Sunday, 27 February 2011

Still getting the compost Tony.

The soil temperature was 5oC  today at 1o'clock this afternoon.  There was a very cold wind blowing and I needed to get myself warm.

I decided to go and get some more compost from the mega compost heap.  Even more friable good compost was recovered and taken to my old brassicae bed.  I think that I took about 4 heaped barrow loads.  It hasn't made much of an impact on the compost heap though. 

Here is a good composting website:

I was going to take a photograph of the wall of compost and I tidied it up like "Time Team" but it was too blooming cold and I forgot to go back when I had cleared up.  So no photograph yet.

I used the cultivator claw to pull all the compost across the bed so that it would be easier to dig it in.

Then I put some more of the bean poles up.  I am using thick wire and pliers to tie them up.  We get some powerful winds so I don't want the beans to be blown over.  I'd done about four poles when the heavens opened and a lot of water rained down on me.

Needless to say, the stream  reappeared on the trackway and is cheerfully flowing down to the carpark.

So no point in staying at the allotment watching everything get very wet.  I came home and had a nice cup of tea.

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Exhibition sweet pea seedlings.

The seed was planted last October and this is one of the Oban Bay sweet peas that survived the very cold weather. It has a pale ice blue flower.  I am keeping them fairly dry so that they do not rot off at the base.  You can see that I have pinched out the growing tip of the seedling to encourage side shoots. The growing tip is usually pinched out after two leaves have developed.   I will select one of the side shoots - probably the most vigorous one to become the main flowering stem of the plant.  

The other shoot will be removed.  I will also take off the old stem above the shoot.  Either of these side shoots will produce much better and bigger flowers than the main seedling stem.  This seedling is big enough to go out into the ground but I will leave them in the greenhouse until the middle of March.  The 3 inch pot is big enough to alow the seedling to grow much bigger than this.
The February sown sweet peas are not very big yet and I will be doing this with them probably at the end of March.

For the next stage:

Dig or not to dig?

If you look at the video suggestion "A farm for the future":

there is some anecdotal evidence that cultivation does seem to lower the number of beneficial micro organisms in the soil.  One of the farmers suggests that ploughing should be avoided because it seems to kill off all the valuable micro organisms.

Also there are several suggestions that digging destroys helpful mychorrhizal fungi here:

There is also a suggestion that ploughing and digging increase the decomposition of carbon in the soil adding to the carbon dioxide and methane load of the atmosphere.

I think that it is impractical to suggest that gardeners could avoid digging because we have to when cropping such things as potatoes, carrots, parsnips and many other vegetables.  Also adding carbon to the soil in the form of manure, compost, charcoal etc. will also involve digging.  When you grow green manures you have to dig them in when you need the land for crops.

When allotments are taken over they are usually in a terrible state and need clearing by digging.

However, we must take into account that we may well be destroying a community of organisms that contribute greatly to the fertility of the soil and try not to dig especially when a quick fork over or hoeing would suffice.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Compost heap wild life.

Soil temperature was a heady 9oC at 12o'clock today.  Now don't let that go to your head because it is still February and a lot of winter could still be infront of us.  

I moved about 6 barrow loads of compost from the mega compost heap today.  Lovely friable stuff that spread out really well on my allotment.  Whenever you get a compost heap that has been neglected like this there is always the possibility that you will find that it has been inhabited by larger wildlife.  Why is it that rat tunnels and nests are always so dry?  And they are characteristic in that they always contain loads of shredded plastic bags and that is what this one had.

Now I had to  make the decision whether or not to carry on taking the compost or to leave it due to safety thoughts.  I had no worries about the rat attacking me because it was long gone before I even reached the rat tunnel.  I was more worried about getting an infection from rat urine.

I had my gauntlet garden gloves on so infection from rat urine was unlikely.  The compost was going to be spread on the soil where urease is one of the most common enzymes.  Seems sensible because there is always some animal or other peeing about somewhere.  So I was not really worried about the compost either.  Finally, I decided to carry on regardless.  This made me think about the contribution larger animals have to the composting process.  Adding chewed up pieces of plastic bags does not seem to be that valuable to the composting process though. However, allowing oxygen to penetrate deep into the centre of a big heap like this must help in allowing aerobic decomposition.

There are some parts of gardening that are just plain boring both to do and to write about.  Shifting compost is one of them.  Eventually, I thought that I needed to do something else so I put up the poles for the climbing french beans.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Compost mountain.

Soil temperature at 12o'clock today was 7oC

A mate of mine on the allotment said that I could have some of his compost heap.  This heap is about 6 feet tall and 15 feet long.  It is a monster of a compost heap.  It is obviously a compost heap that was neglected and forlorn because , as soon as I started to dig into it, I found various buried plastic trays, tubs, pots and other miscellaneous gardening paraphernalia.  It is reportedly about thirteen years old at the bottom.
Mega compost heap

The top and sides were covered in a mat of couch grass and bindweed rhizomes and they had to be removed before the friable, clean compost could be reached.  Now I can tell you that this compost has never been turned, layered, or otherwise mollycoddled, yet it was as good, if not better than, carefully crafted compost. 

Theory would have it that this compost, which continually grows through addition of extra material, should be a putrefying mess of foul smelling goo.  Compaction and water logging should have produced an anaerobic compost heap.  It is not foul smelling, slimy or putrefying.  
As I have said, it would be very difficult to produce compost that does not contain at least some pockets of anaerobic respiration; it would also be difficult to make compost that does not have any oxygen at all.  The one noticeable characteristic of this 6 foot mega compost heap is the number and variety of small animals that inhabit all parts of it.  I can testify to this because I have been up close and seriously eye ball to eye ball with them on a large cliff face of compost. 

It is unnecessary to list all the creatures that make compost their habitat; however worms could be found throughout the heap.  The role of these invertebrates in keeping a supply of oxygen throughout the compost and allowing aerobic decomposition to take place cannot be overstated.  They cannot be ignored when considering composting on allotments and in heaps that are more mounds of rotting material rather than pristine compost bins. 

It is truly unrealistic to imagine that people working full time  can possibly have enough time to turn their compost every week and it is unnecessary particularly if you can reliably leave it to the invertebrates – particularly the worms – to do it for you. 

I hear a "compost turning" myth exploding…

I took about 6 barrowloads of compost and put them onto the new pea bed spreading it out so that it covered a lot of the soil.  I will dig it in when I take out last years brassicas.  

After getting myself thoroughly tired, I decided to call it a day and take the bean poles out of the store shed and leave them where I will put them up for the climbing french beans.  

There was still a pile of rhubarb roots on Mike's allotment, which he did not want so I thought that it might be an idea to put them into the shed now that there was a little room in there and force them. They were already shooting so I think that they might give me some good stems later in the spring.  It is quite dark in that shed.  

The new sweet pea seedlings are just poking themselves through the compost today.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011


Really, I cannot say that piling a heap of waste plant material into mound and leaving it for six months or more is any worse a way of producing compost than any other. 

However, if you want the compost to be made quickly or more friably, then consideration of how it is made might help. 

I maintain that, regardless of their chemical makeup, all things that were once alive will eventually decay and be recycled.  This means that you can compost old woolen jumpers, cotton shirts, leather handbags, as well as the usual paper and card. 

The problem is that a lot of these things, like woolen carpets, have been treated so that they will not rot quickly.  Given time, you will find that even these things decompose after a few years. 

These sandals had been buried for at least ten years but they still had not rotted away. 

It is said that there are two types of decomposition in compost.  One is called aerobic and requires the presence of oxygen.  The other is called anaerobic and this can only occur in the absence of oxygen.  There is some suggestion in the literature that aerobic composting is better than anaerobic composting.  I would suggest that they are more intertwined than the literature suggests.  Anaerobic conditions can occur much more easily even in a compost heap that has been comprehensively turned. 

In aerobic decomposition carbon from the rotting plant material is taken in and used to make energy by converting its carbon to carbon dioxide by reacting it with oxygen.  This is called catabolism.  The energy that is given out during this reaction is used to convert some of the carbon and other nutrients into the bodies of the decomposer organisms.  Nitrogen is important because it is used with carbon to build proteins that make up many of the components of microorganisms’ cells.  It seems that the theory is that more carbon is needed because it is used to make energy and is also used to make the body of the microorganisms.  If there is a shortage of nitrogen then sometimes decomposition slows down.  When the decomposing organisms die then their carbon and nitrogen can be recycled but more of the carbon is used to make energy and is lost as carbon dioxide into the air.  Slowly the amount of carbon in the compost pile is reduced and the level of the compost goes down. 

A lot of heat is generated when carbon is oxidized to carbon dioxide and this is why the compost heap heats up.  There is some evidence that there is a succession of organisms that take over the decomposition of dead organic matter and when the temperature of the compost heap rises above the optimum for the early mesophilic decomposers (ones that grow best at temperatures between 20 to 40 degrees Celsius , different heat tolerant or thermophillic microorganisms take over.

Now it is said that this heat will kill pathogens and weed seeds and this may be true of well managed commercial compost production.  However, I would be very surprised if this applies to the heaps of rotting vegetation found on most allotment sites. I would not add any diseased material to the compost heap unless you can guarantee a high temperature decomposition process.

I cannot believe that we can separate aerobic and anaerobic decomposition of dead organic matter.  Anaerobic conditions will form in any compost heap due to rapid respiration and production of carbon dioxide.  Compaction and excess water will also lead to anaerobic conditions even in the best of compost heaps and there are not too many of those.    In this anaerobic process carbon is converted to methane CH4 or other small molecule carbon compounds.  Methane itself is a molecule that is used by organisms to give them a source of carbon for both catabolism and anabolism leading eventually to carbon dioxide the final gas of respiration. 

Unfortunately some of these processes involve the production of hydrogen sulphide and other sulphur compounds, which have very characteristic smells. Methane is an odourless gas - in other words it does not smell.  

Anaerobic composting does not produce very much heat and cannot contribute greatly to the destruction of pathogens.  There is some evidence that there is some production of antibiotic compounds and this will lead to a reduction in the numbers of pathogens. 

Undoubtedly, shredding plant material aids in making compost.  I do not shred mainly because I don’t have a shredder.  I think that I would shred most of the plant material that I compost if I did.  Shredding increases the surface area and allows bacteria and fungi more of a surface to begin decomposition.  It is particularly good when composting woody material.    Indubitably, the compost heats up and decomposes far quicker if material is shredded. 

If we read some literature, the ratio between carbon and nitrogen is paramount in composting.  While I can see a valid point being made about commercially produced compost, I cannot for the life of me generate any enthusiasm for working this out for simple allotment compost heaps.  Frankly, allotmenteers are going to leave the heap until it all breaks down and produces friable compost. This may take as much as a year but we are not in any hurry. 

According to the books we need more carbon than nitrogen and this seems logical. The problem is how you calculate the available carbon and nitrogen.  That is the carbon and nitrogen that is not locked up in hard to decompose molecules.  If it can be reliably calculated, the optimum ratio for speedy decomposition is 25-30:1 carbon to nitrogen.  I must admit that I just go by eye and if I am adding paper, sawdust, wood or straw to the compost heap then I make sure that they are layered with lawn mowings, manure, weeds, comfrey and other soft, green, plant material.

Over the decomposition process the ratio of carbon to nitrogen will decrease because carbon will be lost due to conversion into the gases carbon dioxide and methane.  This is why the compost level goes down when active decomposition is taking place.  So maintaining the most favorable ratios seems to be a futile occupation and not one I would recommend to the ordinary allotmenteer.  

Monday, 21 February 2011

Tatting about on the allotment planting rhubarb

 Soil temperature was  5oC today.  I doubt if it will get any warmer until March.

Really, I knew there would not be much to do down the allotment but I went anyhow.  When I got there I had a chat to Mike about the new allotment committee because he said that he would stand for secretary.  I will probably stand for chair.  I just wanted to make sure that he was happy to stand.

I am glad that he was there because he offered me some rhubarb plants which I accepted and went to get the wheel barrow.

Before I got back to Mike's allotment, I got side tracked into taking out some of the autumn fruiting raspberries.  I don't really like autumn fruiting raspberries.  If God had wanted us to have autumn fruiting raspberries then he would not have given them the name Autumn Bliss. 

I wanted to use the post, that was holding the autumn raspberries up, for the sweet peas.  I took all the wire off and the ties and put them into my wire and ties tub.  The post came out very easily and I took it up to the sweet pea bed.  I had taken out all of the little leeks that were in this ground but had not forked it.  It also needed to be leveled a little more; if that is possible for this part of the allotment.

After forking and leveling, I got to work digging the hole for the post.  I dug down about a foot to eighteen inches put in the post and returned the soil.  It was in as firmly as I wanted it to be. 

Now I only need to find two posts for the runner beans and I think that I have got some in the store shed.  I cannot reach them yet because all the canes are in the way.

I went back down to the raspberries and took all the roots out.  There was some bind weed in this area last year.  I thought that I had got it all out but I had a dig around and found a bit more.  I hope that it has not gone under the path because I don't want to lift those slabs again.

This is when I took pity on the raspberries because they were growing even though I thought that they had succumbed to the very cold weather.  I planted them between the shed and the compost heap.  I doubt if they will do very well here but I don't mind because I don't like autumn fruiting raspberries.

I toddled off to Mike's allotment to get some rhubarb, took it back and planted it in the corner of the roots and strawberry bed.

Planting rhubarb is the easiest thing.  I just dug a hole and popped it in.  The ground that I planted the rhubarb in is not very good and I will have to put some compost or manure on the crowns.  They have massive roots that go down quite a way into the soil.  Now I know that I said that the soil temperature was about 5oC and that I shouldn't be planting anything really, which is possibly true but rhubarb is a tough old plant and will survive very cold weather.  I know that I have dug it out and left the roots exposed for most of the winter and it still survived.

You eat the stems.

The leaves are best avoided because they contain oxalic acid and anthraquinone glycosides which are poisonous if you are allergic to them or you eat too much of them.  They are fine to put onto the compost heap because everything in them will be decomposed by some micro organism or other.  This site is good for information about rhubarb.

I planted some of the rhubarb crowns with mychorrhizal fungi.  It is a perennial and will be in this piece of ground for some time.  The mychorrhiza will be able to develop and spread through the soil gleaning nutrients for the rhubarb and possibly forming symbiotic associations with other vegetables in the bed.  

This made me consideer my Darlek compost bin on the top allotment. I could use that to force the rhubarb so that I can have some sweet rhubarb in the spring.  The Darlek compost bin was full of my nets so I had to take them out and store them on the shelves in the store shed.  Now that the pumpkins have gone there is room on the shelves for them.  I forgot that I had five wine making glass bottles in there as well so I put those in the shed as well.

I brought the compost bin down and put it over the new rhubarb crowns.  If I don't get any sweet rhubarb this year it will not be through lack of trying.

I have just thought that I might go and get some more of Mike's rhubarb - he does not like it- and put it into the store shed to force it.  I have in the past lifted some of the rhubarb and put it covered in the greenhouse.  The shed should be a passable alternative now that my greenhouse has been demolished by vandals.

I eat rhubarb throughout the spring and summer.  Some people only take the new stems in the spring.  It might be a little tarter in the summer but, with a little sugar, it still a good desert fruit.

I then emptied the worm tea out of the worm bin and put it in the charcoal bin.  It seems that CAT (Centre for Alternative Technology) has cottoned on to charcoal and they are also experimenting with inoculating with urine.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Photographs of the cyclamen and the species iris.

The soil temperature today was 4.5oC. This is a drop from the beginning of the week when it was 6oC.  Still far too cold for planting and sowing. 

The cyclamen and iris are  flowering although they have gone over a little.  Also, some really helpful cat had piled soil over the cyclamen.  My official photographer, Warren, took some really good shots.  

I had forgotten that I had planted the iris here and put the cyclamen corms over the iris bulbs.  I think it made a really good combination though.  

You might ask why I have these plants on the allotment.  They are just things I have found in compost people have given me or a bulb or corm found somewhere.  I just stick them in a corner and hope for the best.  I think I got the best with these flowers.

Friday, 18 February 2011

More tomato thoughts.

At the moment I am mainly growing Totem, this is a bush variety and I will probably grow this on the staging in the greenhouse.  I am not sure that I can keep them alive until the warmer weather though.

I would like to grow some more from seed but I am not sure which.  I might just plumb for Gardeners' Delight, but I think I would like to grow a larger fruiting one.  I don't like the beefstake ones so it will probably be Ailsa Craig or possibly Shirley.

For many years, I did not know how to support tomatoes in the greenhouse.  I used to use canes but they always seemed to lean over with the weight of the tomatoes.  I finally came up with a good system.   Put a strong wire across the top of the tomatoes.  Drop down strings so that you can bury them in the compost.  When you plant out the tomatoes put the end of the string in the hole first then put the plant on top.  The roots of the tomato keep the string tight.  Wind the tomato around the string as it grows. 
That's what I do.  

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Potatoes have arrived.

The kestrel potatoes have arrived from JBA Seed Potatoes, so I will have to put them into the greenhouse to chit.  The weather is still quite cold and I am wary about leaving them outside at the moment.

Potatoes really need protection from the frosts and, with the weather being so cold this year, I will be giving them the benefit of extra protection.  They will get a covering of bubble wrap when they go out. 

Monday, 14 February 2011

Oca has come.

I received the Oca today.  6 small yellow tubers.  They will be safely tucked away until there is no danger of frosts.  I just have to decide where to plant them because the allotment plan is very full. 

Composting woody material Montezuma method and Hugelkulture

I think that a lot of misconceptions are being perpetuated by people that see composting more as a crusade rather than just a method of recycling.  There are some reasons why good well made compost was valued in the past. It was used in various mixes to make seed and potting compost.  Fine grained well rotted material was needed to produce this.  Woody material was avoided because it did not rot down very quickly and tended to reduce the level of nutrient in the compost.  The main decomposers of woody material are the fungi and they send out foraging hyphae that glean nitrogen and other nutrients to make the fungi’s structure. The extent of nitrogen depletion in soils with buried woody material seems to be questionable and the results of experiments are not very clear.  It would seem that sometimes there is relatively little nitrogen loss. 

We must also not loose sight of the fact that invertebrates also have an important role in the decomposition of woody material and these organisms would add to nitrogen to the soil when they die.   

A few years ago I downsized the amount of land I cultivated and this meant that I resented any space that was not being utilized for crop growing.  I made the decision to bury all my waste plant material rather than compost it so that I could dismantle the compost bins and use the area for planting. 

So I have, for many years, been burying woody plant material in order to recycle it and not have to burn it.  I call it the Montezuma method because the South American native civilizations used it to make their gardens on lakes, on mountains and in most inhospitable and infertile areas.  Chinampas were developed using woody material to produce growing platforms that sludge could be put onto to raise the level of the Chinampas above the water of  lakes.   These gardens were very productive and some are still in existence today.   Ancient civilizations throughout South America used similar brush wood techniques to produce terracing on steep sided mountains.  Not only did the brush wood rot down to produce very friable soil but it also helped in drainage and moisture retention. 

A composting method that is similar to the South American method is the Hugelkultur.  It is an old form of composting that was developed in Eastern Europe.  Brushwood either fresh or beginning to rot was gathered into a pile or put into a pit, covered with other compost material like tree leaves, and  finally a layer of soil was used to cover the pile.  The permaculturists suggest that the soil could be planted immediately with a variety of quick growing vegetables.

I bury my logs and brushwood much deeper for several reasons.  If fungi are rotting down the wood, I would like them to glean any of the nitrogen that has leached from the top soil because then I might have some opportunity to recycle it into the top soil when I dig deeply again. The brushwood’s ability to absorb moisture from the soil and then allow it to return to the soil in a more controlled way means that deep rooted plants like runner beans will have a source of water throughout the growing season.    It also means that cultivation of the top soil is relatively easy because digging over an area that is full of brushwood would be difficult. 

Only incomplete information about the factors that influence the decomposing activity of fungi and bacteria has been gleaned for wood, however moisture content, oxygen concentration, acidity, temperature and nutrient concentrations – especially nitrogen - seem to all play their role.  

The degradation of these woody carbon sources initially does not require the production of lignin degrading enzymes.  However, in the later stages of decomposition the ligno-cellulose matrix in wood is attacked by slow growing saprotrophic (an organism that feeds by absorbing dead or decaying organic matter) lingo-cellulolytic fungi.  These fungi are able to decompose lignin using extra cellular enzymes allowing them access to previously inaccessible cellulose and hemicelluloses. 

When nitrogen, in an available form, is added to a pile of woody material there is usually an elevated respiration or a loss in mass.  This might be down to relief of nitrogen as a limiting factor for opportunistic fungi and bacteria. 

Nevertheless, other research found that there was no effect when nitrogen was added giving unclear data about how nitrogen affects wood decay.  The variable responses to the addition of nitrogen may well be due to the different populations of bacteria and fungi.  As bacteria are more efficient in using nitrogen, it is suggested that they will have a greater response to the addition of nitrogen.  High levels of nitrogen lead to increases in the growth of microorganisms probably because less energy is expended in foraging. 

We must remember and take into account that woody material is nitrogen poor and fungi have developed strategies to deal with this limited amount of nitrogen.  Unfortunately for us, Tone, one of these methods is to translocate soil nitrogen via hyphae in the soil to the wood leading to soil nitrogen poverty for other plants.

Bacterial growth is greater on small sized particles of woody material probably because they have relatively large surface areas, which make close contact with nitrogen in the soil.  The larger the wood fragment on the top of the soil the more likely it is to favour fungi, possibly because the wood might be more difficult for the bacteria to reach.

There was more fungal biomass in large woody fragments than in small ones.  The rate of decomposition was always greater in larger pieces of wood than in smaller pieces.  More bacteria were found in smaller wood pieces possibly because they could not make their way into large solid pieces of wood.  It could be suggested that fungi grew better in large pieces of wood because there was less competition from bacteria.  Bacteria produce a great number of antibiotic compounds that prevent fungi from exploiting a food source, while fungi also produce an armoury of chemicals that hinder bacteria. 

It seems that buried wood develops more fungal growth and cellulase and hemicellulase enzyme activity than surface wood.  Early decomposition is begun by opportunistic cellulolytic fungi with a definite movement of nitrogen from the soil to the wood.

Addition of nitrogen to the wood gave an increase in the rate of decay and fungal growth.  Nevertheless, over longer time periods the difference between bacteria given nitrogen and those that had none became much less distinct.  When nitrogen was added to small woody fragments there was an initial drop in the bacteria population, which wore off over time.  This suggests that fungi are favoured  when nitrogen is added to woody material buried in the soil.

The higher rate of decay in nitrogen rich soils may be due to more efficient microbial decomposition or different communities of fungi that are more efficient at decomposition but also have a higher nitrogen demand. 

The effects of lignin decomposing fungi are seen later in the process and this decay is relatively much slower.  Lignin is difficult to degrade and prevents access to other cell wall components.  Lignin is a complex polymer of phenyl propane elements, which have cross links to each other with a variety of different chemical bonds.  The initial break down of lignin is undertaken by white rot fungi which produce extracellular lignin and manganese peroxidases.  This process is aerobic and in anaerobic conditions lignin can persist for a long time.

Adding a small amount of nitrogen to woody material often increases the rate of decomposition.   Further additions of nitrogen did not increase decomposition rate any further. 

There is confusing data about the immobilization of nitrogen due to the addition of woody fragments into the soil.  Some research has shown no nitrogen immobilization and growth retardation while others have shown marked immobilization and greater effects.

Clearing up the brassica bed again.

Soil temperature was 6oC at 12 o’clock.  That was much warmer than I thought it was going to be.  I picked quite a few Brussel sprouts but I could not take the plants out because there were still some on them that I wanted to bulk up a bit.  I decided to start trenching and dug a two spit wide and two spit deep trench.  The brushwood cuttings that I had buried in this bed have not rotted down and they could still be seen at the bottom of the trench.  I got some of Fred’s compost – quite a bit of bindweed and couch grass in it, and filled the trench.  I must have had about four or five barrow loads.  That was all I could do in this area so I moved down and dug in the leaves and mowings for the Cobra French beans. 
I found another tree stake in the shed so I took it up and put it up on the sweet pea bed.  I just need three stakes for the sweet peas and runners now. 
I put up the posts for the Cobra French beans next.  I might start putting up the bean poles so that I can get into the shed where they are stored. The other shed is getting a little full because I emptied a storage dustbin and put it over the rhubarb to force it a bit. 
Various people came to pass the day and that meant that I got a lot less done than I wanted.  Bit cold for standing about chatting Tone.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

February Allotment Photographs - not much change yet.

Not a lot of change from the January photographs but if I take photographs in each month then I will see a difference.  After a lot of hard work I finally finished off the comfrey bed, straightening the rows.  The new compost bins, made out of old pallets are helping to tidy away all the comfrey bins.  The comfrey is just starting to show now. 

February 2011 Comfrey bed

Comfrey bed January 2011
You can see the 3 foot slabs on the right hand side buried upright in the soil to retain the soil in the roots bed.  They took some effort to place properly. I am only going to move the butts out of the compost bins if I fill the other three up and I can't see myself doing that very soon. Still not a lot to see though - in the way of interesting growing things.  February is not really a massive growing month, however there is a lot starting to grow now. 

Strawberries and broad beans in the background.
I have left the climbing french bean poles on top of the compost bin to stop them from rotting and attracting slugs and snails.  I have left them out all winter and they seem to be alright.  I have put the compost Darlek on top of the rhubarb to force it.  I split the rhubarb and replanted it so I am not really sure that I am going to get anything from them this year.  A lot of the broad beans have germinated and are showing through now.  Each time there is a little warmer weather a few more pop up.  Not a lot of change in the strawberry bed.   You can see the charcoal from last years peas.

Potato bed after horse manure dug in.
I dug in all the fresh horse manure on the potato bed.  It will have rotted down really well by the time I plant the potatoes.  I will see whether the raspberries fruit well this year.  If not then I may move them elsewhere.  They get a little shaded by the shed.  The camellia is doing well in its pot but there are no flower buds on it this year.  The thyme growing in the slabs by the shed is doing particularly well even though I am constantly treading on it.  This is where I have been crushing the inoculated charcoal and inevitably some falls down the cracks between the paving slabs where the thyme is growing.  You can see the new slabs that I have put in around the bed to keep the soil off the paths. 

The pile of leaves in the background is the parsnip clamp. I took them out of the potato bed and stacked them here.  I will not need the ground until the onions are big enough to go in and hopefully I will have used all the parsnips by then.
The weeds next to the parsnip clamp are not weeds.  They are poached egg plant (Limnanthes douglasii), which I am going to use as a green manure and a ground cover plant below the climbing french beans.  The garlic is doing well now and you can see the inoculated charcoal from last year's potatoes.  The tulips are beginning to show through too.  If you look near Beryl's blue bin and my black Darlek bin you can see the cyclamen and blue species iris flowering away.  I wish I had taken a close up picture of this.  I might do that tomorrow. 

Posts for the sweet peas are in. 
You can see that I have got the posts up for some of the sweet peas.  I still need four more posts for another line of sweet peas and the runner beans. 

There are a few scraggy leeks in the foreground. I don't think they will come to anything before I need the ground for the beans so they will probably be taken out.  I will put them into the worm bin to recycle.  So just soil again.  The fox has been digging in this bed to get the worms.  

You can see the black currants in their new positions now. There is no big bud on them that I can see.  I hope that they crop this year despite being moved.  The fence post is one that I discovered buried in the allotment when I first took it over.  I have been using it to hold up the beans and the raspberries.  It  will be used this year to hold up the Cobra french beans. I will have another post at the other end of the french bean line.

Some poorly looking purple sprouting broccoli
This is the bed that I am going to tackle next.  I have had most of the Brussel sprouts so they will come out.  I will not put them onto the compost heap because they may have club root.  I will put them into an old compost bag and bring them home to put into the council green bin.  I always remove from the allotment anything that could remotely be diseased and put it in the green bin. The purple sprouting broccoli really look poorly.  I am still optimistic that they will produce something so I will leave them in.  Similarly the winter cauliflowers behind them look dire but I have seen them completely change when the warmer weather comes.    I have put a few leaves onto this bed to dig in when I have cleared the brassicas off.  I will also be digging in my own compost and some of Fred's that he has said that I could have.  If I can get any more horse manure then I will put it on this area.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Seed planting

I have planted some Musselburgh leeks (Allium ampeloprasum v. porrumand)  and a mixture of old lettuce (Lactuca sativa) seed.  I will sow some more later in the month and during March. The tomatoes  (Solanum lycopersicum L. var. lycopersicum) I sowed last week are Totem. They are a dwarf stocky variety and I will be growing them on the staging in the greenhouse. 

Friday, 11 February 2011

Very spring like today.

I finished off constructing the compost bins laying paving slabs as a base.  The pallets were wired together and I thought that someone had taken one of them.  It took me a moment to realise the bins were wired together in a row and the side of one was also the side of the other bin.  So I need another pallet.  I moved three of the comfrey butts into the compost bay and this tidied them up rather well giving me the idea of leaving them there unless I need another compost bay later in the year.

I scattered some of the Jerusalem artichokes round the back of the compost bays so that they would grow and shield the bays from prying eyes.  One of these days I will harvest some Jerusalem artichokes and make some soup with them.  Still getting through the parsnips at the moment, though.  

I then put a path to the shed so that I do not constantly tread all over the comfrey.  I dug over the comfrey bed straightening up the lines to make it easier to hoe and fork along them.  As I replanted the comfrey, I put some mychorrhizal fungi in the planting holes.  Hopefully this will help the comfrey forage for nutrients, incorporate them into their leaves and give me high nutrient tea when I rot the leaves down in the butts. I wanted to take some photographs of the comfrey bed now that I have tidied it up but I forgot to take the camera.  

I also wanted to take a picture of the compost I have made just by piling up a heap of waste plant material.  I have not done anything special to the compost and it has turned out particularly well.  I will have to do that on Monday too. 

The nettles are coming along fine now.  I was going to transplant some of these to beside the shed but I did not have time.  I will do that on Monday. 
A beautiful day down at the allotment; spring is certainly on the way.

A new allotment committee will be elected at the end of March and I am thinking of standing.  We will see.  

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Using the 3 foot by 2 foot paving slabs.

I unwrapped the tomato seed pot from its plastic bag today to be pleasantly surprised to find that the seed had germinated. Pleasing as this might be; it is only the beginning and I will have to try to keep them alive now until they can be safely put out into the greenhouse or in pots at the allotment.  Not bad for seed given to me. 

I like freebees. 

The great thing about having early plants is that you get a longer cropping season. 
I will leave the seedlings in their pot until they get their second leaves and then prick them out into 3 inch pots.  They will stay in the pots until they are about 6-8 inches tall.   

The Ailsa Craig onion seedlings are doing well in the cold greenhouse.  They will be pricked out in a couple of weeks’ time.  They will be fine in the seed tray for a while.  The Bedfordshire Champion onion seed has not germinated very well.  I don’t know how old it was but it was given to me so I cannot be too disgruntled.

After digging over the potato bed and replacing the curbing with big 3 foot x 2 foot paving slabs, I decided to do all the niggling jobs that you leave because they are not priorities.  The bottom path that leads to the water butt was not really finished off because I ran out of paving slabs.  I decided to use another of the 3 foot x 2 foot slabs to finish off the path.  They are big ugly pieces of concrete and they will break your leg if one falls on you.  Phil my good friend had left them on the allotment.  Again, they were free so I could not turn them away particularly as I had asked Phil if he had got some.  Well, I smoothed the ground well with the rake and made sure that the slab would fit into the area I wanted.  Although I have a very useful trolley that works on the soft ground of the allotment, I decided to walk the slab up to the path.  
Luckily, I got it there in one piece – me I mean not the slab.  I dropped the slab into the space I made for it and as far as I am concerned it will stay there for as long as I have the allotment.  A gap of about 1 foot was left and I filled this with a small paving slab.  

Last, but by no means least, I needed to finish off the bottom roots bed curbing.  Now that I have these big 3 foot beggars I might as well use them up to finish the curbing here as well.  

I planted the grape here because the soil was the poorest on the allotment.  The trouble is I did not measure it quite right and it was about 1 foot out of alignment.  Also, if I put the curbing along this side of the bed, I will have to raise the level of the soil slightly.  I did not want to move the grape especially at this time of the year so eventually I made the compromise of putting a square of curbing paving stones around it to keep the soil back from around the grape’s stem ( at the original level of the bed) while allowing me to increase the soil level to the tops of the buried paving slabs everywhere else.  

We have had some quite blowy weather recently and it blew over the trellising that I had put up for the grape.  I needed to take it out to put the curbing in but I needed to make a decision about whether to put it back afterwards.  Having taken down two of my compost bins to give me space for the new shed, I still needed to reconstruct them somewhere else.  To kill two birds with one stone, I decided to construct the bins next to the curbing so that one of the pallet sides would be next to the grape.  I could use the side of the bin to grow the grape up.  

Now I don’t know how many slabs my mate Phil left on the allotment for me but there were plenty to make a paved bottom for the compost bins.  This time, though, I got the trolley out to move the slabs.  I am not sure whether it would be frowned upon to have a concrete slab base for a compost heap but I know from experience it is very much easier to empty with one in.  Before I started, I began to think that if I made the compost bins higher than the rest of the comfrey bed then any leachates from the compost will naturally flow into the soil in which the comfrey is growing.  This bed is already at the bottom of the allotment site and all the runoff from quite a large area flows through the comfrey soil.  
The theory is that the comfrey is utilizing any leached nutrients from the rest of the allotment site and now could have the leachates from the compost as well.  Notice all relationship to proper compost bin construction has now gone completely out of the window.

Not wanting to waste any of the soil – even though it was the very poor stony soil that the council used to replace the contaminated soil, I dug down one spit and, leaving the soil on one side, filled the hole with stone from the stone pile.  I put some of the soil back again to level the ground and this had the effect of raising the concrete slabs about 3 or 4 inches above the surrounding area.  That was enough for me. 
The slabs were placed on top of that and the pallets were wired together to make a 4 foot square compost bin.  I did not wire in the front pallet because I wanted to store the comfrey charcoal dustbins on the slabs.   This has tidied up this corner of the allotment very well. 

I still have enough slabs and pallets to make another 4 foot square compost bin and this will butt right up to the other one.  I will raise this one up too.  

While I was constructing the compost bins, I had to take out the comfrey that was growing in this area.  I just put it on one side and I will replant it when I have finished making the compost bins.  Comfrey is tough as old boots so leaving the roots exposed like this will not hurt it very much.  It is only the wild comfrey Symphytum Officinale and I can easily replace any that die from waste areas around the allotment.  Someone might be kind and let me have some of their Russian comfrey if I get around to asking them.  The comfrey rows are not parallel to the curbing of the roots bed so I will move them all when I dig over this bed. 

The soil here is thick clay and even the cow manure I packed into it does not seem to have made much of a difference.  I am not looking forward to digging in this area.  However, I have been walking all over it and it is now very compacted so I cannot avoid it.  

I will make a path alongside the other compost bins to the new shed to use up some more of the slabs and to keep me from treading between the comfrey plants.  This will finish off the whole of the allotment in the slab department and anyone who wants the excess slabs can have them.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Resowing the Sweet Peas.

Due to the very severe weather we have had this year, the sweet pea seedlings have not survived.  Having said that one or two have pulled through and I am keeping them.  I have emptied the pots of their compost, washed the pots and refilled with new compost. 

I suppose I could have just replanted seed into the old compost but if disease and pests are to be avoided seed sowing apparatus needs to be kept clean. 

It is unfortunate that I had to resow but I have grown good exhibition standard sweet peas from a sowing as late as March.   I am going to keep as many of them covered as I can but some will have to be put onto the normal staging.

I have finished digging over the potato bed and I am now replacing the curbing slabs with some big 3 foot by 2 foot 2 inch paving slabs.  They are big and heavy so I am going to use the trolley to move them about and have the trench ready for them before any get moved.  I am going to plant them upright in the trench so that they will retain the soil from the potato bed.  The bed is approximately 18 foot long so I will need 6 slabs.
The other place that I wanted to use the slabs was along the onion bed but I have already planted garlic in this bed and I don’t really want them disturbed.