Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Apple sions and rootstock.

The M26 rootstock has come today (thanks plantsman and grower)  and I will take them to the allotment to pot them up.  I got this rootstock because I wanted to grow espaliers larger than just three branches on either side.  You can't really take M9 rootstock any higher than this and expect good crops.

I have potted up all the bare rooted rootstocks now using large pots and sieved good garden soil.  I haven't used any amendments at all.  My thinking is, that I want the apple tree roots to acclimatise to my garden soil and not restrict themselves to some nutrient rich growing medium.  I have found that it takes a long time for pot grown plants to grow out of their pot compost and into the surrounding soil when planted out because they are exploiting the relatively high levels of nutrient found in composts. As the root stock is bare rooted they should adapt to the garden soil in the pots quickly and then grow out into my allotment soil because it will be similar to the pot soil.

I will use the two M9 rootstock to graft to cordon trees but I am not sure which varieties I will use for these.  Maybe the modern varieties.

I just learnt how to make a good grafting cut.  You keep your wrist and lower arm straight and then make like you are going to elbow someone by the side of you.  You get good straight cuts when you do this rather than the scooped ones that I usually do.

These are the sions I have. I have put them into a plastic bag and buried them.  I am hoping that they will survive.

James Grieve (1893) bred in Scotland long keeping
Greensleeves (1966) can leave on tree until October and eat but does not keep.
Egremont russet (1872).  A cheap tree I got for £5.
Braeburn (1950) Keeps for about three months.  Ripens in November in UK so will store till February at least.
Saturn (1980) a modern apple that does not store but ripens in August and can be eaten straight from the tree.
Two others which I don't know the name of yet but will identify them when they fruit.
I am not using the Ribston Pippin for sions  this year because it did not produce very much wood last year.

These are the sions that I would like to get at the moment. I am going to ask Steven Hayes if he could supply these sions from his orchard.  If he will send me these, I will not graft the modern varieties this year. I would rather not use the Braeburn sion at all because it is a warm climate apple and would not do very well in the English climate.  I think that all these are spur bearing apples and will prune to espalier or cordon quite well.  I would rather graft named sions rather than unknowns.
Norfolk Royal (1905)
Pitmaston Pineapple(1561)
King of the Pippins(1770s)
Court Pendu Plat (1613)
Sturmer Pippin (1800s)
Golden Reinette (1600)
Blenheim Orange. (1740)

I am pruning the Peregrine peach to fan in the Spring so I will use the cuttings to graft onto two St. Julien A rootstocks that suckered from the plum.

I am looking forward to grafting the heritage trees this season.  I will do all the grafting under glass and leave them in pots until I can see some growth.  However, I will not be grafting until March.  They may be planted out in the final positions in late Spring but I have no problem with leaving them in their pots until next autumn.  I am planting the rootstock in quite large pots today.

Friday, 12 December 2014

Continuing to raise the allotment with trench Hugelkultur (7) and allotment photographs for December

Too wet to dig today so I grabbed the opportunity to take some photographs.  I have more or less finished digging out and sieving the topsoil of the four foot trench I have taken out.
Trench with top soil removed. The subsoil
has a high proportion of clay which means
Although this digging area was covered with tarpaulins and carpets for at least a year, the soil is still thick with the viable rhizomes of mare's tail and couch grass. I could just fork them out but sieving is much more efficient.  Not much bind weed here but I expect to find some nearer the path.   One more trench and I will be up against the path.

The shared path runs from the red, plastic, rectangular crate down the side of the allotment.  I have dug out the path top soil, carefully removed the weed rhizomes by sieving then used it to fill the bottom of the trenches.  The thick clay like subsoil from the bottom of the trenches is used to fill the hole left in the path together with any large stones sieved from the top soil.  In this way I get a deep top soil on the growing area and a good path.  I have covered the top end of the path next to the red crate with woody chippings mainly because it is a softer material to walk on and looks better than muddy stones. As this is a shared path, I have to make an effort to keep it tidy.

Although I would like to, it is far too wet to sieve the subsoil.  The clay just will not go through the holes.  This is a shame because I can get a lot more stones for the path from the subsoil.  I am going to plant the rhubarb across the allotment here parallel to the wood at the end of the trench.  After I have finished digging across the allotment here, I will move the wooden, retainer edging to place it across the front of the allotment.

I am also using wooden edging along the path. Wood rots... what can I say?

If I had the chance I would use concrete slabs as edging and path, however I have run out of slabs and will have to use wood until I can get some more.

Top soil with bread tray sieve.
With all the rain the sides of the trench have collapsed and the bottom has puddles where I have been standing.  The soil was too wet to go through the sieve so there was no point in digging.  After removing the top soil that has fallen into the trench, I will remove a spit of subsoil to make the path. This will give me a deep hole to fill with top soil and organic matter and an excellent root run for the rhubarb.

As there were already carpets on the allotment, I have used them to cover the ground just for the moment.  However, I will need to use them at the back of the allotment to stop bindweed encroachment from the hedge.  I have used them as an effective barrier by covering the bank under the hedge. I am not a fan of carpet on allotments because they seem to attract rats and mice, both of which I have on the allotment.  However, I will make the problem the solution and use them where they will not attract these animals.
Trusty bread tray sieve.
The soil is beginning to look better but it still needs a lot of organic matter mixed in.  After removing the subsoil, I will add the woody shreddings.  I would say that sieving and adding organic matter produces a soil that conventional digging would take about ten years to make.  A no dig system would take even longer.

In nature, it is reported, it takes 500 years to make a centimetre of soil.  Well, I don't have the time to wait.

Putting on mulches does imitate a natural method of soil formation but it takes far too long.  It is still an anthrosol and anthrosols ain't formed naturally.  Natural and gardening are two words your cannot really use in the same sentence. However, I still use mulches.

I build the soil from both the top and the bottom.

New load of woody shreddings.
A new load of woody shreddings was delivered yesterday just in time because I had exhausted the last load.  I will add quite a lot of this to each of the trenches.  I mix it in quite carefully into the subsoil as deep as I can.  I have also taken off some overhanging branches of the hedge and will use these at the bottom of the trench.  I want to add as much organic matter to the soil as I can and this seems to be a good way to do it.  Most people avoid using woody chippings  so it is readily available and costs nothing.  Professional gardeners working around the allotment area are always looking for someone to take woody chippings and I am more than willing to use it.  Otherwise I would have to buy relatively expensive organic matter and have it transported some distance to produce the same effect.  I would not want to add expensive organic matter, like the farmyard manure, to the subsoil where it will not be readily available to plant roots.

When I refill the trench with the top soil, I will mix in some of the farmyard manure.  
Farmyard manure under the tarpaulin.
I have covered the manure with the tarpaulin to try to dry it out a little.  It gets very heavy when it is wet and I hate carting round water unnecessarily.  That brick will be used to fill a gap in the path.
So I will continue to work back down this area of the allotment to clear it.  
This is what it looks like when it is dug.
This dug area has brushwood, processed wood and about one load of  woody chippings under it and a quarter load of farmyard manure.
The whole area is raised up on a bed of
woody chippings
It is a slow procedure but it clears the ground of pernicious weed rhizomes, mixes in a lot of long lasting organic matter, helps to sort out any drainage problems and removes a lot of large stones.  It is well worth doing when taking on a new allotment.  I know what is under the soil throughout the allotment.  Water will be able to percolate slowly through the subsoil and the woody chippings will keep moist for most of the year providing water for crops during the summer droughts.  

The slow decomposition of woody chippings in the relatively anaerobic subsoil will mean that there is only a little nitrogen depletion and any depletion there is will be of nitrogen leached from the top soil. Thus the woody chippings will make a nutrient trap capturing leached nutrients as they are taken through the soil by water. 
Last season

Little greenhouse

I have planted the new red and white currant to separate the beds.  I am going to fan train them like the peach tree.  You can just about see the new peach tree in the greenhouse.  I know that it will grow too big but, when it does,  I will just take the greenhouse down and put it somewhere else.  The peach will have its own post and wire supports inside the greenhouse.  The chrysanthemums have just about survived the mistreatment they got this year. They will die back a little and I will take a lot of cuttings to produce some big flowers next season.  

I will plant them where the soft fruit is on this part of the allotment.  

Couch grass and mare's tail infested soft fruit.
I am going to keep all the soft fruit but not here.  The autumn fruiting raspberries will be moved to the bottom of the allotment next to the summer fruiting ones.  Doing this will mean that I will have raspberries from about the end of June to late October judging on how they fruited this year.  The red and black currants did not fruit at all because they were so overgrown with weeds.  I am taking them out one at a time and washing their roots to remove all the soil and weed rhizomes.

So, while digging was out of the question, I decided to dig out the weeds from under the hedge and plant some comfrey there.  

Cleaned out the weeds from under the hedge.
It was a lot easier than I thought it would be and the soil was very friable.  The carpet was doing its job of keeping the weed rhizomes from growing into the allotment.  I also planted some black currant cuttings to fill gaps in the hedge.  I have some blackcurrant and loganberry cuttings which will be planted in the hedge too.  

The raspberries are Glen Ample and start to fruit in late June.  The Malling Admiral have not done so well and I have cut them to half their length.  They have all been well mulched with farmyard manure.  

Still quite a bit to clean out under the hedge.
The comfrey bin is going to be moved behind the big shed to give me a little more room around the small one.  The tractor which cut the hedge knocked  the butt over and broke it so that it leaks now. However, it will still be suitable for comfrey liquid making.  I will just have to put a tub under it to catch the liquid where it is leaking.  

I also started to demolish the compost heap that was  built over the path.  When I have taken out all of the top soil I will relay the concrete slabs so that they continue to the hedge.  

Demolishing the old compost heap.
A good example of how the bindweed rhizomes grow.  The amount of weed rhizome does not worry me.  It is easily sieved out of the top soil.  I am not too sure where I will put the weeds because I have filled the builders bag.  I am going to try to dry them out and maybe put them on a compost heap with a carpet base.  I want this area for seating area and comfrey bed.

I have made a temporary drying platform with the pallets and the old reinforcing wire. Two piles of four pallets to make the legs and the reinforcing wire to make an air penetrating platform to dry the perennial rhizomes.  Not only are the rhizomes in this compost heap going on the drier but also the ones in the builder's bag.  Once they have dried off I will compost them.  There are a lot of rhizomes with a lot of the allotment's nutrients locked up in them.  If I were to take these to the council tip or burn them, I would be removing considerable amounts of nutrient, which I would rather recycle back into the topsoil.  Burning will turn nitrogen and sulphur in proteins into gases which will pass into the air and be lost.  As phosphorous and potassium do not form gaseous oxides they will be left in the ash and this is why ash from plant material is said to be rich in these elements.

I would rather keep all the nutrients and compost the weeds.

I will leave them to dry for as long as I can - a month or two turning them every so often and covering with the black plastic sheet.  Only when they are completely dry will they be put onto a carefully constructed compost heap with a base of several carpets.  After spending this much time and effort removing them from the soil, I don't want them to regenerate and grow out of the compost bin.   

The top soil from the path has been removed and replaced with clay from the subsoil in the trenches.  I have tried to camber the path so that water runs off onto the growing area and this has kept it fairly dry.  

Most of the wood will either be buried or used to make biochar.  I need to put a gutter on the shed and a butt to collect the water. I have the gutter but I'm using all the butts at the moment.
Gutters for the shed are by the hedge.
So, the rest of the allotment has been put to bed, although I still have to dig over the roots bed and half the brassica bed but this will not be done until the vegetables have been used.  

Winter digging project.
I have moved all the carpets, old shed and concrete reinforcing wire down onto this area of the allotment.  The shed will be burnt for biochar and the carpets will be used alongside the hedge behind the shed.  It will take time to sort out but this is what the rest of the allotment looked like when I took it over and it looks like this now...
Field beans
The field beans are growing well and covering the new onion bed.  They will be dug in next spring before the onions are set out.  I will sow the onions in the greenhouse during January, although I do have some seedlings in the hot bed frame.  These are the giant onions that are good to impress people but do not store very well.  I will use these onions during the summer and leave the others to store during the autumn and winter.

The Cambridge strawberries have settled in very well and are still in leaf, although I expect them to die back when the cold weather sets in.  There is some green manure growing next to the strawberries but it has just germinated and you can't see it easily in this photograph.  Needless to say, the grass, field beans, clover and tares in the foreground is green manure not weeds.
Espaliered pear  and apple tree.
This is the first time I have tried to espalier fruit trees so I am still learning.  I have lowered down two laterals of both the Doyenne Du Comice pear and the Egremont Russet apple, however they both have weak laterals lower down their trunks.  I will allow these to grow vertically in an attempt to produce more vigourous branches to layer down.  Branches grow more vigourously the more vertical they are.  The Victorian gardeners liked to have the first laterals no more than six inches above the soil.  Following Abercrombie's advice the lowered laterals have not been shortened at all. They should become less vigourous and produce more fruiting spurs growing horizontally.

I still think that the trees are far too close to each other but I will leave them like this for a while to see how they develop.  

Although they are not the best in the world, these leeks will do me.  I always keep them until Christmas and then eat them during January and February mostly as leek soup.  Looking forward to that.  
Old plum tree.
I have tried to prune this old plum to open it out and take out all the crossing wood.  One of the branches has canker now and I will have to take it out completely if the tree is to be saved.  I don't really want to do anything else to it at the moment though just to let it settle down with the cuts I made during the summer.  It fruits really well so I don't want to loose it.
Plum tree Opal
However, I do have a replacement which seems to be stuck out in the middle of the garden.  It was planted right up to the compost heaps but I have moved the composts across and down towards the path and left the plum where it was.  I don't really want to move it so I will leave it there and just plant the annual vegetables around it.  If you look closely you can just see the green manure germinating in rows across this bed.  The sweet peas will be planted here next season.  
Red Grape
The grapes have been pruned back and trained in.  They produced quite a lot of fruit last season but it was all fairly small even when thinned.  I'm expecting better next season.  

White Grape nearer the greenhouse.
 The grapes look very impressive this time of year but during the summer they got a little out of hand.  I will take more care of them next season.  

Bay tree cuttings amongst other things.
I have decided to train all the bay tree cuttings to make them into trees with rounded tops.  They will be a little wonky but still impressive.  I have taken Irishmen's cuttings off some of the plants so I have got even more plants.  Some of the bay plants have thrown up a number of stems and all I will do is select the best stem to train and cut all the others out.  Still to do this to a couple of plants.

Green manure on next season's brassica bed
I might put some farmyard manure on this bed when I dig the green manure in.  All the sweet pea plants were dug in before the green manure was sown but I don't think that this is enough organic matter for the cabbages and cauliflowers.  
Not the best brassica but acceptable
The pigeons are having their share of the brassicas but unless they start to strip the plants I will not cover them with nets.  There will be plenty of Brussel sprouts for Christmas.  
Blackberry and loganberry
I still need to train these plants in properly. I am waiting for them to drop their leaves so that I can see where the stems are going more clearly.  
Next year's roots and leafy vegetables bed.
I have dug in the green manure on this bed because it was getting very weedy.  I think that this soil is just beginning to get to the standard that I want.  I am going to leave it open to the elements during the winter, although there is a covering of weed seedlings germinating.  
Roots bed

Still lots of roots to be used up.  Beetroot, parsnips and carrots are the main ones but there is also some salsify and Hamburg parsley.  Once these are used, I will dig this area quite deeply and add lots of organic matter for the potatoes next season.
Soft fruit bed
I found a little big bud on the blackcurrants and pruned it out severely.  I have decided to espalier these soft fruit as well as the top fruit.  

Leaning apple tree.
Although this little apple is leaning all over the place because it was shaded by the hedge that grew out this far and was knocked over by and enormous compost heap, it is producing lots of really tasty apples.  
Leaning pear tree.
This tree is leaning as well for the same reasons but produces lots of lovely pears so I should worry...  
Teasle seedlings germinated in flower heads

I planted these flower heads as they were.

Fascinating germination

I have mulched around the little pear tree with farmyard manure and planted these seedheads in the ground under the tree.  
Path to the big greenhouse.
The frame is on top of the woody shreddings hot bed.  I will keep the onion and cabbage seedlings in here when I prick them out.  Whether this hot bed is working is debatable.  It was very warm when I first made it but now it has cooled off.  According to the Victorians that made tan beds from tanner's bark, the beds should stay warm for at least six months.  I will continue to monitor the frame to see what happens to the temperature of the woody material but I am not expecting it to stay warm.  The frame itself has been a success because it has germinated the onions and the big cabbages.  It also is bringing them on and they are developing well.  The frame is raised up so that it is easier to use and the woody shreddings at the very least are giving an insulating effect.  There are lots of cuttings in the frame as well and these seem to be surviving.  It gives me another place to put plants that need a little protection and this is valuable in itself.  
Now that I have raised the allotment quite a bit, I think that the pond is a little low now and will have to be raised up.  I still need to get my little solar powered pump to prevent the water becoming stagnant.  

That's the allotment for December.  Not very tidy because of the wet weather and continued digging but it will look much better when I have finished digging the new half allotment alongside the main one.  
More hard work to do...

Friday, 5 December 2014

Continuing to raise the allotment with trench Hugelkultur (6)

I raised the greenhouse up to the horizontal, well almost, and moved the water butts again.  I have tied ropes onto the gutters and led them into the butts so that rain water will flow along them and into the butts.  It works very well for the main greenhouse so I expect it will work for the small greenhouse too.

Raked around the small greenhouse to level where I had been standing and then put some boards along the path to retain the topsoil.  Most of the boards were rotten and full of fungi but they will do for now.  Put some woody chippings down the path over the stones and that made quite a good pathway.  It is not very permanent because the chippings decompose over a year into a very friable compost like material. However, this will do for now too.

Planted the white and red currant about a metre apart between the brassica and curbit beds adding mychorrhizal fungi spores to the roots. Then I was just about to start digging again when the site secretary came along and started chatting.  I will start taking out more of the top soil from the path to put onto the growing beds so that I can fill the holes with stone sieved from the trenches.

It turns out that there has been noone renting the bottom quarter of allotment 3A so, as I have paid for it, I will continue to raise this half allotment with the trench Hugelkultur right down to the shed.I levelled the path alongside and behind the shed where I had taken out the topsoil.  The path is now a stone clay subsoil mixture. Now that I have cleared the back of the shed I have an area to store things. I have moved the FIBC builders bag to the back of the shed so that I have somewhere to put the weed rhizomes after sieving them out of the soil.  The bag is very effective in preventing the rhizomes from growing out of it and the rhizomes eventually dry out and rot down to a friable compost.

I have potted up all the chrysthanthemums and all I need to do is find a place either in the big or small greenhouse to store them.  They will produce cuttings for next year which will be potted up next spring.

Took out the first four foot trench on the curbit and rhubarb bed and left the sieved top soil where I had already dug.  The trench is right by the concrete slab path so it will be easy to add organic matter from the compost area. Brushwood; woody shreddings and farmyard manure were added and mixed with the subsoil before the top soil was put back into the trench.

I also dug out and sieved the top soil from about a square metre of the path on the other side of the allotment. This gave me a sizable hole to to put the sieved stones.

I am going to take some subsoil out of the trench where the rhubarb is going to go.  I will use this to fill the hole in the path and will not sieve it.   However, I am going to sieve the subsoil left in the trench and mix in lots of woody shreddings and a little chicken manure. I am hoping to make a deep root run for the rhubarb using sieved top soil from the path to replace the removed subsoil.  I will also add some of the farmyard manure to the top soil to improve its fertility, which could be suspect because the ground has not been used for at least three years.

I have at least three varieties of rhubarb;'Timperley Early'; 'Champaign' and 'Large Victoria'.  I have no idea what the other two varieties are and I am not sure whether I am going to keep them.

I have not dug this area before. It has been covered with a tarpaulin, several carpets and the dismantled shed for almost two seasons. In spite of the coverings, there are still viable couch grass, mare's tail and bindweed rhizomes growing from the uncovered area at least six feet away.  It is a time consuming task to remove all of these rhizomes but has to be done to save time an effort trying to remove them in future years.

I don't really want the bind weed and mare's tail to get into the rhubarb roots because removing them would be difficult and involve taking the rhubarb roots out.  Rhubarb has big, heavy, deep growing roots and once planted should remain tucked away in the soil.

The one year old Peregrine peach on St Julien rootstock has arrived and is much bigger than I thought it would be.  Regardless, it was planted in the small greenhouse with a little mychorrhizal fungi.  It will have a very deep root run and should produce some fruit in two years time.  I have not pruned it yet because RHS advises no pruning in the winter to avoid silver leaf disease.
"Like plums, peaches are vulnerable to silver leaf and canker so do not prune in winter." Page 132 in RHS "Pruning and Training" by Brickell and Joyce.

Orange Pippin Fruit Trees are impressive, emailing me in good time that they were about to send the tree, however I will not be pruning straight away as they advise.

The peach is very well feathered and has two very suitable lateral branches for pruning to a fan form.  The main stem of the tree will be cut down to these lower branches, which will give me several useful scions for grafting.  I have taken several suckers off the large plum tree I inherited on the allotment and potted them up as rootstock for the grafts.  I am presuming that the rootstock is St. Julien.  If the grafts are not successful, I will still have gained some more experience of grafting and not lost anything except time.  If they are successful I will have gained three new Peregrin peach trees.

Where I will plant them I haven't a clue.  Peregrin is a fairly tender peach and only does really well with protection.  There is not really much south facing protection on my allotment.  This will not daunt me though because at the very least I can sell them if they produce worthwhile plants.

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Continuing to raise the allotment with trench Hugelkultur (5)

Finished the brassica bed sieve trenching with a little extra to be able to plant the new currant bushes.  I am considering liming the brassica bed because I doubt the allotment has had any lime for a long time.  Lime will counter acidification of the soil; raise the pH a little; possibly protect the plants from clubroot; provide the nutrient calcium and improve the friability of the soil by interacting with clay particles.

Jobs to do; raise the small greenhouse back to the horizontal.  It has sunk because I made the soil very friable digging and sieving it.  Also the shredded wood beds inside the greenhouse have shrunk because they have started to decompose and this has lowered the level of the beds inside the greenhouse.
This is how the greenhouse looked before it
began to sink at the back.  
I will have to remove the glass panes so that I don't put a strain on them.  They all need cleaning so I will wash them both sides before putting them back on the frame.

I think that the greenhouse aluminium foundation needs firmer soil to rest on so I will raise the greenhouse up with leavers and tread in topsoil until it is level.  It is only a small greenhouse so this will not be onerous.

According to Orange Pippin Fruit Trees my Peregrine peach tree on St.Julien rootstock will be coming this week and I want to plant it in the little greenhouse.  Now Orange Pippin have advised me not to plant it in the little greenhouse because it will grow too big for it.  However,  it will not grow too big for a number of years during which I will be able to protect it from late frosts and maybe from peach leaf curl - the scourge of peach trees.  If it does outgrow the greenhouse, I will just demolish the greenhouse and rebuild it somewhere else, leaving the peach tree and its supports where they are so that the tree can expand as far as it wants.

The peach tree is going to be pruned to the fan shape and this might mean that I can take off some sions to graft onto the two St. Julien rootstocks I have potted up in the big greenhouse.  Now that would be a fascinating project.  I have successfully grafted apple trees but have not tried any other top fruit.

Also, I have prepared the soil for the peach particularly carefully giving it a three foot deep topsoil root run both inside and outside the greenhouse, which is probably why I have the problem with the sinking.

I have been debating with myself for about a week now how to plant the new currants as a hedge to divide the new brassica bed from the new curbit bed.  Really there is just room for two bushes, however I am going to plant all four - I think - and then grow them as espalier on wires.  The ground has been very well prepared and should be fertile enough to support the bushes this close together if they are pruned and kept in shape.

I think that I will be able to plant them about three feet apart but I don't want one of them to be too close to the peach in the little greenhouse.  I have one white, one red and two black currants -  and just thinking again - they have different growing requirements.  Red and whites have fruit on old wood and black on new growth.  I might go back to the original plan of just two bushes - the white and red but still espalier them.

Regardless, all the fruit will be planted with a good dose of mychorrhizal fungi spores on their roots.
I have taken most of the topsoil from behind the shed and will replace this with subsoil taken from the trenches.  There was a carpet over the topsoil and this could just be replaced over the subsoil. However, I now want to plant the comfrey here.  I don't know how well it will fair being planted in subsoil but it is a very tenacious plant and will probably produce enough topgrowth, for the comfrey liquid bins, to be worthwhile.

After cutting back the overhanging hawthorn hedge, I was surprised to find that it was not too dark and dingy behind the shed.  This time of year it was getting full sunlight during the morning.  Rather than waste this space, planting comfrey seemed to be the best solution.  Also, if the clematis cuttings take, I want to plant one behind the shed to grow over it.  The roots will be in the shade but the tops very much in the sun.  This will also solve the problem of what to do with the very big piece of concrete reinforcing wire I found on the old compost heap.  I might use it at the back of the shed to grow the clematis up.

Always make the problem the solution.

After all of this, I will continue sieve trenching the curbit and rhubarb bed.  This area was covered with carpets, the old shed and the concrete reinforcing wire and has not been cultivated for at least three or four years.
The old shed and the concrete reinforcing wire
and this is where I will plant the rhubarb

In spite of being covered, it is riddled with bindweed and mares tail and will have to be sieved carefully. I will add woody shreddings to the subsoil and cover with top soil recovered from the path adding farmyard manure and chicken manure to the top soil.  Hopefully, this will improve the fertility and make a good growing area.
Victoria rhubarb on the old allotment.
As part of this bed is going to be for the rhubarb, I am going to make particularly deep trenches, mixing in lots of shredded woody material and farmyard manure into the subsoil.  I will take out some of the subsoil to replace the topsoil I will be removing from the path.  The topsoil from the path will be added to the trench to replace the subsoil.  This will give me a very deep topsoil on a well mixed fertile subsoil.  Hopefully, this will give me a crop of rhubarb as large as the one on the old allotment.  The plants are still on my old allotment and will need to be transported to the new after the ground has been prepared for them.  I have Champaign and a very large rhubarb which is probably a variety of Victoria.  The Victoria rhubarb leaves regularly have two foot six inch petioles and two foot square leaves - at least.  So the varieties of rhubarb will be Timperley Early, Champaign and Victoria.

Once the rhubarb has been tucked in here and the bed dug over, I will start on the potato bed.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Continuing to raise the allotment with trench Hugelkultur (4)

I had just scraped up the last of the woody shreddings and put them into the wheelbarrow when I got a call from the gate by a gardener with a load of woody shreddings.  Opportune or not? They backed the lorry into the carpark and tipped the shreddings into my composting area.  This will last me about a week or two.

It was great because I was not looking forward to trundling the wheelbarrow down to the main car park to fetch the woody shreddings from there.  A time consuming exercise.

I have nearly finished trenching the first section of the allotment but the final trench is alongside the path where it was full of mare's tail Equisetum arvensis and bind weed Calystegia sepium.  Removing these rhizomes is a tedious and slow task, however if not done with some efficiency it will cause a lot more work in the future.

It is reported that leaving even small pieces of the rhizome in the soil will produce regrowth of the plants.

The example of micropropagation shows that plants can be generated from the smallest of pieces of material.  However, I wonder the size of the smallest piece of rhizome that can regenerate plants when in the wild.  Do we accept the assertions of pundits in gardening books and on television or do we investigate for ourselves?

So, when I have time, I will be planting smaller and smaller pieces of Equisetum and Calystegia in ordinary allotment soil using 3 inch pots and keeping them in the greenhouse to see if any produce plants.  I reckon that any rhizome without a rooty node will not regrow.  Further, any rhizome smaller than a particular size will not grow.   

However, knowing these particularly, pernicious plants I would not be surprised if they did regenerate from the smallest of pieces.

I have been amazed  by the number of Stigmatogaster subterranea I am finding in the soil.  I think that it is fairly common in the West Midlands.  They are a good predator of slugs and soil pests so I would like to encourage them.  It is amazing the close interaction of invertebrates like these with the soil.  Worm burrows fit the worms much more intimately than a hand in a glove.

Stigmastogaster subterranea 
So, it takes a while to remove all the perennial rhizomes from the top soil using the bread tray sieve.  Moreover, I am not stupid enough to expect I have removed them all, but I have been pleasantly surprised how little if any Calystegia sepium or Equisetum arvensis  has regrown on any of the areas of the allotment that I cleared with the sieve last season.
Bread tray sieve.
Mare's tail and bindweed seem to grow well in poor soil where there is little competition from other plants.  Both perennial rhizomes are not seen where there are healthy nettle and comfrey plants growing; primarily because they shade out the mare's tail and bindweed. To ensure that they do not return, I will make sure that the ground is well fertilised and the crop plants form a good canopy to shade out any weeds that might grow between them.

As usual the bottom of the trench was forked over - and I was still removing mare's tail from the subsoil clay.  This plant forms extensive rhizome nets throughout the soil, which means that they can throw up aerial shoots over a wide area wherever there is little competition.   Also this wide ranging net of rhizomes can store a great quantity of food so that even when light is excluded - as when the ground is covered with carpets, black plastic or other opaque sheets, they can still grow from underground stems when the soil coverings are removed.  Breaking up this net by digging will reduce the amount of food that tiny pieces left in the soil have to rely on and this may further reduce their viability.  

In order to increase the fertility and organic content of the soil, I am adding logs, brushwood; processed wooden planks; at least a six inch layer of woody shreddings; comfrey liquid; sieved top soil from the path mixed with a little chicken manure and farmyard manure before pulling the sieved topsoil from the trench back over with the rake.   

I'm not really sure whether trenching like this has any particularly beneficial effect on the yield of vegetables I harvest from the allotment, however it keeps me fit and active.  

I took the oca out today and washed the tubers.  I will keep all of the tubers to build up my stock. They will have to be carefully dried and stored in paper bags until next season. The parsley was planted in their stead because it is a little shady behind the greenhouse.  Parsley will grow in partial shade.  

I may also plant a gooseberry there as well.  

I will have to sort the little greenhouse out because it has sunk even further where I have trenched around it.  It will not take long to remove the glass and raise it up but fitting this in when I am digging is quite difficult.  I will finish digging first.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Continuing to raise the allotment with trench Hugelkultur (3)

There were a significant number of old pallets on the new allotment.  I toyed with the idea of using them to board around the allotment but they have all deteriorated and most of the wood is being decomposed by fungi.

Pallet wood is not treated with preservative or tanalised so will easily rot away.  I have decided to bury it.  Now, this may surprise you knowing my thoughts about burying wood, however I am going to continue to do this until all the wood is put into the Hugelkultur trenches.

The trench top soil dug out today was sieved with a little chicken manure.  This top soil was mixed with top soil dug out and sieved from the paths.  I had planned to remove one spit deep of subsoil from the bottom of the trench but found the Hugelkultur I did earlier in the year.  All the wood was decomposing well so I decided just to fork over the bottom of the trench, mixing the woody material with the subsoil.

As the Hugelkultur had improved the drainage, there was little water at the bottom of the trench and it was relatively easy to turn the soil over.  More shredded woody material was added as a six inch layer to the bottom of the trench.  Neat comfrey liquid was watered over the shreddings and a thinnish layer of topsoil was pulled over the woody material.  Farmyard manure was then added to the trench and the rest of the topsoil was dragged over the manure with the rake.  

The hole in the path was filled with a blue plastic sheet and lots of stones.  The top of the new path is being capped with sandy clay to smooth it off.  The path really needs some shredded bark to make it more passable but I will have to do this another day.

I am quickly running out of shredded woody material and will have to use the shreddings on the car park at the bottom of the allotment site.  This is no hardship, however it does take more time.

The minimum temperature in the greenhouse was six degrees celsius, while in the hotbed frame it was a balmy ten degrees celsius.  The shredded woody material in the hotbed was 26 degrees celsius six inches below the surface.

As I am going to fill the greenhouse with sweet peas in January, I will have to move all the greenhouse plants into the hot bed frame.  It will be a tight squeeze.  There may be room in the small greenhouse but there is a lot squeezed in there too.  I still have to pot up all the chrysanthemums and store them away so I can take cuttings in the early spring.  Also, there will be twelve apple tree grafts and two plum grafts to find a home for.  I would rather keep them protected until the buds break and they get leaves.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Integrated pest management for organic gardens

In order to keep plants healthy good soil management is paramount.  Large amounts of organic matter can be added to the top soil to increase the soil microorganism population.  This will increase predators such as the soil centipede, Stigmatogaster subterranean.

Soil centipede

Adding horse manure to potato bed
Manure laid over the topsoil and left for several months
during winter

Manure dug in in February
Digging over the soil exposes the surface to birds, which can take off top soil pests.  Encouraging birds by using feeders and nesting boxes will increase the population of birds visiting the allotment and also their usefulness in removing pests. 

Seeds in feeder to attract birds
Bird feeder on the pear tree.

Green manure covering the allotment over the winter will protect the soil from excessive leaching and give a habitat to small predatory animals.   

Green manure of rye, tares and crimson clover
The brassicae bed is limed to increase the pH of the soil and discourage club root.  

Predatory insects such as ladybirds and lacewings are attracted to the allotment by habitat boxes. Immature larvae of ladybirds and attractants for lacewings can be bought on the internet.
Lacewing box 

Amphibians like toads and frogs, which are predatory on slugs and snails, can be encouraged by creating a pond habitat for them to breed in.

Pond for amphibians

There are several natural predators of slugs and snails.  The ground beetle is one of them and I go around looking under logs and stones to try to catch as many of these as I can to put onto the allotment.  They need a home to live in such as under planks of wood or ceramic plant pots.  I have put loads of toads on the allotment but I can never get them to stay.  I would love to have both slow worms and hedgehogs on the allotment but sadly I have never had that luxury.

Thrushes used to be the very best snail predator.  They have used paving slabs on the allotment as their anvil to break open snail shells.  Anything that will attract natural predators will help in the control of slugs and snails.

I have built a hedgehog box and put it in the hedge at the bottom of the allotment.  I live in hope.

In the yearly planning of an allotment resistant varieties such as Fly Away carrots, which are resistant to carrot root fly and Clapton cauliflowers, which are resistant to club root can be looked for in the catalogues.

Planning a rotation of vegetables each year reduces the buildup of pest and diseases in particular areas of the allotment.  Brassicas are particularly sensitive to club root but a good rotation of more than a three year cycle will go a long way to prevent its build up in the soil.  I have a six year rotation cycle but, with the new half allotment, I can make this even longer.

Barriers can be used against several different pests.

Chicken wire around peas will help to keep
pigeons from eating the foliage.
Scaffold netting over the brassicas
Scaffold netting will keep both pigeons and cabbage white butterflies away from the brassicas.

Enviromesh over the carrots to keep carrot
root fly away from the plants.   
Bordeaux mixture of lime and copper sulphate can be applied in late June to prevent blight.
Potatoes in late June sprayed with Bordeaux
Nematodes, predators of slugs and snails, can be applied in six week intervals.


I use Nemaslug nematode Phasmarhabditis hermaphrodita worms spraying them only in areas where I know snails and slugs congregate.  While this is not 100% effective, it does seem to have reduced damage and the breeding adults so that there are fewer eggs to overwinter.

While I can understand the agonizing that many of us undergo when attempting to produce food that is grown with as few human made chemicals as possible, we must be reasonable.  The slug and snail pellet ferric phosphate FePO4 is indeed an inorganic chemical.  This means, in chemical terms, that it does not contain carbon.  Confusion comes when we apply the term organic to gardening.  Organic in biology means related to life or organisms.  If we replace the metal iron with the metal calcium in this compound we get a major component of bones -  calcium phosphate, which although making bones is an inorganic chemical.  Does this mean that the strict advocate of organic gardening should not use blood, fish and bone as a fertiliser?  I dont think so.

I would rather not use ferric phosphate as a slug and snail killer because I would rather remove as many slugs as I can by hand - gloved if possible.  There is little evidence about the effect of ferric phosphate on other soil organisms and is probably best avoided if you are trying to be organic.

As the gardener Percy Thrower used to say a tidy garden is a good garden.  If there is no habitat for the molluscs to live in then there will be fewer of them.

If you are going for the hand collection method it is easier if you use traps like upturned flower pots, upturned orange or grapefruit skins or planks of wood.  I have seen people use newspaper soaked in sugar solution and covered with a plank to attract slugs and snails.  These methods may serve to attract slugs and snails but I use them regardless.

Beer traps are also effective and so too is a diluted honey and yeast mix.  There are other recipes such as sugar, flour and yeast or just diluted sugar solution and yeast.

Introducing mycorrhiza when planting may improve the health of plants and healthy plants are more resistant to pests and disease attack.

It is important to keep the allotment tidy and remove all dead, diseased or damaged plant material from the allotment.
All yellow leaves can be taken off plants.  Removing these from plants like rhubarb will help to reduce the slug and snail population.  Have a policy of no yellow leaves. 
Leaves infested with aphid can be sprayed with water to remove them but if they are persistent then the leaf can be taken off and composted. I have just had blackfly stripped from the leaves of sweet corn by ladybird adults and nymphs. 

So, many different methods of pest and disease control that can be used without resorting to man made chemical sprays.

However, the best way of keeping plants healthy is to provide them with optimal growing conditions and keeping the allotment very tidy.