October 2019 no dig plantings, make compost, harvests, book offer, Q/A

We pass from late summer to early winter in a short space of time, and since the weather is already making that shift, here are my tips on being ready for the cooler and darker months.

My recent interview with Joe Lamp’l (@joegardener) is proving popular, it’s a podcast on his channel.

No dig

Compared to when soil is cultivated by tools and machines, no dig offers a seamless transition from one season to another. You just keep clearing and replanting, with one application of soil food between now and Christmas, because it’s the most practical time to spread compost, after beds are cleared. (It’s still fine to spread compost at other times of year)

Soil food means organic matter, and compost is brilliant for vegetables, giving soil organisms lots to eat and convert to plant food, while not offering habitat to slugs.

If you have winter vegetables growing, there is usually enough space to slot compost between and around them. This saves time in the spring, and means your soil life is fed and covered over winter. An exception is winter salads: sometimes I spread compost before planting them, sometimes in spring after clearing them.

My dig/no dig comparison beds have had an interesting summer. The dig bed caught up somewhat after a slow start, and has better kale, but most other veg harvests are still larger on no dig, from the same amount of compost added.

Shop, magazine

All year we have been preparing a series for Which? Gardening about my small garden, see the video. Ceri the editor is calling it the family garden, and so far this year the harvests are 131kg/290lb from 25sqm/270sqft.

Which” Gardening are running a trial offer of the magazine, which this year features Homeacres garden and no dig. Photos by Jonathan Buckley.

A lot of success comes from timing: see this new offer in my shop for 2020 Calendar and perennial Diary together.

Which? Gardening October 2019, first spread of a six page article about Homeacres in October

Plant garlic

Now is the classic time, even late September is good. It’s quick with a wooden dibber, ideal for making small holes, to pop cloves in just below surface level. Then cover with the bed’s annual dressing of compost, say 3-5cm or 1-2in, depending how much you applied last year.

Rust on garlic leaves is a problem here every spring, and I don’t notice a difference between using cloves from my own garlic, which was rusty, or from bought garlic seed. Least rust happens to plantings under cover if you have any such space, even in containers.

Plant spring onions, spring cabbage

These words sow and plant…. here I mean to transplant multisown modules.
I wonder if I should use the word transplant instead of plant, to clarify.
Some people talk of planting seeds, while for me that is sowing.

We put clumps of 6-10 onion seedlings at 25cm/10in spacing, and spring cabbage about the same.
The onions went in after clearing courgettes, with an inch/2-3cm of compost spread first. Spring cabbage are following beetroot. I am not working to a rotation plan, these were the only free spaces.

New planting of spring onions, from sowings made between 12th August and 12th September

Under cover last of summer

Propagation, preparing for winter salads mostly

It’s that time, hopefully you sowed already. You can still sow a lot but they will be slower to establish in the cooler weather coming, and darker days.

I notice an incredible vigour in the home saved seed of Grenoble Red lettuce. Compare the pallet to left of the first two photos, how they grew in one week.

Making compost

Keep adding! Remember it’s fine to add weeds and roots, diseased material (see Powdery Mildew video) including late blight, and half-decomposed wood in small pieces. We even mow the wood chips, once they are already brown.


We have been picking in the rain, the first time for quite a while. Salad leaves are my main sale.

The tomatoes are for fun, and to see.


For more answers see the FAQ’s. This is a selection of the month. And people often ask about cardboard.

A You don’t need to use it, mostly.

Only if there are many weeds to deprive of light, otherwise you don’t even need it.

1 Fertiliser or compost?

Q I understand fertilizer is not recommended however, my plantings seem as though they need some supplements so should I add some fertilizer? I live in an area where it can rain 30 days straight and in the course of a year it can and will rain basically 3/4 of the year. So most of the nutrients in the soil “will drain out”.

A Don’t use fertiliser, it spoils the soil biology.

The nutrients in compost and healthy soils do not wash out with rain. They are insoluble. and organic matter holds them in place.

2 Ground elder

Q I have ground elder in a patch of herbaceous border which I have covered … no dig style … for a year. Is it ok now to go ahead and plant?

A Just lift the edge of your plastic cover to see if there are any bright new shoots, which would be yellow or even white, from lack of light.

If there are more than one or two new shoots, this tells you that ground elder roots are still alive, although much weaker for sure.

If the surface looks mostly clean, you could lift the cover, trowel out any weed roots still growing, spread compost, and plant if you wish. Pansies and violas are good for planting now, tulip bulbs too.

3 Oxalis weed

Q I am at the end of my first year no dig. I now have pretty much bare beds apart from a pumpkin plant and some garlic and onions bulbs that I have recently planted after taking out carrots. I have been having some trouble with oxalis (the purpley clover like weed) all over my vegetable garden and was wondering how to control it I’m guessing now would be the right time to tackle it as my beds are pretty empty.

A Yes mulch it now. Annual oxalis is a difficult weed, seeding before you even notice it. Or perhaps you have the perennial Oxalis tuberose whose bulbs are incredibly persistent.

In either case I would lay cardboard then say 3cm/1in compost. a:ay cardboard on your paths also, and use any wood or rough compost on the path cardboard.

You need total light exclusion with the cardboard, so overlap it well. By November if any oxalis is reappearing, lay more cardboard and stay vigilant.

24 thoughts on “October 2019 no dig plantings, make compost, harvests, book offer, Q/A

  1. I have multi-sown onions for the first time this september and they germinated really well outside uncovered. For planting out, (or transplanting), do you recommend covering them to protect from birds?

    1. Sounds good and birds generally are not interested in onions. Rabbits may be. Perhaps some bird netting, but mine here are uncovered

  2. Just a quick comment based on last three or four years.

    I have found that while growing coriander from a February/early March sowing only just about gets the plants pickable for about three weeks before they go to seed, a mid August sowing along with spinach has produced super plants which I am harvesting regularly to make fresh autumn soups (notably with carrots).

    It may be we have had dry springs here recently in NW London and six inches of rain in two weeks end Sep/early Oct just past may have been just what coriander loves.

    Interesting to hear from those in damper spring climates.

    Obviously, if the aim is generating coriander seeds for cooking, growing through spring may also be worthwhile…..

  3. Charles

    This second successive summer of drought has once again seen spontaneous underground migration of bramble 2-3 metres into my growing beds before emerging.

    Obviously I have dug the offending bramble up as best I can, but presumably I am leaving underground roots deep down?

    Is this one of those situations where you have to live with it and mitigate as best as possible (going has been very good this year) or are there any ways to stop brambles going wandering?

    1. Yes they travel but the neighbouring plants must be rampant. Are those brambles yours that you could cut down?
      If not, I see no way to prevent the rooting in.

      1. Unfortunately, they are in the neighbouring hedge. It appears that when the new neighbours cut down the stable hedge and replaced with little Christmas trees, both bramble and a climbing weed began migrating or spreading in the fence.

        Ah well, have to hope we can limit the damage with good composting and growing. This year they emerged in excellent tomatoes and the best ever endive.

  4. Hi Charles,

    It seems like a good time of the year to get some wire hoops set up over beds so we can protect our overwintered plants. Do you have any recommendations for what wire works best and keeps the cost down?

    PS thanks to your help my girlfriend and I have had a brilliant first year in our garden set up on the site of a 300yr old potager which was abandoned in the 1940s… it’s been amazing to watch the transformation and feel like we are bringing life back to the soil. Thank you so much for all your teaching.

      1. Thanks that’s really helpful. Since posting I found your video where you discuss this, and had a follow up question – can you recommend what length of wire to cut for hoops for bed of say 1m width.

  5. Always look forward to your new posts, with a lot of great advice! Thank-you! quick question—- This year of course is my first year of no-dig, raised garden areas. My leafy veggies, bush beans, leaks have done well. Beets no. Carrots so-so. But my Brassica’s, radishes, and parsnips, no!! They have been, extremely hot and peppery tasting. The parsnips, look wonderful! Beautiful ivory white, and should be tasty! Definitely, NOT!! Any suggestions as to why this has happened? It has been a very weird, year for gardening, here in Wyoming, USA. Others here that garden, have said the same thing. We have lost one full month of gardening, which hasn’t helped either. Plus not very much rain either. That being said, this is where I am. Thoughts on this? Thanks again, Charles. Greatly appreciated!

  6. Thank you for another great post Charles. Your knowledge is always so valuable. I’m hoping you can offer advice on leeks with heavy rust. I’m growing multi sown giant winter and they’ve been doing well with no losses to slugs. However, in the last month or so rust is developing quite heavily. I’m also finding some leaves rotting into a bit of a gooey mess. I decided to pull a couple, take away the tops/otter leaves and roast as small leeks this weekend. Will the rest of the bed grow to full size or would you recommend pulling the remainder?

    1. Thanks Annabel and I recommend pulling off the rusty leaves to put on compost heap.
      I need to explain this, we do it every two weeks or so because it helps them to stay cleaner and grow more.

  7. Charles – my multi sown spring onions and cabbage seeds sown at the beginning of September failed to germinate. I live in London and as you know it’s been a fairly hot September.
    I kept them indoors on a windowsill as I did spring sowings (which all germinated really well) – is that where I went wrong?
    I see from your pictures that your seedlings are germinating in the greehhouse – I was worried it would be too cold for them to germinate outside – I’d love some tips as I’ve seeds to sow and don’t want to mess up again.

  8. I have the dark purple leaved oxalis corniculata too, creeping woodsorrel. Worse than bindweed. In spite of the fact I’ve been trying to pull it up/hoe all summer it’s spreading rapidly from explosively ejecting seeds to a considerable distance and underground runners. Alas, very hard to spot seedlings against dark compost and it can flower at a couple of leaves. Noticed it’s taking over the new heather garden at RHS Wisley too. I’d never seen it before about 18 months ago. On the plus side, bees love the yellow flowers. Will try smothering this winter.

  9. What about water soluble fertiliser organic or not organic to use for transplants still in tray. Should we use it? Should speed up the process of growing, but maybe after putting them in the ground they will be not happy with not giving them anything. What do you think?

    1. Kamil I was writing about the beds and any main garden, not about container growing or modules.
      In those situations some feeding may be good.

  10. Charles thank you for another great post. I think that using the word TRANSPLANT would clarify things for those not used to your terminology and methods. The rest of us know that carrots and garlic might be the only crops you direct sow.
    In the fertilizer or compost answer you recommend NOT using fertilizer. Would this also include using a kelp foliar spray for plants that need a bit of help?

    1. Thanks Cynthia.
      Words… I would not class seaweed as fertiliser, so fine with that.
      Fertiliser is concentrated nutrients, mostly water soluble, to give rapid growth. Seaweed does not work like that.

  11. Hello from Tisbury, Wiltshire
    I’ve just laid cardboard sheets down in preparation for winter, rotted horse manure to follow.. but I had a peek under the card and have loads of slugs. What advice can you give please, shall I just continue ?
    Many thanks

    1. Hi Sue,
      This is why I advise cardboard only in year one, to kill thick weeds, more than you can weed by hand.
      I presume the card is on weeds and yes, you will have slugs next spring. It happened here in 2013, I went out at dusk with torch and knife, they slowly reduce.

  12. I too have a lot of ground elder in one large flower bed. I have been pulling it up repeatedly as best i can! I am reluctant to clear the bed and cover with plastic as it has many well established plants in it including three standard rose tress, peopni, long hedge of asters, sedums. geranium, verbena, nepeta to name but a few! Is it ok to just continue to pull up the ground elder as much as I can?

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