Thursday, 26 November 2015

Moving the lavender.

I dug over the strip of soil along the new onion bed beside the path.  This was just to turn in the green manure that was growing there.  I took out the lavender plants and planted them right up to the curbing along the path adding some mychorrhizal fungi to the planting holes. 

Green manure before I dug it in. I didn't dig any
manure in keeping it for the onions. 

I started to clip the plants with a pair of secateurs but I was not achieving the effect I wanted so I got out the garden shears.  I got a much straighter edge along the top and both sides with the shears.  I cut the plants back to about 5 inches high and 5 inches across.  It has made a very tidy edging to the bed.  I  don't think that they used lavender as an edging plant in the Victorian kitchen gardens but I may be wrong. 

There was enough room at the end of the row to put some more plants in alongside the path.  Two  rosemary plants were being overshadowed by the big Victoria rhubarb plants so the rosemary plants were taken out and added to the end of the lavender row.  They were clipped to the same size as the lavender.

I also went up and clipped the rosemary by the small greenhouse to about the same size.  It is a little more scraggy than lavender and does not make as good edging plant, however I am growing the rosemary as a herb rather than an edging shrub. 

Rather than throw all of the clippings onto the compost heap, I put some of them into the cold frame as cuttings.  I have just planted them in the cold frame soil rather than in pots because I am not too worried if they do not take. If they do root, I will put them as an edging along the path on the far side of the allotment. 

Although it was quite wet, the path was swept; picking up the soil that had fallen from the beds and leaves that had fallen from the hawthorn hedge.

I am going to plant one of the apple espaliers behind the lavender; probably "King of the Pippins".  With that in mind, I painted the tree posts with the Cuprinol I had left over from doing the sheds.  I doubt very much if the paint will make the posts last any longer than if they went without, especially as the posts are tanninised.   However, it does make them look better and blend into the allotment a little more than if they weren't painted. 

Also, if I don't use it on the posts, I have no other use for it and it will fester, taking up space in the shed, until I decide to take it down to the tip.  So, I am trying to use it up, so that I can take the empty tin, with the rest of the tip stuff, to the waste disposal site. 

I still have to get stretchers to put at the top of the posts to stop them leaning in when I string the wire across and pull it tight. 

One of the scaffold nets had been put over the green manure on the old brassica bed and the green manure was starting to grow through it.  If the green manure plants get too big then they get stuck in the net and are pulled out when the net is taken off. So, I took the net off today and put it over the white grape.  This will protect the grape a little and also enable the rain to wash off the soil from around the edge of the net.  I have just draped it over for the moment but I will have to tie it in with some wire before the next storms come.

As I am following Geoff Lawton's method of composting, the compost has to be turned every two days.  It was raining yesterday so the compost was not turned so I did it today.    I turned seven of the eight bins before it got too dark to carry on. 

Six of the compost bins.  I added two more
last week.
So, why am I turning the compost? 

I'm not really sure.  Looking at various books they all recommend turning compost but don't really explain why it is worthwhile to do. 

The first explanation is that the cooler parts on the outside of the compost can be turned into the middle and start to heat up.  Heating up the compost can destroy weed seeds and diseases, however I don't think that my composts heat up nearly as hot as necessary to achieve this. 

They do heat up though, although now it is getting into winter they heat up even less than they did during the summer. 

The second reason they give for turning the compost is that it introduces oxygen into the heap and allows aerobic decomposition.  Turning certainly keeps the compost open and friable with large air spaces.  This obviously encourages the worms to enter the compost and to reproduce.  There are certainly a lot of worms in the bins. 

I think that turning also helps to distribute water through the heap and eliminate dry spots.  It is easy to add a little comfrey water to the bin as it is being turned, if the compost is too dry. 

Turning certainly seems to speed up the decomposition process and produce reasonable compost in about a month.  However, if I was to look at a normal, unturned  heap after a month, could I still sieve out some good well rotted compost?  Probably so. 

So I turn to the final reason why the compost the compost should be turned.  It provides some good exercise for the person doing it.  It is relatively easy using the composting bins because they can be taken off and moved a little before they are refilled.  Also the compost is relatively light compared with topsoil.  However, it makes my muscles ache a little doing it every two days. 

In the Victorian kitchen garden, compost was carefully made because it was used as potting and seed compost.  It was important that weeds and diseases were destroyed by the heat of the heap.  Nowadays we can buy sterile "seed compost" and "potting compost" from the garden centre and we don't need to be quite so particular about how our own compost is made. 

It is interesting to note that turning the compost, which I would say is very similar to digging in the garden, seems to increase the number of worms.  Furthermore, as the increased rate of decomposition demonstrates, there must be a rise in the population of microorganisms and fungi.  Why are we warned that digging will destroy soil organisms when it obviously doesn't in a compost heap or bin?

I would suggest that there is  a similar increase in microorganisms in the soil, after turning over during digging, decomposing organic matter that was previously chemically or physically protected from decay.  There are several studies that suggest that there is a rise in the volume of carbon dioxide given off after digging and this also indicates a rise in the number of microorganisms decomposing organic matter.  There is also evidence that digging reduces the amount of organic matter in the soil. 

So I would suggest that digging does not destroy soil organisms rather the contrary.  However, digging does reduce the level of organic matter and this is a very serious matter.  Organic matter does many things in the soil and its loss will tend to reduce the fertility of the soil.  This is why lots of organic matter should be added throughout the soil profile if you decide to dig. 


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    1. Digging stirs oxygen into the soil. That oncreases the rate of decay, removing carbon in the form of carbon dioxide. I dont know what it does to soil fauna.
      Sorry Robert I think that I deleted this by mistake.

  2. Some people go to the gym (not me), others turn their compost (not me either)
    Glad to hear you are keeping fit Anthony. I know all your digging helps too.
    As ever your posts are very interesting and informative
    I fear many gardeners do break down organic matter by excessive cultivation but fail to add organic matter back as you do!

  3. Now that I have turned the allotment round and it is very productive, I don't think that I am going to be digging very much. I am impressed by the effect of mulch on the soil and plants in the allotment and I will definitely be using woody chippings again next season.
    Having said that, I will have to dig in all the green manure that I have sown this autumn to cover the ground during the winter. I want to dig it into the top six inches of soil so that the locked up nutrients will be made available to the veg. as soon as the green manure rots down.
    The idea is to lock in the nutrients so that the only loss is from removing harvested veg and fruit. I am hoping that the way I have arranged the water flow through the soil and the addition of lots of organic matter that leaching of nutrients is as small as possible.
    In addition, there is adequate nutrient - particularly nitrogen - being added to the soil naturally.