No-Dig, by Darren Stephens

No-Dig, by Darren Stephens

September 2023

Sumautumn/not quite autumn

It's not summer, its not quite autumn but it is a time of rapid change. In what felt like a sudden turn, we find ourselves transported into probably my favourite time of year. Growth is slowing but planting and harvests continue unhindered.

August was a busy month and an updated blog had to take a back seat. Whole days were spent collecting the bumper harvests, all helped along by that lovely heatwave we had… which now seems a lifetime ago.

There were a couple of weeks in the month when we had more produce than the kitchens could make good use of. Such a contrast to the early months of the year when any harvest was precious and the chefs chased me for produce. It was a perfect time to do veg boxes for much-appreciated colleagues and neighbours of the kitchen gardens, needless to say, nothing is wasted.

It has been an exceptional year for beans. We are still picking the dwarf yellow French bean ‘Voltage’. A very heavy cropper with beautiful colour. I would also recommend the climbing bean ‘Cobra’ long with a smooth surface as the name suggests, it isn’t the most consistent in size but has the best flavour of all the summer beans I have tried.

Another new variety I am still unsure whether to recommend is summer sprouting broccoli. It was planted in early June and is now a substantial plant but pickings have been slim as it has been very shy to produce an abundance of its tender green stems with deep purple flowering buds. The next few weeks will be now or never.

The many shades of green from all the brassica plants are now filling up the majority of the garden, with black kale or cavolo nero the first to be harvested to bring an autumnal flavour to the menu. Leeks, spinach and squash will follow soon.

I currently only have one empty bed as we said goodbye to the yellow ‘sunstripe’ courgettes (also highly recommended). I firmly believe that healthy soil will always have something growing in it (if possible) the idea that beds need a rest to recover is very old-fashioned now. So for the next few weeks as beds do become empty I will sow a cover crop in its place. I've chosen white mustard as it's fast-growing and its foliage should smother any weeds. It won’t be for harvesting, its purpose is to build and maintain soil fertility and structure. it will be left in the ground until the frost kills it turning it into manure and all the nutrients it absorbed return to the soil. It's sown directly and fairly densely to do the job.

I have just sown the last of my other seeds for the year now, salad rocket, mustard frills and ‘Wasabina’. All salad leaves with a spicy kick. The next few weeks are still a good time to sow garlic undercover or outside, simply pop a clove a few inches deep in the ground pointed side up. 

There isn’t much else you can sow now that will have strong enough roots for winter or be big enough to harvest before the first frost. I will plant the salad leaves in the tunnel after the tomatoes and capsicum plants come out in a couple of weeks. Spinach, parsley coriander and dill are also waiting in module trays for the big turnaround. These will crop all through winter especially well in autumn and early spring.

Many of the crops are in their end of days now and not as pleasant on the eyes as they used to be. September brings senescence, the gradual decay and eventual dying off of annual plants like courgettes and tomatoes. And the stripping of foliage from perennials like raspberries. The once lush green turns brown and dishevelled. It is inevitable and seems to happen so quickly. It isn’t all doom and gloom of course the once verdant pumpkin patch with its mass of huge leaves and runners withers and shrinks away rather unpleasantly only to reveal its huge hidden orange gems.


With the hectic gardening schedule reducing slightly I can enjoy the quieter moments at the end of the day when an ever earlier setting sun illuminates the interior of the polytunnel with an orange hue. The silhouette of the now skeletal tomato plants hanging peacefully in their rows, clinging on to the last of its fruits as we cling on to the last of summer's warmth. A good time to reflect on our best harvest so far.

My new recipe is up - ALL YOU NEED IS LOVAGE

Until next time…

Darren Stephens

Chef-Gardener, Homewood


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