Sunday, 30 March 2014

Finally finished digging Allotment Number Two.

It is amazing how small the allotment looks after it has been dug.  When it was full of weeds and debris it looked enormous.  The task of clearing and digging it over, seemed overwhelming.  The compost heap at the back of the allotment took up over ten feet of growing space, was covered in numerous carpets and consisted primarily of composted shredded woody material.  Now that it has been cleared there is a definite altering of perspective.  I started digging on the 3rd of September and finished the digging on the 26th March 2014 my brother's birthday.

Although the allotment was full of mare's tail and bindweed, the trusty bread tray sieve has helped me to take out the majority of it.
Allotment covered in carpets and tarpaulins
before being dug over. 
Most of these carpets, plastic sheeting and tarpaulins have been removed from the allotment now.  The blue plastic sheets broke up when I was removing them and there are still little specks of blue plastic all over this area.  I will remove any that I find but it is difficult.

After removing the compost pile.  

I buried the big carpets under the back path leaving an overlap that I could take up the bank to prevent the bind weed in the hedge from growing into the allotment.  I may put some concrete slabs to lean along the hedge bank but not until next winter.

Before allotment was dug over;
looking towards the little leaning apple tree.

I was hoping to keep some of the nettles, Urtica dioica, but they were growing through the carpets and would have taken an age to disentangle.  They have all been assigned to the subsoil of the trenches.

I have several large, disintegrating, rectangles of plywood which will need to be removed from the allotment. I will break them up and if they are not covered in paint might use them in the biochar burner.

The hedge at the back of the allotment has been cut hard back both sides and should thicken up really well in the spring.  There is still a lot of bindweed in the hedge but I am hoping the carpet barrier will keep most of it in the hedge and not allow the rhizomes to grow into the allotment.

After digging;  looking a little neater now.
After digging out the large compost pile and
putting in the path along the hedge.
The raspberries are, "Glen Ample"; "Malling's Admiral" and "Cascade Delight".  They are all summer fruiting raspberries because I don't like autumn fruiting ones.

The path up to the greenhouse foundations has been completed with stones sieved from the rest of the allotment.  I am planning to cover the stones with two foot square concrete slabs.
All the mess behind the little apple tree has been cleared
After digging and tidying the back of the

The Sarcococca hookeriana cuttings have been grouped together around the base of the leaning apple tree. The other plants in the pots have been planted in my daughter's garden.  The redcurrant has been moved into the fruit bed on the other side of the allotment and the M9 rootstocks have been taken home and grafted with various apples - I mixed up the prunings and don't know what sion I have grafted onto the rootstock.  I am not worried because, if they grow, they will be an unexpected bonus for the allotment.  I have planted the last of the raspberries behind the leaning apple tree next to the path by the hedge.  They are the "Cascade Delight"

According to the RHS, "'Malling Admiral is a fairly vigourous raspberry with erect canes.  Fruit are red firm, long with a small core and good flavour, heavy cropping from late July to mid August". Whilst the BBC says, "'Glen Ample produces masses of large tasty, deep red raspberries from July to August.  The fruit freeze well so any excess can be used later.  Not too sure about the 'Cascade Delight'
Carpets and blue plastic covering the compost heap. This
has all been cleared away and levelled.
Although you cannot see it from the photograph, there was a large, metal, fire grid type thing and the frame of a metal chair buried in the compost. There were also three blue plastic sheets which were slowly disintegrating into little blue flecks of plastic.  Very difficult to remove all the little flecks, although I have make a good start.  The compost has been mixed through the sieve with top soil and incorporated into the roots and leaves bed.  I dug down at least three spits deep  and removed some of the clay to make the pond.  Smearing the clay over the bottom and the sides of the pond , a process called puddling, should make a waterproof lining.  At the moment the water level is going down because there are some holes in the liner - it is only a black plastic sheet I found buried on the compost heap.

Now all the rubbish has been cleared away
it looks tidy but smaller.  

The metal drum has a lid and could be converted into a burner for biochar.  If it fits into the burner at Bishop's Wood, this would make quite a sophisticated biochar burner. I  am thinking seriously about converting the bindweed and mare's tail rhizomes into biochar.  Last year's rhizomes did compost down when they had been completely dried and I could do this again with this years rhizomes.  However, converting them into biochar means that I can use them on the top soil this year.

The hedge has been pruned hard back to buds that are facing inwards or upwards to, hopefully, thicken it up. Stones and rubbish at the bottom of the hedge have been cleared away so it is looking a little tidier now.

The path has been continued across the back of the allotment under the hedge and this will be slabbed when I have time to bring the slabs down from the old allotment.  Alongside the path, I have planted the last named variety of raspberries.  I think that it is "Cascade Delight".  They have supports already and are secured with wire ties. They have been transplanted very late in the season and not cut back, so it is doubtful they will fruit very well this year.

I will need to continue the allotment path with 2 foot square concrete slabs until it reaches the path along the hedge line.

Pea and roots bed.  
I have to separate the peas and beans bed from the roots and leaves bed.  This will be done with the big blackcurrant bushes at the old allotment.  I don't know if it is too late to move them now but I doubt if they would have cropped very well whenever I had moved them.  They will have to be moved in the next week.  I also want to move the gooseberry and the rhubarb.  However, there is no water on at the new allotment yet and they will not be able to be watered in.

I bought the old blackberry and loganberry supports from the old allotment and constructed them on the new allotment.  They were an old climbing frame that my son and daughter had when they were young.  The metal is rusting but it is still good enough to support the plants.  
Brassica bed and bay tree.
I have put green manure on the brassica bed to keep it covered and stop the nutrients from being leached out before I get a chance to plant the brassica seedlings.

Started to put up the sweet pea supports
The green manure on the sweet pea bed was dug in and I started to put up the sweet pea canes.  I need some more canes now and I will have to retrieve them from the old allotment soon as I can.  

Dug in most of the green manure on where the onions and leeks are going to go and hoed between the strawberries.  I still want to put some straw mulch between the strawberries but have not got round to getting the straw.  
Garlic and shallots.
The garlic and shallots have produced some leaves now and are growing away well.  The grape's buds are swelling but not broken out yet.  
New puddled pond
I still have the winter cauliflowers to harvest when they decide to flower.  They are growing quite big now so I expect it will not be long now that April is just around the corner.

I am trying to puddle the pond with clay.  It is starting to make a waterproof seal but I need to spend some more time smearing the clay on the sides of the pond to make a seal.  I have some 1x2 foot slabs that will fit around the pond, however one of the sides will be the greenhouse path and the other will be the greenhouse base.  I am also going to put the sundial in one of the corners of the pond.  

The foundations for the greenhouse and the path to the greenhouse have been finished.  Now I need to get some paving slabs to make the path and base for the greenhouse.

So still lots of things to do but at least I have finished the digging part.  However, there is the next door quarter allotment which I have said I will clear this year.  I might as well start on that when all the other jobs have been done.  Hey Ho why not...

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Late Sweet Peas

The sweet peas Lathyrus odoratus have germinated well and are growing on in the greenhouse.  I usually have them sown in October but this year I have waited until the end of  February before planting them.  It means that they will be flowering later in the year but that is no problem.

 I want to put up the sweet pea canes fairly soon - either this week or next.  The sweet pea bed has rye, tares and clover green manure growing on it so this will have to be dug in before the support canes are put in.  This bed had very thin soil with little organic matter.  I have added shredded material to the subsoil and a little horse manure to the top.  I am relying on the green manure to add more organic matter to the soil before I have to work it into the top thirty centimetres.  I do have some blood, fish and bone and might add this as well before planting the sweet peas.

The ground had not grown anything but Calystegia sepium  and Hippocastanum arvensis together with a little Elymus repens for about two years so I am hoping that this fallow period has helped the ground recover from intensive cropping and be ready to produce some good vegetables, fruit and flowers.

When raspberries Rubus idaeus have been growing in the same ground for several years, it is very difficult to get new plants to grow where the old plants have been taken out.  It is the same for roses.  It also seems that rhododendron plants have associated mychorrhiza that make the ground unsuitable for planting anything else than other rhododendrons for years after they have been removed.

Now if we look at an allotment where the same crop is grown in the same place year after year, there is a loss of vigour and the plants are not healthy.  Is this due to the same soil sickness that we see with raspberries and roses?

I rotate my crops religiously every year in order to avoid this reduction in harvest but I have done it in the understanding that different plants take different nutrients out of the soil and at different depths.  This may still hold true but it might also be due to 'soil sickness' brought about by mychorrhizal fungi associations.  I use a generalist mychorrhizal mix when I add spores to planting holes.  These mychorrhiza infect a wide range of hosts so I think that they would not aggressively prevent plants growing in a particular soil.

It does give me another reason to rotate my crops though.  So I will continue to do so.

Although it has been quite warm over the last few days, none of the other seeds have decided to germinate.  I am quite glad because I don't really have time at the moment to prick out and transplant.  I will let the broad beans grow on until they are about ten centimetres before I plant them in the allotment.  I do have room for them now but keeping them protected will bring them on and make them stronger for putting out.  If I eventually get my cold frame from the old allotment, then I will harden them off in there.   Tomorrow I will make some progress on trench thirteen because there are few perennial weeds where I am digging except where the path was.

Two things that are useless on an allotment, 1. grass paths, 2 wooden curbs.

The grass paths cannot be used in wet weather, encourage perennial weeds and need constant maintenance. The wooden curbs rot.  So use concrete two foot square slabs for the paths and concrete curbing.  They do not rot.

ALSO USE BLACK PLASTIC NOT BLUE PLASTIC SHEETING.  I am still picking out flecks of blue plastic that has crumbled into my top soil.  I can't even sieve it out using the bread tray because it breaks into tinier pieces as I am sieving.

Up early tomorrow to get an early start.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Planting up the allotment (2)

Trench twelve has been competed and the soil put back and levelled.  While I was doing this, I was cropping the purple sprouting broccoli.  I needed to clear where they were growing to dig over the ground before planting the potatoes.  As the purple sprouting broccoli was harvested, I put the plants at the bottom of trench twelve.

The broccoli has grown to about 5 feet in height and to show this, I took a photograph.  I lent it up against the new blackberry supports.  I put my spade and fork by it to show how big it was.  They are full sized spade and fork.  I think that they are about four feet tall. This plant was one of the largest but they were and are all about this size.  I have about twenty still in the ground awaiting harvesting.
My giant purple sprouting broccoli. It is
over five feet tall.  

Broccoli growing in the brassica bed.

I doubt whether I will get them quite so big this year but I am quite proud of them now.

I found some good clay at the bottom of trench twelve and dug it out to puddle the pond.  I filled the pond with water and await to see if it leaks out.  The sides of the pond have been levelled but I will have to redo it after I have finished the path to the green house and the greenhouse foundations.  I am hoping that I don't have to alter it too much.

I have taken up the tarpaulins and tucked them away on the next allotment -which I will start to dig over after planting up this one.   I have sown some more green manure on this bed because it will be planted with cabbage, cauliflower, swede, kohl rabi and brussel sprouts and they will not be ready until April.  I might do the same with the pea  and bean bed although I will be planting this up sooner.

I have decided to put rhubarb, late purple sprouting broccoli, leeks and confrey on the next quarter allotment so I will have to pull all the stops out to get everything finished.

I have started trench thirteen but have not done much because I had to take my daughter and grandson to town to do some shopping.  I will continue it tomorrow.

Monday, 3 March 2014

Planting up the allotment. (1)

I have planted all the normal garlic that I started in the greenhouse.  They were put in a line about 30 cm. away from the vines.  I also planted some Jerome shallots.  I have started the elephant garlic in the greenhouse and will take them down to the allotment to plant this week.

There is no sign of the seeds germinating in the greenhouse yet.  My season will be a very late this year.   'All the Year Round' cauliflowers and lettuce will be sown  under cover this week.

Supports for the blackberries have been put up and the blackberries planted but the support needs to be extended across the allotment and the loganberry planted at the other end of the row. Mycorrhizal fungi have been used in the planting holes for all the plants planted recently.

I have dug out my pond and lined it with carpets and black plastic. It is about 1 metre square and about 30 cm deep.   I am going to puddle it with clay dug out of the digging trenches.  I have the opportunity to use this clay and smooth it over the sides and bottom of the pond to make it waterproof.  Not sure about the thickness the clay needs to be but with the black plastic sheets underneath it, I am hoping that the clay will add to making the pond waterproof.  I am only going to use rainwater for the pond unless it gets very dry.  Rainwater from the green house gutters are going to be piped into the pond. Hopefully, this will keep the pond topped up.  I will have a soak away to make sure that the pond does not overflow.

I am going to keep this pond for frogs, newts and creepy crawlies which with any luck will eat any nasty pests that might stray into the allotment.  So no fish because they eat frog and newt tadpoles and lots of creepy crawlies.

I will finish trench twelve tomorrow.  I have dug out some of the subsoil under the allotment path and put it where the topsoil has been removed from the greenhouse foundations.  This means that there will be only subsoil under the slabs that will make up the foundation stones for the greenhouse and no top soil will be wasted.  I will continue to do this until I have covered the whole of the greenhouse area with subsoil. I will have to level this very carefully before I lay the greenhouse slabs.

 The trench under the allotment path was filled with stones sieved from the trench top soil. Subsoil from the trench went on top of the stones and concrete slabs on top of that.  I did not lay the concrete slabs very well and I will have to lay them again with a little more care but I wanted to cover the wet and sticky subsoil so that I could wheelbarrow the shredded woody material into the trench.

I have potted up the M9 rootstocks in readiness for grafting towards the end of this month.  Although, I might have to do some grafting sooner because the apple sions seem to be coming out of dormancy sooner than I thought they would.

I am taking the old 'compost' mound down and mixing it with the topsoil as I sieve it when digging the trenches.  I am also adding rock dust and blood, fish and bone.  The sieving is mixing the compost and fertilizers throughout the topsoil much more evenly than if I added it just to the surface.  This is one of the benefits of digging - you can mix the soil with several different amendments and know that they will be fairly well distributed throughout the topsoil profile.

I am adding old fungi riddled wood to the bottom of trench twelve together with the old brassica plants.  I have buried all the kale and brussel sprouts.  As the purple sprouting broccoli is harvested, I will put these at the bottom of the trench too.  Shredded brushwood is being put over the brassicas and used to make up the level of the trench.  I then dig another spit down into the subsoil and put this on top of the brushwood.  I am getting a significant amount of Hippocastanum arvensis rhizomes out of the subsoil so it is well worth going this far down.  Also, this is where I am getting my puddling clay from for the pond.   

I will be onto trench eleven tomorrow and will have to get a move on because this is my roots bed and I need to plant the parsnips soon.  It looks like this area of the allotment does not have as much Calystegia arvensis as other parts have had.  I hope so because getting this out slows down the digging immensely.

So if I don't go dig crazy and nothing gets in the way, I will be finishing off the digging fairly soon and then the interesting part of planting up the allotment can continue apace.