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.      

This year's sweet peas.

I have ordered my sweet peas from Roger Parsons Sweet Peas.

2015's  varieties are:

  • White Frills
White Frills
  • Doreen
  • Gwendoline

  • Yvette Ann - may have to be replaced by another pink variety.
  • Daily Mail
  • Mark Harrod
  • Windsor
  • Joyce Stanton
  • Just Julia
  • Andrew Cavendish
  • Ethyl Grace
  • Jacqueline Ann
  • Bristol
  • Charlie's Angels
  • Oban Bay.  
I will be sowing them in January this year and keeping them in the greenhouse until March when I will plant them out in their permanent positions.  Roger Parsons sells the seeds in packets of ten, so if all the seeds germinate and all the seedlings survive, I will have 150 plants.  I have grown White frills; Gwendoline; Daily Mail; Windsor; Ethyl Grace; Bristol; Charlie's angels and Oban Bay before but the others will be new.  I am concentrating on the blues in 2015 - just for interest.

As I was working today, I have not done too much down the allotment.  The nights are drawing in far too quickly now and, just when you have started to do something, suddenly it is dark.

Dug a little more topsoil out of the trench and sieved it.  Took the subsoil down to the hole by the shed and tipped it.  Dug the topsoil out of the main path, sieved it and put it into the trench to replace the subsoil.  Filled the hole in the path with the subsoil and stones taken out when I made the hot bed.  This subsoil is in the way of the main trench going across the allotment so I will continue to make a new path with it just to get it out of the way.  I reckon that this might take some time because the path is so infested with perennial weeds.

There is an awful amount of mare's tail and bindweed in the path which had to be sieved out.  I did about 2 foot square, one spit deep and it virtually took all the time I had at the allotment to clean out the topsoil.
This is what the allotment looked like
on November 19th 2013
I had dug further down the allotment in 2013 than I have on the new half this year.  The new half allotment is not quite as untidy as the one in the photograph so will be dug quicker with any luck.

I want to plant the currants and rhubarb in their permanent places as soon as possible so I will have to get a move on trenching the new half allotment.  The rhubarb is still growing in the Mount Road allotment so will have to be transported to this allotment during the winter.

So the idea is to improve the soil with the addition of organic matter.  You can either do this by trenching or by mulching, however there is nothing to stop you doing both.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Continuing to raise the allotment with trench Hugelkultur (2)

Before continuing with the trench Hugelkultur, the apple sions that have been taken from neighbouring allotments had to be stored away.  These were wrapped in polythene bags and buried in a cool part of the allotment.  A cane with a label on indicated where the sions were buried.
The sions were 'James Grieve'; 'Saturn'; 'Greensleves'; 'Egremont Russet'; and 'Braeburn'.  Not necessarily the ones that I would have chosen but beggars can't be choosers.  These will be used to graft onto the M9 and M26 rootstock.

After this, the new currant bushes were healed in.   Blackcurrant 'Ebony' and 'Ben Connan'; redcurrant 'Rovada' and white currant 'Blanka'.  These will be moved to their permanent positions when the ground has been dug over.

I took about one square metre; one spit deep of subsoil out of the bottom of the trench and used it to make more pathway by the shed.  Carting waterlogged clay subsoil is not my idea of a pleasant activity but it had to be done.
Due to the wet weather, the water table has
risen and water is collecting in the trench.
The subsoil has not been taken out of the trench in the photograph. The cardboard that was taken out with the subsoil was returned to the bottom of the trench. Cardboard does not last very long on the allotment before it decomposes.  I add it to the trenches whenever I have some handy.

As the bottom of the trench was so waterlogged, it was not forked over very well.  I was relying on breaking up the bottom of the trench with the spade when subsoil was being taken out.    I did not stand in the trench as I usually do because I would have sunk in the water clay mix at the bottom.  There were many rhizomes of mare's tail in the subsoil and these were removed as much as possible.

Decaying processed wooden planks were
put at the bottom of the trench. 
The decaying wooden planks were put at the bottom of the trench.  I used planks like this last year when trenching the other part of the allotment and there was no problem with nitrogen depletion. The ends of the planks were very fibrous and broke apart in my hands.  This spongy material will absorb water and release it when the soil is dry.

Covering the planks was a layer of hawthorn and ivy.

Hawthorn and ivy brushwood.
I cut this brushwood from the hedge at the bottom of the allotment using the loppers.  However, there is not much left for the next trench so I will have to search around for more elsewhere on the allotment site.  I threw in some more processed wood too.  There is a plastic catch on the wood at the top of the pile.  I took this off and put it in the rubbish tub to be buried at the back of the shed.  I don't really want any plastic in the growing area trenches and actively remove any that I find.

The brushwood was covered with a six inch layer of woody ash tree shreddings.

Ash tree shreddings
These shreddings were watered with concentrated comfrey liquid before being covered with topsoil sieved from the paths by the shed mixed with a little chicken manure.
Path topsoil added to trench.
The path topsoil was very friable and had a lot of decayed wood shreddings in it.  It should be quite fertile because nothing but mare's tail and bindweed has been growing in it for many years.

Over the topsoil I put a layer of farmyard manure and then covered it with the sieved topsoil from the trench.  This has given me about 18-24 inches of good top soil over the trench Hugelkultur, which will produce some good vegetables.  I am planning to plant ridged cucumbers here next year.

The little greenhouse is slowly sinking into the ground because of the trenching I have done around it.  The glass will have to be taken out and the greenhouse frame raised level again.  However, I will not do this until the topsoil has settled.

It does not seem that I have done much today but I had to cut the hedge back to provide some brushwood; dig out and sieve the path topsoil;  dig out the subsoil and put it into the hole I made in the path and level everything with the rake.

And I want to do this over the whole allotment?  Well I did for the other part of the allotment.

This is where the new currant plants are going to to be planted as a hedge to divide the curbit bed from the brassica bed.  Currants appreciate a deep root run so they will do well in trenched topsoil.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Espalier Pruning

Sometimes it is just good to leave plants to their own devices rather than prune them unnecessarily. However, if you are pruning to make and maintain a particular shape such as cordon or espalier then it is unavoidable.

So if we follow the RHS advice, and I rarely do that, pruning involves 3DXU, which stands for dead, diseased and damaged; crossing and untypical.

Once these factors have been dealt with then we can concentrate on the form of the plant and what we want it to look like.

Pruning long produces massive amounts of new growth.  In other words if you cut large chunks off trees it promotes the production of long stems or branches.
Willow sculpture.
The willow in this sculpture has been pruned long and has thrown up multiple new stems showing quite clearly what pruning hard does to trees.

This kind of growth on fruit trees like apples and pears is not fruitful.  What is needed are the small fruiting spurs which develop on mature wood and, to encourage these to form, we prune short. Pruning short is just taking off the ends of branches to a maximum of about five buds leaving the rest of the branch to mature and throw off fruiting spurs the length of the stem.  

So, if the tree throws up vigourous stems during the summer, like the willow in the photograph, cutting the branches long will just encourage more long, fruitless, whippy branches. Sorting out this confusion will be a time consuming winter task.  

There are several ways of dealing with vigourous growth.  If it is in an area of the tree that needs a new branch it can be pruned short taking the end off the branch by about five buds. If pruning to espalier or fan, branches  can  be tied in during the summer and  lowered into their fruiting position in the winter.    Lowering vigourous branches to the near horizontal will slow their growth and help them produce fruiting spurs. Weak stems, that could fill spaces, can be tied in vertically to encourage them to grow more vigourously. Usually the lowest branches seem to be the weakest and these can be strengthened by leaving them to grow as upright as possible until they attain length and vigour enough to be tied in horizontally.

Sometimes vigourous growth needs to be cut back to the collar next to the main stem in the summer.  If this has to be done to prevent confusion, then new buds that will inevitably be produced should be rubbed off after they have pushed their way through the bark.   Similarly any woody branches that grow away from or towards the wall should be removed.

When we are trying to produce an espalier, we want branches to be produced at regular intervals along the main stem.  When two horizontal, lateral branches have been produced near the bottom of the tree that can be tied in to the left and right, the main stem can be cut back long to 4 or 5 buds to produce two woody laterals that can be tied in the next year.  One bud can be allowed to grow on vertically to produce a stem, which can provide the next years laterals. Superfluous growth can then be cut back long to their main stem collar.  The horizontal laterals should be about a hand span apart to allow light and air to get to the foliage and fruit.

The horizontals can be left to grow on without any pruning until they fill the space allotted to them. Only then will they have to be pruned short.    

A combination of good sensible cuts and raising and lowering branches will produce a good looking, espalier tree that is very high yielding.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Seed order from Kings Seed Nursery has come.

The seeds ordered from Kings Seed Nursery have come now.  If you are a member of The National Allotment Society then Kings will give you a hefty discount which is much appreciated.

The seed order included Elephant Garlic; softneck garlic "Solent Wight" and shallots "Golden Gourmet".

"Golden Gourmet" shallots have a RHS award, are high yielding and store well.  This is the first time I have grown this variety so I hope that they will do well in my allotment.  I have not grown "Solent Wight" very often but they are a good long storing garlic.

I just hope I can grow ""Solent Wight" as big as the Garlic Farm does.  (Kings must
get their garlic from the Garlic Farm)

The soil for these alliums had been prepared several days ago. The spent French beans haulms were dug in together with a little farmyard manure.  The topsoil was sieved because the potatoes were growing next to the beans and I cannot abide the missed tubers growing again in the middle of the onion bed.  Hopefully, I have sieved out all the little ones.

I washed the greenhouse glass before planting any of the alliums.  Some of the glass was stored on the ground before the greenhouse was constructed and got very muddy.  This time of the year you want as much light entering the greenhouse as possible so cleaning is important.  I was treading on the ground I wanted to plant the alliums in so it was a case of "I have to do this before I do that" which is often the case when managing an allotment.

The elephant garlic was planted next to the greenhouse with a trowel twelve inches apart and twelve inches between rows. The bulbs were planted just below the soil surface.  Topsoil was raked over them and the ground levelled.  One row of these vegetables will be more than enough for me.

Kings' elephant garlic.  
The "Solent Wight" and the shallots were planted in the next rows in a similar way but only six inches apart.  The greenhouse will shade the alliums in the morning but by about 11 o'clock in the morning they will be in full sun for the rest of the day.  This may affect the yield slightly but I need the rest of the bed for onions and leeks.

The "Mammoth" onion seeds have germinated in the hot bed frame and have been pricked out into individual 3 inch pots.  I was not expecting very many to germinate because they were last year's seeds.  However, they all seemed to have grown.

A multipurpose compost was used as the growing medium and this seems to be to their liking because they are already forming their second leaves.  These onions grow very big but they are useless for storing and will be used during the summer for cooking and salads.

The other onion seed will probably be sown during  January/February time in the hot bed frame. The leeks will be sown during April because I like to have these maturing in winter.

I've just looked on the RHS site for recommended spacing distances and found that I have planted a little closer than is recommended.  I'm not bothered.  I like some big vegetables, just to show off but medium sized veg tastes the same.  I must admit that I use the trowels to measure planting distances so really the alliums are one trowel or half a trowel apart in the rows.  The rows are one trowel apart.

The rule is, if you want a rule, the further apart the bigger the plants; the nearer the smaller the plants.  This is all within reason.  There is an optimum distance apart for vegetables to grow well and any larger spacings will not achieve any greater yield.

The new sweet pea bed was sown with a green manure mix of tares, crimson clover and rye grass. The mice have been eating the green manure seeds so I do not have as much as I thought I would. However, planting the seed in rows rather than broadcast means that it is going a lot further than expected.  I will have some for the new allotment although it is getting very late to sow winter green manure now.  I wasn't going to bother sowing green manure here because the soil has farmyard manure dug into it, however I was not going to use the green manure for anything else and it is not doing anything in the seed packet so sowing seemed the best option.

I have decided to leave the new roots and leafy vegetable bed uncovered during the winter.  The green manure has been dug in and farmyard manure added to where the leafy vegetables are going to grow.  I have avoided putting farmyard manure on the area where the root vegetables are going to grow to avoid their roots forking.  Forking roots taste the same as the straight ones but take longer to prepare when cooking.  So, this bed has the old broad bean and pea haulms; green manure; chicken manure and farmyard manure dug in to the top soil.  This needs time to decompose and release nutrients into the soil.  Leaving the soil rough dug and exposed will help to break it up and rot down the added manures.

The old wooden lean too has been moved off the ground I am digging and put further down the allotment to cover weeds.  I will break this up and either use it for biochar burning or burying in the digging trenches.  There are still bits and bobs of wood left on this part of the allotment so I am collecting them up and putting them all together by the compost heap.  If it dries off I will biochar it during December.

I have dug out some subsoil and put it on the path by the shed so that I can add brushwood, shredded woody material and topsoil to the trench tomorrow.  I think that I am getting down to old red sandstone bedrock on some parts of the trench.  Not something that I have experienced before because I have always gardened on a thick subsoil layer of clay.  It will not alter my strategy even though it is very difficult to break up.

More trenching tomorrow.
Also order the sweet peas...

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Hugelkultur - burying woody material. (1)

Spent quite some time digging on the allotment today.  The trenching on allotment 3A is going well if a little slowly.  The top spit of soil is being sieved carefully with a little chicken manure.  The second spit, clay subsoil is being taken out and put into the wheelbarrow. This subsoil is being used to make the paths where the topsoil has been removed.  The path top soil is being used in the trenches to replace the removed subsoil. The theory of replacing top soil for subsoil on the paths is to produce a path that is less likely to encourage weed growth. I am mixing in a good quantity of stones sieved from the topsoil to the path subsoil to make a more substantial and long lasting construction. The Victorian gardeners used clay and sandy subsoils to make their kitchen garden paths and I wanted to see if I could make as good a job of it as they did.  The paths at Attingham Park in Shropshire are a clay stone construction - particularly the one running along the river from the mansion.

The bottom of the trench is being forked over a spit deep before anything is added.

This trench hole has a layer of  Hedera helix and Corylus avellana prunings from the hedge. Other trench holes will have Crataegus monogyna prunings added to the bottom spit.

Ivy prunings together with hazel twigs.
The coarsest woody material goes at the bottom.  This is probably best because it keeps it out of the way when the top soil is being cultivated.   This material has a lot of air spaces in it and the increased porosity introduced to the subsoil will enable excess water to drain away quickly.  The woody material itself will become more and more absorbent as it begins to decay retaining water and releasing it to the crop plant's roots when the soil is dry.

Shredded ash tree
A load of mainly Fraxinus excelsior was delivered last week and is being added to the trenches. About six inches of shreddings is covering the Hedera helix brushwood.  About 18 inches of top soil is then raked over the shreddings.

Shreddings nearly fill the trench
This procedure raises the level of the topsoil surface about 6 to 10 inches higher than the original level.  

In most descriptions Hugelkultur is a single row of logs or brushwood with top soil heaped over them to make a humped raised bed.  There is a great deal of anecdotal evidence that this is a fairly effective method of producing a bed in which vegetables can grow well.  If it works for raised beds like this then it will work throughout the allotment garden.  The whole allotment is being or has been trenched like this and woody material added to the subsoil raising the level of the topsoil. Extra topsoil from the paths is also being added to raise the level of the topsoil further.  

I don't raise beds with Hugelkultur; I raise whole allotment gardens.  

The next trench hole had composted bindweed, mare's tail and couch grass added with some rotten wooden planks thrown on top.  10 inches of shredded ash tree covered the planks.  Now it may be dangerous to add perennial weeds like these to the trench even if they have been composted for some time.  However, they had made some particularly friable compost and not using this to improve the soil would be perverse.  

So I am giving it a go just to see if any of the weeds return to haunt me.  If they do then I will have to dig them out but that is no different to what I am doing now with the trench digging.  

From my experience it would seem that processed wood is just as good as logs, branches, brushwood and shreddings for making Hugelkultur beds.   Any useless decaying processed wooden planks are being added to the Hugelkultur trenches as additional carbon sources.  

I have moved one of the blue water butts to the end of the little greenhouse to catch more water from the gutters.  I have put a rope from the gutters to the bin because the water will follow and flow down the ropes into the water butts.  

On Saturday I will continue trenching with Hugelkultur until I run out of wood chippings.  

Friday, 7 November 2014

Early November

Its early November and we have just had the first frost.  It hasn't really cut anything back yet but the foliage on the pumpkin plants have gone black.  Although this time of year I imagine that I am shutting the allotment down, I doubt if there is a day that passes in winter that I don't have something to do and this year it will be to clear allotment 3A.
The new onion bed has been dug over ready for planting.  The garlic will be planted as soon as the bulbs come.   Mammoth onions have been sown in the hot bed and they have germinated already.  They will be pricked out in the next few days into 3 inch pots using a multipurpose compost and left to grow on in the greenhouse.  Sometimes the shallots do well if they are planted in 3 inch pots during the winter.  This will bring them on slightly but is not really necessary because they will survive even if put out now.
Field beans on the old potato bed in October
(And rainbow going into my greenhouse)
The greenhouse has been erected on concrete slabs with the door facing slightly south west.  An automatic window opener has been put on one of the roof windows and another will probably put on the other window too.  The greenhouse needs a good clean because some of the glass was stored on the ground and has been muddied.  The glass will be washed with dilute washing up liquid and the floor will be scrubbed with Jeyes' fluid .  The field beans have been eaten by either mice or rats and there are a lot of gaps, which I am slowly filling up with transplants. Field beans are nitrogen fixers so they will be dug in to increase the nitrogen level in the soil.

Field beans growing in November
This bed has been triple dug and sieved through a 1 inch mesh.  The French and runner beans have been dug into the top soil to add nitrogen .  The subsoil has had shredded woody material mixed into it.  This, in theory, will increase its porosity and water retention.  Chicken manure has been added to the top soil and then a green manure of field beans planted on top.

Green manure on the new sweet pea bed.
The small area where the outdoor tomatoes were has been single dug and sown with tares, clover and rye green manure. Field beans were also planted but the mice have had a field day eating most of them.   I will probably dig some farmyard manure into this area when I have harvested the leeks.  The comfrey is going to die off in the next few weeks so the leaves will be taken off now and added to the comfrey butt by the little shed.  They will rot down and provide comfrey liquid for next spring.  Comfrey is a nutrient accumulator, which means that the leaves will rot down to produce a rich fertiliser.  

The comfrey has been harvested quite hard this year because there is so little of it.  A larger bed will have to be made on allotment 3A when it is cleared.

In order to get a load of farmyard manure, the compost in the bins was emptied, sieved and dug into the top soil on the new allotment.  The material that was sieved out was put into the composting dalek and the large bag.  These sievings will need to be composted for another few months before they are ready to be used on the allotment. The metal drum was being kept to make biochar but  there is a gaping hole rusted in the side, which will make it useless for this job.  It has some nets stored in it at the moment so it is of some use. I may put it in the greenhouse and fill it with woody shreddings as a kind of heater.   Another allotmenteer has offered their biochar burning bins so I will use them instead.  The compost bin pallets were taken apart so that the manure could be stored but the compost bins will be remade when all the manure has been dug in.  

Farmyard manure
I have had two loads of farmyard manure and one load of woody shreddings delivered to the allotment and these are slowly being dug into the soil to add organic matter.  The manure is being dug into the top soil and the shredded woody material is being dug into the subsoil.  I have just listened to, "Gardener's Question Time" where the panelists suggested that woody chippings should not be added to top soil.  They seem to focus especially on it changing the pH of the soil.  The largest factor that influences soil pH is the underlying rock that the soil is made from.  You would have to put a lot of woody shreddings on to change the pH of most soils.  Woody shreddings are high in cellulose and lignin (carbon rich) and low in nitrogen, which means when bacteria and fungi decompose it, it is suggested they rob nitrogen from the soil.  However, this is a slow process and the amount of nitrogen that these organisms need is relatively small and can be easily replaced .  Regardless of this, burying the woody shreddings in the subsoil means that any nitrogen found to help decompose them  will have been leached from the surface and captured by soil decomposers.  Isn't this what we want to happen because this means that the nitrogen can be eventually recycled into the topsoil rather than being lost in ground water.  Finally, lots of people are finding that burying logs in Hugelkultur does not lead to nitrogen robbing of top soil and a change in pH and annual nitrogen hungry crops can be grown in topsoil heaped over the woody material.
The scientific evidence of nitrogen robbing and pH change is very scant and the meager evidence needs careful analysis.  Don't just take my word for it.

All I can say is that it grows big pumpkins...

New sweet pea bed

The pumpkin plants have gone over now and have been dug in.  These two pumpkins are the largest I grew this year and I would expect them to weigh around the 70kg mark.  I needed the barrow to move them. This bed has now been single dug with the addition of farmyard and chicken manure.  A green manure of tares, rye and clover will be sown as soon as possible.  The horse radish in the foreground has been taken out as deep as possible but it will probably return next year.  Most of it is in the trackway path but some has spread into the allotment.  Armoracia rusticana can be very invasive if you do not keep it under control.  There was a little field bindweed Convolvulus arvensis and, although it is not a troublesome weed, the bay and Pyracantha rogersiana were taken out and the roots were inspected before replanting with a little chicken manure.  The Opal plum was summer pruned to a wineglass form and to outward facing buds.  It should form a very good free fruiting tree.    The fruit trees by the big greenhouse have been espaliered to form a barrier between this bed and the new onion bed.  The trees are probably too close together but this will be sorted out when the trees get a little bigger

The grape supports have been remade a little better.  The vines are being trained by the Guyot system - hopefully.  There are three grapes, two reds and one white.  They did fruit this year but the grapes were very small.  I think that the red grape is a wine making one so I do not expect the fruit to be very big.
I have nailed bracers on the top of the uprights.  These prevent the uprights leaning in as the wires are tightened.  It means that the wires are quite taught and not sagging.  

New brassica bed.
The new brassica bed has been single dug with the old sweet pea plants buried in the top soil.  Sweet peas are a legume with nitrogen fixing bacteria in root nodules.  This means that digging in the whole plant will add organic nitrogen to the top soil.   A little chicken manure was added and then the area was sown with green manure.  Some of the farmyard manure will probably be dug in later in the year or January or February next year. I am toying with the idea of adding lime to the brassica bed not particularly to alter the pH but to add the nutrient calcium to the soil.

All the bay and the box, Buxus sempervirens, are growing well.  There were no weeds in this area so they have not been replanted.  I have pruned many of the bays to produce standard trees rather than bushes, however their stems are not particularly upright and need staking so they will grow straight.  My main bay tree with the ball head died back during last winter, however it has regenerated from the roots producing several suckers.  I will select the strongest growing one to train to a standard tree.  This is why I never take any plant out for at least a year.  They may well regenerate when you least expect it.  The sage edging has been cut back fairly severely to promote bushiness but they will be allowed to flower next year because they produce a very herby sent which I like.  

More of the pumpkins

I think that I may have overdone the pumpkins this year.  I am fairly sure that I will not be able to process all of these even with the best of wills.  Still, they are good to show off and people from all over the allotment site have come to look at them.  A bit of a tourist attraction.

Sieve digging the soil on 3A
The bread tray sieve is beginning to suffer from wear and tear so I have had to strengthen it with the concrete reinforcing wire and additional mesh.  The pumpkins are doing a good job holding the soil back from the path.

As the water has been turned off and I have so many plants in green houses and frames, I need to collect as much rain water as possible  So the little greenhouse has both the blue and the green water butts although they will probably be used on the big shed and big greenhouse when I eventually get around to setting these up.

This area of the new allotment had a great deal of mare's tail and bind weed so had to be triple dug.  Even though I had sieved dug earlier in the year, I am still finding mare's tail rhizomes deep in the subsoil.  

First spit being taken out.  
As the top soil is being sieved, chicken manure is added and mixed in.  The subsoil will then be taken out and the bottom of the trench will be well forked over.  About six inches of woody shredded material will be added to the bottom of the trench together with hedge prunings and covered with subsoil.  Farmyard manure will be spread on top of the subsoil before the top soil will be raked back into the trench.  
Sieving is the best way to remove perennial weed rhizomes and add lots of organic matter to the soil. Although this soil had not been cropped for about two or three years, it was very thin and poor.  I don't think that any organic matter had been added for a number of years.  As so much weed had to be composted because it was invasive perennial, this could not be dug into the soil for additional organic matter.   Additional top soil from the paths is also being added after sieving to increase the depth of top soil.  
If this does not produce some good crops, I  will be very disappointed.  

Concrete reinforcing wire
The next area to be dug over is covered in an old shed and concrete reinforcing wire.  The shed is not really worth keeping so will be used to make biochar later in the winter.  There is a lot of rotten wood which would normally be buried in the digging trenches, however this will be kept for biochar too.  
   The reinforcing wire will be buried in the paths when I remove the top soil to put on the allotment beds.  It will be covered by the sieved stones and topped with subsoil from the bottom of the digging trenches.  (The subsoil is easily replaced by the shredded woody material and top soil from the paths.)  I bury any rubbish I find on the allotment under the paths so that I don't need quite so much subsoil to fill the holes left by removing topsoil.  Subsoil is heavy particularly when wet.  

The reinforcing wire was used to dry out the mare's tail, couch grass and bindweed earlier in the year.  These weeds were also covered with a tarpaulin.  This material will be sieved and any rhizomes that look like they are still alive will be further composted and the rest will be buried deep in the digging trenches.   

More area to be triple dug
I will work backwards across the allotment until I reach the pathway.  The topsoil on the path will be put onto the allotment and the hole filled with subsoil and stones - some of which you can see under the blue stone tub.  There are three tubs being used while I am digging.  One for stones, one for perennial rhizomes and one for rubbish.  I always have a tub with me whatever I am doing on the allotment.

Hot beds in the little greenhouse.
I have noticed that the piles of shredded woody material we have on the allotment get very hot due to decomposition.  In the past oak bark, a waste material of the tanning industry, was used to make hot beds. The Victorians called it tan.   I thought that maybe I could use the woody shredded material to make hot beds in the little greenhouse. The beds go down about two feet and should really be built up about another foot.  However, they seem to be working and warming up the greenhouse.  I have put a hot bed on both sides of the greenhouse.  
Various cuttings and potted up plants.  
The middle of the greenhouse has about two foot of really good sieved top soil and will be planted with a peach later in the winter.  

Unfortunately, with all this excavation and the decomposition of the shredded material, the back of the greenhouse has subsided a little and I will have to do a little remedial work before the peach can be planted permanently.


I still have winter cauliflowers, Brussel sprouts, kohlrabi and swedes on the old brassica bed, and these will be used during the winter.  The other half of this bed has been single dug with added chicken manure and covered broadcast with winter green manure.  The whole bed will probably be manured later in the year when the brassicas have been harvested.  Next season this will be planted with peas and beans.

Dug over part of the brassica bed.

In september the pea and bean bed was dug over and a green manure sown.  The pumpkin decided to grow over it and weeds grew between the rows of green manure.

A little overgrown
Added to this both the peas and the broad beans began to grow from seed fallen when being harvested. So it looks a bit of a mess.  However, this is all good organic matter that will be easy to dig in particularly as the pumpkin has died off now.  This is not the mess...
This is the mess.  It is allotment 3A and to my knowledge it has not been cultivated for over two years. Under the carpet is a mat of mare's tail and bindweed.  I want to keep the red currants, black currants, raspberries and gooseberries, however I will have to take them out and wash their roots before I can be sure they are free of perennial weeds.  All this soil will have to be sieved and triple dug to get rid of the perennial weeds. It is my winter project and potatoes will be planted here next spring.

Needless to say, the carpet and the blue plastic will be buried in the path by the big shed.  I will reiterate; blue plastic is translucent and allows light to pass through it.  It will not kill off plants; it will probably protect them a little.

I still have a lot of roots left for the winter.  Salsify, carrots, parsnips, beetroot and Hamburg parsley will all survive in the ground for some of the winter.  There is also some celery in the background which will be used in soups during the winter.  This will be where the potatoes are going next year so the bed will be triple sieve dug with woody shreddings added to the subsoil, and farmyard and chicken manure added to the top soil.

The raspberries on this side of the path have not done very well so I will take them out and change the soil and replant them after manuring the ground.  The raspberries from allotment 3A will be planted here as well. I should then get raspberries from about the middle of June to the end of October if I am lucky.  I don't know what name the raspberries are on allotment 3A go by but they are autumn ones.  I have Glen Ample and Malin's Admiral already planted and growing well on the other side of the path.  These crop in the summer.

I have dug over the soft fruit bed and mulched all the plants with a good dose of manure. This time of the year they get quite shaded in the afternoon but they are in full sun most of the summer.

Cold frame.  
Plants in the cold frame
I have redone the cold frame because it was slowly subsiding into the hot bed.  I had dug out a deep hole and filled it with woody shreddings to make a hot bed.  This was working really well but as the woody material was decomposing and making heat, the surface was sinking.  I have boarded round the frame, then filled the boards with shreddings and put the frame on top.  This has raised the frame about a foot higher than the photograph.  This just gave more shreddings to heat up.  There is a constant air temperature of about 20 degrees celsius and the shreddings themselves warm up a lot more than this.  I have to keep the lights raised when it is sunny because it gets too hot in there.
The large greenhouse.
I have washed the majority of the pots although I am still finding ones that I have missed.  The small shed is full of trays and large pots so this is the only place I can store the small ones.  Really, I need to empty this plastic greenhouse and use it to protect the delicate plants.  This will be done later.

M9 rootstock potted up for grafting.
I have two M9 and 10 M26 rootstocks to graft this year.  I just need to go around the allotment site cadging sions from everybody.  I can get some from the Egremont Russet but I want to get some different ones.  I will use these apples to train to espalier or stepovers around the edges of the allotment.
I have planted some daphne in large pots to propagate from.  When they are big enough, I will take cuttings or layer them.
The pond has done very well this year and produced quite a few frogs.  It needs a clean out and a fountain put in.  I will get the water to come out of the watering can rose.

So the winter project is to get allotment 3A into shape before the spring and to graft 12 new apple trees. Not impossible with a little clement weather.