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.  


  1. With respect to "Gardener's Question Time" where the panelists suggested that woody chippings should not be added to top soil as it changes the pH of the soil, the same misconception is held here where some gardeners believe that the pine needles, which fall in abundant quantity, reduces the soil pH, which I cannot attest to. However, the latest delivery of mulch has affected the hawthorn, which has all but died back. The azalia haven't liked it either, but this could be due to poor drainage, heavy soil with poor aeration, insect or fungus damage in the root zone or lack of moisture inducing chlorosis rather than by malnutrition caused by alkalinity of the soil, the exact opposite effect I'd have expected from the breakdown of pine needles! I suspect that aspect and watering (or the lack of it) have played a big part, having re-potted a plant I have managed to nurse it back to health. I have three varieties of lantana growing wildly in the same bed as the azalea, with a preference for a neutral pH I'm left to conclude that the azalia is just too sensitive.

  2. As you say Andy there could be many different reasons for plants to grow poorly and making sure that the cause and effect are truly related is notoriously difficult to do.
    To reiterate; the evidence for nitrogen robbing, change in pH and allopathy is very scanty and needs careful analysis. Anecdotally, I would say that the pundits are perpetuating a misconception. In my experience adding woody material to the soil only adds to its fertility. The best brown earths in the UK were formed under a forest canopy with copious additions of dead trees, branches and brushwood.

  3. Since they've been dosed in a chlorinated water for a few hours, I'm wondering whether the leaves I collect from my pool are worth adding to the compost heap, or whether the acidity will be detrimental. I have layered the compost heap starting with mulch, soil, leaves, soil, mulch etc. I'm really pleased with the result that mulching has produced on the flower beds, a dark, crumbly soil with plenty of earthworms that were absent 4 years ago when the topsoil was only about 3" thick, underlain by a hard sandy layer which gives way to heavy clay-like layers. My topsoil is at least a spade's blade deep now and I'm about to mulch again for the winter.

    1. Although I am amazed at the chemicals compost fungi can deal with, I think that I would give the chlorinated leaves a miss. - or let them get washed in the rain for a few months before putting them on the compost heap. The chlorine in pool water is designed to kill micro organisms very effectively and that is what it would do to the compost heap too.