I am still sowing leaf salad vegetables like lettuce, rocket, annual spinach, lamb's lettuce, nasturtium, mixed leaves and Claytonia perfoliata but you don't really need a lot of these vegetables. I still have a lot of other leaves that I have not used very much including the perpetual spinach and chard so I don't really want to grow lots of plants that I will not need.
The areas of clear ground that harvesting the potatoes and peas will produce is much more that I need for planting leaf vegetables. In fact, I am using the ground vacated by the summer lettuce, coriander, parcel and fennel to plant more leaf vegetables.
So what do I do with this cleared space during the late summer and autumn?
I am using some of the ground to plant out the chrysanthemum cuttings. I am going to put the plants about 3 feet apart and take up only two or three flowering side shoots to produce some big flowers. However this will not cover the whole area.
I have harvested all the garlic and shallots and this area is now space for the pumpkins and squashes to grow into. The pumpkins are thugs when it comes to growing over and smothering things so I like to give them as much room as possible. They can grow into the comfrey bed if they want.
I could plant some more peas but last time I did this the results were very disappointing. Furthermore, I have enough peas to freeze and last me until next year. So no more peas will be sown.
So what am I going to do? Well some of the ground will be covered in horse manure which I am going to continue to make hot beds with and experiment to find the best methods to use. I am reading William Cobbett's book "The English Gardener" and will use his method of hotbed making to begin with. This year's effort was not as effective as I wanted. I am sure that I planted the cauliflowers far too close together.
To make a hot bed properly you need the space to make it in. As it needs to be turned several times the area of ground that clearing off the potatoes and peas has produced will be ideal. The horse manure can be taken to the allotment and put into a conical heap. If there is not enough horse manure then cow, sheep or pig manure can be added. In fact any grassy material will help the pile heat up.
The best manure for the hot bed is stable manure and then sheep manure. The manure is best with wheat straw. While these are the best materials to make a hot bed, you have to use what you have got and if it not quite so good you will need more of it to make an effective bed.
After collecting all the materials into a flattish conical heap, you need to shake them up together and mix them well. This must be done carefully and diligently and shaken so that the straw separates out throughout the heap from the top to the bottom. If the manure is good then it will heat up and steam will come off it in less than 24 hours. The heap can be left for two or three days and then it is all moved again. The manure should be turned and well shaken into pieces and another conical heap formed from it. The outsides of the old heap should be put on the inside of the new heap. Again it can be left for another two or three days for it to heat up sufficiently and then turned once more.
If the manure is dry or the weather hot then it should be watered with a watering can when it is first mixed together. Water being added at every foot in height that the heap grows. Water is necessary for fermentation to begin, however this is less necessary if the manure is wet or the weather be changeable. So the manure heap should be turned three or more times in nine days before it is put into a hot bed. If this is not done then the heat in the hot bed will not last very long or be irregular. The hot bed will sink more in some places than other and will be hotter in some places than in others.
The ground for the hot bed must be levelled out with the rake. The ground needs to be level to prevent the heap from leaning to one side or the other, the cold frame will not sit well on the surface, the frame lights will not be sloping correctly, the bed will crack and water will run off rather than sink into the bed.
The hot bed needs to be made the same dimensions as the cold frame and in order to achieve this the frame should be put onto the levelled ground and four stakes placed at each corner. The frame can be withdrawn and boards can then be placed on the outsides of the stakes and kept in place with pegs.
Manure can then be shaken into this temporary box from the manure heap. Every four or five inches deep the manure should be beaten all over with the back of the fork to stabilise the heap. After the boards have been overtopped the height of the heap the height is increased but the sides and ends need to be kept vertical and the stakes at the four corners need to be put in perpendicularly. Cobbett does not specify a height the hot bed should attain but there are other references to them being four foot high. A line can be stretched from stake to stake to make sure that the sides are perpendicular. Care should be taken to make sure that the edges are well beaten because, if not done, the sides will sink more than the middle and a crack will form in the middle of the bed. So when it is finished the bed should be as smooth and upright as a wall and uniform in height.
The cold frame or other protection should be put on immediately. The top of the bed should not be more that an inch more that the bottom of the frame. The frame lights should be opened to allow air to circulate within the cold frame. If the hot bed is working the temperature should begin to rise in the next twelve hours
and in about three days the bed will be at its maximum temperature. In order to prevent the soil from heating up too much you need to wait until the highest temperatures have abated before adding the top soil.
When the hot bed is just beginning to cool and you can push your finger into it without discomfort, six inches of good sieved garden top soil can be added inside the frame.
I will probably use the hotbed frame for growing winter lettuce.
Making the hot bed will only take a little of the space that I will have. Most of the cleared ground will be sown with an overwintering green manure such as tares or grazing rye. I sow these in drills rather than broadcast so that it is easier to weed until a canopy covers the ground and the weeds are shaded out.