It is one of the moans of allotmenteers (and believe me they have a lot of those) that people take over allotments for a couple of weeks and then give them up. The problem for the rest of us is that they have paid their rent for the whole year and the allotment cannot be reassigned until they officially give the allotment up. Meanwhile lots of weeds are growing and distributing their seeds throughout the allotment site.
There should be some way of showing people what to expect when they take over an allotment. If your expectation is that it will take some time and hard work to turn an untidy allotment around then you are much more likely to continue to cultivate the allotment.
I want reasonable expectations and no more rosy spectacles.
Therefore, this is a warts and all blog and it shows the allotment as it is in November. Furthermore, if I don't do it this way, I forget what I have done and either repeat or plough through areas that I should leave well alone.
Make no mistake cultivating an allotment is hard work but incredibly rewarding.
I have taken all the bean canes down now and stored them behind the shed. I still need to sterilise the bottoms so that I don't get the sweet pea yellowing disease on them. I mix the canes up each year and some of them might be used for supporting the sweet pea plants next year.
I took off all the seed that was left on the runner bean plants and then dug them into the soil together with some farmyard manure. The plants will have decomposed by next May and added any nitrogen fixed from the atmosphere to the soil. I will plant the runner beans in the same place next year so I want to keep the fertility of the soil quite high where they are growing.
|The old onion bed.|
Unfortunately the leeks have been attacked by the leek miner fly and the grubs are eating the stems. I thought that I would get away with not putting a net on in September but I was sorely mistaken. Still it is a lesson learnt and I will be putting the nets back on during the early autumn next year. The old onion bed is covered with various green manures. The main one for overwintering is the grazing rye grass. The other is mostly Phacelia tanacetifolia and I am expecting it to die back when the really cold weather sets in this winter. The whole lot will be dug in during March next year.
The onions had a thick mulch of woody chippings this year and these have been dug into the soil rather than being scraped off. They don't seem to have done the green manure any harm.
I will be planting sweet peas in this bed next year so I don't want to add too much manure. The sweet peas are a break crop to give the soil a rest from growing vegetables. The sweet peas are legumes which have bacteria nodules on their roots which fix nitrogen from the atmosphere. At the end of their flowering season the plants can be dug in increasing the amount of soil nitrogen. Or that's the theory anyway.
|I've put a lot of woody chippings on the fruit bed.|
I've coppiced down all the blackcurrants but they are growing back very quickly. However, I doubt if they will fruit next year. Farmyard manure was dug in between the plants and then a thick layer of woody chippings was used to mulch the ground.
The leaning pear tree has sent up two vertical stems on the trunk close to the ground. My inclination is to prune the tree to these uprights to straighten the tree. It is blooming irritating having to skirt round it whenever I need to get past. However, I has fruited really well in the last two years and, if I do prune it hard back to the uprights, I will loose all of my fruit bearing wood. I might just grin and bear it - for now. Once my espalier pears start to fruit, I might look at this tree again.
All the water butts are full from the rain we have been having. The overflow will go into the big sump I put under the shed and along the hedge under the slabbed pathway.
|I will put a little of the farmyard manure on the sweet pea bed.|
The greenhouse is in full sun for most of the day and this means that the plants growing inside are very healthy. I am beginning to realise how important gaining maximum light is when growing in a greenhouse.
|The espaliers and cordon fruit trees.|
|Post and wire construction for espaliers.|
The stretcher batons at the top of the uprights has prevented the posts from leaning in when I tighten the wire. It is quite effective but it means that the posts can only be eight foot apart. The fruit trees may not be so vigorous because they are planted so close together and I will be able to keep them within the bounds of the espalier.
I will leave winter pruning of the espaliers until much later in the winter. They are growing more or less how I want them to which is fairly good when you consider they were trained as bush trees when I bought them. I am only growing the Discovery apple as a cordon because it did not want to throw out any laterals. It has produced a lot of fruitful spurs along the stem though, which is good for an apple that is said to be a partial tip bearer. I will have to monitor how this tree develops to make sure that it continues to produce fruit.
The idea is to leave the espalier horizontal branches to grow as far as the space allows. The verticals, according to Abercrombe's book "Every Man His Own Gardener." written in 1787 should send out laterals without any further pruning. Well Abercrombe my trees have not been told this and leave great voids along the main stem until they decide to send out laterals. I do tend to top the verticals so that they will send out stems that I can train horizontally. But I am going to give Abercrombe a chance next year and not top off any more of the vertical stems.
Growing espaliers is a new skill that I am beginning to learn and having great fun with. It will be easier to train the newly grafted apple trees because I can head them back at the right time and hopefully they will then send out laterals at more convenient distances along the main stem.
Using espaliers and fans means that I can fit a large number of different variety fruit trees in a small area without them taking up too much space and shading the vegetables growing near them.
|New cabbage bed.|
The chrysanthemums have been blown over by the wind but I am not too worried. They were not doing too well and I am going to take some cuttings from them. I am going to concentrate on chrysanthemums next year making sure that I stake them very securely.
It would seem that I have a jostaberry growing under the Victoria plum tree. I don't know where it came from but I was under the impression that it was a green gooseberry. However, it does have thorns in the leaf axils so it might be one of the American gooseberries.
I have mulched around the Victoria plum and gooseberries with woody chippings. This was quite successful this year. They comfrey grew through the mulch and produced a lot of leaf for the comfrey liquid bin.
The compost bins have just been put back into the composting area. I took them out and put them along the path next to the car park to get them out of the way. This bay was used for the farmyard manure and now that the muck has been spread around the allotment I can continue with my turning every two days routine. I don't know where all the material comes from but all the bins are full again and making very passable compost. I cannot say that I am getting the heat from the bins that I would like to destroy seeds and disease but it still makes good compost. I have now added the two small compost bins to the bay and filled them with the old tomato plants from the peach greenhouse. I have also added quite a bit of the woody chippings to see if it will rot down quickly to make compost. If it does then I will start using more of it in the bins.
I have put carpet under the bins because I was scraping up the floor of the composting area and making a hole as I turned the compost. The carpets will show me where the bottom of the compost is and I will not dig into the floor any more. I don't like using carpets on the allotment but these are ancient ones that I found where the new car park has been made and any nasty chemicals that the carpets were covered in when they were made have been leached away by now.
|Grape grown to the guyot system|
The wind has blown the grape stems about a little and some of the ties have come off. However, all these vertical stems will be removed during the winter leaving buds to develop new stems from the horizontals. I got a bunch of small grapes off all the upright guyot stems on the vine. The sweet pea plants were dug in during the autumn and green manure sown.
The green manure on the new cabbage bed is grazing rye, tares and clover. I have put farmyard manure between the rows to dig in during the spring.
There should be a depression on the trackway side of the curbing but it has become full of stones and choked with weeds and mint plants. I will dig it out again during the winter to make sure that it is doing its job properly. The idea is that the ditch will collect the water running off the hard surface of the trackway, to spread it along the ditch and allow it to soak slowly into the allotment soil.
Slowing mass flow of water, spreading it and allowing it to soak in will reduce leaching; dilute nutrients so that they can easily be taken up by plant roots; reduce erosion of top soil, help to dilute and wash nutrients down the allotment slope and allow water to remain in the soil and available for plants to take it up.
|Kale under the scaffold netting.|
I still have some kale and winter cabbage on the old brassica bed. I have dug in farmyard manure in the gaps between and then sown green manure as a cover crop. I have had to leave the nets on because the pigeons like to eat the green manure seed.
This part of the allotment did not produce very much at all. A lot of the soil was recovered from the back of the shed and it may not have been as fertile as I expected it to be. I have put compost, farmyard manure and green manure on it to see if I can turn it around. There is a very poor showing of Brussel sprouts and a few swedes left. Next year this will be covered in peas and beans and that might help it to become a little more fertile.
|Fan trained currant bushes.|
I have taken all the tomatoes out of the peach greenhouse and composted them with woody shreddings. The peach did not fruit this year but it has a lot of fruiting wood on it now so it should fruit next year. Some of the branches have become very vigorous and will either be taken out or tied down a little more horizontally to slow their growth.
I am going to replace the woody shreddings in the peach greenhouse and compost the old stuff. The tomato ring culture on the chippings worked much better than I thought it would so I will do it again next year with fresh chippings.
|Old pea and bean bed.|
All the old pea and bean plants have been dug in and green manure sown. The green manure is mustard and grazing rye in the foreground and grazing rye, tares and clover towards the back. I am planning to cover this in a three sister culture next year. I will plant the sweet corn first followed by either squashes or small pumpkins and finally climbing French beans. As you will see later, I have grown far too many pumpkins and squashes this year so I need to restrict myself next year.
|The mustard has blown down during the storms.|
The mustard has blown down in the windy weather, however this is not worrying me. I want it to be cut back by the frost so that the undersowing of rye grass can come through for the winter. The cucumber supports are leaning up against the peach greenhouse. They were really good and allowed the cucumbers to climb up them. The outdoor tomatoes did shade them a little and I will make sure that they have more room next year.
The large Victoria rhubarb has had a mulch of farmyard manure. It did not grow very large this year and I am hoping that the manure might give it a boost so that I can have the 2 foot long petioles next simmer. I was going to cover the rhubarb with the composting bins in order to blanch them when they started to grow next spring. However, I needed these two bins to make compost and they are now back in the composting area full of tomato plants and woody shreddings.
|New potato bed.|
This bed had been manured and sown with green manure ready for the potatoes next year. I will probably be planting kestrel potatoes here and put the early potatoes the other side of the path. I didn't finish clearing this part of the allotment until May 31st this year but it produced a lot of pumpkins and squashes. Hopefully it will produce some good potatoes too. The green manure will be dug in just before I plant the seed potato tubers.
The green manure is grazing rye, tares and clover and it has germinated well.
During January and February this year I trenched the bed that I grew potatoes on adding lots of woody organic matter. Lots of processed wood, cardboard, paper, woody chippings, logs and woody prunings were put into the trench.
|Adding lots of organic matter to the bottom of the trench in January and February 2015.|
|Putting lots of woody chippings into the trench.|
Also, I have a bumper crop of mustard green manure which has been blown over in the recent storms. It grew about 4 feet tall. I sowed an understory of grazing rye and I am hoping that this will grow through the mustard during the winter. The mustard should die back with the frost.
|Old potato bed|
|Rampant rank growth from the mustard green manure.|
So regardless, the orthodoxy that woody material will deplete the soil of nitrogen is not necessarily accurate. There may be a small reduction in nitrogen due to immobilisation by decomposer microorganisms but I think that 'small' is the important word. The decomposition of woody organic matter is a slow process and this may mean that nitrogen immobilisation is slow too. Also if your are adding lots of organic matter to the soil then you must be adding some nitrogen as part of it. Maybe, if you keep the soil fertile by adding nitrogen rich organic matter like green and farmyard manure, the amount of nitrogen depletion can be held within acceptable - maybe even negligible- limits.
My experience is that it does not reduce yield of potatoes or green manure.
Indeed, the Victorian wall kitchen gardeners increased the depth of their top soil considerably by trench digging although they had copious amounts of horse and farmyard manure and did not need to add woody material to their trenches. Also they added their spent hot bed manure to their top soil and this would have increased the depth each year.
The increase in volume of soil by the addition of lots of organic matter, the mixing of the soil and the sieving to subsoil level seems to have made a soil similar to my old allotment soil and that took over thirty years to produce.
My conclusion is that digging the soil to two or three spits deep, sieving out large stones and perennial rhizomes, mixing copious amounts of woody organic matter into the subsoil and adding farmyard manure to the topsoil only goes to improve the soil structure, improve the drainage and improve the fertility of the soil. While there may be a slight dip in the population of soil fauna such as worms because of digging, this seems to disappear during the year and the population, anecdotally, either returns to its original level or increases as the summer progresses. Even Charles Dowding says, sometimes you have to dig when you first take over a garden. So for my maritime climate at my latitude and with my sandy clay soil digging is not as destructive as in other areas of the globe.
Having said this, I am impressed with the effect of mulching; particularly on the suppression of weeds. So I will be mulching all the allotment with woody chippings next spring after plants have established themselves. If it is anything like this year, I doubt whether I will need to hoe or weed much next year.
This is a better picture of the oca. I must admit that this is the best oca I have ever grown. The plants are very big and growing right over the path. I will be keeping some of the larger tubers to plant next year.
|Old pea bed.|
I have planted one of the grafted apples in the old pea bed. I am going to grow all the grafted apples on espaliers alongside the path like this. The poor Pitmaston Pineapple is buried under the green manure at the moment but you can just see the white label for it. Various herbs are growing alongside the path although the mints seem to be taking over. I will have to cut them right back during the winter to give the other herbs a chance.
|Court Pendu Plat|
I have given the Court Pendu Plat higher posts but not for any particular reason apart from it was what I had to use. I will head it down so that it throws out some lateral stems to tie in on the first wire.
The sage plants are doing quite well. I grew these from seed.
This white currant is in the wrong place because I want to plant one of the grafted apples here. However, it is growing well and is trained to a fan so I am loath to move it. More green manure, hyssop and a little salad burnet.
|Loganberry, blackberry and wineberry|
I have pruned the loganberry, blackberry and wineberry quite hard and trained them in. The supports are really too low and I need to put higher posts in. This will be done next year. The plants have had a mulch of farmyard manure covered with woody chippings. The manure pile over the top of this is for digging in to the bed in the spring.
|Parsnips alongside the path.|
|New garlic and shallot bed|
I dug in the field bean green manure after taking off and storing all the seed and put some farmyard manure to dig into the rest of the bed. I am going to dig in the green manure alongside the path and plant another of the grafted apples here. I still need to get some posts and wire to make the espalier but that will be no effort. More mustard with a grazing rye understory in the background.
The coppiced blackcurrants have started to grow back. They have been given a mulch of farmyard manure covered with woody chippings.
The Timperley Early and Champagne rhubarb has died back now and I have cleared away all the dead leaves. They were given a mulch of farmyard manure and woody chippings.
And a lot of pumpkins...
Lots of pumpkin pie I think.