March 19 sowings, online course, no dig, rocket

It feels like an early spring here, yet it’s still winter, just! Choosing what to sow and plant becomes confused when the seasons go out of order, and generally it’s best to stick with the dates you know, because the weather can change so much. Look at the snow last March for example.

All the vegetables we sow at this time are frost hardy, so they survive a light freeze. This means less worries about seedlings outside in unheated structures. When I say undercover or indoors, I include unheated polytunnels and greenhouses in that category.

Tomatoes are an exception to the frost-hardy theme, however I do not sow mine until the third week of March. Also don’t chit potatoes in a cold greenhouse where they might be damaged by frost.

Heat for germination

Seeds need more warmth to germinate than seedlings need to grow. Therefore windowsills in the house are great for the first 7-14 days after sowing. You can even stack trays one on top of another for the first days as they don’t need light to germinate – just be sure to unstack before leaves appear, often 4-5 days after sowing, depending on temperature and the vegetable.

I germinated a lot of seeds like that this year, before using the greenhouse.

On 20th Feb. we made a hotbed in the greenhouse, of fresh horse manure. It heated to 65C/ within two days, and its rising heat warms the module and seed trays sitting on the wooden frame above it. However new heaps make ammonia gases for a few days and it’s smelly in there – I need to ventilate all the time.

Sowing now

All the spring vegetables you see me sowing here are frost hardy. They are good to sow now and in March – broad beans, spinach, lettuce, peas for shoots, peas for pods, onion, salad onion, Boltardy beetroot, early brassicas (cabbage, calabrese, kohlrabi, cauliflower, turnips), radish, parsley, coriander, dill.

From mid March you can sow all of these outside in milder areas of the UK, and plant onion sets too.

A different category is seeds and seedlings that need higher temperatures, so give them warmth, especially aubergine, pepper and chilli – sow these by early March. Then celery, celeriac mid month, then tomatoes 15th-20th March works well for having decent sized but not huge plants by early May.

I wait until early April before sowing basil, and mid April for cucumber and courgettes/squash, all under cover and on heat.

Courses and online

March has sold out so we are selling at April now, with places on 6th, 7th and17th, plus two places on the April weekend course.

A big course appearing 28th February is my new online one. It comprises 27 new videos, 50,000 words and 600 photos, all about no dig gardening and the benefits you enjoy when practicing it, such as time saving and increased harvests. The course does not include private access to me, but there are quizzes after each of the 19 lessons. If you pass them all, you receive a Charles Dowding Certificate of no dig gardening. Currently not linked to an accreditation scheme but valuable because you won’t receive it without showing best understanding of how no dig works, and no dig now receives much recognition. The quizzes are not difficult, but cover all bases.

The course includes a lesson on the small garden with it’s plan of cropping and yields in 2018, from a 25sqm/270sqft space. And a lesson on how we made one bed in 2015, with a 20 minute video of the whole process including planting straightaway. Then you see all the subsequent harvests and new plantings, including some unusual vegetables.

Other lessons include how to make compost, and the value of different composts. I show the results of a trial we did last summer, see the photo.

On 28th a page will appear on this website under Courses where you can read about the online course, and buy it if interested, for £150 including VAT.

See a market garden event I am running near Worcester with Jake Eldridge in September, description and tickets here. Jake’s garden is well worth a visit and we teach a day each.

Steph is running offers on her book Creative Kitchen plus as a double with our joint book, see her blog here.


Salad rocket has overwintered well undercover, some even outside, and is now starting to make flowering stems, with the leaves becoming more pungent. However just last  week it was discovered by pigeons and mostly devoured. I am leaving it now as we have so many leaves undercover: soon we shall twist it out and spread compost.

Wild rocket is different and I just planted some, which has been in pots in the greenhouse all winter, from a September sowing. It’s the only brassica salad I grow in spring, because it flowers so much later than the others. We shall pick and then cut leaves of wild rocket from April until end June, by which time it will be flowering. Flea beetle damage increases through the spring, even under fleece or mesh.

Salads undercover

My salad boxes on staging in the greenhouse have cropped little and not that often, still worthwhile though with 1.4kg/3lb of leaves from five picks so far. They will crop until mid April, when the mustards flower, even until May for the Grenoble Red lettuce. They are now outside as I ran out of space in the greenhouse.

Plants growing in soil are suddenly putting on a huge spurt, thanks to increased day length as well as warmth. Leaves are firmer, larger and more glossy.

Outdoor veg

Outdoors we still have fine beetroot, leeks, kale, many salads and good old Brussels, the photos give you a taste of this mild winter. All are growing without covers but the Brussels have bird netting against pigeons, and the pak choi had fleece over for two months.

Compost heaps

I have rats in my winter compost heap, which we shall turn in a month or so. Lat year they left for the fields at that point and I hope it will be the same this year. In the winter I accept they need somewhere to live and their activity in the heap does a good job of mixing and aerating.

At the other end of my bays there is a new heap, which got off to a flying start when Ron Heath from Bristol dropped off some spent hops, fresh from the Bath Ales brewery at Warmsley – check it out if nearby. I like to compost the hops, while Ron had had success with applying them as mulch, especially last summer. He has organised my talk at Keynsham on 26th March, and it has sold out. I need bigger venues.

30 thoughts on “March 19 sowings, online course, no dig, rocket

  1. Charles – your seeds all seem to germinate uniformly and neatly. I get a few cells germinating and then nothing in the others. It’s all new seed and I follow exactly your instructions on the videos! Do you have any thoughts or suggestions?

    1. Hi Katie, I have a few failures too from getting temperature wrong and also one batch where I trialled some woody compost.
      I would question your seed supplier (“packeted year ending” does not mean fresh seed) and sow perhaps less deep? Partial germination sounds like faulty seed – if your method was wrong, none would appear.

  2. Dear Charles,
    Like the above information and the question & answer. I have a 5-rod allotment and have been gardening with digging. I am very interested in no dig gardening but not so good, lack the confidence. My lung function has reduced due to sarcoid so I am more interested in no-dig!
    With kind regards,
    Ronen Basu

    1. Ronen sorry about your lungs and yes no dig will help you, maybe find someone to help spread a decent amount of compost as a starting point, then it’s much easier with less weeding too.

  3. Hi Charles

    I have 2 of your books and now found this site – excellent resources. I have just started reclaiming an area of land unused for 10+ years. Last weekend I cut down all the brambles. I am taking your advice and digging out bramble and dock roots. I have dug a narrow strip and discover it is teeming with worms. I don’t want to dig any more. My concern is, it is almost a solid mat of stinging nettle roots. My questions, can these be dealt with by compost cover (perhaps under paper mulch)? Is it realistic to start planting this year through mulch/compost?
    Thank you

    1. Richard I would cut or mow the nettles hard then mulch thick card & compost over, there will be some nettle shoots to pull but what a great soil!

  4. An interesting question , How do I get rid of Pheasants ?. I could have two cocks and five hens anytime of any day ,and they are eating all I have . Kale,broccoli,chard ,bulbs its endless .
    I cannot shoot them ,we have houses around , and a catapult doesn t work ,in spite of strikes .
    Rats,mice ,squirrels,etc easy peasy ??. When are You comming back to Waterford.?.


    1. Maddening, and bird netting is my only answer.
      I am in Ballymaloe & Baltimore this May, no plans for Waterford: GIY are not keen on no dig from what I see.

  5. Hi Charles. Any tips on mice/voles munching seeds and destroying seedlings in a cold greenhouse. First and worst year for this problem. Greenhouse is in a hospital so am not permitted to set ‘snap’ traps.
    Thanks for your excellent website, Youtube videos and so on. I’m learning a great deal even though I’ve been gardening professionally for many years.

    1. Sarah, if no traps are allowed I don’t know, seems a pity to exclude that option as it may be just one or two mice, but they will breed. Big handicap to your work, almost pointless growing in there.
      Glad you like the videos.

    2. You could use the traps that capture the mice and not kill them. You have to check every day and if you catch them move them at least 1 mile away. Or make a garlic spray up and spray on the seedlings to put the mice of. I have also heard pepper spray works as well. Garlic spray is crushed garlic boiled for couple of minutes and used when cold.

  6. I cannot find the link for the ‘4 cell’ (?) company seed trays that you mentioned on your latest video. Can you help please? Many thanks.

  7. How do you stop mice eating everything ? i have set traps (humane) and move the mice really far but …..everythign nice is ruined

    1. I am lucky to have only a few in the garden, but use traps in my shed and caught 14 last autumn, before they ate the root veg

  8. I too incorporate spent hops into my compost that I source from a nearby brewery,however I would just like to point out that they are fatally poisonous to dogs.Please don’t use them as a mulch if your dogs have a free run in the garden as they’re attracted to the sweet sticky smell.

  9. I have to say even in southwest Scotland it is very spring like, and I do have that tingle in the fingers. I fear it will snow at some point but it can only get better!
    I have made a hot bed out horse muck (they do have a use) and seeds have done well. Will reload for next planting.
    Like the online course, lot of money but I am tight…..still like the idea.🤔
    First year no dig. Compost/goat muck/horse muck avg but have plenty and I think it will be fine, the worms etc will sort it out I’m sure.
    Love rocket and intend on trying some has you do in September. Just going try some this spring just see it grow.
    Thank you for up date! Billy Bowen

  10. Picking flowers from my kale and PSB, still harvesting Kallettes, salad every day from greenhouse, lambs lettuce, winter purslane, Tsai Tsai and first sorrel leaves outside, a calabrese from last summer still giving a few small heads. I am in heaven!

  11. Hello Charles,

    After growing up often visiting my grandads allotment, at 27 I have definitely got the gardening bug and with the help of my 2 little girls have created 2 veggie patches, by digging out 5 tree stumps/lots of weeds and mulching with compost … I would like to have a go at making my own compost as it has been the most costly aspect. I have a raised bed (brick wall raised to 1m high) at the back of the garden against the fence that used to be part of a chicken run by the previous neighbours. It measures 1m depth by 5m length across the back of my garden. My idea is to use the end part, perhaps the first 2m for my compost heap (which I’m hoping to make from pallets / old wood ) and the rest for growing beans against my fence. My question is, as I have small children I am worried about rats/other pests in the compost heap. Would I be better/safer to have a plastic composting bin (we have quite a large garden so will have a lot of garden waste). Or will an open heap with boards/pallets at the side and a plastic sheet over the top be suitable? I suppose the extra space in the raised bed at the top could be used for more veggies if I didn’t have the heap up there but I can’t decide what is a better use of the space. Thank you for your videos and books, I have learnt so much, my grandad has dementia now so he can’t share his gardening wisdom with me but I’m sure this is what has given me the love for gardening I have today and I will continue to watch your tutorials/read your books and hope to attend a course one day.

    Thank you

    1. Keeley I do not worry about rat poo and pee, it decomposes like everything else. Compost spread on the surface means light degrades Weils’ disease for example. Wooden sides are great, if pallets you could line then with cardboard, many options and I wish you well.

        1. Have just reread and can see what you mean now. That’s great and I will use the cardboard if all I get hold of is pallets, great idea!

  12. Hi Charles, I believe you are the first gardener I’ve come across who can tolerate rats in his compost! Just wondering if you ever worry about rat droppings getting mixed into your compost and thus ending up on your veggie beds?

    1. Thanks and I do not worry about rat droppings, they decompose in the compost, nature is full of suchlike eg birds dropping poo anywhere, rabbits, squirrels etc.

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