The "Alicante" tomatoes, "Blue Solaise" leeks and "Bedfordshire Champion" onions have germinated and are now as close to the window as I can put them. I turn the pots around at least twice a day to prevent etiolation.
I have also sown "Musselborough" leeks; "Crystal" tomatoes; "Black Russian" tomatoes; "Stuttgarter Giant" onion and "Golden Bear" onions. They were sown on the sixteenth of January and have not germinated yet. I am not putting them in the airing cupboard because they seem to be germinating without the extra heat. It is also easier to keep an eye on them and prevent them from getting drawn up if I keep them somewhere a little more accessible.
I know that it goes against all the currant advice but I planted out the garlic, elephant garlic and shallots yesterday. There had been a frost in the morning but it had thawed by the afternoon. In the unheated greenhouse the temperature rose to about 30 degrees Celsius.
I had recently dug in the green manure on the allium beds so the ground was clear for planting. I put boards on the soil to walk on as an additional precaution. Remarkably, the ground could be worked quite easily. It was wetter than I would have liked but it was by no means waterlogged. This area of the allotment is more shady that other parts and I thought that this would prevent me from carrying on.
I was glad of the boards though.
I broke up the three garlic bulbs and planted two rows next to the strawberries. As this ground has been manured with both green manure and farmyard manure, I did not think it necessary to add any other fertilisers. I took three elephant garlic bulbs from the store shed and broke them up into bulblets. Only one row of these were planted alongside the ordinary garlic.
I did not realise that the shallots that I had bought should have been planted in autumn. These types of shallot like to have a protracted cold period. However, seeing as we have had only one frost before Christmas and we are only now experiencing a truly cold snap, I don't think that they will be adversely affected. So I put in two rows.
All these bulbs are fairly hardy and will be able to withstand the frosts we are getting now and the outside temperature is forecast to get a lot warmer towards the end of the week.
The allium bed looked quite neat and tidy when I had finished. There is still a big area of this bed that I have not planned to plant anything on yet. I have just got two bags of onion sets as a free offer from Suttons and might use these to fill the space. However, I want somewhere to plant the chrysanthemums and cucumbers this year. Last year they were squashed in and were overshadowed by other plants.
I also want to keep all the onions together on the second allium bed - on the other side of the path- together with the leeks so that I can easily cover them with netting to keep the onion miner fly off them. So this is what I plan to do. I know that the alliums are going to go into these two beds but I can be a lot more flexible about where in the beds I put particular alliums.
While it is a little early, I decided to start to dig in the green manure on the sweet pea bed. By the rate that the plants are growing in the greenhouse, I may well have to transplant these out into the soil during February. This will be fine if there is no severe weather later on in the winter. They will not survive a series of late heavy frosts though. Digging in the green manure now will prevent a large attack of flea beetle in the spring. I have had sweet pea seedlings devastated by this pest when they have just been planted out.
So the green manure is being dug into the top spit of the soil. I put a pile of farmyard manure on the sweet pea bed and this is being dug in as well. The green manure will have decomposed quite a bit before I have to plant out the sweet pea seedlings.
I headed down the budded "Cox's Orange Pippin" apples and peaches yesterday. I am not really sure whether this is the best time of year to do this. I want the tree to push all its resources into the bud that I grafted onto it and not into its own buds. All the buds seem to have taken and even if they haven't I am going to graft on another apple variety from the trees on the allotment. Several people have said that I can have some scion wood from their apples. I have four budded "Cox's Orange Pippins" and I don't really want more than one of them. I don't have any other rootstock to do this with because all the others are designated to the heritage scions I have bought.
Abercrombe says that you should leave the head on until the spring so that sap is drawn up to the growing tip. So maybe a mistake. We shall see. Why I should take any notice of a eighteenth century gardener I don't know, anyway. But he speaks more truth that all the modern gardeners put together. Modern gardening authors are only regurgitating what Abercrombe said in any case.
I am going to sow some sweet pepper, melon, cucumber and lettuce seeds today to keep on the window sill. This windowsill is getting very congested now.
I have bought a solar powered pump for the pond. It only cost me £5 so I should not have been so surprised about how small it is. I don't mind because I only want it to aerate my meter square pond. It does not need to send up a column of high pressure water 40 foot into the air like the one at Chatsworth. A gentle continuous bubbling will help to dissolve oxygen in the water and encourage the wildlife. So I will take it to the allotment this afternoon and see if the pond is frozen. I will not put it into the pond during the winter but I want to see if the lead is long enough to stretch into the greenhouse. I'm hoping to stick the solar panel onto the inside of the glass of the greenhouse. That way it will be a little more protected from the elements.
I would like to see a lot of frog spawn in the pond in the spring and the more oxygenated water may attract toads and frogs to lay their eggs in my water. The more eggs the more slug eating amphibians I am likely to get. And that's what I want.
I took the vegetable peelings to the allotment to put into the compost bins. It was a compost turning day so I decided to do that first. The ground was still very frozen so I could not really do much else.
Although the compost has been turned over three or four times now it still has not decomposed very much. It is only now starting to become blackened and fall apart. Even with all the rain we have been having some of the compost was quite dry so I watered it with comfrey liquid.
I am acquiring quite a lot of comfrey from the big green bins behind the shed. I have over half a dustbin full even though I have been using it to put onto the compost heaps.
Although there seems to be little decomposition at the moment there is a noticeable reduction in the level of compost in the bins. So much so that I have to resist the impulse to top them up with more raw compost. I don't really want to top the bins up because it will increase the time that the compost takes to decompose to a state that can be put onto the soil. Each bin should be fully filled at the beginning of the process and no more should be added before it is put onto the soil. Otherwise you could be continually adding to the compost and never using it on the top soil.
The reduction in the volume of compost indicates that decomposition is taking place. Micro organisms and invertebrates use the organic matter in the compost to produce their mass and energy. To produce energy the organic mater is metabolised into carbon dioxide and water using oxygen.
I think that the reduction of the volume of compost when it is turned reflects a similar process in the soil when it is dug. The amount of organic matter is reduced because soil organisms are using it to make their mass and energy. The microorganisms will reproduce and increase their population until the organic matter is exhausted. This organic matter will be exhausted when it has been mineralised to its inorganic constituents. Carbon dioxide, water and various micro nutrients can all be shown to increase in the soil during cultivation. This is why fallow soil is so fertile. The organic matter in the soil has built up. Some being chemically protected and other being physically protected from decomposition. Once the soil has been broken up and this organic matter exposed to the soil fauna and flora, much of its nutrient content can be made available to plants.
This is fine unless the input of organic matter is discontinued.
There may be many different ways that soils become exhausted but lack of copious amounts of added organic matter must be one of the major ones.
The colloidal gels that are produced during the decomposition process are also useful in producing both soil particle structures and coatings that promote the retention of water. While humus has this property, I am talking about the earlier products of plant decomposition which are equally as valuable. If we add to this the jelly like secretions of soil invertebrates like slugs, snails and worms then we have an environment that has many kinds of particle sticking material mixed within it. Furthermore, both the bacteria and fungi are secreting substances that will aid in this process.
To suspend the use of organic matter and to use inorganic substitutes means that soil structure starts to fall apart. The soil no longer contains the glue that holds particles together. The top soil just made up of sand or dust particles without anything to stick them together. In this state they become much more vulnerable to wind erosion.
Within the compost bin organic matter there is a vast population of invertebrates. They do not seem to be overtly perturbed by the constant turning of the compost. I turn the compost every two days if I can. While the constant turning must have some impact on the larger invertebrates, even these seem to have an increased population in the heap.
Digging does not sterilise the soil as some commentators suggest. Digging reduces the organic matter and the sticky substances that hold soil particles together. Unless this organic matter is replaced, the soil will become degraded and infertile. In hot countries the soil will be turned to desert. The soil is being turned into desert. This is the legacy of the scourge of inorganic fertilisers.
Digging of itself does not destroy soil organisms and structure. This only occurs when the addition of organic matter is discontinued.