It is probably good practice to get the compost heap to heat up, although I think that you can make good vegetable mould without the very high temperatures that some advocate for compost making. I turned my compost for the second time yesterday and the vegetable mould was steaming.
Sunday 18 October 2020
Saturday 17 October 2020
Bastard Digging or True digging.
It has been said that the subsoil is less fertile than that of the tops soil and should never be brought to the top of the soil. It usually has a greater number of stones in it than the topsoil. The lack of fertility and the abundance of stones would make the germination of seeds difficult and the growth of transplants slow.
So why did the Victorians develop bastard digging husbandry where topsoil was buried below 'subsoil' and the subsoil was placed on the top?
The main method of transport in Victorian and earlier times was the horse. Horses produce prodigious amounts of manure. Manure was seen as a waste material that needed to be disposed of. The stables of the super rich were bulging with horses which produced lots of manure. One way of disposing of this waste material was to bury it deep within the subsoil. Large trenches were dug and manure laid at the bottom, covered with subsoil and the topsoil replaced. The exceptional gardeners of the Victorian era and earlier noticed that horse manure helped vegetables grow. However, they had just buried the manure deep in the soil. Here horse manure decomposed and formed a very friable fertile layer that mixed with the subsoil. They dug this fertile soil from the bottom of their trenches and placed it on the top of the soil. Stale topsoil full of weed seeds and disease was put at the bottom of the trenches and covered with copious amounts of horse manure together with any other organic matter they could find. The trench was filled to the top with 'subsoil' infused with horse manure and vegetable mould. Eventually they achieved a very deep topsoil. A spit of topsoil could cheerfully be buried because the subsoil had become organically rich and could be brought to the surface increasing the fertility of the soil to at least one metre deep.
If very poor subsoil from deep in the soil is composted with organic matter it changes very quickly into a topsoil like soil.
I am bastard trenching at the moment but I am not necessarily bothering to separate top spit soil from that of the lower spits. There is a difference. The top spit has noticeable amounts of vegetable mould mixed within it and the lower spits have the remnants of previous year's hügelkultur.
One of the reasons I dig is to add organic matter. The larger and deeper the trench the more organic matter I can bury. I have buried the remnants of two goat willows and a small oak tree from my neighbours allotment. Also the brushwood from a branch that fell from an ancient oak tree further down the allotment site and some sycamore brushwood have been buried in the most recent hügelkultur trenches.
As I removed soil from the trench, I passed it through my bread tray sieve.
The vegetable mould mulches and the old hügelkultur wood that had rotted down to a friable, spongy mass are being mixed thoroughly with the soil removed from the trench making it a very homogeneous mixture. Whether mixing topsoil like this makes an iota of difference to the growth of crops is debatable. But I think that it does; on the anecdotal evidence that I have accumulated over 60 seasons. Why would commercial compost makers mix their concoctions if it did not make any difference to the growth of plants.
So why do I dig? I dig - particularly bastard dig - to add copious amounts of organic matter to the soil. What some would call compost trenching nowadays. Logs and brushwood can be added to the bottom of the trenches and dug into the true subsoil at the bottom. I dig to mix vegetable mould and the decomposed remnants of hügelkultur with the top soil. I dig deeply to remove the rhizomes of bindweed and the rhizoids horse tail. I dig deeply to bury topsoil wildflower and grass seeds deep within the soil. I bastard dig to bury stale and disease ridden top soil well away from from next year's crops. I don't necessarily dig to add air to the soil. Air and the oxygen within it will infuse the topsoil whether I dig or not. I add more air when digging and sieving the soil and this removes organic matter by encouraging aerobic microbes to mineralise it to carbon dioxide, water and micronutrients. This is what I want to happen. My vegetable crops need the micronutrients. However, at this time of year few of the nutrients would be used. So I sow a good cover crop like rye grass to mop up the nutrients and lock them up until next spring when they can be dug into the soil to release them again for the new crops.
I bastard dig to deepen the soil. Adding big pieces of organic matter like branches and brushwood raises the level of the soil and breaks down adding to the volume of soil.
I do not raise beds. I raise allotments.
Saturday 6 January 2018
I have finished pinching out the growing tips of the main crop of sweet peas but I sowed some in December and these are only now germinating. I will pinch them out when they get a little bigger.
Some of the seedlings that I have in Wightwick Manor greenhouse have been eaten by woodlice right down to the compost. I am leaving them because often they regrow from the seed and produce very vigourous shoots that produce the best flowers.
Not done much to the allotment. I have started to dig up the woody shredding paths and put the decomposed shreddings around the fruit trees as a mulch. I replace the old shreddings with new to maintain the path.
The soft fruit bed has been thoroughly mulched with woody shreddings. I might pull this back and put some farm yard manure around the bushes before pulling the shreddings back over.
I have two infant classes coming to visit the allotment in March. There will not be much for them to see so we are having to pretend. I will bury some potatoes so they can dig them up and leave some carrots and parsnips for them to see in the ground. It will be quite spectacular to dig out a big parsnip and carrot. I have suggested that they come back in June when the allotment will be full and I think that they are considering it.
Spent some time at Wightwick Manor cutting back the large cherry laurel hedge around the vegetable garden. It looks very tidy now. The gardeners are going to burn the considerable heap of prunings but I have suggested they get a shredder instead. They are having to dredge the large ponds because they have silted up quite badly and this will take up much of their budget so I think that a shredder will not be at the top of their list of things to buy this year. I just don't like to see so many nutrients going up in smoke.
Saturday 25 November 2017
I have sown all the sweet pea seeds in three inch pots and they are in the greenhouse. Some that had been sown in October have germinated successfully and are growing on remarkably well. They are still too small for pinching out but they will be big enough soon. I have kept the sown seeds fairly dry and this seems to be the secret of getting almost 100% germination. They do not seem to rot of quite so easily.
After taking some of my sweet peas down to Wightwick Manor National Trust property to show to the volunteer gardeners, I suggested that I grow some for them in their vegetable garden. So the large mound that you can see in their vegetable garden is the result of my triple sieve digging. I added quite a lot of their compost and scraped out a horse manure bay to add to all three spits. I do feel a little guilty about using so much of their resources so I am going to continue triple digging across the bed to recompense.
So if you want to see some exhibition sweet peas cordons similar to the ones I grow on the allotment then come and have a look at the ones at Wightwick Manor. The gardens and house are fantastic anyway and worth a visit regardless of my sweet peas.
Now that I have settled into my new house, I can start to consider the design for my garden. It is just a pocket handkerchief in size but with the allotment and my volunteering at Whitewick Manor, that is just about what I can cope with.
I have already bought some Elaeagnus x ebbingei for the hedge alongside the house. The hedge will be very near the road and Elaeagnus is very good at resisting the effects of pollution. The bed for them is south facing and will get dry and Elaeagnus is good at resisting drought. It also has nitrogen fixing Frankia alni actinomycetes in nodules on their roots. It flowers in the autumn and although the flowers are little white jobs their scent amazing. They produce berries in the spring which are edible but whether I pick them depends upon whether I think I can wash off all the road pollution.
I will probably plant some of the Sorbus I grew from seed in the hedge as well just to add interest.
The back garden will probably be all shrubs but I want to get some really good ones and to make sure that I have flowers throughout the year.
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|
|Beetroot and chard|
|Second sowing of rocket and spinach|
|Some radish and lupins|