It’s spring and I am thinking of winter vegetables! Root vegetables are surprisingly easy to grow using no dig methods. Yesterday I sowed parsnips, carrots, radish, Hamburg parsley and scorzonera into a recently applied mulch of compost on top of my heavy clay allotment soil.
We are often told that you have to dig over the soil to prepare the beds for root vegetables to get nice long straight parsnips and carrots. Some even suggest adding sand, really not a good idea for heavy clay unless you fancy making some concrete! If you think about it, deep rooting weeds (docks, dandelions) have no problems at all growing in even heavy clay; if the soil is healthy, neither will your parsnips. There is no need to wiggle iron bars to make holes for the parsnips and backfill with compost, another suggestion I often see. Sometime like to chit parsnip seeds first, others like to start in loo roll tubes, and both methods do work (although you have to be speedy with the planting otherwise there is a risk of growing an alien rather than a straight vegetable) – I find it less of a palaver to direct sow, especially at a time of year when I’ve got so many other veggies in various stages of growth to care for.
It is absolutely fine to sow carrots, parsnips etc into composted manures. The problem of forking occurs when the manures are dug in, not gently and naturally incorporated into the soil by the worms and other soil life.
These root veg were sown into composted manures, they are lovely and straight.
I spread the mulch on March 24th, just over a week before sowing. The delay was mostly because I was busy, I could have sown the seeds on the same day as mulching. This is composted cow manure. Any compost is fine: homemade, spent mushroom compost, etc. Whatever you have.
Before sowing the seeds, I did the No Dig Dance on the bed to level it and break up any clumps of manure, creating a nicer surface for the small seeds. This dispels another myth – that you shouldn’t walk on the beds. Although I wouldn’t hold a party on my allotment, stepping, walking and dancing on the beds is fine. The structure of the undug soil is so good that it doesn’t compact it.
I mostly garden on my own so it’s quite difficult getting a photo of me doing things. This is the best I could do, a shadow of me on a bed dancing!
Next, I made lines in the compost using a dibber – this is where I will sow my seeds – and then watered each of them.
I’d already prepared labels at home, using the stash of plastic labels I’ve had for around 7 years. It is more eco to use what you already have. I have accidentally ended up with 3 packets of the same variety of parsnip “Tender and True” – one was a freebie from Kitchen Garden Magazine (Kings Seeds), one from The Seed Co-op and the other from Real Seeds. There’s also “White Gem”, from The Seed Co-op. So I sowed one row each of the three Tender and True (each label noted with the seed company) and one of the White Gem. Four rows is fine for me, as I also sow a later crop too.
Parsnips are one of those seeds that are best used fresh so I don’t keep them from year to year (although they can grow, the germination rate is a bit lower, that’s all usually). It’s worth sowing more than you need to allow for any problems. Parsnips are easy to thin out later on. They are quite tricky to see in this photo!
After sowing the parsnips, I continued with several rows of carrots (see end of blog for varieties) and one each of scorzonera and Hamburg parsley. The latter is a really old seed packet so may not germinate.
Next, it was time for the radishes. These I sprinkled between each row of other veg as a catch crop on the surface of the compost – they will be harvested long before the slower growing vegetables get big.
Using a trowel, I covered the parsnips, carrots etc with a little of the compost, followed by a good watering. The watering can roses have mysteriously disappeared, perhaps during some of the windy weather, so I watered using a wiggling motion to make sure the bed was throughly watered.
Finally, the whole bed was tucked up under a sheet of fleece. This one is 30 gsm and is several years old, as you can see. The fleece helps to protect the seeds from any hungry birds (I am sure they all line up in the hedgerows, watching and waiting for me to go!) and keeps the worst of the weather off, aiding germination. I keep it on until the parsnips and carrots are popping up, depending on the weather.
The key to successful germination I have found is water! They need to be kept moist. Nature kindly helped today with a steady drizzle and some heavier rainfall. If we have a dry spring, I regularly water the bed until the seedlings are growing.
Elsewhere on the allotment, the overwintered garlic is growing well; that will have been glad of the rain today. Next to it (under the enviromesh in the photo) is my Nine Star Perennial Broccoli, now producing delicious white cauliflower-like shoots. A kohlrabi is almost in flower, I often leave plants to ‘bolt’ to increase the biodiversity of the plot – the flowers will feed insects and hopefully encourage beneficial predators to live nearby. The broadbeans are trying their best – poor things were eaten by birds, then flattened 3 times by the weather knocking over the protective cloche I made them. There are quite a few gaps so I’ll pop some catch crops in there.
In the polytunnel at home, the broadbeans are waist height and full of flowers, the peas too. I only sow a few broadbeans in the polytunnel for an extra-early crop.
To celebrate the sowing of the new parsnips, I made parsnips bhajis for tea using parsnips sown in 2018 with onion, kale and spinach from the polytunnel (the recipe is in The Creative Kitchen).
Some of the events I am speaking at over the next month or so.
As well as the many talks for gardening clubs, WIs, etc, I will also be speaking at these events
I’m giving a no dig talk at Toby’s Garden Festival on May 3rd and will be there both days with a stall – do come and say hello! The lovely event is remarkably good value at only £10 a ticket.
On Sunday 12th May I will be at the South Downs Green Fair next to the Permaculture Magazine/Permanent Publications stall selling books and giving a no dig talk.
Homeacres is open as part of Alhampton Open Gardens on May 19th. Charles and I will be there to chat about no dig! It’s £5 for 10 gardens in the village, all money raised for charity. There are teas and the pub is open for meals and beverages too. You can’t book in advance, just turn up on the day.
Looking ahead, on June 13th I’m giving two talks at BBC Gardeners World Live and will be there during Friday and quite a lot of Saturday too.
Carrot and radish sown April 1st 2019:
Pusa Asuta (Nicky’s Nursery)
Nantes 2 (Seeds of Italy)
Mystery Purple one (damaged packet)
Dragon Purple (Real Seeds)
Blanche a Collet Vert Hors Terre (Real Seeds)
Jaune Obtuse de Doubs (Real Seeds)
Creme de Lite (Nicky’s Nursery)
Purple Sun (Nicky’s Nursery)
Amarillo (Chiltern Seeds)
French Breakfast (Mr Fothergills)
Candela di Fuoco (Mr Fothergill’s)
Red Flesh (Real Seeds)