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Tips for good growing

Gardening is easier than it is often made out to be, and here I describe three facets of growing healthy plants for less effort.

1. What you need to be able to do

Being skilful is important and saves you time. The information given in this course makes learning easier because it gives only the essential knowledge, in plain language. I want you to actually understand what you are doing, not just perform tasks because I say so.

The essential skills are mainly these:

  • Make your soil fertile and weed-free, through appropriate mulching / covering.
  • Plan what to grow and when, and be prepared to alter the plan if conditions change or pests arrive.
  • Know the best sowing and transplanting times for each vegetable.
  • Propagate seedlings, to have transplants ready in all seasons.
  • Keep pests off with minimal fuss, through knowing when they are likely to arrive.
  • Water only the plants that are most in need, when necessary.
  • Harvest at the best times, with appropriate methods to enable quick picking and long plant life.
  • Maintain successions by having plants or seeds ready for when harvests finish.

These are not complicated tasks, but you can always improve your methods. Practice, coupled with careful attention to the outcomes, will see you become speedy and successful, allowing more time to enjoy the process and the results.

Eat the rainbow – December harvests include many summer sowings that have maintained cropping
Harvests of early July are from sowings in late winter to early spring; after clearing plants of broccoli, cauliflower, potatoes, broad beans and peas, there is space for more vegetables to grow

2. What you don’t need to do

While learning the information here, I suggest you also learn to ignore a lot of common advice, including ‘helpful tips’ on social media and from friends or neighbours. They mean well, but are often repeating old knowledge which we can improve on.

This YouTube comment from Jim Huskins, in January 2020, illustrates my point:

I’ve studied garden experts for decades beginning with the Nearings and the Rodales. I’ve always come away with the suspicion that I’ve been presented ‘the true way’ and with the nagging suspicion that I’m not ‘true way material’.

Your approach is refreshing. ‘Here is what works for me’, you say, and ‘Here is how I do it.’ You make it accessible, and you are happy to challenge accepted rules and practices. Bless you!

I read Ruth Stout’s book many years ago, but I dismissed her as a crackpot. Thanks for opening my eyes to both ‘no dig’ and ‘no dogma’.

The information in this book is based on a no dig framework, with the understanding that plant growth is fuelled by biology as much as by chemistry. This is the opposite of common assumptions about how plants grow, perpetuated by fertiliser salesmen and widely adopted. Keep an open mind and try some new methods.

Learn to spot the dogma that surrounds us. Here are just six examples clarifying the many misunderstandings that confuse gardeners. I have four decades of evidence to back up these statements – they are the tip of a large iceberg which lurks under many ‘teachings’!

  • You can walk on your no dig beds.
  • You can water in sunlight.
  • You can add roots of perennial weeds to compost heaps.
  • You can sow and plant into pure compost because it does not ‘burn’ roots.
  • You don’t need to worry about specific feeds for specific plants.
  • You don’t need to practise a four-year rotation. See, for example, the heavy crop of broad / fava beans in the photo below, growing in the same soil in which broad beans grew during each of the four previous years.
The first pick of broad beans in early June, with squash plants on the left; within a week we had taken a last harvest of beans, removed the stems and planted cabbage
Lovely compost, in the making of which we regularly added roots of perennial weeds and diseased leaves

3. What you need to focus on

Your two objectives are best soil care and best plant care. Neither is difficult, but both need to be happening for plantings to be successful.

Soil care

Soil preparation is the same for all vegetables when you leave soil undisturbed. Feed the soil,and soil organisms can then multiply and work to organise growth of plants.

No dig saves time and keeps it simple, so that you can continue cropping all year without using synthetic feeds or poisons.

Weed control is also far easier, allowing more time to care for the vegetables and flowers. (See Lesson 2 if you are starting with a lot of weeds, including perennials such as couch grass, Elymus repens.)

July sees new plantings of chard, beetroot, endives and chicories, with no need for bed preparation
The same area of garden at the end of October – still taking harvests from the July plantings, while beans and other beetroot have already been harvested

Plant care – inform your growing so that all time is fruitful

Learn each vegetable’s best timings, spacing, pest control, watering and harvesting. Start with the vegetables you love to eat, learn their needs for time and space, and check that you can meet those needs. Then create a rough plan of what to grow and where.

Success comes from growing vegetables that are adapted to your climate. For example, in temperate climates it’s more sensible to grow potatoes than sweet potatoes. Homegrown potatoes taste delicious!

Your growing plan for a season should include when each sowing and planting will crop and finish (see Lesson 4). Based on this, you can plan any second plantings for succession.

Try things out, be happy to make mistakes, but above all have a go. Always have seeds ready and raise plenty of plants through summer, to keep filling those gaps.

Beef tomatoes on 30th September, grown with a mulch of compost and without any extra feeds – Gigantonomo F1 and Flo de Rio
With Filderkraut white cabbage and Granat red cabbage, the second crop after broad beans and no feed or extra compost given


Vegetables all sown on the same day

sow & propagate
Transplant - Size, time of year, Spacing, support
container growing
Prune and train plants/thin fruit
Harvest times and method
Potential problems