June 2022 first summer harvests, new book, compost value, result of saving beetroot seed, wood affecting growth

Summer is underway with tasty beetroot, broad beans, new cabbage and broccoli, carrots and more. It’s a top time for making a lot of compost too.

Below I show the rewards of seed saving. and the beauty of a no dig vegetable garden, with its flowers! And there is a look at my new book.

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Homesaved Boltardy seed

I am delighted with the result of my first attempt at saving seed of beetroot. I’ve become so disillusioned with the declining quality of commercial Boltardy seed. I know the variety well having grown it since 1983, when it was way better!

The photos speak for themselves, and I’m also delighted by the vigour of the plants.

In the last photo you can see the moon rings! Every new and full moon creates a ring.

Making compost

In the northern hemisphere it’s close to maximum possibility for making lots of compost. There is so much new growth and I urge you to scrounge as much as you can from other places, as well as your garden. Last week I scythed the roadside verge around Homeacres, and just before the flowers turn to seeds.
I also cleared a lot of forget-me-nots from the front garden and they are seeding, so I was careful to put them closer to the centre of my main heap, 1.5 by 1.8 m / 5x6ft,  whose size means more heat.

My pallet heaps get warm but with not so high temperatures as the larger bays, and for less time. If anything they make nicer compost and demonstrate how heat is not vital for a decent result. Just have a go if you’re not sure, and learn as you go. Check out my videos, there is a playlist of videos about making compost on my YouTube channel.

Wood is good, mostly!

Every year I learn so much and this year is a big one, about deep wood mulch:  growing plants with a 7cm/3in cover of woodchip, and no compost. The heap is around three years old but it’s hardwood and has quite large pieces, and I suspect it’s mainly old wood, in other words logs that otherwise might have been burnt! The opposite to this would be green wood or one year old wood, from pruning softer growth of the year. Always preferable for gardening!!

The first two photographs show you the dramatic effect of too much wood, which I ascribe to the wood taking nutrients for its own decomposition. Even despite planting potatoes through the wood and on top of soil. But with no compost there.

It’s a thick cover of wood and has been there for a whole year, see it in this 2021 video. Last year we had black polythene over that area and grew almost nothing, except some squash this end where we did add green waste compost!
There is incredible bindweed in this whole area – now we are removing it by hand.

Last week we raked off some of the larger wood pieces from between the potatoes. Then on the left hand side as you look at it in the photograph, we spread around 5 kg dry chicken manure, watch this space! I’m intrigued to see whether the situation is recoverable.

Slugs and aphids are bad, mostly

I mention slugs often to make the point that they are always there, and I suffer some losses. However the damage here is not excessive, and is the chance to see the weak points of my garden (edges if untidy). Slugs are not all bad!
I’m often advised to use beer traps or copper barriers. However these ‘solutions’ tend to prevent the user from working out why they have so many slugs, and how to tackle the origins of the problem> Reasons for high numbers could be plants in the wrong place and/or at there wrong time etc.
I prefer to look at the problem and reduce it, rather than deal with symptoms which often continue.
Likewise with aphids, for which someone said they regularly apply soap and garlic (but the aphids continued). This is like using pesticides and risks weakening or killing potential predators, and therefore the problem persists.
Work instead from the other end and improve growing conditions, the quality of compost, moisture levels , sowing at the best times. There may also be issues (if under cover) of insufficient ventilation and faulty watering.

New Book

In this one title, I merge my two passions in gardening: no dig and growing vegetables. Whether you’re new to no dig or not, it will provide you with the tools and understanding to make this technique your own, and give life to a thriving vegetable garden. 
I describe and illustrate soil health and maintenance, how to grow all main vegetables, and there is a detailed  directory of edible herbs.
How to make a bed and how to make compost. Why no dig ticks every box. You can preorder from today.
This book is published by Dorling Kindersley and appears in September 2022, in many countries. It’s been my pleasure through the preceding year to work with Jonathan Buckley who took all the beautiful photographs.

Chelsea RHS Show

I had never resonated with this show, and that is about me as much as about the show! I feel now though that our wavelengths are getting closer because I really enjoyed it this year.

I was lucky to be there on Press Day, and there were not huge crowds! Therefore I had a chance to meet and chat with many interesting people. It was the biggest honour to sit next to Dame Judy Dench! Photos Nicola Smith.

I am just wondering about proposing an idea to the RHS for 2023, watch this space!

Food for early summer

Spring here has been a little warmer than usual and we have some fantastic early harvests.

I hope that things are going well for you -but I know that Somerset does have favourable weather. Plus we are low altitude, just 20 m/70′ above sea level which helps.

In the last chapter of my Skills book and course (you can buy more cheaply the course module here), I describe ways to warm and energise the soil, which are simple and cheap. There is a big opportunity coming up at dawn on the summer solstice.

61 thoughts on “June 2022 first summer harvests, new book, compost value, result of saving beetroot seed, wood affecting growth

  1. Hi Charles – you offered some v helpful compost advice earlier this year and my heaps are coming along nicely. As is my 1st year allotmenting (mainly) – thanks I think to no dig. I’m always looking around my locality for free compostables – what are your thoughts on nettles – are they good even if they are flowering/seeding?

    1. That is nice to hear Louise.
      Yes nettles are awesome for compost heaps, however at this time of year the stems have become quite woody and are best chopped up somehow, using a lawnmower or sharp spade and that helps them decompose.
      I don’t think the seeds are viable yet but they soon will be, and even then you can use them, preferably in a hot heap.

  2. Charles, I’m curious to hear your thoughts on wool in the garden. It’s started to be sold here in Canada as a garden amendment. I’ve seen your videos using it as a barrier for no till. I’m interested to hear your thoughts on wool now that you’ve been using it for a few years. Any cumulative benefits? Any downsides?

    1. Hi Jodi
      Wool has valuable nutritional quality but takes quite a time to break down and be useful. We added some to a compost heap and decomposed about 60% within 10 months, presumably adding some nitrogen.
      With surface mulches of wool, I’m less sure and it’s a slow process. The surface is not so easy for sowing and planting, bits of wool everywhere!

  3. Hello, I got an allotment this year for the first time and have made 2 no dig beds so far (by humphing a lot of horse manure with a fair amount of wood shavings). People keep giving me seedlings so struggling to follow your calendar but it’ll be different next year. The leaves on my beans were really quite yellow and pale until this week when miraculously they’ve turned a lovely green colour. Maybe the roots have penetrated the cardboard…
    Being completely new to veg growing, I’ve now got a load of sticks where my sprouts, cabbage, beetroot and broccoli were : ( pigeons being the culprits. Fine netting on order.
    Just to say the quality of the top layer of compost I bought from a range of supermarkets and garden centres is extremely poor in terms of plastic (black, blue, white, clear, green) and glass contamination plus a wee plastic dinosaur 🦕 however when it rains, all these bits seems to surface so are easily picked off so loving the lack of weeds compared to all of my dig neighbours but picking out foreign bodies instead 🙄

    1. Thank you for sharing this Caroline. I’m sorry you suffered that pest damage – do read up as much as possible about how to grow all these different plants. Each vegetable has different needs and suffers different pests.

      That is sad about the compost and it’s a combination of shortage plus too many people just wanting quick money. Make as much as you can!

  4. Hi Charles, any advice for dealing with stony soil? Is it best to just rake the stones up as they come to the surface? I’m looking forward to expanding my garden soon to around 25m2 of growing space and no dig has been a lifesaver dealing with this stony soil. Trying to dig in it would have been a nightmare! It’s impossible to sink your shovel in more than half a spades depth down! I have access to large amounts of well rotted manure, woodchip and compost materials so I’m quite lucky in that regard. Could I start the garden now by putting down cardboard and manure on top if I wanted to plant some autumn crops this year (broad beans, garlic lettuces etc..)?

    1. It’s very simple and easy Michael about stones, with no dig. Simply ensure a level surface, which may mean removing big stones which sticke above the level. You may not even need cardboard unless there are loads and loads of weeds.
      Putting on plenty of well rotted horse manure/compost will smother existing weeds. Do this now. And stones will then stay below and you will be happy!

  5. Any advice on rats?! We’ve always had some at our allotment site but more than ever this year, possibly because they’ve been diverted by local roadworks. They disrupt newly planted seedlings (on my 3rd planting of beetroot so far!) as well as roots of peas, beans – and now squash plants. I tread round the soil around plants every other day but it’s very disheartening. (And of course they are not no-dig so more weeds too.)
    I’ve cleared any places where they could hide but that doesn’t help when other allotments have freelance compost heaps etc. Any advice would be welcome!

    1. Hello Pat, I’m sorry to hear this, and wish I could help. I wish there could be some feral cats or stoats nearby.
      I don’t know what to say.

  6. Hi Charles, thanks for the great advice as always. Any tips for dealing with voles please? My beds seem to have tunnels everywhere. As I don’t dig I don’t notice them until my plants keel over and I realise their roots are growing into air pockets. I’m also losing a number of things that are being eaten by the voles especially beetroot!

    1. Hi Rachelle, they are a difficult pest. At first first I thought you meant moles until you mentioned beetroot being eaten! I hope you might have just one or two and it is possible to catch them with mousetraps, sat with peanut butter, always with a large leaf such as cabbage or broccoli over the top. This gives protection against raptor birds, and reassures the voles that they can come up to the trap.

  7. Dear Charles, I’m a big fan! I was entranced by your videos and even ordered your book. Straightaway I used cardboard to block the weeds and added compost on top. I was excited to order a truckload of compost from a reputable source (organic). I planted seedlings into the compost per your method. I babied and coddled them, using fleece when necessary to protect them from the elements. Right away the plants seemed stunted. I believe it’s the compost. Sadly, it’s very woody. Being an obsessed gardener, I even went back through several beds, plucked out the wood and used a screen to sift it. And STILL the plants were stunted. New plants received worm castings in the hole along with GardenTone organic fertilizer. After nearly 2 months most plants are finally looking better. Today, I had the bright idea to use compost tea. I’m hoping that will help. I’ve even used fish emulsion liquid fertilizer to help some of the leafy greens and smaller seedlings, but I thought the whole point was that the compost would provide my plants just what they needed. It’s tremendously frustrating to have about 50% of my garden plants stunted, pale, and generally not thriving–especially when I followed your method. I’ve just not been lucky this season! Charles, do you have any advice to help me? I’m hoping next season will be better when the compost is more broken down. I’m in Zone 5. Thanks for any advice.

    1. Thanks for writing Shelley and I’m so sorry you’re having these difficulties. I am hearing more and more problems like this, you are not alone. Maybe the increased demand for compost is making people sell it too fresh, to increase turnover and save time
      Yes there is too much on decomposed woody material and you’ve done a lot of good things to remedy that. And I would use some chicken manure pellets. It takes time however too for those to take affect and I am not sure you will get rapid growth for perhaps another month. Hard to be sure.
      Things will improve in the second half of this year.

  8. Harvested plenty of radishes and mustard (Ruby streaks). Spinach, blueberries, Strawberries will soon be ready! I’ve also got Runner beans, Courgettes, Chard, mixture of kale and Raspberries still growing. My beetroot has been awful again – poor germination (but think I bought a bad lot of peat free compost – too much wood perhaps?) And my plants seem very weak and not much root forming happening yet. Beetroot is one of my favourite vegetables so it’s really disappointing! Is it too late to sow again- will they bolt? And any tips for getting a good crop? I did multisow this year!

    1. That sounds good Emily, well done except for your problems with the beetroot, which is not your fault but the maddening compost situation which is affecting so many people.
      I suggest you buy a peat based compost to avoid this and to ensure you have beetroot this winter. You can still sow now!! but as soon as possible, every day counts to get a harvest of reasonable size. All the rest is in my videos, nothing complicated with beetroot.

  9. Hi Charles! I seem to have a soil fungus problem in my no dig beds. I think I watered too much early in the season. I am in Vermont, US. My snap peas are suffering greatly. Peppers and marigolds too but I think that white bodied/brown headed lawn grubs might be the cause there. I dug up one of the peppers to reveal barely any roots, but not root rot I don’t think. With the peas, root rot seems to be the issue. Do you have any recommendations for harmful soil fungus? Or lawn grubs?

    1. This is hard to diagnose from afar because it’s unusual, and many factors could be giving you problems. I think that what you call lawn grubs is what we called leatherjackets and they’re a horrible pest which you should be able to find by rummaging with your hands under the roots of affected plants and you can remove them. They usually stop beating around midsummer. I hope that reducing your watering helps, I can’t say much more afraid

  10. We recently found out from France that Américain research found à cure for tomate mildew. Oregano plants and thé cold résistant membres of their family can prevent and cure à variété of fungal diseases tested with excellent results on peaches and tomates so far!

      1. Hello Charles, mildiou is sadly ‘just’ downy mildew, a great annoyance to be sure but not the brutal finality of blight…

        1. Well ‘mildiou’ is ambiguous in French and can mean either downy mildew, or potato and tomato blight. (and several other fungi genera also).
          I have seen French advice to use oregano essential oil (mixed with oil, water and clay) as an anti-fungal spray against blight on potatoes, tomatoes and vines. This seemed well-researched, but I’m too wary of wildlife side-effects to use it. Natural and plant-based is not necessarily benign.
          Whether oregano plants would have any effect seems doubtful and I haven’t been able to find the research. but it’s worth a try I suppose.

  11. Squidging blackfly on broad beans, in an attempt to get some crop off poorly pollinated plants.
    I nearly broke ranks to get a spray, but resisted partly because there was not a lot to save.
    2nd sowing in an identical raised bed 18ins away much healthier and no fly. Both raised in root trainers.
    Come on you predators, help me out!
    So far 4 out of 14 potato plants with blackleg, but still getting potatoes.
    Damned rodents took all my 2nd peas sown in open ground, so have set more to chit after soaking in water and will put into root trainers, to get strong plants for setting out. 1st lot done in this fashion are strong with lots of peas coming. Will use plants instead of direct sowing for all legumes in the future.
    Carrot sown after good spinach crop are up and away. Next sowing will be in GH after garlic is lifted.

    1. Update
      The expression “All top and no bottom” is significant.
      My garlic seemed to be growing the best ever, nearly 3ft high. Of 125 bulbs, varieties “Rhapsody and Vallelado” only one third is good, one third mediocre and one third poor/miserable.
      Apart from compost some pelleted chicken manure has been used.
      Charles, is it possible overfeeding caused this? When you display your garlic are all the little ones hidden underneath?
      P.S. Washed aphid off and got some control.

      1. That is disappointing Philip, and I never use chicken manure on mine, probably that unbalanced the growth. 3 feet high is extreme!
        The only time my garlic or small is if rust has prevented the final stage of growth.

  12. Hi Charles,
    Thanks for making me discover no dig gardening, it’s made everything so much easier, I’m enjoying having a potager again!

    I wrote a while back about trying no dig on builder’s rubble and it worked! winter/spring crops were very good. Only I’ll need much more compost than I thought, the soil seems to have absorbed a good 5cm of compost in less than 6 months, it just disapeared!

    I have a couple of questions about chicken manure pellets.
    Are they made of fresh manure? (they do smell like it!)
    Whouldn’t it be better to add them to my compost bin to rot well before use?
    I reckon it would make a good activator and a rich final product!
    all the best!

    1. I’m happy to hear this and well done.
      I’m not surprised that the compost has disappeared, your soil or rather lack of soil, needed it!

      Yes I would do exactly that, add them to the compost pile. They are fresh and nitrogenous. Very occasionally that is what one needs on a bed, but mostly are better in a compost heap.

  13. I’m glad lots of places have now had rain, but curious if anywhere else is having such an incredibly dry season. We had half an hour of rain on May 30th, (West Cambs) and apart from a very rare 10 mins of slight drizzle, that’s it since February. Even the rhubarb is wilting!

    1. Very similar in NW London, Jan. We’ve just had some decent rain the past 3 days, but it was an incredibly dry 3 months here too.

  14. Just wondering if you’ve sown the replacement ones I gave you? I had 100% germination again this year from the same batch of home saved seed.

    1. Yes Jan thanks, germination was good! I had some seed also from Adam and the bed is full 🙂
      Hope you have rain!!

  15. Question – solstice sticks mentioned in Skills book – do you leave them there, or if not when do you remove them?

    1. Hi Abby, I leave them there. I’m not sure whether that makes a difference that they are not in the way, being in hedgerows

        1. On the morning of the longest day, place five sticks in the ground around your property and touch the first one after placing the fifth one, for a warming effect inside their perimeter

  16. I had great difficulty sourcing the specific wire but found it in the end from a Firm In Plymouth. Not sure if I should name it. Came in a huge roll & we cut pieces to size & they are working brilliantly. We have used other methods before but this is definitely the best. Thank you for letting us know about it. Love the modules too.

    1. Thank you Caroline and that’s great to hear. I would let everyone know the name of this firm and I wonder if you have any issues with the wire being in a coil. Does that make it spring back at any point?

      1. I can find ads for 4mm wire rope and for mild steel straining wire but not for the high tensile lengths of straight wire as shown in the reel.May be I’ll just carry on using upside down beer cans on suitable lengths of canes as netting supports.

        1. I use cut up lengths of blue alkathene water pipe. I bought a big coil from a builders merchant. The advantage is that if you want to extend the height, you just push ends of bamboo cabes into the cut pipe ends to extend the height.

  17. Lovely Chelsea pictures, and thank you for advance notice of Sissinghurst event: I’d love to get there and achieve two objectives at once. Rust on garlic is interesting: I have lots, mostly on the ones which had the most sun (furthest from wooden fence to S) and thus grew the most during early spring. Hope the heads are still developing. I wonder if watering them more during the incredibly dry March would have helped?

    1. Thanks Alan, and sorry to hear about your rust. I just don’t know, every year so different and your comparison is interesting.

    2. I had the same experience . Rust was worse in the garlic in the sunniest spots. I did keep them watered through the drought but if anything it made the rust worse. The least affected patch was the garlic in my greenhouse bed, maybe it was harder for the spores to reach them?

      I harvested them all just over a week ago and chopped off mist of the foliage and peeled off any dirty or damaged material before setting them to dry. It will be interesting to see how they store.

        1. Leeds Uni said onion rust diminishes with thé use of compost made with thé parts affected by thé rust.

          1. This is a fascinating comment. Assuming the Leeds results are confirmed by other tests, how would that work? I can understand resistance being developed after exposure to bacterial or viral diseases, but fungus? It leads me on to think of Charles’s oft-repeated statement that you CAN put blight-affected Solanum family material into compost heaps: I wonder if it actually increases future resistance???

  18. Hi Charles,
    Great advice as usual and very interesting the comparison of the 4 spinach plants. What would you plant after harvesting all beetroot, where you were growing beetroot?

  19. Lovely blog thanks, always appreciate the photos, and lovely time of the year.
    Brassicas – I have a tentative feeling they struggle more if planted as CD60 plugs and do better potted on once. As I only grow a few enough, I can do that. Do you have any observations Charles?

    1. Thanks Sheridan.
      I do both and don’t see that it makes much difference, except that in spring it’s much warmer in the greenhouse than outside so that will bring them on more quickly. I do not have enough space or time to propagate beyond module tray size, and everything we transplant from the CD 60s or 15s does very well

      1. Thanks Charles.
        I’m channeling you and doing a comparison, half the cabbages planted as CD 60 plugs, half potted on 🙂

  20. I think I’ve got the opposite of your success with Boltardy CD. Home-saved Greenshaft peas for pods are very disappointing, whereas (bought) Alderman did fantastically well for shoots. Peas for pods are such an investment in space and time that it’s a bit of a blow when they fall short. I think I just chose seed from inferior plants. On the plus side, the lettuce are doing brilliantly (ballon, bijou, valmaine, Lollo rosso and Tarengo (the latter from Bingenheimer)). Any advice on moles? They’re not doing a lot of damage other than earthing up/digging up the lettuce, turnips, and Calabrese; but they’re also in among the asparagus which is a bit of a worry. You must do Chelsea – if you do, I would go

    1. Cheers John and we do use a mile trap, before they establish.
      I had some bad bean seed, harvested before the Car was fully rip I think.

  21. I’ve been able to harvest quite a bit, including spring onion, chard, mizuna, lettuce, carrots and what might be my favourite salad leaf – mustard(ruby streaks).

    One note for the carrots is they were sown directly in to a mix of well rotted manure and mushroom compost of about 2″ thick. Forking of roots appears to be almost a non-issue.

    Interesting comparison of the spinach plants grown in the 4 different composts. I wonder if the addition of crushed chicken manure pellets would improve the yield from the woodchip based one?

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