Thursday, 27 October 2011

October sowing the sweet peas

Clean surface
Using a cleaned and washed surface, a three to one mix of New Horizon multipurpose compost to sharp sand was mixed up to sow the Lathyrus odoratus into. The varieties sown were; Lipstick, Lizbeth, Honeymoon, Anniversary, Jilly, Nora Holman, Restormel, Gwendoline, Angela Ann, Eclipse, and Oban Bay. 

One seed was planted in each washed three inch pot. 

Labels were then written giving the genus, species and variety.

Writing the labels on top of a crate made it a little easier.  The labels were inserted in each of the pots.

 As it was raining I left the pots outside to be watered by the rain.

The pots were returned to the greenhouse after getting a thorough watering and lined up on the staging.  They will remain there until March next year. 

A new Rheum rhaponticum 'Timperley Early' was potted up so that it could be put into the allotment later.  It was a small plant which might benefit from growing on without competition.  I will plant it in the spring with mychorrhizal fungi and some inoculated charcoal.  
Rheum rhaponticum ''Timperley Early' in the large pot
Allium ascolonicum were planted in pots for the winter. I am not planting them outside at the moment to avoid the onion miner fly Phytomyza gymnostoma.

After writing it out quite a few times, I learnt that Lathyrus odoratus is the Latin name for sweet pea.  I still need to learn the species name of Rheum rhaponticum. 

Pencil is an adequate writing implement for labels.  It does not come off easily, which was witnessed yesterday when I had to resort to using silver soap to clean the writing off the plant labels.  

I need to get some more plant labels.  

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Cleaning out the greenhouse and washing more pots and trays.

The old tomato plants had stopped fruiting and were removed from the greenhouse and bagged up ready to take to the allotment to put onto the compost heap.  They were in large pots and these needed washing.  As soapy water was being used all the other trays and pots were washed as well. 

 The pots were stored under the staging for the moment so that washed ones could be identified easily.  Plant labels were also washed and put into an old onion net bag and hung up to dry. 

After washing the pots, a three to one New Horizon’s all purpose compost to sharp sand mix was made to plant up the Crassula ovatea cuttings.  The cuttings were dipped into hormone rooting powder and then firmed into the compost in 3 inch ceramic pots. The cuttings were then put onto the covered shelves to give them a little more warmth. 

Two Schlumbergera bridgesii (Christmas cactus) were re-potted by removing the plants from their pots, taking off some of the soil from the roots and the surface and then replacing with new compost using the same pot. 

 This was also done with the Begonia Rex, Chlorophytum comosum (Spider plant), Pelargonium crispum (Lemon scented geranium), Crassula ovatea (Jade plant) and Cyclamen persicum spp.  Although the plants were put back in the same sized pots, some were put back in similar sized ceramic pots. Some of the Begonia Rex were potted into smaller pots because the ones they were in were too large

All the plants except for the Crassula ovatea cuttings and the Cyclamen were put back in the house.  

The Cyclamen persicum spp. have just started to re-grow so three were placed into a large pot with new  compost.  They will be grown on a little more in the greenhouse. 

Tomorrow will be sweet pea planting day...

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Clearing the sweet pea bed and washing the pots

Today was a clearing of the sweet pea bed time.  The canes had been taken down and stored securely in one of the empty compost bays.  I still haven't cleared out the shed at the moment so they cannot be stored in there.

There was a little weed on the bed but it was not too bad.  There were several patches of mare's tail, which were carefully taken out.  I doubt if I have reached the main stem because they snapped off about 30 cm down.

I am only single digging this bed.  I want to bury the old sweet pea and runner bean plants so that any nitrogen that their rhizobium bacteria have fixed and passed into the plant, gets incorporated into the soil.

I was going to cut up the sweet pea plants as I dug but they were a little too tough for that.  It probably could have been done that way if the plants were still green but these were brown and dry and did not want to be cut up.

As I dug I put whole plants at the bottom of the trench.  This worked really well and I used my onion hoe to scrape in any weeds as well.  At dinner  time (that is lunch time for everyone else) I went to get some milk and flapjacks and put the kettle on for a cup of tea.  While the water was being heated up to boil, I washed some of the pots up.  This cleans my hands as well and means that I can eat my flapjacks.  I have soap and towels at the allotment too.

After a couple of cups of tea and flapjacks I went back to digging.  The ground is very dry and the soil is like dust at the moment.  We desperately need some rain.  I wanted to change one of the upright supports for the black berry because it was ideal for supporting the sweet peas.  I had a much smaller tree support to replace it with and it went in the same hole.  All the big sweet pea supports were stored away behind the main shed.

Carried on digging for a while and at 4pm stopped for another cup of tea and flapjacks.  While the water came to the boil I washed some more of the pots.  It was a fairly warm day today, so I did not mind getting my hands wet.  Had two cups of tea and a flapjack and decided to go back and finish washing all the pots.  I would rather do it on a relatively warm day like today than a freezing cold one later in the year.

So I have washed all the pots that were in the store shed on the allotment.  I have still to wash the ones that are in the shed at home but that can be done in the green house later in the year.  It gives me a lot more room in the store shed but it will still have to be sorted out so I can store my canes in there.

After finishing the pots, I went back to digging. I have only done about 2/3 of the bed but I will finish it tomorrow.  I am going to sow green manure after I have finished.  I will use the rest of the grazing rye and tares.

Picked some more tomatoes - it's the end of October! and some celeriac and while I was cleaning them up to take home I noticed one of the parsnips had gone to seed.  This is the first time I have seen this happen.  I think that it is due to the very dry weather.

Tomorrow I will get some glass for the greenhouse and some compost for the sweet peas.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Just my own thoughts on raised beds and no dig methods.

  I am not really attacking either raised beds or no dig method.  I just cannot for the life of me see why they have become so fashionable.  Both methods involve applying large quantities of organic matter to the soil and this is a fundamental and basic requirement for sustained crop production.

However, adding organic matter does not have to be done in these ways.  There is nothing particularly magical about adding amendments to the soil.  People have been doing this, probably, since agriculture was developed.

I have just heard about the Sinhalese practice of deep trenching and adding any organic matter to the trench before covering with soil and growing crops.  I should not be surprised because it seems that similar methods of growing have developed throughout the world.

Whether you go up; adding organic matter to the surface, or go down; adding organic matter to trenches or even a mixture of both, the common principle of all these methods is adding organic matter.

I dig and I no dig depending upon the needs of the soil.  If the soil has had little organic matter added then I will dig some into the top soil and mulch.  If green manures have been sown in the autumn I will dig them in in the spring.  I will mulch in the summer to conserve water and suppress weeds.  I will do this to produce good crops not because it is a fashion.

I have put concrete slabs on end around the allotment as a retaining wall, not because it is a trend or fashion but because I need to retain my top soil.  The level of the top soil has been raised because I have added so much organic matter.

Another reason, and this is really why I embarked on raising the allotment top soil, was to enable me to drain the soil because it was water logged for most of the winter.

Raised beds are just a waste of time and effort.   There are more paths than growing area.

The gardening philosophy that suggests that soil should not be walked on because it destroys its structure just does not ring true.  I was watching "The Victorian Kitchen Garden" for May on YouTube and the gardeners there were scuffing the ground along the drill lines to consolidate it before raking and making a seed bed.  This is what I was taught to do when I was a lad. It breaks down the large lumps of soil and allows you to make a really good tilth with the rake.

When I was learning how to grow from my grandfather and father they always firmed the soil in seed beds by treading along the rows and raking afterwards.  In this way a really fine tilth could be made fairly quickly.  I still tread along my seed lines to firm the soil before a final rake and taking out the seed drills.  This technique does not seem to prevent the seeds from germinating.

I tread between the rows to hoe and cultivate along the plants.  Removing weeds and scuffing up the soil to slow evaporation seems to be much more important in producing good crops than avoiding compaction.

There are times that I avoid walking on the soil.  When the soil is very wet it can be easily compacted and will form an impenetrable cap on the top soil.  Also when it is frozen, I avoid walking over it.   Otherwise I am constantly walking over the soil.  I do usually scuff it up afterwards but that is just to make the soil look presentable.

So I think that the important thing is to add as much organic matter as possible in as many forms as possible and only use retaining walls to prevent the raised soil from falling onto the paths or to enable drainage.

One of the most enjoyable parts of gardening is to improve the native soil.  Filling raised beds with commercial sterile composts seems to be a complete anathema to organic growing.  These composts are peat based and usually contain inorganic fertilizers.  They will grow some good vegetables for a few years but they are not sustainable.

I will stick to using the native soil adding amendments as they become available.  At the moment I am using home made compost, horse manure, lawn mowings, turfy top soil and shredded branches.

I am also making comfrey, sweet cicely and nettle tea to use as a liquid manure and pigeon manure as a quick acting nitrogen fertilizer.

I am using the charcoal , which in itself is fairly inert , as a method of applying a slow release fertilizer after being inoculated with comfrey tea.  It seems to work for me particularly when I have used mychorrhizal fungi as well.

I must admit I am completely practical about various gardening techniques.  If they work I will keep doing them; if they don't then I will abandon them. The only criterion for success is whether the vegetables cropped well or not.

I do what works for me.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Sowing more green manure

I dug over the pea and bean bed.  It had become very overgrown with weeds and the second sowing of peas was not a success.  I had harvested the Bortolloti and the Cannellini beans but they are not drying out very well.

The climbing French beans that were left on the plants were taken off and dried for next years seed.  I don't know if they will be any good but if they aren't then I can always buy some more.

All the bean plants were dug into the soil with the weeds and peas.  I took down the chicken wire pea supports, rolled them up and put then into one of the empty compost bins.  The canes were tied into bundles and put in the empty compost bin as well.

I have not dug over the area occupied by the squashes because they are still producing.  They did get mildew over their leaves and these have died but they have produced new leaves and these look healthy.  There are several small squashes still on the plants.

I have put grazing rye green manure over this bed.  I have sown the seed in drills about 2ft apart.  I might need to put something in between but I will see just how much green manure will be used up on the other beds.  Grazing rye forms a really good canopy even when this far apart.  I like to keep the green manure free of weeds so I wanted room to hoe until they had grown big enough to suppress weed germination.

After the pea and bean plants decompose, they will release this newly fixed nitrogen into the soil.  The grazing rye should take up the nitrogen fixed by the bacteria on the pea and bean roots and locked into the roots and shoots.  The grazing rye will also prevent the nitrogen being washed away by winter rain because of its thick canopy and mass of fibrous roots.

I put a fleece over the bay tree to prevent it being damaged by the frosts.  The fleece can stay on the bay until next spring.

I planted four rows of leeks and put three of them under some enviromesh.  I am still worried about the Phytomyza gymnostoma because it has attacked the leeks I put in during the summer.  The summer leeks were fine until the middle of September around my birthday - September 16th. and then they started looking very fly eaten.  They are reported to be laying eggs around October to the end of November but this year they were much earlier than this.

I gave the leeks some pigeon manure - very sparingly and watered them in with comfrey.  I debated whether to use some of the charcoal and mychorrhiza but decided not to.  I put charcoal together with mychorrhiza into this bed for the garlic earlier in the year.

I have washed some of the 3 inch pots that the leeks were in but by no means all of them.  It cleaned my hands so I decided to go to the shop for some milk and flapjacks.  I had a relax sitting in my chair and having a cup of tea.

While I was waiting for the tea to boil, I took the garlic apart and divided them into individual cloves.  After tea, I put them into the new onion bed next to the radish. I didn't use any charcoal or comfrey liquid because this bed had a lot of organic matter added when I triple dug it.

 I doubt if the radish will come to anything but I put it in as a green manure.

The new broad beans, rocket and American land cress are doing very well probably due to the very warm weather we had at the end of September.  I put the tulips in between the broad beans and will have to be careful hoeing along these lines because they will not show until next spring.

I cut the whole row of sweet cicely and put it in the big green comfrey bin.  It will rot down and give me a good liquid fertilizer.  If it wasn't done now then I would have lost all of this foliage when the frost came.  I am going to cut down the nettles too and add them to the comfrey bins.  Although I cut the comfrey hard back last week, it has grown back really quickly.  I doubt whether I will cut it again before the frosts though.

The next big job is to take down all the sweet pea canes.  I have done the runner bean canes already but they had fallen down in the wind.  I am not taking the beans or peas out of the ground.  They will be dug into the soil where they grew.  I am bundling the canes into tens and then tying them up to store.  I will use the tares as a green manure on this bed.  I know that it is a legume following a legume but I don't think that will cause any problems.  Apart from that it is the only green manure I have at the moment and I am not going to waste it.  I will need a little more for where the pumpkin, tomatoes and celeriac are but after that I will be struggling to find anywhere else that needs it.  I am going to cover the new potato bed with horse manure when I eventually get round to getting some.

I have harvested all the sweet corn now and taken out the plants to put onto the compost heap.  I got a fair few but they are very small.

It is funny to think that a few years ago I was really delighted that I could grow sweet corn at all let alone have a good crop.  Now I am disappointed if  they don't do well.

I picked yet more tomatoes.  They have done particularly well this year.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Washing pots

I spent a long time just washing pots today.

The weather was balmy so I thought that now would be a good time to get my hands wet outside.  I think that I have washed most of the 3 inch pots that were in the store shed.  I have bought them home and put them into the greenhouse.  I will probably use all of them for the sweet pea seeds when they come.

I harvested one of my pumpkins today.  It was not the biggest by far but when you are considering carting something that big about you have to be particularly careful not to hurt your back.  As this was for a school's harvest festival, I thought a smaller one might be easier to cart around particularly as I will probably have to go down some steps to reach the school entrance.  I took a few of the larger beetroot and carrots as well.  It will give them a bit more of a display.

I tidied up one of the pallet compost heap areas which is empty at the moment.  I am storing loads of stuff in there and I wanted to keep the stored bean and pea poles tidy. I decided that I wanted to keep them all in containers and decided that pots would be the best.  This is why I started washing the big pots.  I have several big 12 inch and 16 inch pots and the poles stand upright in these leaning on the side of the pallet.

So I carried all the bean poles and some of the pea sticks down and put them into their new clean homes and began digging over the pea and bean bed.  I am only single digging here because I have already dug this area over twice this year.  It has got very weedy since I put the new set of peas in.  The peas have done remarkably poorly so I left them until now without weeding.  I am going to dig them into the soil with the weeds.

I am just skimming off the weeds and putting them into the digging trench as I dig towards them.  This gives me about 6 feet of bare soil to dig while allowing me to bury the weed turfs.

As I get to the peas I am taking out the supports and rolling up the chicken wire.  This is stored next to the poles.

I got about half way across the area and decided it was home time.  I went to collect the pumpkin with the wheel barrow.  It's not that big - basket ball size but it does seem to be heavy.

It will make a good focal point for the harvest festival.  Forgot to do photographs again today.  Never mind do it another day.

Clearing the ground for next year

Before starting to clear the pea and bean bed, I wanted to plant out all of the tulip bulbs I had.  I have quite a few now and they needed quite a bit of room.  I am going to plant the curbits and cucumbers when the tulips have gone over.  This means that I will not be tempted to put anything else in this area.  I have planted them between the new broad beans.  The broad beans will not produce anything significant this late in the year but they will provide some extra green manure and cover the ground for a while.

I put pigeon manure sparingly along the line and hoed it in.  Afterwards, I used the cultivator and finally the rake to smooth the line.  A fairly deep drill was taken out so that the tulips could sit at the bottom and be covered by a good depth of soil.  Before setting the bulbs in, I watered the drill with comfrey liquid.  Three rows of tulips were planted and then the ground was raked carefully so that I didn't pull any of the bulbs out of the ground.

I hoed the rest of the bed because there was some weed germination and afterwards the bed did look really good.

I then went up and washed some pots and trays to put away for the winter.  I am trying to empty the storeshed so that I can store the sweet pea and runner bean canes in there.  The pots and trays are just taking up room unnecessarily.

I used one of the trays to put the Cannellini and Bortolini beans in when I harvested them.  I thought that I would only do a few because shelling beans is a seriously boring job.  However, I got through them all and got a full seed tray of beans.  Not a great deal but sufficient for me.  Some of the beans had rotted in their shells so I had to discard them but not too many.  I took the plants out and left them on the side to dig in later.  I then took down the climbing French bean supports.  These beans did not do very well this year and I will make a bit more of an effort to grow them well next year.

It does not seem as though I had done very much but it got dark about 5:30 and I had to leave it there or garden in the dark.

I am learning the Latin names of some common evergreen shrubs.

Prunus laurocerasus
Acuba japonica
Fatsia japonica
Skimmia japonica
Prunus laurocerasus 'Otto Luyken'
Ilex  aquifolium
Mahonia x media 'Charity'
Vibernum davidii
Elaeagnus pungens 'Maculata'
Berberis darwinii

At least four of which I have in my garden.  None of which I particularly like.  Prunus laurocerasus does make a good hedge and screens off unsightly fences and sheds as do a number of the others.

Next job on the allotment is to clear the pea and bean bed, dig it over and plant green manure on it. Clear out the store shed a bit more and wash some of the pots and trays. Actually all the unwashed trays are in the shed at home so it will only be the pots and there are enough of them!

Friday, 7 October 2011

Thoughts on digging or no digging strategies.

I have mixed feelings about this debate.

The modern fashion for using raised beds to grow vegetables can be seen as a method of avoiding digging.  The no dig system seems to have been developed, like so many other gardening techniques, by trial and error.  Then the amateurs that developed it become evangelical and the gullible see it as a some magical method; following the method's disciples' recipes and instructions as if there were no other ways of cultivation.

It is just multiple layers of this and that built up within  planked containers to make  higher than ground level growing areas.  And lots and lots of paths.

I do not think that there is anything magical in the materials that are used to develop these beds.  Indeed filling a raised bed with commercial multi purpose compost or ordinary garden soil seems to get good results.  However, there seems to be a consensus that you start off with a layer of newspaper to suppress weeds and then cover  with compost or other organic material such as straw or hay in layers with some addition of chicken manure.  The layers are built up until the correct height is obtained and a surface layer of compost or soil tops it off.  Certainly it is a very  intensive organic matter form of gardening.  I should be really enthusiastic about this system of growing.

It is a quick and relatively easy way of cultivating an area of weed infested ground because weeds are suppressed by the newspaper in the raised bed and paths are covered in weed suppressing membranes.

It also emphasises the importance of creating and maintaining a high level of soil organisms such as nitrogen fixing bacteria and mychorrhizal fungi.  Again this is something that I agree with and would like to promote on my allotment.

The use of mulches and green manures should enable the beds to reach a high level of fertility and this might be maintained over many years. That is; leaching is reduced and chelating humin, fulvic and humic acids will form complexes that will trap minerals in the soil structure.

Thirdly you do not have to step onto the bed to cultivate it having access from paths constructed around the beds.  This means that the soil is never compacted and is always aerated and well drained.

There is some debate that says that the soil is rarely disturbed in nature and has not evolved to cope with being cultivated to the extent it is on an allotment.

So why am I apprehensive about following the fashion?

I have raised my whole allotment about 600 mm above the original ground level and this does indeed seem to improve the drainage.  However, I have dug down quite deeply too and broken up the subsoil to quite a depth and this might be the main factor in improving the drainage.  Also, I have added a lot of organic matter in the form of logs, branches, leaves and branch shreddings to the subsoil in a kind of Huglekulture and that too might have improved the drainage of the allotment. (Oh yes, and Huglekulture does not have to be constructed on the surface of the soil.)

Adding large amounts of organic matter does seem, anecdotally, to improve the fertility of the soil.  I would conjecture that this is some part due to the provision of carbon for free living nitrogen fixing bacteria such as Azotobacteraceae.  These bacteria are fairly ubiquitous and once they have a carbon source will multiply rapidly whether the organic matter is on the surface or mixed into the top soil.  I doubt very much if digging would severely deplete the numbers of bacteria in the soil especially if it is combined with the addition of organic matter.

I can see that the repeated addition of inorganic fertilizers in place of organic amendments would indeed reduce the number of soil organisms by reducing the amount of carbon available to the heterotrophic soil fauna and flora. However, there are few gardeners now that will use inorganic fertilizer to the extent they were used in the past.  

I would also suggest that a sizeable proportion of soil organisms can survive digging because of their relative size. It is the macro organisms such as worms, soil centipedes, etc. that would indeed be affected by digging. Yet some of these macro organisms may be pathogens and we might want them to be removed from the soil.  Such animals as slugs, snails and pathogenic fungi would fall into this category.  It is noticeable the difference in the number of worms in an undisturbed soil compared with cultivated soil. This is a major disadvantage of digging.  I would suggest though that any cultivated soil would have a reduced number of worms.

In one text book I read recently, there was a chapter on raised bed, no dig growing system giving chapter and verse about how good it was to grow in this way and went on to say that after making a raised bed why not plant green manure to start with...

Now, on several gardening, forums people are going to extraordinary lengths to grow green manure while not digging it into the top soil.  Some suggest strimming and leaving the tops on the surface to rot down or putting a membrane or cardboard over the surface to kill off the green manure.  Others are suggesting that the green manure is hoed off and the tops put onto the compost heap.

I find this incredibly unpractical and self defeating.   The green manure is there to add carbon to the soil in a form that is readily available to microorganisms.  Any nitrogen fixed by legumes will be removed by hoeing off and putting on the compost heap.  Covering or strimming are just adding slug and snail encouraging complexities unnecessarily.

Single digging, slicing off the green manure to put at the bottom of a shallow trench seems to me to be the simplest  and most practical option of mixing the green manure into the soil.

This introduces another important part of using digging as a strategy in the vegetable garden.  Digging done well will mix the soil.  Rotavators do this particularly well.  Any organic matter will be mixed relatively evenly throughout the top soil making it available to organisms throughout the profile.  When it has finally broken down into humus, this will enable chelation and possibly enable plant roots to access the nutrients trapped in it.    There is a great deal of evidence that top soil with large amounts of the black, oily liquid we call humus coating  soil particles is particularly fertile.

Apart from nutrients obtained from decayed organic matter there is also a source of minerals that can be obtained from the break up of stones within the soil by weathering.  I am not sure whether digging can be classified as a weathering factor but other factors such as wind and water seem to have an effect through friction.  I would suggest that digging also breaks up soil minerals by the action of friction releasing nutrients from stones and possibly rocks in the soil.  Digging also exposes the soil to the action of frost and freezing and thawing effects not only breaking up compacted soil but also releasing nutrients from stones in the soil.

There are some times that cropping means that effectively you are digging over the soil.  For example, taking out potatoes.  How on Earth do you do that without digging quite deeply down into the soil?  And then how do you ensure that you have removed all the little potatoes that will undoubtedly survive the winter and begin to grow again right in the middle of another crop and possibly harbour pests and diseases to infect the new years potatoes?  The only way I know is to dig over the potato bed very carefully. The same argument could be put forward for carrots, parsnips and other root vegetables.

There are some that grow potatoes under straw or membranes and harvest from under these.  Well I cannot justify covering the area of potatoes that I grow with membrane or straw for that matter.  Small crops on little beds may make it a little more practical but why add these complexities unnecessarily just so you can say that you don't dig?

The argument that the soil is rarely disturbed in nature is an uniformed view of how nature works.  If you had seem the damage that badgers do to a lawn you would never subscribe to this notion.  Foxes looking for worms on my allotment are continuously digging holes as are cats when they do whopsies.  Take that up to larger animals such as wild boars and deer and we can begin to see that the soil has been continuously turned over and this has happened from the earliest times.  Indeed dinosaurs could make a serious mess of soil structure.  That is why plants called ephemerals evolved; to exploit disturbed ground.  These are plants that we commonly call weeds.

I am really confused about why walking on the soil is such an anathema to no diggers especially as most of the ground in a raised bed system is covered in very compacted, membrane covered, soil paths.

Compaction of the soil is not to be encouraged but I made temporary paths along the sweet pea rows this year compacting the soil quite a lot.  This did not stop the weeds from growing - unfortunately.  Alongside my allotment is the trackway along which cars are continuously being driven up and down.  I mow the trackway regularly to make sure that the weeds do not take over.  Compaction does not seem to have affected the growth of these plants.  There is obviously some relationship between the optimum amount of water and air that should be in the soil and this might be affected by compaction, however to actually squeeze out all the air and water from soil is incredibly difficult - unless you are growing on a clay soil.

I have seen videos on YouTube - old gardening videos where the soil is consolidated by treading along the sowing lines before raking and the drill taken out.    This is what my grandfather and father used to do and I copy them even now when preparing a seed bed.  My seeds still germinate as did my grandfather's and father's.

I do have paths on the allotment; one I made myself and three that were inherited.  After having thought a great deal about them, I dug out the top soil and replaced it with stones covering them with subsoil and putting concrete slabs on top.  This meant that the top soil from under the paths could be added to the growing beds and I would have drainage channels across the allotment under the paths. There is no way I can reach the whole of the beds from the pathways though and I have to tread on the soil to reach their centres.  Does not seem to affect how the plants grow.  If you doubt look at the allotment photographs for April, May, June and July.  I do try to keep off the soil if I possibly can because it makes it easier to work the soil when it is necessary.  I would not like to hoe up the potatoes using compacted soil. But this is all I will concede -  keeping off the soil makes it easier to work

Digging does not prevent you from using green manures and mulches.

I am not rejecting a no dig raised bed system for growing, however I would not advocate that it is the panacea for all growing problems.  There are benefits to digging and sometimes it is the only effective procedure for preparing the soil for crops.  Sometimes, when the soil is clean from the previous crop, the ground will only need hoeing and raking over to make it suitable for the next crop.  I think that this is what I will do after all the brassicas are taken out next spring and I will plant peas and beans in the ground.

So I might be a grumpy old man stuck in my ways and clinging to the past but I see no advantage in making things too complex and creating work for myself.  With the large areas of crops that I grow, I will use the best method of preparing the soil and sometimes that will mean digging.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Green manures

After finishing the triple digging, I levelled off the ground as best I could and began planting it up again.  Four rows of broad beans, Vicia faba, went in first.  These were grown from seeds from the earlier broad bean plants.  I don't usually grow broad beans so I was pleasantly surprised when I found that it was quite easy to keep the seed.  I was even more pleased to find how easy it was to germinate them.  I am keeping the rest of the seed for next year.

Vicia faba is a legume that will fix nitrogen from the air so it is a good green manure.  I don't know if it will survive the vagaries of an English winter but if they produce seed I will keep it and use it to grow more next year.

I started the Vicia faba in the greenhouse just throwing the seed into a pot full of old New Horizons general purpose compost.  All the seed seemed to have germinated.  This is a quick way of getting a lot of seeds and plants.  I will dig in the whole plants when they seem to have gone over.

I am going to plant the tulips alongside the Vicia faba because they will stop me putting anything else here.  I want this space for the pumpkin Cucurbitia maxima, courgettes Cucurbita pepo "Acceste", squash Cucurbita pepo  and ridge cucumber Cucumis sativus.  The tulips will have gone over before I need the ground for the curbits.

The other green manures I have used here are the clover and the tares.  Both of these will survive the winter and add nitrogen to the soil when they are dug in.  I am not sowing broadcast for several reasons.  I find that they form a good weed suppressing canopy even if you plant them in lines, also if there are any weeds before a canopy is formed then they are easily removed by hoeing between the lines.  The idea is to cover the ground with a protective layer of foliage during the winter so that winter rains do not leach out nutrients and compact the soil.
This can be achieved by planting the green manure in lines as well as broadcast.

Also planted were some rocket and American land cress.  These should also survive the winter and provide leaves for salad.  A few radish were planted as well.

Well after that extraordinary warm period at the end of September and beginning of October all the seed has germinated and the broad beans are doing quite well.

I had put some of the strawberry runners into pots with New Horizon general purpose compost hoping that they would root into the compost.  A stone was put onto the stolon in order to fix the plantlet  in place and almost all the plantlets sent down roots into the compost.  Earlier in the week the umbilical stolon was cut and then the plants were taken up to the old brassicae bed.

The new strawberry bed was single dug and a little pigeon manure scattered over the top to be hoed in later.

I planted three rows of new strawberry plantlets and two rows of one year old strawberries.  I gave them some mychorrhizal fungi although not under every one of them and watered them in with comfrey liquid.  I do have some inoculated charcoal to use but because there is already a large amount of charcoal on this bed already, I did not really think that it was necessary.

I have started to put dirty plant pots and trays aside to wash.  There is some thought that it is not necessary to wash pots and trays but I think that keeping things clean will avoid pests and diseases from being carried from one season to another.

I have not decided what varieties of sweet pea I am going to sow this October.  I have been looking through the catalogues though.  Really I should be looking through the vegetable catalogues but I cannot get my head round that especially as I am still cropping the vegetables for this season.

The things that are still cropping are the squash, swedes, celeriac, tomatoes, pumpkins, leeks, beetroot, carrots and Swiss chard. I think that the maize will be ready soon.

I have put the greenhouse grown leeks outside in order to harden them off.  They certainly got buffeted about today because it was very windy.  They are protected by the baskets they are in so there was not too much damage.  I will put them out in the allotment later on in this month to avoid the leek miner fly,   Phytomysa (formerly Napomyza) gymnostoma.  They have a second generation at the end of September early November and these have devastated the early leeks.  I may cover them as well to make sure that they can develop without being attacked by the fly.  Nowadays, the only effective defence against insects like these is to use barriers.  I will use enviromesh over metal cloche wire.

I took down some of the runner bean supports today but I have no room in the store shed at the moment.  I need to clear that shed out and make sure there is room to store things during the winter.  This is another reason why I need to wash all the pots and trays.  I can then take them home and store them in the greenhouse ready for the sweet pea sowing.

This reminds me, I need some more multi purpose compost.