Charles Dowding no dig salad plants already picked many times, February polytunnel

Mid February the sun is climbing, first sowings under cover, potato varieties, climate zones, Q & A

I can feel the energy as daylight increases rapidly. In just one week here, we gain 23 minutes between sunrise and sunset, plus the sun’s arc is noticeably higher. For undercover sowings, this means more light and warmth.

However outside, the weather is not springlike and I advise to sow nothing outdoors, unless you are in a warm climate like Florida, coastal California, the Mediterranean etc.

Cold hardy pea plants

My favourite first sowings are peas for shoots, always so willing to grow, especially from home save seed. Also I love sowing radish now, multisown and potentially ready to harvest within six weeks, thanks to a fleece cover after transplanting, see the video.

Find other sowings to make now in my sowing timeline, and in my wall Calendar which is in the shop.

In addition it’s good to plan a small number of pea plants for leaving unpicked, to produce seed. Perhaps set them out separately to your peas for harvests of shoots and pods. This avoids confusions!

Likewise with lettuce for seed, you could plant say 5 to 6 different varieties all together, to leave unpicked and for seed harvest in September. Details in my Seed Saving video.

  • Lettuce and peas do not cross pollinate: likewise French beans and tomatoes.

Climate zones

These are an approximate way of categorising different climates, and cause confusion because there are so many aspects to weather! Homeacres is Zone 8 because of our mild winters, but has much cooler summers than many zone 8 climates.

This is a comment about zone 8 in Texas, from ‘Shaken Grain’ on You Tube:

  • Our Zone 8A season starts about a month before, and ends about a month after, yours.  Our summer days certainly much, much hotter.  90/100 degrees F (32-39C) summer days here.

Someone else asked this:

I am zone 7b in North Carolina, Would you suggest that I can plug and play your calendar as is? Or is there a way I can adjust dates by week or two to be more spot on?

A I checked your “frostiness” and see that  zone 7 has a decent length of growing season. Most vegetable varieties will have no problem maturing before your first frost date. With a last frost date of April 15th and first frost date of November 15th, your season for warmth loving plants in particular, is longer than ours in “zone 8”. My sowing dates for warmth loving vegetables (zucchini, tomatoes etc) are based on our last frost date of May 15th.

So the zonal classification is not perfect!

And the general start point of mid February, for cold tolerant vegetables, is correct for many zones Dates in my Calendar + Diary will work, with some variations for sure.

No dig transplanting

Normally we do this with module plants, quickly popped into dibbed holes. Pop pop pop.

The wild rocket pictured was different because I have been tending it in the greenhouse all winter, from a September sowing. We pricked it to modules late September, then in October we potted to the pots you see. Planted 5th February, for harvests all spring.

It’s the first time I tried this ultra fine veggie mesh, against flea beetles. It needs to work after they were so bad last year. The mesh gives less warmth than fleece but deters more pests, and stays down better in wind.

Learn more about all this on a Homeacres course, or in my online course 2, Growing Success. There are two places on 7th March, then more on 21st and 28th.

Potato varieties

There is such a choice! Incidentally in my book Organic Gardening edition 3 I wrongly called Swift, Sprint. It’s Swift, a fast grower of unexceptional flavour. Dunluce is very fast too and perhaps more tasty.

Or grow Epicure for a slightly later harvest and richer flavour. It scored well in Which? Gardening tests. The monthly magazine has updates through 2020 of my small garden at Homeacres: they call it the Family Garden.

I like Casablanca potatoes for a late June harvest of good yield, flavour ok but not fantastic, They store fairly well too.

Then Charlotte as an “early maincrop” for harvest in mid July here. They store well in paper sacks and we are still eating some from the July harvest, just a few sprouts so far. Clara Coleman at Four Season Farm in Maine says they like them too.

Another tip from a reader is Alouette. A tasty, multi-use red.

Meanwhile it’s late winter and we are eating last year’s potatoes with Brussels sprouts. Before you know it there will be broccoli in April and asparagus in May!

Apple tree pruning

We have not yet done this, through a lack of winter labour (!) and we shall prune early March. The autumn raspberries too. My plan is to shred the wood for making compost.

Some Q & A

Q Starting out on a quarter acre of dense pasture grass with raspberries, no hurry and no experience. What is my best method?

A As you have no experience, take it easy to start with, not too big an area.

Leave all weeds and grass in place before the initial covering. Remove only woody plants, including the raspberries and the top 15cm/6in of any large dock roots. Docks have large and mottled leaves, are easy to spot once you know them. A sharp spade is good for this job.

Next I would spread any organic matter you can find or buy, to any depth and over the whole area – it could even be tree leaves, and undecomposed materials. Then cover with black polythene since you are not in a rush. Earthworms will love eating the organic matter, and improve the soil as a result.

After 3 or more months, roll the cover back a while before planting and collect the slugs you find. Now spread compost where beds will be, say 5cm/2in and perhaps some wood chip for paths. When using polythene, you do not need cardboard.


Q Horse manure – the bedding is wood chip, shall I accept the gift?

A I wood take it.

It’s not ideal because wood bedding is kiln dried, so it takes longer to decompose than fresh wood chip.

Maybe not fill a bed with it, use mostly as surface mulch. Stack the rest to use next winter as compost.


Levels of misunderstanding

Q Would you compost potato plants after harvesting if no sign of blight or other disease?

A Yes of course I do, cannot think why not. I compost all blighted material because the fungal spores do not survive in soil and compost.

Q I had a question about the initial layer of compost.  I found a supplier that has two options for bulk delivery — 2 year old leaf compost OR 50/50 planters soil mix comprising of enriched top soil and garden compost.  Was hoping you could help me determine the best bed?  Should I do one or another then add [bagged] manure from a big box store to mix in?

A Avoid soil. Compost has way more value and the leaf mould sounds great. Suppliers often and wrongly advise against planting in compost – do not believe them, they are just repeating someone else’s wrong beliefs.

For manure make sure it’s clear of the weedkiller aminopyralid, see my video on that. (Sow bean seeds, 1 month of growth)

Q Have access to lots of blown in seaweed on local beach(fair bit of kelp). Would you consider this to be good to add to compost heap and or apply direct to soil as a mulch?

A Seaweed is a fantastic mulch, full of sea minerals and organic matter. Spread in autumn after harvests, or below any taller winter vegetables, even between rows of leeks.

I saw this practised in the Hebrides in the eighties and noticed how the seaweed “disappeared” by spring, from being either washed into the soil or eaten by soil life. Usually there are a few stems left which can be composted, if in the way.

There is no need to wash it, some salt is good, and you can also add seaweed to a compost heap at any time, say 10% of the total volume.

36 thoughts on “Mid February the sun is climbing, first sowings under cover, potato varieties, climate zones, Q & A

  1. Re: the sowing compost issues in one of your recent videos, when you say that you were disappointed with current batches of Moreland Gold and others. We’ve had excellent germination from Melcourt Sylvagrow Multi-Purpose since the middle of February. Lettuce, spring onions, beetroot, radish, turnip, spring cabbage, broad beans, etc, all more or less 100% germination and strong seedling development. Hope it continues!

    1. That is so good to hear. It’s ironic that I tried Melcourt two years ago and it let me down! They simply vary every year and until you open a sack, it feels like you can’t be sure how it’s going to work!

  2. Hi Charles, I don’t have space for a greenhouse and so have sown most of my seeds in propagators on a sunny windowsill this year. Most did well however once they have sprouted and I took off the lid the seedlings were quickly covered in black fly and green aphids. Any tips on reducing this as they are too small to plant out and it’a too frosty at this early stage of the year (planning ahead already). Any tips as to how to grow in under cover with little room and less chance of pests??

    1. That sounds difficult and I would buy LED grow lights to keep them stronger. Perhaps sow a little later too. You have good night-warmth in the house.

  3. Hello, I have turned over turf in my “rough”lawn to get rid of bluebell bulbs.
    Can I now do no dig with a layer of compost on tool of the turned over turf?

  4. Dear Charles,

    Thank you for this great post. Our rocket and kohlrabi plants were all destroyed by flee beetles last year. Unfortunately fleece covers doesn’t keep them at bay. I’ve heard of Diatomaceous Earth. Supposedly it works on flee beetles as an organic insecticide . What is you opinion ?

    1. Thanks Liz, and I have not see evidence of that!
      I have a mesh on wild rocket with super small holes, it’s supposed to keep them out.
      But they are becoming quite the problem, for brassicas. Wish I could offer more help.

  5. Me too! Last year was the first time I tried to grow Medania, and bought these Thompson and Morgan seeds from my usual nursery. I tried several times, with different composts but had very little success. I will write to Thompson and Morgan. I’ve just bought their Mikado F1 seeds – I hope they’re better.

  6. Thanks Charles for yet more invaluable information and for getting us ‘prepped’ for spring.
    Polystyrene module trays are also available on ebay (the individual cells are 4 x 6 cm). I have not tried them out for sturdiness, etc.
    Last autumn I had almost zero success germinating Medania spinach. The seeds were from a well-known company. The company sent me a replacement pack, which also didn’t germinate, so I bought some plants in the end. As I am getting ready to sow some more Medania for spring, is there any special trick, or did I just get some dud seeds?

    1. I reckon they were dud seeds and feel free to name the company because in my experience there are more barely alive seeds in packets we buy, than should be. Try a different company – Marshalls seeds are good just now. Or was it them?!!

      1. I had exactly same experience as Dorothy with Medania. It was Thompson and Morgan. Didn’t germinate. They (eventually) replaced them with another non-viable packet.
        Glad to get the name of Marshalls, though we ordered some from Chiltern last night.

          1. Yep, it was Thompson and Morgan. Annoying, but good to know that it was not just my ineptitude.

  7. Hi Charles
    Do you have any advice for those whose gardens/allotments have been under water for some time? Part of my allotment has been under water twice this winter; it does appear to be lower that the surrounding land. I was thinking of raising the level with some soil and then covering with a 4 inch layer of compost. Does prolonged waterlogging damage the soil structure and fungae?

    1. Hi Maria
      It sounds like land that should not really be offered for allotments, as there are site issues of swamp-like conditions!
      I am not too sure but can imagine some soil organisms struggling, or maybe they have ways to survive, I don’t know.
      You could try elevating beds but I would not invest too much time and money.
      Also after water subsides, dig a hole to look at and smell the soil. Does it smell sulphurous and look grey? Either of those is not encouraging.
      Sorry not to offer more cheer and I hope it’s better than I suspect 🥕

      1. Thanks Charles. I think I’ll move the raspberry canes to another part of the plot and let that area lie fallow. Thank you for sharing your knowledge.

  8. Hi Charles, I absolutely love your videos and your no nonsense, common sense, no dig philosophy. You’re inspirational. I let my veg garden slide for a few years with being busy with children etc but this yr I’m back with a passion. The only problem is liverwort… The place is destroyed. Easy to scrape off but wondering how to dispose of it, everything I’ve read says not to incorporate in compost but I’m wondering what you believe. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and passion with us all. 🥰

    1. Thanks Michelle and I am not sure, have not suffered it.
      Like moss, the advice is indeed not to compost, but you can. It just may take a while to decompose.
      Point is it grows on damp surfaces. When the compost goes on the surface of beds, any liverwort won’t survive long or is easy to remove.
      I put moss in my compost heaps.

  9. Great post thank you Charles. I sowed Aquadulce broad beans under cover in November And transplanted them outside in January when they were about 10-15cm high. Was this a terrible mistake? Their stalks look like they are rotting. They are going very brown and starting to fall over (doesn’t help that it is so stormy in Southern England). I thought these were hardy? I wanted them to crop early so I could gain the space quicker this year!!

    1. Sorry to hear this Jane.
      They were too advanced and tall at planting. Set out small plants and you needed to transplant in mid December. I put most of mine out then and they are looking better than ones transplanted January as larger plants.
      You may have enough survivors to repopulate the bed, with their tillers.

  10. Hi Charles
    It’s good to see you are still hard at it. I’m in N Ireland. We are some weeks behind you weather wise. Still plenty of kale a sprouts left. Have plenty of compost ready to go on the beds. Will try some new carrots this year. Would you have a good resistant variety to recommend. Thanks for all your advice. No dig rules!

    1. Thanks Terry.
      Presume you mean resistant to root fly, and I have not had success with supposedly-resistant varieties.

  11. I am waiting until the new moon in the last week of the month before starting sowing in earnest. I do have Kelsae onions happily growing good first true leaves just over five weeks after sowing, and some exhibition onions and leeks are just starting to come through in tubs sown on 6th February. It really is a challenge getting enough sunlight at this time of year with a neighbour to the south who is an extreme ecological rewilder in an urban setting. Most window sills are getting blocked out from sunlight by trees close to the house next door….each time the temperature rises above 10C, my onions are going outdoors to get sunlight and some light rainfall (but sadly, the wild storms mean they have to live indoors during 24hrs + of those periods to stop them getting damped off….)

    Happily, the new allotment will be ready for planting come the end of February (i.e. when I will have prepared all the beds with overlays of well rotted horse manure, not when I am actually going to plant things), which shows that you can fully cover all beds in two months taking no more than 1hr per visit: little and often certainly works when turning a jungle into a growing area.

    One scar from the past week: I was harvesting chilli seeds from some old pods and, not thinking too much about things, stung my eyes quite badly by letting my fingers come into contact with them after the job was done. I had washed my hands after collecting the seeds, but clearly there are powerful chemicals let loose when you open up chilli pods and in future, I think I will use latex gloves if I am doing a similar job in future. The eye stinging lasted for around half an hour and even a full body bath did not fully remove the potency of the released chemicals.

    1. Nice work there Rhys, and thanks for sharing about the chilli chemicals, I also learnt the hard way though not as bad as that 🙂

  12. In this post you mention the use of “glue bend” to discourage ants. Would you please explain what it is. thanks,

    1. Ah bother, a typo Terry, and should be glue band, a sticky strip around the bark to stop insects like ants moving up and down

  13. hi,
    is there an answer to the seaweed question? I am very interested into understand using how to use seaweed as a compost/mulch. thanks

  14. I am so excited about my 2nd year of no dig! the beds are looking far better with a lot less weeds. I have now got a polytunnel so can follow your propagation advice and plan to do better this year having plants ready for interplanting through the year. In Ireland I find it hard to get the potato varieties you recommend and a lot of online sources sell out quickly but I have casablanca and charlotte which did really well last year.
    I have asparagus crown in pots from seed 2 years ago any advice as to when to plant them out?
    My main problem is sticking to the sowing time line I always tend to plant too early!
    My homemade compost is very wet as it doesn’t have a lid, any advice as to improving it or should i just spread it anyway?
    Lovely to see the pictures Charles very inspirational and I really hope to try more overwintering this year. Thanks again for all the advice

    1. Hi Chris and well done.
      Check out Patch Seed Potatoes in N Ireland, organic too.
      I would plant the asparagus any time before end of March.
      Spread wet compost to allow air get to it, better than leaving in a heap.
      Watch those itchy sowing fingers 😀

  15. Potato varieties.
    Good to hear your thoughts on this Charles. I regularly grow Swift in my polytunnel for really early potatoes. It is ideal as the hauls is very short and does not flop over the beds. I usually harvest the first reasonably sized potatoes about 10 weeks after sowing. I think the thrill of new potatoes masks any lack of taste. But this year I will pay more attention to taste and maybe try a few Dunluce in comparison. My preference is for waxy not floury. Sounds like Epicure is floury.

    This year I am trying a different variety outside Vitabella – purchased at the Hampshire Potato Day at Whitchurch at the end of January. Said to be blight resistant, waxy and keeps well.

  16. Was I wasting my time?
    Oh dear last week I was not sure what to do. It was time to mulch the beds where potatoes and beans and sweet corn will grow this year. They had quite a few fallen leaves on the surface mainly oak and hazel. My dilemma was … do I clear them or just put the very well rotted home made compost on top.
    My fear was of leaving leaves and encouraging slugs as I had some potatoes badly affected by slugs last year. Well I cleared the leaves off three beds but I still have three to mulch so what is the thinking on this please.

    Ps I have well drained loam over chalk and the beds have been established for around seven years.

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