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November 29, 2022
December 2022 no dig winter prep, compost and polytunnel, store veg, warm autumn and pests, Cookbook

For no dig gardens, there is not a huge amount of preparation before winter. You may be struggling to find space to spread compost, which is a nice problem when beds are still full of vegetables. We slot it in between or underneath, or spread in early autumn before new plantings, or wait until spring.

Cover paths with a thin layer of woodchip, around 3 cm, the same depth as the compost you spread on beds. We made a reel on Instagram about the different types of compost and woodchip you can use.

Winter arrives now with (here) a drop in temperature. Nothing too severe yet, although if debris from Hunga-Tonga’s volcanic eruption arrives over us, we can expect cooler and wetter weather next year.
This autumn has been exceptionally mild and my photos show the incredible results of warm nights as much as warm days. Plus, we have received nearly 400mm (20in) rain in the three months of autumn, a good balance to the very dry conditions before. It’s been a decent growing year, with above average sunshine in the summer.

No dig bed prep with compost spread before winter
No dig bed prep, and here after clearing cabbage, which had followed broad beans in June, we spread compost and sowed broad beans direct three weeks earlier, now they are just appearing. This is also a compost trial, and the later one in front is old cow manure
19th November saw the first frost with -2 C 28 F and there was no significant damage, because all the vegetables are frost hardy now, and this makes the flavours sweeter
19th November saw the first frost with -2 C 28 F and there was no significant damage, because all the vegetables are frost hardy now, and this makes the flavours sweeter
25th November, with white mustard sown as a cover crop six weeks earlier, and there is garlic coming up in that bed. To the left is savoy cabbage and purple sprouting broccoli
25th November, with white mustard sown as a cover crop six weeks earlier, and there is garlic coming up in that bed. To the left is savoy cabbage and purple sprouting broccoli

Making compost

With many harvests still to take from the garden at Homeacres, we have plenty more material to add and make a lot more compost. We increase volume and improve balance/structure by adding old and 3/ 4 decomposed woodchip as a ‘brown’, also I have a lot of paper and cardboard from book packing.

There are many brown materials available now and it’s a good time to stockpile them, for using next summer. You could gather tree leaves and put them in a pile, then add them to the green leaves of  spring and summer. Or have woodchips delivered, see Arbtalk website.

Successful compost is from having a decent mix of about 3/4 by volume green and 1/4 brown. The brown materials help to hold air in the heap. And we retain heap warmth by lining the pallets with cardboard. This video explains it.

Three pallet compost heaps and the two on right are finished therefore covered against rain
Three pallet compost heaps and the two on right are finished, therefore covered against rain
Broad beans sown direct 17th October, rye for grain transplanted and suffering wireworm see below, and white mustard sown late September
Broad beans cover crop sown direct 17th October, rye for grain transplanted and suffering wireworm see below, and white mustard sown late September
Alessandro Vitale of @spicymoustache, filming for a video about different types of compost and woodchip, is a reel on Instagram
Alessandro Vitale of @spicymoustache, filming for a video about different types of compost and woodchip, is a reel on Instagram

Sow broad beans?

Is it too late? When I arrived at Homeacres 10 years ago, the garden was non-existent and in the first beds I made in December, I sowed broad beans on Christmas Day. They made a decent harvest the following June. I find Aquadulce Claudia is hugely reliable, and home saved seed grows more strongly than most bought seed.

Broad beans are incredibly resistant to cold, but success depends on winter weather. It’s now safest to sow them in module trays, as in the photo below, and I was not sure of success with the small cells of my CD trays, but it has worked really well. Just as long as you transplant them quite small, which we do anyway with great success for all vegetables. Or use larger cell trays if you plan to keep the beans for longer before transplanting.

Going forwards, there is no rush to sow anything now until the second half of February. Only under cover, with added warmth preferably. See the Sowing Timeline on this website, my wall Calendar for 2023, and we have published a Southern Hemisphere timeline which you can download here.

Broad beans just transplanted as two week old seedlings, after clearing cabbage and spreading 3 cm home-made compost
Broad beans just transplanted as two week old seedlings, after clearing cabbage and spreading 3 cm home-made compost
Broad beans sown 24 days earlier in the small cells of my CD module tray
Broad beans sown 24 days earlier in the small cells of my CD module tray
The same bed on 26th November, 10 days after transplanting the broad bean seedlings
The same bed on 26th November, 10 days after transplanting the broad bean seedlings

Autumn growth

November days have averaged 13 C, and nights 6 C (55 to 43 F). The equivalent figures, this week are going to be 7 C days and -1 C nights, a huge drop!

The photographs give an idea of how plants have been growing healthily, if slowly. Days are now short and the light level each day is very small: you can see the effect of this on the calabrese plants, left side in the first two photos below. The same plants have continued to grow and produce, yet now are smaller! We notice this with salad leaves that we harvest through the winter – the new ones are so much smaller and thinner!

18th October, left to right in central block is calabrese, spring onions, cabbage, leeks, kale and parsnips, all are second plantings
18th October, left to right in central block is calabrese, spring onions, cabbage, leeks, kale and parsnips, all are second plantings
27th November, calabrese still giving small harvests, cabbage bed is now broad beans just emerging, beds have compost when harvests finish and paths have new woodchip - no cardboard, just hand weeding (v little:)
27th November, calabrese still giving small harvests, cabbage bed is now broad beans just emerging, beds have compost when harvests finish and paths have new woodchip – no cardboard, just hand weeding (v little:)
Cabbage Filderkraut was transplanted 24th June, sown seven weeks before that
Cabbage Filderkraut was transplanted 24th June, sown seven weeks before that, ready for harvest now

I am writing this on the morning of the 29th November when it’s frosty outside. I was expecting it and therefore yesterday afternoon I harvested the last fennel because, although they tolerate some frost, the quality is not improving any more. They actually store better in a cool shed than in the ground, by December.

The Claytonia in contrast is remarkably tolerant of freezing, although again the quality goes off with some leaves browning. The photo is before frosts.

27th November, Perfektion fennel transplanted on 31st August, in two rows either side of two year, old asparagus. Now it is harvested and in the shed
27th November, Perfektion fennel transplanted on 31st August, in two rows either side of two year, old asparagus. Now it is harvested and in the shed
After dwarf French beans we transplanted small module plants of Claytonia/winter purslane, and that was after spreading around 2.5 cm/1 in of home-made compost, these were transplanted nine days earlier.
15th October after clearing dwarf French beans, we transplanted small module plants of Claytonia/winter purslane, and that was after spreading around 2.5 cm/1 in of home-made compost, these were transplanted nine days earlier.
The same plants seven weeks later on 27th November, a remarkable amount of growth at the back end of the year in low light levels
The same plants seven weeks later on 27th November, a remarkable amount of growth at the back end of the year in low light levels

Informing you

This year with Alessandro Vitale @spicymoustache, we filmed plantings through a whole season to show the sequence of growth, and I just released a May-to-September outdoor tomato video. During the winter, we shall bring out a similar, sequential video about growing melons.

With Nicola, I have been doing some cooking videos, from interesting recipes in the Cookbook! It’s been a good experience for me because much as I like cooking, I don’t always find the time – and making a video means I have to! We already published one about making bhajis on Instagram, and a celeriac coleslaw/remoulade one, and soon I shall publish one about the lovely stew you see in the photo. This link should take you to it, even before it’s published.

With Edward, we made a video to explain my books. Since there are four new ones this year, it’s now a large number, and Anna suggested creating an information source to guide people towards the most appropriate book for them. As well as the video we created a webpage with this information, together with my description of how each book came to be written. And how I came to do any writing in the first place, back in the 1980s.

Stew of squash and spinach, video thumbnail
Stew of squash and spinach, video thumbnail
A harvest of my outdoor tomatoes on the 17th August, Dorenia and Sungold and an F2
A harvest of my outdoor tomatoes on the 17th August, Dorenia and Sungold and an F2
A selection of my titles, published since 2007, and one still to appear in January 2023
A selection of my titles, published since 2007, and one still to appear in January 2023

Under cover for winter

At this point, the plantings we made in mid October are looking fantastic, with leaves still quite large. We have picked every plant twice already which is once more than normal. Going forwards, after each pick the new growth will be smaller as winter sets in.

Until now, we have watered every week, but going forwards, I expect to water only once in December, after our final pick of this year just before Christmas. And then probably I shall not water again until the end of January. The air here in our oceanic climate is very damp during the winter, and growth is so slow because of low light levels.

I am writing two more course modules. One forgrowing in winter under cover, and one for growing in summer under cover. They should appear by the end of January.

Polytunnel salad plants before a second pick on 19th November with mustards and salad rocket this end
Polytunnel salad plants before a second pick on 19th November with mustards and salad rocket this end
Two hours later and just this end has been picked, we do it in halves, meaning there is two weeks between each harvest. This pick gave around 11 kg.
Two hours later and just this end has been picked, we do it in halves, meaning there is two weeks between each harvest. This pick gave around 11 kg.
The doors stay open both ends, all through the winter, unless it's a high wind. The bottom panels are my idea for keeping out animals and to reduce draft at ground level, while I always want air movement above the plants to keep mildew in check and growth healthier.
The doors stay open both ends, all through the winter, unless it’s a high wind. The bottom panels are my idea for keeping out animals and to reduce draft at ground level, while I always want air movement above the plants to keep mildew in check and growth healthier.

Pests, diseases – online modules coming soon

Always I cover summer sowings of carrots with mesh, and that reduces damage. However by mid-November the maggots are eating quite a lot. As you can see in the photo. The warm autumn has not helped because I should like to have harvested them before they got this bad! We are finding that Oxhella carrots suffer less damage, while the photo is Nantes, softer and more juicy.

Slugs are a problem only where we give them habitat, and that is the case with the old asparagus bed. We put 18 month old woodchip through a 12mm / half inch sieve and it looked nice. However, after rain you can see there’s still quite a bit of wood in there, and some spinach we transplanted between the asparagus has mostly been eaten by slugs. Normally this does not happen where the surface of beds is unsieved compost.

A more difficult problem this autumn has been cucumber mosaic virus, transmitted by aphids on spinach. I never saw any aphids! It’s worse on a planting we made 19th August, compared to one made on 31st August. I’m still learning about that.

Damage to carrots caused by maggots of the root flies, and this is one of my least favourite sights in the garden
Damage to carrots caused by maggots of the root flies, and this is one of my least favourite sights in the garden
Two weeks after transplanting spinach into a bed recently mulched with this sieved woodchip. Slugs are clearly numerous.
Two weeks after transplanting spinach into a bed recently mulched with this sieved woodchip, not compost. Slugs are clearly numerous.
CMV or Cucumber Mosaic Virus shows yellowing leaves on spinach, and thin central leaves
CMV or Cucumber Mosaic Virus shows yellowing leaves on spinach, and thin central leaves

Vegetables to store

In our temperate climate, some vegetables can stand outside all winter, including beetroot, as well as parsnip and winter varieties of leek. However, if temperatures drop below -4 C 25 F consistently, I find it better to harvest beetroot and keep it undercover in boxes or crates with a little soil on, and with a mouse trap nearby. We are catching quite a few already, and I learnt the value of this after losing a large amount of celeriac one winter. The mice eat it from below, so it was not obvious how much was being consumed!

Many vegetables are under cover already, such as garlic, onions, and winter squash, which store best in the dry air of your house. We have now harvested all the celeriac, even though they resist frost, because here I suffer Septoria disease. It firstly discolours the leaves, and then starts to rot celeriac from the top, in damp weather.

The feature photo of this post is my shed on 29th November, where we have the Chinese cabbage, celeriac, and radicchio which you can see, also there are hearts of white and red cabbage, trays of onions and garlic and beetroot recently harvested.

Celeriac in new area just before final harvest 19th November, with psb and savoy cabbage behind, bed in front has garlic
Celeriac in new area just before final harvest 19th November, with psb and savoy cabbage behind, bed in front has garlic
16th November, Chinese cabbage Yuki F1 just before harvest and we can store them for 4 to 6 weeks if it's cool.
16th November, Chinese cabbage Yuki F1 just before harvest and we can store them for 4 to 6 weeks if it’s cool.
18th November after trimming all damaged leaves and checking hearts for burrowing caterpillars, I lay a polythene sheet over the top but without wrapping them
18th November after trimming all damaged leaves and checking hearts for burrowing caterpillars, I lay a polythene sheet over the top but without wrapping them

No Dig Cookbook

We had a fantastic evening in City Café, St Werburgh’s in Bristol. Leona was a brilliant host, and everybody who came along is a keen gardener as well as interested in eating the results. That has been the main purpose of the book, to consolidate linkage between what you can grow, more easily with no dig, and how to eat it. We sell it on offer with the Calendar, and in a three pack offer with my new No Dig book.

The recipes are not strict. All of the proportions given look precise but there’s room for fluctuation and for example, in the celeriac dish, I reduced the oil from 400 mL to 250, and I added extra parsley!

Cat has just had a baby so she’s been a bit out of action recently, it was great to catch up with her.

With Catherine Balaam at the book launch.
With Catherine Balaam at the book launch.
Chard and onion bhajis, made with gram flour so zero gluten, and I fried them rather than deep fried.
Chard and onion bhajis, made with gram flour so zero gluten, and I fried them rather than deep fried.
With Leona Williamson in City Cafe
With Leona Williamson in City Cafe, such a beautiful building
In my kitchen peeling garlic for the stew of squash and spinach
In my kitchen peeling garlic for the stew of squash and spinach
Celeriac remoulade 16th November 830g celeriac, 2 egg yolks, 250ml oil, 3 cloves garlic, 2 tbsp Dijon mustard, bunch parsley
Celeriac remoulade 16th November 830g celeriac, 2 egg yolks, 250ml oil, 3 cloves garlic, 2 tbsp Dijon mustard, bunch parsley

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