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.

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….

March 2017 III: Preparing no-dig beds for spring planting

The beginning of March is when beds become ready for a couple of rounds of hoeing and raking to create the fine tilth suitable for sowing direct or planting module-raised plants.

Having been not digging now for 3 years, I have found that each spring, the soil becomes more responsive to the hoe and rake, perhaps through better soil structure, better drainage courtesy of the work of earthworms and the cumulative effects of compost overwintering on top of the soil.

There are two main aims for the hoeing/raking:

1. Killing the weed seedlings which emerge in the spring.

2. Creating the fine tilth suitable for seeds and young seedlings.

As a result, starting this too early is counterproductive, as ungerminated weed seeds will still be in the soil, whereas hoeing young seedlings will kill them.

I tend to do two cycles about two weeks apart, with the timetable linked to what I am planting and when.

Thus, I hoed and raked areas today, 4th March, into which I will sow/plant Amsterdam Forcing Carrots, spring turnips and early radish in mid March.

I also chose today because, in the biodynamic system championed by Maria Thun, carrots, turnips and radish are root crops and today the moon resides in the earth sign Taurus. The optimum dates to carry out all activities to do with root crops are when the moon resides the earth signs of taurus, virgo and capricorn.

Obviously, not everybody can find time on the perfect days, so aiming to do two or three rounds of hoeing/raking a week apart is a sensible compromise.

 

I use a Hydra Hoe and Perseus Rake from Implementations Ltd. These tools are both made of copper, an element beneficial to soil life. Experiments were carried out in the early 20th century by the Austrian Viktor Schauberger, which demonstrated improved crop yields using copper tools.