July 2018 watering, trial harvests, clear and replant, compost comparisons, no dig carrots

It’s a drought: June was the driest month I ever recorded, just 4mm/0.2in rain, with a lot of sun and dry breezes. At least with no dig you have roots able to access extra moisture through teaming with the mycorrhizal network of fungi. Fungal threads can extract water from crevices which roots are too big to enter. Hence the success of my unwatered onions, below. They would be bigger bulbs if I had watered but I am happy with the result, and can use the (purchased mains) water on more needy veg like salads and new plantings.


It feels like everything would benefit, and there is insufficient water (and time)! At Homeacres we water with a hose or cans: lettuce, peas that are cropping (almost finished now), French beans flowering & close to harvest, new plantings, beetroot that I want to swell, potatoes within 10-4 days of harvest, courgettes and celery. Not celeriac yet but it looks sad, as do squash plants every afternoon. If I had more water and the time to apply it, we would water more.

We do it all by hand for economy with the water, and at any time of day based on when we have time. You can water in bright sunlight, as need arises, for example when busy with other jobs in the morning time or evening.

Module trays need watering twice daily, it’s mad compared to the usual routine. And there is NO potato blight, repeat none, in weather like this. Yet I hear of allotment committees recommending to spray – that is awful advice and poisonous to the environment.

Veg that need water most, above all lettuce

Lettuce struggle to grow at all in high temperatures (say 29C/85F and over. If they are short of moisture, you risk losing them, since they are mostly water. In the UK we are heading for salad shortages so make every effort to grow your own.

Veg we are currently not watering, or very little

Other factors in watering

Soil type makes a huge difference: clay and silt hold moisture, but stony, chalky and above all sandy soils do not hold so much. They need extra organic matter and extra watering.

Hedges and trees suck a lot of moisture. Prune nearby hedges if they belong to you, so they transpire less and draw less moisture from the surrounding area.

Mulches of undecomposed organic matter reduce soil evaporation. Normally I shun these for fear of increasing slug habitat, however this year is different!

Dig/no dig comparison beds

The fascination continues, every year is different.

In 2018 onions and potatoes are stronger on dig, while lettuce, spinach, beetroot, peas, carrots, cabbage and kohlrabi all gave and are giving heavier harvests on mo dig. Last year onions were bigger on no dig.

Potatoes so far are as below, with two plants of Gourmande still to pull. The six Casablanca (from Delfland Nurseries) on each bed have been high yielding with close to 2kg per plant. We pulled (not dug!) a potato plant from each bed over a ten day period and these are the kg harvests, with dig bed first:       

16.6               1.52     1.48 

19.6               1.93     1.63

21.6               1.88     1.52 

24.6               2.07     2.08   

25.6               2.40     1.82

27.6               2. 66    2.13   

TOTAL            Dig 12.46kg/27.5lb     No dig 10.66kg/23.5lb

OTHER VEG  Dig  9.58kg/21.1lb      No dig 18.17kg/ 40lb

Sowing, planting – two different things

Moisture permitting, you can sow kale, savoy cabbage including Tundra, dwarf French beans in warmer areas (crop September), spring onions, beetroot and carrots asap, chicories for radicchio hearts, endives, lettuce, parsley and coriander.Just time to sow purple sprouting broccoli too.

Plant leeks, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, salads, beetroot, spring onion etc.

So much going in now, watering is the issue.

Interplant, intersow

We gain space by, among many options, interplanting brassicas in the carrot bed. Selective carrot harvests make space for the growing Brussels, cabbage and kale. All the veg benefit from a mesh cover.

I am seeing whether chicories planted between lettuce will work. The lettuce will crop for another 2-3 weeks, while the chicory establish and they are for radicchio hearts in September to October. Protection is netting against rabbits.

Harvests #nodig

After the hot sunshine, my broad beans have mostly finished and peas nearly. Cabbages too such as Greyhound, and calabrese are giving the last heads. 

Overwintered spring onions are now almost onions, chard and basil are bountiful. Cucumbers are cropping madly but tomatoes have barely begun to ripen. French beans are 10 days from harvest.

Clearing after harvesting #nodig

Mostly we twist plants to remove them. This disturbs soil less than pulling. Usually there are no or very few weeds so the ground is immediately ready for new plants or seeds, see this video.

For the tangled growth of a bed of peas for shoots, we ran the lawnmower over it. A nice result for the compost heap too. And see the video for advice on clearing bindweed.

For broad beans we chip the stems at or just below ground level , using a sharp spade.  Then chop all stems into short lengths (max 15cm/6in) for better composting.

Compost trials

We are doing several, checking growth of cabbage and pepper plants among others. Decent not spectacular results have come from my own compost and a digestate of grass and maize, by-product of methane production. Dales foot double strength gives decent growth but is expensive, Melcourt organic compost grows decent plants but they run to of nutrients before some other mixes. Full results this winter.

I have checked a delivery of green waste compost by potting one tomato plant in it, which is growing normally so I am reassured that there is no aminopyralid weedkiller in there.  If so it would be from lawn weedkillers. Lethal stuff, labelled in the small print as “clopyralid”, should not be allowed.


Farmerama’s latest podcast visits Homeacres, the USA and Greece.

I was delighted to welcome Andrea Artz for two days of photographing, for a 6 page feature in October’s edition of Weleda magazine. There is strong interest in no dig now.

Charles Dowding no dig vegetables
Andrea Artz in Homeacres garden

No dig in Austria

These are from the garden of Dolores and Wolfgang Sischka, who attended a course here two years ago. They now have a hugely productive, no dig garden.

Rotation, for second plantings

I had this question on the forum from Hellabore Babe:

My brassicas have done very well and I have harvested all my early cauliflower and most of my spring/summer cabbage: can I now plant my winter cabbage in the same bed or do I need to plant these elsewhere?

My reply: it’s up to you. Sometimes I follow say calabrese with calabrese, sometimes I don’t… depending how space & timings work out.

It’s not like there are rotation rules, just it’s a sound practice to follow within the scope of what you want to grow. One year of say brassicas is good, so is 6 months. I am growing chicory after lettuce and they are the same family, Asteraceae.

18 thoughts on “July 2018 watering, trial harvests, clear and replant, compost comparisons, no dig carrots

  1. We’ve been having a drought since early May here in North Poland, and also water shortage. Our veggies would be gone by now if we didn’t have a no-dig system, I’m sure! We interplanted everything, and are so happy we did: most lettuces alive and some of them growing faster than we can eat them despite being watered once a week or less, as they live under the shade of kales, chards, and even potatoes. The best one in terms of growth and flavour is Cerbiatta, an oak leaf variety. We also planted Reine des Glaces, a few of which are growing ok despite the conditions (again, under a canopy of broccoli, enormous lovage and mugwort). We were too late planting spinach, though, and it’s all gone to flower (even in the shadiest places temperatures were above 30C quite a number of days in May). Most things we harvest leaves as they grow, which has the added benefit of keeping the plants from rotting (I doubt that would happen in this weather). Same with cabbage! Our first green sauerkraut is in the making! The only plague has been the cabbage whites, greater and lesser, and cabbage moth. We try to keep them at bay (I spent most of this week brushing the incipient hearts of the cabbages and applying a garlic solution… finger crossed!), and now we finally have nets (a bit late, but hey…).

    Some rain would do miracles… but not as amazing as the no-dig miracle. Thank you for all your tachings and inspiration! We eat so much thanks to you!

  2. Hi Charles, hope things are going well. I have red iceberg lettuce from the realseedco, and have planted them in a newly created nodig bed. The bed was made in december on top of lawn. We added composted manure. Anyway, quite a few of the lettuces have started to wilt over and die back before forming a head. I am not sure if this is the lack of rain or a more sinister problem, such as sclerotinia, the lower leaves were rotting and the stem had a white like fungus in and around it. The lettuce were so close I couldn’t see the soil underneath and so im wondering if perhaps this has resulted in poor air flow and increased risk of fungal disease ? Any advice ? Please and thank you.

    1. Jamie they may be too close, you need 12in/30cm for hearts.
      Maybe overwatered initially (hard to do that now)
      Sounds like mildew from damp, so moisture + lack of air: I would remove some lower leaves at least.

  3. Hey Charles,

    Welcome to Australian gardening conditions 🙂 Its one of the major problems I have with achieving quality results, is getting the right amount of water delivered in the climate I am in. I also have to grow everything under nets to ease pest pressure and as you pointed out with compost by not having it so finely broken down as I used to do. I am making it a more coarse finish as I was finding the well-sieved compost dried out to quickly and took a concerted effort to stop water runoff when applying the next watering. Thanks for all the effort you put into your trails and comparisons its always informative and entertaining content Regards Russell

  4. Lots of good advice, thanks Charles. Am on the plot at 5am when it is cool, can’t manage this heat. Still got lettuce after a few picks, sharing with neighbours. Corn unbelievably well ahead. Tomatoes only one or two ripe, contrast between night temps and day?? Wonderful fennel and kohlrabi though my fennel for later is not germinating. Just got PSB seedlings up in time and trying Aztec broccoli this year. Very disappointed in the red celery, but hey ho can’t win em all.

    We’d be ok on a diet of nettles, thistles and bindweed!

  5. Hi Charles, if you want to save both time and water, it might be a good idea to invest in T-tape or soaker hoses. Add a timer and your plants can be watered at night , right on the soil, no water wasted by evaporation of water that landed on the leaves. Regarding Aminopyralid: it takes soil bacteria to decompose those plantfibres that contain it, so just potting up a tomato plant in GW compost might not show any contamination. Best to use a mix of half of the medium you wish to test and half of your own garden soil. I learned by bitter experience.Thanks for sharing all your findings, especially timings for sowing and planting, had so much more succes this year.

    1. Hi Rhys, I too have found it difficult to gauge how many lettuce plants are actually needed. It’s easy to get carried away with lovely varieties and we usually end up supplying family and friends.

      Ann, could you elaborate on the aminopyralid comment; I don’t understand what you mean? Thank you.

      1. Stringfellow, which bit about aminopyralid? It’s a systemic weedkiller; it gets taken up by the plant fibres ( cellulose and lignine) and becomes part of it. It requires soil bacteria to break down these fibres, which then causes the still active aminopyralid to be released where it then can be taken up by the roots of another plant. Green waste compost is sterile, it doesn’t have any soil bacteria. Aminopyralid has been found to be still active in stacked manure that was years old.

    2. Ann thanks for your comment. If I understand right, you mean that there can be weedkiller in pure compost, which will not affect plants until there are also soil bacteria ‘in the mix’ to make the weedkiller work.
      SO I shall repot the trial tomato with some soil added.

      1. Thanks Ann, this is important information as I am trying to test for aminopyralid in some compost at present.

      2. Hi Charles, yes that’s right. I’m lucky enough to know a few of the Ibers ( Institute of Biological, Environmental & Rural Sciences) scientists and after three brushes with the rotten stuff, there have been many conversations. It is crazy how little the people who produce and sell GW compost know about this. They constantly cite the PAS 100 test as proof that the compost is clear, but again, they just test the pure compost, so pretty useless. Give it plenty of time too, because our last contamination, which was with a GW mulch did not show up until the tomatoes were 5-6 foot high and carrying firsts fruits. The mulch went on at pretty much the same time the toms were planted. I’m currently watching a tomato planted in 50/50 soil and composted horse manure from our hotbeds. So far, so good!

  6. Just a quick question I notice you have net or something over you lettuces, is that for shade or for rabbits? I haven’t shaded mine and it is doing ok for now despite the heat and watering it every other day. Good news we have some rain today hooray!!

  7. Up here in NW London, the drought is now nearly seven weeks old, no sign of either cooler weather or rain.

    Critical watering is for new transplants: lost 50% of late beetroots due to forgetting to rewater with 90F and drought prevalent soon after planting out. Onions are swelling nicely despite no water for weeks, potatoes fine, parsnips and maincrop carrot no water for weeks but fine. Also all my seedling trays are now in the shade as the heat endangers them. Corn is growing like the wind with occasional watering. Year five of no-dig sees Red Alert Tomatoes thriving in soil, now flowering and setting fruit.

    For some reason my canasta lettuces are still growing like the wind despite heat and drought. Cannot eat the leaves quickly enough! 14 plants all survived the early spring so too much for three people. Seven probably closer to optimal, maybe even less.

  8. No that is not a trench!! Simply a line in the compost, drawn in 5 seconds with my dibber. Made it easier to dib into the moist soil below, then to water at speed along that line, without watering the area adjacent. I have not watered the oca either.
    As for overwatering, I don’t think any of us are in that state of luxury. I give enough to keep plants ticking over at least, which is all leeks need to do for now.
    I do not want to disturb soil by making a trench.

    1. Thanks, that’s helpful. I wondered if you’d used your Sirius hoe, as you do for making drills for carrots/ parsnips – dibber in hand, even quicker! I’ve experimented a bit with the dibber, making wider holes than last year, to create a kind of delve around each planting. This then acts as a mini funnel for watering, in those delicate initial stages – probably got the idea from you at some stage – thanks! No over- watering at the moment, that’s for sure. Really helpful to see what you are prioritising on your watering regimen and glad the no-dig method is going from strength to strength.

  9. Hi Charles, nice update. Have you created a shallow trench for your leek planting’s above, the photo hints at this? Mr Flowerdew creates an irrigation trench for his – apparently they can’t be overwatered? Should make watering easier at the least. I like the paper punnets; surely another way forward to cut back on all this horrible waste of plastics. Thanks.

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