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.
The Queen visited “my” work kitchen garden yesterday, so I spent time on Wednesday making sure it was all weeded and spruced up. Ok, so perhaps the purpose of her visit to Bruton wasn’t to gaze upon my herbs and veggies but it’s not every day that one of the most famous people in the world pops down my high street!
It was thirsty work, so I enjoyed a refreshing cup of tea sitting in the sunshine on the wide timbers of the raised beds.
The Queen was in Bruton to open a new music building at The Kings School, a public (ie: private and very expensive for my international readers) and celebrate 500 years since the school received its Royal Charter. HRH also took time to visit Hauser and Wirth Somerset – where I run the kitchen garden for Roth Bar and Grill – and local race horse owner, Paul Nicholls’ stables.
It has been a busy time since my last blog post and how the garden has changed! The weather has been typically British, from unseasonably warm to icy cold (for Somerset) and back again. Mornings are misty, deciduous trees almost entirely without leaves now and anything frost tender has died.
The polytunnel has frozen a few times now, I love the patterns on the frozen polythene, although it is still reaching 30˚C in there some days. I have electronic thermometers in the greenhouse and polytunnel and it’s so interesting to see the extremes of temperatures undercover, compared with outside in the garden.
We are often asked to start no dig gardens and so Charles, the admin team of our Facebook group and I have come up with the Top Ten Most Frequently Asked Questions.
If we haven’t covered your questions, please ask them in the comments here (or on the Facebook group if you are a member) and we will answer them as soon as we can.
My first real introduction to no dig gardening was when I started working with Charles in his market garden at Lower Farm nine years or so ago. He lived in a nearby village, so I had heard of Charles and his methods (local shops sold his mixed salad leaves too) and borrowed his book Organic Gardening, the Natural No Dig Way from the library but didn’t see it in action until I visited his farm for the job interview – it looked amazing! Learning about Charles’ method through experiencing it, his way of working with the soil and nature felt natural and I was soon wanting to apply the methods to my allotment and garden.
I’ve mostly been concentrating on my at home garden, so it was a real pleasure to be able to spend some time at my allotment, getting ready for everything that will be planted there over the next week or so.
I’d let the brassicas go to flower for the wildlife, but now needed most of the space for new plantings.
At the back, you can see the untidy part of my plot – cloche hoops and sticks waiting in a heap on top of the plastic mulch* to be put to use.
(*the plastic mulch is there to kill off invasive horseradish, which was trying to take over. It will be there all year.)
Bees and other beneficial insects are loving the brassica flowers. Small birds are feeding on the many insects flying about there. Some of the stems are covered in aphids, useful food for all kinds of beneficial predators – fine on these as they are going to be composted soon but I wouldn’t be quite as happy if they were on my food crops.
Most of the plants needed removing; I left just some flowering kale (seen above in the photo with the blue sky).
Even though it has been so dry for weeks, these mulched beds have retained moisture so I was able to simply pull out the large plants. Using my very sharp copper spade*, I chopped them into 6 inch pieces, then added them to the compost heap. Allowing the plants to flower has another advantage – it helps to create more material for compost making. To the heap I also added ripped up cardboard and chopped comfrey leaves; there’s a lot of comfrey in the hedgerows at this site.
(* the spade has an alloy so it is really bronze)
After clearing, I walked over the bed to level it off and break down any lumps of composted manure that remained, then using my dibber made holes for the module sown peas. The moisture conserving properties of the mulch made the job easy, even though we have had the driest April here for 30 odd years. It was more difficult where the brassicas had been, as one would expect.
I had meant to add a picture of the module peas but forgot to put it in my media files before going away – I am in Sussex, at Sarah Raven’s where Charles is giving a day course. This is a photo of my view as I type!
Back on the allotment, here are the peas after planting. I also planted module sown beetroot and spring onions down the sides of the beds – you can just about see the small leaves.
The self sown borage is huge now and full of bees.
The allotment after clearing – the garlic in the foreground is looking a little yellow due to lack of rain. I am hoping there’ll be some on Monday; if not, I will water them. It’s looking quite bare but will be full within 2-3 weeks! Most of the plants are ready to go out next week, I was holding them back a bit because of the cooler temperatures last week.
At home, I’ve been clearing much of the polytunnel too. It was looking quite jungly, rather lovely really with all of those flowers, but I need the space for the tomatoes.
After clearing I watered using a hose with the sprinkler attached, for a long time, avoiding the back of the tunnel where I have a store of compost and the apricot. I avoid drenching that, preferring to water the soil.
You can see how some of the garlic has suffered from dryness and growing amongst large brassica plants, something to remember for next year. I’m hoping it will perk up after a few days.
I’ve left some kale, chard, dill and turnip greens for a final pick. I harvest the green seeds of the coriander before clearing, delicious sprinkled on hummus.
Harvests included calabrese, carrots, spring onions and cabbages.
Then the tomatoes went in, with the string placed at the bottom of the hole. This helps to secure the string, which is fastened to the crop bars. I’m using baler twine as I have a huge quantity of it. Each piece is reused for years, not biodegradable unfortunately but as I have some, it seems sensible to use it up.
These tomatoes are mostly much smaller than I would usually plant, late sowing (due to the Italian trip) and so planted from module to tunnel without being potted on. An interesting experiment!
I also harvested the scrapes from the elephant garlic. These have gone into the fridge, I’ll cook them on Monday.
Next week, the aubergines will be planted and soon, cucumbers and melons – also, the edible flower companions and basil soon, too. An exciting transformation from spring to summer.
Friday 21st April was uniquely special for Charles and myself. Two very exciting events happened quite by chance on the same day: our book arrived at the publishers and Charles was featured on BBC Gardeners’ World. Life has been so busy since that it has taken a week to be able to find the time write this post 🙂
Our publishers, Permanent Press, released gorgeous photos on social media of our book. It was quite a challenge focusing on other tasks over the weekend, with the anticipation of delivery on Monday, wondering what it would look like ‘in real life’ and looking forward to holding a copy.
Meanwhile, Gardeners’ World were busy promoting the evening’s programme on Twitter, with the help of Monty’s dog Nigel. We were delighted to read the BBC describing Charles as “legendary”!
Neither Charles not myself own a tv, so we had arranged to visit a friend to watch the programme. Charles’ part was filmed at Homeacres on 10th August 2016; we were looking forward to seeing how they had edited a whole day’s filming into around 6 minutes.
We thought it was great – loved Monty’s introduction, calling Charles a “guru” (!!) and afterwards, explaining that he has been convinced by Charles’ work. The programme included footage of Charles with Geoff Hamilton back in the 1980s, when a whole episode of Gardeners’ World was filmed from his then garden, an 8 acre organic no dig market garden. Fun to see Charles as a young man, too! You can see the programme on You Tube here.
The feedback has been fantastic: lots of discussion and a massive increase in people wanting to find out more about no dig. I had the briefest appearance on the programme too, captured here in a screenshot by my daughter. There’s been a lot of interest in this little bed, people wondering whether it was made just for the programme and then removed. I’m happy to say that it cropped until mid-winter and recently we planted potatoes in it. Charles and Ed made a video about creating and planting the bed here.
We were thrilled when the courier arrived on Monday afternoon and we could finally see the result of all of the work done by ourselves, the editors, proofreader, designer, indexer, etc. The book was much bigger than we’d anticipated (it is so full of information, photos, ideas…) and looks lovely.
There were a lot of boxes, we were so glad it was a dry day!
After carrying all of these boxes into the conservatory for storage with the help of Finn, Charles’ helper who took these photos, it was time to start signing copies for all of the pre-orders and package them, ready for the post office the following morning. The envelopes Charles had bought were a fraction too small which created a bit of a problem initially, solved when we worked out a way if making larger envelopes using the existing ones and packing tape. (Larger envelopes have arrived now!)
By 6 pm, our hands were getting tired and the champagne was calling us – also, we hadn’t properly looked through the book yet! So we drank champagne and have a first real look at our new book. We love it 🙂
No Dig Organic Home and Garden has received some really wonderful feedback, I’ve hardly stopped smiling all week thanks to the many kind, enthusiastic responses to our book. It was a best seller on a certain online store one day after being published and today is also #2 in Organic Gardening (#1 is Charles’ Diary) Copies has gone to the distributor in America, we have been sending them worldwide too. We are so delighted with the sales, it is fantastic.
The best way to support authors is to buy direct so if you would like a copy, please consider buying from Charles’ website here. We can sign it for you, too! Alternatively, the book can be bought from the publishers. Both ways support everyone who has worked to produce the book. (Some online retailers have policies which means that they get most of the proceeds.)
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.