No-Dig, by Darren Stephens

No-Dig, by Darren Stephens

August 2022

Some like it hot

This time of year brings mixed emotions. On one hand, there’s the inescapable melancholy about August that lingers ever stronger into September. As the sun's morning rays become more golden, the creeping sense that the game is almost over becomes more real. Like childhood summers, that at one point seemed so long, yet before you knew it the looming shadow of heading back to school was upon you. On the other hand, I will happily succumb to autumn's embrace. I can breathe a sigh of relief and take stock as the year's momentum slows. I will soon be free from the dread of what might happen to the garden if I venture away for longer than a day. I can loosen the shackles of an ever-thirsty kitchen garden and sleep easy knowing there is nothing I should be sowing.

We are not there yet however, there are just a few more important sowing dates in the first week of September for autumn/winter harvests not to be forgotten…spinach, chard, mizuna, salad rocket and all other types of lovely spicy mustard leaves that will replace the summer lettuce. I'm also sowing now for early spring harvests; crops that will grow to a juvenile stage before going dormant over winter and hopefully surviving the winter winds and slugs before finishing their growing in late March… Spring cabbage, shallots, red onion and spring onion harvests are now at their varied peak. Tomatoes and aubergines are sitting alongside winter squash and cavolo nero cabbage on their way to the kitchen. The runner bean teepees and autumn raspberries are now finally laden with harvests after a lot of watering.

I'm pleased I planted plenty of Zinnias back in spring for the first time as they are in seventh heaven, preferring drier, hotter conditions. They have been a joy and a pleasure, the brazen blooms seem to have lasted all summer and the stiff stalks make them perfect for cut flowers in the hotel. The exceptional summer has been perfect for tomatoes too. Looking back on my photos of this time last year, I am reminded of the devastation of having to cut out whole blight infected plants and accept a very short season. In stark contrast this summer, they are still going strong in the dry air and sunshine. I have become a little obsessed with them noting the complex flavour profiles that vary from each variety. ‘Purple Heart Throb’ took the top spot as the tastiest and most stunning tomato I think I have ever seen or eaten. Check out for a great selection of next year's seeds.

I have managed to keep every bed in production all year and I am still busy filling any gaps that emerge to test the no-dig process. All beds will get a good top-up of our Homewood compost over autumn and winter to re-feed and refresh. Brassicas are powering through despite the lack of rain, they seem to find a way whilst others struggle. I have gambled by not putting a net over the Brussel sprout plants and risked just a low four-foot fence as protection from muntjac that have thankfully been very shy in the second half of the year. As for the caterpillars, I have discovered XenTari, which is a biological insecticide containing a natural microorganism that when sprayed onto the leaves of brassicas controls caterpillar larvae. It has worked a treat so far.

It felt like just the other day spring was upon us with its urgent sense of vigour and lush growth. As I survey my little kingdom it looks like it has been through the wars since then. The lack of rain draining much of the vivid colour palette (apart from the Zinnias!). The dusty brown of the surface soil on the beds resembles the parched grass that frames the garden. There have been no water restrictions here, but I only have one hose (whose pressure has been decreasing by the month) for the 1/3 of an acre…it's been quite a challenge. However, it looks as though by the time this goes online, and for the rest of September, the rain clouds will have joined the party and fingers crossed, making up for lost time. 


Until next time…

Darren Stephens

Chef-Gardener, Homewood


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