26th July, three weeks of growth!

July-early August 2021, no dig potato harvests, bindweed, seed saving, sow and transplant for autumn onwards

Everything happens in July! No dig makes it all easier and quicker.

You can replant a lot of your garden, after harvests of early plantings. Clear beds to replant as soon as you can, because every day now is worth a week of growth in October. We are still transplanting leeks and broccoli to overwinter, but it’s too late to sow them.

RHS No Dig Show Garden

This was at Hampton Court Palace in London, between the 5th to 11th July. The RHS had asked if we would consider designing and building a no dig garden, two years ago. I was with Steph at the time, and she was particularly keen, having created gardens at Shows before.

Then Covid intervened and it was only this July that the garden finally happened. Then the builder dropped out in April and for a while it looked perilous! Then two brilliant guys appeared, Terry Porter who raised the plants, and Jon Wheatley who organised much of the garden creation, with the guiding hand of Steph who was there for the two week build.

The result was incredible and thousands of people admired the garden, and were introduced to no dig. Steph and her team did a fantastic job of keeping the garden in tip top condition. We are hugely grateful to First Polytunnels, and many other contributors including Dalefoot Compost. The RHS were thrilled, and so are we, that no dig and vegetable growing were such an important part of their show.

Sowing, seed saving

Good sowings now and until very early August are bulb fennel, kale for small plants, broccoli raab and Kaibroc types, cauliflower to overwinter, also coriander.

By early August you can sow oriental vegetables and salad rocket, for high quality leaves in autumn. They will crop for longer and with fewer pests, compared to sowings in July. And it will be time to sow true spinach (different to leaf beet), for cropping from late September to may.

Last autumn I sowed salad rocket on 4th October, and we harvested leaves mainly in early spring, then I left it to flower. The flowers are white, compared to yellow flowers on wild rocket. By mid July, seedpods were drying and I managed to gather most of them before they opened, with plenty of dry seed.

Bindweed vigour

Summer warmth makes bindweed/convolvulus grow faster. If its root system is well developed, the power of new growth is amazing. Either you spend a lot of time pulling it, from paths as well as beds, or you needed to lay a cover before summer.

In my new area, we have used both methods. Black polythene has saved much time and plants grow well through it. Where we remove bindweed, often with a trowel to extract some of the surface root at least, that all goes on the compost heaps. It decomposes within a few weeks, even in heaps which are not hot.

Potato harvests, bindweed/polythene

Back in early spring, I had not planned to use polythene covers. Then during April, the growth of new bindweed persuaded me to ask my son Jack if he had any spare covers, from heaps of silage, which is grass conserved by anaerobic fermentation under plastic.

We covered one area for potatoes, and one for winter squash. Vegetable growth has been excellent, but we have needed to keep pulling bindweed from the planting holes.

The potatoes are second early types, which come ready to harvest from about the middle of July. I have been very impressed with the resultss, from using 7-8 cm/3 inches of mushroom plus green waste compost on top of some very vigorous weeds, starting in late February. See previous posts and videos for details.

After potatoes

There is still plenty of time left for more growth. Ideally you will have transplants ready, as with the leeks below, sown in April.

Normally I do not reckon to spread any more compost in the summer, before second plantings. I did here because the initial compost application was quite light, and also I had a heap more or less ready, even though the compost is less than three months old. I am curious to see how many weed seeds there may be, since the compost did not get hot in the plastic bin.

Making new beds

On the large areas we have covered with plastic the ground is level and there are no beds yet. You can also create new beds by placing wooden planks as temporary borders or sides. Then what compost to fill them with?

We did a trial with one third of 4 x 8’/1.2 x 2.4 m. In one end the compost is woodchip, sieved quite small so it looks like compost you might buy in a sack. In the other end is home-made, eight month old compost, more lumpy. In late April both beds were sown and planted to the same vegetables.

We shall make a video about the resulting growth, the photos give an idea! I feel that some peat-free compost has a nutrient status similar to what I am finding in the sieved woodchip.

Problems

After six lovely years without any, I am suffering red spider mite on aubergines, cucumber, melon and my only loofah plant, all in the greenhouse. So far there are no red spiders in the poly tunnel. I have had to remove many plants already, it’s a miserable list. One can buy predators in May, at no little expense.

Aphids were bad this spring, before predators arrived. Things are now more balanced, but I lost some celeriac in May and June, which just declined to grow because of the damage to new leaves. Some of the same plants which I had kept under cover in the new area, have grown well. It’s ironic because the cover was against rabbits!

New no dig gardens

Thank you to all of you who send photos of your no dig Gardens and it’s really inspiring to see them. Below is a sequence, whose first photo I featured in March. It’s a garden in Friesland made by Gerrit and Metsje.

Homeacres Charity Open Morning and Afternoon – Saturday 4th September

I shall be hosting two time slots, 9.30am to midday and 1.30pm to 4pm. The whole of Homeacres garden and market garden will be open for browsing around. We will label the different beds, trial beds and compost heaps and you can see our progress on the new piece of land.  You can buy your tickets here. With the proceeds we are supporting two charities, Send a Cow and PROMISEworks.

Herb garden at Homeacres

We are thrilled at how well this has grown. In June it was a pleasure to welcome Jekka McVicar here, and to make the video about this garden and herbs in general. She is such a fount of knowledge, and has been growing organically for 40 years.

Next July she will again stage a festival, at her nursery near Bristol. It’s well worth a visit, we enjoyed it very much.

40 thoughts on “July-early August 2021, no dig potato harvests, bindweed, seed saving, sow and transplant for autumn onwards

  1. Hi Charles

    I have been asked a question about what to do if you just cannot get enough compost for all 12 of your allotment beds. Is it better to go no-dig with all beds with minimal compost on top or to keep digging 8 beds and just go no-dig on the 4 beds for which you can spread the recommended one inch of compost.

    Best wishes from not so sunny Exmouth.
    John

    1. Hi John
      I would go or stay no dig with less compost, in this case 1/3inch on each bed. Way better than digging, fewer weeds (but more than if more compost was available), carbon and moisture kept in the soil.
      It’s so gloomy here!!

  2. This summer I,ve noticed ants in my greenhouse beds … first just a few , but now they seem to have established quite a nest with lots of entrance holes … it could be a coincidence , but the tomato plants above them do seem a little stunted … Are they a pest or a gardeners friend ? … as I read they eat aphids … and, is there an organic way to control them ?

    1. Ants can be troublesome if too numerous and established. I control them in the greenhouse by watering and making sure it stays moist where they are trying to extend the nest. Their excretions can harm some plant roots and they do increase aphid numbers by farming them

  3. Having had a rather different summer here in NW London to the past few (cooler, much damper in the summer), it is quite clear that certain crops favour certain types of spring/summer.

    Runner beans clearly need a cooler damper climate that we had here the past few summers: this year, doing nothing different, we have had great runner beans, whereas we have struggled to have a decent harvest in summers with sustained heat and drought for a few weeks at a time. Peas were exactly the same.

    Courgettes, on the other hand, have been less prolific this summer, although we are still harvesting enough from two plants for our needs. They clearly prefer some hotter weather (maybe 24-25 rather than 19-20?)

    Celery has done beautifully with all the extra rain and is now ready to harvest, the best crop I have harvested in the five years of trying.

    Charlotte potatoes this year had far less scab than the past few years and a really nice yield too. They clearly enjoy a cooler damper May-end of July.

    We are already harvesting young Autumn Mammoth leek clumps and the first transplants of fennel and Radicchio have progressed faster than in previous years thanks to the excess moisture.

    One of the most striking differences is the success of the brassicas (cabbage, kale) and the swede plants. Excellent growth, little insect predation to date. I am very hopeful we will reach the end of August with healthy plants, unlike most years where heat and drought have predominated.

    The jury is still out on the winter squash: plenty of fruit set, several now swelling significantly, but we are well behind the astonishingly early crop of 2020. If we get a fortnight of 24-25C, as the forecasters are tentatively suggesting right now, they could come good.

    Perhaps the greatest surprise for me are the tomatoes I have planted in the soil, out of doors, this year. I’ve happily done that with Red Alerts the past three years, but this year I decided to try adding Black Russian, Super Marmande, Alicante, Tigerella, Black Cherry and Maskotka. Amazingly, all are doing absolutely brilliantly with no sign of blight to date whatever. The size of the Alicante tomatoes on the plants dwarfs my usual pot-grown fruit, ditto the Tigerella. Of course, things can still go wrong, but I am amazed at how well they are currently doing. It does say that seven years of no dig and healthy compost addition can create an environment where even tricky outdoor plants like tomatoes can thrive.

    What this does tell me is that the climate at Homeacres may actually be more optimal for growing vegetables than what we have experienced in North West London from 2015-2020, since this summer up here is closer to what you have had down in Somerset in general. Our challenges up here concern heat and drought more than with you

    1. Thanks for this Rhys, interesting as always.
      I sometimes wish for the extra warmth you have, but as you say it’s good to have the moisture!
      A weak point in the climate here is nighttime temperatures, because we are in a valley. Last night for example was 8C.

  4. Dear Nr. — aorry, Mr Dowding,

    you remind me of, or rather, your silhouette does remind me of Michael Palin. Your nose is rather more impressive, though.
    It might be your optimism; but it sure as hell ain’t your pessimism…

  5. I love no dig gardening and have had many successes but this year seems so much harder to keep young plants going. Pests are the problem i think! There are far more slugs than i have ever seen on my patch. My patch is rabbit proof but this also makes it hedgehog proof. I catch lots in beer traps but not enough to stop them eating my veg. I am finding it impossible to raise carrots at all as they come through and then disappear. Same is happening to swede seedlings that I just planted direct. Any suggestions?

    I also have problems with mice on my patch who love to burrow under the top layer of compost and disturb anything that has a young root system. AND this year i have had mole hills in my plot which I’m guessing will come back each year now as they have in certain other areas of the garden.

    1. Yes Jill there is no doubt that slugs and snails are having an abundant year. I was out in the small garden last night and again this morning, squashing snails and cutting slugs. Otherwise no radicchios. I hope that you can keep on top of your mollusc population.

  6. I just started your no-dig this spring; I live in a community so it’s been a closely-watched experiment. Cabbages, kale, calabrese and beetroot the best we’ve ever grown – salads wonderful! I’ve made several converts. But my latest seedlings are pathetic – lettuces and kale and swede – weedy and miserable and now caterpillar-mobbed. I’ve not done anything different – perhaps it was the heat? but we had hot weather before and the lettuces came through really well. I wonder, do seedlings grow less strongly from July?

    1. Nice first part!
      Not at all for the rest, this should not happen. It goes against the experience of almost everyone practicing no dig, so the cause(s) are elsewhere.
      I can’t help without your indication of compost used, whether direct sowing or setting out strong transplants. whether watering correctly etc.
      And caterpilars are not to do with no dig, sounds like you needed covers on the brassicas..

      1. Thanks for getting back to me: these were transplants that were very weak; I had mixed our compost with fine leafmold and topped the modules with it as well, as our compost is so weedy; maybe the nutrients were too low. Watering – I’m also a bit unsure about that, but as I say it worked ok up till July – I try not to over water but don’t want to wait until they wilt. So pre this lot, I was setting out strong transplants which shot away once planted.
        Re caterpillars – outside I use mesh – these were got at in the greenhouse – how might I protect them here?

        1. I guess this shows how much time and growth is lost with weak transplants, is interesting at least.
          We use Bt even on greenhouse transplants. Otherwise look for & squash the little green caterpillars.

  7. So excited!
    My compost thermometer arrived this am.
    First pile (active) – reads 66 degrees Celsius
    2nd pile – needs turning for first time (finished adding material in May) – 36 degrees.
    Old pile that needs breaking up from last autumn – 24 degrees
    Pleased.

    Peter

  8. We are growing two types of cucumbers in our polytunnel – white wonder and market more. The first few harvests from both were delicious but the later white wonder fruits are extremely bitter. And now we are finding a few mildly bitter marketmores. Both are producing prodigious amounts of fruit but nothing we do eliminates the bitterness and some of us get stomach ache if we do eat them. We have watered regularly and evenly and I can’t see any cause of stress to the plants. The tomatoes they are growing alongside in the exact same conditions are doing brilliantly. Is there anything we can do to save the remaining crop which will likely be huge? Or should we just cut our losses and pull out the white wonder plants at least which are now producing only bItter cucumbers? Thanks so much
    Venetia

    1. In the old days it was said that one needed to remove the male flowers and prevent pollination, but I thought that had all changed with modern varieties.
      I did grow cucumbers years ago and my problem was the plants getting chilled when in damp soil and dying.
      With less space my principal g’house crops today are garlic, lettuce and tomatoes with carrots and beetroot filling gaps

    2. There has been quite a bit about this in the UK press both last year and this year, but more related to courgettes, which are the same plant family. Apparently all cucurbits naturally contain a toxin called cucurbitacin which is mostly in the leaves and stems making them taste bitter. ( who would want to eat them ? !) However if the plants get stressed or the female flowers are accidentally pollinated by an ornamental curcubit the fruits can be bitter too as the toxin level increases. If the toxin level is very high eating the fruits can make you very unwell. There was an article about “poisonous courgettes” in the Guardian newspaper a couple of weeks ago which a friend showed me. It should come up if you “google” it as I did. I also came across this article https://www.allotment-garden.org/vegetable/cucumbers-growing/causes-prevention-bitter-cucumbers/
      I grow Burpless Tasty Green cucumbers up strings in my greenhouse even though it’s a ridge cucumber for outdoor growing. The plants this year have lots of male flowers which I haven’t been removing , and so far I haven’t had a bitter cucumber. From past years I remember that it is the ones later in the season which I noticed were sometimes bitter enough to not want to eat them. I don’t grow ornamental curcubits but maybe they did get cross pollinated by courgettes or winter squashes, or maybe it was the change in temperatures. I’ll take more notice this year !

  9. Massive convert after one year of no dig – the results are so much better than before, it really really does work.

    I’ve become unnaturally obsessed with compost though, which noone is interested in talking to me about!! To me now its what feeds the plants and where they come from, and I’m just as excited when I get a load of compost to rot down quickly as when I get a good crop of plants … because it means a better crop to come:))) am I weird???!!

    1. Hi Rachel and how lovely to read this, and that you have such a healthy obsession! Very natural I reckon, I hope your compost making thrives.It’s a whole extra hobby.

  10. My first year doing no dig and I’m a convert. Amazing having no weeding.

    I have woodlice infesting lots of my plants especially in any pots and in the greenhouse, any advice on how to get rid?

    Slugs got into my spuds, maybe I should get a few ducks?!

    1. Nice to hear Sarah.
      Woodlice happen when compost has a lot of woo still decomposing. They are not easy to control but ate not terrible either.
      Ducks are a big commitment, not worth it unless you want that, and do not have foxes in your area.

  11. Charles, This is the 1st year I’ve tried NoDig in my garden and I have been very pleased.
    I live in central Illinois where the weather is getting hot and dry, so some of my beds are done cropping for the year. In preparation for next year would it be possible to start adding composted horses manure/ mushroom now in early August? I was also wondering if you would recommend a cover crop going into fall/winter, if so what would you recommend to enrich the soil and not cause a problem for next spring . Thanks, I enjoy your website and have learned much

    1. Cheers Dave!
      Yes add compost now, is fine and try sowing buckwheat, is killed by frost.
      Or in September, white mustard

  12. Last year was my first attempt at no dig and was without a doubt the best garden I have ever grown (been gardening for 60 years). This years garden is even better! For anyone who is thinking of no dig, I highly recommend Charles method of gardening. The best part is NO WEEDS! WHOO HOO! I pull the few tiny weeds out whenever they appear while watering. I used to let the garden go in late summer because I hated pulling weeds out of the hard packed soil. With compost beds the tiny weeds blown in by the wind pull out with ease with just the thumb and forefinger. Thank you Charles for showing me the way.
    Forrest

  13. I am a convert to no dig on the Island of Arran.The soil is looking great with a thick layer of decomposed seaweed, and weed seeds are few, and those easily removed.
    I tried field beans and a heavy healthy crop.Only slight problem is they occupied the ground too long.Keeping some growing for seed.
    What variety of spinach do you recommend?

  14. I bought a thermometer a couple of months ago, to see what temperatures I could get in the 1m square pallet compost heap which I tentatively named ‘Charles’ – out of gratitude, I must add. Nothing above 40 degrees. I still tend to put my lovely Calystegia roots in the Council’s brown bin, because I reckon they will deal with them more successfully. Maybe I am over-cautious. I don’t HATE them, though – or the bit of Convolvulus I have elsewhere: I admire their unfailing bravery.
    Loved the Jekka McV video: so full of information and inspiration.
    Lifted onions today, and instantly filled gaps with beetroot, salad leaves and… Pak Choi, which I have fleeced to try to keep the pigeons off. Any chance? Pigeons here (NW Norfolk) are awful: they go for kohlrabi first, then cabbage, broccoli. But, as someone wrote once in a throwaway line in a book ‘Something always eats Pak Choi’.
    Last thing: following your advice is really working well: multi-sown beetroot – all 4 at each place are enormous; thinning carrots by picking out good ones – the best carrots I’ve ever grown; sweetcorn – cobs swelling. Tried one today: not really ready yet, but never having grown ANY in the past, I’m not complaining.
    Autumn project: more areas of the garden over to no-dig.

    1. Nice to read this Alan, great projects. Compost heap needs more green additions to make more heat, say from other places

  15. Sorry to hear about the red spider mite in the greenhouse. I enjoyed a day course with you recently and it was such a pleasure seeing healthy well grown crops. Heart breaking to lose them.

  16. Hi Charles,
    First year “No dig” on half of my veg. garden and have harvested the onions (pleased), peas (best ever), broad beans (first time and a dense crop),…. the list continues but lets just say I’m thrilled, so thank you for bringing me to this technique.
    One question – re: Compost thermometers: I noted the type you have in your piles, and was wondering if you have had any condensation problems within the dial. If it is a worry, would it be worth attempting to seal with an appropriate sealant around the glass face and the area where the probe enters the dial. Have just purchased one but looking to forestall potential humidity problems.
    No bindweed here but Rabbits and pigeons and a blackbird that keeps getting into the fruit cage through a gap I cannot find. Many regards, Peter

    1. I have a similar problem with several blackbirds and a fruit cage. A technique that has worked for me is to go close enough to cause fluttering and distress but to then back away until they settle a bit but make it obvious by movement that I am not going any further. After a few minutes of gentle psychological pressure the birds then leave the cage by the hole they entered. Even if you don’t see the hole immediately it gives you an indication of where to look.

      1. Brad, Thank you for your comment. It appears I have a sneaky blackbird. Once released, it flies away. Attempted to wait for a revisit, observing from the house. No sign! Turn my back and there it is fluttering around inside. It shows no indication of where it enters and for the life of me, I see no gaps.
        I am now suspecting it is actively muscling its way in somehow through a gap that doesn’t show. So, as long as it doesn’t do itself a mischief, I’ll just keep on releasing it until it gives up (maybe putting the raspberries on a plate outside will convince). Many regards, Peter.

  17. I’d be interested to hear more about the compost trial. The peat-free compost I’ve been buying doesn’t seem quite right. It’s a nice black colour but quite dusty and twiggy so I have been sieving it and adding 50% homemade compost (also sieved). Vermiculite and perlite have also become hard to find so I’ve been using sand to help with the drainage. My Spring sowings have definitely been more robust than the early summer ones esp the brassicas. In the hot weather, the seedlings in my CD60s have been prone to drying out quite quickly so I’ve been putting them on capillary matting which has helped.

  18. Hi Charles and team,

    I’ve really been inspired over the past two years by your work, and all of the videos, blogs and experiments are endlessly interesting and exciting. I’d just like know where you find your Bacillus Thuringiensis as I’m having a little trouble with caterpillars.

    Thanks, and I can’t wait to continue following your story at Homeacres.

  19. I see you put bindweed in your compost, we’ve been keeping it separate (along with couch grass and nettle roots) for at least a year in compost bags with drainage. Do you think it’s safe to add it to the compost mix now? We have so much.

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