Tuesday, 26 July 2011

More mundane chores and harvesting the potatoes

The sweet peas are looking good again after layering. It has taken them a little while to recover but they are beginning to flower really well now.  They still needed to be tidied up today because some of the flowers had gone over and started going to seed.  Also there were some side shoots and tendrils that needed to be taken off.

In order to make watering a little more effective they were hoed carefully using the swoe.  They were watered just with water because they had been given comfrey liquid yesterday.

The onions, sweet corn and the pumpkins were watered too.  Several pumpkins have started to produce fruit but they are not too big yet.

Yesterday I dug up about 36 kg (79lb) of potatoes.  This was from one line of twelve plants which gives an average of about 6lb of potatoes per plant. I think that this is quite a good yield of potatoes.  Last autumn I dug in a mixture of leaves and horse manure (NPK 0.44:0.35:0.3).  The horse manure was put on top of a pile of leaves (NPK 0.8:0.35:0.2) and this meant that you picked up leaves when you were forking the manure into the barrow.

Potato bed in January

Potato bed in February
I dug all this in in January and did not add anything else to the soil until the potatoes were planted.  When the potatoes were planted, inoculated charcoal and mychorrhizal fungi were put into the planting holes and the potatoes were planted on top of them.

Potato bed in March

Potato bed in April
Always have a tub next to you when you are gardening.

Potatoes in May
Potatoes in June

Potatoes in July
I dug up about the same amount of potatoes today and got 28 kg (62lb) from twelve plants.  Now, that is just two rows dug up.  I still have several to go.  The point is that I have not added the expensive, high NPK potato fertilisers.  In fact, I have not added any bought fertiliser at all.  Regardless of JBA's advice on another blog, I don't think that potatoes need a high NPK fertiliser.  You don't need to buy expensive fertilisers and amendments to get a really good crop of potatoes.  
I have dug up the third row of potatoes now.  Only 24 kg. (53lb) from this row.  I hope that the yield does not continue to fall like this.  Some plants produce a lot less than others.  Maybe I should leave them in a little longer. If I average the weight of potatoes over the three rows it comes out at about 5lb per plant, which is probably more than I will need.  

End of July 12 potato plants

These are from JBA seed potatoes.  Thanks a lot JBA these were fantastic seed potatoes.  Produced a lot of spuds.  I will be getting more from you next year because these are obviously superior seed potatoes.  

Monday, 25 July 2011

Garden maintenance

The onion bed needed weeding so I started with the onions and worked across the bed.  I find that doing this systematically gets it finished very quickly.  I used the onion hoe to weed between the plants.  It is a very useful tool.

DeWit Onion Hoe with Extended handle - NEW for 2009
It is a handy tool that allows you to earth up the leeks as well as hoe the weeds.  I don't always hoe up the leeks but if you do it will give you more blanched leaf than if you just leave them.

I had a different tool for many years which was more or less an oval blade but it eventually  wore itself out. I did like it because it was very efficient getting weeds out.

I was going to feed the onions but I didn't want to take the weeds off.  They would wither away in the hot sun if I just left them on top of the soil.  Watering would only help them to recover and start to grow again.  I will leave it until tomorrow.

I took out a couple of lettuces that had gone over and put them in the worm bin.  I didn't think that there would be any worm liquid after I had cleared the bin out, however there was quite a bit.  I put this into the comfrey bin without a tap.  It will go through and get some comfrey liquid with it.  I am using the liquid from this bin to put into the dustbin with the charcoal.  It is pretty concentrated because I have not put any water into this bin.  I am hoping to get some powerful inoculated charcoal.  I would like to keep this charcoal marinading in comfrey mixture until next year if possible.  The I will use it on all the vegetables.

I tied up the tomatoes that I planted on the onion bed.  I just noticed that the potatoes might have blight so I will probably loose all the tomatoes.  We shall see.

I gave the runner beans and the sweet peas another feed with comfrey liquid.  The sweet peas are beginning to recover from being layered and producing some really big flowers.

There was a handful of runner beans to be picked and the stems that had reached the top of the cane supports needed pinching out.  If you pinch out the growing tips of the runner beans when they reach the top of the canes it makes them produce more side shoots.  The more side shoots, the more flowers so it is worth doing if only to prevent the top of the canes becoming overcrowded and top heavy.  When this happens the whole row could topple over especially as we have some wicked winds at the top of the hill.

I have taken out another row of potatoes.  Got a barrow load from twelve plants. Not sure of the weight because I have not weighed them yet.

I washed the potatoes so they are looking quite good at the moment.  They were washed for a couple of reasons.  There is no point in bringing best topsoil home and washing the soil off them only to go down the drain.  If the potatoes are washed in a tub at the allotment then I can put the soil back on the potato bed.  The dirty water was poured around the tomato plants on the potato bed.  Secondly, any slugs and snails will be washed off the potatoes and not be put into the store paper bags to reek havoc while the potatoes are stored.

I started cutting the old fruiting raspberry canes out because they have gone over now and all the strawberries have been picked.  This is a summer fruiting variety with a very sweet taste.  The old canes apart from having the fruiting branches are also very dark brown while the new ones are usually quite green.  This means that it is quite easy to identify the old canes and cut them out.  I tied most of the new canes to the support wires but I will have to make sure they are fastened securely but I will do this when I take the Pink Fir Apple potatoes out and I can get down the other side of the row.  I might have to take the potatoes out sooner than I expected because they might have blight.  I was going to glean the old raspberry canes for any fruit left on them but there was very little and what there was had been spoilt by the rain.

More blackberries were ready for picking and I took off quite a few.  With a few beetroot, carrots and the last of the summer cauliflowers I had quite a car full when I was going home.  All the summer cauliflowers had club root and if they did it was probably in the seed.  However, cabbage root fly also makes the cauliflower root swell.  It probably was cabbage root fly (Delia radicum) rather than club root (Plasmodiophora brassicae.)  I have not had club root on the brassicas for years now.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

I am trying to get the sweet peas to produce a really good display of flowers so that I can choose some for a show.  I took off a lot of the flowers when I layered them and they have not really started to flower well again yet. I gave them all a really good dose of comfrey liquid and then watered them with water from the butt.

I really need a lot of flowers so that I have a good choice for the show.  The flowers that are left on the plants have at least four buds.  Still I do not want shows and competitions to spoil my enjoyment of growing  just for itself.

Mick gave me some more of his weeds so I dug a trench and buried them on the pea bed.

I spent the rest of the afternoon podding peas.  I got another 2.5 kg of peas from the plants as I took them out. Not bad for gleanings me thinks.

The pods were put into the worm bin.  I want to use the nitrogen locked up in the pods.

I got one of the potatoes out - I got about 5Kg of spuds - and washed them.  There is no point in taking soil home and then washing it down the drain.  It is much better for them to be washed at the allotment and then the soil stays with my allotment.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Continuing to dig over the pea bed.

Yesterday I dug about half of the pea bed and today I finished it off.  Mick was good enough to give me the weeds that he was collecting as he dug up the potatoes.  I just see weeds as free nutrients and I will bury them without any compunction.

I dug out trenches two feet wide and one spit down.  The bottom of the trench was forked over really well.

It is amazing just how dry the soil was in the bottom of the trench even with a week of rain.  Weeds and grass mowings were used to fill the trench and this was then covered by the top soil from the next trench.

It was a little time consuming because I had to wheel barrow the weeds from Mick's allotment and the grass mowings from the bins near the gate.  I have virtually taken all the grass mowings from the bay much to the chagrin of Ed who wanted to use some of the mowings to weigh down the weeds he had put onto his compost heap.  Well if there is anything that is almost certain in this world it is that there will be more lawn mowings put into the bins before the summer is out and Ed is welcome to those.

While I had the trench open, I thought that it would be an idea to empty the worm bin.  The bin has not been emptied for about three years now so it was well overdue for a good clean out.  There were lots of worms and some very good compost at the bottom.  I took out the top six inches and put it to one side.  The rest went into the barrow to be taken up to the trench.  I messed around with the bit at the bottom which keeps the compost away from the liquid so that the liquid would flow out of the bin easily.  The top 6 inches were returned to the bin together with some lettuces and comfrey leaves.

The worm bin compost was then put into the last trench together with lawn mowings and some tree leaves.  The top soil was put back and the whole bed was levelled - more or less - with a rake.  I will have to level it a little more because the soil has been raised by about six inches but I will do this with more care when I plant out the Kelvedon Wonder peas.

The Kestrel potatoes seemed to have grown well.  I took one plant out and got about 5 kg of potatoes from it. I will take some more of these out today.

I only had time to harvest some turnips, swedes and tomatoes today.  There were also some podded peas to take home.  I will harvest more tomorrow.

Digging over the pea bed

I don't usually dig in July and this is probably the first year that I have done just that.  Due to lack of time the ground is usually just hoed then cultivated using the three pronged cultivating tool and finally raked.  This will prepare the ground for replanting. However, this year I am digging.

The reason why I am digging the ground this year is to incorporate the tops of the old pea plants into the soil.  Peas and beans will add extra nitrogen  but only if the old plants are allowed to rot down in the soil.  Nitrogen from the atmosphere is captured by Rhizobium bacteria in nodules on the pea and bean root.  Some of this nitrogen is transferred to the pea or bean plant in exchange for carbohydrates produced during photosynthesis by the plant.
The nitrogen is used by the plant to make proteins - vital building blocks of cells.  This means that there is a net gain in organic nitrogen.

This nitrogen will only be released to the soil when the plant begins to decompose.  It has been said that you should leave the roots in the soil, cutting the tops off and burning or composting  the them.   Only 30% of the captured nitrogen is in the roots while 60% is in the tops.  If you cut up and bury the tops as well you will be adding 90% of the captured nitrogen to the soil.

So this is why I am digging in July.  It is hot work and if it was not cold and rainy I don't think I would be inclined to spend so much energy digging trenches.  It did not take very much time to bury the pea plants so I needed to fill the other trenches with different green manure.  I scouted around the allotment for anything that needed to be composted or buried.  The lettuce had gone over and started to rot so they went in the trench.  There was nothing else that needed to be buried.

The raspberries have gone over now and I will have to cut  out the fruiting canes.  These are woody and will not rot down very quickly in the soil.  However, I will still put them at the bottom of the trenches.

I am filling the trenches with grass mowings from the bays by the entrance gates.  There is a great deal of nitrogen locked up in grass mowings.  It is not nitrogen that has been captured by Rhizobium bacteria but it could be nitrogen captured by Azotobacter, free living nitrogen fixing bacteria.  Grass has a NPK ratio of 1.0:0:1.2. and this is good enough for me.

The grass mowings were very hot when I was collecting them from the bays.  Whether this will affect the new pea plants when I put them in remains to be seen.  I would conjecture that it will not affect them at all.

Under the first spit of soil the ground was very dry.  I was quite surprised because of the amount of rain we have been having.  Not as much as I thought by the looks of things.  Adding more organic matter to the soil will help it retain water and improve the drainage at the same time.

I podded the peas when it was raining but I still have quite a few to pod tomorrow.  I will harvest quite a few things tomorrow.  These will include salsify, scorzonera, beetroot, carrots, rainbow chard, rhubarb, potatoes, tomatoes, lettuce, turnip, blackberries, raspberries and podded peas.

Loverly jubberly.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Getting the old pea plants out.

I decided to take out all the old pea plants today.  I had picked most of the peas and the plants were beginning to turn yellow.  I wanted to glean any pea pods that I had not picked before so there was a tub ready for those pea pods.  I also had a tub for the wire ties that held up the chicken wire which the peas had grown up.  Taking up the pea plants is not hard.  They pull out of the soil really easily.  The time consuming job is taking down the supports.

I thought that I would take everything down to the store shed and put it away even though I will be using it again when the new Kelvedon Wonder pea plants are big enough.  I am growing Kelvedon Wonder peas on the same ground as the Early Onward peas were on.  I don't think that this will be bad for the soil because the Early Onward were healthy plants when taken out.  The ground will have extra nitrogen from the previous peas; there will be rhizobium bacteria in the soil which the peas can form symbiotic relationship with and, whether they produce peas or not, they will add even more nitrogen into the soil. The nitrogen will only get back into the soil if the tops are dug in - so that is what I will do when they are killed by the frosts in the autumn.

I am putting the pea plant tops on the comfrey bed because they are going to be dug into the soil when the pea bed is dug over.  I will also pack in some grass mowings as well to increase the carbon content of this area of soil.  This will have rotted down well by next year when I plant the roots in this bed.

It took quite a while to remove the four rows of pea plants that were beginning to go over.  The ground was then hoed and raked to take off the few weeds that were growing between the peas.  I will begin to dig this over tomorrow.

Two tubs of pea pods were harvested while the pea plants were taken out and these will probably give about 2 kg of podded peas.  I will pod the peas at the allotment tomorrow.  This is another time consuming project.

Large inoculated charcoal lumps were scattered over the surface of the pea bed which were crushed to make a finer mixture and put back on the soil.  This bed has had inoculated charcoal put onto it for three years running now.  This is probably why the peas grew so big.

The sweet peas needed finishing off so I went through them taking off flowers.  The flowers were bought home.  The plants will now divert most of their energy into producing new flowers because they do not have any energy sapping side shoots and tendrils.  I was going to feed them today because I had disturbed them quite a lot yesterday.  Tomorrow will do though.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

My Rant About Competitions

Now call me naive but I didn't realise that most competition vegetables and flowers were grown in bought in compost.  That is, not the native soil.  I would not mind so much if it was self made compost but it does not need to be.  The vegetables are grown in poly tunnels (hoop houses) and in a special growing medium.  How do ordinary organic gardeners compete with that?

Now I am a novice to this competition lark.  I always grew for food not for competition.  However, I liked to think that I produced some good vegetables on the native soil.  I changed the soil by adding farmyard manure; tree leaves and lawn mowings into a really good friable soil but I did not replace the top soil or add large quantities of commercial general purpose compost.

The skill in producing good vegetables is in being able to work with nature to make the best conditions possible for the plants to grow.

Being naive again, I did not realise that the crops that are shown in exhibition are specially bred or use particularly vigorous varieties.  I just grow the ones I like the taste of.  I should have realised because I need specific varieties when growing exhibition sweet peas.  Not for exhibition though just for fun.

Producing show vegetables can be done by adding artificial fertiliser and by spraying pesticides and I am sure that if I did this I would get exhibition standard crops.  Yet it is much more fun and intellectually stimulating to try and find ways to avoid the more extreme versions of artificial chemical gardening.

Anyone can garden if they throw enough money at it.  I have spent £286.42 on everything I have bought this year.  The largest expense by far has been the raw charcoal for my Terra preta experiment.  I am expecting the inoculated charcoal fertiliser to be cumulative and maintain its potency for many years - thousands if the Terra preta research is to believed.  So I think that I can justify the expense.  The point is that gardening should not be expensive because it relies mainly on rain water; carbon dioxide in the air and nitrogen capturing Azotobacter and Rhizobium.  Not items that usually cost a great deal of money being a little bit ubiquitous in most parts of the world.

So should there be separate categories in competitions for growers who grow outside and are completely organic?  Would such growers be remotely interested in competitions?  I rather doubt it.  A bit like seeing how high you can pee up a wall.

The importance of competitions is that they enthuse the competitors and they encourage spectators to attempt to do as well or better their fellow growers.  It just helps to get people involved in growing their own food.

It is the growing your own food and the realisation that everyone is connected to the natural world that is more important.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Photographs of the allotment in July.

It was raining this morning so I went to the garden centre to get some potting compost and some peas.  I will have to put these into my spread sheet as expenses.  The sun came out when I was walking around the garden centre so I thought lets go down and finish layering another double row of sweet peas.

Just after I started I remembered that I wanted to take some pictures of the allotment in July.  July is a cropping month and this means that the allotment is beginning to look a little untidy.  Where crops have been harvested and new crops planted everything looks a little dishevelled. I do not grow to look pretty though.  This is a working allotment and crops are grown to produce food.  I do  not grow for exhibition or for competition; I grow for food.

The Boltardy beetroot are being harvested now.  I have replaced al line of rocket with spinach.  I have not looked at the scorzonera, salsify or Hamburg parsley to see if they are ready yet.  As you can see the carrots are still under the enviromesh.
The strawberries have well gone over now.  I am leaving on the runners now so that they will make lots of new plants.  I will put these new plants into 3 inch pots to transplant later in the year.  The parsnips have decided to start to grow big.  I have watered them a couple of times with comfrey liquid just to make them grow a little quicker.  It seems to have worked.
The champaign rhubarb has suddenly made a great deal of growth as have the Victoria rhubarb in the background.  I might start to harvest this again later this month.
Next years raspberry fruiting canes have grown very big.  The next job must be to tie these into the wire support frame.  I usually do this after I have cut out all of this years fruiting canes but these canes are still fruiting so I am not going to cut them out until I have finished harvesting them. The old canes are the ones with yellowy leaves.  They will be cut out at ground level when they have finished cropping.

The Kestrel and Pink Fir Apple potatoes are still looking green.  I cannot see any blight on them yet but I am keeping a vigilant eye on them.  The rain today will go to making the tubers bigger.  I do not want to crop these until the tops die off completely. All this goodness in the tops needs to be taken down into the tubers.  Several of the allotment holders want me to dig them up to see what kind of crop I have.  I am not expecting to have a spectacular crop.
Potatoes looking north east
As you can see the potatoes are planted right up to the raspberries.  They seem to be completely happy growing next to each other.  There is no blight at the moment.  Raspberries and potatoes can grow together very happily.  They may not be the best of companion plants but they do not have any adverse effects on each other.  So where the "don't plant potatoes next to raspberries" came from I don't know.  They are fine together.  The Pink Fir Apple next to the raspberries was about 4ft tall, although now they have fallen down a bit due to the rain.   
Potatoes looking south east
My five oca plants.  I don't know whether they are doing well or not because I have never grown them before.  Keeping the potatoes off them is a bind because they do not like to be over shadowed.  Next to them is a small row of gypsophila paniculata.

I think that the oca will grow a bit bigger in August.  You can just see the Totem tomatoes in the background. I have my first red one on one of these plants.  I am a bit concerned with one of the container tomatoes by the shed.  I think that it might have blight.

The lettuce are going over now.  I am not too concerned because I have a lot of succession lettuce in the bed and we can easily start to eat those now.  A lot of these lettuces have a stem rot and it is making them flop about.  The celeriac seems to have taken quite well.

The lettuce are going over now
The celeriac has grown well.  It is forming good stems now and so too is the fennel.  I would have liked a little more fennel but this might be adequate.  You can't really see from these photographs but there are some cucumbers in the ground here.  They have no flowers on them at the moment but I expect to see some any time now.
The broad beans have been planted after the garlic was harvested. I have left the garlic in the store shed to dry off really well.  The broad beans are flowering now but I really  just want them for a green manure.  The seed was given to me last year and I didn't think that they would germinate but here they are. 

The onions don't look too good.  They might have white rot.

 Trying to grow onions on the allotment is becoming more and more difficult.  What with onion miner fly and white rot there does not seem to be any incentive to grow them.  I will be dead chuffed if I can get some this year.

Now that the sweet peas have reached the top of the support canes they will have to be layered. This means that they are taken off the canes and laid on the ground and taken up another cane further down the row.
Valerie Harrod and Restormel sweet peas layered
This gives the sweet peas another length of cane to climb up.  Eventually these stems will be 14ft long or more.  I have taken off most of the lower leaves off so that the stems lie flush with the ground.

Bristol sweet peas being layered
You can see the Bristol sweet peas lying on the ground ready to be tied into new canes.

This time the plants will be taken up the fourth cane from where they were.  So the next four still on the canes will be bought this way along the back of the canes.  If you take all the stems along the front of the canes then you get a thick wodge of stems that you constantly tread on.  You can take all the stems the same way and then at the end of the row turn them onto the next varieties canes.  It looks more impressive if you keep the same colour plants together though so I do a criss cross along the front and back of the canes.

Juvenile robin.

This young robin was so close that I nearly trod on him several times.  It had made the sweet peas its home.  Getting so close to wildlife is one of the pleasures of gardening.  I sometimes take this kind of encounter for granted but really they are to be treasured.  How many other people have got this close to a juvenile robin.  It was literally nearly under my feet.  
More sweet peas to layer tomorrow.
Aintree runner beans.  
The Aintree runner beans don't get much sun on this side of the row because there is an oak tree shading them.  I will take off the overhanging branches in the autumn and bury them in the subsoil.  I have mowed the paths alongside the allotment and they look quite good now.  
This side of the Aintree row gets much more sun and produces many more flowers.  I hope that I get as many beans off these plants.  As the bean stems reach the top of the support canes I cut them off.  This encourages side shoots to form and start to grow up the canes.  The more stems you get the more flowers there are and potentially the more beans you will get.  Well that's the theory anyway.  

Brassicae bed
The kohlrabi has got a little over shadowed by the rest of the brassicas.  Not to worry because I can't eat everything that I am growing at the moment.  I think that the cauliflowers under the netting have got cabbage root fly.  It is in the turnips making them not worth the trouble.  The cauliflowers might be small but I will still harvest them and freeze them.  I have the big winter cauliflowers to come next April so I will have lots of cauliflower.  I have replaced the summer calabrese and purple sprouting with some more calabrese and cabbage plants.  They are not too brilliant so I decided to experiment with them.  I filled the planting holes with inoculated charcoal.  I want to see how much charcoal I can add to the soil and what effects it has on the plants.

The small plants are winter cauliflowers planted to replace the broad beans.  They are not doing particularly well at the moment.  I have watered them with comfrey liquid and hoed them up.
 The Brussel sprouts seem to be doing well.  They had a lot of cabbage white butterflies on them yesterday so they will have to be watched carefully and any caterpillars removed.

Squash Hunter
The squashes are now doing very well.  They have flower buds on them but there are no open flowers yet.  The peas have gone over and I have harvested them all now so I am going to take them out.  This will give the squashes a bit more light and hopefully I will get some good squashes.
New bay tree
My allotment ends at the concrete slabs - the weeds are not mine! As you can see the bay tree died during the cold winter we have just have.  However, alongside a sport has grown and I will convert this into the new bay tree.  The old one was worth about £200 so I was a little sorry to loose it.  Nonetheless I will endeavour to persevere.
The peas have been harvested - except for one or two which I will collect when I take the plants out.  That's why they are looking a little untidy.  The plants are going yellow and this means that they will not produce any more edible peas.  I will be digging these into the soil they were growing on and I will replace them with more peas.  I have got some Kelvedon Wonder.  I will plant them in some New Horizon's peat free compost in sectioned trays like I did with the Early Onward.  When they are big enough and I have cleared this bed of the old pea plants I will plant them out and construct the chicken wire supports again.
Dwarf French beans seem to be doing well. There are no black fly on them that I can see.  If I do get them on the beans, all I do is wash them off with a strong spray of water.  Either that or remove the infected leaves.

The climbing French beans are beginning to grow well now.  They are being over shaded by some sweet peas I put along the row.  The courgettes growing under the climbing French beans are doing very well as well.  However, when have courgettes not done well?

I must remember for next year to give plants a lot more room to breath.  Too many are getting overshadowed particularly in the brassicae bed.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Layering sweet peas

Now in the middle of July the sweet peas are up to the top of the support canes and need to be layered.  All this means is taken off the support canes and laid on the ground.  The sweet pea plants are then taken up a new cane four or five canes down the row.   

To make this process a little easier I take off the lower leaves.  These are the big tough leaves and really they are the ones making most of the food for the plants and should not be the ones taken off.  However, they often go yellow so will be taken off in any case.  There is also the dreaded yellow disease that infects the lower leaves and then slowly works its way up the plant. Removing the lower leaves seems to prevent this from happening. Just remember that these leaves are the workhouses of the plant that produce sugars through photosynthesis.  The light coloured small ones near the growing tip are net sugar sinks; needing more food to grow larger than they produce.  Only take off ones that you cannot avoid removing.  

If I take away the ones that I have laid on the path then you can see where the sweet peas are coming from.  
The stems lying on the ground can be tied into the canes to keep them away from the pathways.  As some of the sweet pea stem is lying on the ground the plant supported by the new cane is not as high as it was previously.  This gives a further length of cane that the sweet peas can be grown up. Extending the canes is not a really practical  because once the plants have reached the top of the canes they will be hard to side shoot and detrendril.  

The way that these sweet peas are growing they will be at the top of the new poles in no time at all.  If that happens, I will take them down again and take them up another cane further down the row.  
Layering is  a very time consuming job and I was only able to do one double row.  I will continue tomorrow if the rain holds off.  

I got some lawn mowings from the bays near the gate today and put it on the compost heaps to heat them up a bit.  I have been putting a lot of things on the heaps and they are getting over full.  I am hoping that the mowings will help to get decomposition going and the size of the heaps will diminish.  

I weeded around the winter cauliflowers that were in the broad bean row.  I hoed the cauliflowers up so that they would form more roots around the stem.  This will hopefully keep them upright during the winter.  

Several of the red Brussel sprouts were leaning over so I hoed these up as well.  I also staked them with some canes.  

The new calabrese was then put into the space that the old calabrese had left when I took them out.  I dug out planting holes, knocked the calabrese plants out of their 3 inch pots and put them into the holes.  I virtually filled the holes with inoculated charcoal.  I want to see what effect this has on the plants.  

I mowed the grass on the trackway alongside the allotment and across the top track.  The mowings I added to the compost heap.  I have put the tarpaulin over the top of the compost heap to keep the warmth in.  Hopefully decomposition will quicken now so the heap will go down and I can add more.

If I cannot use the compost heaps, I will dig a trench in the comfrey bed and bury stuff there. 


I have been seriously cropping the peas this week.  Overall I have 11.5kg (25 lb) of podded peas, which is about 2.9 kg (6.3lb) per row.  The rows were 3.65metres (12ft) long and for this I should be getting at least 4lb per row.

So not bad. With charcoal and mychorrhizal fungi there is an increase of 2lb a row.  The peas were fertilised only with a top dressing of sieved home made compost and comfrey liquid.  So no bought fertilisers.  That can't be bad.

The harvest of strawberries has finished now.  The last ones I picked were on the 22nd June.  I got about 20.5kg off five rows and this seems eminently satisfactory.

At the moment I am harvesting brocolli, calabrese, raspberries, blackberries, broad beans, peas, courgettes, turnips, lettuce, carrots, beetroot and potatoes.

It is amazing just how much time it takes to harvest the vegetables and fruit.  I need to speed up a little.

I have taken out the summer purple sprouting and the calabrese and these will be replaced by one line of calabrese.  The broad beans have been taken out but new ones have been planted where the garlic has been taken out.  The winter cauliflowers growing under the broad beans need to be earthed up and given some comfrey liquid.

The broad bean tops have been taken off with a pair of secateurs and the roots left in the ground.  The roots are infected with rhizobium bacteria which fixes nitrogen from the air and converts it into ammonia which is a natural fertiliser for plants.  The nitrogen is taken up by the plants - such as broad bean - to make proteins. So to gain this nitrogen we can use the broad bean plant as a green manure.  If the roots are left in the soil they will provide about 30% of the available nitrogen but if the tops are dug in as well they will provide about 60% of the available nitrogen to the soil.

Lots of people leave the roots in the soil but burn the tops.  They are wasting 60% of the natural nitrogen fertiliser.

As there are winter cauliflowers in the way, the tops will not be dug in but put on the compost heap.  They will provide a little nitrogen for the rotting down process.

The peas have been harvested but there are a few left on to fatten up.  When these last few are cropped the plants will be dug into the same ground as they grew on as a green manure.  As with the broad beans, their roots are infected with rhizobium bacteria which has been fixing nitrogen from the atmosphere.  Digging them in will add nitrogen to the soil.

They will be replaced by a late crop of peas.

It could be argued that peas should not be planted where peas have been growing recently but there is little chance that there would be any problems. The peas will be planted with mychorrhizal fungi and inoculated charcoal again.  This will just add to the charcoal already on this bed.

Some of the sweet peas will be layered this weekend.  This involves them being taken off the cane supports and laid down along the ground to go up another cane support.  This will be time consuming too.

Just cropping and weeding the rest of the allotment.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

What effect do brassicas have on mychorrhizal population of soils.

  Brassicas do not form a symbiotic relationship with mychorrhizal fungi so will they have any effect on the the population of mychorrhiza in the soil?  Will the spores die or just remain dormant until another mychorrhizal plant grows in that area?  Well there is lots of charcoal in the brassica bed because I used it in the planting holes of the sweet peas and runner beans last year and again when I planted out the brassicas this year.  The sweet peas and runner beans also got a pinch of mychorrhizal fungi spores.  So there must be mychorrhizal fungi in the brassicae bed soil at the moment.  This will probably be in the form of spores.  I would like to think that they are tucked away in the labyrinthine pores of the charcoal.  

Mychorrhiza  do not form an association with the brassicas but they might do with other plants around the brassicae bed.  The black currant bushes are the most prominent and I am hoping that these will act as a reservoir for VAMs; mychorrhizal fungi mycelium stretching out from the bushes to other plants around that area. Together with this, I have been weeding throughout the allotment and there are a number of weeds - particularly the grasses - that seem to have fungi growing over their roots.  Of course this is just conjecture but it is fascinating. 

Although there is an important point in trying to replicate the Terra preta recipe, I am going to continue along the lines of using comfrey.  My hypothesis is that the charcoal absorbs or adsorbs nutrients.     These can come from things found in the Amazon or from more local sources.  As far as I can see neither the charcoal or the plants seem to care where the nutrients are sourced.  The charcoal takes it up and the plants seem to access it and use it regardless.  I must also admit that other things go into the comfrey bins as well as comfrey.  The left over chicken manure and a little bit of blood fish and bone; sugar; quite a bit of nettles and sweet cicely; and whatever comes out of the worm bin.  They are all good sources of nutrient. 

I have written in the past about the more advanced countries sucking out the nutrients of third world countries by importing fruit and vegetables.  Maybe it is not only food miles we should be considering when importing food from other countries.   Local sources of nutrient might be better?

Then, when added to the soil,  the charcoal acts as a kind of buffer allowing nutrients to flow out when they are scarce and taking them in when they are in excess.

The charcoal is left in lumps in the marinading dustbins then when I need some I take it out and crush it.  If you do it like this it is easier to handle.  Crushing the charcoal means that it is easier to incorporate into the soil when adding it to the planting holes.  Last year I used some bigish lumps of charcoal but this keeps on being cast to the surface of the soil and will not mix in well.  I have started to collect up the larger pieces and crush them just to make them easier to mix with the soil.  I think that the mixing of charcoal with the soil is important and this will happen more readily if the charcoal pieces are relatively small.  

Then the charcoal acts as a kind of buffer allowing nutrients to flow out when they are scares and taking them in when they are in excess. I would also conjecture that the mychorrhizal fungi also aid in this buffering system in that they can access the nutrient locked up in the charcoal using single cell mycelium to penetrate the pores of the charcoal. 

There does seem to be a synergistic effect when comfrey and charcoal are mixed.  When marinaded together for some time they seem to have a much bigger effect on plants than they do on their own.  

The time that I leave the charcoal in the marinade bins depends upon when I need to use it.  I made some last autumn and did not need to use it until I started planting in the spring.  So I thought that the best place to leave it was in the bins.  It seems to have been a good decision because it certainly has had an effect on the vegetables in the allotment.  

Having said that, I have used the new batch only after about a month of marinading and there still seems to be a good effect. 

I have no objection to someone developing their own product to sell but I do object to them then justifying the product by plagiarizing other peoples research.  I am convinced that charcoal is a very important way of augmenting the soil but I cannot pretend that anything I have done is remotely scientific.  I would love to do proper scientific trials using differing conditions but I do not have the time or the facilities.    Also, when having such a remarkable results in the past,  it is very difficult not to use the charcoal on every occasion and this does not produce good comparisons - although I can compare with the vegetables on other allotments.  

This also suggests that I have a recipe for my charcoal mix.  However, it is more like my cooking.  Throw a lot of things in together and hope for the best.  

I  would hope that the charcoal will take up any nutrients that it comes into contact with and the buffering system will allow the right nutrient to be released when it becomes scarce in the soil.  So it does not matter where the nutrients come from or how much you put in the mix.  Whether the ancient South American peoples refined a formula or whether they just threw everything in the mix can only be conjecture at the moment.  I would suspect, from their very advanced horticultural skills, that they had a refined formula 

It could work with chemical fertilisers and I expect it would to some extent.  However,  I would suggest that it would not be any where as effective as using organic sources of nutrients.  This is because the vital and most important extra part of the formula are the micro organisms that are part of the mix as well.  

If you look at soils that have been augmented with artificial fertilisers for years they are bereft of any life whatsoever.  I don't think that artificial fertilisers and micro organisms are compatible.   Whether they are EMs or VAMs or other micro organisms or preferably all three, what matters is that there will be micro organisms and these will be added to the soil to make a living, breathing, balanced, growing medium that is sustainable over many years.  

This is what I am interested in now - whether there is a retained fertility or whether you have to keep adding inoculated charcoal.  I would suggest, from my results, the addition of further charcoal produces a cumulative effect.  The fact that plants do not need vast quantities of nutrients means that the charcoal could be a long lived source of sustenance.  It is regulating the availability of these nutrients and preventing their leeching away that is of great importance and charcoal seems to be eminently suitable for such undertakings.  

It is noticeable how much my soil has changed in the number of mini beasts it supports. I think that adding charcoal in this form changes a lot of things within the soil.  I would suggest that the increased micro organism population has produced an augmented food chain that has benefited more than just the plants on the allotment.  

Hey, what can I say, I am just an amateur gardener so take what I say with a big pinch of salt.  

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Inoculated charcoal Terra preta soil

The judges for the allotment competition came back to see my allotment again today.  I think that they were interested in the sweet peas but did not really look at anything else.

They were asking what was put on the soil to augment it and I said horse muck, inoculated charcoal, comfrey liquid and mychorrhizal fungi.  They could not believe that such a productive allotment could be sustained with so little input of fertiliser.

Most soils will have ample nutrients for plant growth without a great deal of augmentation, although whether these nutrients are readily available to the plant is another question.  Making the nutrients available is the work of the mychorrhizal fungi.

Nitrogen input into the soil comes from the legumes growing on the allotment.  The allotment is producing a remarkable amount of produce now and the plants are growing particularly big.  Is this due to the charcoal experiment?

Inoculated charcoal has been used throughout the allotment during the planting season.  It certainly seems to have helped the vegetables grow well.  Ordinary lump charcoal for barbecues was used.  It was put into a dust bin and comfrey liquid poured over the top of it.  The charcoal marinaded in the comfrey liquid for several months during the winter. In the spring the charcoal was crushed with a bull hammer and put into the planting holes of the vegetables.  The hypothesis is that the charcoal adsorbs and absorbs nutrient from the comfrey liquid so that it becomes saturated with it.

When it is added to the soil it acts as a type of buffer; releasing nutrient when there is a lack of them but absorbing or adsorbing them when there is a surplus.

Another suggestion is that mychorrhizal fungi can find nutrients in the charcoal and transport them to the plant easily.  So they are added to the planting hole as well.
Now it has been said before that there is plenty of mychorrhizal fungi in the soil all ready.  However, I think that we destroy these symbiotic relationships when we disturb the ground for digging and cropping.  Therefore adding them to the allotment will only help the plants to grow.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Horse muck

The bloke with the shire horses brought two big loads of muck to the allotment today.

It does amaze me the way that people respond to the coming of the muck.  It is free and first come first served.  So as soon as it arrived people seemed to appear from nowhere with wheel barrows and forks to demolish the pile.  I am not joking it went in 20 minutes.  The second load came just when we had finished removing the first.

The shire horse bloke could not believe we had taken all of the first load but he was grateful because he wasn't sure where he was going to put the second load.  Now he had plenty of space.

I took about 8 barrow loads down to the allotment and put some onto the compost heaps and the rest between the comfrey plants.  I didn't really have anywhere else to put it because the allotment is fairly full with plants. I could have put some around the black currant bushes but I am using this space to get to the sweet peas so I was a bit reluctant to use it there.

It is fine where it is and the comfrey can convert it into liquid that I can use straight away rather than waiting for a year before I use it.  I wouldn't wait a year anyway.  Horse muck is not very high in nutrients and would not harm plants if you put it on fresh - in my experience.

Why people are so excited when the muck comes when it does not add a great deal to the soil baffles me.  There are more nutrients in lawn mowings but a great heap of these are left in the bays for months.

Well, I was going to get some lawn mowings too but the compost bins are full to overflowing especially now there is muck in them.  I will wait a bit until the composts go down before adding anything else.  I took the green tarpaulin out of the store shed and put it over the compost heap to keep in the heat and the dampness.

This all began at 12 o'clock and beforehand I had done a few things.

I got out the spinach that had gone to seed next to the parsnips.  I picked some so we will have that tonight but the rest I put on the compost heap.  I replaced the spinach with chard.

I went around watering the vegetables primarily because of the competition tomorrow.  If I get over 80 out of 183 then I will be very pleased.  The best that our allotment site has achieved in the past is 110. I am not that bothered because it is a working allotment not a show one.  If you are growing for eating rather than growing for showing then you have to accept that the allotment will not be pristine.

There is not much weed but that is because crops grow better when there is little competition.  The rows are straight because it is easier to hoe between lines of vegetables.  The veg is big because I want to maximise my yield.  Hey, what can I say.  The judging is the judging and I will accept any points gratefully, have a nice cup of tea and forget the whole affair.

Started to pick the peas today.  I am getting a fair few off the rows but all the rows are coming at the same time.  I will just freeze the excess I think.  The same with the calabrese and the purple sprouting.

I took three of the turnips which were just over golf ball size.  Not sure what I am going to do with them yet but probably they will be eaten raw in salad.  These are the special turnips that are supposed to taste like melon.  Well I can assure you that, regardless of the blurb on the seed packets, they don't taste anything like melons.  They do, in fact, taste exactly like turnips.  As you would expect BECAUSE THEY ARE TURNIPS.

I watered the French and the runner beans.  I will have a lot of beans when they start fruiting.  I still have a lot of broad beans to crop yet so the freezer is going to be chocker block.  Better that than full of fast food ballast.

The sweet peas look really good now and a little cosmetic side shooting and detendrilling made them look even better.  Hoed between the rows just to make them look pristine.  Then went to sweep the paths.  I know, I know, I would never have bothered if it was not for the competition but it is the detail that makes the difference.

 It probably isn't what makes the difference and what does is how good you are at growing vegetables so either way I might get some more points for tidiness because I sure wont get very many points for growing.

Started picking the black berries from this really early fruiting bush I have.  I would estimate about two hundred grams of berries which is better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick with nails in it.  Which is what nearly happened to me today.

Except that it was not particularly sharp and there were no noticeable nails sticking out.

That is all by the bye and due to the hot, close weather I was getting a little parched which means in allotment speak, it is time for a good cup of tea.  Not to mention chocolate biscuits.  Now I did feel a bit guilty about only having chocolate biscuits so I went to see if there were any raspberries.  I found five measly ripe raspberries, although thinking about it logically I did take off about 3 kilos of berries yesterday.

According to Tesco, raspberries are £16 a kilo so I bought home £48 worth of raspberries.

When, honestly, would you go out and buy £48 worth of raspberries?

Allotments are great if you like raspberries.

So that is why there were only five measly raspberries today.  I carefully put them with the black berries and we will probably have them in a pie.

I was going to leave the lupins to go to seed but I noticed that the seed heads were covered in greenfly.  Needless to say they were quickly taken off and put onto the compost heap under the tarpaulin.

It was time to go home but I had a wander around the allotment just to see how everyone else was doing.  Then home and a nice cup of tea.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Allotment competition

The allotment competition is next Tuesday so I thought that I would give it a go and see where my allotment is compared to other allotments in town.  I have no idea what each of the categories mean because there is one for parsnips and my parsnips will not be anywhere near ready by next Tuesday.
Still I decided to tidy up the allotment starting with the top pea and bean bed.  Although there was a five week gap between the first sowing and the last, my peas seem to have caught each other up and they are all producing peas now.  I don't mind at all because I will freeze them anyway but for the competition you need to demonstrate  succession.  I picked the first of them today - 100grams.
The climbing French beans are recovering from the devastation that the slugs and snails wrought.  They are cheerfully climbing up the supports or the netting that I put up for the sweet peas.  Beneath the French beans are a row of courgettes or as the Americans insist on calling them Zucchini. (I only put this in because an American website said the opposite about the English.  Courgette is a French word meaning little marrow - it's not even an English word)   The courgettes are about 5 cm long now so we will be harvesting them soon.  
I hoed up the Brussel sprouts again and removed yellow leaves to tidy them up.  There was very little weed under their canopy so there was no need to hoe.  
The winter cauliflowers are growing well and I removed any yellow leaves and hoed these up as well.  The ones that I planted under the broad beans have not had the opportunity to thrive and look very bedraggled.  Half of the broad beans were taken out and stripped of their pods. This will give the winter cauliflowers more light. I have to show succession of cauliflowers for the competition and these cauliflowers will demonstrate it very well.  
The turnips are just getting to a reasonable size for using in salads.  I tasted one yesterday but in my view it did not taste like a melon at all.  The seed packet said that it would! 
I still need to take the yellow leaves off the brocolli but there is little weed underneath them and they will not need to be hoed particularly.  
The summer cauliflowers were recovered with 1cm netting to keep the cabbage white butterfly off them.  I put some larger plastic water pipes bent into an arc into the ground to keep the netting off the plants.  I cannot stand having cauliflowers with loads of green caterpillars entwined deep within the floret.

Bye the bye it was  time for tea and I took the broad bean pods down to the shed.  While the tea was on the boil, the broad beans were depodded and put into a blue plastic bag.  They taste much better if you use a blue plastic bag.  

I had a good cup of PG tips tea and two or three chocolate hobnob biscuits.  Several pea pods were opened and the contents consumed as an aperitif - or should that be the tea?

I picked a few more pea pods to take home.  The squashes are coming along well and have flower buds on them.  I doubt that I will see any squashes until August though.

I will continue to tidy the allotment tomorrow.  The brassicas just need their yellow leaves removing because they have all formed a canopy that excludes light to the weeds underneath.  This means that there are few weeds if any.
Everyone that goes past seems to get a bunch of sweet peas but I am not too worried because the sweet peas are really flowering well.  They will get a good sorting and watering tomorrow.  I will also pick more of the raspberries or they will go over before I have a chance to eat or freeze them.

It is a horrible thought but I think that potato blight is back with us again.