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December 1, 2023
December 2023 winter harvests and no dig prep

The main garden job this month is mulching/covering any spare beds with compost, and any pathways with a little woodchip. Compost can be even half decomposed, it will have time to break down further through winter and the first will break up lumps.

In the main photo, you are seeing homemade compost that is only four months old. My heaps reach 70°C/158°F, which speeds decomposition. It also makes the compost darker in colour, compared to the brown compost you see from lower temperatures ,and more woody materials such as decomposed woodchip.

Compost homemade is two to four months old
Compost at front is only ten weeks old, average date of materials added. I turned it two weeks ago. At the far end is four month compost we are using now.
Sinapis alba mustard in front is dying after a -5C frost, garlic is there too!
The mustard in front is dying after a -5C frost, and there is garlic underneath it. Beyond is claytonia, mizuna, spinach and land cress. Since this photo of 28th November, the chicories and endives are harvested to store, and their beds mulched with compost

Harvests and store

Before mulching, you may have harvests to take. We have pulled all beetroot and celeriac, also radicchios and Chinese cabbage, now endives too! This weekend is forecast -7C here.

in the end it was -5C twice, and now on 12th December is much milder, 12C by day.

Endives pulled with some roots to store green
Endives pulled with some roots and compost on main roots, now packed into crates, and next…
These crates stay in the shed on a frosty night, otherwise on the veranda
This shed is a simple wood floor and walls, no insulation. Everything in it can freeze! But will be damaged less or mostly not at all, compared to being outside. I shall sprinkle a little water on the endives, may use them in 2-3 weeks.

Trial Results 2023

The two bed trial has just finished it's 11th year of cropping. The increase of harvests through no dig is this year 20%, compared to an average of 12% from 2013 to 2022.

Both beds receive the same amount of compost, and same plantings.

Table of no dig tral harvests 2023
I divide the table in two, to assess differences between first and second harvests. f means followed so kale followed onions for example.Only kale, peas and the second sowing of carrots gave notably higher harvests from the dig bed.
The trial beds in early autumn with dig bed bottom and no dig top, all second plantings.
The trial beds in early autumn with dig bed bottom and no dig top, all second plantings. See below for the bed prep of 1st December
11 years of trial results with 12% more food from no dig, same amounts of compost
A summary of results. 2017 was a great weather year!!

Cover crop?

From now until March, it's too cold for new sowings to germinate reliably. Yet I still see the crazy advice to sow cover crops in winter. It depresses me to think of people wasting seeds! The compost mulch of no dig is doing a great job of covering soil and feeding soil organisms.

If you have pea or broad bean transplants (not seed!), they can still go in. Preferably with a cover on top to hold a little warmth and give wind protection. Next week 4th December I plan to transplant broad / fava beans in the trial beds. Today 1st December I am digging the dig bed, incoporating compost from the Daleks, while Adam spreads the same amount of compost on the no dig bed.

photo 5th December

The small garden in contrast has almost no empty soil:

Small garden early December, lots still growing, slowly!
27th November small garden. In the middle are spring cabbage and cauliflower, mesh removed so I could tidy plants and catch caterpillars plus slugs.

Covers in Winter

I use mesh or thermacrop covers, more than fleece which is easily ripped by any high wind in winter.

The brassicas above have mesh over, it filters the wind so increases warmth a little in any sun. Likewise the thermacrop over broad beans below, it's tough and hepls the plants to survive at least.

Winter cover on boad beans is thermacrop mesh, weather protection
Broad bean transplants, shallow wires 1.8m long and Thermacrop on top

Potting compost for 2024

Yes it's time to think ahead. Maybe put some of your best homemade compost under cover, so it will be dry enough by late winter to pass through a sieve and add to other ingredients for a potting compost. See this video for ideas.

We ran a trial in November of different composts for broad beans. Best germination and most even growth was from Pete's Pete Free, even better than my own compost. Moorland Gold was good but less good, thanks to it being so dense for seed germination. Adding a little perlite can help.

Trial of 2 potting composts and Pete's peat free did well
Seeds sown same day in Pete's compost left, Moorland Gold right

Difficult pests

We have lost a lot of leek harvest to Allium leaf miner. Next year it looks like I shall need to cover leek transplants with mesh, from about mid August.

Before that, I'm worried about garlic and onions!

Allium leaf miner, a difficult pest
Typical leaf miner damage, and there was more below this.
Woodlice, pillbug damage to celeriac
Damage to celeriac by woodlice, from the compost having just tooo much undecomposed wood. Most of the celeriac is usable.

1st December Trial beds so different to prepare

Trial beds after Adam spread two barrows 9 month old Dalek compost on no dig bed right
Adam spread two barrows 9 month old Dalek compost on no dig bed right
Dig bed, Trench of soil removed to wheelbarrow + 3 buckets also, now compost goes in the trench
Trench of soil removed to wheelbarrow + 3 buckets also, now compost goes in the trench
1 Dig bed of trial, I keep digging trenches and then
Note the moss, only in any quantity on the dig bed. I keep digging trenches (contents of first one are in barrow), then …
2 Dig bed of trial, I add the compost into each successive trench
I add the compost into each successive trench

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