Friday, 10 June 2011

How I treat the soil for each of the vegetable types.

There is a science to gardening, however the variety of different soil conditions and environments means that growing plants is more down to knowing and understanding your own small growing area than the generalities of ideal conditions.

Is gardening  more of an art than a science?  Certainly the better you know your local conditions the better you can grow plants.

So all things considered the preparation of the soil for different vegetables probably needs to be changed depending on the plants grown.  I cannot honestly say that I prepare the soil particularly differently for any of my vegetables.  I might get an even better crop if I did but the general strategy is to pack as much carbon into the soil as it will take - and its appetite for carbon seems to be insatiable.

So what different strategies do I use for each of the vegetable beds?

During the winter I marinade charcoal in comfrey liquid.  This infuses the charcoal with nutrient and I add this inoculated charcoal to the planting holes of most of  the vegetables - until it runs out.

I see the peas and beans to be net contributors to the soil fertility.  After cropping they will be dug into the soil to add nitrogen. When I was young I was told that you should cut off the tops of peas and beans and put them onto the compost heap leaving  the roots in the soil. The roots add nitrogen.  This is true but roots only contribute about 30% of the available nitrogen.  60% of the nitrogen is in the stems and leaves of leguminous plants (peas and beans).  So, I dig these into the soil too. This will be done at the end of the year for the roots to get the benefits next year.  

If manure or tree leaves are available I will dig these into the pea and bean bed in the autumn and winter.  I put charcoal and a pinch of mychorrhizal fungi in all of the planting holes.  Together with that, I will water the peas and beans with comfrey, sweet cicely, nettle and worm bin liquid mix during the year.  This year I have been able to put a 50 - 100mm top dressing of good home made, friable compost over the whole area. It is full of weed seeds but I can put up with this because it is also full of nutrients. Chicken manure is sometimes used as a base fertiliser along the rows before planting.  

The comfrey liquid is not scientifically mixed.  Whenever I can crop each of the ingredients, I add them to the digester bins to rot down.  What goes in the bins, stays in the bins.  Everything seems to end as a liquid.

I do not add any farmyard manure or leaves to the brassicae bed.  The bed is given a good dose of lime to prevent the brassicas getting club root (Plasmodiophora brassicae.)  The plants are watered in with comfrey liquid and given charcoal in their planting holes.  The summer brassicas are given comfrey liquid to bring them on during the summer.  The winter vegetables are given nothing because they seem to fair much better if left to fend for themselves.  If you feed Brussel sprouts too much, the buds will "blow" or open out before they can be harvested.
Cauliflowers and cabbages do like to have nitrogen in the soil and this is added in the form of chicken or pigeon manure during the winter or early spring.  

The onion bed gets as much organic matter as I can find.  That is farmyard or horse manure, leaves, grass mowings, weeds etc.  The onions seem to relish lots of organic matter in the soil.  This is another bed that I covered with a top dressing of home made compost.  Great stuff except that it has a lot of weed seeds in it.  When planting, I put charcoal and mychorrhizal fungi in the planting holes.  The onions are watered with comfrey during the year but the solution is very dilute. Onions do  not like too much nitrogen in the soil.  The do require a damp root run and just watering will do this more than adequately.  Really, for my rotation system, I should be liming the onions to keep the pH quite high -to about 6.5 to 7.5.  I will do this in 2012.

The potato bed had quite a lot of horse manure and leaves dug into it last autumn.  They were planted with charcoal and mychorrhizal fungi.  They have had nothing else.  I have not even watered them.  If pigeon or chicken manure is available then that is used on the potatoes as well.  

The roots did not have anything dug into their soil except the old bean and pea haulms; grass mowings and weeds.  This will avoid the problem with forking that manure stimulates.  I put comfrey liquid in the sowing drills and a little mychorrhizal fungi.  That is all that they have had this year.  I have watered them  during the very dry weather.

And that is it more or less.  So if you do this for 30 years or so you will get an allotment as good as mine.  

I cropped the garlic yesterday and it has white rot in some of the bulbs.  I had to throw away about 6 of them.
The others are drying in the store shed.
I harvested one large lettuce, some American land cress and some spinach.

The weather is still particularly cold and this is preventing the vegetables from growing.  There is no point in worrying about this because nothing can be done.

There are more strawberries ready to be picked.    You can certainly eat too many strawberries.

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