No-Dig, by Darren Stephens

No-Dig, by Darren Stephens

No-Dig, by Darren Stephens

No-Dig, by Darren Stephens

No-Dig, by Darren Stephens

No-Dig, by Darren Stephens

June 2024

Patience and Produce

The seasons don’t ever divide themselves neatly. Spring flows into early summer in fits and starts, a seesaw of warm and cold weather testing our patience and optimism about summers arrival. This year has been particularly trying. Early June nights have dipped to a frost-threatening 3°C, low enough to keep me awake with worry about tender crops.

Growth is still steady despite the cold. Warm weather crops such as cucumbers and melons are well on their way but not as far as I would like, and a long way behind this time last year. Basil, too, has been having a tough time. In the polytunnel, the tomato plants are curling their leaves—not from lack of moisture but from the dramatic temperature swings between day and night.

As a grower, the first week of June is a week I treasure greatly. The valued but slim harvests of April and May finally give way to a bounty, quelling the annual frustrations from the kitchens.

Beetroot swells with vivid sweetness; early potatoes emerge with a delicate, earthy flavour; spring onions stand tall and bright; spring cabbage forms dense, conical heads; and the luckiest of carrots, survivors of the slug onslaught, all tasting even sweeter for the wait.

Garlic was another significant harvest on June 3rd, planted in October in the polytunnel. Garlic is a joy to grow—just a clove in healthy soil. It thrives in small spaces with upright leaves, allowing for companion planting with nearly any winter crop that doesn’t get too big. It’s remarkably pest-resistant and stores well. I’ve spread my garlic bulbs over pallets in a dry, airy spot for curing.

June wouldn't be complete without strawberries, and this year’s harvest is truly bountiful. There’s nothing like picking them when the sun bathes them in warmth, enhancing their natural sweetness. Grown directly on homemade compost without straw or matting—these strawberries stay remarkably clean and free from slug damage. Now in their third year, the plants are finally delivering after two lacklustre seasons. Moving forward, I plan to grow them successionally, ensuring I always have some plants at their peak, as I believe they tend to lose vigour after the third year.

It’s also a busy month for sowing and nurturing seedlings. There’s still time to sow for summer salads, autumn savoy cabbage, and next spring’s purple sprouting broccoli. I’m still successionally sowing dwarf French beans, hoping for a long, warm summer end to compensate for its late start. It’s also an ideal time to sow carrots, beetroot, and broccoli for large harvests if planted by late June.

Slugs were a nightmare in May! If June brings more rain, we’ll see an even bigger explosion of these pesky molluscs. Dawn and dusk patrols with a knife help keep their numbers down. A fellow gardener swears by placing cucumbers in the beds to lure them away from precious crops—something I’m keen to try.

Gardening is never without its challenges, and I always have more issues than I care to mention but here are a few things that are vexing me most recently.

Young pumpkin plants are struggling in a bed with manure heavy in uncomposted wood shavings, robbing them of nitrogen and turning them yellow. I hope their roots push through it to reach the topsoil soon for the nutrients they need. Shallot sets sown in March, once lush with green shoots, have succumbed to powdery mildew, a disease exacerbated by the cold, damp spring. A close spacing by myself didn’t help them either.  They’ve all been removed and disposed of now. Then there’s a still unknown disease affecting a dozen of my chilli plants, curling leaves, speckling them black, and eventually killing the plant.

Thankfully, having such a diversity of crops means there’s always something else to fill the gaps.

If you know anything about no-dig gardening, you’ve probably heard of Charles Dowding. It's no exaggeration to say he has one of the most highly regarded vegetable gardens in the world and has deeply inspired the kitchen gardens at Homewood and Bishopstrow. It was an honour, albeit nerve-wracking, to have him visit Homewood to film myself and the garden. It felt like a multi-Michelin-star chef visiting your kitchen. His praise was a great reassurance, affirming that we were doing a fine job, even finer than many other kitchen gardens he had seen.

Watch the video >

I'm at the end of my allotted space now and I could ramble on about what is and isn’t growing well but instead, I'll encourage you to ramble and roam down to our kitchen garden and soak it all up yourself.


Until next time…

Darren Stephens

Chef-Gardener, Homewood


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