Californian poppies at Homeacres

June update 2019 new sowings, harvests, making compost, no dig flowers, more on aminopyralid

Is cool and damp better than hot and dry? Last year we were short of moisture, this year we are deprived of warmth and light. I preferred last year! Mostly you can add water, but can’t add warmth. The first two weeks of June saw 69mm/2.8in rain here, and afternoon temperatures of only 17C/63F: sunshine was 48 hours, similar to February.

No dig helps in all weathers, with soil holding moisture, and warmth too. Especially when mulches are dark compost on top, which warms readily in any sunshine, say where beds have new plantings.

I posted a video about no dig requiring less compost than when ground is disturbed. In my trial beds this year, it’s only potatoes which are cropping (slightly) more on the dig bed.

Sowing now

June offers many harvests, and many opportunities to start new vegetables, for autumn and spring harvests – Purple Sprouting broccoli grows nicely here from sowing in mid June. It’s one of the few vegetables where I find F1 varieties make a worthwhile difference, and I grow Claret, for harvests mainly in April to early May.

We are multi sowing beetroot, sowing carrots direct between lettuce mostly, chicories, endive and calabrese, plus Romanesco cauliflower.

I sowed lettuce for the second time this year in late May to early June, for planting late June then to start cropping when the first planting rises to flower.

Planting now

We are planting leeks over the next month, for example after kohlrabi and potatoes. Kale and cabbage plants go in soon after say broad beans, and swedes go in at month’s end after spring onions.If the plants are ready before a first crop finishes, we either pot them on, or make a gap between the existing crop to pop in plants – as with Brussels sprouts between carrots.

Cropping now

Often I have cucumbers by mid June, but not this year, another two weeks I think. Sungold tomatoes will not be ready until July, but we are picking some lovely basil shoots.

The March plantings of calabrese have cropped well and are giving side shoots for a while, until I need space for beetroot. Cabbice cabbage from Delfland Nurseries (excellent place to buy great organic plants) are almost ready and make large flat hearts.

Broad beans are peaking and will finish in two weeks, while peas continue cropping until early July. Cascade is giving sugar snap peas now, then Alderman come ready, and a later sowing or Oregon Sugar Pod is starting to flower now.

Clearing and composting

Heaps fill fast here in summer: six weeks on average to make an (eventual) tonne of compost, in heaps 1.5m/5ft square. I am adding both soil and old wood chip as brown, to balance all the green we now have. Main additions now are:

  • clearances of beds after harvest, such as broad beans, potato tops, leaves of root vegetables and brassica leaves plus stems, which we chop or split
  • lawn mowings, and scythed grass and weeds from the edges
  • apple tree prunings plus fruit thinnings.

This video is from Robi and Tjasa Spiler who attended the compost making course on 1st June.

Aminopyralid poison in gardens

An unnatural chemical which is far more prevalent than I had realised. For example this blog from Skerries near Dublin in Ireland where the poison is in cow manure, from a farmer who probably is not realising anything about the grief his manure is now causing.

It has been reported in some compost from J Arther Bower, Westlands New Horizon and Godwins. The problem is, it won’t be in all sacks, but you don’t know when you buy them. The pea or bean sowing test is worthwhile, but not a huge help if you already have bought the compost.

The NFU have warned famers about pyralid contamination, see this page. Turns out it was used in 2018 on some fields of rape, in a product called Astrokerb, made by Dow. In the FB group Undug, a farmworker who had been using weedkillers with aminopyralid reported how they gave him flu-like symptoms every time he opened a can to put in the sprayer. He had to find other work.

A serial offender in up to now this year is “Country Natural organic manure”. They were named as causing problems in 2008 in this RHS thread, and again many times recently, plus they have been extremely rude to people telling them of growth problems from their product, and have taken down their Facebook page!

I am in conversation about this with the RHS, who are not doing anything yet, and with Viridor who make green waste compost near here. They are keenly aware of the dangers and are proposing extra tests on each batch of compost.

If you suffer damage, do post it on social media as there will only be action if enough evidence is out there.

I am looking to source more wood chips for composting. While being careful not to use undecomposed wood as mulch for beds – and I use only a thin layer on the paths, maximum 203cm / 1 inch.

No dig successes

Feedback is heartwarming from all over the world. I received this message from North California one mile inland:

“From your videos I attempted my first No Dig garden at the end of 2018. Even through Winter storms it started producing, and by the time Spring arrived, I had an abundant, healthy, thriving garden, with my nearest neighbors taking notice, and swearing they must take up the method themselves.”

I gave two talks in Ireland, one in Bristol and am back there on Sunday at the Colston Hall.

Steph’s talks at Gardeners World Live in Birmingham were a huge success, the room packed out every time, so much interest. Afterwards the Allotment Association reported many new members!

Homeacres flowers

June is such a lovely month for ornamental plants.

This year’s star has been Escholzia/Californian poppies, whose colours are especially intense in 2019, and particularly when the flowers fold inwards.


There won’t I think be the amazing harvests here of last year, since temperatures are so much lower. Nonetheless it’s heartening to see summer plantings growing nicely, and we have plenty of basil for salad bags. In the greenhouse at 9pm yesterday 14th June, the temperature was 16C/61F, compared to 11C/52F in the polytunnel.

Watch out for my new video about polytunnels.

Lavish new garden

An amazing and huge new garden resort has opened near here, on the site of Hadspen gardens. It’s called The Newt, see this review in the Telegraph newspaper.

We were invited to an open day and I took the two photos below, in early May. There is work continuing to complete a garden museum and a Roman villa.

37 thoughts on “June update 2019 new sowings, harvests, making compost, no dig flowers, more on aminopyralid

  1. Thank you for your post about aminopyralid. I just looked into thisproblem this morning as my broad beans were looking exactly like your affected plants. Same with the tomatoes I’d potted on. I’d bought several tonnes of this stuff to fill my new beds and garden was looking forward to My second year in this garden but having realised this issue Its all pretty upsetting, especially as its near impossible to get any more compost with the current virus. Did you eat your sweet corn and did they develop well?

    I really enjoy your videos and have inspired me very much, especially over winter, planning away for the growing season. I hope that they will take the soil away so that I can start my journey all over again. Ive signed your petition and as you say it’s crazy that this chemical can get into our otherwise organic garden. Really upsetting.

    1. Ah so sorry to read this Reiko.
      Please share with us all whose compost it is, to help others avoid it.
      Yes they should remove it and resupply, use my name if it helps.

    2. thank you for the information charles- i edoecially love that you have scattered contaminated compost on a new site and after a year the broad bean crop is unharmed ❤️

      Reiko, having moved house this year, Ive been busy setting up
      my no dig beds during lockdown. Getting compost was a challenge but I managed to get about 12 tonnes delivered over a number if weeks. the compost deliveries were never quite enough so there patches of beds with a bit of mushroom compost here, a bit of green manure there.

      For weeks now I’ve been willing my broad beans to grow a bit faster and wishing my peas were a bit more robust… i also wondered why the edges of my bean and pea leaves were so badly nibbled. this weekend i finally noticed the twisted leaves, also a deformed twisted sunflower, potatoes and I think onions. I’m wondering if the nibbled leaves is an early sign of the contaminated soil?

      I think the culprit was the mushroom compost (3 bulk bags) but it could be a single bad bag of green manure (there were 9 bulk bags, some of beds with thus compost are fine)

      I’ve emailed my compost supplier – are they not supposed to test before selling to

      I’ve also emailed Corteva UK – the arm of Dow responsible for this chemical?

      does anyone know if they are obliged to take any steps to make good the damage?

      one other thing i notice about my broad beans is the bees and ants (ive always had ants on my broad beans) aren’t going near them as if they know its poisoned.

      1. Sadly the suppliers have no obligation to test.
        Please say who you bought from and when. They should recompense you the cost at least – be sure to take photos which clearly show the damage and restricted growth.
        It’s such a problem for gardeners.

  2. Hi Charles
    Sadly I have picolinic poisoning (the happy Dow family that includes aminopyralid) on my allotment. Up until last week my no-dig approach involved using grass cuttings left by a local green waste contractor on the allotment site. All was going very well until last week when I noticed the tell tale curled leaves and stunted growth on my autumn cropping broad beans. Following a bit of Google research my conclusion is clopyralid poisoning. (The grass was collected from gardens and clopyralid is sold as both weed&feed and bespoke bottles at garden centres, eBay, etc)
    I have applied cut grass on my allotment since April but the only crops that have been affected so far are the broad beans. I’m guessing the contractor has collected grass from some lawns “treated” over the summer. I’ve not applied any animal manure, the usual source of aminopyralid, to my allotment and the potatoes gown previously in the same bed until July had no problems. The culprit is definitely the cut grass.
    I’m in the process of hand collecting this now rotting cut grass from the surface of the beds. Next year I intend to change my planting plans to intersperse all affected areas with picolonic sensitive legumes and solanums and see whether there is any poison still not broken down by soil microorganisms. (Naturally any poisoned vegetation will be sent off to landfill rather than the dinner table!)
    When collecting the rotting grass I did notice a lot of earthworm activity at the interface between the soil and the green waste. Before I started remedial work I was worried that the poison would kill off the worms but that does not seem to be the case just at the moment. (Some blogs/reports mentioned an absence of macro soil life when the poison contaminated their land.)
    I am struggling to understand what is going on. I know that the picolinics strongly bind onto lignin in plants. So strongly that it passes straight through the stomach of a ruminant without breaking down. It then sits in the manure until binding on again to the lignin in another plant. Apparently this finally stops when a soil microbe gets involved, reacts with the picolinic and breaks it down into other molecule(s).
    The question is how can we help speed this process up? For example do worms help or just spread the poison around? Are certain soil microbes more useful than others and can they be cultivated/encouraged? What is the improvement if we do X rather than Y for example?
    I appreciate that you might not readily know the answers but maybe you could ask the Dow Chemicals sales rep if he could ask somebody in their research department. Basically I cannot believe that Dow does not have some evidenced based advice on ways of speeding up the degradation of these noxious substances.
    This is clearly a serious problem. Whilst it is great that awareness in increasing innocent end users still need to know how to take the correct, practical steps to reclaim their land so they can safely eat the produce again. Or plant flowers that don’t just die!
    (FYI here is a petition link to ban the sale/use of aminopyralid is Ideal for any readers worried this nasty poison might visit their plot next…)

    1. Hello Mark, sorry to hear this and yes that horrible clopyralid is in weedkillers which people feel they need to use on grass – a weird story in itself!
      You make many good points.
      I had a visit in July by Man from Dow and I assure you he knows as little about “dissipation” (his word) of this poison as we do.
      For example how it works with no dig. They know that soil microbes are involved, so recommend rotovating “in order that more microbes are in contact with the product”. They understand chemicals not microbes. And I don’t think they really care about remedial work to heal poisoned soil.
      Also their recommendation shows how little they understand soil biology, in terms of how many microbes are killed by the rotovator.
      An area of grass where I spread affected compost in May is now growing healthy broad beans.
      Good news on the earthworms you are seeing.

  3. Hello Charles,
    I trialed no dig in my community garden plot starting this Spring, with about a half inch of my home made compost and another half inch of two year old wood chips. In addition, over about half my garden I used the composted steer manure, which is delivered in bulk (I’d already planted half my plot by the time the manure arrived). First, the main difference is the lack of weeds, and this makes it easier. But also, my tomatoes and one of my sunflowers are showing symptoms like those of aminopyralid. I will monitor it and keep you posted.

      1. Yes, the side that has the steer manure seems to have aminopyralid damage. It isn’t consistent though – one one of my two sunflowers, and only 3 of my four tomoatoes. I’m put in my peas before the manure arrived – glad I did, it sounds like peas are very sensitive.

        1. It can be patchy Vivian because it’s in some lumps and not others.
          The poison decomposes faster in warmth and light so growth may improve.

  4. Hello Charles,
    Thanks for the information on aminopyralid. Most of my sowings in modules failed this year (symptoms exactly as described by you). Reading your reports on Twitter, I was puzzled as I thought I had just used my own compost for the module sowings.
    However, looking at poor plant development in the beds and using my homebrew garden database, I was able to track the problem down to two batches of communal compost I fetched the same day in March.

    If it had not been for your information, I would have felt like a really lousy gardener. Now, I can blame someone else. 😉
    Still, this is a problem to be dealt with, but concerning our German Secretary of Agriculture, I have no high hopes…

    Anyway, thanks for all the good advice that helped us to an extremely enjoyable, (most of the times) highly productive and low maintenance garden.

    1. Oh Arne I feel for you, it’s horrible when this happens.
      Bad news that it’s in the municipal compost and I wish you well with the politicians. If only they had a garden!
      Thanks for the rest of your comment.

    2. Does anyone know if Aldi compost has Aminopyralid in it? I’m terrified to use it as I too have had issues with bad manure.

      1. I am sorry to hear this Catherine and the answer to your question is almost impossible to give, because Aldi et al will have many sources or ‘feed stocks’ for their compost, which can change from time to time.
        I wish I could be more sure!

  5. I can’t believe the harvests I’ve had here in Cambridgeshire this year, 80 percent on beds only created since Feb and still ongoing. There was spinach, radish, lettuce, pea shoots, beetroot leaves and kale in mid March for salads. Since then there’s been another two harvests of radish (planted in exactly the same place after clearing previous ), peas, broad beans, lettuce, garlic, beetroot, kohl rabi, calabrese, cabbage (pointed and round),swede, carrots, PSB, overwintered leeks, and charlotte new potatoes (planted late as I didn’t make the bed till April. Probably got a courgette by now as it was flowering when I was last round three days ago, as were runner beans. Whew. A question about swede as I’ve never grown it before and was obtained as 5 plug plants from the above mentioned Delftland. It’s about the size of cricket balls now. Is it going to get bigger, or just bolt along with the rest of the brassica’s as I suspect this month?
    We’re normally very dry here but have just had a week of virtually non stop rain (oh the lushness of everything) resulting in all the calabrese and all the cabbages (both of two different varieties planted at different times) and kohl rabi now needing picking at once! That’s about 15 plants and there’s only two of us. Just shows how weather conditions take precedent over timings.
    Year one on this site no dig.
    Aminopyralid is just getting worse and worse. Amazing post from the Skerries. And quite right that those of us who don’t want to use chemicals seem to be getting hit the worst. The post from NFU is worrying. Not just grass fields and lawns then! My allotment is only 12 feet away from ‘prairie’ fields of oil seed rape and the sprayer is frequently around. Last month I noticed that the tops of some sites of my broad beans which had been growing perfectly ok since planting and were about 70cm/ two and a half feet high looked a bit shrivelled/twisted. I put it down to weather conditions/bug attack etc and pulled them off and composted. Potatoes looked not quite right too. Now I’m wondering if it was the dreaded AP. It’s a pretty windy site and guess which direction is the prevailing wind….. I can only hope. It also means AP’s going to be in an awful lot of cooking oil/margarine.
    Ive been trying to source and compost as much of my own plant residues/peelings as possible in light of the manure problem but it now seems to be where the **** can you source anything from that’s guaranteed to not have nasties in. Looks like even if I grow it myself it could be contaminated by wind-borne/run off AP! On behalf of all organic growers HELP US. Now!
    Ps. Your Californian Poppies look wonderful.

    1. Jan thanks for highlighting that risk of contamination from wind-borne spray.
      Can you maybe upload a photo of the effect on your broad beans and potatoes?
      Best not compost the borad bean tops – what a mad world. I am doing as much as possible, have spoken to Radio 4 Farming Today and other journalists, some of whom personally have garden disasters.
      On a brighter note, great that your harvests are so good.

      1. Hi Charles,
        Sadly I pulled them all off last month without taking a photo as I didn’t suspect AP. Sorry. The rest of the plant had already grown so wasn’t as affected. Don’t seem to be podding up though. Re-read the NFU recommendation and they’re saying it’s an autumn/winter spray so it may be ok, but who knows what farmers do. Not even sure who owns the land. Think it’s a conglomerate. Will just have to test that batch of compost before use. Fortunately it will be 2021 before they grow rape there again. Still leaves the problem of spray drift anywhere in windy conditions though.
        Pulled up all but one swede just in case they bolted. I’ll see what happens with last.
        Just come across Garden Organic podcast for May on their website. The last part of it is discussing no dig gardening. Oh dear. Nearly there, but…..
        PS when I said ‘help us’ I meant anyone who’s in a position to ie farmers/government/Dow etc. I know you’re doing everything you can to highlight this and we’re very grateful for it. Thank you.

  6. Charles curious as to why you aren’t using undecomposed wood chips for your beds and only an inch for your pathways.

  7. Hi Charles last year wehada bumper crop of apples feom six apple trees so we put all thewaisrones into small barrels and filled them with water, I read this somewhere and now I do knot now what to do with them, have you any suggestions love your blog by the way thanks Janet Birmingham

    1. Gosh do you mean this was to store them Janet?
      It sounds like they are ready to go on a compost heap now, mixed with other wastes including paper and bits of small wood.

  8. Charles – Just read your latest missive, interesting reading. Here in the East things are a little different. My Brassicas are struggling. I put it down to the fact that on my allotments we have had little rainfall until this week. In April I recorded only 10% of the average rainfall and on my other site it was 16%. In May the figures were 46% and 41% respectively. So far in June we have had 143% and 1535% respectively. By the way I received my first Blight warning yesterday from the Blight Watch people.
    Yours John Negus

  9. Hi Charles, you said you added thinned fruit to the compost, and that’s great news for me as i thought i need to throw mine to the garbage. Apple trees are extremely productive in our garden this year and i need to do some serious thinning: do you have an idea how much of it would be fine on the compost heap (it’s about 1.5x1x1)?

    1. Mirela they will decompose even in large amounts. It will be good if you add other wastes too, both green and brown.

      1. Thanks a lot for the tip! I’m adding garden wastes, grass clippings, straw and cardboard so far..

  10. Hello Charles
    You have motivated me to start gardening! I am loving the calm, and excitement of it! Thank you!
    I have attempted to make compost. I have not managed to increase the temperature higher than 10 degrees C above ambient, and my concern is that I have managed to nurture lots of enormous jelly like slugs. My fear is that I am going to be inoculating my precious vegetable patches with slug eggs…..
    Have you any advice? I will have to put the decaying stuff somewhere because there is a big pile of it!
    Kind regards

    1. Nice to hear Hilary except for your slow composting, it sounds perhaps too wet and green so i would add lots of say shredded paper, any small woody waste and/or soil.
      If slug eggs survive the process and you spread them, the birds will have a feast. Compost on top allows those kinds of adjustments.

      1. That is a relief about the birds! Thank you Charles. I will add some paper tomorrow, too. I never imagined that making compost would prove so tricky.

  11. Hay Charles!
    It’s been a funny year! How do you know the weather? You said last month it would be cooler!
    South west Scotland 260meters up and I’m about 2 weeks behind you so I’m happy ish with that.
    I’m not on social media is there any way else I can help with the problems with modern (or less productive farming messes up agricultural) farming? How can we change are understanding of are plant to help it not hold it back?
    Thank again Billy

  12. It’s worrying that someone has reported flu-like symptoms from that weedkiller, but also not surprising. It seems we always have to wait 15 or 20 years for dangerous effects to be recognised, and probably another 10 before anyone decides to take appropriate action. Perhaps they’d like someone to suffer severe health issues, or die first before they ban this weedkiller.
    I’m very grateful for all your efforts to highlight this, I’m continuously shouting about it in Ireland, and was glad to see your highlighting of the Sustainable Skerries Dublin episode. So far only one company has responded to me. The rest appear to be sitting on their hands, eyes closed and ears blocked. But we must keep shouting. Thank you, Charles and Stephanie.

  13. The cool June has had a few benefits up here, notably continuing good final radish row cropping into June and the best spring turnips I have yet grown. Many years up here they have threatened to bolt before producing good roots, but this year they are tip top. We had around three inches of much needed rain between Friday and Wednesday and the average May temperatures meant turnips thrived.

    Funnily enough the rain did the tomatoes planted in the garden a lot of good, they all now look very healthy and happy. June rain appears a boon for those. Maybe the comfrey chop n drop rotting process was accelerated to provide food? The pot based ones have misfired a few slots on truss 1, not happened for a few years, that. Maybe the cool damp cloudy week? Maybe some potassium with the sun next week and they will emerge?

    I must say our big apple tree had fruits very far advanced for early June so thinning this year was as early as it has ever been. The sunny May after fruit set helped I guess. The COP I have thinned ruthlessly trying to get it back to annual cropping.

    I am also now a big convert to summer chard as we could start picking leaves to cook with 5 weeks after sowing and two weeks after planting out. Your blogs and videos were the reason I started growing it. They really benefit from good compost: six planted in 5cm new compost went like the wind; two spares just popped in the edge of the squash bed seem less eager to grow away.

    The climbing beans have not really started racing up the poles yet but they are perfectly ok. A bit of heat next week should sort that out.

    I have reluctantly concluded that brassicas need netting even on no dig beds – they seem the only crops still susceptible to munching after five years no dig. Carrots, lettuce, beetroot, beans, turnip, parsnip are all free of nibbling now. But certain beds still see kale, cabbage and sprouts decimated despite beautiful young plants having settled in. I just resowed Cavalo Nero Kale after my May sowing was wiped out (the spares in the raspberry cage are still fine!), ditto back up tree cabbage after two from four May plants went the way of the kale (same bed too). I will try some new sprouts too after the first sowing got to eight beautiful leaves before being decimated.

    No dig five years in works!

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