December II: core inventory for no-dig gardening

After three years of no-dig, I have acquired a core inventory of tools etc for the gardening year. The list is quite small:

1) Polystyrene module trays – these are far more solid than the plastic ones sold in garden centres (which tend to warp and tear after a couple of years) – they have gone out of fashion but I found some on eBay. A dozen 48 module trays is more than sufficient for 50sqm of garden.

2) 1m * 30cm plastic trays to stand module trays, polypot bags etc on. These are essential if you start germinating seeds indoors to prevent damage to carpets etc. I purchased four for £20 at a local garden centre.

3) A small lean-to for keeping young seedlings protected from wind and cold in the spring. I have found that a four level 1m * 30cm lean-to is sufficient. The plastic exterior starts to degrade after about five years, but may be replacable. New lean-tos cost £30-100 depending on make, size etc.

4) Copper tools: I have five core tools which I use regularly (all bought from implementations.co.uk):

i) A Hydra Hoe – ideal for preparing spring tilth, removing spring weeds and smoothing ground after harvesting a crop.

ii) A Perseus rake – used after hoeing to produce a flat surface tilth.

iii) A Trowel – used to dig holes for no-dig potato planting, holes for planting larger modules (beans and brassicas) as well as harvesting smaller crops.

iv) A Nunki weeder – my most valued tool used throughout the summer to aerate surface soil and kill small weeds in between rows of vegetables.

v) Dibber – this is probably a luxury as a wooden one will work perfectly well.

The two additions I might make would be a Pollux hoe and a spade for edging and harvesting parsnips.

The total cost of all, including additions would be £500-600. Quite a cost, but they will last a lifetime.

5) A wormery. This is useful for generating high quality vermicompost and costs £60-70. For those being serious, three wormeries working on a three year cycle may be the ideal.

6) Water butts -useful for collecting rainwater in winter to use on seedling trays in spring and whenever droughts occur. 200 gallons is a useful volume to have available. The water can be harvested from the house roof, from a garden shed’s sloping roof etc.

7) A two tub set up for generating concentrated comfrey extract: the lower tub has no holes, the upper tub slots into the lower tub and has holes in the side of its base to allow extract to drain into the lower tub. The upper tub is filled with harvested comfrey, this is weighed down using e.g. a 20kg sack of rock dust, the set up is enclosed using aluminium foil to prevent evaporation and left to produce the liquid for 4-8 weeks.

8) Rock dust, friendly bacteria and friendly fungi. Rock dust contains essential trace elements and can be added to compost piles when they are made. Friendly bacteria and friendly fungi can be added to seed compost mixes when sowing seeds – these cause better and stronger root systems to develop.

9) Comfrey Plants – a dozen Bocking 14 plants will be worth their weight in gold.

10) Polypot bags – certain crops grow very well in 17 litre black bags ( can be purchased from Medwyns of Anglesey). Carrots, garlic, parsnip all do well.

11) 30 gsm fleece to protect young seedlings in March, April and May. 25m * 2m is sufficient for my 50sqm garden, costing under £30.

12) Compost bins – 4 daleks and two wire cages is sufficient for me, with a builders bag of 1 cubic metre for storing ripe compost until use. Alternatively, a triple wooden bin with lids might suit others.

 

Overall, an investment of around £2000 will supply essential tools etc for your no-dig garden.

December I: planning 2018

Now that the season is pretty much over, my thoughts turn to planning 2018.

In my case that will involve minor tweaks to the composting and biodynamic spraying and a new plan for sowing. I am going to try a few experiments using precision square foot planting, sowing 50cm*50cm squares with crops for harvest at particular dates, to generate continuous small harvests rather than a few gluts.

I will only do this on one of my four main beds, leaving space for potatoes, squash, onions, PACA lettuce etc.

The crops I would like small regular harvests from during summer include: salad carrots, spring onions, dwarf beans, beetroot, young leeks, turnip, fennel, chard, mange touts, celery, spinach, radish and early potatoes.

Little and often harvests in autumn will include: fennel, endive, radish, turnip, chicory leaves, pak choi, rocket, cavalo nero, chard and carrot.

New crops for 2018 will include Borlotti beans, brussels sprouts and chicory hearts.

To help in the planning I have ordered two calendars:

1) The 2018 Maria Thun Biodynamic Calendar (ISBN 9781782504313)

2) Nick Kollerstrom’s 2018 sowing and planting lunar calendar (ISBN 9780572046941)

November III: seeds for 2018….

The end of November is seed ordering time.

This year I have used five suppliers for everything (just new potato seed tubers to order still), trying to support small British suppliers who have, in my experience provided good service in the past three years or who are worthy of a small test purchase in 2018:

1) Real Seeds Ltd http://www.realseeds.co.uk – a husband-and-wife team in SW Wales.

2) Chase Organics – the Organic Gardening Catalogue http://www.chaseorganics.co.uk – a well established Surrey operation.

3) Medwyns of Anglesey http://www.medwynsofanglesey.co.uk – specialist seeds for exhibition growers, from an 11 times gold medallist at Chelsea Flower Show.

4) Seeds of Italy http://italianseeds.co.uk – a family firm based in Harrow, NW London.

5) SH Organic Seeds http://sh-organic-seeds.co.uk – a new cooperative supplying biodynamic open-pollinated seeds from a Lincolnshire base.

I usually use JBA for seed potatoes, a reliable Scottish supplier, however I may pay a potato fair a visit this year too.

 

I have made my own biodynamic seeds of the following:

1) Aquadulce Claudia broad beans

2) Cobra Climbing Beans

3) Cupidon Dwarf Beans

4) Alderman Peas

5) Kelsae Onion

6) Multiple Tomato strains.

2018, I will attempt to make seeds of radish, grenoble red lettuce and pablo beetroot.

November II: season review and lessons learned….

2017 was the first year I gardened no-dig with good compost. As a result,some crop yields improved spectacularly, meaning a glut of over-production occurred. Equally some crops are proving difficult for reasons I am not clear about.

1) Radish yields in good compost were spectacular, suggesting one 1.5m row sown each two weeks from the spring equinox to the end of April is more than sufficient for a family.

2) Carrot yields have also risen hugely, both in the soil and in bags. Indeed, four 18 litre polypot bags would last all winter on the yields achieved in 2017. Yields of carrots sown in early May were higher than sown in early April.

3) Maincrop potatoes mulched with plenty of cut comfrey yielded very well, perhaps due to plenty of rain from mid July to mid September. Early crops were very poor in the arid spring. Pot-grown first earlies yielded very well.

4) Successful late sowings were:

i) Pick and Come Again lettuce sown early June and harvested August and September;

ii) Cavalo Nero Kale sown early June, harvesting from October onwards;

iii) Leaf Chicory, sown early July and harvested from mid October;

iv) Florence Fennel, sown late June and harvested late October and November;

v)Winter radish, sown early August to be harvested through winter

Spinach, chard, rocket and cabbage have established successfully for spring harvest, however Augusta Onions did not.

Ongoing challenges remain with:

i) Autumn turnips – plants which established yielded roots, however pest damage is still too high;

ii) Winter cabbage suffering from leaf damage and only small hearts, barely worth five months in the ground;

iii) Pak Choi continues to be eaten within 3 weeks of transplantation.

iv) Allium leaf miner continues to devastate winter leek stands, such that only growing early crops is now the reluctant conclusion.

 

As a result, the following changes are envisaged in 2018:

1) 75% reduction in rows of carrots sown, expanding onions instead;

2) Growing Red Kuri squash instead of Musselburgh leeks;

3) Reducing beetroot sowing by 33%;

4) Adding three brussels sprouts plants in the sunniest location;

5) Attempting Borlotti beans for the first time;

6) Replacing leaf chicory with chicory hearts.

 

I will expand the growth of roots in bags/35 liter pots to include parsnips as well as carrots.

2017 was a big step forward.

2018 will tell me whether this was by luck or by design….

November I: compost and over-wintering….

So, on the last day of autumn, one year of gardening finishes and the new one begins. In a no-dig garden, that new year begins with laying compost on bare ground.

The garden still has the following crops to harvest:

1) Cavalo Nero Kale, Leaf Chicory and Endive;

2) Autumn King Carrots and Parsnips;

3) Winter radish and Mulatka beetroot;

In addition, spinach, spring cabbage and chard are being over-wintered.

After a year of intensive composting, 5cm of compost/horse manure has been laid down to date on 24sqm of cleared ground in the main beds, plus 6sqm of asparagus and boundary beds, as well as surrounding the pear tree. Green manure was sown on 7.5sqm.

Around one cubic metre of compost remains to cover remaining 13.5sqm of main beds, 5sqm of raspberries and 1.5sqm of other beds in the fruit cage.

In addition, autumn has been the season of leaf collecting for two purposes:

1) Starting a new leaf mould generation process –  280 litres have been packed into eight 35l pots:

2) A major last cut of autumn grass has been mixed with leaves/twigs to fill a one cubic metre builders’ bag:

All that remains to do is:

1): build a new horse manure/straw pile;

2): Treat the garden with biodynamic horn manure;

and pre-Christmas work is complete.

September V: courgette, chard and kale soup…

Using up those fresh ingredients in September:

Ingredients:

2oz cooking butter

1 large or two small onions

1 garlic clove, crushed

(2 rashers back bacon – vegetarians omit)

0.75lb courgettes

8 small chard leaves plus stalks

4 leaves plus stalks Cavalo Nero kale

750ml boiled water

1 tsp dried dill, 1 tsp coriander seeds, 2 cardamom pods, salt, pepper to taste

Preparation:

Chop onions, slice bacon if included, crush garlic and soften on low heat in melted cooking butter (3-4 mins). Meanwhile, slice courgettes, kale and chard.

When onions etc are soft, add the courgettes and leaves, add the herbs and spices, stir until everything is coated with liquid and leave to sweat for 10 minutes, stirring twice.

Then add 750ml boiled water, add salt and pepper to your taste and simmer on low heat for 15 minutes.

Liquidise and serve as is (for wholesome types) or strain and serve looking beautiful.

 

Time from start to finish: 40 minutes.

This is a light nutritious soup that uses up excess fresh ingredients beautifully.

September IV: Hillingdon Borough Show prizes…..

Saturday 16th September saw the London Borough of Hillingdon host its fifth Autumn Fruit and Vegetable show, this year in the magnificent Great Barn at the Manor Farm site in Ruislip.

The quantity of entries and standard of produce increase each year, making winning prizes more satisfying and meaningful each year.

This year, I entered seven classes, including the highly competitive salad tomatoes, stump carrots, dessert apples and trug of vegetables, in all four of which I was delighted to secure prizes. In addition, my entries to the shallots >30mm and non-white potato classes received Highly Commended awards. Only in the beetroot class was my entry unclassified, which taught me that perfectly formed roots score higher than large ones……

I was delighted to hear from the Mayor and Councillor Jonathan Bianco that my Trug was a big hit with the judges as we posed for obligatory photos for the Council’s publicity department.

It is an excellent event going from strength to strength, not least due to the generous prizes on offer.

Prize winning pictures are shown below:

September III: the compost season so far

Back in the spring, I talked about how I needed to generate about 2 cubic metres of compost to prepare the garden for the 2018 season.

How am I doing in early September?

Not too bad, as it turns out.

I created a pile of horse manure and straw by February 2017, which now looks like this:

This is around 0.5 cubic metres and will be used for potatoes in 2018.

I made two full heaps in my wire cages in early April using grass, horse manure, straw, cardboard and leaves plus twigs. These were combined at the end of April into the larger cage and used to top up daleks which were receiving kitchen waste and harvested haulms through to the end of June. A third heap was created during May and June in the emptied cage.

At the beginning of August, both cages, having been regularly turned, were progressing well and were combined in a one cubic metre builders bag to store/mature until the autumn. The feature image shows that compost, it being another half a cubic metre.

The four 220 liter daleks with over-wintered compost were spread on the garden between early March and the end of June 2017, providing the garden with its first proper compost feed of 4-5cm depth.

These four daleks were then regularly filled through spring and early summer with kitchen waste, tree prunings, grass cuttings, cardboard and partially matured compost from the heaps created in March. All were full by the end of July and by late August, two were combined to free up one for ongoing kitchen waste etc.

These four, when mature, should give a third half a cubic metre, bringing the total up to 1.5 cubic metres.

In the meantime, the two cages have been filled again with potato haulms, tomato haulms, grass, spent flowers, tree prunings etc, as well as the spent compost from tomatoes and potatoes grown in pots.

As I have now got a fresh supply of horse manure and straw from the stables, these will be combined with the caged material to provide material for another 0.5-1.0 cubic metres of compost by the end of November.

It just shows how much compost you can make from your own back garden!

Finally, I am well on the way to creating my own leaf litter compost, starting with four 35 litre pots stuffed full of wet leaves in November 2016, combined into one pot in April 2017 and now only about half a pot full:

This will be tested in spring 2018 as a seed compost.

So overall, I think I am showing you can be nearly self sufficient when it comes to compost for the garden.

2018s challenge will be creating enough in addition for all the tomatoes, potatoes and carrots grown in pots and bags…..

September II: 7.5lbs of Sweet Candle Carrots from one polypot

Back in April, I sowed eleven triplets of Sweet Candle Carrot seeds in a vermicompost layer atop 17 litres of Multipurpose Compost containing some friendly bacteria, fungi, rock dust and a smidgen of Nutrimate in a Polypot bag, which I usually use to grow show potatoes.

I did a post about how well the seeds had germinated after about 3 weeks and then I thinned each station to one plant.

Over the summer, the polypots lived on a plastic tray in our front garden. After letting the roots develop for 6 weeks through minimal watering, I started to fill the plastic tray regularly with water, allowing the roots to swell through absorbing moisture from below.

I also fed the roots twice with comfrey tea on root days, once in July and once in August.

I harvested the first polypot on Saturday 9th September, the morning of the village show. The feature image shows the eleven roots, which weighed in at 7.5lbs.

The largest two roots had cracked, making them unshowable, so they and the smallest root were turned into carrot and coriander soup.

The other eight formed two groups of four to exhibit, winning a first prize for carrots and a second prize as part of the four vegetables class:

Given that one pot only occupies between one tenth and one twentieth of a square metre, you could in theory grow 75-150lbs of carrots on an area of just one square metre!!

For those limited in space to garden, this may be a valuable option in freeing up space for other vegetables best grown in soil.

September I: 9 entries at the village show

Early September means the Ickenham and Swakeleys Horticultural Association Show.

I have been competing since 2013, steadily increasing my range of entries from a start solely including tomatoes and apples.

This year I entered 9 classes and achieved 5 first prizes, 3 second prizes and 1 third prize, with the greatest satisfaction coming from winning the stump carrots class against high quality opposition (the overseer of the village allotment sites).

Pictures are below:

 

Although not all crops are optimal in the first week of September, shows like this do add a discipline to growing, allow experimentation and give you an indication as to whether your growing skills are progressing or not.