Gardening Blog March 2017

April 04 2017

WE finished last month’s allotment newsletter with a picture of our pea shoot seed (see below).

WE finished last month’s allotment newsletter with a picture of our pea shoot seed (see below).  

These were from a packet of quite ordinary dried peas bought from the corner shop for about 50p. When grown these make a tasty addition to any sandwich or side dish.  After covering with compost they were placed in a cold greenhouse, after nearly a week, no sign of any movement. So to give them a boost the pot was brought inside and almost immediately the soil warmed up and shoots were pushing through the surface. Three weeks to the day as you can see in the main picture the peas were about 4-6 inches high and ready for cutting. They’re really delicious, give it a try. To prolong the harvest make a double layer of seeds about an inch above the other. Simply keep the compost moist and wait a few days.

We had a few days in the middle of March that were glorious when we were checking our seed potatoes and it was tempting to get sowing but we decided against it. Just as well we didn’t take the chance, two days later it was back to cold and wet, and so our seed spuds have stayed in the shed for a bit longer yet. 

In previous years I’ve usually dug a narrow trench for the potatoes to be planted in and then earthed them up. This year I’m trying a new approach, no dig, simply by using homemade compost.  

Our compost bins have been regularly filled throughout the winter using any green waste from the kitchen with the addition of coffee grounds, tea leaves, crushed egg shells, brown cardboard but not the printed or shiny stuff.

Even in the middle of winter the compost pile was quick to heat up; the outside temperature was about 6c. And just between ourselves, I was able to the sneak the thermometer out from the kitchen at home and test the temperature in the middle of the bin, it was 55c! But I had to get the thermometer back into the cupboard before my wife noticed so it could be used for cooking the turkey on Christmas Day. I’m only joking really, honest!

Once a compost heap has cooled those little red brandling worms that seem to come from nowhere quickly move in and get to work turning all the contents of the bin into fine compost that’s full of nutrients for plants to thrive on. 

No dig gardening has been has been tried and tested for many years and has produced excellent results. Digging can disrupt soil structure and bring dormant weed seeds to the surface allowing them to germinate. With no dig the soil is left undisturbed and weeds do not become so active. A layer of about four inches minimum of compost is initially spread on the ground and as a matter of choice or retained within a raised bed.

The bed we will be using for our potatoes will have no retaining sides. It’s simply a piece of ground that has been left uncultivated since last year and after being cleared has remained untouched. Paths eighteen inches wide have been created across the plot, each had an initial layer of cardboard to suppress any weeds which was then covered in woodchips. The distance between the paths that will be our beds is four feet; this is a good distance to reach either side of the bed. Our seed potatoes will be planted directly into the bare soil some four to six inches deep, even some of the smaller weeds that popped up in the bed area during the winter have not been removed. When the bed is fully planted we’ll cover each row in compost and draw this up so the row is well covered and then firm it down slightly.

If potatoes are earthed up with soil this usually compacts during the growing period and the crop will need digging out, whereas if compost is used it does not compress. When the seed potato germinates it sends roots into the undisturbed soil below itself to feed on all established nutrients in the undug ground whilst the new crop is left to develop into the compost. At harvest, because the compost will still be friable, the fresh crop can be literally pulled from the ground with ease, again no digging is required.

Our photo is of a completely no dig garden belonging to Charles Dowding in Somerset. His excellent crop of potatoes on the left of picture, were harvested last July. Charles has written several books and was recently interviewed by BBC Gardeners’ World on his no dig expertise. Look out for this as it is due to be on our television screens soon.

Since we started writing in Hanham and Longwell Green Voice, our gardeners at Hillside have been delighted with the interest and enquiries we’ve received, readers are obviously quite passionate about their gardening and we want to provide everyone with lots more regular information. Hillside is part of the Bristol East Allotments Association which has a membership of seven allotment sites in the area and from next month we’ll be writing for the whole Association. With this much wider scope we’ll have many more ideas and information that we’ll be able to share with you that we’re sure you’ll find helpful with your own garden, whether yours is a large plot or a patio. For example, at the Allotments Association shop in Nicholas Lane, St George, BS5 8TY a plant sale will be held on May 6 from 9am, there’ll be lots of choice on offer, many plants on sale will have been home grown by plot holders together with a great selection of seeds and sundries as well. Make note in your diary to be there early.

Look out for our new name next month!

In the meantime you can email us at:


Ron Heath