No-Dig, by Darren Stephens

July 2021

Blooms with a view

I'm sure I have the best job at the hotel right now, Summer is in full bloom with long daylight hours and warm temperatures. Flowers are abundant, growth is fast, harvests are more frequent, plus the view is even more stunning. The new polytunnel is up (construction woes a distant memory) and is already on the brink of full production. Guests are more numerous around the plot and answering gardening questions (the best I can!) has become part of the working day. Most crops are doing well to catch up from the cold spring and whilst some have done just that, others have faced different challenges.

I was warned of the presence of deer in the area before I laid a single piece of cardboard, my girlfriend even spotted tracks just meters from the growing area, but I decided there wasn’t much I could do about it. There was only one field to grow on and I hated the idea of covering everything in netting. I decided I would deal with the issue when the time came. Well, the time came and they had a feast! The ruby chard was looking stunning and just a few days from picking until they gorged themselves on the lot. Flowering mange tout plants reduced in size by a third, only the fleshiest spinach devoured, plus even newly planted raspberry canes vanished. I was gutted after all the obstacles I had dealt with over spring. But the garden however is there to be eaten, by two legs or four. It is not mine alone and the unnatural process of bringing in tasty species of plants is going to invite the local fauna in for a nose around. Extra netting has been brought out and a fence of some kind is being considered but it's going to cost a buck.


One area I do consider inviolable is the polytunnel and I love it as much as the plants inside it. At this time of year it creates the perfect environment for all warm-weather crops. The growth on tomatoes as soon as you turn your back is considerable and on cucumbers, just remarkable. These along with aubergine and melons are trained up a single piece of twine per plant, one end tucked underneath the root ball when transplanted the other tied to crop bars. Side shoots are meticulously pinched out daily, I have got quite good at doing it one-handed now while I water with the other. After 80 plants though I literally have green fingers. Basil is cropping well inside and I’m excited to see how the trailing tromboncino squash grows just above it. One-third of the tunnel has benches along each side and is dominated by hundreds of trays of micro cresses in different stages of life. With the hotel being incredibly busy this is one small corner of food production I can keep up with as it takes around two weeks from sowing to harvest.

The days really are long this month, I could quite easily spend every daylight hour in the garden if my body would let me. On the hottest days, just watering can take up much of the day and as much as I hate it, weeding takes a back seat even though bindweed continues to creep around (if only it were an edible delicacy). Watering with a sprinkler is time effective but wasteful and just speeds up weed growth on the edge of beds and paths and it will also make a better habitat for slugs. Another benefit of watering so many plants by hand is that it’s given me time to recite and remember plant names for my upcoming RHS exams. If you do hear me repeating Latin words over and over to myself in the garden I’m not trying to summon a demon, I’m just doing my homework!


Charlotte potato plants are bringing a lot of joy to the plot with their tall bushy leaves dotted with light purple flowers swaying in the wind. It will be a shame to pull them up this month, but the taste of a freshly pulled new potato is one of the things that first inspired me to grow my own and is something a supermarket brought potato will never get close to. Courgettes, beetroots, peas, herbs and edible flowers are all being picked regularly now. Dwarf and runner beans are also getting a move on. Unbelievably snails have caused very little damage…more benefits of the no-dig method! Stones and wooden planks are kept well away from the growing area, so they have little space to hide during the day. Of course, it's not all sunshine and rainbows. April sowed carrots are still struggling along, I've had to do a catch-up sowing in the gaps where germination has been inconsistent in a bid to make the bed look more uniform.


Knowing when to pick is a lesson I am learning too. I spent too long admiring the full growth on a bed of nice evenly spaced lettuce heads only for them to bolt (go to seed) overnight and turn the leaves bitter. The summer will flash by in an instant. A rule of thumb is that every growing day in July is equivalent to two in August and a week in October. So, no time for wasted growing space or too long spent looking at the view!


Until next time,


Darren Stephens

Chef-Gardener, Homewood


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