Sunday, 25 September 2011

I have finally finished the triple digging

I finished the triple digging and raked the whole area fairly level.  I consolidated the ground treading along it.  It has not compacted the ground even though it was raining. Rain usually means the ground becomes very muddy. It was fairly easy to rake because it was so friable.

I was putting some seed in so I used the hoe, three pronged cultivator and the rake again.  If you use these three in succession you get a really good tilth.

 I have filled the area with broad beans, trefoil, rocket, American land cress and a few radish.  I am hoping that the seeds will germinate before the cold weather.   I put a very little pigeon manure along the rows and hoed it in and after making the drills I watered them with comfrey liquid.

I have made a mess of the pathways again but I will tidy them up next time I go down to the allotment.  I spent the rest of the time harvesting.

There were about 3lbs of tomatoes ready for picking; two ridge cucumbers; I took one of the celeriac; several carrots, Hamburg parsley, salsify; scorzonera; two crates of runner beans, a swede and several Kohl rabi. Fred said that I could take some of his Bramley apples so I took a plastic bag full of them.

The runner beans have gone over now and I can take them out.  I think that I will dig them in with the sweet peas.

I still have to move the strawberry bed; take down the sweet peas and dig this area and finally dig the area that has the new peas on them. I reckon that I will get all this done before the frosts.

It does not seem much was done but I was at the allotment for seven hours.
Where does the time go?

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Levelling out where I have triple dug.

I filled the last trench with compost and a dressing of pigeon manure.  Pigeon manure is serious fertilizer.

Several people came and talked.  It is good to talk but I really needed to crack on though.

Before putting the soil back in the trench, I put a new concrete slab in at the end of the row to keep  the soil from falling onto the path; a small concrete slab finished off this curbing. I could not use full sized concrete slabs because this is where a drainage pipe goes across towards the trackway.  Really I should have buried the pipe a little deeper.

I put the subsoil back first making mixing cones of soil in the trenches.  I think that subsoil is thoroughly mixed now and turned much darker because last years compost was mixed throughout it.  Although it is not as good as my top soil it has improved from a sandy clay to a friable soil with lots of compost throughout.

I levelled out the subsoil in the trench with a rake.  After this I put the top soil back making mixing cones with the soil again.

The bed is covered with mounds of soil so these had to be levelled out.  I have begun this and it has been easier than I expected.  Getting all the soil level will take some time and I will do it over several days.  I have other big projects that I want to do before the winter so I will start doing these tomorrow.

I will start to move the strawberries to their new bed; take the sweet pea plants off the canes by undoing the wire ties. I will put the ties in the tie tub and keep them for next year.  I am debating what to do with the canes.  I would like to keep them in the store shed like I did last year, however the store shed is beginning to fill up with stored vegetables and fruit.  (Just got some Bramleys today.)  So I might leave them outside this year.  I will put them in a compost bay that I am not using.  I will reconsider this again when I take the canes out.

I must remember to take some more photographs of the allotment.

The Felthenam first peas have not done very well.  I think that this is due to the dry weather and I have not been watering them.  I think that I will just dig over this area again and put green manure on it.

I will have to plant out the broad beans and the leeks I have in the greenhouse.  I am trying to avoid planting the leeks until the threat of the onion miner fly Phytomyza gymnostoma has diminished.  Have a look at

I have decided to cover the bay tree in fleece during the winter to try to keep it alive.  It was hit really hard by the frost during last winter.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Coming to an end of the triple digging.

I've got to the last trench of the triple digging and I am filling the bottom with oak branches, compost and old turfs.  This is a kind of huglekulture, however they delivered some pigeon muck today and I used some on top of the branches.

Now here is the theory.  Bacteria and fungi that will break down the oak branches need nitrogen to do this.  The bacteria and fungi's carbon source will be the branches, compost and turfs.  The nitrogen source will be the pigeon manure.  This should mean that the branches will decompose quickly into friable organic matter that is easy to incorporate into the soil next year.  Adding the pigeon manure may prevent the fungi decomposing the buried organic matter from depleting the soil of nitrogen.  This often happens when woody material is added to top soil.

Here we need a note of caution.  Pigeon manure is very powerful stuff.  It has a NPK of 5:2:1 but I think that the nitrogen ratio may be higher from the smell of ammonia coming off it today.  I have put most of the pigeon muck in one of the compost bays that I have just emptied.  I got about 18 bags of it all told.  I will be using it but in the same way as I would use chicken pellets.  I will put a top dressing on the surface of the soil when I begin planting and then hoe it in.  I will not be using great shovels full of the stuff.  It is serious manure.

I once dug in neat, new pigeon muck into one of the beds and then planted beetroot on top.  Nothing grew where the pigeon muck was dug in but I had big beetroot where there was no pigeon manure.

There were a few potatoes that I had missed in the potato bed but not too many.  I doubt if I have found all the tubers but I can live with just a few coming up in the onion bed next year.

I have been giving the top soil and the subsoil a good mixing separately to make sure that last years compost is distributed throughout the soil profile.  The soil was very dry so it was quite easy to do.  I like to make conical mounds of soil and put spade fulls on the point at the top.  This means that each of the spade fulls falls down the sides of the cone and you get a thorough mixing.  I have been careful to keep the top and subsoil apart so that there will be little mixing between the two.  I don't think that a little mixing is harmful but it is best to keep them apart.  The subsoil does not contain the amount of organic matter as the top soil although I am attempting to remedy this.  Also the subsoil is much lighter in colour than the top soil because it has not been dyed black by the humin together with the fulvic and humic acids derived from decomposed organic matter.

There are many reasons for digging but the one that has interested me recently is the suggestion that digging enhances weathering of the mineral part of the soil.  The mineral part of the soil is a primary source of soil potassium and phosphorus.  The idea is to increase the breaking up of particles so that these major nutrients can be released in a form that can be taken up either by mychorrhizal fungi or the roots of plants.  Mixing the soil with compost, which is breaking down into humic and fulvic acids and humin, also aids in this process because these compounds react with (chelate) mineral elements of the soil.  What we are doing is making previously inaccessible minerals locked up in stones or mineral fragments relatively soluble and available to plant roots.

This is why digging whether single, double or triple is a good way of improving the fertility of the soil.  So with the additional benefits of improving drainage; adding carbon; adding nutrients ( in the form of manures, fertilisers and green manures); removing weeds; producing a good crumb and friable  structure to the soil; adding air to lower layers of the soil profile; deepening the depth of the A horizon (top soil) to improve the root environment; increasing the solubility of minerals by ion exchange; there seems to be very good advantages to digging.  I can understand the reasoning behind the no dig method of cultivation but there does not seem to be as many advantages as digging.

I will have a major job in levelling the potato bed because of all the triple digging and mixing I have done but I want to plant some seed so I will have to do it well.  In order to consolidate the soil, I will be treading on it systematically before raking.  Most seeds seem to like a firm soil to germinate in.  I will be taking short side steps along the planting line and then going over with the rake.  This will also break down any large lumps of soil so that the raking will be easier.  It may seem silly to spend so much time putting air into the soil only to squeeze it out by treading on it.  There is a need for a good equilibrium between the amount of air within the soil and the amount of water.  Too much air will restrict the amount of water that roots can obtain and this might lead to water stress.  Too much water will restrict oxygen necessary for root respiration.  Much less oxygen is available dissolved in water than there is in air.  The trick is to make sure there is enough of both.

I will be sowing rocket, lambs lettuce, spinach ( under cloches) chard, and a variety of green manures on the triple dug bed.  I also have four pots of broad beans to plant here as well.

Still cropping big time.  Some large carrots - shows you how effective the enviromesh is; big beetroot - I hope that they are not getting woody now; Hamburg parsley, salsify and scorzonera giving remarkably large roots and parsnips are growing well.  I like to leave the parsnips until the first frosts and with all the other vegetables that are cropping now I do not need to use them.  Pumpkins are coming well except that they are not very large.  Got some big swedes and they still taste really good.  Kohl rabbi is still growing well.  The peas have not grown very well.  I doubt if I will have any off them at all.  Still they will make good green manure.  This is the last time I plant late peas in the same area as the earlies.  The Borlotti beans have done well but they really need to be harvested and podded.  Too many runner beans again.

And too many blooming tomatoes this year.  There has been no blight and all the plants I put outside have fruited really well.  I have tomatoes coming out of my ears now I have eaten so many.   Everyone is trying to give me apples too.  There are just so many apples you can eat.  The Bramleys can be kept for a while so I might put them into the store shed.

I am attempting to clear out the store shed so that I can put the canes in.  I am not succeeding very well because for everything I take out and home there are about seven or eight things I need to store in there.

I took out the broad beans so that I had room to plant some more leeks.  I podded the beans and have left them in the store shed to dry so I have seed for next year.  They are drying on one of the shelves.

I will have enough room on the shelves for apples because all the onions had white rot and had to be thrown away otherwise I would be squeezing things in.  I have room for the squashes, pumpkins and apples but I will have to move the potatoes around.  It would be much better if I could store the canes outside somewhere.  That might be the solution.

I am cropping the comfrey and digging the fresh leaves in along the raspberry row.  The raspberries seem to benefit from a good dose of comfrey.  I will do this with the strawberries too.  I am moving them up to the brassicae bed and will water them in with a little comfrey liquid too.

Then it is mostly clearing for the winter.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Photographs of allotment in late August

The comfrey is growing back after another crop had been put into the green bins.  It is amazing how quickly this rots down and forms the lovely, rich, black liquid manure.

The liquid was going into the charcoal bin but that is full now so I am storing the comfrey liquid in the green butts.  I will try to get another crop of leaves before the winter.  I will need some for planting the strawberries in the new bed.

I am getting to the stage where I cannot eat all the vegetables that are coming now.  I will have to give away as much as I can.  The beetroot is growing quite large now but there are still some of a tennis ball size.  These are the most sweetest.  I will still use the larger ones because I don't think they are too woody.

Salsify and beetroot
I am mainly using the salsify and Scorzonera hispanica in soups at the moment. (Still using these salsify and Scorzonera in March 2012)

Rhubarb (Rheum raponticum)
Champaign rhubarb in the foreground and Victoria in the background.  I have been picking this and it has been fine stewed and with a topping of ice cream.  I am cooking rhubarb with damsons because we have an excess .  I do not have a damson tree but I harvest them from the trees overhanging the track way.

Strawberries (Fragaria ananassa)
The strawberries (Fragaria ananassa) look a little untidy at the moment because I am leaving the stolons.  There are quite a few 3 inch pots in the bed but you can't see them.  They have rooted stolons in them.  I am going to move these up to where the brassica bed is now.  You can see where I have taken out the two lines of three year old strawberries.  I am using it as a path at the moment.  The old strawberries have been buried in the old potato bed where I am double digging.  You can see one of my concrete slab curbing walls.  I think that I will need it this year.  I may have buried a little too much carbon.

Raspberries (Rubus idaeus)
I have taken out the fruited raspberry canes and tied the new canes into the supporting frame.  I have cut them back to about 6 inches of the top most support.  I reckon that I would have lost the tops anyway in the winter winds.  These canes are about 6 ft. tall now so they will produce a good crop next year.  The tomato growing in the pot in front of the shed was taken out and buried it with the old strawberry canes in the trenches.

Bit untidy but gives you a closer view of the raspberries.
There is a big pile of second spit soil on the right of the picture below and a big pile of topsoil on the left.  I will level all this off eventually making sure that the subsoil is placed under the top soil.  I don't raise beds; I raise allotments.

Partially rotted compost on top of branch shreddings
in the trench
The soil has been particularly dry even at this depth.  After rain in the past few days the soil has become much damper but if this carries on through the winter we will have a severe drought next year.  The second spit soil goes back in the trench first and then the top soil on that.

I've raised the soil where I have double dug.
This area still needs to be dug.  The soil where I have dug does look a little high at the moment but after I have leveled out the mounds it will look fine - but higher.

Broad bean and celeriac with tomatoes in the background
I think that I will only be using the broad beans in the foreground for seed because I already have a freezer full of them.  The celeriac is growing particularly rampantly.  I will certainly have enough to last right through the winter even though I am using them now.
I am using the variegated leaf nasturtium flowers for salads.  The lettuce does not seem to like the hot temperatures in August and I don't have a good one at the moment.  I will plant some more in September.  I have some ridge cucumbers in this bed too but you can't seem them behind the celeriac.  They are coming on well with lots of cucumbers but they fruit really late even though I put them in the ground early.  The greenhouse one has been fruiting since June.

Pumpkin (Cucurbia pepo)
The pumpkin has taken over the area where the onions were.  I have not really watered them enough this year to get really big ones.  You can't see them yet but there are some average sized ones under the leaf canopy.

Sweet cicely
I am not going to take another crop of sweet cicely.  It will grow on until the frost and then die back to soil level.  This will enable it to build up reserves for next year.


I have cut all the old fruiting canes off the blackberry and tied in next years fruiting canes.  I will have to tie them again because it is not very neat and the canes are far too close to each other.  Needless to say, the old canes went into the double digging trenches with the raspberry canes.  It is amazing the amount you can get rid of in a deep trench.

Sweet peas have gone off now.
I am not too worried about the sweet peas now.  I need to clean out the store shed and take all the pots and trays home to wash and make room for the canes.  I will not do that until I have finished digging over the potato bed.  All the sweet pea tops will be dug into the soil in this bed together with the runner beans when they get frosted in October or November time.  The sweet peas and beans have been fixing nitrogen from the air and this can be added to the soil when the plants decompose.
Kohl rabi and Swedes
The swedes have over shadowed the kohl rabi this year so they will be planted a little further apart next year.  I have cleared the ground here for the strawberry plants to go in.  When the swedes and the kohl rabi have been harvested I will put the strawberries in here.

Winter broccoli
Winter broccoli are coming along well and will give me a good crop during the winter as will the Brussel sprouts.
Brussel sprouts.  
These Brussel sprouts will be ready for harvesting during December and January.  Just in time for Christmas.  The only way to eat brussel sprouts is straight from the plant.  Never ever eat frozen Brussel sprouts.

I don't know what happened to the squash but there is a lot of leaf and very small fruit.  I am hoping, with a bit of watering,  to get at least some of these to a reasonable size before the winter.

Felthham First peas.
The peas are decidedly not doing very well.  They were planted where the earlier peas grew and this may well have affected them.  Not a very successful experiment.  I will not try to get two crops of peas from the same ground again.  I have not weeded them and I will dig them in with the weeds as a green manure.

Dwarf French beans
I have not harvested these dwarf French beans.  I am leaving them to ripen and I will save the dried beans seeds for soups and curries.

French climbing beans
Unfortunately, I planted the sweet peas with the French climbing beans and the sweet peas shaded out the beans a little.  The brown foliage is the sweet peas after being cut hard back.  I should have removed the sweet peas a lot sooner.  I have enough runner beans to be going on with so I am not too disappointed with the poor crop of beans.  I will remember not to plant sweet peas near the climbing French beans next year.  The beans and the sweet peas will be dug into the soil as green manure.

Late August can be an untidy time on the allotment.  Things are coming to the end of their lives making everything look a little drab.  It is what the allotment is like at the moment.  It really needs a good tidy up.