Agriculture Community Ecology Food Growing Health Practice Soil Therapy Urban


My son Sam’s biology teacher gave him some Nigella seeds. I sowed them in October 2022 over where I had previously grown Buckwheat. The Buckwheat, which is leguminous and puts nitrogen back into the soil, was with a view to restoring the container to use. Before the Buckwheat I had grown Broad Beans, itself also leguminous.

Over the past three years I haven’t dug up any containers or pots. This has been to see whether the no dig principles work in this context. I have never pulled old plants out by the roots (unless they have been Beetroot or Carrots!), only cut them off at the base of the stem, and have just dressed over the previous patch with some compost.

Over the course of a season the soil level subsides. This is partly owing to compaction through gravity but is also because the plants’ growth is the soil’s output of matter, of carbon. So it does make some room for compost to be layered on top. So far this has worked fine for me.

In January 2023 I could see some slight signs of growth, but really I thought these were weeds, or possibly the Buckwheat growing back. I’m not expert enough to identify plants at this size.

These were taken in March and April. I was excited about the growth, but was still pretty sure that this was a weed or the Buckwheat growing back (itself sometimes viewed as a weed!).

By mid May the growth was looking luscious and I was beginning to be hopeful that I’d had some success with the Nigella seeds.

Then it became clear from their alien bulbous heads and magnificent flowers that this was Nigella and that the experiment had worked.

These two images below taken on my phone through a magnifying glass I got for my birthday. There’s a pretty chromatic aberration and a lovely background blur from the shallow focus. The architecture of these flowers is just exquisite.

In the first week of June things really took off. There is some kind of ecstacy at this time of year. Indeed in the period leading up to the summer solstice on June 21st one’s garden is truly magnificent. Thereafter the promise of the summer feels like it is ebbing away quite dramatically.

Before I gardened I definitely got the feeling of summer as being a longer phenomenon. It’s interesting how the practice connects you to the seasons. In London it might still be hot, giving the sense of a perpetuating season, but the reality is different.

I’m still planting new seeds though now directly outdoors: Rudbeckia, Hyssop, Buckwheat, Lady Di Beans, Courgette, Lettuce, Leeks. But this maybe with a view to hopefully squeezing a crop in before the end of the year, and expecting less growth.

This was taken on the 8th June – not a great shot but shows the full flowering.

And this on 21st June at the solstice. As you can see all the petals have fallen away.

With the flowers giving up the ghost I got a bit more relaxed about the cats wanting to wander in the bed. Here’s the Grey Cat enjoying herself. I love her expression in the second photo: “I am not here. You can not see me!”

At the start of July I cut the flowers and hung them to dry in my study window. The day before yesterday I noticed that the seeds had started to drop from the heads onto the window-ledge.

This morning I put the whole bouquet in a large, clear, plastic bin bag and shook it gently. Then I decanted the seeds into a jam jar.

Nigella Sativa, to give it its fancy name, is an ornamental flower but its seed is also used a spice (sometimes called Black Caraway or Black Cumin) and is also implemented in traditional medicine systems, Unani and Tibb, Ayurveda and Siddha. In this sense it’s also a crop. I will probably try eating some, maybe as a spice on some of carrots, and then sow the rest in the autumn.

With thanks to Julie.