June 2016 no dig, fertility boosts, summer sowing and harvests, making compost, events

Despite a dry May (just 17.9mm here in May’s last 3 weeks), plants have sprung out of the ground like unleashing coils, with warmth complementing the long hours of daylight. The photos say it all, such as potatoes invisible on May 4th after frosts, then abundant by May 30th.

In polytunnel and greenhouse, May has been about clearing winter salads, spreading 3in (7cm) compost and planting summer crops into that. This compost is the only feed until next May, first for tomatoes etc and second for the salads we plant in October, to crop all winter. This year’s compost was half home made and half mushroom compost on top.

Now however there is a growing need to water, unless you have been lucky to catch a storm. Priority is new plantings until established, salads and celery.

Sowings and plantings

Its still possible to sow runner and French beans, courgettes and cucumbers, and there is still time to set out plants of winter squash, celeriac, sweetcorn and autumn-hearting cabbages, but don’t delay.

For summer salads, sow more lettuce and perhaps frizzy endive too if you like bitter leaves. Endive is useful if lettuce suffer from root aphid in August. Sow more coriander and dill, plant basil undercover if possible, or in a sunny spot – and don’t overwater it, especially in containers.

For winter cropping, June is good for sowing carrots, beetroot, kale, purple sprouting broccoli, swede and savoy cabbage. Also to plant leeks sown in April, for example after clearing broad beans, spinach, salads and other early harvests.

First of the summer harvests

I love June for its exciting first harvests. Already we have enjoyed carrot thinnings from March sowings, nicely brought on by fleece covers throughout the cold April. From now on its worth covering carrots with mesh, to keep most carrot fly at bay.

Beetroot sown late February over the hotbed, planted late March is cropping well: Boltardy’s potential for early harvests is incredible.

Also we are harvesting Caraflex pointed cabbage, again February sown, half-hearted and weighing a kilo each. Kohlrabi and broad beans are ready this week, peas and calabrese in two weeks time, courgettes too.

Meanwhile spinach is starting to flower and I plan to sow carrots or plant swede after clearing.


Its a good time to plant outdoor tomatoes, or undercover if you have not already.  I am doing a trial of different outdoor varieties in pots, to see how they resist blight.

Undercover, cordon tomatoes need regular removal of side shoots and any yellowing leaves at the base. At the moment its fine to water their leaves, since blight spores are not prevalent until any arrival of humid weather, usually from late June. At that point, take care to water at the base only.

No dig

If you are new to no dig, take heart from the photos of long carrots and parsnip roots. Achieve this by feeding soil with surface mulches, to encourage the organisms that maintain an open structure.

The mulch I recommend for Britain and other damp climates is compost, because it does not harbour slugs. 

This confused some visitors from Shift Bristol permaculture course, who looked at the garden and asked f I do any mulching: they thought mulches are only of undecomposed materials such as straw, hay, grass, cardboard etc. If I used those here, there would be no early carrots or slug free salads, because of slug numbers.

See also Steph’s recent blog on preparing soil for planting with a compost mulch, as food for soil and plants, https://nodighome.com/2016/05/31/mulching-and-planting-my-no-dig-polytunnel/ 


Homeacres is open on Sunday June 12th from 1-5pm, as part of Alhampton’s open gardens event, get your ticket for £5 at the Alhampton Inn. My neighbour Gert Schley’s garden is one of the ten to visit, its the best permaculture garden I know, well worth checking out.

On Saturday 11th is an open garden event at Vine Farm in Staunton, Glos GN19 3NZ http://www.vinefarm.co.uk/Vine_Farm/Vegetables___Fruit.html where Alex and Jane Morton have been growing no dig vegetables for ten years, as well as establishing a cherry orchard and small vineyard.

Also on 11th are many workshops, including mine on salad growing and no dig, during the Landworkers Alliance Land Skills day http://landworkersalliance.org.uk/calendar/?mc_id=142 at Thorny Lakes near Langport in Somerset, TA10 0DW.


Thanks to Felix’s help, another compost heap has replaced the one he spread already, just 26 days from assembling it. He spread it, five large wheelbarrows, on a weedy area that had been mulched with polythene for six weeks, two inches deep and with an inch of old cow manure on top. Then we planted Crown Prince squash through holes in the polythene.

The new heap is 60% green (nettles and grass) and 40% brown (straw, fresh horse manure, small wood chip and pine needles). The difference this time is that we added no water, after finding the previous heap too wet towards the end, which meant too little air. I think this caused its heat to suddenly dissipate after 22 days.

The current heap reached 68C after two days, has not exceeded 70C and is currently 56C after ten days. The plan is to turn it this week, more to follow in next update.

Fertility boosts

Compost extracts and microbes are two ways to achieve strong growth with less compost. Compost teas are possible too but require some special kit, so this is a quick look at something simple.

  • Compost extract needs two or three handfuls of your best compost, sweet smelling and full of healthy organisms. Add water to half fill a large bucket, then stir in vortical fashion for around 15 minutes. Breaking the vortices by changing direction is a way to introduce more air and energy. Then water this on soil wherever you want to increase growth. I am unsure of how much to use: we spread a half bucket over one bed of 4×20 feet. I don’t expect to see a huge difference as the soil is already lively.
  • You can multiply great microbes by collecting weeds with some of their roots and soil attached, also any vigorous plant leaves such as cucumber and potato. Leave to ferment in a large bucket, stir daily if possible or more to encourage fermentation and bubbling, water on soil within a few days before too smelly. For more on this see the writing of Charlotte Anthony and forums on her methods http://www.permies.com/t/52127/soil/Turning-sand-soil
  • Charcoal is less of a fertility booster, more of a maintainer, a reservoir for moisture and nutrients. AT the Royal Welsh spring show we found a man making charcoal from wild grass, much finer than wood charcoal and with more surface area. We activated some with compost extract and have set up a trial of leeks in pots, to check for any differences.

Potting composts

We have compared growth of leeks and chard in multipurpose compost made by West Riding and Klassman. The first is based on eco-peat sieved out of Yorkshire reservoirs, the second on peat from bogs in Germany.

Klassman has given better germination of seeds and stronger early growth, with no weeds. West Riding sometimes has seedlings slow to start but they tend to catch up and grow well for a long time.

Leeks sown April into West Riding compost left, Klassman right
Leeks sown April into West Riding compost left, Klassman right

11 thoughts on “June 2016 no dig, fertility boosts, summer sowing and harvests, making compost, events

  1. Some interesting update points:

    1. The sweetcorn planted out under fleece in mid May and freed from their captivity around 5th June have shot ahead – about 50cm – 60cm high many of them. They are ridiculously further on compared to last year, so I am hoping for a great crop, 1816-style August frosts notwithstanding!
    2. The mid-May direct sowings of runner bean, climbing bean and dwarf bean were less successful. I have 10 of 16 runner seeds producing good plants, whereas the others is 3/16 (climbing bean) and 1/10 (dwarf). All ten dwarfs ‘germinated’ but didn’t develop proper cotyledons or true leaves. I will have to heed Charles’ advice next year and sow the mid-May seeds in pots indoors. I will resow the gaps tomorrow and sow another 10 dwarfs as planned, as well as another 10 in pots to plant out in the first week of July.
    3. The first PACA lettuce sowing gave broadly the following timetable:
    i. Sown last week of March on a leaf day.
    ii. Transplanted mid April under fleece to garden – probably too early and will leave 4 weeks in future.
    iii. Ready for first pick 1st June (1lb from 7 plants).
    iv. Second pick completed today, 8th June (8oz from 9 plants).

    It seems to be about 9 weeks from sowing to first picking here in NW London, although if you chose to pick the plants smaller, it could have been sooner. As we still had uneaten May lettuces, we weren’t in any hurry.

    4. The ‘bomb proof’ sowing regimen for onions here in NW London is either:
    i. Sow seeds in modules either at March full moon or April new moon. Transplant at end of April or beginning May (I did it at May new moon). I have planted out 30 Bedfordshire Champions in two 1.5m rows and they are all looking Champion, excuse the pun.
    ii. Sow clumps of Sturon seeds in ‘cowpats’ at the April full moon, keeping well watered until they germinate. Once again, they are looking in fine fettle in early June and have not struggled at any stage.
    5. The risk taking up here involves earlier sowings (I sowed Kelsae at the February full moon), planting out at the March full moon and fleecing over for 1 month. I had to replace about 5 which succumbed to the cold, but I now have 35 healthy plants in 5 rows. A few took a while to really kick off but the crop looks like being successful.

    Due to the paucity of sunshine both indoors and outdoors before mid-March, onions will germinate but struggle if sown early here. If I had a hot bed and a polytunnel with 8 hrs a day sunshine I would sow in February regularly.

  2. Tris – Klassman compost has broadly been very good but also with some strange occurrences. After i germinated various cabbage, perpetual spinach and tree cabbage successfully, I picked some seedlings to pot on into 8cm pots, into the same compost and after about a week, they mysteriously died. No idea why at all.

    Very good for germinating beetroot and swede. Superb for germinating lettuce for PACA – I will be planting out into the garden before full moon for the August-September set.

    Great for germinating cucumber and courgette.

    I didn’t use it for tomatoes as I’ve been doing all with my usual John Innes formulas and I didn’t see any point in not finishing those bags.

  3. Glad things are going so well Rhys. How is your compost heap developing; turned it yet? Also, what’s your verdict on the Klassman compost? If it’s anything like Charles’s then I’m considering a bag or two to use next season. However, results this season with the WR multi-purpose have also been excellent. Happy gardening.

    1. Tris, the compost turned out well, after 10 weeks I was using it to mix with kitchen waste over the summer, with two bins now full and maturing over the winter. After 5 months the remainder is a deep brown colour being used to top up the other two bins now being filled with haulms and kitchen waste. Some grass not fully rotted but overall the formula I used seems to work well.

  4. Good to see that some aspects of our garden are doing the same as your ‘best-of-breed’! Our spring cabbages have hearted up better than ever this spring, perhaps due to the cool weather. The Aquadulce Claudias have so many pods on I can scarcely believe and the parsnips have roots like yours when thinned. The garlics are huge and the potatoes have shot ahead just like yours. Early lettuce has been great and the PACA plants for June/July are ready to harvest right on schedule. I have harvested spinach for the first time, but clearly need to optimise germination, fleecing and strain choice to get a good crop.

    The return to cool weather just as the beans started emerging has been frustrating, so I have fleeced over the dwarf and climbing beans. The runners seem to be establishing and hopefully will continue to thrive. However, the cool weather has seen the onions shoot ahead, confirming what I read about them thriving best at around 16C. Germinating spring onions in clumps indoors in soil blocks has worked a treat, with the first sowing well established and the second just planted out today. They put sowing Lisbons direct into the soil to shame!

    The tomato season is a bit strange – the early May heat saw 10 fruit set on the Super Marmandes and Black Russians, but they have been slow to produce more flowers since. Plenty of time still to go and all are now in their final pots with lots of Red Alert fruit for an early crop in July.

    I am non-league compared to your Premier League where spring beetroot and carrots are concerned, however! I suspect that both need better slots in the garden to do well early. I have 2 rows of Boltardy beetroot, but they are nowhere near ready to harvest! I will just about have enough carrots, but will be sowing again in early June to fill in the gaps.

    Frustratingly, for whatever reason, the over-wintered chards have been poor this spring, simply not taking off like last spring. Location may again be an issue, but a solution exists for next year. Those planted out at the end of April have established well but some insects seem to be nibbling at leaves rather more than I would like.

    Luckily, up here in NW London, we had a good dousing of rain yesterday, about half an inch just as we needed it.

    1. Impressive Rhys.
      You need your own website or blog!
      Tree roots into your beds may be affecting some growth but results sound amazing on the whole.
      For chard I recommend sowing late April to reduce risk of bolting in early summer, especially red chard.
      You were lucky to have that rain, we had 5mm.

      1. Reply to Stringellow – the Klassman is their potting and it works for sowing seed e.g. those leeks, chard, lettuce etc. We tried their seed compost & it was no better for germination + a little less strong in growth.
        Life is now simpler for you!

  5. The growth of leeks in the Klassman is impressive, even compared to the West Ridings. Is it possible that the WR leeks will catch up before they all end up being planted out? As with the WR composts there is a range of Klassman to choose from; which did you use here?

    Thank you and fingers crossed for the composting pile ‘take II’.

    1. Yes they have been catching up but I was impressed by the Klassman. Its the potting compost but I can’t remember the German word, it was offered on the forum.
      Yes compost ‘2’ looks promising!

      1. Thanks Charles. From the quick crop video there appears to be two useful types for seedlings and young plants…..both in the same coloured bag! ‘Seedling’ for good germination and then the ‘Potting’ for, well, potting on. This makes one wonder what is best to use as I am hoping to fill my module trays once, and then plant in to position from there. Toms and aubergine that require potting on may benefit from both types I imagine….keeping gardening simple is a challenge in itself!

    2. Thanks for the Klassman tip re. potting compost only required. If only everything in life was so simple to solve! It’s between Klassman and West Ridings then – both seem to be excellent….

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