Friday, 12 December 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Little greenhouse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I planted these flower heads as they were.

Fascinating germination

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

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


  1. All looking very good, I can't imagine how many hours of hard work have gone in to getting the allotment in to this kind of shape, but appreciate it has been substantial! I attempted to espalier two apple trees back in Norfolk, with some success. I was advised to 'pair' the trees, one was an eater and one was a cooker, forget the variety now but I had fruit from both in the second season.
    I'm going to plant out some more cuttings on a prepared bed, lantana and two other plants, the names of which I have completely forgotten, but one is a vine that has taken off in the front garden (and where I took the cutting from). I'd attach photos but I don't think this allows me to.

    1. Put them on facebook Andy and I will see if I can tell you what they are, although I'm not that good at sub tropicals. Truth be told I'm not that good at any compared with some of my colleagues.

  2. Fascinating posting Tony. Well done, keep it up.