The lovely Berlicum carrots

November 2020 avoid unnecessary jobs, ease into winter, make new beds, love your fungi

Prepare for winter with a clear mind. Beware the seasonal misunderstandings which take root from misleading information. They waste your time and cost you money. My quotes below are to give you an idea, from November’s Organic Gardening Catalogue newsletter, and I balance them with my seasonal advice:

  • Use fleece and cloches to protect swede against frost and possible snow.” Actually swede/rutabaga is very frost hardy and suffers no damage from snow.
  • Sow sweet peas in root trainers or other deep pots”. In fact, sweet peas and broad beans do not need deep modules – I grow broad beans and peas in modules just 5cm/2in deep, see the photo.
  • Salad leaves can be sown now, every three weeks, and you’ll never again need to buy salad leaves”. Actually it’s best not to sow salad leaves (for the garden) from now until February, because they would take a long time to grow into plants large enough for harvesting. September is the month for sowing, even late August for plants to grow outside, see below. Or you can sow seeds for micro greens, say on a windowsill.
  • After the first frosts leeks, parsnips and Brussels spouts can be harvested” – this is of course true, but is also misleading. Here we have harvested many already, and they are delicious. Then they become sweeter in colder weather, but if you wait for a frost, your period of eating can be truncated!
  • Give pots and seed trays a good clean” – actually there is no need to clean pots! The pea plants below left are in a 35 year old tray which I have never, ever cleaned.

My online course 1 has a popular lesson about Myths in gardening. Look for answers in your garden, don’t be afraid to try things. Notice how nature is transitioning to the different season ahead.

Slow new growth compared to strong ‘stored growth’

Daylight levels are now low, the same as in early February. In the UK there is less than ten hours between sunrise and sunset, something of a cut-off point for new growth to be strong.

We notice when picking salad every week, from the same plants, how leaf size and thickness keeps reducing. New leaves weigh a lot less than a month ago, for the same number of leaves.

Hence my use of Chinese cabbage and radicchios in our bags of mixed salad leaves. We cut their hearts and disassemble leaves. I call them “stored growth”, from what they achieved in the days of light and warmth.

Sowing dates for these autumn harvests are critical, and my 2021 Calendar hung on a wall next year will give you the reminders of dates, plus seasonal advice. We offer two Calendars at a discount. And an eCalendar too, with a Spanish version in the pipeline.

No dig – too easy?!!

This is a comment to my book and Calendar video of 28th October, from Anita Swart:

“Hi really enjoy your videos, because I am dyslexic, this helps me a lot. Have just spread cardboard to extend my tiny garden. Most of the neighbours think I have lost it. So set in their ways. Wish BBC would show something new with your method of gardening.”

The resistance to simplicity amazes me, but it seems the BBC are growing more interested in no dig. The method is common sense, good for the huge amount of wildlife in soil, and such a saving in time. The leeks and spring onions below have needed almost no weeding. In fact I have pulled six so far, from that area of spring onions, making it so easy to grow them. See the next comment as well.

Weed and slug reduction

This comment is from Neil Munro in London, who had to spend a lot of time caring for an ill member of his family:

“Over the summer I was able to attend the allotment (double standard plot about 10m by 20m) on only a dozen occasions in that time. I was able to plant, water, harvest and nothing else. More recently, I managed to get back there for the first time in a fortnight a few days ago where the weeds had outgrown the plants and were about to set seed. Here is the good bit. My partner and I spent two hours weeding, and in that time, restored the beds to a weed free status.”

Weeds are not onerous in no dig, however do pull any you see. In this season here we might see willow herb, bittercress, groundsel, small meadow grasses, sow thistle, chickweed and cleavers(goosegrass). All are annual weeds and easy to pull.

Keep pulling perennial weed leaves you see too, such as couch grass. Or use a trowel to loosen and remove more roots just below surface level. You can put them on the compost heap. More details in Module 4 of the online course.

Having few weeds affords less habitats for slugs. Plus it helps to keep the garden tidy – see how many broccoli leaves (lower old ones) were removed 30th October by Chermayne. She has been working here for nine weeks and helped enormously, plus is great company. Her aim is to find some land for growing commercially, or to work for somebody doing that.

Soil mycelia

We have a delightful range of mushrooms appearing now at Homeacres. They like the autumn rains and mild conditions.

I am not good at recognising then, but the most common is a kind I think of Geastrum, as in the carrot bed photo. It’s native to woodland edges so is presumably stimulated by woody bits in my homemade compost, and the thin cover of wood on paths too.

I found some field mushroom too, close to the wild garden edge, and enjoy eating them, but not the others.

Compost to use for creating new beds

A question on You Tube from Jack Kardzhyan, on 29th October, caught a mood. What do you believe, among all the conflicting advice? I give my answers in the bullet points, and you will find a lot of details in my new No Dig book.

“What would you recommend I use to fill up my bed? Any suggestions or help would be appreciated as I watched so many videos and got more confused because everyone says something different.”

  • Any compost is good, with lumpier quality at the bottom. Perhaps buy potting soil for a 3cm/1in top layer.
  • Walk on it to firm down, unless smoking wet.
  • Avoid soil where possible. It brings relatively little goodness or structure to the ingredients of a filled bed – which is sitting on plenty of soil.
  • It’s as simple as that. Discover more details about compost making and using in module 5 of my first online course – you can now buy sections of the course separately.

 

Edges

Grass and weeds always spread to colonise any free space, so be organised with your edges. Mostly we keep the grass edges mown, and cut the sides monthly, where grass meets path, to prevent it spreading in. Long handled shears are useful.

With new beds, cardboard is quick and effective to define an edge. Also to increase bed size if you want to, by adding path width at the edge. The photos show this for beds which are 10 months old.

Multisown harvests

You have options. Either twist out the beetroots of your preferred size, leaving the rest to swell a little more. Or  harvest them all, and larger ones will store for longest.

Leeks grow slowly all winter here so it can work to remove larger ones with a trowel, from a clump of three or four. Use a knife or sharp trowel to cut around the root edges below ground level, to avoid disturbing roots of the other leeks. Or remove whole clumps here and there, which thins out leek plants in the bed.

More planting?! And compost depth

It has been ild here and we had spare plants, so we popped them into a bed recently cleared of lettuce. We spread an inch/2.5cm new compost before transplanting. I am spreading less compost now, as soil structure is so good, and growth so strong.

We may or may not have big harvests from the new plantings – of not, they are a nice cover crop!

Peas sown now are for transplanting in the polytunnel, also in boxes in the greenhouse.

Asparagus

It’s that time of year, to cutdown the fast yellowing ferns. This helps you to pull any weeds, then spread some compost on the bed.

All is easier when the ground is more level that ridged. We put the stems into a middle path. Long term this maintains its level, alongside the compost we put on the two rows of crowns on either side. Learn more from the video embedded here.

94 thoughts on “November 2020 avoid unnecessary jobs, ease into winter, make new beds, love your fungi

  1. Dear Charles, thank you, as always for your wisdom and your love of growing. I’m planning 3 pallet bays to replace my 5 black daleks, however the only place to put them is beside a lovely old ivy and bramble hedge which feeds my bees in winter. This is where two of the daleks were which I discovered yesterday, had ivy roots thickly woven through the bottom 12 inches or so of compost, despite several thick layers of tough cardboard which had been laid as a base. Can you maybe suggest a way to prevent the roots getting into the pallet bays which isn’t plastic ?

    1. Hello Julia, and you like a challenge!
      All I can suggest is to use the compost more quickly, also that with three bays you will be turning once, a chance to remove ivy roots before they colonise too much. I think you will always have some in there, and cardboard is worthwhile, adds to the organic matter too.

  2. Hi Charles,
    I wanted to ask your opinion on liming to raise PH in order to combat clubroot. I have tested 3 beds and they are all slightly acidic (6.5-6.8). I’ve read that clubroot prefers an acidic environment so it seems adding lime would be worthwhile? Aiming for around 7.1-7.2 PH.

    My main concern is adding unnecessary nutrients in the form of Ca and Mg in the lime and maybe bringing the nutrient balance in the soil out of line.

    Quite irritating, as brassica is probably the most tasty veg fam to me 🙁

    What do you think?

    1. Does this mean you have clubroot already?
      I agree and prefer not to lime, plus that pH is almost neutral.
      Maybe lime alternate beds to see if it’s worth it.

      1. Yes, two beds I know for sure have clubroot as I lost many Chinese cabbage and oriental veg to it. They still grew somewhat but were quite badly affected.

        Alternate beds seems like a good plan. I”ll lime the most acidic bed and monitor from there. Hope it will be worthwhile come harvest time(s) next year.

        Thanks Charles

  3. Hi, Charles,

    10 years ago this year, our allotment society acquired the lease to the most unpromising piece of land imaginable – very rough pasture, which any self-respecting billy goat would turn his nose up at, on solid clay, which has areas of standing water half the year and sets like concrete the other half.

    After a decade of regularly replacing the rotten timbers on the raised beds, my wife and I have decided to do away with them and convert the entire site to no-dig with narrow woodchip paths following the slight downward gradient of the plot, rather than going across it, in the hope they will provide a degree of drainage in the winter months.

    I have built a new three-bay compost bin from pallets and we’ll be installing a small polytunnel in our previous composting area, which stood on the original black woven plastic matting I laid 10 years ago. I’ll be taking up the matting and exposing the clay below and the intention is to spread some soil from the beds we’re breaking down and then cover with an initial dressing of about 15 cms of compost.

    That’s a rather long introduction to my question, which is this…

    Rather than drive the 15-mile round trip to the community tip to dump the rotten scaffold boards which formed the old raised beds, is there any advantage or, more importantly, disadvantage to laying them on the bare clay and burying them below that initial soil layer for them to rot down further over the years?

    It seems to be a good way of locking in the carbon and reducing landfill but would the decomposition underneath the layer of soil and generous layer of compost use up so much nitrogen as to be detrimental to plant health? Incidentally, I could add a layer of fresh horse manure in direct contact with the wood before the soil and compost layers if that would help.

    Sorry this went on so long – wanted to give you as full a picture as possible. Thanks again for all you do and the information you share.

    1. Nice to read this Ozzy, sounds an excellent change.
      I am unsure about the wood, firstly because if it’s treated, best not do that. Although the treatments may bot be toxic, if there are some.
      If you are happy with that side of it, what about pulverising them to use as woody path much. It needs small pieces so as not to give slug habitats.

      1. Thanks for taking the time to respond, Charles. As far as I know, the boards weren’t treated when we got them and I certainly didn’t use anything on them but you make a very good point. I’ll see how easy it is to break down; I’m guessing not very, as most of the boards are only part-rotten. I’ll give it a go, though.

        Luckily, we have a ready supply of wood chips from local tree surgeons – they give them to us for free as it saves them the cost of disposal.

        Thanks, again.

  4. Cardboard? I pinched Steph Hafferty’s idea of leaving cardboard out in the rain to soften it before putting it down. I use my wet cardboard, which is easy to rip up, in my compost heap, Daleks and Green Joanna and am able to collect selectively ( plain brown) cardboard boxes from our lovely green grocer. I’m layering these with horse poo off the grazing and am very surpised how quickly it seems to be either compacting or rotting down. I suspect this is helped by the mild temperatures this sutumn.

    I’m considering Wrapping the Dalets in old carpets/offcuts to keep them marginally warmer over winter, and tying this with binder twine from my hay bales. Not very attractive, but with the underside on the outside it could be less ugly. I’d be interested to hear if any one of your many followers have experience of this.

  5. Hello Charles,
    Thank you for the November blog. We have just harvested cabbages to store and there are slugs tucked into each layer of leaves. Will they damage the cabbages when we store them? Any top tips for how we should get them out?
    Many thanks

    1. Yes Olly they will continue to eat them! I would trim off and eat those outer leaves, to be able to cur more off the cabbage base, and remove slugs.
      Your cabbage to store will be smaller and safer.

  6. This was a surprising reply.
    This isn’t proven, but was no dig at the start, No.
    Oyster mushroom mycelium is being used to clean toxic water ways, oil pollution and many other contaminates.
    You can buy oyster mushroom spores on grain or hardwood sawdust for £6.50 a kg, if this is mixed with more hardwood sawdust ( cheap and ready available ) or hardwood pellets ( soaked ) and kept reasonably warm and moist in plastic bags or layflat tubing, this will grow and multiply ( inoculation ). This takes 15 mins in work time. If put under the greenhouse bench, slightly shaded, you get loads of CO2 to benefit the plants.

    Your friend Richard Perkins recommends 2.4kg of substrate to 500grams of spore to grow mushrooms, but the idea is not to grow mushrooms but to grow mycelium. So you could have around 6kgs at least of very active mycelium in 2-3 weeks. If you keep adding new food ( substrate ) you could soon end up with 25kgs of mycelium, all for around £7-£8.
    The space required is the same as 25kgs of compost.

    The composting method before adding the mycelium is the same as you recommend in you videos, books and articles, The spores can be added at the first turn, or when it has cooled a little.

    On the matter of cost.
    How much has been spent on pallets of bags or bulk loads of poisoned horse manure compost, as recommended buy your teachings.
    The bag you had in your video retails at around £3.50, and many more are twice the price.
    The average grower, amateur or professional doesn’t get free seed, warmth in the greenhouse, and their time, to grow useless plants, could these contaminate the compost heap, no one knows.

    People are told to use pet waste on the compost heap, are rabbits etc fed on contaminated hay ?
    They are told to ask the farmer if he uses organic hay to feed their horses, the majority haven’t got a clue, if they buy it in.

    The Pyralid problem has been around for 15 or more years, and getting worst, yet nothing positive is being achieved, The multi national corporation’s will not change or admit there is a problem ( although they do say not to compost any and all of the materials grown using Pyralid )
    A scientific study on Pyralid found that composting at high temperatures does kill some of the harmful residues, but not all.
    Pyralid is like Covid. every body is moaning about it, but nothing is being done to solve the problem.
    I am not talking about a vaccine, but peoples attitude.

    You are running trials of contaminated compost on the soil, and it appears growth is returning to near normal. Is this because the microbes are working or the roots have found the clean soil? Will the compost be totally safe when used.

    My idea may or may not work, but we need to address the serious problem we have, and to be honest I’ve not seen or heard of any others out there. This is giving growing a bad name, and costing everyone time, money and food.
    You have a widely respected voice, and a dominant brand and following. I would have thought you would have been a little more interested, as most of the reply’s have been pretty negative, for someone who tries to think out of the box, and breaks the old myths.

    1. Haha this is not an answer I expected either.
      My worry is not whether it works – it well could – but as I wrote, the practicalities.
      First to know if there is the problem, four week bioassays and before spreading any, with not everyone having space for an extra pile.
      Then the cost and time needed.
      I hope you will set up a trial to demonstrate, over say a year, so we can all see how it works, that would be really helpful.

      1. Pretty much as expected.
        If its not Charles Dowding’s idea, then its bad.
        Cost runs through your replies.
        When is cost considered when promoting books, calendars, courses and online courses, writing for Which, appearances on TV and numerous articles, and pay per click on YouTube.
        Like most of the so called guru’s, the attitude is what’s in it for me.
        I don’t have any problem with Pyralid.
        My intension was to try and find a solution for the hundreds if not thousands out there that has. There is no glory, or financial gain for Me, by submitting an idea, to someone that is preaching about the dangers of Pyralid,
        Actions speak louder than words.
        Talk is cheap.
        My idea was to put a viable solution out there for fellow growers.
        Sorry I have wasted my time

        1. Hello David,

          I don’t quite get why you are getting rude. I think Charles is doing a lot of trials and clearing up myths. He can not test everything single handed and not everything that is brought to him as a possible solution. Maybe he one day will test exactly that.
          Please remember that Charles makes a living from selling books and produce from his garden. These books help many people produce more of their own food and he also provides lots of information for free.
          He did not say that your idea could not work, he said that it might not be practical for everyone and that he is interested but that he won’t do a trial as of now. He suggested maybe you do it as it is your idea an you seem to know exactly what to do.
          You say talk is cheap but at the same time you expect someone else to do your suggested actions instead of doing it yourself. What’s stopping you to do the trial yourself?
          No need to blame someone for not jumping into every trial suggested.
          I guess if you would do a trial and provide your results it would be another thing.

          He does a lot for the gardening world and noone can change the world alone.
          I think it would be appreciated if we all share our experiences and suggestions in a calm and respectful manner.

          So please have a nice day and weekend everyone and keep on gardening, in whatever way you choose for yourself.

          Kind regards
          Laura

          1. Thanks Laura, nice positive comment and the best outcome will be when this poison is banned, which I look forward to 🦉

  7. Hi Charles.
    Your thoughts on a idea.
    I have been studying the growing of mushrooms and mycelium’s, could these be introduced into a heap of contaminated horse manure to kill the Pyralid.
    The label states Registered Crops:
    wheat, barley, oats, flax, canola, forage grasses, highbush blueberry, low-bush blueberry, strawberry, sugar
    beet, rutabaga, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, balsam
    fir, Christmas tree plantations, shelterbelts, poplar and
    their hybrids, non-crop uses, rangeland and grass
    pasture
    Mycelium’s break down any organic materials to carbon, and most herbicides and pesticides are organic based so some organic crops are not effected.
    When growing mushrooms the mycelium populates the growing medium, but does not destroy it as in spent mushroom compost.
    Mycelium is being used to neutralize oil pollution, and there are 3 strains that have been found to break down and eat plastic waste.
    If it works, contaminated ” Organic ” compost could be added to the heap, not the best use but would mean you would be not throwing away a expensive product.
    As you can see from the label list it can be used for straw and hay as well as many edibles, “not harmful to humans”, but go to hospital if ingested?
    Love to hear your thoughts.

      1. Thanks for the reply Charles.
        I know this isn’t the answer, banning the products is.
        But many people on here have spent loads of time and money on contaminated products, and as we all follow the principle of reusing and cutting down waste, and giving back to nature, this could be a way of doing this.
        Your method of spreading on the soil and using the microbes to kill off the harmful effects is good, but this method of using mycelia could speed up the process, and remove the need to move it several times. Adding about 1 inch of this to already established beds, combined to microbes already present, could make it safe and fully usable, IMO.

          1. Paul Stamets has been experimenting and regularly using oyster mushroom spores on several different pollutants, and it is a very fast grower.
            We would have to heap the material as per the usual compost, and introduce the spores when the heap is 20 – 25 degrees. Place the spores in at around a foot/ 30cm deep. The medium needs to be the same as normal compost, damp but not wet, and may need watering if it appears dry, basically the same as good composting.
            It should work along side the normal microbes in the heap, but more quickly. Depending on the time of year, it could take 8 – 10 weeks to fully colonize the heap, and when the activity slows down, the compost should be cured.
            As quoted (Whether it is waterways, soil or even radioactive contaminated areas, the powerful use of mycelium to sequester contaminants, is another amazing feat from nature).
            The spores of oyster mushrooms are ready available on sawdust or grain. The more you use the quicker they grow, and if used in 2 separate parts of the heap even quicker when the join forces.
            Wouldn’t recommend eating any mushrooms growing on the heap, to be safe.

          2. Thanks David, all sounds possible.
            And expensive!
            Buying the spores, time needed to organise and administer the process, the space needed. The hope that it works 🙂
            It is wrong that chemical companies are passing these costs to us, not to mention the problems caused before we can even manage to do something like this. For farms operating on shoestring budgets, this is another financial tipping point, however welcome the result may be.

  8. Hi Charles
    Your garden is beautiful. I have had quite a good first summer of no dig, indeed veg growing! What do you do with chard and chicory through the winter? I cut all my chard down to about 2″ when it was looking raggedy and it has re-sprouted with lovely fresh leaves – can I keep this going through the winter do you think? Chicory – I just keep picking outer leaves and getting rid of any rotting material and it’s looking good. In Norfolk we have had 3 or 4 light frosts so far.
    with many thanks

  9. Hi Charles – I’ve enjoyed your books and youtube videos a lot!

    Have you used Beauveria bassiana based insecticides before? I’ve seen a packet on ebay for £10 from the USA and was considering them for white fly on my kale.

    You inspired me to get started with my veg plot tis year. I have really enjoyed it.

    https://postimg.cc/gallery/nzhmM4m

    The only minor setback so far has been the local council green waste supplier’s liberal use of word compost (more wood chippings and plastic!)

    1. Hi Alex, well done, and I have not tried that product.
      Green waste compost varies so much, and yours sounds not brilliant, ask if they can screen it more eg 10mm sieve not 15.

  10. Hi Charles – I came on one of your day courses at Homeacres years ago and as an experienced gardener was delighted with so much that I learnt! During the lockdown we got some first time growers started on mini no dig beds in a community orchard in Horsley near Stroud – great success and exemplar to others in the village. I have a question having just watched your excellent new ‘tools tips’ video; I expected to see you put the horse manure on before the compost……. but you didn’t. I’m not convinced my own compost has much nutrient in it – plenty of organic matter yes – so I also spread a bit of manure around before putting on compost . Could you comment please?

    1. Hi Simon and this is good to hear.
      I don’t look on compost as being for nutrients, as much as biology. However the nutrient status can make a difference and animal manures have a place. I would add say a horse manure like that either first or second, it it was one after the other. Both it and the compost are well decomposed and free of weed seeds.

  11. Hello Charles. Thank you for another helpful read. My husband and I have been practicing no dig and keeping up with your advice for around 5 years now. We recently said goodbye to our allotment due to a house move but have been lucky enough to rent a new plot nearby. Previously, we had been topping up beds with well rotted manure but since we are now starting from scratch we can’t find enough to create new beds. I’ve found a source of green waste and noticed you had used this too. Could you tell me, would green waste compost alone (on top of cardboard) be sufficient to start new beds?

    1. Thanks Annabel, and yes that can work. I would start asap and fill the beds before Christmas if you can, so the compost matures more and perhaps attracts soil organisms and microbes, by spring.

  12. Thank you for your inspiring no-dig gardening! I am building soil up in new-ish raised beds and improving as we go. We built raised beds with a lining between the raised bed and soil underneath because the soil is riddled with marestail. Infested, one might say. I live in Seattle, WA, also zone 8A!
    Perhaps I should have attempted to weed them out for a few years before building the beds, but I was impatient. However, the area was a peat bog, actually a former salmon stream destroyed in the 1930’s by the Army Corps of Engineers to build houses. We planted asparagus, and while it competes with the marestail (that I pull/dig repeatedly throughout every season), the abundance is astounding. 10 crowns and easily 14 kilos of asparagus yearly for about 10 years now.
    So, if you have any tips for controlling this “weed”, I would appreciate the advice. I would prefer no liner between the underlying soil and the vegetable beds, but can’t see how to remove enough roots to make it work.

    1. Hi Bibi and thanks for your comment.
      Your marestail sounds difficult, and it is a pity to have that lining between soil and bed.
      I don’t have a tip except regular removal, also to cover the sides of your bed(s) with say regular application of cardboard, or black plastic, to weaken the marestail around your cropped area.

      1. I was born and raised in Seattle in the Wallingford/Greenlake District. Our soil was very light there I seem to remember.

  13. Hi Charles, this summer my tomatoes and melons in the greenhouse were growing well and were about 1m high when I noticed that the tops looked like they had been attacked with a blowlamp! It was similar to on-line pics for aminopyralid issues. Although we were having a very hot spell I had not seen anything like this is 60 odd years of gardening, so I assume it was herbicide damage. The suspects were the growbags or the tomato feed I was using. After pruning and a change of liquid feed I managed to get full size plants but the abundant fruits were smaller than normal. Now I am clearing the greenhouse what should I do with the growbags (still not sure they are innocent) and plants? Can I compost them or should I dispose of instead.
    On a general note this has shaken my love of gardening (especially now I am a late convert to No Dig) because I do not see a way of buying compost without paying for very expensive alternatives or risk the disappointment of losing crops and trying to dispose of the compost.

    1. Ah this is so bad and probably is pyralid. Clopyralid from lawn weedkillers.

      Sickening and I understand your worries. I would not put that compost in your heap but it can go on soil where microbes will decompose it. The dose is mild since you got a harvest.
      I would not compost the plants.
      Yes there are few totally safe composts, but many good ones that carry some risk.

  14. Hello Charles and all, I received your book last week and am slowly poring over it with relish. I have been an amateur gardener for many years and a convert to No Dig and have started to prepare my veggie patch based on your no dig method in ready for next Spring. I am so looking forward to seeing what happens next Spring and going forward. I live in the French Alps at 710m altitude and have a new build garden 2 yrs old and its in a windy site. Any tips on growing tomatoes and sweetcorn next year under such conditions? Thanks

      1. Can I recommend House Bush tomatoes from Real Seeds? They grow beautifully in pots and were apparently originally from Russia and so likely suited to the Alps.

  15. Hi Charles
    My wife and I run a 500m2 no-dig allotment and this year in the annual local borough council allotment competition, out of approximately 800 plots ours was awarded first place.

    Since converting to no-dig (started almost six years ago) we’ve noticed a huge increase in fungal activity, worm population and general soil biodiversity plus I get more time now to sit in the shed with a cuppa.

    1. Congratulations Martin, what an achievement, and time to celebrate! I hope your neighbours will flatter you with imitation!

  16. Just taken over a 20m x 10m “wild” garden of plantains and other assorted weeds. A large trailer of cardboard later – minus staples and tape – and it was ready for a trailer load of well-rotted cow manure, plus the same amount again of spent mushroom compost. The tipping trailer and a muck truck have seen the bulk of the work done to create the veg beds in 2 days. In addition I’ve laid a 20m x 2m path with cardboard and wood chip, so that I can access the veg plots with the Fergie tractor.
    We converted part of the lawn to no dig last year and we’re so pleased with the results in terms of the produce and lack of weeds. I hope we can cope with the scaled up veg plot !

  17. Thank you Charles — l I didn’t know we don’t need to wash seed trays! That will save me a lot of time.

    Please could you share any experience of interplanting summer-sown chard with spring-planted potatoes? A quick internet search suggested chard and potatoes are not good companions but I wonder whether this only applies when both are spring-planted. I am running a very small no-dig allotment plot and rely on aggressive succession planting as outlined in your books. My thought was that the chard may run to seed or could be removed in May before the potato haulms get too big.

    1. Might work better with overwintered chard from say July sowing, which seeds in May.
      Spring planted chard is still vigorous mid May through June when potatoes need to be in full growth.
      Yes it’s all timing, related to space.

    2. Hi Rosemary. My long-gone grandfather was a market gardener and in my innocence as a lad I asked him what was the point of washing the pots and trays in winter as he was going to put ‘mud’ straight back in them! He said it wasn’t necessary but the men had to find jobs in the winter when it was quiet! So nothing to do with hygiene, just something to do and they looked nice on the shelves when the boss visited !!!

  18. Massive fan of your work, Charles. Have applied many of your principles to my garden, but I’m still very much an amateur. In my front garden I have lots of weeds in some borders, and I also planted phacelia as green manure and cover. Can I ‘chop and drop’ and then add cardboard? Or apply chopped material on top of the cardboard?

  19. Hi Charles,
    The photos of the fungi on your beds has put my mind at rest, as my no dig beds also have a lot of fungi on them,
    I have 2 questions, when I pulled up my sweet corn plants last month the roots were that big that I left them in as I didn’t want to disturb the soil too much, will they eventually rot down? or do they need taking out?
    And I have some fresh wood chip from an ash tree that was pruned a couple of weeks ago, is it alright to put it down now , on the paths between my beds, they are quite wide so wouldn’t need to put it right up to the edges,
    Always look forward with eager anticipation to your monthly email’s,
    Kind regards,
    Theresa.

    1. Thanks Theresa, and good you have fungi.
      Yes fine to use the ash as you describe.
      Those roots will decay within a few months. Are only a problem if perhaps you were trying to sow carrots there in March, but they should soften by then.

      1. Thanks Theresa and Charles – I had the same question about sweetcorn roots so now have the answer! And a sore hand from cutting the upper ‘trunks’ of the sweetcorn plants into small sections to compost… wish I had some way of shredding at the allotment but no power source there. Is anyone aware of a non-electric shredder?

        And thank you Charles for all your great work – the word is definitely spreading!

        Best wishes, Ruth

        1. Nice to hear Ruth, thanks, and try cutting lengthways. It is easier and exposes more of the stems to air, fungi and bacteria.

          1. Splendid tip. Now why didn’t I think of that? Thanks Charles! You’ve just revolutionized my shredding by hand procedures.

  20. A great read, thank you. However is it too late to sow peas in a box for shoots? I can give them both/either heat and LED light. Unheated greenhouse once they are going?
    Now have fennel, red Grenoble, chicory, coriander in beds near to being fleeced and in the greenhouse amongst the stems of the last tomatoes and peppers. It is a little ‘they have two chances’ ever optimistic. In upper Normandy.

  21. Hi Charles, glad to see you could use my example of no dig in ‘real world’ allotmenting!
    The only fungi on my plot (so far) is a couple of runs on mycelium in my woodchip paths (I top them up twice a year as the last 2 summers in London have been exceptionally dry). I have tried laying down ‘Gardeners mushroom’ spawn, King Stropharia, just to get an extra crop from my paths (I also run my squash vines down the paths to save space) but no luck yet. I wonder if the years of chemicals thrown at my plot in the 50’s through to the 80’s is still affecting the soil biosphere. I recently had a chat with a retired chemist who told me that the 1/2 life for some of the nasties spread in that era was up to 100,000 years!

    1. Nice to hear Neil, but a shame about the lack of mycelia.
      A shocking statistic but take heart, because Homeacres was a nursery run on chemical and cultivated lines, 1960s to 80s.
      More wood in your compost, more rain, perhaps the dampness here helps.

    2. The good news is that mushrooms are very good at breaking down such compounds. Obviously they will not remove heavy metals but Paul Staments references an experiment in Oyster mushrooms breaking down hydrocarbons.

  22. I was fortunate enough to attend one of your presentations in Norwich almost two years ago. I had tried a version of ‘No Dig’ previously (spreading cardboard in January, cutting a hole approx. 75mm diameter and planting a potato in it then covering with compost/straw), but didn’t realise about only pulling weeds.

    I then decided that I was going to follow your methods. The first problem was obtaining sufficient compost to cover 24 square metres of ground and after some research; I was able to buy 4 cubic metres of green waste for a reasonable price. I then had the task of moving it approximately 400 metres to where my plots were, but I’d do an hour or so in the morning and the same again in the afternoon and it took me just over a fortnight.

    By way of preparation, all I did was to dig out any dock and dandelions to a depth of approx 15cm and then spread the same depth of compost on top. The potatoes last year were superb, but this year, they were all covered in what looked like ‘warts’, but were still edible and very tasty (Several other plot holders reported similar problems) and most were a good size.

    Comparing my crops to those on neighbouring plots, mine are larger and look very healthy. I’ve managed to persuade a handful of my neighbours to the benefits of ‘No Dig’, whilst most of the others stubbornly persist in the joy (?) of annual digging.
    Despite the initial cost and labour involved, I would readily do the same again, as the time and effort saved this year (and in subsequent years) in digging/weeding makes it worthwhile.

    1. Thanks for t=your thoughtful feedback Alexander. You persevered and now have the rewords.
      The warts are called potato scab, often on alkaline soil. Perhaps because your compost has been eaten by worms…
      Adding more compost reduces them!
      Nice that you spread the word 😀

  23. Hi Rhys

    Growth has been excellent here in N. Yorks too, but a down side to all this consistent rainfall is that it has been very difficult to hoe off weed seedlings. There have been an odd couple of days, over months, where the ground was dry enough to actually hoe, and then be followed by another day without rain allowing the weeds to perish.

    Lockdown created a mixed situation on allotment sites – some are the best they have ever looked, whereas ours has as many neglected plots as I have seen during my eight years there.

    1. Sorry Charles, meant to post this as a response to Rhys’s post about rainfall above. Your garden looks productive as ever – nice looking carrots! It’s a good feeling having harvests happening whilst looking ahead to next year – sure hope it’s a better one for all. Thanks for the info.

      1. Hi from me too Tris. Been missing the fountain of knowledge you regularly posted under the name of Stringfellow. Great to hear from you again.

        1. Hi Jan

          Thanks for your compliment, although it’s a bit more like a trickling brook than a fountain!
          Yes, there was some great banter based around veg growing back then and I still lurk here, albeit distantly. Still love growing and learning. I hope that you have had some bountiful harvests to help with this years challenges, and that you continue enjoying the journey. Best wishes, Tris

        2. Thanks Tris.
          Yes, it’s been a challenging and mixed year. On the one hand I’ve never seen the allotments so tended as during spring lockdown, on the other we’ve been plagued with moles, rabbits and rodents. We had a very hot and dry June, including 32 – 36C for a week, before (thankfully) a cooler and wetter July. The broad beans, sweetcorn, squashes, courgettes and tomatoes were superb, runners and potatoes struggled and I’ve not managed to grow more than 3 carrots and zero parsnips with the moles. Currently, something is nobbling the spinach, lettuce and spring cabbage at ground level (cutworms? rodents?) but that’s nature and we’ve managed to eat something from the allotment every day since April, which is all that counts and I’m very grateful for.
          Wishing you luck and bounteous produce.
          Jan

  24. I was religiously watching gardeners world for years and Monty was my gardening guru. I followed his advice on many things to the letter. Injury to my back made me rethink my ways of gardening. I was unaware about your ways…. and yet I slipt into them out of necessity. No digging, using cardboard in place of green manure which requires digging in in spring. Drying pots and trays in sun and just shaking them off , not washing. Just a few examples. I’m going to buy your book to learn more… as I came by your article accidentally…I will be seeking more.

    1. Thanks so much. He frustates me by causing so much unnecessary work, and harm to soil life.
      How did you come across my writing please?

      1. Why I am doing the method of raised beds I do have a couple of raised beds that are near a fruit tree and while I don’t want to disturb the soil in the raised beds it seems to me that the roots from the trees have grown up into the raised bed and the soil is very tough and hard to work what do you do in a case like that where it appears that the root of the surrounding trees have grown up into your raised beds.

        1. Jeanie, I just hope you can move the beds, if your garden is big enough.
          Or cut the trees hard, a big prune so they feed and water less.

  25. I bought your first book in 2007 and have been following your journey since. I am so happy you are still at it and have such a devoted following.
    It always makes me smile when you challenge the rhetoric spewed out by the gardening industry to try to make us buy more stuff.
    Keep up the good work!

    1. Thanks so much Nick.
      I have more experience now than a lot of others put together, and yes I want to compost the nonsense!

  26. Hello Charles – thanks for all your fantastic advice. What are your thoughts on greenhouse beds? We’ve a small greenhouse with a bed on the south side side where we major on cucumbers (+salads etc) in the summer. We used to remove and replace 6-8″ of the compost each year, but the last couple of years I’ve just been topping it up (as per outside beds) with no I’ll effects. I guess we ought to give it a rest from cucumbers if carrying on in that way. What do you think? On the north side we grow tomatoes in pots, so maybe we could swap to the bed next year (possibly in pots on top). Not sure about cucumbers in pots though – but could make a second bed. Your advice please! Regards. Paul

    1. Hi Paul, I would grow both of those in soil.
      Homeacres has had eight years now of tomatoes in the middle bed. I don’t reckon to continue indefinitely though.
      Growing is soil is much easier than in containers.

      1. We have been growing tomatoes in the same greenhouse soil for 25 years. Every autumn, after pulling up the tomato plants, I remove the mulch layer and start watering. Then I sow plenty of (mostly leaf) vegetables. We harvest in early spring. I keep watering. In winter, up to 200 l/m2 of rain falls – on the rest of the garden, that is – so I give more or less the same amount inside the greenhouse. Then, in May, I spread compost and plant our tomatoes.
        Our cucumbers are in a separate compartment of the greenhouse: they love moist air and soil all summer. I grow them on top of decaying organic matter: they love the nutrients and the bit of bottom heat.

  27. 225mm of rain in October here in NW London – a record which completely obliterates any previous monthly measurement I have taken here. 300%+ of average monthly rainfall for October, but the no-dig garden absorbed it all well, never any standing water. Of course, the dry September at the end of a warm summer meant that there was plenty of available moisture-absorption capacity around, but still: it does show that nearly 9 inches of rain can be absorbed in early autumn in a no-dig environment.

    We too have been having plenty of mushrooms appearing spontaneously – I think they must love the moisture.

    What all that rain also shows is that, far from ‘climate chaos’ causing famines, heavy autumn rainfall can dramatically promote the growth of fennel, lettuce, winter radish, turnip and leeks.

    If the unusually heavy rainfalls in October 2019 and 2020 are ‘climate chaos’, then I say one thing:

    BRING IT ON!

    1. Hi Rhys

      Growth has been excellent here in N. Yorks too, but a down side to all this consistent rainfall is that it has been very difficult to hoe off weed seedlings. There have been an odd couple of chances, over months, where the ground was dry enough to actually hoe, and then be followed by another day without rain allowing the weeds to perish.

      Lockdown created a mixed situation on allotment sites – some are the best they have ever looked, whereas ours has as many neglected plots as I have seen during my eight years there.

        1. Thanks Charles, some great times, full of exciting discovery 🙂

          Yes, some neglected plots and little if any folk on the waiting list. Particularly frustrating when other regions have huge numbers of people waiting and not enough plots! Weed seeds blowing in aplenty and landing on clean, fertile soil….. 🙁

          You have another plot Rhys? Your record keeping has always been impressive, hope all well in London. Cheers.

      1. HI Tris

        We had a slightly different summer to you: incredibly sunny and dry spring; then summer with plenty of warmth, sunshine but also a few periods of very heavy rainfall; then this very, very wet October. I was weeding my new allotment religiously from May to July, having cleared a total jungle last autumn and manured it last winter. I actually had to do quite a bit of watering at times, particularly during the hot dry spells.

        The bindweed and the marestail taught me what you must have gone through at the start: I kept on top of them in the main, except a few patches deep amidst the potato stalks were only revealed when they were winding their way quite high up the plants. Expect there will still be some more next year, but hopefully neither as much nor as vigorous.

        This week will be my final major single harvest, namely the Butternut Waltham winter squashes, which seem to mature much, much later than the Red Kuri and Crown Prince. Going to be a good harvest though.

        The allotment site I am at has seen plenty of new plot owners restore jungles, but there are still some not really being worked properly. I must say I am a bit of a ‘Use them or lose them’ fascist when it comes to allotment plots: must be to do with fruitlessly waiting 3 years for a plot in my home borough before getting one almost immediately 300 yards outside the borough.

        1. Hey Rhys

          Thanks for your update & great that you have finally managed to get a full plot! Well done on the weeding of those perennials; if you can crack that you’ll have a much easier ride over the next few years and beyond. Light exclusion, as recommended by Charles, was my best decision to date re. my allotment and conquered the awful lawn of horsetail that covered it. I get a tiny amount of regrowth in the late spring, but a few quick sessions with the trowel/ hoe and it’s gone – getting less and less every year, so keep at it.

          I understand your frustrations with neglected plots, and if there is a waiting list I would agree. Trouble is, our local council would rather have some gold in the coffers and neglected plots, rather than neglected plots and no coins to count for the trouble!! Alas, hardly a satisfactory situation, but what can you do, other than look after yours and be friendly….?! Enjoy the squash harvest, sounds like a belter. Cheers, T

          1. Tris

            I sort of used light exclusion amongst other things: initial clearance (it really was a jungle), then laying either cardboard and manure (for beds) or cardboard and woodchips (for paths), then mostly planting up areas with crops with total coverage (notably potatoes and squash) or green manures (buckwheat and phacelia were the best). Areas which are more dedicated to flowers have tended to be where dock was more of a problem that horsetail (bindweed seems to be everywhere). The other problem is brambles (not too many returning away from the rear fence this year but still some to dig out).

            Now I’m laying out compost I made the past 12 months with site clearance material + horse manure/straw I bundled together.

            Also found that digging 3m*1m trenches down to the subsoil then filling with pollarded tree branches, manure/straw, small twigs plus the dug out soil to create Huegelbed areas is a good way to recycle initial organic material. Going to be digging two more this month to use up more of the stuff I’ve not yet finished recycling.

          2. Rhys

            Sounds like you had a battle on your hands initially, but I enjoyed the challenge and hope you have too. The sense of satisfaction once I had crested the mountain was well worth all of the effort.

            I found hedge bindweed pretty easy to eliminate, but the “field”stuff seems indestructible! Thankfully I only have one patch of the stuff and keep it in check.

            Interesting idea with the Hügel beds; good work.

            There was no reply tab after your post, perhaps we’ve used them all up?!!

          3. Tris

            The way I approached the jungle was to set achievable targets against realistic timescales: so it took me 10 weeks to clear the site and sow part of it with hungarian rye (good weed suppressant) + create the two Huegelbeds; I tended to do 1.5-2hrs a day often as that is sustainable and doesn’t give you serious muscle ache.

            Then I spent 2 months laying down cardboard, manure and woodchips on 100sqm, again doing about 2hr stints. During that period the area I didn’t cover with cardboard/manure (85sqm) regrew back so at end Feb 2020 I had 100sqm looking good and 85sqm needing clearing again.

            Then from mid April to end July I was reclearing the regrown area, laying paths there; sowing, planting and weeding the growing areas regularly; and doing watering whenever necessary. I was weeding the growing areas every 2-3 days then as regrowth was vigorous and there was plenty of it.

            From August to end October, I was pretty much harvesting crops, doing some weeding of the growing areas (much less vigorous weedgrowth), continually digging out dock regrowth from the areas where I’ve put perennial flowers and once again I’ve got two beds which have regrown weeds where I had piled up hazel pollard material still not used up in Huegelbeds.

            It’s an approach I’d recommend to any newly retired person/couple as it gets you out of the house regularly, keeps bouts of energetic activity within sensible bounds and doesn’t leave you tired at the end of the week.

          4. Sounds like a very sensible strategy Rhys, particularly given the size of your plot; larger than mine. Dividing a plot in to manageable sections is a sound approach. Covering three fifths of my plot initially with sheet plastic, and digging over the remaining two allowed me to enjoy the buzz of raising plants and the pleasure of the end result, whilst learning about growing and maintaining a plot. I then gradually rolled the covers back one or two beds at a time and slowly expanded across the plot – worked well for myself as retirement is still some way off! At the beginning of the process it did raise quite a few eye brows at our site and some frowned upon it, not really understanding the motivations for that particular method. Eventually though the proof was in the pudding, and several of the more sceptical allotmenteers congratulated me, with even the sourest accepting my work ethic. Some of the others had given up their plots any way! So, the method is a sound one, but to anyone trying it, do be ready for some resistance initially – ride it out and you’ll be fine.

            Since then I’ve added two greenhouses, six large compost bins, sixteen cordon fruit trees with frame, and a water collection system is planned for this year – great fun and the produce is delicious and health giving.

            If it’s ok to ask Rhys, what happened to your other “nifty-fifty” plot – are you still tending that as well? Looked great.

  28. Thank you for this excellent blog, Charles. I watched the last Gardeners’ World in the series last night and once again all the unnecessary stuff was being parroted out. Coincidentally, it has been years since I washed all my pots and trays, because I was too lazy. I never had any problems with disease. Now the only things I wash are propagator lids, to let more light in. Also Rootrainers, who needs them? I grow my broad beans in biggish modules just in case the weather is a bit naff in sunny Manchester.
    Hoping to fully convert to No Dig next year. (I can’t get into my allotment shed for all the cardboard)!
    Thank you again and best wishes.

    1. Hello Linden and thanks for this. Isn’t it amazing how uncreative the media can be!Good you found the simpler ways.
      I wish you success with the conversion 🥦

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *