Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Continuing to clear and triple dig an allotment (17)

Rather that try to paint an unrealistic rosy eyed view of allotmenteering, I would like to remember what the allotment looked like as I was clearing it and how much hard work it took.

Well, I think I am on trench 12 now.  I am still sieve digging to get out all the bindweed and mare's tail.  I am also mixing in the compost from the back of the allotment; rock dust and blood, fish and bone.  The rock dust is an experiment to see if adding it to the soil make any difference to cropping and the blood, fish and bone sacks were going very cheap because they were damaged bags.  The compost, I have found, is mostly composted shredded wood, however it has been there for over three years and has rotted down quite well.

Here is a quick tour of the new allotment.  I took these photographs first thing in the morning and in February the sun is low in the sky so there is glare.  However, you are lucky to get these photographs because I completely forget to take any most times I go down to the allotment.  I have better things to do.

Old Victoria Plum Tree
Although this poor old Victoria plum tree has been hacked about, I am trying to prune it to open it out a little.  I have taken out all the dead, diseased and damaged wood and now am trying to take out any crossing branches.  I will continue to shape the tree after it has fruited in the summer.  Even with the neglect it fruited exceedingly well last year.  The parsley Petroselinum crispum in the pot will probably be planted in the allotment along the path.  It can't stay there because there are lots of comfrey plants growing here.

Big pile of shredded woody material.
I am adding this shredded woody material to the sieve digging trench, at least two spits down.  It is adding to my Hugelkultur and the carbon in the soil.   It is steaming in the photograph but you can't see it.  I am going to use some woody shreddings to see if I can make a hot bed.

Green manure and strawberries
The green manure has grown fairly well over the winter. I dug in some of it to plant the strawberries.  The strawberries are not looking very good this time of year but give them some warmer and dryer weather and they will start to look much better.  I will be putting some straw around them later in the spring.  The plum tree at the edge of the strawberry bed was given to me and needs some careful pruning to open up the branches.  I have planted some raspberry plants against the compost heap mainly to mask it from the rest of the allotment, although I will not worry if they produce lots of raspberries.
Vine pruned to the guyot system.
The vine is masked by the green manure but I have pruned it to the guyot system.  I have not tried this before so I'm not sure whether it is going to work or not.  The fork and watering can are supposed to be decoration.  Not sure if they are working as such though.  The soil has taken a real battering over the past couple of months.  I am glad that I had most of it covered.  Next year I will cover all exposed ground with green manure.

More green manure on the new sweet pea bed.
I make no apologies for the allotment not looking very picturesque this time of year.  Allotments always look very ugly in February.  All the top fruit trees on the allotment are going to be pruned to the espalier shape.  I have quite a few now and I cannot fit them in unless they are strictly pruned to shape.  Most of them were given to me and others were bargains because they were on their last legs or otherwise damaged.  I have grown them all on and they all seem to be very healthy now so I am going to cut them hard back to start the espalier shaping.  I will use the apple prunings to graft onto the M9 rootstock that I have.  
Herbs planted alongside the new path.
I have moved all the herbs from the old allotment to the new now.  The only one that I am worried about is the pleached bay.  I have about twenty rooted cuttings from this tree so it does not matter if this one dies but it is the first bit of pleaching I have done with any success so I don't really want it to die.
The sage seems to be surviving well and starting to grow now.  It is very straggly so will need to be cut back in the spring to encourage it to bush up a little more.  It was grown from seed and gives off a very herby scent on warm days.  

The path is completely new.  The slabs were put down in the very wet weather during January when there was no chance of working the soil.  The slabs are on stones sieved from the soil while I was sieve digging.  The theory is that they will aid in drainage under the path.  I have put a six inch curb alongside the path to keep the soil back.  I hate it when soil covers the path.  
Carpets and tarpaulins cover the soil.
I don't like carpets on allotments but these ones were on the allotment when I took it over.  Rather than just taking them down to the tip, I used them to cover the soil.  I am glad that I did because of the heavy rain during the winter.  This area will be for the brassicas this year and the covers will be taken off and green manure planted here until the brassicas are ready to be planted in April and May.  

Weighed down with a dustbin full of rainwater.
The wind was even lifting the sodden carpet so I put a dustbin full of rain water to keep the covers on the ground.  
Sieve double digging
I have finished this trench now.  This is trench eleven.  You can see the bindweed rhizomes in the top soil. The subsoil is little better and needs to be carefully dug too to get rid of mare's tail.  When I get to the path, I put the top soil through the bread tray sieve; dig out the subsoil to put onto another path and fork the bottom to get rid of the mare's tail.  I make the path trench up with stones that I have sieved from the rest of the trench and subsoil from the trench.   I fill this subsoil hole with branches and shredded woody material from the pile.  Cover this with subsoil and work backwards like this adding woody material to the subsoil.When I have finished across the trench, I replace the top soil.
Topsoil is replaced when woody material has been added
to the subsoil.  
It takes a lot of time but it produces some lovely soil that is really easy to work.

Old brassica plants to be added to the subsoil
I am putting the old brassica plants into the trench as well because they do not have any club root on them.  I don't usually bury the brassicas because of the danger of spreading disease but I need the carbon in the soil because it is still very thin and lacking dead organic matter.
Wood for the hugelkultur 
All this wood is now in trench eleven.  It did not quite stretch all the way across the bed but I'm not worried. I have used the tubs in the background to bring comfrey liquid from the old allotment and I am watering this onto the shredded wood chippings when I add them to the trench.  I have enough shreddings and compost to put into the trenches, so I will not use many more logs - unless someone wants to give me some.  I am on to trench twelve and nearly half way across because there is no bindweed in the top soil.  There is a little mare's tail though.  

Poor little apple tree.

There are two reasons why this little apple tree is leaning like this.  The main one is because the hawthorn hedge was growing right over the top of it until I cut the hedge very hard back.  In addition, the compost heap was pushing it over.  I have taken out most of the compost around the tree and used it to sieve into the top soil, however there is still a lot of compost left. The Amazon boxes have been put at the bottom of trench eleven with the logs. There is a redcurrant here which will be moved across to the soft fruit bed.  The pots have a globe artichoke, a lupin and a michaelmas daisy for my daughter's garden and I have not decided what to do with the five Sarcococca hookeriana cuttings under the tree yet.  There are also two M9 apple rootstocks here and they will be potted up ready for grafting next month.  The white garden chairs will have a place for me to sit out and admire my work but I don't know where yet.  

Compost heap?
The 'compost heap' was covered by about five carpets and sheets of blue and black plastic which I am slowly excavating and peeling back to expose the compost.  Its an ugly site but typical of new allotments when they have been neglected for some time.  Stuff like this may well be typical but they don't half make it time consuming to put right.  The compost will be taken down and mixed with the allotment topsoil after being sieved.  The ground will be levelled and I will put a slabbed path along the hedge.  The carpets and plastic sheeting will be disposed of.  The only worse thing than carpets is blue plastic.  It goes brittle in sunlight and breaks up into little pieces that take hours to pick up.  There is a big rusted metal drum to be disposed of too.  I don't know if it is water proof or not so it could be used for a water butt or maybe made into a biochar burner.  There is a very large piece of wood alongside the compost heap that will need to be disposed of too.  The glass was put here to keep it well out of the way when I was digging the other half of the allotment.  All this unwanted stuff will be taken down to the tip.  I need to clear all this ground quite quickly because this is where I want to sow my parsnips, carrots, beetroot, salsify and Hamburg parsley.  Will it ever happen?

It was like this all along the hedge but on the other half of the allotment I have planted some soft fruit rooted cuttings.  
Raspberries where there was once a big
compost heap
I am putting a slabbed path between the raspberries and the hawthorn hedge.  This means that I can pick raspberries from the path rather than walking on the soil.  I have put the lacewing and ladybird boxes onto the raspberry posts.  
Black currant and gooseberry cuttings.
 The gooseberry and blackberry cuttings are a little close together but they are on ground that used to be an enormous compost heap so they will not suffer from nutrient deficiency particularly as I am going to mulch them with horse manure.  Although the soil looks very battered, a light going over with the fork will make it look much better.

Meal worm feeder on pear tree.
I have meal worm, seed and peanut feeders for the birds although the field mice are putting up fierce competition.  I have had to move the feeders several times to find somewhere where the mice cannot get to them.
I am slowly taking out the Ragged Jack kale and adding it to the digging trench.  All the Brussel sprouts; curly kale and winter cabbages have been harvested now and the only brassicas left now are the purple sprouting which is doing quite well and the winter cauliflowers.  The pigeons have started to eat the brassicas so I have had to net them again.  This will be the potato bed this year.  

So apart from sieve digging, I will be planting the garlic, elephant garlic and shallots this week.  I have all the sweet peas on the go in the greenhouse together with onions, leeks and broad beans.  Now it gets busy.