An autumnal update from my no dig garden

Traffic jam in the village

Things are slowing down in the garden here at Ael Y Bryn, and the landscape view from my desk window is very autumnal. It’s pouring down. I’m waiting for the rain to stop so that I can harvest some greens, leeks and herbs to go with our dinner this evening – a richly flavoured stew filled with beans, vegetables and some of the last tomato harvest, which I have stored in crates in the kitchen.

The weather for the past week has been rather wild, with very strong winds. We really do get some spectacular weather here, and living on a hillside means remarkable views and impressive skies. A few weeks ago a cloud fire dragon appeared in the sky, flying across the valley towards the coast. This was the view from my front door.

After the recent storms, most of the garden is fine, but some plants have been flattened, including sunflowers, cosmos and some of the bean frames – I’d already harvested the beans but hadn’t got round to removing the frames yet, so nature lent a hand! Quite a few of the winter brassicas are reclining and need a helpful stake to put them back in an upright position.

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The joyful busyness of sowing, planting, growing and harvesting is brilliant, but I do rather like this time of year, when the check-list of what to do in the garden decreases and nature dictates that there isn’t much left to sow and plant until the days start to lengthen again in mid-February. It’s rather nice to have a bit more time to plan and imagine how the garden will be next year.

News from my homestead

I have worked as a freelance writer for over a decade now, and I am delighted that my monthly features for Kitchen Garden magazine will continue through 2023. I’m looking forward to being able to share with you the theme for next year! Recently Gardeners’ World magazine commissioned an article about gardening for soil health for their Growing Greener series and I was thrilled to have my article mentioned on the cover (no dig)! My feature about no dig gardening is in the current issue of Bloom magazine, with the best illustration of the no dig dance I have ever seen!

This year I have had a brilliant time, travelling the UK (and beyond!) hosting many no dig talks at shows, events and for private groups. My last talk of the year is at Abertawe on the 14th November, and then I’ll be having a break from public speaking until March, so that I can focus on writing work including my next book. And have a holiday.

Next year I will be hosting Grow Year Round No Dig Gardening courses here in my garden in Ceredigion, Wales. Launched on Thursday, the first dates are on my website and places are already selling well (so happy about that!) Find out more about the courses here. Vouchers for courses are also for sale in my shop.

Some of the summer and autumn harvests

Preserving the harvest

Most of the autumn harvesting has finished now, and I am preserving and storing the last crates of apples, tomatoes and cucumbers. Dehydrating is a favourite way of preserving tomatoes. Once dry they are so easy to store: simply put the dried tomatoes in clean, dry lidded jars and store out of direct sunlight. (I don’t store in oil: that’s trickier and any mistakes can cause botulism.) Some of the dried tomatoes are ground up (I use an attachment to a hand held blender) and stored as tomato powder. This is very versatile, used in sauces, soups, pates and other dishes to add a rich tomato flavour. Mixed with sea salt, tomato powder makes a great sprinkle and rub for roasted vegetables. Recipes for dehydrated veg and fruit are in my book The Creative Kitchen.

Clearly the polytunnel was sad, the summer crops had become old friends, but also a bit of a relief – it’s been tomatoes with everything for months! The over wintering herbs and vegetables need as much light as possible to get established before winter really starts. They are my focus now. In the polytunnel I have planted or sown: winter brassicas, many kinds of salad leaves, mustards, Florence fennel, pak choi, carrots, spring onions, broad beans, peas for pods and shoots, garlic, elephant garlic, lettuces, spring greens and radish. It is almost full again, just a few more things to pop in, and some more lettuce too because the slugs decided to munch most of the undercover lettuce. This is the first time I have lost most of a winter lettuce polytunnel planting in 12+ years. Weirdly the outside ones, usually more at risk, are absolutely fine.

Most of the transplants went in during September and October, before the tomatoes were cleared.

Apple abundance

There have been apples in abundance this year, a real treat after the smaller harvests last autumn (which were mostly eaten by squirrels, jays and magpies!) I did not plant the established apple trees, have no idea what they are, and have enjoyed the discovery of how the apples taste and cook. Aided by my son Theo, home now from university (can you see him in the tree?) we have harvested boxes of apples to store, and more boxes of windfalls to use sooner in preserves and meals. Apple crumble is a real favourite here.

Many apples have fallen to the ground and although we have collected many crates to eat, I’m happy to leave plenty for the wild creatures who live here too. They are valuable food for many insects, birds and mammals. This garden is not just for feeding us. Creating a diverse ecosystem with food and water sources for many creatures means that welcome visitors such as Bernard the hedgehog have chosen to live here. We have only seen Bernard on the trail camera (and have no idea whether it is actually male hedgehog, Theo named him Bernard).

Bernard the hedgehog

What to sow now

Most of the planting is done for the year, but there is still time to sow autumn-sowing broad beans, over wintering peas and garlic. Winter hardy salads such as  mustards, brassicas and corn salad and spring onions are fine too in milder areas.

This year, I am using home saved garlic: soft neck, hard neck and elephant garlic. You’ll see that some of the garlic has short stems (soft neck) and some longer stems (hard neck). I do this to make it easier when I am busy splitting the cloves to plant. I am less likely to pick up the wrong kind.

I split the bulbs and save the largest cloves for planting. The small ones come into the kitchen for cooking. I’ve also got garlic stored in plaits in the kitchen for cooking.

The elephant garlic is at the front of this photo. There’s a dish of baby elephant garlic, mono bulbs and cloves. The mono bulbs will produce the biggest garlic bulbs, and the cloves will either produce bulbs or mono bulbs. I am planting the babies into pots for planting out later on.

Both hard neck and elephant garlic produce garlic scapes in the spring, a delicious extra crop. In order to have enough garlic for cooking (we love garlic!) and planting in autumn of 2023 I need to plant a lot of cloves. Some are in the polytunnel – this makes for earlier, larger and more rust resistant plants – and most outside. Yesterday I planted garlic and broad beans in this bed. Tomorrow, I’ll be inter-sowing them with salads and an experimental sowing of winter radish. It’s a bit late for that outside, but we shall see.

bed planted with garlic and broad beans, after summer crops of squash, runner beans, salads, sweetcorn, tomatoes and bush beans

Another new no dig bed

Most of the beds here have been made in the more usual no dig method of card with compost on top, but it just isn’t humanly possible for me to be able to afford or make all of the compost for all of the beds that I want to make in this new garden, so I have made some using different mulches.

Towards the bottom of the garden, I decided to clear this weedy area – full of grass and creeping buttercup – using an old plastic sheet and potatoes. Holes cut through the plastic allowed the potatoes leaves to grow, whilst the tubers formed in the soil underneath. The main purpose of the bed was to clear new ground and it did an excellent job. I also obtained a good potato harvest, losing some to slugs and rodents.


See how I started this bed in this You Tube video on my channel: Stephanie Hafferty Homesteading

(I have also I think added the link to the image here – does it work? I’m not very tech-y)

Due to blight I harvested the spuds a few weeks earlier than planned, so to keep the ground covered I sowed a green manure mix of mustards and radish. It is now planted out with garlic through the green manure.

The plastic is an old piece that had been pre-used. Whilst plastic isn’t great for the soil long term, in the short term it can be an excellent way of clearing ground cheaply.

I’ll explain how I’ve made some of the other beds in a different post. In milder areas, you can still sow mustard green manures (I have done this successfully in Somerset and also here in Wales last year), and also field beans and forage peas. Find out more about autumn sown green manures in my You Tube video.

Steph on the bed cleared by plastic and potatoes, now with a green manure cover crop


6 thoughts on “An autumnal update from my no dig garden”

  1. Nice to see your elephant garlic bulbills. I have a similar amount, some already in modules. Do tiy reckon a bigger pot would be better? 3″ perhaps or even 4? I understand they take much longer to show/sprout than normal garlic.
    Hope to see you in April with my friend Fiona. We met you in August 2020. I think.

    1. Stephanie Hafferty

      I am going to put mine in large modules, and plant them out in an as-yet undecided part of the garden next year.

      Yes, it was one of the courses we managed to do at Homeacres between lockdowns. Would be nice to see you both again

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