October 13th rain and no dig, compost making, last tomatoes, salad planting, Brussels sprouts

Autumn has brought 160mm/6.4in rain in three weeks, but thanks to no dig the water is draining away, and without leaching nutrients. Almost all beds at Homeacres have had no compost since last year, and no feeds or fertilisers, yet growth is still rich and strong. I am giving no dig workshops next weekend in Birr, Ireland, and on Thursday 24th I speak at Galleywood in Essex.

On some outdoor compost heaps we planted potatoes in August to see what would grow, and had to harvest them already because of blight – they were delicious. Conversely the outdoor tomatoes are still mostly blight free, and this week is final harvest because the flavour is diminishing fast.

Making compost

There is plenty of garden material now available to compost, much of it green and wet. Adding scrumpled paper helps balance this, also tree leaves, especially if you can chop them first with a lawnmower, to speed their breakdown.

Green materials bring heat, from bacterial breakdown. On their own they go soggy and exclude air, so it’s important to add a brown balance for keeping air in the heap. Homeacres heaps are 1.5sqm/5sqft which is enough to generate heat of 65C, from the garden of 3,000sqm/o.75 acre (one third of this is vegetables).

To turn compost heaps, or not

There is obligation to turn compost heaps, but I find that one turn (only one) speeds up the process and gives a more even compost, which is quicker to spread later on. It feels like a good investment of time, and a way to monitor the results of our work.

If you make compost in say a small plastic ‘dalek’, you can mix and aerate by using a proprietary ‘compost aerator’, available from Crocus in the UK. They are a metal rod with spikes on the end. Find more advice in my page about making compost, and in my online course.

Planting salads for winter, and broad beans soon

In southern UK there is still time to transplant salads such as lettuce, endive, mizuna, salad rocket and lambs lettuce. They will benefit from protection such as fleece or mesh, both from pests and weather. We recently transplanted spring cabbage and did not cover them immediately, then by the following morning every plant had been grazed to the ground by rabbits – they love small seedlings the most.

In these photos we planted bed one of the three strip trial: you can see the preceding beans in this recent video.

In cooler areas it can be good to sow broad beans already, but generally they survive winter better as small plants 5-7cm/2-3in high. For that I sow them here in early November.

Clearing and planting undercover

Tomatoes finished strongly here, all grown without any feeding. It helps that the soil is no dig and therefore biologically active, making nutrients more available. We simply spread about 6cm/2.5in compost in May, and then no more for a year. So for the salads we plant in October, there is no addition of compost.

Celebrate pumpkins and squash

I am judging two classes at a Festival in Bruton on 27th October. You have two chances to win £500, for the biggest pumpkin, and for the best in show – beautiful and mature. This may well be a squash rather than a pumpkin.

There are carving classes for children and excellent food available, a great day out in Bruton.

No dig Brussels sprouts

Two varieties, an early and a late one both planted at the same time. They are second crop after carrots, with no extra compost added.

No dig cabbage and find out more

We are running an offer on my Diary and Calendar for £16.50 plus shipping. The Diary covers no dig basics and timings of all work, the 2020 Calendar has sowing dates for next year and beautiful photos for each month. The Filderkraut cabbage heart weighed 5.3kg/11.5lb.

Find out more about no dig in my online course, which is receiving nice comments from participants.

And here is a nice video from Dr Neal Barnard, about the health benefits of eating mostly plants.


41 thoughts on “October 13th rain and no dig, compost making, last tomatoes, salad planting, Brussels sprouts

  1. Hi Charles, firstly thank you for sharing all you fantastic knowledge. Please may I ask … I am really interested in Second Crops and was taken with how you interplant Brussels with Carrots. I know I’m too late for this Christmas, but for future reference, when you sow your carrots, how much space between the rows do you leave, to then accommodate the Brussels Sprouts when planted out in June? And I’m guessing they would be between the carrot rows for earlier harvesting rather than later ones? Many thanks

  2. Am experimenting with ‘no dig’ . Do I have to put new cardboard down more than once or just add compost every year?

    1. Nice to hear and you add cardboard only if there are many weeds to smother. Not needed otherwise so often it’s used only in year one on weedy ground, including lawns.

  3. I am going into my third winter on my no dig allotment. It’s going well with 4 foot beds separated by woodchip paths. Getting on top of the worst weeds, mainly lesser bindweed, dandelion and dock following your advice. My question is regarding putting woodchip on the company heap. We have a free supply, which I use on the paths but it is always conifer chippings with a fair amount of green. Will this break down and be beneficial? Or am I best to leave it for the paths? I currently get good compost in about 6 months using a mixture of pallet bins and plastic daleks.

    1. Nice to hear Chrissie.
      I never suggest wood chips for beds, and no more than 3cm for paths.
      Delve to the bottom of the wood pile for older chips.

    1. Yes Ian as long as your plants were healthy. The ‘worry’ is virus which would show as bright yellow leaves.

  4. Hi Charles
    I have just seen the picture of all your winter salad planted in your polytunnel!
    I have mine ready to go in but I am having a new cover out on next week as mine has been shredded so was going to put all my salad in after the cover has been fitted, will I have missed the deadline, is it to late to plant them then, it’ll be around 21st October. Thank you, Charlotte

    1. Hi Charlotte and that is still good for planting, the only difference being the extra time needed for them to grow strong before winter

  5. Polytunnel first aid advice needed

    It was good to see the update from Charles on his polytunnel. All look good.

    I have problems, a while ago a bird made three large tears with its claws on the roof of my pt. and I mean big about 45 cm long but only 2 or 3 cm apart. Very hard to patch with pt repair tape. We renewed the patching last thursday but the heavy rain of the last few days has leaked through quite a bit.

    Does anyone have any ideas of effective patching. Overall it’s 45 by 14 feet and the ridge of the roof is beyond a persons reach?

    1. I have found similar to you, the tape comes loose unless it’s applied in very dry conditions, with the polythene tight. That is hard to do in damp weather and where you can barely reach!
      You may have to live with the leak.

  6. Hi Charles
    After attending 2 courses at Homeacres and putting your techniques into practice, I am seeing fantastic results with no dig.
    An old men’s (at my Allotment!) tale is that you don’t dig parsnips before a frost – is that correct?
    My parsnips are 16” long and I have lifted them. This was not easy to do without disturbing the soil or breaking the roots! Any tips? They are fantastic by the way!

    1. Great to hear Vivienne.
      That “rule” about frost/cold is just referring to how they become sweeter in cold conditions. But when you lift them is up to you.
      I slide aa spade almost vertically and v close to the parsnip, then lever, and pull the crown gently up. Not always obvious.

  7. Hi Charles—Such great information, as always. I have now cleared, most of my garden areas. My spinach and kale, is still hanging on even though, we have had exceptionally cold nights. My question is this, my soil, still needs a lot of conditioning.{ But I do have beautiful earthworms growing. ] The soil is still heavy clay and my plants need some air. What would you recommend, that I should consider? Just put the recommended compost on for the winter? I have plenty of leaves to add to it. Perhaps some sand, peat moss( which by some is a no-no to use, peat moss, that is). Looking forward to your suggestions. Your such a busy person, your reply’s are appreciated! Have a nice winter season!

    1. Thanks Wanda, nice to hear.
      Your worms and other life do the aeration, not sand (avoid that!! no goodness) or moss, so your priority always is to feed the life.
      Any organic matter is good, compost is the best.

  8. Thanks for all your info, Charles. Much appreciated. We’ve just harvested a good potato crop from an uncultivated bit of land. We put a single layer of cardboard and a good covering of compost (mostly well rotted horse manure) down a year ago on top of a mass of nettles and docks – yes I know we were pushing the boundaries! Some docks and nettles came through but not many. My query is should we repeat the cardboard plus compost, or just the compost? Thanks.

    1. Well done Sarah and if the docks look numerous, they are worth covering for the last time with cardboard, and compost on top.
      Then you should not need it again.

  9. Hi Charles
    I garden on light sandy soil on a fairly windy hill near the coast in north west England. Should I put compost down now or in the Spring to get most benefit on such free draining soil? Jane

    1. Hi Jane
      I think either can work, se no reason not to apply compost now but it would be interesting to leave some soil unmulched and then spread compost on it in spring. See how growth compares.
      The compost you spread now may mostly “disappear” downwards and will still be there for your sowings. Soil life will be fed over winter.

      1. Thanks Charles. I had been thinking about nutrients available for plants but not considered soil life by which I presume you mean worms etc.

        1. Yes worms and much more also.
          Fungal networks can access nutrients that are otherwise unavailable to roots.
          Soil life is incredibly complex, and very good at helping growth when we encourage it.
          I had a microscope test done of my soil, not sure you can access it but it’s here

  10. Interesting discussion about turning compost, Charles. I must say I turn mine partly because the centre gets hot and breaks down quicker than the edges, so the turning is as much about giving all parts of the heap a go in the hot centre as it is about re-aerating. I was rereading a biodynamics book by a French last night and noted he was fairly strongly against turning heaps.

    What I have found is that my compost has improved by incorporating plenty of twigs or tree prunings, even if they do not fully break down in the first composting cycle: I just lift them from the composted beds and put them in the next heap.

    I did lay compost that still had browns not fully broken down this spring and onions, beetroot and carrot absolutely loved it.

    The thing I love about no dig plus compost is that each year the garden is more fertile. Crops mature quicker, fewer losses to pests, bigger yields, denser planting possible.

    Next year I will be comparing a new previously dug allotment in year 1 of no dig with a home garden going into year 6. It will be an interesting comparison….

      1. The guy was Pierre Masson, ‘A biodynamic manual’ discussion on p71.

        I get the impression he is talking about farm-scale windrows made in late summer/early autumn, implanted with biodynamic potions and covered with straw. Farmers tend to minimise labour unless action is absolutely necessary.

        My experience this summer suggests that you do not need to turn immature compost in daleks if you add biodynamic potions ( so it may be that different approaches to composting may be equally successful as longer as you tailor approach to how you set up the heaps).

        I am tempted to suggest: initial hot composting for 2 weeks then turn once; continued hottish composting for two weeks; then addition of biodynamic potions and leave to mature.

        Probably only economic on your scale and bigger, but I may try myself on small scale to see how small a dose of the preparations is effective in daleks to make it economic for the home gardener.

        1. Often windrows are made by assembling pre-gathered ingredients left lying for 3-4 weeks in a loose heap.
          So the creation of windrow is a turn.

  11. On a neglected allotment plot I have had for 2 months, I have cleared the weeds with a brush cutter, put mushroom compost down, (all I could get and afford), and covered the 80 sq. meters with black plastic. Half the area was covered in ground ivy and the other half was one giant shredded wheat of couch grass. I pulled up the surface ivy before laying the plastic. Magpies and crows are now pecking at the plastic covering the ivy and fresh white shoots are coming through, which I pull up and cover the holes with gorilla tape. If next spring I roll back the plastic and there are a lot of fresh white shoots underneath do I delay planting potatoes and squash?
    I’m determined to get it right. Thank you for your enthusiasm and encouragement.


    1. Hi Michael,
      10 out of 10 so far!
      Just annoying about birds eating the polythene. You could also slip pieces of cardbaord through the slits they make ans spread the card flat under the polythene, to keep it dark underneath.
      I would plant squash in holes made in the polythene, late May next year, as I suspect there will still be some couch grass.
      For potatoes you can do that too, or roll it back to plant them and lay cardboard between if stil many shoots of weeds + pull those you see.

  12. Your Diary has proved invaluable this year and we most definitely would recommend getting to others who follow your amazing No Dig methodology. I’m looking forward to seeing your 2020 Calendar soon! Thank you Charles for sharing your life’s work nurturing our earth.

  13. Thanks for a great, inspiring update, as always! I must say, since I converted to no dig AND use Charles’s sowing timetable, I’m getting closer to being self-sufficient with vegetables!
    I have one dilemma in my set up, and that is that my compost doesn’t get hot, or only perhaps 40C for a few days. I still use only my own compost to mulch my 300 sq metres of growing area, with a bit of green waste compost from the local stable. The main problem with lack of heat is that seeds aren’t killed off, so I tend to spread the compost, wait a few days and then hoe off any germinated seedlings.
    My question is, can I still benefit from the online course on No Dig, even though my MO is a little different?

    1. Hi Meta and this is nice to hear. That is a good plan for dealing with the weed seeds too.
      The online course covers soil and its processes, how to clear weeds, composts and compost making, whether or not to rotate, and has two cropping examples for a whole season, for one bed or three. I am sure it would inform your gardening to have stronger results and for saving you time as well.

      1. HI Meta – Charles
        I too rarely get my compost above 30 let alone 40. Several ‘rules’ in place at the allotments (we can’t bring household waste, cardboard, grass mowings etc from home) and although I have a four sided pallet arrangement, it never gets hot enough. However, it still makes decent compost (turned once) but takes the best part of a year to do so. I only use veg waste from the plot to make it plus some soil etc., and any weeds that are close to seed I throw in a big tub of water. Two or three times during the summer I then tip this sludge onto the heap and I don’t get weed seeds as they have rotted in the slurry. Good luck!

        1. Perhaps it’s time to have a chat with the ”rule-makers” to introduce them to Charles and educate them on why you need to bring some things on site… or just clandestinely do it… what will they do if caught – throw you in jail? Greetings from northern Ontario, Canada.

          1. Greetings Garth. Unfortunately one or two moaners have spoilt it for the rest. If you don’t comply then you just get given notice to vacate your plot for non-compliance of the rules. As its a private allotment site it’s not affiliated to any national organisation and therefore one has no redress. I just get on with it but I am very proud of my plot, which I think it the best out of the 40 or so on the site (I know that I am biased but I have received very favourable comments) and the only one no-dig.

          2. It’s true of life isn’t it, a few loud negatives outweigh hundreds or thousands of quiet positives.
            Well done for having the best allotment Kevin 🙂

  14. Charles, can I ask why in the greenhouse and tunnel you spread compost at the May changeover, rather than before the October one? I would have thought life was more frantic in May than October? And I know you do the rest of the beds in the autumn/ winter. Is it something to do with the crops?

    1. Cherry we are busier here in October, by some margin and not only because days are shorter: mainly because so much time is needed for harvesting.
      Plus the compost after being spread leaves a surface with some lumps, which is no problem for large summer plants, but more awkward for small modules of winter salads.

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