Friday, 30 December 2016

So, why do I still use mycorrhizal fungi?

I know the mycologists think that gardeners are stupid for using mycorrhizal spores but there are some circumstances where it might be appropriate to use them. I am no particular fan of RHS but they still promote the use of mycorrhizal spores when planting trees and shrubs. 

Most plants seem to be naturally infected by some kind of fungi and these seem to give plants advantages. The amount of research into the mutualistic symbiosis of plants and fungi is remarkable and ongoing.  It may well lead us to understand the world of plants as that of vast organisms encompassing whole forests and acres of soil.  Infection happens naturally. The biochemistry is fascinating and involves exudates from both roots and fungi.  Both fungi and plants are fundamentally changed; unique genes are switched on and new structures are formed both by roots and fungi. 

While this description seems to paint a very cosy relationship just between the fungi and the plant, this hides the interaction of the rest of the soil organisms.  Bacteria, both pathogenic and benign, are trying to gain entry to the root.  Fungal spores are being transported by nematodes and earthworms; hyphae and spores are being eaten by herbivorous nematodes,  arthropods and fungivourous collembola  and the whole lot is reliant on the constant addition of dead organic matter.

What is more there seems to be an incredible chemical communication between plants, fungi and animals living in the soil.  I don't know why I am amazed at this because it has long been known that plants produce exudates in their aerial structures.  Flowers produce scents and nectar to communicate their presence to pollenating organisms.  Resins and exudates are often produced by stems and trunks.

So if this all happens naturally why bother with adding mycorrhizal fungi spores to planting holes or growing medium?

I would suggest that if you left wood chippings in a plastic bag they would eventually become infected with fungi. The likelihood of them being oyster mushrooms is not that great, so using spores to impregnate the wood seems to be appropriate.  There are many species of fungi all inhabiting different niches.  Some are saprophytic heterotrophs, others are parasitic and many are mycorrhizal.  There are slimy ones, microscopic ones and enormous ones.  Most reproduce using tiny spores that are ubiquitous.  I would conjecture that there are oyster mushroom spores floating around my allotment in both air and the soil solution just as there are mycorrhizal fungi.  Their fitness will depend upon finding an appropriate habitat.    If I, as a gardener, alter the environment to favour these fungi then I am likely to accelerate their success. 

So, when we add mycorrhizal fungal spores to planting holes, we are just speeding up the process and making sure the appropriate fungi are in the growing medium.  Lots of commercial growing mediums are relatively sterile.  Organic gardening uses the understanding we have of the natural world and turns it to our advantage. 

In cultivated land hyphae may be broken up and killed so adding spores to planting holes seems to be a reasonable thing to do. Also if you are trying to reclaim degraded soil where there may be a lack of diversity, adding spores and improving the fungal environment by adding compost and woody shreddings as mulch seems to be a valuable thing to do. Gardening is an intervention and to some extent gardeners degrade the soil. We must attempt at every opportunity to increase diversity and improve the habitat of soil living organisms by adding lots of organic matter - something that Robert Pavlis questions too.

Monday, 26 December 2016

Still learning new things after 50+ years of gardening.

Just read James Wong's article on
So this seems to have come from an auto toxicity of coffee plants and a resultant degradation of the soil for coffee growing in places like Latin America. This has occurred due to tens of years of monoculture. It seems that some of the aromatic herbs like sage will help to ameliorate this problem.
I think that this is a classic example of why monoculture is a bad way of cultivating plants.  Not only do we get depletion of specific nutrients and an increase in pests and diseases but also a build up of potentially growth retarding chemicals. 

It is also an example of the danger of extrapolating scientific results without carefully considering whether this is appropriate. 

In Coffea arabica growing regions of Brazil, coffee fruit peel is composted and used on vegetables, fruit trees and for coffee culture itself not only as an organic fertiliser but also as a weed suppressant.  It seems to slow the growth of fine roots.

There are relatively high concentrations of phenols, flavonoids and caffeine found in extracts.  It is amazing what we find good to drink! One or more of these compounds may have allelopathic properties.  It has been found that coffee bean water extracts and dry powder decrease germination in certain plants.  So needs to be pretty concentrated then?  In other plants there is less germination but stronger seedlings than controls.  This has been interpreted as coffee water extracts and lower dose dry powder have allelopathic effects on some seedlings.  Higher doses of incorporated coffee powder has a depressing allelopathic effect on some  plant's growth. 

I would not really worry about putting coffee grounds on growing beds for at least two reasons. You have just put them through a procedure that removes lots of the chemicals from the bean when it has been percolated. The research papers that I have read use quite concentrated coffee extracts to get an effect.    Secondly, you have not been putting coffee on growing areas for tens of years and finally you are not growing a monoculture of coffee. 

I put my coffee grounds on the compost heap. They are relatively rich in nitrogen even after percolation and this means they will help to accelerate decomposition.

I have used comfrey in the same way as James Wong did coffee grounds in the newspaper article and got similar results. I think that his results could have something to do with too much nitrogen rather than the allelopathic effects of coffee grounds. I would not repeatedly put any chemical on growing areas like this because plants only need tiny amounts of nutrients from the soil.

Are celery plants perennial?  There are lots of vegetable plants that are grown as annuals that are biennials or perennials.  It seems that celery is one of them.  It dies after it has flowered so if you can stop it from flowering, you can keep if for several years.  I find it difficult to stop it flowering in the first year and am delighted when I can pick some for Christmas dinner as I did this year. 

Friday, 23 December 2016

December photographs of the allotment.

December and the weather is getting much colder.  The allotment needed tidying and some woody material needed burying.  There were some very rotten logs about 15cm in diameter under the chippings that no one would want so they could be used for a Hugelkultur.  I wanted to take down the Victoria Plum and bury it somewhere too.   The most appropriate place to dig some trenches was the new potato bed.  The tops of the pumpkins, courgettes, sweet corn and French beans had been dug in after the first frosts and had already rotted away.  Just a few of the French bean vines could be seen in the soil.    A four foot trench was taken out three spits deep. The bottom spit was dug out and put into the wheel barrow so that the path concrete slabs could be levelled.  The bottom of the trench was forked over, which means that I went down four spits.  I have just been reading in "The Manual of Gardening" by L.H. Bailey (1910) that potatoes grow well if they have a deep root run and I tend to agree.  Well they will certainly have an unrestricted root run here. 

Filling the trench with organic matter.
I put the logs, branches and brash at the bottom of the trench and tried to mix it in with the subsoil.  On top of the woody material went the organic matter from tidying up the allotment. 
Soil taken out of the trench.  The canes are indicating where the rhubarb is. 

Once the rhubarb had lost its leaves in the second frost, I decided to move it a small distance.  This will make the two beds either side of it a little more equal in area.  I had to break a few of the larger roots but not too many.  It is just like moving a herbaceous perennial in the flower garden.  The roots can be divided like herbaceous perennials too.  They got a good dose of sieved compost  in the planting holes to give them a boost next spring. 

I wanted to reduce the Victoria plum tree and cut out all the canker in its trunk.  This meant virtually cutting it down completely.  There was a water shoot growing low down and I thought that this might develop into a tree again given some time.  The trunk and branches that were cut off could be put at the bottom of the trench. 
Totally the wrong time of year to cut a plum but if the trunk and branches were to be
buried it would have to be done now.  If I am lucky it wont get silver leaf disease.
I thought that, if I cut the trunk at quite a sharp angle, water would run off cleaning the surface of fungal spores.  I don't really think that it works like that but there is no harm in trying it out.  One of the gooseberries that I planted under the plum has grown into a thicket.  It has thorns and small black, blackcurrant looking berries.  It only produces one or two berries every year so it is not worth bothering with.  However, it is good to have another interesting plant growing on the allotment and I think that this might be an American gooseberry. 
The American gooseberries.  One of the mints growing through the gooseberry.
Now that I have cut the plum hard back, I can use this ground for vegetables so the gooseberries are going to have to go somewhere else.  I might put them in the border around the carpark just so they are not thrown away.  I took off all the top growth and put it into the trench.  This means that it is easier to take out the gooseberry roots.  The soil here is very good but not very deep.  It has a layer of hard core about 20cm down.  I will have to break this up if I am going to grow runner beans here next season. 
Subsoil dug from the bottom of the trench. 
I didn't take all the third spit of subsoil out of the trench but I did take this.  I have left the subsoil in the composting area and I will use it to mix into the compost.  The soil will not add anything to the compost but the compost might add something to the subsoil while it is being turned every two days.  The trench is deeper and can be filled with more organic matter from around the allotment and I get more top soil like material from the compost bins. 
I am emptying the compost bins and putting the compost in the trenches.  It wasn't rotting down very quickly even though I was turning it every two days.  I want to empty the compost bins and tidy them away before I get some more farmyard manure from the farm. 
I am putting this into the Hugelkultur trench on top of the
branches and trunk pieces.
Any other organic matter that I want cleared off the allotment is being put into the trench.  The old chard, perpetual spinach, prunings from the fruit trees, and a few weeds are all grist to the mill.  I am then capping this material with a layer of woody chippings from the pile on the car park and the old mulching from the peach greenhouse. 


Taking out the woody chippings from the peach greenhouse means that any disease in the mulch is removed. I will be planting the tomatoes in the same place again next season and will need a base that has not had contact with tomatoes before.  I am only going to put a couple of tomatoes here because the peach has got quite large and needs the space.  The tomatoes shaded the peach quite a lot this year and I don't want that to happen again. 

 I am also taking out all the peach leaves and any disease on them.  I removed and replaced about 20-30cm of chippings.  It is a bit of a chore but much easier than changing top soil each year.  The peach got its final winter pruning and I tried very hard to keep all the small side shoots that grew last year.  These are the shoots that will have the fruit on them next season. 
Fan trained peach in the small greenhouse.  I don't know how long I will be able to keep it in
the greenhouse but I will probably have to move the greenhouse rather than the peach. 

Some of the subsoil from the trench was used to straighten the path.  I was trying to do it fairly quickly so it is not perfect but it is much better than it was.  I don't think that I am going to do any more to the path unless I can find some more slabs to finish it off. 
I ran out of slabs half way down the path so I finished it off with woody chippings.
My allotment on the left and Sue's on the right. 
The leeks got rust on them so the outer leaves have died right back but they are fine underneath.  There does not seem to be much damage from leek miner fly.  I will be eating these during the rest of the winter.  All the cuttings that I just stuck in have taken.  About five redcurrants and four buddleias.  As the Cox's Orange Pippin budding didn't grow, I took out the rootstock and potted it up.  I replaced the Cox with a May Queen graft that I did this year.  Hopefully that will be more successful. 

Some willow herb weeds growing in the decayed woody chippings mulch. 

The Phacelia tanacetifolia has not been killed off by the frost as I was expecting.  So the ground will be covered throughout the winter with this and trefoil.  I will dig the green manure in during February or the beginning of March when I start to plant the sweet peas. 
Blackcurrant bushes.
The black currant bushes have been thinned out and the older wood removed.  I have left as much new wood as I can to fruit next year.  They have had a good mulch of woody chippings.  If I have any farmyard manure left over, I will scrape off the chippings and put manure around the bottoms of these bushes replacing the chippings afterwards. 
Daphnia in the pots are still surviving.

 I have cut back the gooseberry fan trained on the shed so that there are no stems growing out. 

 I did the same with the red currant. 
This is a white scented clematis grown from a cutting. 
Red clover, crimson clover and broad beans
green manure.
The broad beans got cut back by the frosts but the crimson and red clover has thrived.  This will overwinter and be dug in during March next year.  It is where the onions, leeks, garlic and celery are going next season. 
Path between my allotments
I cut the lavender, rosemary and mint hard back and put the tops in the trench.  The oca has died right back now but I am leaving the tubers in the soil.  I am gambling that the frost will not kill them and I can use them for soups and stews during the winter.  King of the Pippins on the left and Royal Reinette apple on the right.  Maybe I need to level this path off a little too.  It shows that even in our climate there is significant erosion of top soil through surface run off.  The eroded soil is collecting where the puddles have dried up. 
More leeks and Phacelia tanacetifolia

Queen Cox apple.
I have started to plant this year's grafts.  I have not put up the supports for them yet and I am very prone to treading on and breaking the grafts so I will have to put some protection around them soon.  The green manure is just starting to germinate even at this time of the year.  I have already dug in some clover.  It was becoming very weedy so digging in seemed expedient.  Reseeded with whatever I had at hand. 
Roots bed before I tidied it up.
Still got carrots, beetroot and parsnips in the ground.  I gave the espaliers one more  going over to remove any stems growing out.  They are fairly well pruned now.  Hopefully I will get some pears this season.  I only know the Ribstone Pippin espalier in the middle.  The one on the left is a pear and the one on the right is probably a James Grieves apple.  I've also planted a Orleans Reinette on the other side of this bed. 
Pruned the loganberry and blackberries hard so that they could be trained to the supports. 
Top bed with mostly red clover green manure
The grape has been cut hard back and will have to be kept much more in order this season.  It has been allowed to run up long stems and these become very unkempt.  So they will be pruned off straight away this season.  I have planted May Queen, Claygate Pearman and Elis Bitter alongside the trackway.  I have left the laburnums in to act as nursery trees and provide the apples with a little nutrient because they are nitrogen fixing legumes.  Not all legumes are nitrogen fixing.  Alongside the path on this side I have a Court of Wick and Christmas Pearman family tree.  This was not planned and I grafted them together because I had run out of rootstock and didn't want to waste a sion.  I have a Winter density and a Mosses seedling on the other side. 
This espalier is a Newton Wonder - I think with Ben Sarek black currant this end and
Gooseberry 'Hinnonmaki Yellow' at the far end near the metal watering pots.

Top bed the other side covered with green manure. 
Fan trained currant bushes behind the peach greenhouse. 

Path up to the greenhouse.

 I have planted the Norfolk Royal apple tree between the two supports and will espalier it like the other apples. 
 My not very successful attempt at making a hot bed using woody chippings.  The chippings do heat up but the heat does not last very long. 

The green manure didn't germinate very well on this bed so I have begun to cover it with sieved compost.  It will have some farmyard manure dug into it during the winter. 
I have got some good salad out of the frames but the heat came more because of the glass than the heap of woody chippings.  The mound of woody chippings will be removed in the spring and either composted or put onto the paths. 

Bay trees alongside the greenhouse for protection.  I am pruning these to standard trees with
ball heads.  The Egremont Russet espalier is in the background. 

This is probably the best of the bays at the moment.  The trunks look a little wobbly but
when they get a little bigger they straighten out. 

I have started clearing out the pond.  I like to empty the water out and replace it with rainwater from the butts.  The pond water is full of nutrients and weed which makes a very good compost starter.  The pond plants will be thinned down and replanted in their baskets and put back into the pond.  A lot of the oxygenating plants will be kept because they are full of pond creatures.  The lavender has died right back and I don't know whether it will regenerate next spring.  If it doesn't, I will take it out and plant something a little more suitable there. 
Not very good photograph of the brassica bed
I've put about four barrow loads of sieved compost onto the bed but it does not look like very much.  It is pretty rich because I have been adding comfrey liquid to this compost so I probably don't need to put any more nutrients  on this ground.  If I don't dig it in, I could just rake the compost over the surface.  So why do I keep thinking that I need to put more manure or compost on here.  Particularly when I dug in lots of farmyard manure last year? Regardless,  I probably will put more farmyard manure on it but it doesn't need any. 
Cropping Brussel sprouts, kale, cabbage and kohl rabbi from this bed. 

The Pear 'Doyenne du Comice' Espalier.  . 
 I have had to expand the supports to accommodate the growth of the branches.  I am going to allow them to grow to full length until they fill up the available space.

Greenhouse with the sweet peas and lupins.  A few of the pumpkins have not been used yet.
One of the new apple grafts that I will prune to espalier.
The two previous grafts of Norfolk Royal I have stepped on and broken.  This one I was treating very carefully and put the supports around it to protect it.  Somehow or other I endeavoured to damage it by knocking off one of the grafts.  I think that this graft will grow on now and it means that I do not have to decide which of the grafts is the strongest to grow on.  This is a good photograph of the woody chippings mulch that I have used over the whole allotment this year.  Most of the mulch has rotted away now but I replenished this when I planted the apple.  There is a piece of charcoal I added last year in the chippings.  I didn't break this up like I usually do.  I might find it and hit it with a bull hammer so that the smaller pieces can be incorporated into the soil a little more efficiently than this big piece is doing. 

So still getting a lot of vegetables from the allotment even at this time of the year and I have not mentioned the vegetables in the store shed.

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Total compaction. Repairing the concrete slab path.

The path between Sue's and my allotment was not laid very well and I promised both myself and Sue that I would take it up and do it again.  As I was digging a deep trench across the new potato bed to bury some logs and hedge trimmings, I dug out some sub soil to put under the slabs to level them out. 

The subsoil was pretty dire being a mixture of old red sandstone and boulder clay.  However, it does make an effective levelling base for the concrete slabs.  The clay is especially good at squishing itself level under the weight of the slabs. 

I was putting off this job because I do not relish the opportunity to go one to one with three foot by two foot, two inch thick concrete slabs.  They just ooze malevolence.  I had begged these monoliths from people around the allotment and struggled them back to the path.  I had promised myself that once they were down they would never ever be moved again - by me.  As far as I was concerned they could stay there until the next ice age when the glaciers could take their turn. 

So, of course, yesterday I decide to move them.

They were very old, pock marked, scarred and covered in immovable donuts of cement.  I used the chisel and bull hammer on the cement and a few meagre scraps were knocked off.  I then made the executive decision that the donuts had not really made a significant dent on our health and safety and promptly gave up. 

I had to lift the slabs out of the way to level the soil underneath them.  I do it with the fork and this faithful tool seems to rise to the challenge, raising each one of them with alacrity.  That, however, is only the beginning.  After the fork has levered the concrete high enough to get a grip on, I have to lift it up.  And every time I hear my son saying in my head, if he is not physically standing behind me, "Use your legs". I always, always use my legs. I do not need to be told every time; especially by the little voice in my head. 

But this time I didn't use my legs, I used my arms.  Not sensible but if you can do it quite quickly and safely, balancing it on end at the finale then it is effective.  Unless of course it decides to slide about and aim for you foot.  Luckily this time all the slabs were very well behaved.

Then the slab has to be walked a safe distance away from the work area and laid down in such a way as to make it "easier" to lift up again to put back. 

The ground underneath the slab was very consolidated probably because of the weight of the concrete slab but I expect that having lots of people and laden wheel barrows trundling across didn't help much either.  So compaction was the order of the day.

If compaction is the evil that most books would have us believe, then why was there so much life under the slab?  Woodlice, slugs, snails, centipedes, millipedes, spiders, ground beetles and various other scuttling creatures abounded under each of the slabs.  Not to mention worms.  They do it just to spite me.  Oh no we aren't going to burrow in Tony's lovely friable growing beds we would rather burrow in the really difficult compacted subsoil under the slabs. 

The compaction was no defence against horse tail and bind weed and in each crack between the slabs were the inevitable dock, couch grass and dandelion.  All grist to the mill for the worm bin but not defeated by compaction. 

Now I know that real compaction is totally destructive to soil fertility and health but it is a lot harder to achieve than just walking over the soil.  You need a multi tonne dumper truck to get some really good soil destroying compaction.    Do not misunderstand me.  I am not encouraging you. 

Walking on the lawn does not compact the soil to the extent that grass will no longer grow.  It really irritates me that the worst treated lawns always seem to grow much better than molly coddled ones like mine. 

I have always been taught that you should consolidate the ground by treading it before you sow or plant.  A fine tilth can be made using the rake and the friable soil created will form close contact with the roots or the seeds, particularly if the ground is watered afterwards. 

I do not needlessly walk on the growing beds but I will not submit to the gardening gestapo who say never walk on the growing beds.  Life is far, far too short and I can't be doing with going all the way round each time. 

Monday, 5 December 2016

You can't sterilise soil by digging.

Soil cannot be sterilised by digging.  If this was the case, the danger of such things as onion white rot, club root and parasitic nematodes could be removed by simply turning over the soil.  Even after several years of digging and trenching, these diseases and pests remain in the soil and can only be diminished by strict rotation and removal of infected plants.

Unfortunately slugs cannot be discouraged merely by digging over the garden. 

They couldn't decontaminate Gruinard Island from anthrax just by ploughing the soil.

What irritates me is that I was beginning to be convinced by the statements that digging killed life in the soil.  I was also taken in when Geoff Lawton said that the heat of a compost heap came from dead organisms killed off by the turning process.   Experience and thought experiments must at least give pause for thought.

The compost in the bins in the photograph below has been turned every other day for two weeks, following the Berkley method of composting.  It could be suggested that the mixing of the compost is similar to digging and trenching allotment soil.  The population of worms in the compost does not diminish, in fact there is evidence that it actually increases. 

The species of worm, probably Eisenia fetida,  may be adapted to living in a habitat that is constantly being disturbed by the compost turning process but that is unlikely.  However, it is remarkable that Eisenia fetida seem to prosper in an environment of disturbance in a compost that is regularly turned whilst, it is often said, soil living worms, like Lumbricus terrestris,  have their population drastically reduced by a similar activity when allotment beds are dug over. It is very hard to accept. 

This is the rough compost sieved and returned to the bins.  The black berry and black
currant stems prunings can still be identified but they are very easy to break apart now.
Oh, and lots of worms. 

The evidence of the survey on results, found that vegetable beds had the highest density of total earthworms.  They suggest that this was against their expectations and probably due to the beds being regularly turned over and organic matter added.  However, with the data that they have at the moment there is no significant correlation between the amount of organic matter and the number of worms. 

Previously it was reported that there were far more worms in pasture than in cultivated land.  For example Satchell in 1967 showed that at Rothamsted  there were more worms in Park Grass, a permanent mowing meadow, than of Broadbalk which was under a continuous cultivation of wheat.  I think that Darwin said something similar too.  So it is a surprising result from the earthworm watch experiment.  This may just be due to habitat preference or some other factor.

This says more about monocultures and soil degradation than it does about worms.  If the suggestion that we get more worms with more organic matter is correct,  then maybe the amount or quality of the organic matter in the Broadbalk field may have some bearing on the population of worms. 

There is some support for the idea that compost made from a variety of plant and animal material is better than that made from one source. The hypothesis is that the types of organic matter, their associated ecology and how these are mixed within the compost heap will affect how beneficial it will be for vegetable crops. 

Continuous secretion of the same exudates from a monoculture year after year will lead to a modification of the populations of soil organisms.  

Apart from the concentration of organic matter, other factors may influence the quantity of worms in the soil.  This is already quite evident that worms like Eisenia fetida prefer to live in habitats that are almost entirely decaying plants and animals, whilst others will live in soil which has a much lower percentage of organic matter. 

There is some suggestion that putting lawn mowings into the compost will produce a thick mush of wet, smelly, anaerobic decomposition.  Although turning the grass mowings and mixing them thoroughly with other ingredients usually prevents this from happening,  the number of compost worms associated with matted compost is noticeably greater than the rest of the compost. 

Turning the compost every two days makes it particularly friable.  The low bulk density of this material must allow ease of movement into and through the compost.   Also the introduction of copious amounts of air will allow access of many different invertebrates to populate the heap and this is what is found. 

The comparison with turning the soil over cannot be ignored particularly if copious amounts of organic matter, that is well mixed and from a variety of sources, is added at the same time. 

There are many reasons for not digging the soil but the often stated "It reduces the populations of invertebrates" is not necessarily a valid one.

I would suggest that the reduction in the population of all soil organisms in seriously degraded soil has little to do with cultivation by digging or ploughing but much more to do with the lack of compost, manure or other good quality organic matter being added. 

Soil organisms need a source of carbon to consume.  Without it they will starve and populations will fall.  Digging adds air to the soil and this will increase the speed of decomposition of organic matter leading to its depletion unless it is constantly replenished. 

The production of heat in a compost heap comes from the exothermic reactions of metabolism.  Food (carbon) is burnt (in a very controlled way) to produce energy.  One type of energy that is produced is heat.  To get heat in the compost heap there must be life.  So much life that the compost heats up quite a bit.  The carbon used up to form this exothermic reaction produces energy and is lost as carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.  The amount of carbon in the compost heap is reduced and the concentration of other nutrients is concentrated in what is left.  The nutrients are already there they are not made by the composting process they are just concentrated. 

If the life in the compost were to die, due to turning every two days, there would be no increase in temperature.  The temperature increase is brought about by the life in the compost thriving and multiplying.  If these organisms had been killed off by the turning/digging of the compost there would be no increase in temperature. It would remain cold. 

The heat of a compost heap does not come from nowhere.  Turning or digging the compost adds air to the compost heap and this enables more aerobic decomposition to occur.  Now there are obligate anaerobic bacteria that are poisoned by oxygen and there are obligate aerobic bacteria that need oxygen but there are a significant number of facultative anaerobic bacteria that can live both anaerobically and aerobically.  In fact there is a confusing number of different methods of metabolism in bacteria. Believe me bacteria are ubiquitous and, as we are now finding, they are quite difficult to kill off.  Bacteria are so minute  turning/ digging the compost would be extremely unlikely to affect their populations significantly.

While I can accept that the heat generated by the compost heap will tend to kill off weed seeds, I find it difficult to accept that disease organisms will be overly affected.  Best not to put diseased material on the compost heap. 

Fungi are obligate aerobic heterotrophs.  They are also throughout the compost.

To say that anaerobic bacteria are bad and aerobic bacteria are good is totally meaningless.   Both types of bacteria decompose dead material and mineralise forming plant available nutrients. 

The thing about an aerobic metabolism is that it produces much more energy, due to the citric acid cycle and electron transfer chain,  decomposing and assimilating much more quickly.  This means that mineralisation, producing plant available nutrients, occurs much more speedily. 

So you don't sterilise compost heaps when they are turned and you don't sterilise soil when you dig it.  Use better reasons for not digging. 

Saturday, 5 November 2016

Flagstone or soil based greenhouse?

I have both a flagstone and a soil based greenhouse. 

The interesting thing about the flagstone greenhouse is that it retains heat for much longer than the soil based greenhouse. The flagstones seem to act as storage heaters cooling down slowly during the night. 

Soil based greenhouse with mulch of chippings

Slab based greenhouse

If your greenhouse is in full sun all day, allowing the slabs to heat up, then this is an advantage. My cold greenhouse (i.e. one without artificial heating) remains above freezing for most of the year.  I know that we have had mild winters recently and this might not continue but it indicates to me that there is an advantage, particularly when you don't use any other heating.  The slabs are on stone that was sieved from the rest of the allotment and this will add to the thermal mass of the slabs. 

Design behind the greenhouse.

There also might be an advantage due to reflected light from the slabs particularly as they are grey/white.  I think that this is a neglected feature that could benefit plants a lot. I keep the slabs as clean as I can to increase the light reflected and to reduce the possibility of disease.   However, washing the glass and the poly carbonate sheets regularly, allowing for maximum light to pass through them, is also very advantageous.   

Keeping the slabs clean with water has an additional benefit in the summer when the greenhouse needs cooling.  Putting water on the slabs will cool the greenhouse through evaporation.

Further, my soil based greenhouse is slowly sinking even though it is on an aluminium foundation.  I will have to remove the glass and polycarbonate from the greenhouse to straighten the foundations soon.  Maybe during the winter.   The slab one is not sinking.

Making holes in the slabs to screw the greenhouse down was very difficult, leading me to give up in the end. I am relying on the weight of the glass to stop it from toppling over in the wind. I have had it on slabs for over 30 years now (but not in the same place) and it has not even had a glass pane cracked by the wind. However, neither has the soil based one. 

In the soil based greenhouse I plant in pots or ring culture pots (with no bottoms) as I do in the slab based one. So no difference there.  However, I have a peach tree growing in the soil based greenhouse and I would not be able to do this in a slab based greenhouse, although you could have a vine planted outside the greenhouse and growing through a hole in the glass.  The peach is in a greenhouse to prevent it getting peach leaf curl, protect the blossom which comes early in the year and to accelerate ripening of the fruit.  If the greenhouse was bigger, I would plant an apricot and a nectarine in a greenhouse too and for the same reasons. 

I have a lot fewer weeds in the slab based greenhouse, although they find their way into the cracks between the slabs.  I have just cleaned the slab based greenhouse and only found one weed which was easily dealt with using a slab weeding tool. 

Although this is a bit of a chore, I replace the topsoil and the woody chippings in the soil based greenhouse every year,especially if I have been growing tomatoes.  It mitigates against disease and I  find that it is well worth doing. 

So I think it depends on what you want from your greenhouse.

Friday, 21 October 2016

Top Soil

An allotmenteer was struggling to his car with two large plastic bags of weeds so I offered to take them off his hands and compost them.  The bags were full of bind weed and couch grass so he was reluctant to hand them over thinking that he would do me a disservice. 

I assured him that he would be doing me a favour. All I saw were bags of nutrients and top soil.  They would have to be processed and composted before I could use them on the allotment but they were still a good potential source of soil conditioners. 

They were clearing a new allotment which was covered in  weeds.  Now, I had to consider whether the top soil would have any diseases like club root or onion white rot because I might introduce them into my allotment.  I thought that I might as well take a chance because I am regularly  putting imported material into the soil .  I have composted the weeds around the car park, which used to be an allotment as well as other weeds from vacant spaces. 

My rational was that overgrown allotments usually produced very good crops once they have been cleared.  They have been left fallow for a number of years and the fertility has been built up.  Nutrients have been  concentrated in the living things at the soil surface and these have been recycled as the plants and animals have died and returned them to the soil. 

If I was correct then this top soil, associated with the weeds, would be very fertile.  However, there did not seem to be very much top soil left on the roots. 

Usually, before composting weeds like this, I like to dry them and, to make this easier, I sieved the soil off the roots using the bread tray sieve.  I have put a square centimeter metal grid in the bread tray to protect the plastic mesh.  It is getting a little old now. 
Sieving the weeds
It is remarkable how much top soil came off the weeds.  The sieved weeds are next to the barrow and the unsieved ones are next to the pallets.  I got another barrow load of topsoil from these unsieved ones.  So sieving the weeds gave me two barrows of topsoil, weeds that could be dried and lots of material for a new compost bin. 

The top soil was dug in with the fenugreek where I am going to put in a winter cover crop of grazing rye and tares.  This will be next season's roots bed.

Saturday, 27 August 2016

August is a harvesting month. August photographs.

Hi  to all the Shugborough volunteer gardeners.

Not only have I been harvesting, I have also been seed collecting and sowing green manure and cover crops where I have cleared the ground.  I warn you now that the vegetables and fruit have been growing very luxuriant in the last few weeks and making out what is growing can be quite difficult from the photographs.  It is what happens when plants are happy.  I don't mind them becoming slightly over crowded because they shade out weeds.  Apart from pot marigold Calendula officinalis growing where I don't necessarily want it to there is little weed on the allotment.  This is in part due to the thick mulch of woody chippings that I put down earlier in the summer.  I now find its called the Eden method because of the bloke on You Tube but there are many of us that were using chippings as mulch for years.  Watch the video carefully because he puts chicken manure on the garden before the chippings and this is not at all clear from the videos that I have seen.  I think that some kind of manure should be used on the soil before chippings are laid down.  Also, water in some anti slug nematode worms before using chippings because they can encourage slugs. 

This is a purple hazel grafted onto the ordinary
hazel.  And I did it myself!
I put the purple hazel by the shed to mask it a little.  It hasn't really grown thick enough to do any masking but, seeing as I grafted it, I am not going to take it out or move it now.  There are three cheap clematis plants growing over the shed too.  They will be encouraged to grow through the hazel.  There are several roots of rhubarb behind the hazel but these have not cropped very well. 
I have had all the beans that I wanted off the runners and I am leaving the rest to go
to seed.  I have started collecting and dryingrunner seeds.
The beans have had a two inch mulch of woody chippings put on in April.  Most of it has decomposed into a compost like material now.  I will probably dig it into the soil.  Next time I use the chippings for mulch I will hoe in some chicken manure before spreading it.  There is a little nitrogen draw down - but not enough to stop the beans from producing a great quantity of pods.  I am taking these pods off now as they dry and collecting the seed.  The seed will further dry either in the sun or in the shed depending on the weather. 
The cherry tree is masked by the raspberries, These are autumn fruiting bushes. 
These raspberries were given to me and I just healed them into the ground alongside the path.  They didn't do anything for most of the summer and then they decided to grow large and produce a significant amount of fruit. 
I am growing the cherry as a fan but one of the stems is much stronger than the other.  I have lowered the strong stem down almost to the horizontal while leaving the other weaker stem vertical.  According to Abercrombe, this should make the weaker stem grow much stronger and catch up the stronger branch.  I have yet to see any evidence of this. 
The stronger branch is more or less horizontal while the weaker one is more vertical.
The label reminds me it is a Lapins Cherry and I need to rewrite the label because the name is washing off.  I didn't plant the Calendula officinalis.  It's seeds were in the compost that I put along the runner beans.  It seems that I did not get the compost hot enough to kill these seeds.  I could have weeded them out but they formed a good cover crop beneath the beans and they might have given some aid to the beans as a companion plant.  Certainly, there were no aphids on the beans this year. 
Willow cuttings.
I pushed these willow cuttings into the ground next to the car park and they have rooted.  I want to make a live willow wicker fence alongside the carpark to keep car fumes from wafting over the allotment.  These ones are growing very well but others I planted died off.  I will not really have enough cuttings at the moment and will have to put some more in.  The willow on the allotment is throwing out a lot of new growth because I cut it back very hard. 
Willow tree next to the compost.  Salix alba vitellina
I will cut it back hard again this autumn and push the cuttings into the soil to root.  If they root by next spring, I will put them in a row with the others and start weaving them together.  I will also pleach them every time they touch another stem by cutting away some of the bark on both stems so that the cambium is exposed then wrapping them tightly together with grafting tape. 

My poor attempt at forming a glade under the plum tree. 
Under the plum tree, I have planted an American gooseberry, comfrey and nasturtiums and, while they are all growing together very well,  it looks a bit like a mess.  My poor attempt at developing a glade.  There is a thick layer of woody chipping mulch over the soil and no weeds have been seen all summer. 
Winter brassicas getting squashed under the netting. 
These are mainly late sprouting winter broccoli with a few kale plants mixed in.  I have taken the netting off now because the pigeons do not seem to be interested in the plants when they get to this size.  If they do show renewed interest then I will put the nets on again but only loosely to deter them.  The plants are continuing to grow quite large and healthily and have avoided too much damage from cabbage white butterflies and slugs.  All the brassicas were given a two inch mulch of woody chippings when they had reached one foot or eighteen inches tall.  I left until they were this height because they would not be so susceptible to slug and snail damage.  Mulches do attract molluscs.
Winter cauliflowers and kale.
Brassica bed
Brussel Sprout  "Darkmar"
The kale and the Brussel sprouts are doing well and there is no sign of white fly at the moment.  I still have to take the water pipe hoops off the bed and store them away but they are holding up the plants at the moment.  The Brussel sprouts need the support although they should stand up on their own. 
Both of the grapes threw up a lot of new growth that was shading and diverting food away
from the fruit. 
I have pruned both the grapes hard back to the original stems now so that the fruit can get some light and air.  It looks a lot more tidy  than in the photograph.  There is a lot of fruit on the bushes but they are only small.  All that new growth is taking a lot of food to develop.  It is a carbon sink and will divert sugars from the fruit to the ends of the stems.  Cutting the new growth off will means that the big old leaves will be left and are producing much more food than they are consuming. 
Espaliered 'Egremont Russet, apple and 'Doyenne du Comice' pear
Both of these espaliers had been summer pruned but they have made still more growth.  I have taken out most of the unnecessary woody growth.  Both trees seem to be very vigorous but they are not producing very much fruit.  I'm not that worried because the other apples and pears are producing a lot more fruit than I will need; I will not get the variety though.  Both trees have reached the top of the framework that I made for them and I will either have to build something taller or begin to train the leaders horizontally.  I will take them a little higher just to impress everyone but will make sure that I can reach the tops to harvest.  As I usually do, I have planted these trees too close to each other and they are now beginning to overlap each other.  Abercrombe says to just cut the leaders off but this will give me lots of new grow every year that not only will have to be pruned off but will divert food from going to the fruit.  So, I plan to turn the horizontal lateral braches leaders up until they meet the branch above and then pleach them together.  I have done this with the laburnums and with the James Grieves and the Ribstone Pippin.  Not sure whether this is good practice but it means that I am not pruning out new growth from the ends of the laterals every season. 
Bay trees
Sandwiched between the sweet peas and the greenhouse are some bay trees that I am training to have spherical heads. These bay trees were cuttings I made about three years ago. Pruning them to globe heads is fairly easy to do but does need patients. 

Apple grafts
Although it doesn't look like it there are seventeen different apple grafts growing in pots here.  The oca volunteers have grown up and covered the pots.  I have tucked them away behind the green house so that I don't tread on them.  I have destroyed at least two Norfolk Royal grafts with my clumsy feet and I would be really annoyed if I trod on another one.  They are somewhat protected here but I can still get to them to water if necessary.  The asparagus to the left of the photograph are protecting them a little and this is the awing of the cage of asparagus. 
Compost bins after the compost has just been
Although I am trying to turn the compost every two days as the Berkley method suggests, it has been quite difficult to do when there is harvesting and sowing to contend with.  Having said this, I have started this batch of compost with good intent.  I have turned it twice which means that the compost is ten days old and looks like this.  Four days at the beginning left to moulder then turned every two days i.e. on what I call the third day.
Ten day old compost.
It has changed colour and you can't really tell what the compost was made from.  This has a lot of summer raspberry, loganberry and blackberry canes and woody chippings mixed in with it.  I have use a lot of diluted comfrey and comfrey leaves to further the process and this time I have quite hot compost which was steaming when I turned it.  It is the same in all the bins.  I am fascinated when the plastic, metal and stones 'fall' out of the compost.  Even tiny bits seem to separate themselves and are easily taken out of the compost.  I have no idea where they come from but they could be wrapped tightly in the roots of plants added to the bins. 
A lot more woody stuff in this one. 
I compost almost all the allotment waste now.  Only the diseased material is removed from the allotment.  Any woody material gets cut up into small 5 cm pieces and added to the mix.  It does eventually break down and forms a very friable compost.  The compost still need sieving to remove the largest undecomposed items but these can be returned to the bins and given a little more time to decompose.  Which they will. 
I spread the last batch of compost over several of the growing beds.
Last batch of compost spread under the sunflowers. 
Now I am not showing off my sunflowers particularly and the compost was put on the soil long after they had got to this size so I cannot blame the compost.  I don't know why the sunflowers decided to grow this big.  I was not expecting it.  I am going to sow phalacelia seed into the compost to cover the ground until October and when the phalacelia dies off it will be replaced with a winter cover crop of tares and rye. 

Red cabbage
There are some stonehead cabbage behind the red cabbage and some early sprouting broccoli and they are all doing well if a little moth eaten.  The damage is probably due to slugs which have been a particularly irritating problem this year.  All of the summer cauliflowers were composted because they all bolted due to the very warm spell.  If I had had my wits about me, I probably could have caught them when they were just at their best - if a little small, however I was leaving them to get a little bigger. 
Swede and kohl rabi
Even though they are right under the grape vine the swede and kohl rabi have done quite well.  I have already had some for cooking and the others are swelling up. 

Empty cauliflower bed.
The cauliflowers had a two inch mulch of woody chippings just after they were transplanted into the ground.  None of the mulch was removed and looking at it now shows that most of it has decomposed.  The area will be raked over with the three pronged cultivator and then hoed and raked before sowing.  I will water this area with anti slug nematodes and then sow a cover crop of phalacelia without digging.  The seed will be sown broadcast and raked into the surface.   
 Although they are not very big, there are bunches of grapes on the vines.  I have not thinned them out and I am not going to.  This means that they are unlikely to get much bigger but they taste good whatever their size. 
Grapes on the vine.
Fenugreek green manure.
The peas have been picked and cleared away and followed  with a sowing of fenugreek.  The metal mesh was used to old up the chicken wire pea supports.   I have cleared away and stored the metal mesh and the nets, now that the fenugreek has germinated and has grown relatively high.  Fenugreek is a legume and with any luck will associate with rhizobium bacteria and fix some nitrogen for me.  It is not very hardy and will die off in the winter.  I will probably replace it with tares and rye. 
White clover green manure.
On the other half of the pea bed I have sown white clover which is another nitrogen fixer.  This plant is a little hardier than the fenugreek and will be left until the spring before I dig it in.  I might transplant some of the clover around the edges of the beds to give a perennial legume nitrogen fixer for all the year.  Root exudates will add nitrogen to the soil and this will be taken into the beds by water flowing slowly through the soil down the slope. 
Plants alongside the trackway
The globe artichoke has produced some flowers but has not done very well otherwise loosing most of its leaves.  I am hoping it will do much better next year.  I have planted lupins and laburnum alongside the track as perennial legume nitrogen fixers.  The lupins have produced a lot of seed and this has been collected, dried and stored away in the shed to be sown next spring.  They are at the top of the south facing slope so exudates from their roots will naturally flow down the slope with the soil solution fertilising the growing beds.  I have taken a lot of seed from the Calendula officinalis plants and then put them on the compost.  It means that I will have lots of these plants again next year wherever I spread the compost but they make a colourful addition to the allotment.  Beneath the Calendula are three crab apples I grew from pips.  I doubt that they will breed true but they can be grafted over to a more productive apple or even to a decorative crab apple.  There are three Sorbus vilmorinii  trees grown from seed planted here as a wind break. 
Looking down the main allotment path.
Sage and mint are the main edging plants along the path on the right hand side.  Lemon balm and rosemary on the left.  The peach greenhouse is also on the left.  I have been shifting compost and woody chippings along the path so its a little untidy at the moment.  I will sweep it when I have finished with the mulches and put the sweepings on the compost. 
Climbing French beans. 
The French beans have gone over now and have been left to go to seed.  I have started to take seed off them and dry the beans out in the shed.  There are still quite a few pods left on the plants and I will leave them until they dry out on the plants.  The little pear tree on the espalier has almost doubled in size, which I am pleased about.  I thought that I would not be able to save the tree but it seems to have struggled on this year and will probably improve next year. 
Lavender and white buddleia edging  
The lavender edging has couch grass growing through it and will need to be dug up and the roots washed.  I am going to dig a trench alongside the trackway to catch water running off it so I will be able to take out the couch grass as well. 
Old tall pea and broad bean bed. 
The tall peas and broad beans have been harvested and some kept as seed for next year.  I dug the tops into the soil and levelled it off to make a seed bed.  Phalacelia was sown in drills taken out going north to south.  The drills were watered with dilute comfrey solution before the seed were sown.  I mixed a little lupin seed in with the phalacelia seed to see if it would germinate.  I will transplant any lupins that germinate into beds of their own. 
Year old Pitmaston Pineapple graft.
The Pitmaston Pineapple graft has produced two convenient laterals and a vertical shoot.  These have been carefully tied in along the canes which are more than adequate to train the shoots.  I will mulch this apple tree when I have some farmyard manure. 
Three sisters looking over the fan trained red and white currant. 
The three sisters are maize, climbing French bean and pumpkin.  These are all grown together as companions.  The maize was set out as a diamond shaped rectangle and bean seeds were sown next to each maize plant stem. The pumpkins were interspersed in the spaces between the grid of maize plants. 
Three sisters.
The beans are to give the maize and pumpkins nitrogen, The pumpkin gives both the beans and the maize a cool damp living mulch while the maize gives the beans something to grow up.  I must admit that I have put some squashes, courgettes, tomatoes and cucumbers in this bed as well. 
Victoria rhubarb. 
The Victoria rhubarb still has not achieved the size it had on my old allotment.  It has a very deep root run here because I went down three spits and added a lot of organic matter.  It has had over a year to settle in and next year I will expect to see some really big stems and leaves. 
Old potato bed.
All the potatoes have been harvested now.  I have filled seven half hundred weight paper bags which will probably see me through the winter and more.  The ground was levelled with the rake and drills taken out.  The drills were watered with dilute comfrey liquid and red and white clover was sown into them.  I have covered the green manure with nets primarily against the pigeons, however the additional slight protection the nets give the seedlings means that they are growing quite fast.  They will soon form a canopy across the ground.  The nets will not stay for much longer.  I will take them off in the next couple of days. 
Another Pitmaston Pineapple graft.
This Pitmaston Pineapple has thrown out two laterals which have been tied onto the canes.  The vertical stem has been tied onto the upper canes.  It will throw out laterals quite naturally now and will not need to be headed back. 
Bread tray sieve.
I have modified the bread tray sieve with some wire I found on the allotment.  The mesh is 1 cm.  When I had raked the potato bed level, I had a lot of stone and rough material in a pile that needed to be disposed of. I put the material through the sieve to recover the soil mixed with it.  The stones were put under the hedge in the car park area.  I don't want to get rid of all the stone in the soil but some of the larger pieces get in the way when you are sowing seed. 
I will use the smaller mesh when I sieve out the compost.  It will ensure that only the best well rotted compost will be put onto the growing areas.  The material that does not go through the sieve will be put back in the composters. 
Large black currant bushes.
The large black currant bushes fruited well and I harvested the berries earlier in the year. They have made a lot of new growth but I will not prune them again this year.  Next year I might coppice them again. 
Main crop leeks.
I took the nets off the leeks in July to give them some air.  However, I have put the net back on now to protect the leeks from the second generation leek miner fly.  I forgot to water in some anti slug nematodes before netting the leeks so I will have to take the nets off again for a short while.  Some of the plants have gone to seed but that will not mean that they can't be harvested.  There is some borage on the left of the photograph and the bees are having a field day with them. 
Onions left to ripen in the sun. 
 I arranged the onion foliage so that it would not shade the bulbs from the sunlight.  The bulbs were also pulled out of the ground to expose their roots.  I have left them to ripen for a few days now.  Once they are fully ripened I will string them and store them in the little shed.  The woody mulch was a great success keeping the weeds down and moisture in the soil.  I have forgotten one of the hoops! I will take out the one or two weeds - there is some horse tail, and sow some phalacelia to cover the ground.  This bed will have sweet peas on it next year and I want the ground to be as fertile as possible.  Some people would suggest that putting a legume green manure here would not be good practice because it was going to be followed by another legume in the rotation.  I don't think that it matters at all.  In fact using something like clover or lucerne  may increase the number of rhizobium bacteria in the soil that form nitrogen fixing nodules on the roots of legumes.  Some of these species of bacterial will be generalists and form symbiotic relationships with several or all of the legumes.  So, I will be increasing my chances of getting nodulation quickly and improving the fertility of the soil.  Having said all this, I will still be using phalacelia just because I have an open packet of seed and want to use it up.  The phalacelia will die off in the late autumn and will be replaced with a rye and tares overwintering green manure. 
Saving seed and drying them on the shed shelf.
Apart from drying the shallots and the pickling onions, I am also drying off the seed that I have collected.  At the moment I am drying tall pea seeds, broad bean seeds, dwarf and climbing French bean seeds, runner bean seeds, lupin seeds, poppy seeds, pansy seeds,  asparagus pea seeds, sweet pea seeds and pot marigold seeds.  Saving seed is not very difficult to do and it saves a lot of money when you don't have to buy them every year.  As it gets very hot on the roof of the shed, I thought that this would be a good place to dry the seeds and the onions.  The shelf was made from an old greenhouse shelf.  It would not fit in either of my greenhouses so I decided to screw it to the back of the shed and it has proved very useful for hardening off seedlings and drying the seed. 
Worm bin and comfrey butt.
Both the worm bin and comfrey butt are providing lots of liquid manure for the allotment.  I have topped up the comfrey with some of the comfrey leaves from under the Victoria plum tree.  Both of the bins are at a very precarious angle now and may topple over at any time.  This is because the woody chippings under their plinths have decayed.  I will have to take the bins off their pedestals and try to mount them on firmer ground. 
Small sunflower.
Not all the sunflowers have grown to prodigious heights.  I planted this one later than the rest and it has not achieved the heady heights of the other sunflowers. 
Oca, rosemary and lavender

The oca has grown well again and is starting to crowd the lavender and the rosemary.  However, they are well able to look after themselves.
Another row of leeks and a row of red onion.
These are a second sowing of leeks and should be a succession but they seem to have caught up with the main crop of leeks.  I will attempt to cover these with a net so that they are not affected by the leek miner fly. 
Cleared ground.
The garlic, elephant garlic and  pickling onions have been harvested and put to dry in the sheds.  I will clear the ground, rake it over and sow a cover crop after taking off the plastic hoops.  Again the woody mulch was a great success and has rotted away leaving only a thin layer of scuffings on the surface. 
Little leaning apple tree.
I am eating the apples from this tree.  I have reconsidered what apple this is and, rather than a cox's orange pippin, I think that this is a James Grieves. However, it tastes good straight from the tree and that is all that counts.  The apples will not store for very long before rotting. 
As the strawberries did not fruit very well this year, I am going to take out and replace three of the rows.  They had a lot of compost from last year and this meant that they made a lot of leafy growth and little fruit.  The Calendula officinalis seed was in the compost! I have taken three rows out  and replaced them with four rows of this year's plants.  This gave me a big pile of old strawberry plants and nowhere to put them.  All the compost bins are full to overflowing.  So I decided to dig a big hole and bury them where the garlic bed was.  This is the only area that has not got something growing on it and it will soon be covered in phalacelia. 
All the old canes of the summer fruiting raspberries have been pruned out and put onto the compost heap.  These new canes have been carefully tied in and given a comfrey liquid boost. 
Black currant bushes.
These black currant bushes were coppiced back to ground level last winter.  Now they have grown back nearly to their former size.  They did not fruit this year but with all this new wood, I would expect lots of fruit next year. 
Cold frame.
The cold frame is full of salad seedlings, lettuce, radish, spring onion, spinach and rocket.  The frame is on top of a big pile of woody chippings which have decayed. This has made the frame distort a little.  If this continues I will have to do something or the glass will split. 
The lettuce had to be resown because of slugs but I have watered the soil with anti slug nematodes and this has allowed the seedlings to survive up to now.  There were also two frogs in here so I am expecting them to clear out the slugs too. 
Little pond.
The little pond has got a little overgrown and will have to be sorted out soon.  I think that the Menyanthes trifoliate (Bog bean) has taken over a little.  It did not flower and that is a shame because it has a beautiful white flower.  The solar pump is still making a fountain when the sun shines.  Working hard like this it puts a reasonable amount of oxygen into the water.  The pond has only had rain water in it since it was made so there are no contaminants.  This means that there is quite a lot of wildlife in it.  There are newts in it as well as frogs and the usual creepy crawlies. 
Not my best year for sweet peas.
Although the sweet peas were devastated by flea beetle and slugs at the beginning of the year they have recovered and made a good display.  Not anywhere near my normal standard though.  However, as I let them grow whichever way they wanted, they produced a lot of flowers and consequently a lot of seed.  The pods are just beginning to turn brown now and as they do I am removing and taking the seed out of them.  I will be using these seeds on one half of next years sweet pea bed and bought ones on the other half.  I am not separating out the colours because this would be a little time consuming.  I could do because the seeds are likely to breed true as the flowers are self pollenating.  Next year, I intend to make sure the seedlings are well protected and will be using anti slug nematodes right from the start.  The calendula growing here shows that I used compost on the sweet peas too...
The old potato bed by the greenhouse. 
The potato bed was cleared, hoed and raked level and then white clover sown in rows.  The seed of the green manure goes a lot further if you sow it in drills.  The seed was watered in with dilute comfrey liquid.  The sundial says that I am taking this photograph at twelve a clock.
Tomatoes in the big greenhouse.
Although these Alicante tomatoes are getting a bit rank they are producing a lot of tomatoes.  I must have had about ten pounds from just this greenhouse.  This is not including the tomatoes from the small green house.  I have been giving them dilute comfrey liquid once a week.  The tomatoes by the door look as though they have blight but this is not affecting the fruit. 
Although a lot of the foliage has yellowed and died the melon plants have produced a couple of melon fruit.  I don't think that the melons like to be in direct light from the Sun.  Next year I will put some shading up on the glass.  I had the melons in the cold frame on the large pile of woody chippings.  I had sunk their pots into the chipping and this was keeping them warm in April.  I should have left them there because the cucumbers that replaced them are growing remarkably well.  Next year melons in the wooded cold frame?  Regardless, I am very happy to have helped to produce these.  I must admit that the plants do most of the work though. 
Melon 2
 Getting these melons to fruit in a cold greenhouse and  with our climate is quite a challenge. 
Loganberry and blackberry.
I cut out all this years fruiting canes from the loganberry and blackberry plants and tied in this years new growth.  These are the canes that will be fruiting next year.  They don't look too pretty at the moment but they will grow back next year.  The Logan berry at the end of the path has not been done yet but it is stopping me from treading on the apple grafts. 
The roots bed.
This year I sowed parsnips, beetroot, carrots and chard directly into the ground.  The rows were about eleven inches apart and this made it possible for the plants to form a canopy of foliage before weed seeds could get established.  The netting over the carrots has been taken off now and the ground between the carrot plats has been cleared of any weeds. 

Black Russian tomatoes. 

Hope you are having as much fun gardening as I am...