NO DIG for CHILDREN
Working with children in any gardening context can be great fun, and especially with these simple methods. No dig offers rapid bed creation and ultimately less weeding, what not to like! Children engage easily and no dig makes sense to them.
See the Get Started page for how to create beds. It's probably worth having wooden sides, so that children can see clearly the extent of where to garden.
For schools, there is the question of plant and bed maintenance during holidays. Here I offer sowing dates to give harvests in term time. When you use these dates, there is less need for harvesting in the summer holidays, though you will probably still need to do a little watering, and occasional weeding.
See ‘Further Info and Advice’ below for more resources.
You can learn a lot from my social media posts. On Instagram September 2023, I had a lovely comment from Sara Gibson:
"I would like you to know how much we glean from you and put to practice in our school gardens out in Oregon, USA."
This is not all about schools. Many children learn in other settings including at home. Please see this video we made about Lara Honnor's @skoolbeanz project, that is her Instagram handle.
Under cover sowings (eg on a windowsill, or in a greenhouse or polytunnel)
I recommend making sowings in module trays. See this page of my website for information on my CD module trays and other recommended gardening products.
January – peas for shoots
February – lettuce, spinach, beetroot, spring onion, early cabbage, calabrese (large-headed broccoli), cauliflower
March (if there is someone available to look after the plants in summer) – tomatoes, aubergine, pepper, chilli.
These plants all grow best in a polytunnel. The ones most likely to succeed outside are tomatoes, and the best under cover sowing date for them is the last week of March, to plant outside in late May.
April – tomatoes in the first week, and squash for winter in the last week
May – sweetcorn, borlotti beansm,and runner beans Czar for dry beans (see May in ‘Outdoor Sowings’ below)
June, early – swede
June, late – beetroot, bulb fennel (for planting just before the end of the summer term)
The alternative to raising plants from seed would be to source plants that are ready to be set out. It's expensive, but this results in perhaps more reliable harvests. Have a look at The Organic Gardening Catalogue.
Broad beans – early varieties such as Aquadulce Claudia and Witkiem Manita; beans should be ready to harvest by July
March, before Easter
- Early potatoes (make sure you are planting a ‘first early’ variety) – they should be ready to harvest by June.
- Beetroot – preferably Boltardy or an equivalent early variety, because summer beetroots such as Detroit risk bolting (running to seed) from sowing so early. Twist out the first roots in June (they are deliciously sweet), and finish harvesting in July, unless you want monster beetroot in autumn.
- Parsnip – allow three or four weeks for germination; harvest from late September – they will have the sweetest flavour if left until the weather has been frosty.
- Spinach – any early varieties; harvest in May to early June.
- Radish – the fastest vegetable of all, with a milder flavour when eaten young; harvest in late April and May.
- Spring onions – choice of white and red varieties; harvest in June.
- Onion – harvest time is late July to early September; they should store until late winter.
- Peas (from late March to mid-April) – check varietal description to fit your needs; depending on the variety, harvest from about mid-June – most should be picked by late July.
- Lettuce – for picking from May onwards as loose leaves, or from mid-June as hearts.
- More of any of the above, although spinach sown after mid-April tends to bolt before giving many leaves, and radish leaves will be more damaged by flea beetles (lots of tiny holes).
- Carrots – the easiest variety for April is Early Nantes, keep them well weeded and harvest in July; you can also harvest a few baby carrots in June when you thin them out.
- Leeks – usually in a small row to grow pencil-sized plants for planting in late June/July; harvest from October onwards, depending on the variety.
- Sweetcorn after mid-month (it needs warm soil); harvest in September to October, depending on how hot the summer has been, and assuming badgers have not scoffed it.
- For harvesting before the end of the summer term, of all the vegetables above I would recommend only carrots and beetroot, thinly sown for some small roots in July; also leaf beet and chard for spinach-tasting leaves through summer, autumn and even into winter.
- French and runner beans, courgettes and summer squashes can be sown in May but will hardly crop before late July and will require picking through August, to keep them in production. One way around this is to sow them in late June or early July for beans and courgettes in September and up to about mid-October.
- Alternatively, you could grow Borlotti beans and runner bean Czar, and leave them unpicked until late September for picking dry pods with wonderful-tasting beans inside. Czar is a butterbean equivalent.
- Winter squash (onion squash, butternut etc) and pumpkin should grow well from sowing in mid- to late May – they need a hot summer and harvesting in October, before half-term.
- Tomatoes (from sowings made in March or early April) can be planted after mid-May, once all risk of frost is passed, to enjoy tomatoes in September, as long as it has not been too damp through the summer.
- If you enjoy cabbages, kale, calabrese and Brussels sprouts, they can be sown from mid-May to early June for planting out early to mid-July, and then harvesting from September to Christmas. They may be eaten by caterpillars at times but often become healthier in autumn when insect numbers decrease. Swede can be sown in early June.
- Carrots such as Autumn King and Berlicum, sown mid-June, should offer some large roots by late September and through October.
- Beetroot sown in late June should yield roots through the autumn term.
- Leeks should be ready to plant after mid-month.
- In early July, there is still time to sow dwarf French beans, to crop in September and early October.
- Autumn salads such as lettuce and radicchio are sown early to mid-July for harvests through the autumn.
September – November
I hope you will be busy harvesting your vegetables in the autumn. The plantings I recommend at this time are:
- Onions, from sets of Radar or other suitable varieties (read the small print), planted in early October, should be ready by June.
- Garlic – plant cloves in the first half of October (or November if you miss October) for harvesting in late June/early July.
- Broad beans Aquadulce Claudia can stand as small plants from sowing in November. If they survive winter, plants will give beans a month earlier than those sown in February and March
Further info and advice
My YouTube videos receive good comments in terms of child-friendliness. This is from Dan, a photographer, in February 2020:
These videos should be shown in schools, not just to teach children about sustainable gardening, but to teach them how to speak calmly, smile and be welcoming.
I have a bank of Useful Information (a digital product accessible via my website), which contains information on the seasons and weather, a comprehensive glossary of gardening terms I use, a table showing which vegetables belong to which plant family, a table with detailed spacing information for a wide range of vegetables, and a harvesting timeline detailing the main months for sowing and harvesting. Again, I offer this free to schools and children’s gardening clubs. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like access.
I also write a weekly advice newsletter, the ‘What, When and How’, which gives advice on sowing, transplanting, protecting, weeding and harvesting for the week ahead. It runs for nine months each year, from February until October. It contains a fortnightly feature called ‘Your No Dig Stories’, and in March 2023, we featured Phil Brown, a headteacher from North Lincolnshire, who has created a wonderful school no dig garden – you can read about it here. Phil then sent us an update in July 2023, describing the fantastic cross-curricular teaching and learning that has been going on in the garden since – you can read this here. I offer the free subscriptions to the WWH to schools and children’s gardening clubs – please email email@example.com.
No Dig Day Children’s CompetitionS
For this year's No Dig Day, we ran two competitions: Veg Art (please visit our No Dig Day page to see the winning entries), and Best Veg Garden.
The winners of Best Veg Garden are the children of the Eco Committee, ages 4-11, at Holy Trinity Sunningdale Primary School in Berkshire.
With the help of parent volunteers, the children have created an allotment-style garden on their school playing field. They are using the no dig method which 'suits small people as well as the precious soil'.
They now also have a greenhouse, and money has been raised by Savan, age 7, (sponsored triathalon) for a polytunnel. A local family have also donated a good amount of woodchip for the children to use to shape the garden.
The children are so proud of their new project.
The photo shows some committee representatives with their onion bed and garlic beds.
Our very close runner-up is Alby, age 9.
Alby's mother explained:
This is a photo of Alby’s garden which he started at the beginning of this year. Alby has single-handedly learnt the No Dig method from Charles, then taught his family, and has worked out all the sowing dates, spacing and plans for this productive little patch that keeps us well fed. He’s told us what to buy in order to transform the top of our garden into No Dig beds and has bigger plans for next year.
Alby has grown enough courgettes, squash and salads that we haven’t needed to buy any throughout summer and had plenty to give away as well. He’s also grown pumpkins, carrots, radishes, Brussel sprouts, kale, swede (yet to be harvested), and dwarf french beans.
As part of the very first No Dig Day on 3rd November 2022, we set up a competition for children – Create Your Dream Vegetable Garden (see this page for more details of the day).
We had so many wonderful entries (see this page) and were delighted to have group entries from two schools and a community homeschool group, who are using, or planning to use, no dig in their settings.
Nurturing Roots is a homeschool community allotment group in Leicester. They started their growing journey by adopting the no dig method 6 years ago, through watching some of my video tutorials on YouTube. At the time of entering the competition, they were also in the process of setting up a seed and book library at their allotment, and said that their competition prize of my Children’s No Dig Gardening book was going to be one of the first on their shelf!
Finedon Junior School in Northamptonshire has set up an ‘Eco-Council’, in order to improve their school and community’s impact on the environment. One of the first things the children of Chaffinch Class wanted to do was create a garden area on the school grounds, where they could plant food and flowers. Their teacher, Mr Woolgar, explained that the competition gave the children a great chance to discuss what a garden would need. They will shortly be starting their school garden, using the no dig approach.
At Garth Hill College’s ‘Prosper Allotment’, the students participate in weekly horticulture and arts activities. To mark No Dig Day, they created their individual no dig beds, and learnt about the concept of no dig gardening and retaining the richness of soil and its structure. Their teacher, Mrs Deo, explained that they watched my video on how to create a no dig bed, and are now looking forward to the growing season!