Mid May 22 many new plantings, make lots of compost, my trials of propagation and other composts

A brief update at a busy time of remarkable growth. No dig is a huge help in keeping up to date, most notably because there are fewer weeds to deal with. Nonetheless remove any new weed growth you see, both annuals and perennials.

We just received a wonderful 16 mm/0.6 inch of rain overnight 14th/15th May and there could be more to come. Prior to this the weather has been dry and slightly warm with no frost. Now in this area and I hope for most of you, there are no worries about freezing at night. You can transplant anything.

To save time writing this, I am not labelling my photographs and instead give descriptions in this text. Below are my trial beds 10th May and then four days later, with the no dig bed in front and dig bed behind. Many plantings look quite similar except for the multisown onions, beetroot and spinach. We are harvesting lettuce every week, the radish and turnips are all harvested, and second plantings are in place of beans between fennel, and celeriac between spinach and potatoes.

I’m giving a talk tomorrow evening 16th May at Wareham in Dorset, all about No dig and making your  life easier in the garden.

  1. Sowing

There is less of this for a while.

If you have not already sown them, you can sow chard, spring onions, lettuce, beetroot, carrots, and any brassica for the autumn. Possibilities include Brussels sprouts, cabbages for hearting, kale, cauliflower to harvest in autumn etc. Below left are cabbage and Brussels in cells slightly larger than my CD60.

While it’s possible now to sow purple sprouting broccoli, I prefer sowing mid June, which means you transplant early to mid July after or between first plantings. Say lettuce, broad beans, carrots, salad onions.

Sow basil, cucumbers for outside planting (middle photo is one year old seed of outdoor cucumber), courgettes, and squash for summer cropping. It’s getting late to sow winter squash unless you are in a warm climate. There is still time to sow sweetcorn and celery, but it’s too late for sowing celeriac.

A big sowing this week, if you have not already done it, is summer beans. This can be any kind of climbing beans, and any kind of dwarf French beans will start nicely now, also direct sow outside because of the warmer than usual conditions.

There is still time to plant potatoes, as soon as possible.
If you don’t have it already, my Calendar is now half price at £5 only, with plenty of dates ahead of us for sowings through the summer and into autumn. Succeed with succession.

2. Planting

  • Outside: courgettes as in the feature photo, squash of any kind, chard, leeks (any time from now until July), sweetcorn, tomatoes both under cover and outside, cabbage, calabrese, cauliflower, spring onions, lettuce, beetroot
  • Under cover, transplant cucumber, melon, aubergine, basil, tomato, watermelon

Transplants can succeed nicely when small. Give a little water to each transplant, then none for two to three days, then water according to weather. The photos below are celeriac on the afternoon we transplanted them 7th May, and then eight days later. You can see that growth is slow but steady and the plants are clearly well established. To left are overwintered spring onions and on the right are turnips which we shall finish soon, because they have increasing amounts of cabbage rootfly!

Plant tomatoes

Tomatoes on the left below are in my small garden and I transplanted the 14th May, filmed by Alessandro Vitale / @spicymoustache. We are making a video about growing outdoor tomatoes, I shall take this through to September, hoping for not too much late blight!

The right-hand photo shows tomato plants in the polytunnel, either side of garlic planted October. The middle photo is cucumber plants which until 14th May were fleeced against cold wind and cool nights. I have now removed the fleece and tied the strings to wires above. My You Tube short has advice on planting with a string in the hole.

Making compost – my next course is 15th June

I hope that you are enjoying the abundance of May, in terms of materials you can add to heaps of compost. A lot of them are in the green category at this time of year, meaning they are fresh leaves and quite high in nitrogen and moisture. At this time of year I never water my heaps, see more details in this recent video. Below I am teaching Compost making at Homeacres, and was at Riverford Field Kitchen garden, where we also had an amazing vegetable meal in the evening.

Best compost results when you add sufficient brown material to these new green ingredients. Browns are quite hard to find at the moment so make a note for next winter to stockpile. They could be tree leaves, wood chippings and shavings left in a damp pile to start decomposing, paper, cardboard and soil. Photo right is one of my current heaps and I’ve just added 30L soil over the top of recently mowed grass.

Cooking up, salads

Catherine Balaam has been serving a delicious food for course lunches and on the left are Dandelion fritters, topped by a flower of California poppy. In the middle I’m with chef Gaz Oakley and it was wonderful to meet him on a course I gave about making compost. We look forward to working together.

The garden on the right is completely new in an Edinburgh pasture. Started in winter by Fred Berkmiller who is owner and chef at L’Escargot Bleu. He is passionate about using fresh vegetables in his menus, and loves the ease of no dig

Amazing growth mid to late May

The photos say it all. Conditions have been highly favourable for growth with a remarkable consistency of temperature. We have had no days above 21 C /70F in the whole year so far, and in May no night temperature lower than 4C° / 39F.

The carrots in my left hand photograph are now covered with mesh and in the 36 hours since I took that photograph, they have almost doubled in size after rain and new warmth. Middle left is a new planting of dwarf French beans, sown just nine days previously, trays on the hotbed.

Potting composts

In my latest video I show the results of using different composts for propagation. The results were not all as I expected, especially the slow initial growth from 4 mm-sieved homemade compost. However, growth was then quicker with every passing day, of multisown radish and lettuce pricked out. Photo left is 9th May, 5 weeks after transplanting with fleece over.

This was confirmed to remarkable effect in another trial of spinach and spring onion plants (see below), grown to full-size in 2L pots of different compost, and two of soil. We have been filming this and it will come out as a video within a month, and I hope you find it as fascinating as I have, to see the different stages of growth according to nutrient release and moisture retention in the different compost materials. As in the propagation video, homemade compost started slowly and finished actually the strongest.

Photo right is 100% homemade compost left, compared right to 75% same homemade with 25% worm compost.

Overview of my second trial at 40 days

There are five bases of compost or soil, lined up in vertical rows below. From the left is Moorland Gold potting compost, then soil, then 4 mm sieved wood about three years old, then mushroom compost which was hot and pretty fresh, then homemade compost about 10 months old. The front row is 100% of each, and further back are additions of worm compost. See the video for more explanation – releasing in about two weeks.



26 thoughts on “Mid May 22 many new plantings, make lots of compost, my trials of propagation and other composts

  1. Hi Charles,

    Firstly I’d just like to say how much I enjoy your videos and say thank you for being so generous and sharing your knowledge. I was particularly interested in your compost trials. Personally, I have had a bit of a nightmare this year with composts. I have tried several and 1 that I used produced mares tail seedling. an ericaceous compost I used killed a number of blueberry rooted cuttings I had, and a maple tree. And for seed sowing, what I am finding is that with many of them, the first few top millimetres dries out really quickly which fries any newly geminated seed if you spot the problem soon enough, while the bottom of the plug stays soggy and rots any seeds planted a bit deeper.
    I suppose putting lids on the seed trays might help the first issue but I sow too many for that to be practical. , To help with the 2nd problem I tried leaving one cell empty so I could stick my finger in to see how damp the rest of the compost was. But overall, I have had very poor germination rates using multipurpose composts. Out of desperation I resorted to using a John Innes No3 mixed with Coir, which has done much better, close to 100% germination across most seeds sown.
    The other issue I have, depending on the type of plant, is that after planting out my young plants quite often just sit there and do nothing for ages. I think this might be due extremes in PH. Composts tend to be neutral to slightly acid, but my soli here is very alkaline. So now I am experimenting with mixing garden soil with coir as a seed sowing mix so that the plants start with roughly the same PH as they will be planted into. Fingers crossed!
    Thanks again for everything you share with us

    1. Hi Michele
      It’s a pleasure to share and I wish I could help more. I’m almost incredulous at how bad some of these products are, almost like the people don’t really care. And I suspect, they have little knowledge about growing plants.
      From one or two conversations with producers, it sounds like they work a lot from fact sheets about nutrient status for example. Therefore your comments are valuable and I salute you for all those investigations, which you should not really be having to do! Best of luck ongoing.
      I’m doing another Compost trial now with seven different ones and suspect there will be some interesting if rather disillusioning results!

  2. Hi Charles.
    Would love to hear your thoughts on a problem I’m having. Myself and my partner have recently taken over an allotment plot and have been busy making lots of no dig beds following your methods. Most of the beds are doing amazing, apart from one, the first bed we made. We spread a thin layer of horse manure, then cardboard topped with compost ( same compost as the other beds) we planted it out and everything seemed to be doing great, but it’s now stopped and everything is stunted, and there’s a fair amount of peziza vesiculosa popping up all over the bed. I guess it’s the fungi and horse manure which has caused this? I’m not sure what’s the best thing to do. Thanks

    1. Hello Ed, thanks for this and two thoughts are
      1 Peziza is a fungus of wood, so there is probably wood bedding with the manure, and it’s taking nutrients to decompose itself. Growth should improve next year 🙂
      2 Slight chance of pyralid weedkiller in the manure, but that would deform beans, peas and potatoes particularly

  3. Over here in Canada I’ve been following your methods for 4 years now and I swear by the no dig method. Grew up watching my parents till and do hours of hard work. When I moved into my house I did this too. I live next to a farmer’s field and spent years battling weeds. Switched to no till and most of the weeds are gone. Great soil quality, easy to maintain, and low maintenance. I’ve bravely tried second plantings too, despite our short growing season (105-108 days), and had success. I’ve learned so much and always enjoy your videos and blog. We just passed our last frost date and I’m excited to get out planting over the next week.

    I moved my compost bin last year to a different spot in the yard and sadly the compost doesn’t seem to be working in the shadier spot. Will likely have to move it back into the sun. But first I’m going to tip it out and see what’s happening in there. Hope to get some good compost for fall again. I love my compost. Between eating vegetarian and composting I produce very little garbage in my house and recycle almost everything, including lawn clippings, back into the vegetable garden and flower border in the form of rich compost. Wouldn’t have it any other way. Thanks for the lessons and inspiration. I hope to visit Home Acres one day.

    1. I’m delighted to read this Jodi and thank you for sharing your joy. I am intrigued by what you say about the compost heap position, because I’ve had success in shady positions and find that most heat comes from what we put in, not the chance sunlight on the outside.
      I wonder if they could be another factor and hope that you will find some nice compost in there. Possibly, from lower temperatures it will have a better fungal quality.

  4. Hello from the USA midwest,
    Is there a certain kind of wood best to use as mulch for the garden paths between garden beds? Pine bark is cheapest for me but I’ve heard it may be too acidic. I’m wondering if that’s truly a concern or not.

    1. Hi Janei,
      No worries from what I know. It is exceptionally difficult to change the pH of soil, and addition of conifer wood or bark does not achieve this from what I’ve read and experienced here.
      I know that others may disagree but my view is that you can use any wood which is most available. Without affecting soil pH.

  5. Hi, was wondering if you harden off courgettes/ squash/ pumpkins before planting out or fleece for a few days? Thanks.

    1. I rarely harden them off but if it’s cool ad windy, I cover with fleece. Make sure their roots are moist under fleece and remove it if the weather turns sunny since May sunshine is so strong

  6. Our allotment thief’s tastes have expanded from asparagus, purple sprouting broccoli and tulips (left piled up by the side to die as I presume he was disturbed) and he has now moved on to pea shoots. Unfortunately these were Alderman peas and about 18 inches high, as these are the type I think you recommend, do you think they still reach the (6 foot) heights I had hoped for? I have just popped in my second batch and I am wondering if they are all doomed or will they just be a bit bushier?



    1. Ah poor you, what a miserable thing.
      They should recover to grow almost full, especially at this time of year. Whereas your latest sowing may not reach full height because they are programmed to flower from the middle of June, best of luck

  7. Slugs vs fungus conundrum: I’ve switched to no dig this year and I’ve been very pleased with the decreased slug and sow bug damage as well as no weeds! However, I’ve always mulched to prevent fungus from soil splash-up during rains. Without mulch this year, I’ve had a lot of fungus problems despite less rain than usual. Is more time fighting fungus vs fighting slugs a trade-off I just have to accept with no-dig? Love your content, thank you!

    1. Hi Katie, I can’t imagine what your fungus problem is! I’m not aware of any such trade-off because of plants being generally healthy and strong with no dig. In my book, most fungi are beneficial and we need them for healthy soil life and healthy plant life. Hope that helps.

      1. We typically battle septoria, early and late blights, and plenty of other fungi which often infect via soil splash here in the American South. Glad to hear you don’t have a problem with them!

        1. Oh dear. We have late blight during any summer which is wet and warm, but it arrives on the air and not via soil splash. For Septoria I’m not so sure and I’m intrigued by your comment, I shall try some mulch around celeriac to see.

  8. I have been learning so much from you for about three years now. Thank you! We took an allotment last February in Northern Ireland and turned pasture into a productive veg garden using no dig – cardboard and compost. I lost all my tomato plants grown from seed to to pyralid in commercial compost but had few problems with pests other than cabbage root fly. This year however I’ve been disappointed to have almost all my transplants of spinach, cabbage and peas decimated by the allied forces of leatherjackets, slugs and flea beetles, the leatherjackets being the most destructive.
    I’m assuming the difference this year is because the compost I used last year was sterile,
    so not containing pest eggs. This year I put composted horse manure on top without digging. I rummaged around and disposed of up a lot of leatherjackets and I’ve put down nematodes for the rest of them. Gardening friends are telling me that digging at the start of the season would expose the pests such as leatherjackets to birds. I have killed most of the grass on my allotment so I’m not sure why I would have had so many of them laid on bare compost – my understanding is that they primarily affect grassy areas. Any suggestions would be much appreciated!

    1. I had this once, after a particularly mild winter. And every spring we suffer a few leather jackets with damage to early plantings.
      Yes they are mostly in the surface compost/manure, and you could run a hoe or rake through it in late winter if you suspect a problem. It’s not about digging up all the soil.
      The slug problem you mention suggests that the manure was perhaps lumpy and giving too much habitat to slugs.
      While flea beetles is again result of mild winter.
      Best of luck and keep removing those leatherjackets when you find them, it will improve.

  9. Hi Charles,
    This is my first year with no dig and and I am so pleased at how well my garden is doing. I have access to a gold grow compost that is working wonderfully. Thank you for all you youtube videos they are very informative and fun to learn from.
    Barry Lanier

  10. Hi CD – are you planning to use any of the ‘Crimson’ tomato varieties given that they purport to be blight resistant?

    1. I know from last summer that they do have blight resistance so that’s a great positive, and the flavour is good as well.
      I’m always trying new things however and growing some different outdoor varieties this year.

  11. Really looking forward to the compost results. Very interested in the Rye you have sown. Will you do a blog on drying, threshing, milling (all the processes)? I’ve had your rye bread at one of your Course Days and could happily live on it. I’ve just taken on a small, thickly matted allotment and hope to experiment with Rye, Teff and Millet. At the moment it has three years-worth of weed growth, sewn together tightly with convolvulus and ivy. All the old hands are saying “Poison it. You’ll never grow anything unless you do” or” Be as purist as you like after you’ve sprayed it, otherwise you’ll lose heart” or “I’ll rotovate it for you.” I’m determined to stick to the creed. Luckily we get free, one year old, horse manure from the stable opposite, and a new micro-brewery is giving me spent hops. I can’t work out whether they are carbon or nitrogen. Maybe one when they’re wet and the other when they’ve dried ?

    1. That is exciting julia and I wish you the best! I suggest you pull out the IV but everything else can launch and it’s wonderful you have those materials.
      I don’t like how people are so know it all!
      If I get some decent grain, I shall indeed film it!

    2. Julia – I took on a plot like yours two and a half years ago and I cleared it using nothing but a mattock and bare hands. Like you, we have access to plenty of horse manure from a next door stables, so I just covered everything with 5cm horse manure atop cardboard from the skips at the garden centre nearby and put down woodchips to make paths, which again was delivered to the plot by tree surgeons.

      I’m still clearing horsetail, bindweed and one other perennial with red/purple roots, but broadly now its very manageable and pretty productive.

      I did find in the first year though that the best crops were potatoes, squash, leeks, winter radish, autumn turnips. Year two I got good celeriac, celery, maincrop carrots, beetroot, garlic, much better onions and shallots, broad beans, storage beans as well. Even in year 3, I am struggling to get early carrots to germinate well. March was a total bust, April some young plants have come through but certainly nothing to write home about. Still lose plenty of onion clumps transplanted late March, but sets sown just after the Equinox and replacement clumps put out in mid April are doing fine. Attention to detail is clearly paramount, particularly with the quality of compost, to get the seasons stretched the way Charles manages to do it….

  12. Intesting to see spinach and spring onions as companion plants. Looking forward to see more especially the sizeable wormery.

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