There were several things in gardening that were confusing me. So in order to sort them out in my own mind, I have decided to write about them.
I'm going to start with where plant nutrients come from in nature, how they flow through the biological system and how they are recycled. I am not interested in unsustainable industrial fertilisers. I am interested in the nutrients that were there before. They must have come from somewhere. I have an inkling that they originate from the parent rock but how do they get from rock to plant? The geologists would have us believe that this is purely a physical process but biology plays a much bigger role than they are letting on.
I have read a lot of books about the soil in the past year but very few of them have really answered my questions clearly and none of them from a gardener's perspective. Gardening books just seem to repeat the engineering geology of soils rather than anything of interest to the gardener. The vast topic of the biology of the soil has only been scratched at.
Just repeating over and over that there are a lot of microbes in the soil is not really helpful either. There are a lot of microbes everywhere - what is special about the soil microbe community and how can it be affected by the chemicals we spread on the soil? How can gardeners influence the soil community for the better and produce abundant yields while doing it?
Soil takes a long long time to be made naturally so leaving it to worms is not really an option for a gardener. So this is where I am going to start. Following the nutrients and where they go.
Tuesday, 18 July 2017
I have left the sweet peas to grow where they will now that they have reached the top of the canes. I could have kept taking out side shoots and tendrils but I did not have time to do this properly. They are from seeds I kept from last year. I think that I will buy some new seed and plant varieties in rows next year. The plants grew much better this year. I sowed them much later than I usually do - in March and planted them out late to miss the flea beetle damage. Although the soil is quite fertile, I don't think that the right Rhizobium bacteria has colonised the ground. The plants are not as good as those on my old allotment. I reconsidered the effort I was putting in to produce four and five flower stems and it was not really worth it for cutting for the house. I don't exhibit so it is not quite so important. I have shown to myself that I can grow really good outdoor sweet peas and that is all I wanted to do.
They are a break crop, flowers for the house and a green manure; all of which are of great use for the allotment.
However, I might put in a little more effort next year. I will trench the rows, use compost and woody chippings as a mulch and possibly use some hoof and horn to fertilize them. The hoof and horn is very slow acting nitrogen fertilizer. This will provide a little nitrogen but also allow Rhizobium to colonize the roots of the sweet peas without being inhibited.
|I have started to collect some dahlia plants|
|Leeks under the enviromesh.|
I will continue to cover the leeks until I am sure that it is not going to cause the leeks problems. I took the covers off during the summer last year and did not put them back on soon enough to prevent the fly from laying eggs so this year the covers will stay on. The flies emerge at the end of summer and lay eggs through September and October and these are the ones that cause the damage in leeks.
|A weedy patch of leeks.|
This shows what would happen to the allotment if I did not weed and mulch the ground. There are lots of weeds under the scaffold netting because I have not taken it off to remove them. I need to do it fairly quickly so that they are not infected by leek miner fly. As I spend little time on weeding the allotment because I have strategies to suppress their germination, people think that I do not have a weed problem. I am not daft enough to think that there are few weed seeds on the allotment. There are lots but I try to suppress them with mulches and getting the vegetables to form a shade producing canopy. However, the weed seeds are there just waiting to germinate as this photograph shows.
I got an email from someone whose new allotment had been reinfected with couch grass after having to leave it for four weeks.
Well, you can't leave the allotment for four weeks and expect to come back to a pristine allotment. Weeds grow, get over it. Gardening consists of 99% weeding and is hard boring work. That is why we try lots of strategies to reduce the amount of weeding we have to do. The paths alongside the leek beds are covered in a thick layer of woody shreddings. This helps but is not the final remedy. I find that it is a very long way along the track though.
These leeks are quite large and could be used now but I have so many other vegetables that it would be a waste to use them now. They will just get bigger during the summer and will resist the frost so I might as well leave them well alone, except for weeding them, until I need to use them during the autumn and winter when there is little else.
|Onions under the scaffold netting.|
|Clary sage, lemon balm, rosemary, mint etc alongside|
the path. The apple is Winter Density.
|Giant Victoria Rhubarb|
|Fan trained redcurrant.|
|The white currant next to the red currant.|
|Sorrel and parsnips|
There are carrots in the frame and they are growing well. These frames were given to me at the beginning of the year so I used them more as an experiment than anything else. The wood has really rotted away in places so I will ether add it to the compost heap or bury it in a Hugelkultur. The ripped scaffold netting will have to be taken to the tip.
|Beetroot and chard|
I have just started to harvest the beetroot and having them in salads. I have been using the leaves of both the beetroot and chard in salads but they are getting a little large for that now. Not really bothered about having chard when it is this big so I will take it out and resow for the autumn. I have left the chard because I was going to see if I could keep the seed but this is a bad idea and I should wait until the plants flower next year before taking seed. I do not want to select for chard that bolts in the first year.
Has lots of rocket and spinach for salads. I have sown some more but they really needed to be watered regularly. The germination of spinach is very erratic. The florence fennel is growing well and I should have some soon.
Radish and mizuna growing together. Not sure that I am going to get much of either. I am growing the lupins as perennial nitrogen fixers. And they look quite good too.
|Second sowing of rocket and spinach|
|Some radish and lupins|
So that is the allotment in July. Everything has grown well this year despite the very hot weather and me not watering.
Monday, 17 July 2017
The black berries and loganberries are next alongside the mini swale path.
|So the three sister and carrots bed.|
|Potatoes gone over.|
|Herbs down the path. Sage, lemon balm, mint, marjoram,|
rosemary, hyssop, chives, garlic chives, fennel, chamomile, etc.
|The loganberry and blackberry have thrown up a lot of|
|The shallots, red onions, elephant garlic and garlic have all|
|Celery and celeriac.|
|Oca under the King of the Pippins apple tree.|
|A few hanging baskets round the shed. Fan trained red|
currant on the concrete reinforcing wire cropped well.
|The birds are throwing all the mulch onto the path.|
|Not sure what variety of apple this is but it does not keep|
so I will be eating this straight from the tree.
|I have netted the strawberries this year and got more than|
I usually do.
|The water plants have taken over the pond and need to be|
thinned out now. The excess plants will make
Still got a few more photographs to put onto the blog but I will do that tomorrow. Not feeling too good at the moment.
|Lettuce in the aluminium cold frame.|
|Tomatoes in the big greenhouse.|
|Cucumbers and melons|
Sunday, 16 July 2017
|Brussel Sprout plants under the netting.|
The Brussel sprouts are growing quite large now showing that the broad bean green manure that was chopped and dropped under them has done some good. The broad bean plants have begun to regrow and are forming their own canopy under the Brussels. There is a little brassica white fly on some of the leaves but this is not serious and I have seen ladybird beetles crawling over the plants.
|Dwarf kale, winter cauliflower and red cabbage under the|
|Summer cauliflowers that will flower later in July and|
|Lollo rosso lettuce in the wooden frame.|
|Rhubarb next to the cold frames.|
I was going to pick some of the rhubarb last week but completely forgot about it even though it has grown very large and is something quite difficult to miss. I was just going to stew it with a little ginger and lemon juice and have it with some yoghurt. This is Champagne rhubarb and does taste quite good even at this time of the year. I am not going to eat too much of it though because it does have a little more oxalic acid in the stems this time of the year and I don't want kidney stones.
|Bay trees alongside the greenhouse.|
I find striking cuttings from bay trees very easy. They throw up suckers with roots on them too. So I have quite a few plants. I am pruning them to standard ball headed trees and I am nearly there with some of them. I find that the harder you cut them back the better they look so this is what I do. It is a bit late for cutting back hard now because they will produce a lot of new sappy growth that will not be able to ripen completely before the winter. This wood is very susceptible to frosty weather in the winter. I will just trim back the longest shoots but I will not compost them. I will put them in a pot with some gravelly potting compost and see if I can generate some more plants.
I have used up all the rainwater stored in the blue bin earlier in the month and the little rain we have had has not collected more than about ten centimeters at the bottom. This means that I have been forced to use tap water to water the greenhouse and the hanging baskets. I have not watered any of the other vegetables even through the very hot weather. It indicates that the water conservation scheme I have designed on the allotment seems to be working. This uses mini swales, planting fruit trees and bushes on the mounds, mulching carefully with both compost and woody shreddings and harvesting hard surface run off.
|Blackcurrants under the netting.|
These are the blackcurrants that I coppiced last year, cutting them down to about two or three inches from the soil surface. They have cropped quite well this year but I expect them to do even better next year. I am going to thin them out a little because they are too close together. I will take out every other one so they will be about a meter apart. The gooseberries had some berries on them but they are getting covered by the rhubarb. I will have to move these to give them more room. The raspberries in the background have not done very well at all this year.
|The pear tree is not leaning any more.|
The pear tree is one that I inherited with the allotment. Due to growing under the hedge, which was about 15 feet tall and as wide, it had a distinct leaning tower of Pisa syndrome. However, it threw up several vertical water shoots low on the trunk. I selected the best one of them and cut the top of the tree off just above it with a bow saw. The top of the tree was Hugelkultured with other woody material earlier in the year. The water shoot has certainly grown well this year and is throwing up a lot of wood. This will probably fruit next year. No fruit this year.
There is another empty blue bin here, even though it is collecting water from the store shed. I have taken up the spinach and good king Henry that had gone to seed and hung it up in the shed to dry. When it is crispy, I will put the seeds into brown envelopes with the name of the seeds written on the outside. I wrote the name of the seed on slips of paper and put them inside the envelopes with the seed. I forgot I did it and, when I took the seeds out, lost the names somehow. Why I did this, I don't know when it is so easy to write on the outside of the envelopes.
|I put all my cuttings under the clematis.|
The one thing I find about striking cuttings is to leave them well alone for at least a growing season. The only way I can do this without poking them about to see if they have produced any roots is to hide them away under the clematis. Then I forget about them until all the plants have died back. Then I am surprised by how many have survived when I eventually find them.
|Sunflowers and cherry tree by the path|
I doubt that the sunflowers will grow as big as they did last year and although they were good to show off about, it was quite a chore to compost them after they had gone over. I have taken the net off the cherry tree a little prematurely because the pigeons have started to eat the leaves again.
|Cherry leaves eaten by the pigeons.|
I am amazed by the things that pigeons will eat.
|Loganberry at the back of the store shed.|
|Purple hazel next to the storeshed.|
|Espaliered pear and apple|
I have done some summer pruning but still need to do a lot more. I was keeping as much wood as possible to fill in vacant spots throughout the tree. The pear and the apple have fruited this year and there are quite a few fruit on them.
|Egremont Russet espalier not summer pruned completely|
I planted a range of different runner beans this year. I am going to try to increase the diversity of varieties so that if one of them does not do very well then maybe the others will be alright. No beans on the plants yet though.
The tall peas have gone over now and I have picked quite a few and put them into the freezer. It looks a little untidy because I have taken the nets off to pick the peas. The nets are not only for the peas to climb up but also to keep the pigeons from eating the plants. There is a variety of tall peas here. Champion of England, Telephone, Rosakrone and Alderman plus are all growing here. I will leave the plants until they go yellow and dry off then collect any seed that I have not frozen. After the small peas have not cropped very well again this year, I think that I will only grow tall peas next year.
|Tall peas - mostly Alderman.|
|Climbing French beans|
I probably planted these rows of peas too close together but they have not produced as many pods as the tall peas and the Onward.
|More poor pea varieties.|
|However the broad beans have grown very tall.|
|Gooseberries alongside the car park path.|
|New windrow compost.|
This compost was made with chopped up blackcurrant prunings, annual weeds from the allotment, loads of comfrey, clematis prunings, calendula plants that had gone over and about five barrow loads of strimmed weeds from an abandoned allotment. I found a dead rat in the comfrey liquid bin so buried this in the middle of the heap. Probably totally dangerous because of the germs associated with rats but I'm hoping that the heap will get hot enough to destroy anything that might cause a problem. The heap was very well watered with diluted comfrey liquid and some of the old compost was added just for good luck. The whole lot was covered with a horrible red tarpaulin that someone gave me and left for two days. It got very hot and was steaming when I turned it two days later. Really the first time that I have got compost this hot. I have turned it again after two days and I must admit it did not seem to be as hot. However, it is obvious that the material in the heap is decomposing. I will keep turning it whether it is hot or not every two days like I do with the Dalek bins. After pruning the raspberries I will probably have enough to make another windrow. I would like to empty the Dalek bins and store them away before I start a new windrow.
The Dalek bins are full of fairly well made compost. Some of it has been sieved and put onto the allotment between the runner beans and tall peas. Quite a lot of leachate has come out of the bins and the windrow but as the compost area is at the top of the allotment the leachate will soak into and flow down the slope and into the grow beds.
|Sieved compost on the allotment.|
I will continue to sieve the Dalek compost but put the sievings onto the new windrow rather than back into the Dalek.
Although this gooseberry was strictly pruned to a fan, it produced a lot of gooseberries. It was carefully covered with a net earlier in the year and this kept the birds off it. It has thrown up a lot of new wood most of which will be pruned out. I will use some of it to replace old wood and make it a better shaped fan.
|Gooseberry fan trained onto the compost pallets.|
|Salix alba vitellina|
|More climbing and dwarf beans.|
|French beans and mange tout peas|
|Lupins and laburnum|
|The squash are growing over the lupins.|
|May queen apple graft which I thought I had|
|Difficult to show you how high the sweet corn|
|This gives a bit better idea of how big they are.|
|I put the courgettes by the side of the squashes.|
|Carrots under the enviromesh.|
|Globe artichoke or is it a cardoon?|
|Potatoes have gone over due to drought.|