Winter no dig gardening

We have had some hard frosts here in Bruton, with temperatures falling well below zero (that’s cold for for Somerset, I appreciate that elsewhere it would be considered rather mild weather!) Although not frost free, the polytunnel offers a lot of protection from the winter weather, in particular icy winds and rain, enabling me to grow a far wider range of food year round.

As the day warmed a little, the plants soon perked up and recovered from the cold night. This winter has been colder than last year, growth in the tunnel is slower and I have lost some plants to the cold, in particular overwintering Florence fennel which does not like being frozen. It produced a fine over-wintered crop last year but this February I only have 3 or 4 remaining from around 30 transplants. Instead, I shall use the unexpected extra space (where the fennel has died) to grow extra early potatoes and pea shoots.

Elephant garlic is growing strongly and also 6 or 7 different varieties of soft and hard necked garlic, all carefully labelled – the plan is to try some ‘green’ in early summer and later dried, to explore the different flavours. The garlic at my allotment is mostly my home saved cloves from last year’s garlic harvest.

There’s no lack of salad or fresh greens here. Eating seasonally is so important and fresh, delicious leafy salads can be a healthful part of winter meals without any air miles. Grenoble Red lettuce, grown from my home saved seed, is mixed with herbs and leaves, including spicy mustards, land cress and rocket. If you don’t have a greenhouse or polytunnel, they can be grown in upcycled crates (I explain how in our book No Dig Home and Garden, out in May!)


Pak choi, spinach, kale and orientals are adding a lot of fresh delicious flavours to our meals and have very little slug damage. I have needed to do some weeding, almost all of it poppies and chamomile, self sown from plants which I let flower for the bees and other insects in the summer but didn’t clear before they went to seed; both are useful and lovely flowers but not where I am wanting to grow carrots and other vegetables.

The carrots need thinning out soon. They are mostly growing to one side after being accidentally scuffed after sowing, killing some emerging seedlings. I’ll sow some radish into the empty spaces on the left.

This was outside in the garden at the same time that it was -3°C in the polytunnel:

And at the allotment…

In both the front garden and back garden, I grow plants which bear winter berries or seeds for the birds. It has been delightful watching birds feasting on sunflower seeds in the front garden beds; looking a bit bedraggled now, small birds are still finding the last few seeds. Goldfinches flock every winter to my teasels. They are extremely invasive so I have to be vigilant with summer weeding, allowing just enough for the wildlife whilst leaving enough growing space for me. My pond is not the prettiest but birds appreciate the fresh water and nooks and crannies, where they seek small insects. Soon the frogs should be back!

From the allotment I’m harvesting parsnips, Brussel sprouts, flower sprouts, swedes, kale and I have just picked the first stem of purple sprouting broccoli.

The frost mornings are so beautiful.

Charles and I mulched my allotment with well rotted manure in mid January. This was later than planned because I ‘put my back out’ in December which caused shooting pains down my legs and made it painful to sit, walk and so anything much really, although I carried on doing writing work and picking the salad with Charles at Homeacres. Then on January 1st after a lovely morning walk, I started sneezing and came down with a flu bug that hung around for about a fortnight. We make lots of plans but often life has a few unexpected twists in store for us! It was quite tricky because I still had to do writing work during this time, but I’m happy to say all seems well now 🙂

We flicked any straw-y clumps into a separate pile, loading the wheelbarrows with beautiful crumbly compost. I’m going to bring this home to mulch perennials. The frosts will help to break the mulch up further, it’ll be around 2 inches deep then; I’ll break up any remaining lumps with a rake before planting, a quick job that will only take a few minutes. No dig saves a lot of time!

I didn’t mulch the parsnip bed which is still being harvested, so will do that when they have all been cleared. The nets were replaced afterwards, to protect brassicas from deer and pigeons. The grassy path belongs to the plot next door, which was covered with a good layer of manure and then polythene last autumn by the new plot holders, who are setting up a new no dig bed.

The broadbeans have come on since I took the photos above – this morning (11 Feb) they’d had a sprinkling of snow. I’m sowing more broadbeans tomorrow into modules – it is a ‘fruit’ moon!

At home, I’ve been finishing some of the compost heaps and sorting out new ones. This one under the apple tree is covered with recycled polythene to raise the temperature. I’ll use the top as a storage place for potted plants and the side pallets to store my canes and stakes (the rest are at the allotment). Not glamorous but useful! I’ve been tidying the greenhouse, sorting the trays and pots in preparation for the start of sowing. My seeds have almost all arrived, the potatoes are here… exciting times!

Pallet compost heap covered with recylced polythene to keep heat in (it is January) with a pallet on top in readiness for spring plants and storage area made from another pallet, for plant supports, canes, etc

3 thoughts on “Winter no dig gardening”

  1. Thanks for showing just what we could be harvesting in the winter months with a bit of forward planning. I look forward to the new book in May. Jeanette

  2. Exciting times indeed. Always so impressed with all the things you and Charles are harvesting now. It’s one thing I’m really hoping to get better at, or one of several. Like you I grow teasels for the goldfinches, and having them here on dreary winter days is one of the highlights of the season.

  3. Pingback: February update 2017, first sowings, propagation & composts, no dig winter veg - No Dig

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.