Saturday, 28 December 2013

Starting to clear and triple dig an allotment (11)

I really needed to give my back a rest because it is beginning to ache all the time particularly when sitting down for long periods.  So I gave the digging a rest for a while.

On my new allotment I planted several apples and pears and now I am thinking of moving them.  I was trying to make some permaculture guilds but its too much of a hassle and not really worth it.

I have a Egremont Russet and a Ribston Pippin and a pear in the wrong place.  The Ribston Pippin I grafted myself and I am very proud of my efforts - first grafting that actually took.  I can prune this to an espalier and put it near the path.  The Egremont Russet and the pear (lost the label for this and forgotten what it is) are standards and I'm still not sure where to put them in their final positions.  I also have a discovery and two pear trees at my old allotment that I am going to bring down to the new.  They are only about 2 foot tall so I think that they will move easily.  I will probably try to train them as espaliers or cordons.

I am going to move them as soon as I decide where to put them - if the weather is reasonable.

I moved one of the vines today.  Sun was shining and the air temperature was around 7oC so I am not worried about how it will fare. It is a white grape and was grown from a cutting.  I'm amazed how easy it is to strike a vine cutting.   I want to move the other vine soon too.   It is a black grape which I bought from our local vineyard at Half Penny Green which I am now told is the largest in the country.

I also planted my strawberry bed using the strawberries I had potted up in September.  I would rather plant in October but I still think that I will get some good plants putting them in now.

I have three M9 rootstocks of the grafts that did not take and am going to try again in the spring.  I'm going to use the Pippin and Russet for sions because the Cox's Orange Pippin and Discovery have not thrown up any suitable shoots.  I will have to decide where to put these too.

Just as long as the air temperature is not too cold and the ground is not frozen, I will move plants around.
I'm putting mychorrhizal fungi on the roots of all of them because I think that this helps them to establish quickly.

So, that's what I do.  I will not kill them but I might not get any fruit next year; however they wont be in the way.

It's not always possible to put sheds and fruit trees int he right place to avoid shading the rest of the allotment.  I have hummed and hawed about where to put my fruit trees but also about where to put two sheds.  I might just sell the old allotment sheds and buy a new one - but where to put it?

In any case I would rather keep one of the sheds because it was my old dad's shed.  It would be cheaper to move them than to buy one - have you seen how much they cost?  what:-o

One of the sheds could be put next to the hedge at the bottom of the allotment.  Not much of a slope down there but there is one.  It is not likely to get waterlogged down there.  The hedge is on the south side of the allotment and this means that the shed will shade the allotment for some of the day - but not much especially in the summer.

I could put it near the main trackway but this will leave it more open to vandalism and being broken into. The trackway is to the north of the allotment and here the shed would not shade any of the veg.

I'm not sure whether they will allow me to have three sheds on the allotment so I am not going to ask for permission.CW ;-)

If I put them in the wrong plance it will irritate me until I move them.  Planning allotments is not that easy!

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Christmas vegetables.

I went round for the Christmas harvest today and this is what I took home for Christmas dinners:
  1. Curly kale
  2. Purple sprouting broccoli
  3. Brussel sprouts
  4. Winter cabbage
  5. Parsnips
  6. Carrots
  7. Leeks
  8. Onions - from the store shed.
  9. The last squash in the store shed.  All my butternut squash have rotted away.  
  10. Elephant garlic from the store shed
  11. Ordinary garlic from the store shed
  12. Shallots from the store shed
  13. Beetroot
  14. Salsify
  15. Hamburg parsley
  16. Swede
  17. Kohlrabi
  18. Red Duke of York potatoes from the store shed.   
I think that I might just have enough veg for Christmas dinner.  What is left will make soup for the rest of the week.

The problem with having so many different vegetables for Christmas dinner is that it takes a long time to wash, peel and prepare them for the pot.

Been at it all morning!

Monday, 23 December 2013

Starting to clear and triple dig an allotment (10)

Finished trench 9 and about to begin trench 10.  I am still using the shredded goat willow Salix caprea as a carbon source to put at the bottom of the trenches.  In the past I have used Cupressocyparis leylandii shreddings or any other that I could get my hands on.

Using Cupressocyparis leylandii shreddings
A few years ago, I would never have done this.  I thought that adding carbon like this would deplete the soil of nitrogen.  Microorganisms need nitrogen to make proteins and nitrogen is gleaned from the soil around the shreddings.  However, I have always buried the shreddings quite deep in a trench Hugelkultur and allowed the shreddings to decompose before bringing them up nearer to the surface when making the next trench.  

Quercus robur logs and branches

What fascinated me was that there seemed to be no nitrogen deficiency in the area of the the trench. Vegetables, which are notoriously nitrogen dependent, grew normally with no sign of lack of nitrogen.  

On the new allotment the soil is particularly thin lacking dead organic matter.  This means that the characteristics of the clay becomes very dominant.  With the deep digging, it is much easier to fork over, however the soil is very heavy and tends to cap over after the rain - and we have had a lot of rain recently.  

Adding the shredded goat willow Salix caprea will add dead organic matter to the soil but this will take time to decompose and be mixed with the top soil so I will have to invest in some horse or farmyard manure to dig into the top soil.  This manure will rot down much quicker and be incorporated to make the soil much more open and friable.  

The soil is heavy because clay holds a lot of water.  Adding dead organic matter will allow a clay soil to drain much quicker.  Adding gravel will also open the soil and make it lighter and I was going to do this until I read about rock dust which will also add nutrients - or so the theory would lead us to believe. I bought some rock dust and am adding it to both replenish nutrients and to improve the structure of the top soil.  I know there is some debate about adding rock dust but I can find very little academic research about it at the moment.  I will continue to look for some academic validation for adding rock dust but I am not optimistic about finding any.

I am using two foot square concrete slabs to make the path down the side of the allotment.  The original top soil from the path has been sieved to get the weed rhizomes out and put onto the growing areas.  The hole that is left is filled with stones that have been sieved from the growing area.  A little of the clay subsoil is put over the stones to make it easier to level and the concrete slabs have been put on top of the subsoil.  

Adding the shredded brushwood material has raised the allotment above the level of the path and has meant that a curb has to be put down the side of the path to keep the top soil from falling onto the path.  I am using 50 square centimeter slabs for this job, however I am quickly running out of them so I will use the two foot square slabs as curbing when necessary.  

While it is possible to still dig when the ground is saturated due to the rain we have been having over the last week, it is not very pleasant particularly where the soil contains a lot of clay.   So, leaving the ground to dry out a little, I will do some moving plants around.  The fruit trees are now fully dormant so, when there is a little relatively dry and warm weather, I will move the apple trees into their permanent positions.  I am trying to find places where they will get maximum sunlight but will not overly shade the allotment.  

I have already decided to plant the strawberries Fragaria ananassa between the new compost bays and the grape vine, Vitis  vinifera.  I have sown some green manure in this area and will have to dig it in as I plant the strawberries.  Fragaria ananassa  seems to respond well to being watered in with comfrey liquid. They will also be given some mychorrhizal fungi to encourage symbiosis and, hopefully, better more fruitful plants.  

I went round for the Christmas harvest today and this is what I took home for Christmas dinners:
  1. Curly kale
  2. Purple sprouting broccoli
  3. Brussel sprouts
  4. Winter cabbage
  5. Parsnips
  6. Carrots
  7. Leeks
  8. Onions - from the store shed.
  9. The last squash in the store shed.  All my butternut squash have rotted away.  
  10. Elephant garlic from the store shed
  11. Ordinary garlic from the store shed
  12. Shallots from the store shed
  13. Beetroot
  14. Salsify
  15. Hamburg parsley
  16. Swede
  17. Kohlrabi
  18. Red Duke of York potatoes from the store shed.   
I think that I might just have enough veg for Christmas dinner.  What is left will make soup for the rest of the week.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Starting to clear and triple dig an allotment (9) Using the rock dust.

I am just finishing trench nine and beginning trench ten.  The soil is becoming much more heavy with a lot of clay.  I have moved the stones in the path I made last year to the left hand side of the allotment to make a good path there.  The stones will help to keep the allotment drained particularly as there is a lot of clay.  I will cap them off with two foot square slabs.  I dug out the top soil from where the path was going, sieved it and put it onto the growing area of the allotment.  No point in covering good top soil with a path.  The stones filled the hole admirably.  I will have to use some of the slabs as curbing because the soil has been raised so much.  I am adding quite a lot of shredded brushwood to the subsoil of the triple dig trenches.  The shreddings pile is steaming and full of fungi mycelium.  Shows you could use this to make a hotbed.

The green manure seems to be growing well because the temperatures are staying around 10 degrees even during the night.

As part of the triple sieve digging, I am mixing in rock dust on the areas that I am going to use for the peas, roots and leafy veg.  Just to see if this makes any difference.

As the soil was becoming very heavy and clay like, I decided to add some horticultural grit just to break up the soil and make it more workable.  However, I thought that if I was going to add grit, I might as well add rock dust instead because that will add some nutrients as well.

Most natural nutrients come from the weathering and erosion of bedrock.  (You get some nitrogen fixed by bacterial and some nutrients like sulphur and nitrogen from rain) .  So,  I have added rock dust as I sieved the top soil.

Whether the nutrients in the rock dust are readily available to plant roots or whether they need to be further broken down is debateable but regardless I get the benefits of better drainage and a soil that is easier to work.

I would suggest that mychorrhizal fungi might be able to access this nutrient store breaking down the dust using powerful enzymes and acids secreted from their hyphae.  If this is possible then the plants they are associated with might benefit.

Now that I have been mulling this over, I am wondering if mixing crushed inoculated charcoal will add to its efficacy.  The charcoal has been marinating in comfrey liquid for over six months now so should be fully charged with nutrients.

Maybe I will add this to the leafy veg soil.   I will be making biochar from shredded bark chippings in the spring.  That will be interesting - for me.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Starting to clear and triple dig an allotment (8)

I have just finished trench seven and am about to start trench eight.  It has taken a while to riddle out all the perennial weed rhizomes and I have also been gardening elsewhere.  I have moved the Rubus idaeus "Glen Prosen"  to the new allotment and tied them up onto wires stretched between tree posts.  When all the raspberries have been moved, I should have raspberries from July to October.  "Glen Prosen" is a mid summer cultivar, which I quite like.  The summer raspberry varieties need to be in the sun for as much time as possible and they were shaded for most of the day where I had them on the old allotment.

I remembered to plant the canes with a little mychorrhizal fungi and mulched them with a little horse manure. I really need to put more manure or compost on them but I will do this later in the year.  There are some raspberries on the new allotment which are probably "Autumn Bliss" which fruited in the autumn.  They are poor specimens so I might just take them out and put them at the bottom of the digging trench.

I have started to put curbing along the trackway using 1 foot square, concrete paving slabs.
I have put one foot square paving slabs along the end  of
the allotment.  
They are quite useful because I can use them to help me with spacing between veg. rows.  I have planted Laurus nobilis every two feet and Buxus sempervirens in between to make a hedge alongside the slabs.   This is the north side of the allotment so I am using the hedge and the Sorbus vilmorinii to shelter the rest of the allotment from winds from the north.  The bay may not like this very much but it has survived on the old allotment in a very exposed position.  The sorbus is being planted every ten foot in the hedge.

As I have run out of Buxus sempervirens rooted cuttings, I am using the Pyracantha rogersiana seedlings to finish off the whole of the run across the allotment.

I will need 40 two foot slabs to complete the path down the east side of the allotment.  Two down 38 to go. I will put curbing along the path as well to contain the soil.  The path will then go along the hedge to the shed. That will need 24 slabs and a path up to where the greenhouse is going - right in the middle of the allotment - will need 30 slabs.

The Fraxima ananasia "Cambridge" and "Marshmallow" plants were containerised at the old allotment using comfrey leaves at the bottom and good sieved top soil at the top of the containers.  I have moved these potted plants to the new allotment where they will be used to make a large strawberry bed next to the compost heaps.

I will move the compost heaps to enable me to use a little more of the ground that they are on.  If I move them round 90 degrees then the lorries and trailers will be able to back into the bays and tip out the manure where it needs to be stored.

The top fruit trees are not planted in the right places for the new allotment plan so I will be moving them during the winter.  I want to make sure that they are dormant before I start to do this.  They have just lost their leaves so I will leave them for another couple of weeks.  The Malus domesticus "Ribston Pippin" and "Egremont russet" will be put alongside the east path and the  Pyrus communis "Doyenne du Comice" will go by the west path.

I am going to move the two pears and apple trees from the old allotment and plant them by the east path.  I don't know the cultivar names of these at the moment but I will try to identify them when they fruit.  The pears are probably "Conference" and I think that the apple is "Discovery"

Although I have run out of brushwood and shreddings to put at the bottom of my trenches, I will continue to dig and scrounge  more from where ever I can.  There is quite a pile of horse manure at the old allotment and I can bag this up and bring it to the new to put under the topsoil.  The manure will have broken down well by next spring.

I have bought some volcanic rock dust, as an experiment, to add to the new allotment soil.  As the new allotment soil has a lot of clay in it, I thought that I would add some horticultural grit to open it up a little. However, why not use some rock dust instead?  I am not sure how well it will aerate the soil being dust rather than gravel but if it will introduce some nutrients as well as improving drainage, I will be pleased.  I think that the jury is out about whether rock dust is of any use in the garden.  I like to experiment and, as I have never used rock dust before, see whether it is useful or not for myself.

I will add the rock dust to the soil as I sieve it.  I will also apply it to the surface where I have already dug.

So on to trench number eight and the search for material to bury at the bottom of it.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Starting to clear and triple dig an allotment (7)

I have been plugging away at digging and sieving the allotment over the last month.  At times it has been quite wet and difficult to work.  The subsoil is a mixture of sand and clay which can become very waterlogged.

The green manure of tares, rye and crimson clover, has germinated and grown on very well.
I sowed the seeds in lines to make sure that I could cover the ground.  I have weeded between the rows but I have left the weeds that have germinated since to dig in with the green manure.  I doubt if many of the weeds will flower and set seeds before the spring now.
I have started to plant a new strawberry bed alongside the trackway but this may have to be altered because I am setting in curbing concrete slabs along the track.  These strawberries are Elsanta, which are said to be bland.  I had never heard of them before encountering them growing on this allotment, however they did taste really good.  Most of the new ones will be Cambridge and Marshmallow mainly because I already have 30 of these offsets growing in pots.
The green manure has produced some good healthy coloured plants.  They are taking up the surplus nutrients in the soil and storing it away for the winter so that it can be dug back into the soil in the spring,. This green manure was sown in September and this is the best time for germination.   I will probably have alliums in this area  next spring.  

I have put two posts in to support the wires for the grape vine. I don't know whether the posts are in the correct place and will have to measure their positions again.   I am going to prune the vines to the guyot system.
The guyot system.

This green manure planted in October is not growing on as fast.  I have also sown some broadcast a week ago but this has not germinated. (10/11/2013) I am not going to sow any more green manure until next spring now.  The newly dug soil will just have to be exposed to the elements over the winter.  I will be getting some horse manure later and will use this to cover as much of the ground as possible.  I am putting 1 foot square slabs along the trackway.  This will be useful in several different ways.  It will retain the soil and give me an edge to work from but also it will give me an easy way of measuring out lines of vegetables.  I am going to put two foot square slabs down the path and this will help me to measure out spacings too.  I have planted a Sorbus vilmorinii, one of a number grown from seed,  in the corner.  It was liberally dosed with mychorrhizal fungi and hopefully this will spread to the vegetables next year.  The theory is that the vegetables will be able to tap into the photosynthetic products produced by the tree and nutrients that the fungi has gleaned from the soil.

I am going to plant a hedge of rooted bay cuttings along the one foot slabs and then plant some Pyracantha rogersiana, grown from seed, when I run out of bay cuttings.  About 12 sage plants, grown from seed, will be planted down the path, followed by a similar number of rosemary plants.

I planted some spearmint under the first path slab so that it would grow through the cracks.  Every time that it is trodden on it will give out a beautiful minty odour.  The mint had mychorrhiza fungi over its roots too.

The sieved top soil looks in fine shape.  I am adding horse manure, pea and bean tops and annual weeds about 12 inches down.  

Although there are still little bits of  bindweed and mare's tail rhizomes still left in the soil, most of the larger pieces have been removed using the sieve. Six, yard width trenches have been completed and the seventh is marked out with the garden line.

Although I want to move the compost heap, the area marked out by the pallets is particularly useful for shreddings, manure and grass to be left.  Trailers can just be backed in from the carpark and emptied.  While I may well move the compost, I will construct a fence along the side to prevent manure being tipped over the plants.

I am taking out the central path and putting it on the near side of this photograph.  The trench is dug right across the allotment path so that I can remove all the rhizomes in the soil.  The path part of the trench is then filled with stones sieved out of the dug top soil and subsoil from the trench.  The topsoil from the path is just added to the growing area and not wasted underneath the concrete slabs of the path.

Although the soil where I am about to dig looks fairly clean, I have only hoed and raked off  the surface rhizomes, however there are numerous rhizomes below the surface of the soil.

The carpets have been successful in removing the green tops of the weeds, which makes digging  easier.  I found these carpets at the back of the allotment when I took it over.  They must have been there for many years because they were covered in several layers of composted material.  New carpets have nasty chemicals in them and I would never use them on an allotment.

However they do not stop the rhizomes from growing underneath.

I have turned back the big thick green tarpaulin and found lots of bind weed rhizomes.  I was hoeing off all the ones that were growing out of the edges,however  it seems that the rhizomes have decided to grow under the bark chippings of the path.  I doubt if they will have gone down very far but it means that I will have to carefully sieve the path stones to make sure that I get all the bindweed out.  

Blue plastic does not stop weeds growing because it lets light through.  It also breaks up into little pieces which are hard to remove from the soil.  The blue plastic was on the allotment before I put the carpets and tarpaulin over the weeds.

I still have this much of the allotment to dig and remove the bindweed and mare's tail.  The carpets and tarpaulins are useful now but I am not too sure what I will do with them after I have cleared and dug the allotment.  Lots of rain has made digging difficult but I am endeavouring to persevere.

The half allotment that I planted this year has produced some passable vegetables.  The winter crops will start to be used now.

Lots of the plants like the cardoon in the foreground will have to be moved to make way for the greenhouse. I have continued the raspberry row along the path at the back of the allotment.  I have planted most of the Malling Admiral and tied them to the wires.  They were planted with mychorrhizal fungi.  As the raspberries are near to the Crataegus monogyna, I am hoping that the mychorrhiza will tap into the roots of the hawthorn and transfer nutrients to the raspberries.

The small apple tree is a ribston pippin that I grafted onto an M9 rootstock.  This tree will have to be moved because it is in the way.  I have three other rootstocks that I want to graft onto in late winter.  I need to find some good scions first though.

The four rhubarb plants have died back now and can only be identified by the bamboo canes.  They will be moved down the allotment out of the way later in the winter.

The stones have been removed from the old path and put into the new and covered with subsoil.  The old path hole will be filled with top soil from the new path.  And so on to trench seven...

Before I complete this trench I will need some more brushwood shreddings; brushwood from pruned garden shrubs; old shrubs I am taking out of the garden, horse manure, and any other organic matter I can get my hands on.

Then on again to dig out another trench.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Starting to clear and triple dig an allotment (6)

Started on trench number five.  Very hard work and tiring but it has not defeated me yet.

It is taking me a long time to sieve out as many of the bindweed and mare's tail as I can find.  While I am not so stupid to believe that I have removed all the rhizomes, at least I will have dented the amount that will come back and irritate me.  Sieving the soil to a depth of at least three feet seems to be the most effective in finding the rhizomes.  

I put some horse manure into trench four and now I am wondering if this is a good thing to do.  Owners give horses worming medicines and these can pass through the animal and into the manure.  However, most of the chemicals are broken down in the horse itself, while some of the chemical is broken down by sunlight.  The rest stays in the manure and is broken down within a fortnight by microorganisms in the manure.  Composting and turning will speed up this process.   Other manures have the same problem but with careful composting the chemicals can be broken down to safer ones.  

The problem with worming medicines is their effect on soil worms.  Most say that it has little effect on soil worms because it breaks down so quickly.  

I am putting fairly fresh horse manure into the trenches, however this soil will not be used until next year so the manure and any chemicals within it will have broken down and decomposed long before any problem that might come from medicines in the compost.  

Having said this, I have put green manures on both allotments where the ground has become cleared.  I am using Hungarian grazing rye Secale cereale on the old allotment to draw up nitrogen from the soil. 
In order to put a little more body into the new allotment soil, I have sown a mixture of Trifolium incarnatum, Vica sativa and Lolium multiflorum  bought from as Lansberger Mix. The seeds have germinated and grown on really well.  I will be using this company again.

As I am not going to eat the green manure, adding horse's manure to their soil will not be a problem.

I have taken down most of the sweet pea plants on the old allotment and put them into the trenches on the new allowment.  The old sweet pea haulms will add nitrogen to the soil because these plants are legumes and have nodules filled with bacteria that fix atmospheric nitrogen.  This nitrogen is incorporated into the swee pea cells as a constituent of proteins and will be released into the soil as the sweet pea haulms decompose in the trenches.

I will add the old runner bean haulms to the trenches for the same reason.  I have not added them yet because I am allowing the bean fruit to ripen and go brown in order to save the seed.  I have collected quite a few seeds for next year both from the runners and the climbing French beans.  
I need to start looking at the catalogues for next year's vegetable seeds.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Starting to clear and triple dig an allotment (5)

The clearing and digging project has not progressed very much recently but  I am in no hurry.  The slower I am, the better I  remove the weed rhizomes.  Also, I have the whole winter to finish the digging.

Due to clearing off weeds and planting green manure on the old allotment, I have neglected the digging on the new allotment but that will change next week.

To be reasonable with myself and not to apply too much pressure on joints, a trench will take me at least two days and possibly three to finish.

I have collected a lot of organic matter to add to the bottom of the trenches and I will put as much as I can into each trench.

Taking out and sieving the top soil of trench three
The third trench top soil is put onto the previous
trench top soil.  
The soil in this part of the allotment is a little 'thin'
- meaning it does not have a lot of organic matter in it.
One spit of topsoil is removed and sieved through the bread tray and left on the side and when this is completed a second subsoil spit is taken out and sieved.  This will help to provide good drainage, a deep root run for vegetable plants and enable me to bury a lot of organic matter.  The organic matter will act as a sponge that will allow water to pass through it during wet periods and retain water during dry periods. When digging, air is added to the soil and this enables organic matter to be decomposed quickly. As the organic matter decomposes, it will release nutrients back into the soil which can be returned to the top soil.

I dug the trench on across the allotment but I still have not taken the top soil out all the way across the allotment.  Although this topsoil is pretty thin and lacking in organic matter, it looks quite good after sieving.

The second spit down will be sieved well in order to remove as many of the bindweed and mare's tail rhizomes as possible.

Parsnips and peas in the new allotment.
Inevitably at this time of year the allotment looks very untidy because a lot of vegetables have been harvested and some have gone over.  While the parsnips will be left in the ground over the winter, the pea plants behind them will be taken out and put into the digging trenches.  The pea supports will have to be stored somewhere for next year.
Winter brassicas
I took out all of the Kestrel potatoes at the end of August.  The ground has been left bare in preparation for sowing with winter green manure.  There is a little ephemeral weed on it but these can be hoed off very quickly.

Some of the early sprouting broccoli have flowered so I will take them out and put them into the digging trench.  Although I put these plants two feet apart  they still seem to be crowded.  I may give them even more space next year.

Forked over old potato bed
I was going to use the Mantis tiller to prepare the ground for the green manure but it only took me 15 minutes to fork over this area.  The Mantis does make a fine tilth and I may still use it.  My preference is to use the fork because this enables you to find any potato tubers that have been left in the ground.

This rhubarb is in the wrong position now and will be moved during the winter. There is one root of Timperley Early and the others are a heritage variety.  In order to make sure that I don't have to move them again, I need to make a careful plan of the allotment now to make sure that I know where I am going to put things.

The wooden stakes are going to be used along the raspberry line.  Wires will be stretched between them and the raspberry canes will be tied to the wires.

I am saving a lot of the bean seeds for next year.  Sweet pea and garden pea seeds are being saved as well.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Starting to clear and triple dig an allotment (4)

I took a large Acer campestris stump up to the new allotment to bury in the second trench.  I had gone down about 500 mm. but wanted to go deeper for the stump.  I took out another spit of soil at the bottom of the trench and just put it to one side in the trench to keep it away from the top soil.  This soil was particularly clay like although there was some sand stone mixed up with it.  This is what gives the allotment soil its characteristics of sandy clay.  I had forked over the bottom of the trench yesterday and this made taking out a hole for the stump much easier.

The tree stump fitted snugly into the hole.  The bottom of the trench needed to be forked again where I had walked on it but this was no effort; the soil being soft and crumbly after forking yesterday.  I put some processed wood planks on top of the stump and some brushwood on top of that.  The wooden planks were very rotten and the web like white fungi mycelium could be seen growing all over it.

The allotment needs to be cleared now so the vegetables that have gone over, like bulb fennel and summer cabbages, are being added to the trenches too.

The rake was used to drag the subsoil back over the added organic matter and the trench levelled off before the top soil was put back on.  I was going to sieve the top soil as I put it back into the trench but I didn't bother.  There were very few small pieces of Calystegia sepium and Equisetum arvensis that were raked out and put into the trusty weed tub.    I am not stupid enough to believe that I have removed all these pernicious weeds but I think that the small pieces that are left in the soil will be easily removed if they decide to grow.

The old potato bed was cleared of weeds so that I could prepare it for sowing green manure.  I am going to plant Secale cereale and Vicia sativa to cover the whole area.  I will also sow green manure where I am clearing the other vegetable beds.  I want the whole allotment covered in green manure eventually, except where the winter vegetables are growing.

By the time that I have cleared and dug trenches out towards the back of the allotment, these winter vegetables will have been harvested and I will be able to put them at the bottom of the final trenches.

I will have to prune back the raspberries and tie them to wires so that the canes do not break due to winter winds.  I will use the prunings to put at the bottom of the digging trenches.  It is all grist to the mill.

The Prunus cerasifera 'Victoria' has cropped extremely well this year.  I think that I have had from 10 to 15lb. of just one tree. I have taken all the plums off the tree because they attract disease if you leave them on the tree to over ripen.  The diseased and eaten plums are being added to the trenches as I go along.

The comfrey leaves under the Victoria plum are going to be dug in where the strawberries are going next year. Strawberries Fragaria x ananassa seem to grow much better when I do this.

At the old allotment lots of vegetables needed harvesting.  I started on the brassica bed because the old cauliflower area was covered in weeds.  I bagged the weeds up ready to take down to the new allotment.  I will add them to the trenches as I dig back.

I harvested two large cabbages but left the swede and kohlrabi for next time.  The sweet corn needed harvesting as well so I went down to the bottom bed and took them all out whilst cropping them.  I eventually ended up with about 25 well formed cobs.  This is the most that I have ever got from sweet corn Zea mays.

The tomatoes have late blight and are no longer any good.  I will take them out and bag them to take to the new allotment.  Really they should have been grown more in the light.  The maize shaded them a little too much.

The cucumbers are still cropping and I took two of them off to take home.

Jobs to do at the old allotment are;
1) Hoe and rake the old potato bed ready for the green manure.
2) Tie up the chrysanthemums.
3)Weed and tidy the roots and leaves.
4)Take down the pea supports and store them away in the shed.
5)Hoe and rake the pea bed ready for green manure.
6)Move the strawberries onto their new bed.
7)Take out the sweet peas, take down their canes and store the canes in the store shed.
8) Collect sweet pea seeds and put them into brown paper bags.
9)Collect the runner bean and climbing French bean seeds and put them into brown paper bags.
10)Collect the dwarf French bean seeds and put them into brown paper bags.
11)Move the raspberries to the new allotment.  (I will need some more mychorrhizal fungi)
12)Take out and pot up the camomile seedlings that have come up on the potato bed.

So a busy month again.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Starting to clear and triple dig an allotment (3)

I have the whole winter to clear and plant the new allotment so I am not rushing.  I doubt that it looks much different from last blog but I have taken out another trench and begun to take out the subsoil.  Each of the trenches is taking me about three days to complete.  The subsoil is being sieved and rhizomes of mare's tail and bind weed are being removed.  There is quite a lot of these weeds in this part of the allotment and, even 500 mm. down, there are mare's tail rhizomes.  I doubt very much, even with sieve digging three spits deep, that  I will remove all of this plant.  However, much of the plant will have been removed and hoeing off the tops might weaken it when it shows its head again next year.

This is what the new allotment looks like now.
Most of the processed wood seen here has been buried now.
I just like to remember what the allotment looks like before I clear it.  I have to admit that the carpets have cleared the top growth and this makes the allotment much easier to dig.  The carpets do not remove the rhizomes though so deep digging is necessary.

Second trench with top soil removed
and sieved.
All the top soil in the second trench has been sieved and put to one side.  Any stones that will not pass through the sieve are put onto the stone pile.  These stones will be used as foundations for the sheds and to make paths.  Nothing is wasted on the allotment.  Sieving has thoroughly mixed the top soil giving it a more homologous soil structure.  Breaking up the soil deeply like this enables; organic matter to be added to the soil; improvement to the drainage and water holding properties of the soil; and a friable soil to be provided that will encourage root growth.

The first section of the subsoil is removed and sieved and left at the end of the trench.  This produces a hole two spits deep - about 500 mm.  for convenience it was about one metre square.  Taking out any  more subsoil would have made a big pile of subsoil which would have been difficult to get around.  The floor of the new hole was forked over to another spit deep and the rhizomes discovered  removed.  The soil here has a high proportion of clay and was difficult to break up.  Adding organic matter will help to break up the clay.

Beginning to take out the subsoil and sieve it.  
 I always like to use lots of buckets and tubs to put the weeds into.  The tubs were filled with rhizomes very quickly.
Starting to add organic matter to the trench.
Only when the trench is at sufficient depth will organic matter like processed wood, logs, brushwood and composted rhizomes be added.
Various organic matter added to the trench.  
I also added hedge cuttings, grass and shredded brushwood.  Over the top of the added organic matter I sieved the subsoil from the next part of the trench.  It is going so slowly because of the amount of bindweed and mare's tail rhizomes that I need to take out of the soil.

There is no way that I have removed all the horse tail but I have certainly knocked it back a bit.  It will be manageable if it does return.

There were a great number of plums to be harvested today and I filled a whole crate with them to take home. As I always eat quite a few during the day when I am digging like this it is remarkable that there are still so many left.  I also harvested what was left of the fennel and the celery.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Starting to clear and triple dig a new allotment.(2)

I think that you have to be reasonable about how much work that you can do in the allotment particularly when the weather is not ideal.  The temperature yesterday was getting towards 28 degrees celsius, the ground was drying out and becoming very hard which meant that digging was very slow.  Add in the stony, weed rhizome infested soil  and I was going as fast as a sloth with a hangover.
A before and after...

I left the trench sieved and raked level but I knew that I had a lot more top soil to put here.  The fox had walked across this ground leaving a trail of footprints.  The carpet along the trackway is to catch the top soil that is inevitably going to overflow the trench.  I will put this overflow back onto the allotment when I have the room to do it but for the moment I will have to leave it overflowing.

The temperature was not too bad so I decided to start to sieve the top soil into the wheelbarrow and then put it on top of yesterday's soil.
Although the pile of unsieved top soil does
not look too big, it took me a long time to sieve
There was a lot of weed rhizomes and stones in the top soil that needed to be removed carefully.  I was taking the stone down to the bottom of the allotment where I am making a path.  I see no reason for making a path over top soil, so I dig out the top soil and put it on growing areas and fill the hole with stone that I have sieved out from elsewhere.  When the holes are full of stones, I cover them with subsoil and then with shredded brushwood.

The problem was that I was knocking about some cuttings that were next to the path trench and I didn't want to do this anymore.  Instead I put the stones in a pile out of the way on the new allotment.  They will help to weigh down the carpets that I am putting there to cover the weeds.  

All the top soil is sieved now.
 Although the sieved top soil overflowed onto the trackway, it didn't do this as much as I expected.  I will easily be able to rake this back onto the allotment when I have finished the second trench.  This first trench is finished and there are only about twenty more to do.  

I put a line down for the second trench to keep myself
square to the trackway.  
The ground had dried out and was becoming hard.  The heat was good because it was drying out the weed rhizomes but working in this heat was not ideal.  There is now a big pile of stones which I will have to move at some point but it is more convenient to put stone here than anywhere else on the allotment.  

At some point I will have to take down the wooden construction and decide whether I am going to put it somewhere else.  It is mostly falling down.

So, after having several cups of tea and plums from the tree, I began taking out the second trench.  Again lots of weed rhizomes and stones.  Always have a tub with you when you are gardening.  They get magically filled even when you have not planned to do much in the garden.  

I could be sieving in compost and manure to the top soil while I am at it.  However, I think that I will add the compost and manure to the top soil later.  

Start of the second trench.

At this stage the ground was very hard and left curved sides.  The problem with trenches with curved sides is that a wedge of subsoil at the sides is not dug and can harbour weed rhizomes. Also it gives the subsoil a wavy structure that could be an advantage; making semi swales which will help to retain water and restrict its flow through the subsoil allowing it to be drawn up into the top soil by capillary action.  If the space between the ridges is filled with organic matter this will help retain moisture even in dry weather.  

Cross section of curved sided trench digging.

In spite of this possible advantage, I like to dig trenches with square sides making sure that all the soil is dug to the same level.  This ensures that all weeds are removed and you are starting with clean ground.  I may well be planting perennial soft fruit such as blackcurrants, raspberries and red currants and do not want their roots to be entwined with bind weed rhizomes.  

The new trench has been started in the ground that I dug over last winter.  The overlap means that all the soil is dug and sieved leaving no weed rhizomes in any of the soil profile.  This meant taking out the runner beans that I had grown up tripods of canes.  Experience has shown that tripods never stay upright especially in windy weather and these tripods suffered this fate.  Although I was keeping the bean pods for seed, I think that I will have plenty from the other plants.

Hard dry ground.
 There was no point in carrying on digging.  The temperature was far too hot and the ground far too hard.  There is no rush to finish and this project will be continued over the winter.  

I folded back the carpets a little more.  
I didn't need to fold the carpets back because they would have given me a base to put the top soil onto. However, I want to take these carpets off this allotment and cover the weeds on the next allotment to clear it for digging.  When I have dug back, I can take these two carpets off the ground and put them next door. Although these carpets have been very effective in clearing the top growth of weeds, care must be taken in using carpets.  Carpets contain lots of nasty chemicals to prevent them from rotting or being infested by insects in the home.  These carpets have been on the allotment for many years and were partially buried at the back.  Most of the unpleasant chemicals will have leached out giving a fairly safe material to cover the ground with.   It looks a mess at the moment but as I bury things and move them it will look much better.  

So not much done today. Might be cooler tomorrow.  

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Starting to clear and triple dig a new allotment (1)

I have just started to clear and dig the new allotment.  Late August and September are ideal times to begin to clear and dig an allotment.  The ground is usually dry and fairly friable.

This is how I clear and dig new ground.  It is not the way that most gardeners will begin a new allotment but I find that triple sieve digging clears out pernicious perennial weeds and large stones producing a reasonable finely tilthed soil that can be used immediately with few problems. I think that triple sieve digging produces a soil that ten years of conventional cultivation would produce.   I emphasise that this is the way that I do it; it is idiosyncratic but it works for me.

Most of this allotment has been covered by carpets and tarpaulins since February this year.  The only plants that can survive under the carpets are hedge bindweed Calystegia sepium (sepium means of the hedge- where I wish it would stay) and mare's tail Epiquestrum arvense (arvense means found on cultivated ground - particularly on my new allotment.)

Also, where there are gaps and spaces that have not been covered, plants like dock can survive.

Docks and bindweed growing through the
weed smothering carpet.
I do not like carpet on the allotment because of all the unpleasant chemicals associated with them.  Also, they attract rats which like to live underneath them.  I did not have any rats but I did have a family of field mice.  However, the carpets were on the allotment when I took it over so I decided to utilise them before finally taking them down to the tip.

At the trackway end of the allotment there was a bed of small rhubarb that had gone to seed.

Rhubarb along the trackway has gone to

Bindweed and mare's tail are growing
between the rhubarb plants.  

Wood has been used to weigh the carpets
I like to start clearing an allotment from an edge and the most suitable edge was the trackway.  It gives you a starting place.  I always find starting quite difficult because there is nowhere to put things.  The rhubarb needed to be dug out because it was full of bind weed and mare's tail.  Somewhere needed to be found for the top soil that was going to be removed from the first trench.

I was using old wooden planks and pallets to hold down the carpets and this needed to be removed.  It was put in a pile further down the allotment.  Rather than burn the wood, I was going to bury it in the trenches. Most hugelkultur uses relatively fresh wood but I decided that I would experiment with processed wood.  All the wooden planks were rotting in any case.

Rotten wood found on the allotment.  
There were only two options for this wood.  Either it would be burnt or buried.  I prefer burial because it produces a friable sponge like material when it is further degraded and can help with regulating water, irrigating the ground when the weather is dry but also allowing water to drain easily.  The ratio of carbon to nitrogen in wood is very high and there may well be a tendency for microorganisms to reduce the soil nitrogen in order to decompose the wood.  The wood will be buried quite deeply in the subsoil and any nutrients that the microorganisms find there they are welcome to.  Eventually they will be returned to the soil when the microorganisms die.  So just using the law of conservation of matter there will be no loss of nutrient - just a recycling.  I would suggest that there is less likely to be a loss of soluble nutrients through leaching because the microorganisms are capturing dissolved nitrogen salts as they pass the buried wood.

Even though I dislike carpets, I have to admit that they do clear the ground fairly well.

The carpet was folded back.
The surface bind weed stolons are being hoed and raked
off.  The soil will be sieved to get rid of the rhizomes.

A large dock  Rumex obtusifolius (Obtusifolius meaning
blunt leaved)

Long stolons of hedge bindweed.  
 Hoeing and raking the ground gave me a cleared space to start digging.

Rhubarb has large fleshy roots which can be a little difficult to dig out.    However with a little effort this can be achieved quite quickly. I cut the leaves off so that  the roots could be reached.  I started the trench  next to the runner beans and was surprised to find that the soil was particularly stony.

Stones and halfenders did not make digging out the
rhubarb roots very easy.
 Setbacks like this have to be expected when digging over a new allotment.  This soil will be sieved later and all these stones taken out.  If they are left they will make digging and planting much more difficult.

The fork had to be used to take out the soil.  

I will add the rhubarb and the dock seed heads to the
trench when I have dug it out.  
The rhubarb roots and perennial weeds were left on the carpets to dry out.

Bindweed drying out in the sunshine.
If bindweed and mare's tail is left to dry like this for several days - or weeks then there is an possibility that they will not regenerate.  Mare's tail roots are thickly suberised which gives them rubbery, flexible characteristics.  Drying them out means that they are unlikely to be able to absorb water through this waterproofing.  However, it also means that they will loose water very slowly so they will have to be left in strong sunlight for several days.

As the trench is dug the rhubarb roots come out fairly easily.  I am not going to keep this rhubarb because the bindweed is growing through the roots.  I don't know what variety this rhubarb is, so I would rather transplant named rhubarb from the old allotment.

Rhubarb roots are encountered as I dig backwards.

Taking the roots out is relatively easy.
The roots are removed and the top soil is put on one side.
The top soil still had a lot of bindweed and mare's tail in it together with large stones.  I will sieve the top soil as I put it back into the tench - but not yet.

The next spit of soil will be removed too.  I have used some of the carpet and black plastic to cover the weeds on the next allotment - it is mine too.  These will be used to make a base to put the subsoil.  I will dig out as much as is practical and leave  it on the carpets.

Beginning to take out the second spit of soil.  
Although in Victorian times there was a method of double digging where subsoil was placed on top of top soil, it is not very advisable.  I am keeping my sieved subsoil carefully separate from the top soil.  Not that you can see much difference because there is not much body in the top soil.  When a large enough trench is dug out the bottom is forked over to another spit depth and the organic matter is added starting with the wood.
Old processed wood added.

Brushwood cuttings and compost

This fills up the trench but I could add a lot more if I wanted.

This organic matter will be covered with sieved soil from
the next part of the trench.  
My trusty bread tray sieve is used to make sure that there are no large stones or rhizomes left in the soil.

I put the bread tray onto four tubs to raise it above the

Soil from the next part of the trench is sieved over the
organic matter.  
 I am making sure that the subsoil is kept separate from the top soil on the right.
I sieved quite a bit of subsoil through the sieve to make a
large trench.  
After the bottom is forked over to another spit depth more wood and organic matter is added.   Subsoil from the next part of the trench is then sieved to cover the organic matter.

And so I continue along the trench making sure that all the weed rhizomes are removed and the subsoil is kept separate from the top soil.

I am still removing mare's tail rhizomes even
at this depth.  

When the second spit is taken out the
bottom of the trench is forked over to
another spit deep. This is triple digging.

Processed wood is added.

The wood is covered with mare's tale and bindweed
rhizomes that were dried out carefully and composted for
a year.  

I don't think that they will regenerate but you can never
be sure.  
  I raked the subsoil back over the organic matter in the trench until the soil was level throughout the trench.

The subsoil is starting to look a little more
presentable now.  

The subsoil with fewer large stones and
hopefully no weed rhizomes.  
Now the top soil can be sieved and added to the trench.  It always looks a mess when you are trying to turn a dirty allotment around.  However, when you have finished a couple of trenches, it transforms the allotment and you can see its potential.

Sun is getting low in the sky and it is time to go home.

Still some more top soil to sieve but that can be done
It takes time, but I know that the soil is fairly clean  where I have dug.  Quite a satisfying days work particularly the tea breaks with ripe plums straight off the tree.