Saturday, 13 June 2015

Serious Growing; Allotment Photographs For June 2015

I am not really one for before and after photographs unless they tell a story.  Now, I understand all the arguments for and against digging, however I still like to go my own way and dig.

Digging does not destroy soil structure or kill soil organisms but it does noticeably reduce the amount of organic matter in the soil.  This is primarily caused by the addition of large amounts of oxygen as the soil is turned.  The addition of oxygen means that aerobic bacteria can break down organic matter producing carbon dioxide, relatively quickly.  The resulting loss of organic matter causes soil structure to deteriorate and, as there is no food, soil organisms to die or move away.

If digging is used continually over many years without a replenishment of organic matter then there will definitely be a degradation of the soil.  This is why you must add copious amounts of organic  matter when you dig.  The Victorian kitchen gardeners used horse manure. It was a bountiful source of organic matter because of the number of horses that were used during those times.

Now the resource is woody chippings, which are not as good as manure but are very plentiful.

So if I add this...

January 2015

and this...

in January 2015, am I increasing the amount of organic matter in the soil and improving its overall fertility? Well this is what this same dug area looks like now in June 2015.
June 2015 Kestrel Potatoes with a row of autumn raspberries at the front. The pots are growing Daphne
but, as is the way of Daphne, one died and I put some bedding plants in the pot. I hope to
propagate from these Daphne.
Digging does not seem to be particularly detrimental to the soil, if you add lots of organic matter and this is what they did in the Victorian and earlier times.  Only recently with the advent of inorganic fertilisers did digging become destructive to soils.  These fertilisers bypassed the need to add bulky organic manures and so they were not added to soil.

In order to maintain a soil that is not going to degrade or erode you must have organic matter in the soil.  Providing lots of organic matter for soil life to feed on produces inorganic nutrients for the plant and humus to improve soil structure. A shorthand for this is that you feed the soil not the plants.

Two beds of potatoes.  Nearest bed are the earlies and far bed are second earlies.  

This is the view from the greenhouse path towards the big shed.  You can see the supports I have put up for the autumn raspberries.  The autumn raspberries don't really need support but I want to keep them from falling across the path so I will tie them up.  The potatoes are beginning to make a canopy across the bed and this will shade unwanted plants growing underneath them.  The early potatoes are in the foreground and the second earlies are in the bed next to the shed.  As the potatoes have grown so much, you can't see the path or the seating area very well.

Maris Bard early potatoes where I had triple dug and added lots of organic matter in the
form of woody chippings.  

These are the potatoes from the hedge path looking towards the greenhouse.  I triple dug and sieved this soil putting in copious amounts of organic matter, primarily as woody chippings.

 If you look at the sundial you can see the relative positions of the trench and the potatoes growing in the same area.

Mixing in the woody chippings.

Adding barrow loads of woody chippings to the subsoil.

If you read carefully what Bill Mollison says in "Permaculture A Designers' Manual", then you start to understand that while he promotes no tilling there are times when digging is appropriate.   e.g page 456 where he says, "Use minimal or no-tillage systems in crop, maintaining or providing soil humus and soil structure."  He definitely against introduction of inappropriate techniques into climates where they would certainly degrade and erode soils.  The digging techniques are not bad within a temperate climate, it is just that they are disastrous in other climates.  Just because it works in the temperate and Mediterranean climates of Europe does not mean that it is high technology, modern or progressive particularly if it promotes the use of inorganic fertilizers.

Digging enables me to add lots of organic matter to the soil quickly and efficiently.  This increases the cation exchange capacity of the soil; improves the drainage and water holding capacity of the soil;
and slows mass flow of water through the soil retarding nutrient leaching and soil erosion.

Although you could possibly get your growing areas from this state ...  (and this is in January 2015 when all the herbaceous weed plants have died back to their underground roots and stems.)

Alongside the path  January 27th 2015

to this

Alongside the path in June 13th 2015.

using no dig techniques but it would probably take more than one season. I think that these last two photographs are the most indicative of the change in the allotment and what can be achieved with triple sieve digging.  However, there is also an indication of where I want to go now in that I have covered the whole allotment in a mulch of woody chippings and will reduce digging to the very minimum.

Pumpkin and squash bed (plus other things)
The curbit bed was finished on the 31st May 2015 and planted up almost immediately.  You can't see the oca that is growing alongside the path.   There is a support frame for the cucumbers just to keep them off the ground.

This is what the curbit bed looked like until about April 2015 taking about a month to sieve
triple dig it. 
The mess that, after some hard work, is now the curbit bed.  The bane of my life - blue plastic.
This blue plastic crumbled in my hands and now I am forever picking little pieces out 
of the soil.  

Cucumber and supports

Although the supports look a little rickety they are firmly tied to canes so should manage to remain upright for the season.  The cucumbers have suffered during the first part of June because of the cold easterly winds, however they are beginning to grow away now.

There is a row of blackcurrant bushes dividing the potatoes bed from this one.  They were originally growing where the sweet corn is now and I moved them in February.  They were big bushes and in order to make sure they survived, I pruned them back to about 5 cm. above the soil.  They have grown back very strongly and will flower and produce fruit next year.

The canes are for tomatoes.  I could not resist buying some discounted old seed from the garden center.  This was the only fee space that they could be planted into.  I have squashes next then a couple of small pumpkins and a block of sweet corn and a small row of asparagus pea.  Most of the allotment has at least a 5 cm. thick layer of woody chipping mulch over the surface.  This is the first year I have done this with any seriousness and I await to see if it has any bad effects on the growth or harvest of vegetables.

Sweet corn and curbits
The way that the easterly wind has cut back the curbits and stopped everything from growing has encouraged me to carry out my permaculture plan and plant an espalier apple "Pitmaston Pineapple" along side the new path.

Apple grafts at the back of the peach greenhouse.
I am keeping the newly grafted apples in the small greenhouse behind the fan trained peach just to give them a little more protection.  I could have planted them out but I want to make sure the grafts are really strong.   The peach was a really good feathered one but I cut it back to two really good laterals and tied them in to train as a fan.  The new branches are growing well but too small to tie in at the moment.

Victoria Rhubarb
In order to separate the peas and beans bed from the curbit bed, I have planted "Victoria" rhubarb. These are plants that I had on the old allotment and transplanted them here in December.  They have a particularly deep root run because I took out the subsoil to use on the new path replacing it with top soil from the path and topsoil from behind the big shed.  It also had a good dose of farmyard manure added to the top soil.  Although they are not as big as they were on the old allotment, they have grown well and we have had several feeds of them already.  I watered slug nematodes underneath the leaves to discourage slugs and this seems to have really helped them to grow on.

The old fruit cage was falling down in late 2013. It got a lot worse in 2014 because the cage was covered in bindweed.  This is where the peach greenhouse is now.  
Dwarf and climbing french beans.
Although the French beans have started to grow on now they were affected by the cold wind earlier in the month and stood still for over a week.  The climbing beans in the background are protected by scaffold netting primarily against the pigeons, however this meant that they were not held back by the cold winds and are growing up the canes now.  The beans in the foreground are only protected with plastic netting so were not so well protected from the wind.

Broad beans alongside new path.
These broad beans were put in at the beginning of April.  They are from saved seed so I am quite pleased with them.  They are flowering well and do not have any black fly at the moment.  As soon as I see any sign of this aphid I will nip off the shoot they are on.  This will slow down their spread through the plants.  These plants together with the other legumes on this bed will be dug in when the beans and peas have been harvested.

Tall climbing peas.
I have used the old fabric nets to support the tall peas.  They can climb up to the top of the 6 foot canes.  I saw yesterday that they need weeding even though there is a thick mulch around them.  

Bunyard's Exhibition broad beans.
I have only put in one row of bought broad bean seeds "Bunyard's Exhibition" because my saved seed plants are doing so well.  These have pods on already so I am expecting some good beans.

Fan trained redcurrant

Fan trained white currant.
I have used a fan trained white and red currant to separate the peas and beans bed from the brassica bed.  White and red currants are relatively easy to prune and train to fans and I am doing it on a post and wire frame.  The currants are growing on a raised bank with an alley way dug out on the brassica side.  The alleyway is full of woody chippings and looks fairly level with the rest of the bed but it will still slow down surface run off and allow water to soak in.

Kohl rabi and swedes
The kohl rabi and swedes were thinned out to about 1 foot apart and I found quite a bit of club root in the kohl rabi.  I will lime this area next year to make sure that I suppress this fungi.  I have cropped the spinach, rocket and radish giving me somewhere to plant the curly kale, borecole and winter cabbage.  I sowed seed for these vegetables in the cold frame and they will be ready to transplant in a week or so.
Cold Frame
I have some lettuce, radish and basil in the frame as well, however I will be planting more saladings when the brassicas have been taken out.  

Winter cauliflowers, Brussels sprouts and
purple sprouting broccoli.

A five centimeter depth of woody mulch
covers most of the bed.  

This is where I am going to plant all the winter brassicas so that they are not  taking up ground where I will want to plant early peas next year.  The winter cauliflowers usually form curds at the end of April and this is just when I want the ground to plant peas.  If I plant them here I can put the early peas on the summer brassica bed and later peas or the French beans here.

White currant and globe artichoke. 
I have trained this "Versailles Blanche" white currant to fan shape but it is in the wrong place at the moment.  I really want to put one of the espalier apples here.  It is growing well into the right shape so I might still leave it here.  I have squeezed in a line of radish and a line of turnips right next to the path.  

Marmande tomatoes grown in ring culture pots
on woody chippings.

Cherry tomatoes grown in ring culture pots  on
woody chippings.  
I have planted some of the tomatoes using good potting compost in ring culture pots and. just as an experiment, put them on woody chippings.  They seem to be doing quite well but I will hold judgement until they start to crop.  

So this is the part of the allotment that I cleared and planted up this year.  Time for a coffee Tone.  

Starting at the large shed again I will work up the next half allotment.   

Path alongside the hedge.
I dug out some of the top soil from under the hedge and replaced with subsoil.  I am planting comfrey and ransoms under the hedge. There are some summer and autumn fruiting raspberries alongside the path for easy picking.  The post and wire supports are to keep the raspberries off the pathway.  

Comfrey growing over the carpet.

Looking towards the little shed, you can see that the comfrey is growing over the carpet and making it look a lot more presentable. The raspberries here are over seven feet tall and producing abundant flowers.  Hopefully, these will turn into lots of raspberries.  There is a tayberry growing up the little shed concrete reinforcing wire.  

This compost heap was built over the path and was full of bind weed rhizomes.  The hedge was
cut hard back; most of the wood has been buried; and the rhizomes are being composted
 - carefully.
Top soil was dug out and replaced with subsoil and the area covered with paving slabs.
Top soil replaced the subsoil on the growing beds.   It makes an acceptable seating area.
The seating area is where the pallet compost bin was.  I removed the compost bin and laid the concrete slabs.  I just need a garden table now.  I dug out all the top soil from under the slabs and replaced it with subsoil and clay.  The top soil went onto the growing areas.  

Large shed.

The large shed has concrete reinforcing wire nailed to it on all sides.  This side has a fan trained redcurrant and a white clematis growing up it. The front of the shed has a fan trained gooseberry growing up the concrete reinforcing wire. I have put a hanging basket on this side with a few bits and pieces that I grew from seed.  The big blue bin is for water harvesting from the shed roof.  

Storage Area.

I keep nets and such in the old dustbins because they are water tight when their lids are on.  The comfrey digesting bins are in the background They are producing comfrey liquid continuously.  The top soil has been removed and replaced with subsoil and clay.  I put an old carpet over that just to get rid of it and then a good layer of woody shreddings.  I am going to plant a thornless blackberry to grow over the back of the shed.  It will be a cutting from the one on the lower right of the picture.  I am hoping the thornless blackberry will grow into the hedge to make the hedge a little more use.

If you look closely you can see the little
leaning apple tree.

Although the little leaning apple tree looks as though it is being swamped by the potato plants, it is producing a lot of apples.  Most of these will have to be thinned out if they do not drop off by themselves.  It is quite healthy and does not seem to be daunted by the potatoes growing around it.

Salad leaves
I have planted the salad leaves next to the big greenhouse this year.  Lettuce, lambs lettuce, good king Henry are still being eaten while the spinach and rocket have already been harvested and cleared away so that more lettuce could be planted.  
I have some Lollo Rosso and some Robinson lettuce to plant out soon - somewhere.  
The loganberries, wine berry and blackberries are separating the leaves bed from the peas.  They have flowered particularly well this year and I am hoping for a bumper harvest.  

Carrots under envirofleece.
The carrots are under the enviromesh.  I have had these two pieces of enviromesh for must be going on twenty seasons.  I cover the carrots when I sow them and keep them covered until they are harvested.  They still get eaten by carrot root fly though.  I cover the edges of the mesh with top soil to seal the edges.  I have put a thick mulch of woody chippings on this bed and it does not seem to have bothered any of the plants.  Also this bed has had two applications of snail nematodes to decrease the grazing pressure.  There are no slugs in the lettuce I have taken home - up to now.  
Parsnips have germinated well and are fairly healthy looking but they are bigger this end that the other.  Just shows you that this is a new allotment and I have not got an even spread of nutrients through the top soil yet.   There is a line of cos lettuce coming in succession.  The lavender are all from cuttings I made from a plant given to me last year.  Sweet cicely and the Glen Sarek blackcurrant are in the foreground and there are some oregano plants the other side of the lavender.  
The loganberry is throwing up a lot of new canes and these need to be tied in but I don't want to until I can cut out the old fruiting canes.  There is not really anywhere to tie them into at the moment.

Loganberry, blackberry and wineberry
I have dug out an alley way alongside the berries in order to catch surface rainwater runoff.  This has raised the level of soil under the berries and lowered it along the alleyway.  I filled the alleyway with woody chippings to make a path.
Peas in succession
I plant my peas in sectioned flats and bring them on in the greenhouse, planting them out when they are big enough not to be eaten by slugs.  I put chicken wire around them primarily for them to climb up but they also protect them from the pigeons.  These are mostly Early Onward and Lincoln pea but there are some of my own seed kept from last year and another I can't remember the name of.  I have had to cover the tops of the first sown peas at the back because the pigeons can flop down on them and eat the tops.  Early Onward is a top fruiting pea so the pigeons are eating the fruiting tips.  There is room for just one more row of Onward peas and these are already growing large in the greenhouse. They would have been planted today if it hadn't been raining all day.  I have left two foot alleyways along each of the rows and covered them with woody chippings as a mulch.  I will do this with the last row of peas too.  

The pea bed was not dug this year and, when the brassicas were taken out, I just hoed to remove the weeds  and planted directly into the soil.  I must admit that covering the topsoil with mulch has made it look a lot tidier and has decompacted it a little.  

Herbs alongside the path
I have planted the herbs alongside the path so that they can get reflected heat and light.  There is fennel, chives, various mints, rainbow sage and lemon balm growing here.  I was thinking of squeezing in another row of peas here but it might just shade the herbs too much.  Actually six rows of peas is much more than sufficient for me.  Most will get frozen and eaten over the rest of the year.
Summer brassicas
Stonehead cabbage and calabrese under the first  scaffold netting with a good depth of woody mulch. Two rows of cauliflower with a row of Romanesco inbetween under the next scaffold netting.  Not only does the scaffold netting keep the pigeons off the plants it also makes sure that cabbage white butterflies cannot lay eggs on them.
More summer brassicas.
I have protected these brassicas with a big one inch mesh net.  I am wondering if it will exclude the cabbage white butterflies as well as the pigeons.  I have red cabbage, more stonehead cabbage and calabrese here.  
Brunswick Cabbages.
I sowed these Brunswick cabbages in October last year and planted them out in March.  I want to see just how big I can grow them.  

Last year the grapes got severely cut back by a late frost so this year I covered them carefully with scaffold netting and it seems to have protected them quite well.  They are certainly growing on now.  The main stem was covered in a scale insect Parthenolecanium corni which I scraped off with a knife into a bucket.  There are none on now that I can see.  The grapes already have flowers on them and I will restrict the number of fruiting bunches by stopping the shoots when they reach the top of the supports.  
Sweet peas
This year the sweet peas were hardly affected by flea beetle at all and this meant that they have grown on particularly well.  Mulching them seems to have improved growth as well.  I am going to grow these as cordons until they reach the tops of the canes and then I am going to leave them to their own devices.  I am not going to layer them this year.  I soaked the bottom of the canes in Jeyes fluid to disinfect them this year so that I can lessen the danger of them getting the yellowing virus.  They are doing well at the moment and beginning to flower.  
Opal Peach.
The Opal peach seems to be in the middle of nowhere but it was right next to the compost area until I made the compost area smaller.  I think it might have a little fruit on it this year although it has got some aphid damage.  I have sprayed with comfrey liquid and this seems to have improved its vigour.  
I have planted some lupin seedlings here to grow on.  I am going to use them as a perennial legume to improve the soil nitrogen level.  There are also some ropy old chrysanthemums and nasturtiums growing hopefully to cover the soil.  

Compost bins.
This is my experimental compost area.  I am composting mares tail (Equiseteum  arvense), bindweed 
Calystegia sepium) and couch grass (Elymus repens).  The bins are being turned every two days and I have to admit, after being very skeptical, it is working quite well.  I think that I will still make sure I have dried the rhysomes very well before I compost them but I have proved to myself that it can be done.  The compost will be carefully sieved to remove anything that still seems to be alive and this will be used to start the new compost.  I still have plenty of rhizomes to compost stored away in the large sand bag.  My faithful Raleigh Leeds Tour Electric Bike gets me to the allotment fairly stress free.  The panniers are big enough to get most vegetables home, however it is not very good at carrying big bags of manure.
Victoria plum
The Victoria plum has flowered quite well this year and there are a lot of fruitlets on it.  Something has been eating the uppermost leaves and I think that it is the pigeons.  I don't really want the tree to grow too tall so I am not too bothered by this.  It is  a good windbreak because it is growing on the north west corner of the allotment.  The allotment next door has been designated a carpark now. I have covered as much of it as I can with carpets to keep the weeds down.  I have mixed feelings about it being converted from a growing area to a car park.  Still I will benefit from hard surface rainwater run off.

Guild of plants under the plum.

This  is my half hearted attempt to produce a guild of plants under the plum tree.  It consists of gooseberries, raspberries, comfrey and mint.  They seem to be growing fairly well together so I  will leave them to their own devices possibly harvesting the comfrey for the bins a couple more times.
Espaliered Egremont Russet.
The espaliers here are dividing the sweet pea bed from the onion bed.  The Egremont Russet is probably the best espalier I have trained at the moment.  I am hoping to get much better at it.
You can see the elephant garlic, garlic and some of the shallots in the background well mulched with woody chippings.  This was the first place I  mulched and the mulch is disappearing quite rapidly.  I think that worms are taking it down into the top soil.  It seems to be alright for the alliums though.
Espaliered pear Doyenne du Comice
The alleyways have been dug out and used to raise the beds and filled with woody chippings as mulch.

Runner beans.

These runner beans are from my own seed kept from last year.  They are good plants but they were held back due to the cold winds early in June.  

Cambridge strawberries.  
After putting contaminated straw on the strawberries last year, I am very wary about putting straw on them again this year.  I have used the woody shreddings as an alternative and they seem to be doing the job very well.  I have netted the strawberries but not particularly against the birds... 

I have put two rows of leeks in next to the strawberries but they haven't grown very fast.  I want them to mature after Christmas so I am not worried.  They have plenty of time to grow.  I will protect them later in the summer against the new leek miner fly.  
I have protected all the onions with the big enviromesh against the miner fly.  It seems to have worked because lots of unprotected onions on other allotments have been affected.  


All the water plants have regenerated and are growing well.  I might try to get some new ones, although the pond is quite full of plants now.  

The greenhouse has tomatoes, peppers, cucumber and melons.  All growing fairly well.  Peas are ready to be planted out as are the lettuce so that will be my next job,

Its not all hard work.