Saturday, 31 January 2015

Dynamic Accumulators? This gobbledegook does nothing for the reputation of permaculture.

I have been using comfrey, both Symphytum officinale and Symphytum x uplandicum, as a green manure and liquid fertiliser for about forty years now without knowing it is a 'dynamic accumulator.'  Henry Doubleday and Lawrence Hills both researched and promoted the use of comfrey as a fertiliser.

Comfrey leaves in the butt.
The comfrey butt is a large water bin, which contains lots of comfrey leaves rotting down and producing a dark thick liquid.  I also add Urtica dioica and Myrrhis odorata to the mix to add a little variety.  These leaves rot down in the butt to a liquid that can be used as a fertiliser.
Comfrey liquid being collected from the butt.

Myrrhis odorata added to the comfrey butt
Comfrey growing and green comfrey butt.

I find the term 'dynamic accumulator' confusing. I cannot find any scientific research papers that refer to dynamic accumulators.

There is a lot of information on various different permaculture sites with long lists of dynamic accumulator plants. However, there is no referencing to scientific research or an indication of whether all these suggested plants are of any use at all.  Ken Thompson's book (2006) "Ear to the Ground" says that comfrey is rich in the big three mineral nutrients, nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. However, comfrey is not unique in this and some plants may be a little better including Stellaria media, Urtica dioica, Myrrhis odorata, Chenopodium album, Gallium aparine and Alliaria petiolata.   

One of the advantages of using comfrey is that it all rots down very quickly producing a very humus looking liquid which is easily diluted and applied to the soil with a watering can.  However as White (2006) says in his book "Principals and practice of Soil Science"; 'The long term effect of green manuring on soil organic matter is minimal since the succulent residues are rapidly decomposed and contribute little to the soil humus.  Similarly, beneficial effects on soil structure through the stimulation of microbial activity are ephemeral.'

It is suggested in permaculture that dynamic accumulators are deep rooted and obtain their nutrients from deep in the soil.  I can find no research that indicates that deep rooted plants have a higher proportion of nutrients than shallow rooted ones or where the nutrients have come from in the soil profile.  Indeed,  Urtica dioica is not deep rooted but it is a valuable addition to the comfrey butt.

I do not confine my additions to the compost heap to those plants with deeply penetrating tap roots. I put all sorts of plants on the heap.  They all accumulate nutrients - they have to to live.
I am told that grass mowings are high in nitrogen and you have to do all sorts of complicated things to compost them as a result; and grass has very short adventitious roots.

Why is turf so fertile and why does grass seems to accumulate relatively 'large' amounts of nitrogen? Many monocotyledons start off with a normal 'root' as they germinate but this soon withers away and is replaced by adventitious roots that form from buds from nodes at the crown. These adventitious roots are very fibrous and form a dense sward full of roots. This denseness of root compounded by stolons, rhizomes and ramets seems to be a highly efficient Hoover of nitrogen. One could call it a dynamic accumulation; however I would not use the word dynamic in relation to plants without taking a lot of advice. The point is; short, thin, fibrous roots accumulate relatively lots of nitrogen compared to long, thick tap rooted ones.

The term may have come from the study of plant nutrition and the storage of heavy metals in plant cell vacuoles.  Some plants can accumulate high levels of certain heavy metals and these plants are called metal hyperaccumulators.  Some hyperaccumulators can live in highly polluted soil and can be used to remove heavy metal contaminants.
See Prasad  (2003) "Metal hyperaccumulation in plants- Biodiversity prospecting for phytoremediation technology"

There are other plants that are tolerant of heavy metal contamination but these do not store large quantities of heavy metals within their leaves.  They regulate the uptake of these metals through control measures in their roots.

Whether they have deep tap roots or adventitious roots seems to be irrelevant.   McCutcheon & Schnoor 2003 in , "Phytoremediation." New Jersey, John Wiley & Sons pg 19 say that mustard is a hyperaccumulator of strontium, cadmium, caesium, nickle and zinc - and mustard roots seldom penetrate subsoil.

There is evidence that elements such as potassium are lifted up the soil profile by the action of some pine trees in Argentina.  Also the lifting of manganese by eucalyptus trees.    These elements are taken to leaves and stems and deposited on the soil surface when plants loose leaves, loose branches or die.

Jobbagy and Jackson (2004) "The uplift of soil nutrients by plants; biogeochemical consequences across scales."

However, all plants have some heavy metals within their structures and will deposit them on the surface of the soil when they die or shed leaves. That is why chop and drop is an effective way of adding nutrients to the top soil.  To say some plants do not accumulate nutrients seems to be illogical.  They must do to grow.  We are also talking about tiny, tiny amounts even of the major nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium so the relative accumulation of nutrients is a comparison of milligrams.  What are we comparing anyway the amount of nutrients accumulated by an oak tree compared to comfrey?  I think that I know which would be the dynamic accumulator in this comparison.

I know there has been research done on Symphytum officinale and Symphytum x uplandicum but has there been any research on other plants?
Hills L.D. (2008) "Comfrey:Past, Present and Future"
Hills L.D. (1955) "Russian Comfrey Report No1"

Hills did indicate that he thought there were other beneficial plants that could be used for fertiliser and at least tried to do this systematically.

From the blog "One thing leads to another"
It seems that people are just repeating gobbledegook and just like  a game of Chinese whispers adding plants to lists as their flights of fancy takes them.
This does no service to permaculture.

All plants accumulate nutrients but not necessarily in the same amounts, however the amounts are minute and differences may not be significant.  Comfrey is useful because it decomposes quickly and the resultant liquid can be used easily to fertilise the ground.  Comfrey does not necessarily have "more" nutrient than any other plant.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Destroying Soil Structure

I have been busily destroying soil structure; killing microbes; and depleting nitrogen from my allotment soil today.  ( Am I just being facetious?)
Taking out the second spit 
The second spit was taken out of the trench and used to make the path behind the large shed.   The fork was used to break up the bottom of the trench another spit deeper.  I was still removing mare's tail rhizomes even from this depth.
The wooden edging supports had rotted
away so I had to replace them.  
Either there was a hard pan or I had reached the bed rock because there was a hard layer beneath this which I broke up as much as I could with the fork.

Once the trench was big enough, lots of organic matter could be buried.  In this case several branches; lots of rotten processed wooden planks and bits of wood, tops of herbaceous perennials; cardboard and non rhizomal weeds.  This is a little like hugelkultur.

Guaranteed to produce nitrogen deficiency? 
This rough organic matter was covered in
subsoil and leveled out.
Can you add too much organic matter to your soil?  This amount of undecomposed organic material is sure to deplete the soil of nitrogen locking it up in the bodies of microorganisms and fungi.
Partially decomposed woody chippings 
So I added six barrow loads of woody chippings for good measure.  These were leveled and worked into the subsoil. Was this enough organic matter to cause nitrogen depletion?
Adding comfrey liquid to the trench.
A watering can full of neat comfrey liquid was then watered over the woody chippings to add a little nitrogen.

Six inches of top soil were put on top of the chippings and leveled. Then four barrow loads of farmyard manure were added to the trench.  I will cover the farmyard manure with sieved top soil and a little chicken manure tomorrow to a depth of at least 30 centimeters.  Probably enough organic matter now to cause nitrogen depletion.

Have I been causing nitrogen depletion?  Although most of the scientific papers I have read are ambiguous about this, I probably have caused some nitrogen to be locked into the bodies of microorganisms.  However, most of this is happening in the subsoil where vegetable plant roots do not normally penetrate and thus will not affect cropping.  I am adding organic matter during the winter allowing it time to rot down and add some nutrient to the soil  for the summer months.  The nitrogen that is being scavenged by the microorganisms and fungi during decomposition has been mainly leached from the top soil. So this gives me a means of capturing any nitrogen losses that might occur from the top soil.

Therefore I am; adding nutrients locked up in organic matter; capturing leached nitrogen from the top soil; increasing the cation exchange capacity of the soil; increasing the depth of the top soil and increasing the population of soil microorganisms which all lead to increased fertility.

What goes around comes around.  I will continue to add copious amounts of organic matter to the soil by digging.

So, have I destroyed my soil structure?  The soil structure is how sand, silt and clay are arranged in soil particles and how they adhere to each other in aggregates.  It determines the bulk density and the water and air filled porosity of the soil.  (How well it drains and allows oxygen to enter - among other things) This is what some gardeners call friability of the soil. Experience and reading has convinced me that adding organic matter to the soil aids in the forming of useful soil aggregates; increasing water and air filled porosity and reducing bulk density. To destroy the existing soil structure  moisture, clay and organic matter needs to be removed. Wind erosion, takes away the lightest soil components of clay and organic matter.  Mulching prevents this from happening particularly in hot climates.

After a little more reading I have been convinced that soil aggregates are produced by root hairs, fungi mycelium and animal mucilage both alive and dead.  Once organic molecules are removed from soil it looses its coherence and falls apart. 

In temperate countries such as England the ground is seldom dry in January and I am adding copious amounts of organic matter.   I don't think that I am destroying the existing soil structure because I am not loosing clay, organic matter or moisture and soil aggregates will continue to be produced through adding organic material.

However, I am loosing fungal hyphae and root hairs...

Soil compaction occurs when soil particles are squashed together reducing air and water filled pores.  This can occur on allotments when the ground is very wet and walked over.

However, I sieve the soil through an old bread tray which brakes up large sods of soil allowing organic matter to be thoroughly mixed in.  The sieving adds lots of air, and by default oxygen, to the soil which aids in the decomposition of organic matter. Most of the organic matter is being mixed with the subsoil where there is little evidence of any previous organic matter.  When the added organic matter decomposes, it forms a very friable, top soil like material. Thus I am deepening the top soil.

Therefore, I would suggest that I am increasing water and air filled porosity by encouraging the formation of additional soil aggregates.  I am improving the soil structure.

There is some evidence that cultivation reduces the number of soil organisms.  For example, the population of worms is greater in grassy swards than in tilled soil.  This I can understand because, although the proportion of worms killed during digging is very small, there are some that inevitably die because of the operation.  However, there are copious amounts of worms living in the woody shreddings and farmyard manure and these are being added to the soil.  In addition any worms I find in parts of the allotment that are not growing areas - in storage areas, under the hedge and under paving slabs of the path - are put onto the top soil in the trenches to find their own way into the soil.  All these worms may not be species that live permanently in top soil, however a population of some of these species may find a more long lasting habitat because of the amount of organic matter I add to the soil each year.

The difference in population of worms seen in cultivated and grassy areas may be due to a habitat preference by the worms rather than a result of digging. Also the number of worms in compacted soil of paths seems to be much greater than in cultivated soil.   So worms seem to like soil with a relatively high bulk density.

Digging may well reduce the numbers of fungal hyphae in the soil.  However, the amount of fungal hyphae on and in the rotting wood added to the bottom of the trench was prodigious.  Not only have I added a significant number of hyphae, I have also provided a source of nutrition for them to use and reproduce in.

Whenever plants are planted in the allotment, I add mychorrhizal fungi spores to alleviate the possible reduction of fungi due to cultivation.  It is now suggested that there are plenty of mychorrhizal fungi already in the soil and adding spores is unnecessary.

Well you can't have it both ways.  Either I am reducing the amount of fungi in the soil through digging and need to add more spores to ameliorate this or digging has no effect on the soil population of fungi and adding fungi spores is unnecessary.

I will continue to add mychorrhizal spores.

Microbes are far too small to be affected mechanically through digging so they are probably only affected if the soil is allowed to dry.  Even this will only lead to them going into a more resistant dormant form.

Digging does not sterilise the soil.  The reduction of organic matter through erosion; addition of excessive nitrogen; mixing in of oxygen and stimulation of the microbial element leads to sterilisation of the soil.

I am told in a round about way not to increase the population of soil microbes by adding undecomposed organic matter because this leads to nitrogen being locked away in their bodies.   I am also told not to dig because it reduces the numbers of microorganisms.  Therefore it is bad to both increase the number of microorganisms and also to decrease the number of microorganisms. You can't have it both ways.

Some heterotrophic microorganisms are autonomous nitrogen fixers which add nitrogen to the soil. Their energy source is the dead organic matter in the soil.  These are the Azotobacter, Bacillus, Clostridium and Klebsiella. While it is suggested that they don't contribute a great deal of nitrogen to the soil, every little helps.  Adding organic matter to the soil will increase the populations of these anaerobic bacteria.

I will continue to add organic matter.

And I will continue to dig.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Continuing to raise the allotment with trench Hugelkultur (11)

Although I don't think that it is necessary, I am continuing to trench the new allotments.  I go down more than two spits adding organic matter to all layers of the soil.  I doubt that this increases the yield of crops or their size particularly or if it does, the increase does not justify the amount of work necessary.

I start to feel very guilty, after watching Geoff Lawton's permaculture videos, that my methods are old fashioned and possibly destructive.

And then I look at my soil and see how it has improved over the year I have been cultivating it. The top soil has improved both in soil life and fertility. Not only that but the cropping system that including a rotation of legumes has enlivened the soil  These allotments were worked out.  They had been cropped and weeds removed for years without any replenishment.  They were consolidated hard pieces of ground with very few worms and lots of deep rooted weeds.  Just mulching and leaving it to the non existent worms did not seem to be an option. However, with a better more fertile, less weedy allotment, I would just cover and mulch.

I started the trench across the bottom quarter of the new half allotment taking out the top soil.
New trench across the bottom of
allotment 3b
The soil looks quite passable in the photograph but most of the weeds have died down and survive the winter as rhizomes deep underground.  It is thin and dusty and needs a lot of organic matter added.

I had to clear off several large pieces of plywood which I could not break up.  I have stored them behind the shed under some carpets.  I just hope that this does not attract the rats.  They seem to like burrowing beneath carpets.  I also put the canes and stakes that were on this piece of ground, together with the black plastic covering,  behind the shed in a store area.  As I work down this part of the allotment I will put more things in the store area.  I am storing the canes in upright pallets which are secured to the ground with iron bars found on the allotment.  However, I have temporarily run out of pallets because I am using them to dry the weed rhizomes before I put them into a compost bin. These are the very invasive weed rhizomes that easily regenerate so must be dried carefully.
Weed rhizomes drying before going on the
As I take the rhizomes out I put them into a tub and then empty the tub onto the pile on the pallets. There is a lot of nutrients locked up in these weeds so I don't want to remove them from the allotment.  I have proved to myself that I can compost these safely if they are confined; so that's what I am going to do with them.  I can't leave the pile here because I want to use the pallets now.
Pile getting bigger.
There is a bit of ivy mixed with the rhizomes because I have dug out the hedge behind the shed. The pile is on a large piece of concrete reinforcing wire which I am going saw up and attach to the shed for the white clematis to climb up. I have taken several cuttings of the white clematis in the garden and put them into the cold frame.  I'm not too sure how many I put into the pot but it was lots.

If I attach the reinforcing wire to the back of the shed then I can use it to store the large canes by tying them horizontally onto the wire.

As I have been digging out the first trench, I have come across these scary Calystegia sepium nodules.  
Scary Calystegia sepium nodules

Each of these shoot buds can easily grow from 14 to 20 feet long and I am digging out several of them from each trench.  
Very scary
The good thing though, is that there is not very much mare's tail, Equisetum arvensis - at the moment.

Trusty bread tray sieve.  
Stones left after sieving.
As I dig along the trench, I sieve the top soil through the trusty bread tray sieve, which helps me to
clear the ground of these pernicious weeds.  Progress is quite slow, however the benefits of 
Slow progress
sieving outweigh the disadvantage.  It helps to remove the weeds; it mixes the soil and the fertilisers added; it removes large stones and it makes a very friable topsoil.  It produces a deep, fertile topsoil that would take at least five to ten years to create with conventional digging and even longer with no digging at all.

The only reason  I  remove  large stones is because they prevent me from making a lovely smooth seed bed.  When you rake along the garden line before making a drill for seeds, you are left with a small pile of stones which you don't know what to do with.  Also when raking soil back into the drills, large stones seem to materialize from nowhere and fall into the drill.

I am using two tubs at the moment; one for weed rhizomes and the other for stones and blue plastic specks.  The specks have come from blue sheets of plastic that people put on the soil.  Don't use blue plastic sheets.  They are translucent; they don't kill the weeds and they become brittle and break up into tiny pieces.

I am going to plant more raspberries across the allotment here adding the support poles and plants as  the top soil is returned to the trench.  I will take out some of the subsoil completely and put it on the paths.  This will be replaced by topsoil scavenged from behind the shed.  There was a mound of soil, which might have been a compost heap at one time, under the hedge.  It was very friable and full of organic matter.  I will use this to deepen the root run of the raspberry plants.

Sieved top soil. Also set up my worm bin in
the blue butt.  I have put some bindweed
rhizomes in to see if the worms will deal with
This top soil had not had any organic matter added to it for some time.  Although it has been left fallow for about three years, I need to add a lot  of manure to help to replenish the supply of organic matter.

The wooden path edging is decaying.  I am keeping this edging because I have nothing else to restrain the soil when I put it back onto the growing area.  Wood rots; I've just got to get over it.  I really don't like using it though.

Still a lot to clear.
There is  still some way to go to clear all of this part of the allotment but you just have to be relentless.  As you can see I will have a lot of tiny blue plastic specks to deal with as I dig back. There is still a lot of rotting wood on the allotment which will be buried under subsoil in the trench. The trenches will get several barrow loads of woody chippings which will be dug into the subsoil together with farmyard manure, which will be dug into the topsoil.

I have several pieces of woodwork to take down.  They will just be in the way and they are all rotting.  I will be able to use some of the wood for stakes but anything that is too rotten will just be buried deep in the trench.
However the weeds will come back with
a vengeance in the spring.
Adding lots of organic matter will raise the whole allotment about eight to twelve inches above the original level.

I raise allotments not just beds.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Continuing to raise the allotment with trench Hugelkultur (10)

I have completed the trenching of the potato bed putting shredded woody material at the bottom of the trench and mixing it well with the subsoil.  I used some comfrey liquid to water over the top of the woody material to add nitrogen and some phosphorous.  Then I mixed the farmyard and chicken manure into the top soil.  I find it very hard to believe that I have sterilized the soil by digging as the Americans would have me believe.

So lots of good organic matter and fertiliser added to the soil on this bed that has been dug more than 600 mm. deep.

If that does not grow good potatoes then I don't know what will.

Last year I got a poor crop mainly because of potato blight, Phytophthora infestans, infecting the plants.  All I have left is half a sack when the year before I had six bags at this time of the year.

I have taken out the Viburnum x bodnatense
and replaced with autumn fruiting raspberries.
I transplanted the autumn fruiting raspberries Rubus idaeus and planted them along the path next to the hedge to extend the row.  They will be shaded by the hedge but I doubt if this will significantly reduce the crop. Needless to say, I planted them with mychorrhizal fungi.   I am hoping that the fungi will plug the raspberries into the hedge roots so that they can get nutrients from the hawthorn, Cretaegus monogyna.  As I have about 45 feet of raspberries along the hedge, I don't think that I will go without this fruit.  Most of these plants were already on the allotment when I took it over and have just been transplanted.  They produce prolific suckers which make ideal plants.  I know that autumn raspberries do not need support particularly, however I have put a post in and will run wires along the row so that they do not get untidy and I can tie them back if they fall over the path.
I pruned and tied in the loganberry 'Ly 654' and blackberry 'Adrienne'.  They are trained to an old climbing frame that I bought for the children years ago.  I pruned most of the canes long, taking off only about ten centimeters so that they would fit into the area they had to grow.  This will encourage them to produce fruit.  I thought that I would have to prune off a lot of canes because they looked very choked, however when the canes were taken off the supports and unraveled it was easy to reattach them in a more reasonable order giving each cane at least five or six inches of space to grow.

Black currant and loganberry tied into the climbing frame.  

I mulched all the Rubus - phoenicolasius, idaeus, fruticosus, and x loganobaccus with farmyard manure and forked over where I had been standing to do the job.

A lot of leaves had fallen from the brassica so I decided to rake these up and pick some Brussel sprouts at the same time.  Also got some parsnips and carrots from the clamps to take home.

The redcurrants on the new allotment are riddled with couch grass, bindweed and mare's tail so need to be moved to a clean area of soil.  They can become big bushes so  I am going to prune them to a fan.  I pruned them hard back to leave two branches growing more or less 45 degrees from the center trunk.

Redcurrants infested with weed rhizomes
Dug two bushes out and washed their roots to make sure they did not have any pernicious weed rhizomes lingering about between the twists and turns.  Dug  out holes next to the compost heaps and planted them with a dash of mychorrhiza fungi.  The branches were tied back to the compost pallets to keep them growing at the correct angles.

I also took out a gooseberry to plant at the back of the greenhouse.  There is an area here that is about a metre square that would be hard to include in the cropping scheme so it would be ideal for  a soft fruit bush.  Again, I washed the roots to remove rhizomes and planted with mychorrhizal fungi.

This means that I still have to move two redcurrants, at least two gooseberries and four blackcurrants.  The gooseberries will be moved to an area next to the little shed and the others will be used to separate the beds on this new area of the allotment when I have eventually cleared out all the weeds.

The salad burnet have been moved up the path opposite the sage.  They will have more light here. The sweet cicely has been moved to the hedge so that the potatoes have a clear run.  Potatoes always shade any plants growing near them and cause them to grow very poorly.

Before I start to triple dig the new allotment area, I will construct the storage area behind the shed. It will be like the one on the old allotment.

I have some big pieces of plywood covered in lino which I can't break up so I am going to use them as a base for the storage area. I will put carpet over the wood and then storage things on top of that.   Eventually I will want to put concrete slabs down but I don't have enough for the whole of this area.  I am going to use pallets to store the bean canes.  The canes will be stored upright resting the ends on the carpet base.

I have some thick iron poles which I can hammer into the ground to make the pallets very secure.  I will put the comfrey bins, dustbins, worm bin and blue butt in this area.  The blue butt will collect rainwater from the shed roof.  I still have to put the gutter on this big shed.  One of the dustbins will be used as an overflow water storage bin connected to the blue butt with plastic piping.  I want to raise up the two comfrey butts and the only things I have to do this are the pallets, although the worm bin will be raised on bricks.
Bean poles stored inside the pallets' planks.
This is the old allotment that I have given up now.

Canes stored between the planks in the pallets
on the old allotment.    
The seed potatoes have arrived and I have put them to chit in the greenhouse.  I have put this four tiered mini greenhouse inside the greenhouse.  I put the potatoes in trays and then into this mini greenhouse which is in the big greenhouse.  The potato trays were covered in bubble wrap.
Four tiered mini greenhouse.

Mini greenhouse at the back of the big
The greenhouses and cold frame are all full to overflowing.  I will have to take my chair out of the big greenhouse to fit things in now.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Allotment inventory.

So let's have an inventory of useful plants growing on the allotment and seed ready to be sown.

Apple tree 'Discovery' A cheap tree I got for £5.
Apple tree ' Egremont Russet'  espalier - a cheap tree I got for £5.
Apple tree 'Ribston Pippn' espalier -  two. Grafted myself onto M9 rootstock
Two apple trees that I can't identify but crop very well; one is an espalier and the other a small standard tree.
Ten M26 rootstock and two M9 rootstock.  
Apple tree sions 
'James Grieve' (1893) bred in Scotland long keeping
'Greensleeves' (1966) can leave on tree until October and eat but does not keep.
'Egremont russet' (1872).  Do I want two of these?
'Braeburn' (1950) Keeps for about three months.  Ripens in November in UK so will store till February at least.
'Saturn' (1980) a modern apple that does not store but ripens in August and can be eaten straight from the tree.
'Norfolk Royal' (1905)
'Pitmaston Pineapple'(1561)
'King of the Pippins'(1770s)
'Court Pendu Plat' (1613)
'Sturmer Pippin' (1800s)
'Golden Reinette' (1600)
'Blenheim Orange' (1740)                           Grafting these early March.  
They will all be espaliered if the grafts take.  
Apple mint (already planted)
Asparagus pea (own seed)    Sowing in April.
Basil Sowing under cover in April.
Bay (already planted) There are over twenty cuttings that are being pruned to standards with ball heads.
Beetroot 'Crimson King'  Sowing in April.
Beetroot 'Boltardy' Sowing end of March.
Borecole 'Red Russian' Sowing under cover in May possibly even June for winter 2015/2016.
Brussels Sprout 'Trafalgar' Sowing under cover in late April.
Brussel Sprout 'Montgomery' Sowing under cover in early April.
Broad Bean (Bunyard's Exhibition) Sowing under cover in February.
Broad Bean my own saved seed Sowing under cover in February.
Broccoli 'Red Arrow' Sowing under cover in May.
Broccoli 'Early Purple Blend' Sowing under cover in May
Blackberry 'Adrienne' already planted; bought this plant a long time ago. I have tip layered this plant and now I have two plants.  Training in, tying in and pruning in January.  
Blackcurrant 'Ben Sarek' already planted; bought a long time ago.
Blackcurrant 'Ben Connan' already planted; bought for this season
Blackcurrant 'Ebony' already planted; bought for this season.  
Blackcurrants - other. already planted; lots of cuttings of various varieties.  
Cabbage 'Brunswick' sown in October and growing on in the cold frame.  
Cabbage 'January King' Sowing under cover in April
Cabbage 'Golden Acre' Sowing under cover in February to get an early crop.
Cabbage 'Red Drumhead' Sowing under cover in March.  
Cabbage 'Holland Winter White'  Sowing under cover in May
Cabbage 'Robin' Sowing under cover in March.
Cabbage 'Stonehead'. Sowing under cover in April.
Calabrese 'Parthenon' Sowing in February under glass.  Keeping some seed to sow in September for early crop in 2016.
Calabrese 'Green Magic' Sowing under cover at the end of April.
Calabrese 'Samson' Sowing under cover at end May
Cauliflower 'Aalsmeer' (winter) Sowing under cover during the beginning of May.  For cropping in April and May of 2016
Cauliflower 'All the year round' Not sure whether I am going to sow these.  Old seed.  
Cauliflower 'Flamenco' Sowing these during end of April under cover.  
Cauliflower 'Candid Charm' Matures in about 75 days so sowing at the end of May.
Cauliflower 'Romanesco Precoce' Sowing these under cover middle of May.
Carrot 'Flyaway' 
Carrot 'Autumn King'
Carrot 'St Valery'
Celery 'Full White' (self blanching)
Celery 'Victoria'
Celeriac 'Asterix'
Chicory 'Variegata Di Castelfranco'
Chilli 'Friar's hat'
Chilli 'Hot Stuff'
Chilli 'Rocoto'
Cucumber 'Burpless Tasty Green'
Comfrey (already planted)
Courgette 'Ambassador'  
Courgette 'Atena Polka' yellow one.
Cucumber Burpless Tasty Green.  Going to try sowing in February but main crop will be sown in April.  
Curly Kale 'Dwarf Green Curled' Sowing in June for 2015/2016 winter.  
Elephant garlic (already planted)
Fennel Florence 'Sweet Florence'
Fennel herb
French climbing bean 'Cobra' - own seed
French climbing bean 'Trail Of Tears' -  own seed
French climbing bean 'Blue Lake' - own seed
French climbing Pinto beans but not sure of the variety. Own seed.
French dwarf bean.  saved seed.
Garlic (already planted)
Globe artichoke but I doubt if I will ever eat one.  Lovely blue flower though good for bees.   
Good king Henry Chenopodium bonus henricus 
Gooseberry 'Xania' and others already planted but not fruiting yet.  Some gooseberries already planted on the allotment before I took it over.
Grape (already planted) Red and white. These were given to me as cuttings.  
Japanese Wine Berry  already planted.  Given to me by allotment neighbour.    
Jerusalem artichoke (already planted) Given to me.  
Kohlrabi 'Purple Delicacy'  Sowing in early April straight into prepared seed bed.  
Kohlrabi 'Ballot' Sowing in July straight into prepared seed bed.  
Lambs lettuce.  Successional sowings to plug any gaps in lettuce harvest.
Leek 'Giant Winter' Sowing under cover during April.
Leek 'Blue Solase' Sowing under cover during April.
Lemon Balm (already planted)
Lettuce 'Webb's Wonderful' Successional sowings from early March.
Lettuce 'Robinson Pills' Successional sowings from early March.
Lettuce 'Lollo Rossa' Successional sowings from early March.  
Loganberry LY654 already planted. This was given to me by an allotment neighbour.  I tip layered it and now have two plants.  
Marjoram.  Plant out plants during April.  
Mint various - at least five varieties. already planted
Melon 'Blenheim Orange'
Oca own saved tubers.  These were originally given to me although I have bought some from the Real Seed Catalogue.  
Onion 'Mammoth' sown in October.  Seedlings are growing on in cold frame.
Onion 'North Holland Blood Red'
Onion 'Rijnsburger'
Onion Golden Bear'
Onion 'Crimson Forest' 
Onion 'White Lisbon' (Spring onion) start sowing in cold frame in February.  
Peach 'Peregrin' already planted.  Bought this tree and it was expensive, however I am going to use it to provide at least two sions.
(Two Saint Julian A rootstocks which will be grafted to peach.)
Parsnip 'White King'
Pea 'Early Onward'
Pea 'Onward'
Pea 'Lincoln'
Pea saved seed including the tall varieties 'Champion of England' 'Telegraph' and 'Alderman'
Pear already on the allotment but I don't know the variety.  Very sweet one though.  
Pear 'Conference' Espalier already planted.  Tree was given to me.
Pear 'Doyenne du Comice' Espalier - already planted. Tree was given to me.
Pear not sure of the variety growing to espalier but I have just planted it.  The tree was given to me.
Pepper Kayne
Pepper Jalapeno 
Pepper 'Hungarian Apple' Warm to slightly hot pepper
Pepper 'Long Red Marconi'
Peper 'Quadrato D'Asti Rosso'. Sown in January.  
Perpetual spinach
Parsnip 'White Gem'
Plum 'Victoria' (already planted on the allotment before I took it over.) 
Plum 'Opal'. This tree was given to me.  
Potato 'Casablanca'
Potato 'Maris Bard'
Potato 'Red Duke of York'
Potato 'Kestrel'
Pumpkin 'Dill's Atlantic Giant'  Sow in April.  
Raspberry 'Malins Admiral'   Planted already. Bought these originally.
Raspberry 'Glen Ample' planted already These canes were given to me.
Raspberry 'Cascade' planted already.  Bought these originally.  
Raspberry autumn fruiting -at least two varieties already on the allotment before I took it over.
Radish 'Cherry Belle'
Radish Mixed
Red currant 'Rovada' pruning to fan; and others. Bought Rovada but four others already planted on the allotment before I took it over.
Runner Bean 'Aintree'
Runner Bean 'Red Rum'
Runner Bean 'Scarlet Emperor'
Runner Bean 'Moonlight'
Rhubarb 'Champagne' (still needs to be moved).  Bought this a long time ago.
Rhubarb 'Timperley Early'(already planted) Bought this a long time ago.
Rhubarb 'Large Victoria' (already planted) Plants were given to me by allotment neighbour.
Rhubarb Chard.
Rosmary plants - about twenty grown from seed and will have to be planted out somewhere.  
Salad Burnet already planted.
Sage ordinary
Sage rainbow
Shallots 'Jermor'
Spinach 'Bloomsdale'
Squash 'Sunburst'
Strawberries 'Cambridge' (already planted )  Bought for this season because mine had virus disease.
Sweed 'Tweed'  Sowing outside in April.
Sweet Cicerly (already planted)
Sweetcorn 'Early Extra Sweet' Sowing under cover in April.  
Sweet Marjoram
Turnip 'Milan Purple Top' Sowing in middle of April.
Tomato 'Shirley' Sown under cover in January.  
Tomato 'Cherrola'.  Sown under cover in January.  
Thyme (already planted)
Winter Squash 'Metro PMR' Sow under glass in May.
White currant 'Blanko' already planted and pruning to fan.  Bought for this season.

So sowing all of these seeds and making sure all the perennials are mulched and harvested should keep me busy this year.  

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Sowing the sweet peas

I sowed all the sweet pea seeds today. I only ordered ten seeds for each of the varieties but I still potentially have one hundred and fifty plants.   Some inevitably die and some of the packets had an extra one or two seeds.  I usually sow in October but this year I sent in the seed order a little late and I was very busy during October so I didn't get round to it.  I have sown in November but the light is so bad that when the seeds germinate the seedlings do not thrive.  The light is a little better in January so I am hoping that the seed will produce some good plants.

I have chosen these varieties because they are strong growers that produce long stemmed large flowers.  There are many more exhibition varieties but these are the ones I have this year.  The large flowers are produced because only one stem is allowed to grow up the canes per plant.  All tendrils and side shoots are removed.
The varieties are:
White Frills (white)

Doreen (cream)
Gwendoline (pink on white)
Gwendoline sweet pea

Yvette Ann (pink on white)
Daily Mail (pink)
Mark Harrod (scarlet)
Windsor (maroon)

Joyce Stanton (dark blue)
Just Julia (mid blue)
Andrew Cavendish (lavender)
Ethyl Grace (lavender)
Jacqueline Ann (lavender on white)
Bristol (light blue)
Bristol sweet pea

Charlie's Angels (ice blue)
Oban Bay. (ice blue)

I've got quite a few blues and lavenders in these varieties so that I can compare the shades and work out which I like the best. I think that Charlie's Angel and Oban Bay are better shades than Bristol but many people have commented on how they like Bristol.

Now, I  have seen in  two books;  "Plant Propagation  for the Amateur Gardener" by John Wright and "Science and the Garden" edited by David  Ingram, that sweet pea seeds should either be chipped with a knife or sanded to make a hole in the testa for water to enter the seed.  This they say will help to overcome seed dormancy.

Well  if you think that I am going to chip over 150 seeds then you are sadly mistaken.   I have been growing sweet peas since I was 16 and I have never chipped or sanded sweet pea seeds.  They are tiny little beggars in any case and I think that I would be chipping and sanding the ends of my fingers rather than the seeds.

Although I cannot remember every years germination rate, in most recent years I have had more or less 100% germination without chipping.

Last year the sweet peas did not last as long as I would have liked because of the dreaded virus disease that turns the plants yellow from the bottom up.

The only way that they could have been infected was through the canes.  I am going to give all the canes a very good washing this year before I make the supports.   Putting up 150 canes is going to be a time consuming task.

I have sown the sweet pea seeds into ordinary multipurpose compost in three inch pots.  Last year I sowed into root trainers but they seem to be very fiddly, take up more space in the greenhouse and don't produce any better plants than the three inch pots.  They will be left to grow on in the greenhouse and when they have made two sets of leaves, I will pinch out the growing tip to encourage the side shoots.  The best side shoot will be grown on to make the plant.

Monday, 5 January 2015

Continuing to raise the allotment with trench Hugelkultur (9)

Sowed the cherry and Shirley tomatoes today in three inch pots.  Also sowed the main crop onions. Left them on the windowsill to germinate.

This meant that I arrived at the allotment late morning.  The soil from the digging trench was covering the path and I had to walk over the fruit bed to get to the greenhouse.  This was irritating me so the first job was to put the soil back in the trench.  This top soil is particularly friable and deep.  I can't remember, but I think some of the soil I put here came from the old compost heap.
Old compost heap February 2014.This does not exist any more.  The compost
was incorporated into the top soil around this area.   

Trench filled.
As the temperature in the greenhouses was getting towards 20 degrees celsius, I opened the doors and windows.  The cold frame was opened too.

The celery plants were taken up and the best was cut for the kitchen.  The rest I put to one side to bury in the next trench.

I dug out potato bed trench three and forked over the bottom.  I put the rest of the shreddings in the trench and forked over again mixing them with the subsoil.  I will have to go all the way down to the other car park to get shreddings for the next trench.  It will take another two trenches to cover the whole of this potato bed so I will probably need about eight more barrow loads of woody shreddings.

All these shreddings have been buried  in
the subsoil now
I have said to the bloke that brings me the shreddings, if he sees that the pile has gone he can bring me another pile. I'm hoping that he will bring some soon so that I don't have to go such a distance to get them.  I still have about half the farmyard manure pile left.  This will do me for this potato bed but I will not have enough to dig into the other potato bed.  The other bed will be on the new allotment and has not been cultivated for about two years.  As it has been left fallow, nutrients will have been replenished and fertility raised a little so I am hoping that this will be sufficient for the potatoes.

At the moment this new potato bed is full of mare's tail and bindweed so I am not looking forward to digging it.  I do not need to sieve the soil I am digging now but I will have to sieve the new allotment soil just to remove the weed rhizomes.

I put the old celery plants in the trench and watered neat comfrey liquid over the shreddings at the bottom.

Chicken manure was put onto the top soil and some of the top soil was raked into the trench. This was levelled and farmyard manure added, spread and forked in.  I will pull the rest of the topsoil back into the trench tomorrow.  I didn't trench near the little leaning apple tree because the roots were beginning to be exposed.  The base of the tree was just forked over.  I am hoping that this exposed any pests that were lurking around the bottom of the tree.  The robin was certainly very interested and spent a long time investigating but I did not notice whether it found anything.

The robin is a particularly handsome one with very bright colours.

I have moved the Sarcococca hookeriana plants from the base of the apple tree and will eventually put them under the hedge to grow in the shade. Although they do like shade, I think that the potatoes will shade them a little too much particularly as they are still very small cuttings.

I closed up the greenhouses round about three o'clock  because the sun was going down and it was getting cold.

I will be sowing the sweet peas when I go down to the allotment next regardless of the weather.  If I don't have room for them in the greenhouse, which is filling up quickly, I will move the cabbage, lettuce and onion seedlings into the cold frame.  Spent some time scraping the paths with the shovel to get the mud off but was a little futile because I trod more soil onto the paths afterwards.

Still, I felt happier and the paths looked much better for it.

Friday, 2 January 2015

Continuing to raise the allotment with trench Hugelkultur (8)

I have several different things that I want to get on with at the allotment.  I need to bring some more brushwood for the digging trenches; this I can get from the garden.  Also, I need to bring the slabs and Champagne rhubarb roots from the old allotment.  I have at least 20 odd concrete slabs which I could collect.  I am going to make a sitting area next to the shed on the new allotment and will need eight more slabs to do this.

I have found a new place to grow the Champagne rhubarb because the planned planting area was filled with the Large Victoria rhubarb.  I just can't fit the Champagne here.  It will go over by the cold frame, where I was going to plant it originally.  Now I just need to go and fetch it.

I also wanted to transplant onions, lettuce and cabbage seedlings into pots, plus sow some sweet pea seeds.

I did none of these jobs because I have been trenching all day.  This is the bed where the potatoes are going to be planted in the Spring.  I want them to have a really good deep root run and this will provide it for them.

Another trench dug out.
The top soil was removed and put to one side.  It was particularly deep here - about two spits deep. I think that I used a lot of the compost from under the hedge last year and this increased the depth quite noticeably.  A little chicken manure was spread over the top soil so that the fertiliser would mix in when the soil was returned to the trench.

The bottom of the trench was forked over turning up last year's Hugelkultur.  I found a little brushwood to put at the bottom of the trench but a lot more is needed.

Barrow load of chippings.
I got a barrow load of chippings and brought them down to the trench to fork into the bottom.  It was a little awkward because the little leaning apple tree was in the way.  I did think that I would not extend the trench this far but there were no apple tree roots so I carried on to the raspberries.
The little leaning apple tree was in the way.
I added the chippings to the trench squeezing around the apple tree, digging in about four barrow loads.
Chippings dug in.
Some of the top soil was raked back into the trench and four barrows of farmyard manure were added to the trench before the top soil was levelled across the trench.

Took me all day but its another trench completed.  It is a good way of loosing weight after all the over indulgence of Christmas.  I might do another trench tomorrow, but the celery is in the way.  I am going to use some for soup but the rest may have to be put at the bottom of the next trench.