Towards winter 16th November, harvests, no dig microbiology results, frost hardy vegetables

A principle which always works well (for me since 1982) is to mulch the soil and feed soil life, after clearing last harvests in the autumn. Any decomposed organic matter is good to use, enough that the original surface is not then visible. It’s quick, simple, and has amazing results – see the microscope analysis below, comparing dig and no dig. I give an introduction to no dig in this Guardian blog.

You can spread compost underneath plants growing, such as the kale and broccoli below. There is no need to sieve it, just break lumps with a fork, and see my compost heaps in the latest video.

This can be a bountiful time of year. I am still selling a lot of salad, a few boxes of vegetables and putting roots to store like beetroot. Whether they can stay in the ground depends how cold your climate is: I start to see damage on many roots when nights go to -4C/25F or lower.

Sowing in winter

New growth in dark and cool months is slow. Seed germination is even slower. With just one or two exceptions like micro greens and peas for shoots, I recommend not sowing anything from now until February. While it is possible to get seedlings underway ind winter, this is the question to ask:

  • Is it worth the time and trouble?

I have finished sowing for the year and all that remains is to plant out the broad beans in early December. In a colder climate than here, you can sow broad beans say mid October for planting out November: I was contacted by a man from Western (maritime) Norway who succeeds with those timings, Aquadulce Claudia.

I recommend sowing in modules to transplant because of mice, who eat the seeds, and birds which pull up seedlings to eat the sprouted seeds. I have had this happen often enough to make me happy in the extra work of raising plants. Also broad beans mean a lot to me, so early to crop and with wonderful flavour. This year I pre-soaked the seeds as I was too busy to sow on 1st November, a little earlier than normal because of cold weather.


Harvests of Chinese cabbage have been wonderful, however with a lot of discarded outer leaves, because of slug damage. The some hearts have a fat caterpillar and all its frass, yuk! and this is despite a mesh cover, followed by two sprays of Bt. Pests love them 🙂

In contrast the radicchio hearts are clean, seed from Bingenheim and see my video on growing chicory.

Soil microbiology

Sexy topic? Oh yes, this is the leading edge of research into how soil works and how plants grow. We still know amazingly little about either topic, as shown by the worldwide degradation of soil and poisoning of plants. 

I have been working with microbiologist Katelyn Solbakk from Norway: I send her Homeacres soil samples, she analyses them, we both learn and I can share her findings. This link is of soil from many of my beds, and shows a good amount of life, although fungi are not measuring high, possibly because of large aggregations of particles, but we don’t know.

On the other hand, some beds at Homeacres have soil that is almost white, smells of mushrooms and grows many fungi in damp, mild conditions.

I took soil samples from the dig bed and the no dig bed, and sent them to Norway where Katelyn Solbakk does analysis with a microscope. She found strong differences and this is her report, plus a photo below to illustrate the contrast in results

The dig/no dig trial beds show lower fungal levels than the main garden, perhaps because of wooden sides to the beds depriving linkage to woodchip-mulched paths. I plan to mulch both beds with compost of more woody origin this December.

Trial results ongoing

This page has all the details, and here is a recent graphic of seven years results.

Harvests of the two rial beds 2013-2019, by @soulfarm


Frost hardiness and celery

The beetroot and celeriac look dramatically frozen, but it was only -2C 28F and they are fine. Celery on the other hand might suffer damage in that cold, but mine is interplanted with carrots and under mesh. See the varietal difference!

Frost and Florence fennel

For success like this, sowing dates are important. Discover more in my Diary and Calendar, see also our double offer £16.60 shipped worldwide.

Soil boost

I am trialling a thin layer of rockdust on some beds. I think it’s less about minerals, more about feeding soil life such as earthworms (good for their gizzards), and improving paramagnetism of soil, another aspect of plant growth we know little about. I want to learn more about this.

I am spreading rockdust under the spring broccoli plants, then we spread compost on top

Undercover and outside

My main sowing was second week of September, transplanted 8th-10th October. My desire is for some autumn harvests from now, but for plants to be still young and vigorous as we head into winter. The main harvests are March and April, lettuce is Grenoble Red from home saved seed, gives vigour.

29 thoughts on “Towards winter 16th November, harvests, no dig microbiology results, frost hardy vegetables

  1. We are glad to inform you that World Congress on Microbiology and Rare Infections Diseases has been scheduled during June 25-26, 2020 as a Webinar. We are inviting you as an online speaker/delegate at our conference. We are also providing a place to publish your article in our journal. If any industry related Person wants to promote their product on our home page we are providing a special place for promoting product.


  2. I have a question regarding planting garlic and garlic rust. I live in Mid Wales and my garden is located on quite a steep bank and the soil is free draining. We get a good harvest of garlic (no dig) every year outside and in the polytunnel. We don’t get rust at all. A friend lives below us in the valley, garden is on clay soil. He struggles with rust. I watched your video regarding no dig garlic and the second time I watched it I noticed that you mentioned that you get no rust on garlic planted in the tunnel. Do you think that it is just because of it being in the polytunnel? How about the spacing? Is it wider in the polytunnel? Also you have more diversity – garlic grows between salad greens. Could this have an effect? My friend’s garden has always been dug every year. We are converting it to no dig and we are going to mulch it (compost in the polytunnel, partially rotted down hay outside) and plant garlic at 30 cm spacing. I am very curious your thoughts on that? Thank you for all the information and great videos . They have been so helpful in transforming my garden and saving so much time.

    1. Anna
      it’s a mystery to me why the tunnel garlic is (almost) rust free, all I can think is no rain on leaves.
      Not sure about the salad connection, would need to try a block of garlic under cover to see.
      Spacing is a little wider.
      Good luck with the conversion and thanks for your comment.

      1. Thank you cery much fur your reply. We are testing 3 different varieties. It’ll be interesting to see if we can replicate your experience or have a different result. Thank you again.

    1. They need a little N to decompose, but that is more than compensated for by keeping all the biology intact (no disturbance from root removal) which helps the roots to decompose more quickly.

  3. I am writing from France and the biggest trend and battle in organic agriculture here was for the use of plants 2 treat animals and other plants – chamomile, horsetail, nettles, comfrey and many medicinal plants have been used 2 bridge the food gap – feed humans and animals and treat them. Now they are reintroduced in the hedges and beds. I am I am mentioning this because I haven’t seen you talk about medicinal plants that you grow and compost. maybe these are worth a trial


    1. Alex, good to hear from France.
      I don’t use plants in this way, but did just buy some biodynamic compost preparations to see what difference they might make.
      So far it’s not something I am confident to discuss, I prefer to see results first.

  4. Celeriac

    The photo shows the celeriac with very little foliage. Had you reduced it at some point I wonder. I ask because I am new to growing celeriac and mines foliage was about 15 inches tall and very dense. I say was! Just recently it has been severely cropped by the local deer oh dear!

    Should I just harvest and store them before they take a liking to the roots too?

    On that note something has been digging and nibbling parsnips so I am planning on getting those out too.

    1. Lynn, it sounds a not brilliant variety of celeriac!
      Yes I would harvest them now to store.
      Same for parsnips, could be rats.

  5. Hello Charles
    I just finished yr course. 😊
    I was wondering if you could say something about cardboard in the compostpile. My husband insists that there are too many pollutants in cardboard and therefore it should not be used in the compost. I have been searching for a good information source but so far have failed to find something relevant.
    I would appreciate yr advice/opinion. Thks

    1. Claudia
      Nice work on the course.
      I agree that there is little information and I worry too about cardboard.
      But I have a fair amount here from book boxes and it all decomposes well, and there are worms in the compost heaps after it cools, fungi etc.
      I simply don’t know the details though.

  6. Hi Charles, what are the hardiest veg you grow? We’ve already had a minus 4.1 a few weeks ago and minus 3.9 last weekend ( and those readings are in the polytunnel). I have lots of brassicas outside and the garlic is to go in this week. I have just sown Aquadulce Claudia broad beans and Douce de Provence outside. I would like some salady leafy things, I’ve a wee bit of lambs lettuce on the go and I’m not keen on mustardy leaf things, any recomendations? Thank you.

  7. We are at year 1 end of no dig and have had excellent results on our allotment.
    We now have several clumps of mushrooms, we assume this is this good but are wondering if our homemade compost has too much woody waste in? Do we leave the mushrooms to grow or treat them as weeds, also see they safe to eat, they look just like shop bought white mushrooms?

    1. I personally leave all fungi growing on my plot, assuming it’s doing a good job, but I would never eat anything unless I had studied many different references on it and was totally sure of it’s edibility. Mushroom foraging is fraught with danger, unless you are certain of variety, as you probably realise!

  8. After a year or so of following your composting ways I am seeing great results so thank you for sharing.

    Question on horse manure I have been creating a pile in one pallet bay it is just about full to the top, cool and has loads of worm activity. Should I turn it or leave it over winter?

    1. Thanks Colin, and I would leave it as it’s become a large wormery, quality will improve until you spread it in spring.
      Unless you have bare beds and it’s your only mulch.

  9. Hi Charles, my kales looks a lot like yours, whereas I’ve seen people who are still harvesting large leaves. I presume this is down to sowing dates? Will your kale start producing large leaves again in spring or is that it for them now?

    1. It’s because we are picking them more… I have some still with large leaves.
      They will more make broccoli stems in spring.

  10. I’ve got a beautiful crop of celery after my first year of no dig – variety ‘Full White’ from Real Seeds. Looks like I’ve got Septoria too – stalks covered in spotty brown stains. Is there anything to be done? Can we still eat it?

      1. Hi Rhys and Charles i think I got Septoria in my celery and celeriac this year and this was the first time in 5 years, we have had a terrible crop of celeriac only the size of tennis balls if we are lucky. Last year they were like Rugby balls!! My question does Septoria live in the compost? or was it just unlucky we got this in 2019

  11. Could you tell me how you feel about composting in situ. Instead of placing all my greens and veg tops etc on compost heap I am chopping them and leaving them on the soil without digging in ,I also cover them with straw to rot down. I am also planning not to dig and just place well rotted manure on top of this. Do you think this is ok.

    1. Tom I would anticipate many slugs living in that decaying matter, plus difficulty in sowing seeds.That’s why a compost heap is so useful, plus how it somehow adds value to wastes.

  12. Charles

    One of the things that rock dust does is provide trace minerals which are cofactors in a variety of enzymes. There are many critical enzymes in most species which have incorporated one of copper, magnesium, manganese, iron, selenium ions creating key active sites in the enzymes. Photosynthetic apparatus is included in that. So I reckon that you will definitely stimulate microbe activity through adding rock dust to a certain amount.

    Before I forget, your dig/no dig graph y axis has the values going up to 120 then back down to 100: 140 surely?

    Can confirm your early August fennel sowing date works in NW London: mine were ready to start harvest by late October in 2019.

    Compost covering I think depends on local rainfall/heat equation. I find in summer that actually watering my newly created heaps makes them break down better but my ‘turning’ is in effect adding partially broken down materials (6 weeks old +) transferred regularly into covered daleks with daily food scraps which obviously protects maturing compost from rain. We are drier and warmer up here than with you. It also depends on how aligned your compost making cycle is with nature: natural composting starts in autumn and matures by early summer so if your maturing occurs in autumn it probably does not want heavy rain and cool temperatures, whereas early stages would probably enjoy the autumn monsoons.

    As for worms (your compost video discussion), my 2019 learning was to take 12 week old ‘compost’ and fill my wormery to the top with it. The worms proliferate that way far better than feeding them food scraps as advised by wormery retailers. The wormery is now ‘put to bed’ in the garage wrapped in winter coat, so we shall we what the worm compost looks like come spring. This is much, much less hassle than trying to top up a wormery every few days.

Leave a Reply

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