This Week’s Guest Blogger is Graham Porter FCIHort, a Horticultural Advisor, Author and current BBC Radio Leeds Gardening Expert

From Winter into Spring.

As the days lengthen and the snowdrops emerge from their dormancy, on those occasional and increasingly more frequent balmy winter days, we might be lucky enough to see a Queen bumblebee bumbling about in our gardens searching for a quick nectar fix for energy and a few micrograms of pollen to help her with egg production. Of course, if our gardens have nothing in flower during the November to March period of the year, she may run out of energy as she expands her range to other gardens.

These visits may seem insignificant in the great scheme of things, but, once spring gets into full swing, her dedication and our gardening support will pay dividends for both, as some of our spring flowering fruit trees wake up and she and her offspring start to do their vital work of pollination.

So, what should we be planting in our gardens that flower in the dormant season, for our pleasure and the Queen bumblebees needs? There are a number of shrubs that flower on and off during the winter and spring months, many of which are highly scented as well as being spectacular in their flower displays – Chimonanthus praecox, Cornus mas, Edgeworthia chrysantha, Hamamelis mollis, Lonicera fragrantissima, Mahonia japonica, Sarcoccoca confusa, and Viburnum farreri are amongst the best to search out, giving nectar and pollen to a hungry bumblebee. As winter roles gently into spring, the pollen provided by male willow (Salix) and hazel (Corylus) flowers can provide our bees with an important source of food to help her produce more eggs.

Alongside the shrubs, there are a number of bulbous and herbaceous plants that can provide a vital nectar and pollen source –

Anemone blanda, Crocus spps, Eranthus hyemalis, Galanthus nivalis and Helleborus spps will all provide a feeding opportunity for our native bumblebees as well as giving us pleasure.

Graham Porter FCIHort.
You can read more on this subject in Graham’s book, The Yorkshire Organic Gardener (ISBN 978-1-911148-24-1)

This Week’s Guest Blogger is Neil Wilson who writes about his “NoDig Allotment”

I am a retired Food and Beverage Manager and have been a very keen gardener all my life. I am a Director on the committee at Tilling Drive Allotment Association CIC in Stone Staffordshire. I`m helping others turn their allotments / gardens onto the NoDig system.

What is NoDig gardening? Fundamentally, it is where you disturb the soil the least amount of times as possible. Instead of conventional digging, turning organic matter into the soil, I have used a layer of brown cardboard with no plastics or coating, you spread your organic compost over the top of the cardboard and plant seedlings into the compost. Having this base layer of organic matter encourages worms and microorganisms to come to the surface to feed, which in turn, produces a more fertile and stable base to grow your produce.

This way of gardening has many benefits, (not least – no more back breaking digging!) including a significant reduction in weeds and no need for bed preparation between crops. NoDig produces a good soil structure, draught resilience by retaining more water and reducing evaporation, which as a result, requires much less watering than traditional methods of gardening.

In January 2021 I turned my allotment into a NoDig plot, and for experimental comparison, I am recording everything harvested over a three year period. Throughout 2021 I noticed that there was a significant reduction in slug/aphid damage to my crop in comparison to the previous year. I was keen to continue producing a crop organically, the only feed I have used is a homemade fermented plant juice, extracted from nettles and sprayed as a foliage spray onto runner beans as another experiment.

Since starting to harvest (April –December 2021) we have enjoyed a total of nearly 194kilos of produce. Given that my allotment is only a half plot at 100 square metres, I am growing as much seasonable vegetables as possible. I could see the benefits of NoDig gardening immediately and without any effort.

I have found that, combined with sowing seeds at the right time, this way of gardening produces excellent, bountiful produce. I sow all my seed using the Wining and Waxing moon phases, which give seeds that little extra help with germination making a healthier and stronger plant.

Having just completed my first year of NoDig Gardening I am convinced this is the way forward for me.

Neil Wilson has created “Neil Wilson’s NoDig Allotment” group on Facebook if you would like to find out more about his allotment.



This Week’s Guest Blogger is CBBC & BBC Presenter and Founder of the School Gardening Success Plan, Lee Connelly, The Skinny Jean Gardener who talks about why he got into school gardening

Having got to my mid twenties believing that potatoes grew on some incredible potato tree, and cauliflowers grew in the darkness of the soil, it wasn’t until I found myself on an allotment at 26 that I realised this may have not been quite true.

So how did I get to this age not knowing. Well mainly because in my younger years it was never talked about. Dads garden was a look but don’t touch, he was very proud of it and to be honest I can see a little why he didn’t want me tearing though his hard work, even if I do suggest it now, to let children run wild and enjoy the space you’ve got.

My school gardening time was mainly spent round a muddy old pond. That’s it. So it was no wonder that while I was tucked away in my room revising for GCSE’s (5 A stars if your asking) in my teenage years, and breaking some moves on the dance floor in my early twenties, that I made it to the grand old age of 26 not having a clue.

To cut a long story short, I started an allotment, and somehow ended up a TV presenter, on CBBC Blue Peter no less. And so I was thrown into children’s gardening teaching parents how to garden together, to then become a parent myself. That got me thinking, do I want my daughter to get to her mid twenties not knowing where her food comes from?!

Together we spent time building our garden, taking on her ideas, testing them and finally turning that into a book. Then through my work with the BBC, brands and touring the UK I realised that the best way to get children was not only through parents, but through schools and teachers.

But here lay the problem. As much as teachers knew the benefits of gardening at school (which clearly had come a long way since that muddy pond at my school), teachers had no plan or idea what to do, no structure to make that happen. There had been plenty of campaigns, some of which I had been part of, that promoted school gardening, but none that stuck around long enough after that photo shoot that you’d see in your local paper with some clever pun like “Growing knowledge” or something like that.

It was half way through my final tour of that kind that I realised I was the problem. I was the one that was stopping school gardening by showing up and disappearing and vowed to change that and finally do something about it. You can watch the documentary of this here..

So over 2020/2021 I spent time, money and a lot more time working on The School Gardening Success Plan. I worked with brands that I trusted to keep the cost low for schools, set up a team to support teachers, and created lessons that I knew throughout the year teachers could easily play out with their class ending up with a successful crop at the end of it. It’s everything that I wish I had when I was younger and everything that I new my daughter and children her age would appreciate and learn from.

We supply all the equipment, lessons, and most importantly teacher support. One of the biggest things I realised while visiting schools was that there were many ambassadors of school gardening out there, teachers, parents and volunteers. They inspired, pushed the gardening message, and taught children where their food come from, all while support children’s mental heath, getting them outside and away from a screen. The were instrumental in keeping children gardening. It was the schools without these heroes that struggled, and not down to the fault of the teachers that were there. There just was no guide for it. So I made sure that we support teachers with a team of people to answer all of their questions. We want success all over the UK.

In fact by 2025 we are going to have 30,000 primary schools using this plan. That’s almost every primary school in the UK. Then we will sped the next 10 years making sure every class has one, so that children everywhere in the UK will have a space to grow and care for wildlife..

..and no one will be looking for that magical potato tree ever again.

Find out more about The School Gardening Success Plan at

This Week’s Guest Blogger is Simon Gibbons, the owner of StrawBaleVeg UK and he writes about Growing Vegetables in Straw Bales

When my family and I move to our present house on the edge of the famous Viking Way we inherited a very large garden. I was determined to grow masses of vegetables. I come from generations of farmers but was not by any means an expert gardener. So, I read. A lot. My one concern was that as a young girl, my wife had been involved in a serious road accident. The specialist at the time said the pain she suffered in her back would get worse as she got older. He was right. I wondered if there was a method of gardening that did not involve quite so much bending. I cast about looking both here and abroad. I came at last across strawbale gardening. Due to the height of the strawbales it is great for people with mobility issues. You don’t need soil so it follows that you can site your strawbale garden on most surfaces. Concrete, grass etc. This makes it ideal for wheelchair users. It’s a no dig method and weed free. I set about refining the method and found it was very successful. Most vegetables can be grown in strawbales. My personal favourites are potatoes, runner beans, onions, cabbage and lettuce.

Over a drink one night with a pal we were discussing strawbale gardening and he suggested I start a Facebook group. I did and it now has over two and a half thousand members. I thought there could be something here. I now teach strawbale gardening, have my own range of vegetable herb and flower seeds and I have released my own e-book on the subject. Its not just a question of pushing a few seeds in a bale, it is a little more complicated than that, but perfectly doable. In the book it lists different strawbale setups. Many have all round access so very good for wheelchair users. All parts of this method can be done from a sitting position. The book tells you day by day how to “mature” the strawbales. This means adding a nitrogen-based feed and water to get the bales composting. This makes an ideal environment for seeds and plants to thrive. I have people from Manchester to Melbourne who have had marvellous results. The very first thing I grew was tomatoes. The book goes into the how to of this as well. It is packed with hints and tips. I have people with just one strawbale outside their patio doors to massive twenty bale systems. It’s so accessible to everyone. You are welcome to get in touch with me through my website

If you want to give it a grow here is the link to my ebook.

I hope you get bumper crops.