November 18 frosts, new plantings, compost spreading making testing, kohlrabi stew & chips

After a gorgeous summer and early autumn, we suddenly have wintry weather. However it’s also continuing to be dry here with just 60mm/2.4in rain in October. That makes 299mm/12in rain since April, when the average for those six months is around 385mm. The deficit has been exacerbated by hot sun and dry winds: even last week I gave some water to Brussels sprouts, very unusual!

This blog/update includes a seasonal recipe from Stephanie Hafferty to celebrate the appearance of her new book, The Creative Kitchen. The answer to making lovely meals from all these harvests we have.


We have had several nights of -2 to -3C/27F. We laid fleece or mesh covers over susceptible plants such as hearts of Chinese cabbage, bulb fennel, celery and broccoli forming heads. Also over endive, rocket and mustards to maintain leaf quality for selling.

Other plants out there now survive freezing of their leaves. Then before it goes to -5C/23F or lower, I reckon to harvest beetroot, hearts of red & white cabbage, also carrots because they get damaged by slugs here if left too long.

Celeriac, parsnips, Brussels sprouts, leeks, kale, spinach and chervil, even coriander, survive harder frosts and stay in the garden. Enjoy the photos!

The salad bed below has some gorgeous endives which we shall be selling for leaf salads in November. The Brokali on right is a third crop, after pea shoots then lettuce. No extra compost added or anything else.

Chicories are amazing plants, frost hardy and sometimes hiding glorious hearts under decaying outer leaves.

New garlic plantings and broad beans

Don’t worry if your garlic is not showing any leaves, mine isn’t. Early varieties may be.

It’s time now to sow broad beans: I suggest in modules if you can, to reduce the risk of rodent and bird damage. Aquadulce Claudia is a reliable and hardy variety.

I have produced a calendar to hang up and help you keep up to speed with all these sowing dates. In the shop are offers for buying larger numbers and double packs.

New salad plantings

We are fully planted undercover: lettuce Grenoble Red, endive Aery, salad rocket, mustards, chervil, chard, land cress, kale and winter purslane (Claytonia). All these are frost hardy, but grow more productively under glass or polythene.

I grow some outside too and if winter is not too cold, they give worthwhile harvests, though slow to pick, and not a pleasant job.

Pumpkin or squash?

Hauser & Wirth Somerset laid on a great day to celebrate pumpkins, with generous prizes, delicious squashy food by Roth Bar & Grill. I enjoyed judging: the largest pumpkin part was easy, some gardeners (not professionals) brought one of 78kg, £500 to them.

Most entries were winter squash for Best in Show, and I awarded that to a Victor, £500 to her. Sold by Real Seeds here and Johnny’s in the USA, tasty to eat as well as beautiful to behold.

Q/A Fungi are good re Helen Williams’s mail

Q On the course, you mentioned growing some pea or bean seeds in horse manure to test if it was free from a pathogen that can survive in horse manure. You said to give it a month and then see how the seeds had done. I have done just that and they seem to be fine. They have grown strongly and are just beginning to get yellow spots on the leaves, which I think is due to running out of nutrients. To be honest, I’m not sure what I’m looking for so would appreciate your help on that.

A You would see curling of new leaves in the plants’ growing point, some distortion and yellowing of other leaves too, and a lack of vigour generally.

Q I have dug through an old compost pile and spread it on one of my beds. In the process, I noticed some purple fungi growing on old, decayed wood. About 3 or 4 inches tall with purple caps and stalks. Is it harmful? Obviously I’m not going to eat it, but will it be harmful to plants growing where it is spread?

A Soil fungi are a valuable part of the decomposition process, mostly of old wood. In a vegetable garden they are all good: harmful ones are rare, such as honey fungus.

Talk in Germany

I am running a day course together with a German grower Felix Hofman (worked here 2016), on 3rd December in Weinheim. After lunch Felix shows us his crops and beds, all this for a mere €37.50, book here. The photo is Felix’s market garden.

German no dig market garden
No dig market garden in Weinheim, created by Felix Hofmann

Mulching to protect and feed soil life

It’s the season for this, the annual feed. Any organic matter that is well decomposed, so it harbours less pests (slugs!) and has it’s nutrients in water-insoluble form.  Plus there may have been enough heat in the composting process to kill weed seeds.

I reckon to spread 1.5-2in/4-5cm, enough to cover the surface. Break up larger lumps with a fork, smaller lumps are fine, the frost will soften them.

I had these questions:

Q Does a 2″ compost cover gives a sufficiently firm surface for sowing the smallest seeds (eg lettuce)?

A Yes all seeds germinate in the surface mulch of compost which gradually is taken into soil by organisms. Likewise you can plant into it.

Q I you add manure to improve the bed, do you then need to add further compost to make a seed bed?

A Use well decomposed manure only, and when spread now it will soften before spring sowings, for example I sow parsnips into aged and winter-weathered cow or horse manure.

Beechgrove programme 24 October 25th 2018, quote from their pdf

Joyful progress in Scotland!

“As a result of our dig/no-dig observation over the last three years, Jim has been converted to the ‘no dig’ method, and so Jim suggested that we might try No dig on the whole of the Main Vegetable Plot next year.

The gardeners would certainly be happy as it would mean a lot less work. Brian said that he does it at Scone because they have clay soil so this technique makes it less labour intensive.

Jim was concerned about the ready supply of organic matter to put on the surface. However, if you do not make enough yourself this is readily available from many local authorities, and the advantage of using this is that it has been heat treated and so it should be weed free.

Carole suggested trying No Dig out on a totally new piece of uncultivated land as well to compare.”

Making compost

Here we still have greens – some grass and many veg trimmings, from harvests and also clearing some beds. I have been adding half-decomposed wood chips (quite fine, sieved even) and soil as balancing browns. We just finished a heap in 4 weeks, a tonne or so, took a lot of hours.

Horse manure

Do check the thread dodgy manure, covering aminopyralid weedkiller residues. My neighbour’s horse manure is usually fine but I regularly check, just sowed broad beans in fresh manure. They won’t make amazing plants but will grow enough to show whether the growing tips are true, or tested and curled. If the latter, I cannot use this amazing and free resource for growing veg, especially solanums and legumes.

Buying fruit trees

Check prices that you don’t overpay. I recommend Walcot Organic Nursery, whose one year maidens cost £16.50, for example the excellent Egremont Russet.

In contrast,  Organic Gardening catalogue offer eating apples as one year maidens for almost twice that price, £29.99, with no description of the rootstock used. I asked if the trees are organically grown and on which rootstock, received no reply after three days.

Transplanting, comment from Tamsin after a day course

I transplanted sixty small strawberry plants yesterday using your technique of just slicing the soil with a trowel and popping them in, and looking at them today there’s absolutely no doubt that they’ve taken more quickly than usual.

**TIP Check out wool twine from twool is biodegradable and stronger than jute

Kohlrabi Recipes 

red kohlrabi no dig
Kohlrabi Azur Star, sown July planted August

Kohlrabi tastes something like a mildly spicy broccoli stems or cabbage, is crunchy like a radish or turnip and looks like the Vegetable from Outer Space! The greens and bulb are edible but do peel the tough skin off first, unless it’s a small and less mature kohlrabi.

They are delicious raw and cooked in many ways including grated into salads, in soups, cut into chunks and roasted, made into ferments, mashed on top of pies, in curries and stews.

Kohlrabi, bean and red wine winter stew with kohlrabi chips

Use whatever beans you fancy, cook them first – I used Gigantes, a large white butterbean shaped bean. If you use homegrown beans then almost everything in this recipe could be grown on an allotment. Alternatively, the recipe works just as well with a drained can of beans.

If you prefer, replace the wine with cider, white wine or use 600ml vegetable stock instead.

For the stew:

2 medium sized kohlrabi (weighing about 600g), peeled and chopped into 3cm pieces

4 medium red onions, sliced

2-4 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped

1 leek, sliced into 1 cm circles – include the green top

4 celery stalks, sliced into 5mm pieces – the include the leaves if you have them

2 carrots, cut into 5mm circles

2 handfuls of fresh spinach, roughly chopped

250g cooked beans or a 400g can beans, drained

2 bay leaves

a good bunch of parsley

a sprig of fresh thyme, chopped (about 1/2 tsp, use 1/4 tsp if using dried thyme)

400ml red wine

200ml water or stock

a light oil for cooking (olive, sunflower, rapeseed/canola)

salt and pepper to taste

For the chips

2 medium sized kohlrabi (weighing about 600g)

salt and pepper

a light oil for cooking (olive, sunflower, rapeseed/canola)

Drizzle some oil into a large pan, add the onions, leek and garlic. Soften over a low heat (about 5 minutes) and add the celery, carrots, kohlrabi and herbs.

Stir and cook over a low heat for about 10 minutes, making sure the vegetables don’t stick to the bottom of the pan. Add a little water if it seems that they might.

Pour over the wine and water, add the spinach and beans and season.  Bring to the boil then reduce the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 25-30 minutes until the vegetables are soft.

Meanwhile preheat the oven to 200˚C, peel the other kohlrabi and slice into 5mm circles. Place on an oven dish and drizzle or brush with oil. Season and place in the oven for 15-20 minutes, making sure the chips are ready at the same time as the stew.

Alternatively, serve the stew with mashed potatoes (or kohlrabi), brown rice or crusty bread.


14 thoughts on “November 18 frosts, new plantings, compost spreading making testing, kohlrabi stew & chips

  1. Hi Charles, I’m pretty new to veg growing but have just moved into a house on Skye with lots of outdoor space so I’m building a polytunnel. I was planning on doing no dig but we had to level the site so it’s kind of half dug now anyway and I’ve just mulched the planting area with well rotted horse manure (which was very black – is this ok?). My question is, is it too late in the year now to expect the soil to be usable without further digging by the spring?

    1. Blimey yes, go for it.
      Levelling is worth it as a one-off which will benefit you for years to come.
      Black horse manure sounds old and fine to feed soil life and receive plantings, Deal with weeds when tiny.
      I hope your tunnel is sheltered!
      Best of luck.

  2. Charles, regarding horse manure, are you concerned about weedkiller being only in the straw, or is there concern it would be in the digested hay as well?

    1. Denise, it’s in the hay only, therefore in the digested hay i.e. horse poo.
      It’s not in straw or anything else.

  3. Hi Aileen, unfortunately I am (or my garden is) a paid up member of the flatworm society . To be honest, you probably won’t see them unless you know where to look. Leave out a covering on your bed, a small piece of cardboard, plastic etc and look under first thing in the morning. I have aussie flat worms which are salmon pink, the NZ ones are much darker. They also seem to go in cycles, hiding away for a couple of years after they have decimated the earthworm population and then comeback to eat our lovely worms. My garden is still dry after the summer and there has been no sign of them this autumn yet. There is nothing eats them so you have to collect and kill in salt water and beware some people are allergic to the slime they produce.
    Saying that, i found a massive native earthworm yesterday morning on my flatworm hunt, sooo excited.

  4. Hello Charles, thank you for the useful information about composting. I have a query: why do I never find earthworms in my compost? Or anywhere in my vegetable garden for that matter! The only worms I ever find are the little black curly ones that attack my potatoes. My garden is perfectly normally fertile, the land around too, with magnificent trees. Where are the earthworms? What is doing their work in their absence? I live in rural Perthshire at 100m above sea level and my walled garden is old, dating to the 1860’s.

    1. Aideen I wonder if you may have the New Zealand flatworm? It’s very ugly and I hope not.
      You would not find earthworms in a compost heap, but smaller and more shiny brandling worms.
      There are many other beneficial soil organisms helping maintain fertility. Do have a look on a damp night with a torch to find your earthworms, you may be surprised.

      1. I hope I haven’t got flatworm! I certainly haven’t seen any in the three years I have been cultivating this garden. Question about the worms I do find: small, black, with very marked stripes around its body, usually found curled up tightly in a spiral. Loves my potatoes, drat them, especially the pink fir apples, but hasn’t attacked anything else.
        The ground I am using was grass until two summers ago. Is this what I see referred to as wireworm?

      2. In reply to Aideen’s 1st. Nov Post, I wonder if she has millipedes in her potatoes rather than ‘worms’. Do they have legs Aideen?

      1. Definitely no legs! Small, black worms, usually found curled up in a tight spiral in the ground. Definitely not earthworms.
        I had a look at the Earthworm Society identification webpage – never knew earthworms could exert such fascination!

  5. Hello Charles, thank you for the useful information about composting. I have a query: why do I never find esrthworms in my compost? Or anywhere in my vegetable garden for that matter! The only worms I ever find are the little black curly ones that attack my potatoes. My garden is perfectly normally fertile, the land around too, with magnificent trees. Where are the earthworms? What is doing their work in their absence? I live in rural Perthshire at 100m above seal level and my walled garden is old, dating to the 1860’s.

  6. I have been shredding our tree/shrub trimmings and find they compost really well (very fine shreds from our machine). But should I be concerned because it seems you use old, partly rotted wood chippings on your compost Charles? Do I need to be concerned, or will it be ok even with the fresh shreddings? thanks

    1. Ah no no Laura, I would use green wood if I could, because it decomposes more quickly than old wood.
      Composting is about making the best of what one has, mostly I am given chipped older wood.
      Your shreddings sound fine.

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