November 2021 make compost, sow broad beans, soil and compost biology and weed mulch, clean brassicas

The change of clocks is matching a change of weather, and in both senses it’s now wintry more than autumnal. Follow my tips below for a last few sowings, making more and better compost, and enjoy the photos of soil microlife. So much life, and we increase it with no dig.

Maybe you can make it to Street on Saturday, for my latest talk about no dig. And I am speaking at the Agri Festival of Mauritius, November 11th-12th.

Making compost

It’s fantastic how much interest there is in making compost. They are always popular videos, see my latest one and also you can access them all in this compost making guide of all my videos on the subject, from Retrieve.

Autumn sees a nice balance of green and brown materials. Often it is too wet and we add a few extra woody materials to balance that. Tree leaves are good, especially if you can chop the with a lawnmower. Adding dry paper helps too.

Propagation

The years last sowings, or perhaps one should say they they are the first sowings of next year. Some people do say that the gardening year finishes in September. There is still the chance to transplant vegetables for salad leaves which you sowed earlier. You can also sow garlic still, outside or undercover.

My main sowings now are broad beans to transplant after a month, and  peas to transplant under cover, for harvests of pea shoots through winter into spring. The pea photo below was taken in March, not now, we are sowing today into my CD60 trays, more details about them here.

Pests and weeds

We shall soon see extra damage as pests grow hungrier. I have bird netting in reserve.

One good thing about winter is that bindweed does not grow. Hence there is no point in mulching now with say cardboard against bindweed, although now is a good time to cover other weeds such as grasses, chickweed, bittercress and nettles. See my no dig online course and also my no dig book.

Multisowing

Many of you now know these wonderful combinations and possibilities.

I was amazed on Twitter to see photos of celeriac grown three in a clump, and they were of respectable size. There is more to discover!

The world under our feet

When I see these photographs of so many micro organisms moving around in the soil, it reinforces my desire to interfere as little as possible. The photo on the left is from the bed I dig every December as part of my two bed trial. Its contents are well separated, compared to the photo on right of the no dig bed. You can see aggregation of soil into small lumps (soil structure) which ensure drainage and aeration. The glue for these lumps is based on carbon and originates I believe with the sheaths of old mycorrhizal fungi sometimes called glomalin.

The difference in growth between these two beds is less this year than previously, and I think it might be to do with having removed the wooden sides. Possibly this has allowed more fungal reinvasion of the soil, from pathways where the soil is super healthy thanks to mulch of old wood chip.

The beds are 1.5 x 5m and see details in this page of my website.

Autumn vegetables

So many plants are coming to fruition. Fennel is just three months since sowing, see my online lesson about that, the cabbage are five months. Endives are star performers at this time – we pick some of outer leaves and leave others to make lovely hearts. Links are to lessons in my online Seed to Harvest course.

Le Manoir

It was a pleasure to catch up with old friends at Raymond Blanc’s hotel and restaurant in Oxfordshire. The occasion was a launch of Anna Greenland’s new book, Grow Easy which is excellent for container growing and small plots, using organic methods. She was head vegetable gardener at Le Manoir for three years. I also met her successor John Driscoll, who showed me the results of the rocket composter. It’s not working brilliantly, partly because of the large amount of oil in kitchen wastes which emulsify particles in the compost, reducing flow of air.

It was great to have a chat with Raymond, who explained about his new courses next spring: maybe I shall be teaching about no dig on one of them. He is passionate about soil, I respect him for that alone, not to mention cooking!

Grow your own #nodigforlife

It feels like I’ve spent my life around the edge of things and not done enough to prevent environmental destruction. We campaigned in the 1980s against use of poisons in farming, thought we could make a significant difference. But look now at the amount of stronger chemicals being applied to farms and gardens.

Then last weekend we saw this comment in the Financial Times and it helps me to see that more is happening than I realise (this is his wildfarmed project). And now it absolutely needs to happen because for example of the massive increase in fertiliser price. We are starting a campaign with this hashtag #nodigforlife, wanting many to make the small difference. Do use it. No dig keeps carbon in the soil for example. which makes it interesting for teenagers I hope.

 

52 thoughts on “November 2021 make compost, sow broad beans, soil and compost biology and weed mulch, clean brassicas

  1. Hi Charles,
    Fed up with digging I’ve decided to start my no dig journey down the allotment. Last week I put 14 barrow loads of horse manure over part of the plot to make a 2-3″ deep layer. It was already cultivated so I figured it would be enough.

    I mulched some of it with wetted newspaper because I had quite a bit to hand and thought the worms may appreciate it!

    Earlier in the year I tried to sow swede direct to the soil(it’s clay) and the result wasn’t great – the seedlings got lost amongst the weeds that also appeared. I tried a second sowing in to a layer of compost and the result was better with noticeably fewer weeds too. That really was the catalyst for giving no-dig a proper go.

  2. Well my husband has been dismissing and scoffing at me all year after I said I wanted to start “no dig” on our allotment and up our game in making compost. In fact most of the men on the allotment just raised their eye brows at me! I tell them all about your place and that you are my guru.
    I got hubby to build me three compost bins from pallets and old pieces of scaffold. I fed the bins with a layer of green then a layer of brown etc and we are just using the contents, now, which are so brilliant. I caught my neighbouring allotment holder asking “is that your own compost?” To which my husband replied “yes, I’m quite surprised, didn’t think it would work as well as it has!”
    We are both getting older and after retiring earlier in the year hubby and I are struggling with the allotment with health problems. I think he’s coming around. I have even been asked about “no dig” by other allotment holders, I must say they have all been female though. I think it’s going so well that I think I will convert many down on the allotments.
    Thanks Charles for all the information, I have your Diary, love your videos and updates, all brilliant 😊
    Hope you will be having open days next year, would love to see your vegetable garden.

    1. Hello Joy and thanks for sharing this.
      Those men sound sexist if I may say, and well done for holding out. I notice similar and it’s part of our society.
      Results are the best evidence and I love that your compost is nice.
      We plan an open day 4th September Sunday, and one in late May I hope, as part of village open day if they are less concerned about C19, we shall announce it here. I look forward to meeting you 🙂

      1. I look forward to meeting you to. Hope the May open day happens as not sure I can do the September as hubby sings in a Sea Shanty group and he’s booked that weekend in Devon, although maybe he could drop me off!

  3. Hi Charles,

    As we used a lot of homemade compost, will you do anything when quite some mycelia are fruiting on the planting areas? Some of my beds have mushroom parties, and I don’t know if I should let them be there or send them into the compost area? Thanks for your advice!

  4. Fall in Oregon provides an abundance of fir and cedar needles mostly in my driveway. Can I use these in the paths between my vegetable beds without impacting the no dig beds?

    1. I am unsure Nancy, but would if it was me.
      Even better, I would stack them in a heap now to use next year, and then every autumn use the old half-decomposed needles and make a heap of new ones.

    1. I see no need for them Kim, except in the very rare event of damaged soil. They break fungal networks. Soil for new plantings should be firm not loose.

  5. Hi Charles, I’m going to be making up some more beds this winter on ground that is currently covered in nettles and brambles, quality of soil beneath is stoney and shallow.
    Once I’ve cleared it and removed roots I have soil available that I have removed whilst building a shed,Wallies compost and my own homemade compost.
    Just reading this newsletter you say you wouldn’t bother with mulching with cardboard at this time of year for bind weed.
    Would you suggest I still use it for these beds and in which order would you layer the materials I have.
    Many thanks 👍

    1. Andrew, hard to say without seeing. But if you have dug out all the nettle roots, it sounds like there won’t be many plants growing there and you have not mentioned couch grass. In which case you can rake level, spread your soil, and if your home-made compost has mini weed seeds I would lay it second.

  6. Hi Martin
    Scroll up to the “Making compost” section of this blog and click on “latest one” and watch the video – Charles gives an outline of when he has turned the compost and when it will be ready to use.

    1. To clear up any confusion – my thought above was a reply to Martin Horridge’s thought written on 28th October (see below). I’d hit the wrong “Reply” button by mistake!

  7. Hi Charles, I now have the long handled dibber designed by you. Quite awesome. I assume the tip will make the right size holes for planting CD60 plugs. What did you have in mind for the markings now encircling it? Thanks Sheridan

  8. Hi, Charles. Thanks for everything.I came to one of your courses a while ago and have never looked back. I’m very pleased to see you getting more involved with eco activism and spreading the word on regenerative practices. You reach a hell of a lot of people out here and though we’re all converted to an extent, we all need guidance and encouragement. On a gardening note, I’ve recently begun a plot and am trying no dig swales. (Is that a contradiction? I have, I confess ,dug a shallow trench) Swale is my current buzz word. The answer, maybe, to a lot of run off from fields and subsequent flooding , and holding water in a world which will be increasingly drought stricken. I guess they have been terracing for millenia. Yours, Rick

    1. Hi Rick
      Nice to hear from you, except for the bit about digging!
      I am not convinced by there being any need for swales with no dig, because non-cultivated soil is stable and does not erode.
      Plus when cropped beds are not straight, it’s difficult to cover against weather or pests, which takes longer with pleats, and is tricky in wind.

  9. Hi Charles, here in Herefordshire we’ve also just had our first frost, on the 2nd, last year it was on the 3rd and in 2019 it came on October 27th.
    Because of the warm autumn my winter brassicas (Ormskirk, Cauliflower all year round and January King) have all hearted and gone! I had an urging to sow some January King on July 30th, planted out on September 2nd, and am waiting to see how they do. Hopefully they’ll heart in the winter. Also my Spring Hero, sown on July 30th and planted out September 2nd, have hearted up! Last year they were planted out a month later and seriously struggled to get through the winter and do anything in the spring! My celeriac are ok but got badly eaten by slugs despite my campaigns against them. My celery is excellent and my beetroot – but only the ones planted out in June, the later ones did not do well. My garlic is up and so are my broad beans in their pots, going to be planted out any day. I’m having to learn not to grow so much! There’s only two of us and I spend my time giving veg away and sending it to our offspring! Thank you for No-Dig.

    1. Hi Clare, thanks for sharing these dates. I also just found some Aalsmeer cauliflower heading up, when they were meant for the spring and they were not sown until late July. On the other hand we have some Wheelers Imperial spring cabbage sown late August, transplanted 26th September which are fantastic and not too big.
      Good luck with growing less, you are too successful!

  10. Thank you as ever for inspirational newsletter and this blog. Courgettes gone, eating last French beans today, tomatoes still producing but making room this week in the greenhouse for all the winter salad and pea things you recommend, sown in September and raring to go. Thank you for that, which should save so much money and make winter food more nutritious and varied.

    One thing. Parsnips. Great big “Sabre” being lifted/dug (? – they go so far down I have to use the fork). I know the arguments about what compost is and isn’t, and that they shouldn’t fork, as often said. But some of these have. Could it be because I had new spent mushroom compost on that part of the bed in spring? Does smc need composting/stacking? I expect that although “spent” it’s still quite rich (the supplier calls it uncompromisingly s**t!) It’s such good value I buy lots, but can you have too much?

    1. Good to hear Alan.
      I grew a few Sabre parsnips this year and they have terrible canker!
      Regarding the compost, it could be mainly because it was a little too fresh when you spread it. I don’t find otherwise that parsnips fork when the beds are new.

  11. I was interested to watch your video about poly tunnels & greenhouses. I have had my poly for years, initially set up in a field on grass. I have practised no dig & have done so for 30 years now, I used discarded polystyrene fish boxes to plant in. Cut the bottoms off. Then I put newspapers on the grass, followed by manure, homemade compost & topped with earth from molehills. This keeps the roots warmer & the plants are raised up – better for my back. I grow 40 tomato plants, cucumbers & chillies in there during the Summer. Then broad beans, peas, Mitzuna & kale during the winter.

  12. Charles, thanks again for the latest update.
    Can you help with this, for the second year running my Swede Marian has failed to swell, not all the plants but about half. I also had the same problem earlier with Beetroot Pablo where again some just failed to swell. The beds are no dig and are topped up with compost every year. The carrots and parsnips in the same bed are fine, however both of these are sown idividually in cardboard kitchen roll tubes cut in half and then when well germinated are thinned to one plant and planted out with a bulb planter. Any advice? Many thanks.

  13. My experience of composting un a small garden, for what its worth, is just dont get too hung up over it. There are a multitude of ideas, Hot Bin, Tumbler, Wormeries etc but they all seem troublesome in various ways.

    My good old 3 bin system just gets on with it, sometimes it gets hot, sometimes it doesnt but there seems to be a massive number of worms that move in at the right time and break it all down

      1. I like no dig principles because I want carbon capture not release. But as a Rep for an allotment site I am heartily sick of every new person considering a plot telling me they plan “no dig”. When I ask them what this means they mean……no work. It’s the words they like without regarding the concept or philosophy. They expect to lay some cardboard, throw over 1 bag of Wilco compost and occasionally come and sit amongst the herbage, seed heads and bees. They also have no idea how big a plot is and not enough money to invest in mulches, manures or compost until their plot produces it….which will take a long time. I spend time explaining how I expect “no dig” to be carried out, but they will accept the plot……and daily and annoy the heck out of the rest of us. Its not the fault of the concept. But I wonder if the wording could better reflect outcomes rather than activities.

        1. Oh dear Delphine, this is sad, sorry you have to deal with this.
          The phrase ‘no dig’ is what it says on the tin. All such phrases can be misinterpreted – do you have a better term?

      2. I’ve tried them all too at one time or another, and come back to my battered daleks, almost as efficient as the 3 bay pallet system, but neat in a small domestic garden. I have four of them and use them in a long rotation, two per season, so I don’t need to turn anything, and love distributing the results. In two years in a new garden with terrible, hard soil, I have fluffy dark no-dig beds. Yesterday I pulled an 18inch mega-fat parsnip – by hand! Amazing change from having to excavate them.

  14. You make two very good points about carbon in soil CD. Research has shown that it’s the carbon content that is the rate limiting factor on fertility and soil health. Soil fungi can fix all the nitrogen plants need from the massive column of air that sits above the soil surface, they just need enough organic carbon to fuel the process. Feed your fungi!

    1. To that, a question. Your books say that leeks like a lot of organic matter. I really want to grow a lot of leeks but once again mine are pretty puny. I’ve got 4 or 5 varieties in, all multisown in April and transplanted in June. They did get a seeing to from leek moth larvae at the end of August but they’ve grown through that now. They’re about 2cm diameter at best, some are little more than big spring onions. I think I’ve followed everything you recommend but the leeks still disappoint. Most other things are doing fine: great kales – red Russian, cavolo Nero and curly; red and Savoy cabbages; good Calabrese; massive PSB; even some nice Red Grenoble in my dodgy poly. But puny leeks. Any suggestions?

      1. Ah shame, and I suspect mainly the moth, doing much damage out of sight for two key months, in the new heart leaves.
        Plus, it could be to do with the variety you are growing. For example if it’s Musselburgh, that is a late winter leek which does not put on so much growth in the autumn. For this time of year you want autumn mammoth types, including Autumn Mammoth itself, Hannibal and Oarsman

        1. Thanks, yes I’ve got Musselburgh , they’re doing best. The others are Porvite, Porbella, and Winter Bandit. I had Oarsman last year and they were even worse than this without the moths but that probably due to my knowing nothing about leeks last year.

          1. John my leeks -multi sown Oarsmen have been poor this year. It’s my first attempt at multi sown leeks. Past years trad planted singles in 15 cm holes have always been ok. I always cover soon as planted under fine mesh as we get lots leek moth here on Dorset coast. Perhaps my winter Musselburgh multi sown will be better after cold spell! Shall try again.
            Nodigfor ever!

          2. Charles
            I cover my leeks with fine netting to protect against leek moth. When is it safe to uncover them – I’m thinking they should be OK now?
            Thanks

          3. Yes fine now. I remove covers in mid September, when we have been protecting against leek moth

          4. Thanks Charles
            That’s earlier than I thought. I’ll get them uncovered – I think they could do with a bit more air movement.

    2. Hi Charles, I have some quite large field bean plants from a Sept sowing for transplanting but they have already caught the frost a tiny bit – will they be OK over winter on the plot? Should I cover them?

      1. Hi Annie, you did sow those plants early and as the large plants they now are, overwintering is more difficult because the long stems in particular are vulnerable to frost. I have never tried such a thing so can’t advise you.

  15. That comment you made about Le Manoirs rocket composter not working brilliantly is very interesting!
    We spent a lot of money on a HotBin composter and have never got on with it, perhaps because I was trying to compost everything rather than just uncooked food. It always stank and came out only partly decomposed despite following all the instructions and allowing more time than they said was necessary.
    We emptied it and refilled it with horse manure bedded on hay which has broken down perfectly.

  16. Can certainly recommend Fennel Perfektion – I’ve grown it both the past two years and its performance is excellent.

    I started a new allotment two years ago with a totally overgrown jungle.

    In year two of using no-dig and biodynamic horn manure sprays autumn and spring, the following have grown really well:

    1. Celeriac.
    2. Autumn King Carrot.
    3. Celery.
    4. Beetroot.
    5. Garlic.
    6. Onions and shallots.
    7. Potatoes from first early to maincrop.
    8. Winter squash.
    9. Soil-grown cucumber.
    10. Broad Beans.
    11. Dwarf beans for storage.
    12. Leek.
    13. Autumn Turnip.
    14. Winter Radish.
    15. Fennel.
    16. Radicchio.
    17. Cauliflower (for over-wintering).
    18. Rhubarb (established this year, no eating yet).

    As I have a home garden which has been no-dig for 7 years, there are various things I’ve not grown down there, mostly things you pick on a daily basis.

    I’m no genius, but I can read books, watch videos and get my hands dirty.

    No-dig works for the amateur as long as you focus on ensuring that sufficient compost/manure reaches the tops of your beds regularly.

      1. Dean – here’s some of them – I may need to look others up:

        Potatoes: Charlotte; Shetland Black; Arran Victory; Desiree; Sarpo Mira.
        Leek – Autumn Mammoth (I grown Winter Husky at home – trying to separate garlic from winter leeks to mitigate the two moth growing seasons);
        Rhubarb: Champagne
        Fennel – Perfektion;
        Winter Radish – Spanish Round
        Autumn Turnip – Purple Top Milan and Golden Ball;
        Broad Beans – Aquadulce Claudia;
        Dwarf Beans – Yin Yang;
        Winter Squash – Red Kuri, Green Kuri, Crown Prince (grew Butternut Waltham successfully in 2020 but it failed in 2021);
        Onion: Sturon, Red Baron;
        Shallot – Zeebrune;
        Carrot – Autumn King;
        Celeriac – Prinz;
        Beetroot – Pablo and Robuschka;
        Garlic – one hardneck and one softneck from The Garlic Farm – can’t remember which offhand, but they are fairly bog standard ones.
        Celery – can’t remember – but it’s an F1 Charles has recommended for the first crop (Victoria?)
        Cauliflower – a variety of cultivars: includes All the Year Round, Raleigh – basically five strains designed to produce heads from late February to early June.
        The cucumber I was given by a fellow plot holder so I don’t know its name, but it works a dream.

  17. A rough timeline from starting a 4 pallet compost heap to turning it into the next bay until it is ready to use would be very beneficial. I could use it as a guide

    1. Hi Martin it all depends on the volume that you are filling it with. I have pallet bays (5 in fact) as I prefer to make slow compost. I can’t get the volume that Charles does even in the second half of the year so I accept that I will fill about three or four ‘bins’ over a year and I wait 9 to 12 months to open them to spread – I chose not to turn, just my preference. So it doesn’t get very hot, 30 degrees max but does create a lot of fungi after spreading and I am very pleased with it. I could fill one a month if I had time to collect nettles, leaves etc. and would probably turn once if I did but the slow method works fine for me. I just fill, tread down down lightly, top up (finishing with a layer of manure) and cover and leave it.

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