli plus leeks, which we transplanted after the potato harvest. Learn more about that in my new video, filmed in July this year.

New shoots

It’s my enormous pleasure to tell you about a new CSA starting in South Dorset, close to Ringwood and Bournemouth, the initiative of Kate Forrester and her stepsister Mollie. Kate started working here in September 2019, at which time she was working as a chef. Her desire is to match creating meals with growing healthy food, and then teaching people about those two. Molly meanwhile has worked as a ranger and is hugely knowledgeable about wildlife, and is closely involved with all that side of their project. They are crowdfunding now and I recommend supporting them.

I recently met the founders of Roots Allotments, an enterprise starting allotment sites close to large towns through the UK. The first plot of 8 acres is near Bath. All of the rented spaces are no dig, and they are not cheap but include help and compost, and will be particularly useful for anybody gardening for the first time, an easy and effective point of entry.

The third photo is from a film producer in Israel, who contacted me well over a year ago and we have conversed a little since then. He is ultra impressed with the results of his no dig garden and is working to publicise the method to great effect, see this video

24 thoughts on “January 2022 no dig so easy, trial results, winter growth and new shoots

  1. Hello Charles – Happy New Year – May it be fruitful !
    A while back I asked your advice on winter leeks, as mine were bolting in the summer/autumn. You suggested the possibility that I was sowing them too early. Of course you were correct ! Looking back at my records, since I “retired” I had been sowing them in March as I was more “up to date” with what to be doing when, and that was when the bolting problem started. So as you advised I sowed Philomene and Musselbrough seeds in April last year and am now enjoying wonderful ( unbolted) leeks ! I also used your multi sowing/ planting technique – so I’m getting a good crop in a smaller space and they are so much easier to get out of the ground ! Many thanks.
    One problem I had last year was with raising seedlings. They would germinate OK but then take weeks rather than days to develop their first few true leaves, some never did. It was as if the compost had no nourishment in it for them. I tried different composts ( Moorland Gold, Sylvagrow, New Horizon) but in the end my own was best, not great but better than the bought ones. The main problem with the home compost being the weeds that germinated. Obviously my compost heap isn’t getting hot enough, so if I put a tray of sieved compost in the oven what temperature is needed and for how long to kill weed seeds ? I was thinking 60°-70°C for 30 minutes? I’m not planning this for the whole compost bin, just enough for sowing in modules !
    As always many, many thanks for all your advice and inspiration

    1. Hello Diana, and that it’s nice to hear about your leek problem being solved.

      I’m intrigued that Moorland Gold did not work for you, because it has for me, but I have heard bad reports of the others. Good luck with your own and I reckon 60C for 10 minutes: not longer, or you lose good stuff!

  2. Thank you Charles. Just planning for the year ahead and looking at the calendar and lesson 3 in the course ‘Sketch Out the Year’. Just questioning about sowings of beetroot mentioned in Lesson 3 and planted in March but not mentioned in the calendar so wondered if that was an omission. Assuming multi sown under cover. Also the best date for sowing fennel . Would it be 24th February or early March?

  3. Hi
    I have started no dig on my new allotment, beds have been covered with cardboard and compost/rotted manure laid on top. My problem is cats (the allotments are surrounded by houses on 2 sides). Basically I seem to have created a massive cat toilet and it’s pretty disgusting. Is covering the beds with weed suppressant an option or will I be creating a slug heaven by doing that? Any advice would be gratefully received.

    1. Hi Sian
      That is very frustrating and I suggest you use polypropylene bird netting, which is UV protected and lasts for more than a decade, will not harbour slugs and you can use it for also protecting from pigeons et cetera, later in the summer

  4. Happy new year Charles. I will be interested to see how well the sheep’s wool breaks down and what improvement it makes to soil life and fertility. All my wool taken from my four Ouessant sheep last year I put into old compost bags to make ‘duvets’ which I put on top of my compost heaps, which also have wooden covers on. They did a great job through the Summer and Autumn in terms of maintaining temperature in the heaps and enabled me to make enough compost for my veg beds. It still remains on my current heap though it is not really heating up due to lack of green material at this time of the year. When the sheep are shorn again this year I will use the wool from the duvets on the beds as you have done and cover with home made compost that hopefully will be ready by then. It’s great to be able to use their wool so if there is discernible improvement in your trial it will be great news.

    1. Hi Rob
      That is some nice recycling and reuse! Here it is decomposing already very well, more than expected and it looks very promising.

  5. Thank you Charles as ever. Loved the winter tour video. Peas and lettuce amazing. It’s not that different in Norfolk, where we’ve had frosts, but nothing below -2.7C. Still eating outdoor (netted) pak choi as well as the greenhouse leaves. And this month’s blog (haven’t read it all yet) is as full of information as many a gardening book or magazine you’d pay £5-10 for! I noticed there’s no hotbed yet in the greenhouse. If you make one this year for helping germinating, is a video of its construction possible?

    1. Hi Alan and I like your comment, probably a fair comparison in terms of evidence based information from long experience. Glad your winter is open too. Might mean flea beetles by March!

      I don’t have a videographer at the moment except for my PA Nicola, who is very adept with the iPhone! But we can’t do editing so making the hot bed would be too long.

      The second module of my skills course has a video we made about creating a hotbed, four years ago I think and it’s much the same as we still do. You can buy this module here and it includes a lot of information about sewing seeds, including multisowing, and about raising plants.

  6. I pick brussel sprout tops to eat but have read the plants then stop growing. Should I leave them til after picking all the sprouts? Thanks Charles and best wishes for 2022, lots going on!

    1. Yes so much happening here at least!
      That is the problem Sheridan, growth of new Brussels happens no more.
      Sometimes the tops rot but any good ones in late winter are a fine delicacy to harvest, then new and tender shoots grow a little from the old stem.

  7. Happy new year Charles. Hopefully the spring will be a little warmer this year – the plants sulked a bit last year!

    One of the new veg varieties I will be growing(hopefully it will grow!) is the Achocha, aka the Bolivian Cucumber.

    1. Thanks Mark and keep me posted on that! I have grown acocha twice and it is quite invasive, and I was not a great fan of the fruit but may have missed something about how to prepare it

      1. Will do Charles. I’ll be growing the Achocha up a trellis. Apparently you can let the fruits mature, scrape the seeds out and roast them as you would do a pepper. As I’ve never grown them, time will tell!

  8. Just moved from London to Somerset and I am looking forward to a new garden to grow my vegetables in. New greenhouse is up, I have a much bigger shed area and four raised no-dig beds are in place (just need filling with compost) and a new rhubarb bed. I also planted an apple tree and a plum tree (both self-fertile) so will look forward to fruit in the future as well.

    Good gardening luck to you for the year ahead Charles.

  9. I must check the trial bed videos for 2021, as I thought parsnips were grown, but they aren’t listed.
    Was that huge drop in carrots due to pest damage?
    Freda

    1. Yes, one umbellifer root vegetable is enough for this trial.
      Carrots have been variable and I’m getting strongest results from growing hybrid varieties

  10. Yet again you have posted even more really useful information. Thank you!
    I don’t have the space to store woodchip so it goes on the path areas pretty much fresh. However I’m inspired to follow your wool procedure and will cover it with fresh layers of horse muck. I suspect that will need to compost itself for at least a year. Should I put it into a proper compost heap to heat up? I won’t have much if any spare spce to follow your exact example. I wonder how the lanolin in the wool will fare?

    Will you get a chance to get somewhere warm for a short period very soon?

  11. Just visited your weather station pages for the first time via the link you gave here. I see you are using Cumulus software to display the Davis station data. We too have a Davis station and WLL which is sending the data to the Davis website for display. I am less than happy with that as I have to pay Davis to access and archive my own data plus I think your weather pages give more info. I did use Cumulus in the past for a different weather station and before Cumulus changed its version. I am interested to know if you configured your setup yourself and how easy it is to do.

    1. Hi Stephen
      Yes when I purchased the weather station I did not realise that it’s quite another thing to get the information from it in an accessible form. I had help from a friend who is very good on IT, and would’ve struggled to do it myself. But I think he may have set it up in a slightly complicated way, like it’s a pity that the pages do not automatically refresh, and our quite frequent power cuts lose more information than I feel they should.
      All of that was two years ago and things may have got easier now, I hope so! It is amazing to have such great information.

      1. In which case you might want to pay Davis £50 a year as when the data is automatically passed to them it can never be lost! There is nothing more frustrating than having weather records with gaps in. Plus the transmitting setup can survive power cuts (which we have here too). We lost all the historical data from our previous system using Cumulus when a computer died – it was the only information we had not covered by a backup policy. The link that follows show our what our live and historical data looks like – and it does refresh automatically. I can’t show you our actual station as a subscription is required to view, This is Davis’ own station:
        https://www.weatherlink.com/bulletin/9722cfc3-a4ef-47b9-befb-72f52592d6ed

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