Saturday, 21 September 2013

Starting to clear and triple dig an allotment (5)

The clearing and digging project has not progressed very much recently but  I am in no hurry.  The slower I am, the better I  remove the weed rhizomes.  Also, I have the whole winter to finish the digging.

Due to clearing off weeds and planting green manure on the old allotment, I have neglected the digging on the new allotment but that will change next week.

To be reasonable with myself and not to apply too much pressure on joints, a trench will take me at least two days and possibly three to finish.

I have collected a lot of organic matter to add to the bottom of the trenches and I will put as much as I can into each trench.

Taking out and sieving the top soil of trench three
The third trench top soil is put onto the previous
trench top soil.  
The soil in this part of the allotment is a little 'thin'
- meaning it does not have a lot of organic matter in it.
One spit of topsoil is removed and sieved through the bread tray and left on the side and when this is completed a second subsoil spit is taken out and sieved.  This will help to provide good drainage, a deep root run for vegetable plants and enable me to bury a lot of organic matter.  The organic matter will act as a sponge that will allow water to pass through it during wet periods and retain water during dry periods. When digging, air is added to the soil and this enables organic matter to be decomposed quickly. As the organic matter decomposes, it will release nutrients back into the soil which can be returned to the top soil.

I dug the trench on across the allotment but I still have not taken the top soil out all the way across the allotment.  Although this topsoil is pretty thin and lacking in organic matter, it looks quite good after sieving.

The second spit down will be sieved well in order to remove as many of the bindweed and mare's tail rhizomes as possible.

Parsnips and peas in the new allotment.
Inevitably at this time of year the allotment looks very untidy because a lot of vegetables have been harvested and some have gone over.  While the parsnips will be left in the ground over the winter, the pea plants behind them will be taken out and put into the digging trenches.  The pea supports will have to be stored somewhere for next year.
Winter brassicas
I took out all of the Kestrel potatoes at the end of August.  The ground has been left bare in preparation for sowing with winter green manure.  There is a little ephemeral weed on it but these can be hoed off very quickly.

Some of the early sprouting broccoli have flowered so I will take them out and put them into the digging trench.  Although I put these plants two feet apart  they still seem to be crowded.  I may give them even more space next year.

Forked over old potato bed
I was going to use the Mantis tiller to prepare the ground for the green manure but it only took me 15 minutes to fork over this area.  The Mantis does make a fine tilth and I may still use it.  My preference is to use the fork because this enables you to find any potato tubers that have been left in the ground.

This rhubarb is in the wrong position now and will be moved during the winter. There is one root of Timperley Early and the others are a heritage variety.  In order to make sure that I don't have to move them again, I need to make a careful plan of the allotment now to make sure that I know where I am going to put things.

The wooden stakes are going to be used along the raspberry line.  Wires will be stretched between them and the raspberry canes will be tied to the wires.

I am saving a lot of the bean seeds for next year.  Sweet pea and garden pea seeds are being saved as well.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Starting to clear and triple dig an allotment (4)

I took a large Acer campestris stump up to the new allotment to bury in the second trench.  I had gone down about 500 mm. but wanted to go deeper for the stump.  I took out another spit of soil at the bottom of the trench and just put it to one side in the trench to keep it away from the top soil.  This soil was particularly clay like although there was some sand stone mixed up with it.  This is what gives the allotment soil its characteristics of sandy clay.  I had forked over the bottom of the trench yesterday and this made taking out a hole for the stump much easier.

The tree stump fitted snugly into the hole.  The bottom of the trench needed to be forked again where I had walked on it but this was no effort; the soil being soft and crumbly after forking yesterday.  I put some processed wood planks on top of the stump and some brushwood on top of that.  The wooden planks were very rotten and the web like white fungi mycelium could be seen growing all over it.

The allotment needs to be cleared now so the vegetables that have gone over, like bulb fennel and summer cabbages, are being added to the trenches too.

The rake was used to drag the subsoil back over the added organic matter and the trench levelled off before the top soil was put back on.  I was going to sieve the top soil as I put it back into the trench but I didn't bother.  There were very few small pieces of Calystegia sepium and Equisetum arvensis that were raked out and put into the trusty weed tub.    I am not stupid enough to believe that I have removed all these pernicious weeds but I think that the small pieces that are left in the soil will be easily removed if they decide to grow.

The old potato bed was cleared of weeds so that I could prepare it for sowing green manure.  I am going to plant Secale cereale and Vicia sativa to cover the whole area.  I will also sow green manure where I am clearing the other vegetable beds.  I want the whole allotment covered in green manure eventually, except where the winter vegetables are growing.

By the time that I have cleared and dug trenches out towards the back of the allotment, these winter vegetables will have been harvested and I will be able to put them at the bottom of the final trenches.

I will have to prune back the raspberries and tie them to wires so that the canes do not break due to winter winds.  I will use the prunings to put at the bottom of the digging trenches.  It is all grist to the mill.

The Prunus cerasifera 'Victoria' has cropped extremely well this year.  I think that I have had from 10 to 15lb. of just one tree. I have taken all the plums off the tree because they attract disease if you leave them on the tree to over ripen.  The diseased and eaten plums are being added to the trenches as I go along.

The comfrey leaves under the Victoria plum are going to be dug in where the strawberries are going next year. Strawberries Fragaria x ananassa seem to grow much better when I do this.

At the old allotment lots of vegetables needed harvesting.  I started on the brassica bed because the old cauliflower area was covered in weeds.  I bagged the weeds up ready to take down to the new allotment.  I will add them to the trenches as I dig back.

I harvested two large cabbages but left the swede and kohlrabi for next time.  The sweet corn needed harvesting as well so I went down to the bottom bed and took them all out whilst cropping them.  I eventually ended up with about 25 well formed cobs.  This is the most that I have ever got from sweet corn Zea mays.

The tomatoes have late blight and are no longer any good.  I will take them out and bag them to take to the new allotment.  Really they should have been grown more in the light.  The maize shaded them a little too much.

The cucumbers are still cropping and I took two of them off to take home.

Jobs to do at the old allotment are;
1) Hoe and rake the old potato bed ready for the green manure.
2) Tie up the chrysanthemums.
3)Weed and tidy the roots and leaves.
4)Take down the pea supports and store them away in the shed.
5)Hoe and rake the pea bed ready for green manure.
6)Move the strawberries onto their new bed.
7)Take out the sweet peas, take down their canes and store the canes in the store shed.
8) Collect sweet pea seeds and put them into brown paper bags.
9)Collect the runner bean and climbing French bean seeds and put them into brown paper bags.
10)Collect the dwarf French bean seeds and put them into brown paper bags.
11)Move the raspberries to the new allotment.  (I will need some more mychorrhizal fungi)
12)Take out and pot up the camomile seedlings that have come up on the potato bed.

So a busy month again.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Starting to clear and triple dig an allotment (3)

I have the whole winter to clear and plant the new allotment so I am not rushing.  I doubt that it looks much different from last blog but I have taken out another trench and begun to take out the subsoil.  Each of the trenches is taking me about three days to complete.  The subsoil is being sieved and rhizomes of mare's tail and bind weed are being removed.  There is quite a lot of these weeds in this part of the allotment and, even 500 mm. down, there are mare's tail rhizomes.  I doubt very much, even with sieve digging three spits deep, that  I will remove all of this plant.  However, much of the plant will have been removed and hoeing off the tops might weaken it when it shows its head again next year.

This is what the new allotment looks like now.
Most of the processed wood seen here has been buried now.
I just like to remember what the allotment looks like before I clear it.  I have to admit that the carpets have cleared the top growth and this makes the allotment much easier to dig.  The carpets do not remove the rhizomes though so deep digging is necessary.

Second trench with top soil removed
and sieved.
All the top soil in the second trench has been sieved and put to one side.  Any stones that will not pass through the sieve are put onto the stone pile.  These stones will be used as foundations for the sheds and to make paths.  Nothing is wasted on the allotment.  Sieving has thoroughly mixed the top soil giving it a more homologous soil structure.  Breaking up the soil deeply like this enables; organic matter to be added to the soil; improvement to the drainage and water holding properties of the soil; and a friable soil to be provided that will encourage root growth.

The first section of the subsoil is removed and sieved and left at the end of the trench.  This produces a hole two spits deep - about 500 mm.  for convenience it was about one metre square.  Taking out any  more subsoil would have made a big pile of subsoil which would have been difficult to get around.  The floor of the new hole was forked over to another spit deep and the rhizomes discovered  removed.  The soil here has a high proportion of clay and was difficult to break up.  Adding organic matter will help to break up the clay.

Beginning to take out the subsoil and sieve it.  
 I always like to use lots of buckets and tubs to put the weeds into.  The tubs were filled with rhizomes very quickly.
Starting to add organic matter to the trench.
Only when the trench is at sufficient depth will organic matter like processed wood, logs, brushwood and composted rhizomes be added.
Various organic matter added to the trench.  
I also added hedge cuttings, grass and shredded brushwood.  Over the top of the added organic matter I sieved the subsoil from the next part of the trench.  It is going so slowly because of the amount of bindweed and mare's tail rhizomes that I need to take out of the soil.

There is no way that I have removed all the horse tail but I have certainly knocked it back a bit.  It will be manageable if it does return.

There were a great number of plums to be harvested today and I filled a whole crate with them to take home. As I always eat quite a few during the day when I am digging like this it is remarkable that there are still so many left.  I also harvested what was left of the fennel and the celery.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Starting to clear and triple dig a new allotment.(2)

I think that you have to be reasonable about how much work that you can do in the allotment particularly when the weather is not ideal.  The temperature yesterday was getting towards 28 degrees celsius, the ground was drying out and becoming very hard which meant that digging was very slow.  Add in the stony, weed rhizome infested soil  and I was going as fast as a sloth with a hangover.
A before and after...

I left the trench sieved and raked level but I knew that I had a lot more top soil to put here.  The fox had walked across this ground leaving a trail of footprints.  The carpet along the trackway is to catch the top soil that is inevitably going to overflow the trench.  I will put this overflow back onto the allotment when I have the room to do it but for the moment I will have to leave it overflowing.

The temperature was not too bad so I decided to start to sieve the top soil into the wheelbarrow and then put it on top of yesterday's soil.
Although the pile of unsieved top soil does
not look too big, it took me a long time to sieve
There was a lot of weed rhizomes and stones in the top soil that needed to be removed carefully.  I was taking the stone down to the bottom of the allotment where I am making a path.  I see no reason for making a path over top soil, so I dig out the top soil and put it on growing areas and fill the hole with stone that I have sieved out from elsewhere.  When the holes are full of stones, I cover them with subsoil and then with shredded brushwood.

The problem was that I was knocking about some cuttings that were next to the path trench and I didn't want to do this anymore.  Instead I put the stones in a pile out of the way on the new allotment.  They will help to weigh down the carpets that I am putting there to cover the weeds.  

All the top soil is sieved now.
 Although the sieved top soil overflowed onto the trackway, it didn't do this as much as I expected.  I will easily be able to rake this back onto the allotment when I have finished the second trench.  This first trench is finished and there are only about twenty more to do.  

I put a line down for the second trench to keep myself
square to the trackway.  
The ground had dried out and was becoming hard.  The heat was good because it was drying out the weed rhizomes but working in this heat was not ideal.  There is now a big pile of stones which I will have to move at some point but it is more convenient to put stone here than anywhere else on the allotment.  

At some point I will have to take down the wooden construction and decide whether I am going to put it somewhere else.  It is mostly falling down.

So, after having several cups of tea and plums from the tree, I began taking out the second trench.  Again lots of weed rhizomes and stones.  Always have a tub with you when you are gardening.  They get magically filled even when you have not planned to do much in the garden.  

I could be sieving in compost and manure to the top soil while I am at it.  However, I think that I will add the compost and manure to the top soil later.  

Start of the second trench.

At this stage the ground was very hard and left curved sides.  The problem with trenches with curved sides is that a wedge of subsoil at the sides is not dug and can harbour weed rhizomes. Also it gives the subsoil a wavy structure that could be an advantage; making semi swales which will help to retain water and restrict its flow through the subsoil allowing it to be drawn up into the top soil by capillary action.  If the space between the ridges is filled with organic matter this will help retain moisture even in dry weather.  

Cross section of curved sided trench digging.

In spite of this possible advantage, I like to dig trenches with square sides making sure that all the soil is dug to the same level.  This ensures that all weeds are removed and you are starting with clean ground.  I may well be planting perennial soft fruit such as blackcurrants, raspberries and red currants and do not want their roots to be entwined with bind weed rhizomes.  

The new trench has been started in the ground that I dug over last winter.  The overlap means that all the soil is dug and sieved leaving no weed rhizomes in any of the soil profile.  This meant taking out the runner beans that I had grown up tripods of canes.  Experience has shown that tripods never stay upright especially in windy weather and these tripods suffered this fate.  Although I was keeping the bean pods for seed, I think that I will have plenty from the other plants.

Hard dry ground.
 There was no point in carrying on digging.  The temperature was far too hot and the ground far too hard.  There is no rush to finish and this project will be continued over the winter.  

I folded back the carpets a little more.  
I didn't need to fold the carpets back because they would have given me a base to put the top soil onto. However, I want to take these carpets off this allotment and cover the weeds on the next allotment to clear it for digging.  When I have dug back, I can take these two carpets off the ground and put them next door. Although these carpets have been very effective in clearing the top growth of weeds, care must be taken in using carpets.  Carpets contain lots of nasty chemicals to prevent them from rotting or being infested by insects in the home.  These carpets have been on the allotment for many years and were partially buried at the back.  Most of the unpleasant chemicals will have leached out giving a fairly safe material to cover the ground with.   It looks a mess at the moment but as I bury things and move them it will look much better.  

So not much done today. Might be cooler tomorrow.  

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Starting to clear and triple dig a new allotment (1)

I have just started to clear and dig the new allotment.  Late August and September are ideal times to begin to clear and dig an allotment.  The ground is usually dry and fairly friable.

This is how I clear and dig new ground.  It is not the way that most gardeners will begin a new allotment but I find that triple sieve digging clears out pernicious perennial weeds and large stones producing a reasonable finely tilthed soil that can be used immediately with few problems. I think that triple sieve digging produces a soil that ten years of conventional cultivation would produce.   I emphasise that this is the way that I do it; it is idiosyncratic but it works for me.

Most of this allotment has been covered by carpets and tarpaulins since February this year.  The only plants that can survive under the carpets are hedge bindweed Calystegia sepium (sepium means of the hedge- where I wish it would stay) and mare's tail Epiquestrum arvense (arvense means found on cultivated ground - particularly on my new allotment.)

Also, where there are gaps and spaces that have not been covered, plants like dock can survive.

Docks and bindweed growing through the
weed smothering carpet.
I do not like carpet on the allotment because of all the unpleasant chemicals associated with them.  Also, they attract rats which like to live underneath them.  I did not have any rats but I did have a family of field mice.  However, the carpets were on the allotment when I took it over so I decided to utilise them before finally taking them down to the tip.

At the trackway end of the allotment there was a bed of small rhubarb that had gone to seed.

Rhubarb along the trackway has gone to

Bindweed and mare's tail are growing
between the rhubarb plants.  

Wood has been used to weigh the carpets
I like to start clearing an allotment from an edge and the most suitable edge was the trackway.  It gives you a starting place.  I always find starting quite difficult because there is nowhere to put things.  The rhubarb needed to be dug out because it was full of bind weed and mare's tail.  Somewhere needed to be found for the top soil that was going to be removed from the first trench.

I was using old wooden planks and pallets to hold down the carpets and this needed to be removed.  It was put in a pile further down the allotment.  Rather than burn the wood, I was going to bury it in the trenches. Most hugelkultur uses relatively fresh wood but I decided that I would experiment with processed wood.  All the wooden planks were rotting in any case.

Rotten wood found on the allotment.  
There were only two options for this wood.  Either it would be burnt or buried.  I prefer burial because it produces a friable sponge like material when it is further degraded and can help with regulating water, irrigating the ground when the weather is dry but also allowing water to drain easily.  The ratio of carbon to nitrogen in wood is very high and there may well be a tendency for microorganisms to reduce the soil nitrogen in order to decompose the wood.  The wood will be buried quite deeply in the subsoil and any nutrients that the microorganisms find there they are welcome to.  Eventually they will be returned to the soil when the microorganisms die.  So just using the law of conservation of matter there will be no loss of nutrient - just a recycling.  I would suggest that there is less likely to be a loss of soluble nutrients through leaching because the microorganisms are capturing dissolved nitrogen salts as they pass the buried wood.

Even though I dislike carpets, I have to admit that they do clear the ground fairly well.

The carpet was folded back.
The surface bind weed stolons are being hoed and raked
off.  The soil will be sieved to get rid of the rhizomes.

A large dock  Rumex obtusifolius (Obtusifolius meaning
blunt leaved)

Long stolons of hedge bindweed.  
 Hoeing and raking the ground gave me a cleared space to start digging.

Rhubarb has large fleshy roots which can be a little difficult to dig out.    However with a little effort this can be achieved quite quickly. I cut the leaves off so that  the roots could be reached.  I started the trench  next to the runner beans and was surprised to find that the soil was particularly stony.

Stones and halfenders did not make digging out the
rhubarb roots very easy.
 Setbacks like this have to be expected when digging over a new allotment.  This soil will be sieved later and all these stones taken out.  If they are left they will make digging and planting much more difficult.

The fork had to be used to take out the soil.  

I will add the rhubarb and the dock seed heads to the
trench when I have dug it out.  
The rhubarb roots and perennial weeds were left on the carpets to dry out.

Bindweed drying out in the sunshine.
If bindweed and mare's tail is left to dry like this for several days - or weeks then there is an possibility that they will not regenerate.  Mare's tail roots are thickly suberised which gives them rubbery, flexible characteristics.  Drying them out means that they are unlikely to be able to absorb water through this waterproofing.  However, it also means that they will loose water very slowly so they will have to be left in strong sunlight for several days.

As the trench is dug the rhubarb roots come out fairly easily.  I am not going to keep this rhubarb because the bindweed is growing through the roots.  I don't know what variety this rhubarb is, so I would rather transplant named rhubarb from the old allotment.

Rhubarb roots are encountered as I dig backwards.

Taking the roots out is relatively easy.
The roots are removed and the top soil is put on one side.
The top soil still had a lot of bindweed and mare's tail in it together with large stones.  I will sieve the top soil as I put it back into the tench - but not yet.

The next spit of soil will be removed too.  I have used some of the carpet and black plastic to cover the weeds on the next allotment - it is mine too.  These will be used to make a base to put the subsoil.  I will dig out as much as is practical and leave  it on the carpets.

Beginning to take out the second spit of soil.  
Although in Victorian times there was a method of double digging where subsoil was placed on top of top soil, it is not very advisable.  I am keeping my sieved subsoil carefully separate from the top soil.  Not that you can see much difference because there is not much body in the top soil.  When a large enough trench is dug out the bottom is forked over to another spit depth and the organic matter is added starting with the wood.
Old processed wood added.

Brushwood cuttings and compost

This fills up the trench but I could add a lot more if I wanted.

This organic matter will be covered with sieved soil from
the next part of the trench.  
My trusty bread tray sieve is used to make sure that there are no large stones or rhizomes left in the soil.

I put the bread tray onto four tubs to raise it above the

Soil from the next part of the trench is sieved over the
organic matter.  
 I am making sure that the subsoil is kept separate from the top soil on the right.
I sieved quite a bit of subsoil through the sieve to make a
large trench.  
After the bottom is forked over to another spit depth more wood and organic matter is added.   Subsoil from the next part of the trench is then sieved to cover the organic matter.

And so I continue along the trench making sure that all the weed rhizomes are removed and the subsoil is kept separate from the top soil.

I am still removing mare's tail rhizomes even
at this depth.  

When the second spit is taken out the
bottom of the trench is forked over to
another spit deep. This is triple digging.

Processed wood is added.

The wood is covered with mare's tale and bindweed
rhizomes that were dried out carefully and composted for
a year.  

I don't think that they will regenerate but you can never
be sure.  
  I raked the subsoil back over the organic matter in the trench until the soil was level throughout the trench.

The subsoil is starting to look a little more
presentable now.  

The subsoil with fewer large stones and
hopefully no weed rhizomes.  
Now the top soil can be sieved and added to the trench.  It always looks a mess when you are trying to turn a dirty allotment around.  However, when you have finished a couple of trenches, it transforms the allotment and you can see its potential.

Sun is getting low in the sky and it is time to go home.

Still some more top soil to sieve but that can be done
It takes time, but I know that the soil is fairly clean  where I have dug.  Quite a satisfying days work particularly the tea breaks with ripe plums straight off the tree.