Interplants beans and fennel

June 2019 no dig trials, new polytunnel, garlic harvests, interplanting, pyralid problems in composts

Summer begins now, but don’t bank on too much fine weather this summer is my hunch. The soil is dry here at the moment and plants look well except for rusty garlic outside: garlic and leek rust is endemic except in the greenhouse and polytunnel, so far.

Garlic harvest undercover is 12th June here, while outside it’s 25th June, for softneck. Then early July for hardneck.

Homeacres trials

The dig bed still has stronger potatoes and more weeds, with cabbages and lettuce as good as the no dig bed, while other vegetables are suffering somewhat.

The three strip trial shows small and interesting differences.

Hectic changeover

May is busy under cover, clearing old crops and planting new ones.

This year we replaced the polytunnel as well! Thanks to support and help from First Tunnels, whose products are strong and good value, with straight sides and stronger metal.

This new tunnel is the same width of 18ft, but inside it looks and feels wider, and it’s 12ft longer, with new no dig beds at the far end.

Polytunnel details, near end

Luke and Adam, the fitters from near Burnley and with great Lancastrian accents, were fortunate with the calm weather, unusual for here. My cucumbers were fortunate too!

It was one day’s work for the whole build, including sliding doors and some irrigation. The latter is for occasional use and needs some adjusting to get an even distribution.

Tubes are held in the soil by anchor plates, with no concrete used. Polythene is the thermic type, may last 12 years or more.

Most new tunnels are supplied with rails rather than simply polythene for a trench. Here we buried a ‘skirt’ of polythene below the rail, so that slugs, rabbits and weeds cannot enter.


Cropping has been prolific, and Medania is finally rising to flower, when it is more than nine months of age, sown last August.

Along with the overwintered spring onions, it has been a feature of spring meals from the small garden. Keep an eye out for my next video on that. You will see tomatoes interplanted between spinach, far end on the right.

Single bed and interplants

Running out of space? Try interplanting, where a soon-to-finish vegetable can nurse seedlings through their tender early days. It’s a type of companion planting.

In this case and oddly, I often hear that fennel is not liked by other plants. Here it is a great companion either small or large plants: the spinach cropped for six weeks while fennel established.

Seasonal veg, late spring

New bed, kohlrabi and new sowings

Pests and weeds

Aphids are common now, until their predators arrive in force. Do not be dismayed, and you can spray or jet plants with water to wash aphids off.

Bindweed and horsetail are now in full growth and need regular pulling, to weaken parent roots.

Or you can lay with cardboard or polythene on the surface, as long as , when you have larger spaces between plants such as squash.

Pyralid is everywhere

Farmers must have sprayed this noxious weedkiller onto a lot of grass last summer, and gardeners probably used a lot of lawn weedkiller. The horrible pyralids are in so much manure and so many brands of compost! Check my video to see how it affects plants – many gardeners are suffering this without realising the cause.

I have seen or heard of (including photos) problems from Humix organic manure, Westalnd Jack’s Magic, Country Natural Manure, Bed-Down rapeseed straw bedding (!!). Put photos on social media if you can, let the compost suppliers know too.

42 thoughts on “June 2019 no dig trials, new polytunnel, garlic harvests, interplanting, pyralid problems in composts

  1. Also Charles, I wonder if Soil Renew might speed up the disintegration process of the herbicide?

  2. Thank you Charles for highlighting this issue. My tomatoes and potatoes are all severely affected this year. It took me a couple of months to identify the problem but it is unmistakably pyralid contamination. Manure was got from a trusted friend. Now I’m hearing about bagged composts being contaminated and I use Jack’s Magic a lot! Can any brand be trusted and is there a way of managing without bagged composts?

    1. We simply cannot be sure about most purchased manure and compost, it’s a horrible situation.
      I am looking to make more compost and use old woodchip, sometimes easier said than done.
      Sorry you have it.

  3. # Aminopyralid
    Hello Charles! I have followe you since last spring with great admiration and I have learnt so much. However only yesterday did I discover the horrors of aminopyralid. Having sown some broad beans before Christmas I am certain that all of my raised beds are contiminated from Westland AND Wickes multi purpose. At first I thought just Westland (broad bean bed) however I sowed some pea shoots a couple of weeks ago and they are showing tell tale signs (Wickes) and I am feeling genuinely bereft and inconsolable. Gardening has been a huge saviour for my mental health and the thought that all of my beds are ruined is just too much to bare! Not to.mentiok the huge expense of the wasted compost.

    I wanted to ask some advice. To get around the problem I have a plan and wondered if you think it might work…

    Step 1: remove top layer of composted beds as much as possible and dispose somewhere safe

    Step 2: add lots of tiger worms to all beds to speed up soil regeneration and remove the contamination

    Step 3: cover all beds with a very thick layer of brown cardboard (an inch or more thick)

    Step 4: build up raised beds with another sleeper (adding 9 inches in height) and refill with Champions Blend compost (which I believe is safe?), filling to the top (9 layers of decent compost to plant in)

    I wanted to know if you think this (very expensive) plan will work and save my 2021 growing season? I wait eagerly for your advice!

    I have written to all parties to alert them of the contamination!

    Thank you so very much for reading!

    Anna Grace

    1. Hello Anna

      Oh dear, this is sad to read. I hope it doesn’t mean that a whole new generation of compost made this summer contains pyralid. Probably clopyralid from lawn clippings.
      When you complain to any supplier, mention clopyralid rather than aminopyralid. The latter is mainly from animal manures.
      Most peat free compost has green waste compost which contains lawn clippings, and a lot of lawns are now sprayed with this poison.
      Please send photos to [email protected].
      You don’t need to undertake all that work and expense. I would certainly scrape it off and dispose of it, then whatever is left will have only small concentrations of poison which will all the time be broken down/dissipated by soil microbes, bless them!
      Place new compost on top, no cardboard and I would be confident that next spring you will be fine. Champions Blend is not the best but it should be clear of this horrible poison. Another option is New Leaf compost but it comes from Northern Ireland and I don’t know whether Brexit might have stopped them importing it. I would recommend Dalefoot but sadly last year I had problem with some of their compost which strangely contained Horsemanure!
      Looking ahead see if you can take delivery of wood chips, to turn into compost in the forgotten corner of your garden if there is such a thing.

  4. Had a ton of supposedly organic compost last year…local producer deals only with supposedly organic farms. Beans terrible, dahlias have no buds, strawberries poor flowering in a new bed . These perennials not flowering where we mulched: phlomis, penstemon, osteospermum, valerian. Sedum spectabile distorted but surviving. Roses not much affected and erigeron not at all.

    Poor flowering from many others. Mysteriously , in a bed of mixed cosmos the red ones are fine, but no buds on white ones

    1. Ah shame, and often the “organic” composts are the worst, hiding behind that useless word which means nothing in compost-speak.
      Your mechant does not know what he is talking about, or is misleading you.
      I hope that soon the poison will have decomposed, which it does on top, thanks to soil microbes

    2. Horrible so-called organic compost.
      The producer is naive, and I wonder how many others have suffered, without realising.
      It’s infuriating and I hope your soil microbes do their thing!

  5. Westland multipurpose from Tesco is showing telltale herbicide leaf deformities in my tomatoes and chillies. Very mild, they seemed to have pulled through.

    1. Maddening as ever. Please send email to the addresses at bottom of my July post, they need to know at least. Glad your plants recovered 🙂

  6. Hey…after bumping into your videos for the first time this year, I created a no dig bed on cardboard and filled it 6 inches deep with municipal compost/manure mix and planted peas, broad beans, potatoes and brussels, pre-grown seedlings (except spuds, obvs). Guess what? Yup, only the brussels are healthy. We also have a family of rabbits in the garden….and curiously after the covers blew away they haven’t touched the peas. Neither have any weeds whatsoever grown. there are no worms in it, or any other insect life as far as I can see. It appears that humans are the stuid ones! I’ve started a large compost heap, but it won’t be ready until much later in the year, can’t afford, can’t buy (lockdown), and too scared to source any other soil feeder/improver so I’ll be back to rotavating a weedy grass patch, planting, and covering with cardboard around every plant this year. Seriously considering a human excrement manure pile in protest. I’m also looking at all the large piles of manure waiting to be spread on the arable fields around me… live whatsoever on it. I guess when their crops start to fail THEN there’ll be some concern. Bloody Monsanto all over again, isn’t it? ‘Only then will man realise you can’t eat money.’ Love an’ hugs, etc. xx

    1. Hi Karen
      Ah that is gutting, so sorry.
      Can you at least share the name on the bag, so I can warn others?
      And please report this on manurematters website? I know it’s a pain but they need to hear at least, otherwise they claim no problems exist.
      Wishing you well

  7. In 2098 a mixture of Wyevale Multi Purpose and JI No3 (forget which brand) killed my tomatoes.
    In 2099 a mix of Clover Multi Purpose and Grow Wise JI No 3 also killed my tomatoes

  8. Dear Charles,

    Thank you for all the wonderful videos, books, etc. My wife and I have started the no dig method and have recently turned my father’s gardens on to it as well.

    I have a two-part garlic question for you should you have the time.

    1. I know you’ve been growing your own seed garlic for years, do you recall which hard and softneck varieties you’re growing?

    2. I’ve been told by other garlic growers that when harvesting garlic, you’re to avoid letting the garlic rest in the sun–even to the extent of placing pulled garlic in the shade immediately. I’ve followed this ‘rule’ but it looks as though you’re not so concerned with this. I’m asking as my larger garlic bulbs (Romanian Red/Hardneck/Porcelain) produced wonderful bulbs but after curing, I’m finding many of the cloves are dehydrated; they’ve turned brown, soft and shriveled inside their wrappers. I almost wonder if some days in the sun might not have helped alleviate some of this. We had a terribly wet summer.

    Appreciate your time.

    1. Thanks for your comment Andrew.
      My hardneck garlic was Solent Wight, matures 3 weeks later than the softneck whose name I don’t know.
      I heard this sun-advice in France where the sun is hotter than here and it’s more about appearance I think, a skin scalding. Here I have not suffered it but I don’t leaves them more than say 2 days in bright sun.
      Your problem is I think humidity, so the cloves did not cure – some sun would have helped, but it was raining.
      Also once the tops have dried, keep it in your house so it stays hard in frier air than say a shed.

  9. I am thinking of getting a polytunnel. from your experience, can you suggest any makes. The ones I have been looking at online only seem to say 5 years for the plastic. I am thinking of 12 feet wide, do you recommend larger rather than smaller?

    1. Hi Richard, I just made a video about my new tunnel from First Tunnels and it’s good, strong with they reckon 10-15 years life for the polythene (verbal quote!). Steph has a 12ft wide First Tunnel and its been great for her.

  10. Hi Charles, I noticed that you’re giving sweet corn another go – have you come up with a solution re. badgers? Shame the forum has gone altogether – could the archives be left available to search for information as it was chock full of helpful tips and hints, especially if you’re just setting out in the world of growing? Thanks for you help over the years, Tris.

  11. Hi Charles, I have sweetcorn to plant out but I’ve ran out of room. Could I interplant it with something else?

    1. Yes Kevin, perhaps between lettuce or spinach or spring onions, all of which would finish soon

  12. Morning Charles,
    I was just wondering what variety of fennel you like to sow in spring, please?
    I was waiting until after the summer solstice but if i can get in early ones next year I’d be delighted. Thanks Loretta
    We love our first tunnels’ polytunnels too.

  13. Great to see your new tunnel. First Tunnels are an excellent company. We just bought our first tunnel from them this Spring. Gorgeous accents and excellent “baize” rails! Fantastic customer support. And you, Charles, are a shining light. A Taoist garden master. Thank you for sharing your wisdom. Intelligent gardening. That’s what you teach.

  14. I have to say that April and May have generally have been astonishingly benign for spring growth here in NW London. One weak of summery heat around Easter and the odd night just above freezing in early May, but otherwise, close to the average maximums and minimums, plenty of sunshine and just enough rain given no dig beds and winter moisture at depth still feeding plants. Most plants up here have done very well on it, with tomatoes, onions, lettuce and corn looking especially good, radish harvests being astonishing (1.7lb root plus leaves per metre of row at day 40), two beetroot sowings growing away really well and solid germination of carrots twice.

    Whilst I admit you are five leagues higher than me as a grower, I would really be interested in knowing if anyone around London can match your earliness of outdoor harvests for lettuce, carrots and onions or whether the greater proximity to the Atlantic means your soil simply warms up quicker in spring whereas our more continental proximity means we have a slightly shorter climatic spring. I tried your timetable a few years running and several things really struggled to thrive even with good compost and under fleece.

    It may also be a matter of light for me, as when the sun is low in the sky it is very hard to find eight hours of sunshine protected from the elements for early sowings in modules, so they do tend to get leggy.

    But sowing carrots outdoors on March 15th does also tend to mean that hoeing away the first weeds many years has not yet happened up here so there is a risk of weeds over-running the carrots. Often the carrots simply do not germinate very well, whereas 10-15th April seems a reliable sowing date to get a summer crop.

    I sowed some things later this year and everything has looked much more solid. Tomato plants still have three trusses formed (flowers and the odd fruit set on first truss) from an April 7th sowing by 31st May, early April sowing of onions has given me the most healthy clumps I have ever seen up here after transplanting on May 7th and lettuce sown April 13th had first pick on May 28th. The earliest I have ever picked lettuce is around May 15th, usually Little Gems tightly spaced for harvest as young leaves. 21st of May has been the earliest I have picked plants destined for repeated cropping, even from late February sowings.

    I find your timetable for May sowings to be perfect up here, especially dwarf and pole beans, maincrop carrots, corn, time for putting out winter squash.

    Leeks, celery, peas, broad beans, chard, kale and garlic also seem fine on your timetables.

    Interested to hear from other readers growing in SE England to know if they have different experiences to me….

    1. Hi Rhys, interesting comments and I wonder if light levels are playing a part.
      Perhaps my timings are a little early and more suited to professional growing. I shall make some edits for the calendar.

      1. Charles, light I think did affect things in the past, mercifully trees to south have been felled so at least until further notice sunshine comes earlier in the year.

        As you are successfully targeting the domestic growers market with your courses and books, my take is that the way to start growing is with the easiest timetables, not the professional ones. As skills and experience increase, boundaries can be pushed. A bit like skiing on gentle terrain rather than trying the black runs on your first week!

        So radish sowing from say April 8th to May 6th or the like; beetroot sowing in early April, May and June (transplanting from late April onward is fairly bomb-proof); Lettuce on the spring equinox in trays to go out late April/early May; onions sown late March to early April to go out early May; carrots from mid April to early June, with the safest being mid May etc.

        Of course, pushing the boundaries brings opportunities for second- and even third crops (spring radish, dwarf bean then winter radish works up here), but at the start my feeling is minimising downside risks and achieving a broad spread of successful harvests will encourage folks to be more ambitious on the back of that success.

        To me there are timetables for growing with perfect sunlight, optimal compost/manure and access to the best seeds, not to mention competence levels in the experienced- to expert bracket.

        Then there are timetables for those starting no dig and gradually improving soil year on year.

        You can still harvest a lot of food on no dig beds less wonderful than yours, but there may be a few routes where hot beds, greenhouses, perfect compost and fleece are critical to success.

        My soil has improved over five years so that carrot germination is now routine, beetroot transplantation almost never sees losses and lettuces are free of slugs outside the latest of harvests.

        Even at the start, radish, potatoes, broad beans, pole beans, dwarf beans, spring cabbage, garlic, onion sets and leeks were fine.

          1. Interesting!
            Differences of climate huh.
            I’m further north than you Rhys, in Cambridgeshire and followed Charles’ calendar to the letter when I had time. Just looked back on my photo’s which I sadly can’t attach to see that we had large radishes, two types of lettuce inc lt gem, pea shoots, beetroot tops, new spinach and kale for a salad and harvested large amounts of purple s b on 18 April this year. Yesterday we had our first entirely allotment grown cooked meal of new potatoes (‘ticked’ some out – oh divine), carrots, spring sown pointed cabbage, broad beans, spinach – going to seed now and swede. We could have had peas but the pigeons got there first and the calabrese will be ready this week. I, for one am delighted with Charles sowing dates this year. FYI, I don’t have a greenhouse or polytunnel. We were given a greenhouse earlier this year which we were excited about finally being able to grow tomatoes in (outdoor ones always seem to get blight for me here), but somebody stole it before we could erect it.
            We don’t have perfect conditions either: sandy soil, the site is pretty windswept, part of the plot is under a large oak tree and we have issues with moles.
            I’m still in the process of building the beds having moved from the allotment next door so maybe it’s beginners luck this year!
            Wish you the best and bumper harvests with your increased amount of light Rhys.

          2. Hi Jan
            Many thanks for your feedback and I am delighted you have so many harvests already.
            I find the early harvests at this time of year are so special and especially tasty.

  15. I had a problem with Pyralid last August, my whole salad sowing for winter basically germinated and then stopped growing. I eventually realised what had happened by September and repotted as much of it as I could and it started to grow again, some I planted in the soil as tiny plants where they grew too. Eventually they matured, but it cost me hundreds of pounds in lost harvests in autumn, all due to one £5 bag of compost.

    1. Ah Steve that is so maddening. I keep hearing more and more of these stories and am feeling more and more upset!
      Can you reveal which compost it was please?

  16. Your new polytunnel looks to be a fantastic upgrade to your vegetable growing Charles, those straight sides making access to edge borders so much easier. Enjoy.

  17. Every spare moment over the last two or three months I have watched Charles’ Youtube videos. Have also bought his Diary. I am addicted ! Have cut out a small plot on the lawn and started, slowly, to use an old raised flower bed, too.
    Charles, you are an inspiration ! Thank you.

  18. Have heard that aminopyralid is moderately toxic to honeybees too!! ( University of Hertfordshire). And highly mobile to leaching. Perhaps it was all the rain we didn’t have last summer kept it more concentrated in/on the hay and effects of manure thus more pronounced than usual??
    Polytunnel looks amazing.

    1. Thanks Jan, and it’s more alarming news, this problem keeps getting worse.
      I think you may be right about the dry summer.

  19. Hi Charles
    Thank you for all the knowledge and experience you share.
    My garlic (planted November outside in Bristol) has rust and I’ve just dug it all up as the tops were dying down.
    What does rust do to the plant?
    The garlic are not as big as usual but the prolonged drought may be to blame. My onions are not affected. Thank you

    1. Hello Mary, and you did right since the tops were all yellow and rusted. The garlic is still fine to eat, just smaller!
      Some say that magnesium from Epsom salts may help, apply early spring next year.

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