Sunday, 6 March 2016

Trenching the pea bed.

I am not going to do any more trenches, however today I dug a couple to bury some of the woody material I have bought from home.  I had not dug over the new pea bed so it gave me the opportunity to get rid of the prunings easily by putting in a couple of trenches here.   There were some white beam prunings, some shrubby honeysuckle prunings and various other bits and pieces.  I also wanted to empty at least two of the compost bins so that I could put the bins over the rhubarb.  I want to force the rhubarb a little so that it tastes a little sweeter when I add it to crumbles and pies. 

Taking out the first spit. 
Same part of the allotment September 2013.  The whole allotment had weeds like this so I covered it with carpets.  In
order to remove all the weed rhizomes, I triple sieved dug adding organic matter as I worked backwards down the
There were a lot of fungal hyphae growing on last years woody shreddings mulch. 
Fungal hyphae on last years mulch.  The whole allotment was mulched in 2015 and by the
end of the season it had all but decomposed.  The last of it was dug into the soil during
the winter.  This has added a lot of organic matter to the top soil. 
As the material I wanted to bury was woody, I decided to bury it under a spit of sub soil.  So I had to dig out another spit of soil.  It is a little hard work to take out another spit of soil and put it on the side so I decided to just take out a little, put it in the wheel barrow and leave it next to the trench but at the other end.  This way I had a deep hole to add the woody material to but I did not have to take out the second spit for the entire trench. 
The second spit taken out. You can see the organic matter, added in 2013 and in the photograph
below, has decomposed leaving mainly the very thick wood. 

Trench in the same part of the allotment 2013.  The soil does not have very much 'body' to it and the sandy clay texture
is quite obvious.

I dug down another spit to see if I could find the woody material I put at the bottom of the trench two years ago and started to find some of the thick stuff.  All the finer material had completely decomposed leaving only traces behind. 
Adding woody organic matter in September 2013.  I needed to improve the organic content of the soil and the only way
to do this was to triple, sieve dig adding as much organic matteras possible.
The soil was replaced and just forked over to make sure that it wasn't compacted.  I added quite a lot of woody organic matter.
Added woody material.  Now that a lot of organic matter has been added to the soil, its
fertility and water holding capacity is slowly improving.  However, I will still continue to
add as much organic matter as I have available.   

I dug out a spit of subsoil from further along the trench to cover the prunings.  This was not done particularly carefully because it was going to get raked to level it off. 

The white beam prunings.   This will include large logs, branches and brushwood.
I am not at all concerned about adding the thick branches.  I cut them to about six inches long and I have found that when this is done they decompose relatively quickly.  However, I don't want this material to rot down too quickly because it will produce a sponge that will retain water that the peas will be able to access.  I kept adding and covering the woody material until I reached the end of the trench and then used the pile of subsoil on the side to finish off the covering.  I used the rake to level off the subsoil before adding the top soil to fill the trench in.  Once I had done this, I used the rake to level off the top soil.  As you can imagine, this raised the level of the soil a few inches and this is what I wanted because the soil had slumped down on this bed.  Probably the organic matter I added two years ago had started to rot away and the soil had dropped as this happened.  I am hoping that I have added enough to raise the soil again and be able to level it off.

Same part of the allotment September 2013.  A great deal of top soil had been removed by
previous allotmenteers when they had bagged up the weeds and taken them to the tip.  This
left a stony, sandy clay soil with very little organic matter or soil life.
Lots of organic matter added to the trench in 2013.  All this organic matter has decomposed only leaving the very thickest
of the wood.  The allotment soil has been raised about eighteen inches above the level of the track way. 
The soil has changed a lot since I took over the allotment in 2013.  It has got a lot more body to it now and is much more friable. 
Although I had several bags of this organic material, I did not have enough to fill the trench for the whole length.  I emptied two of the Daleks of compost and wheel barrowed it to the trench.  There was just enough to fill the trench to the end.  The empty Dalek compost bins were used to cover the Victoria rhubarb.
Empty compost bins over the rhubarb.

Same area of the allotment 2014

None of the Victoria rhubarb is showing yet but I like to get the bins on in good time.  Picking the rhubarb and making the first rhubarb crumble means that spring has really begun. 

I will be planting the peas in sectioned trays later on this month.  My first sowing will be "Douce Provence" and they will be planted next to but two foot away from the vine supports. 

Another sign that spring is just around the corner is the peach flowering. 
First flower on the peach. 
The other buds are just showing colour
I might go around and touch each of the flowers with a very soft paint brush when more of the flowers are open just to make sure they are fertilised.  I would like to get at least one peach this year and I don't see why I shouldn't.  The tree seems to be very healthy and is producing quite a lot of flowers this year. 

I had a look at the remaining wood that I have for charcoaling but it was still very wet.  I need a couple of days of dry weather before I can light a new charcoaling fire.  There is more than enough wood to charcoal and to use for the fire.  Any wood that is left over this time will be buried in the subsoil. 

The bushes I planted alongside the carpark are not red currants but black currants.  This would not be a problem but the bushes have big bud.  Either I will have to take them out or cut them hard back to ground level.  This is a little disconcerting.


  1. I really like this article. (Can't get enough of your photos-thanks) This is the method you have earlier described as your own version of hugleculture and I have been trying something similar. Assuming my soil is far worse than yours, how often would you say you trench the same spot? It looks like 2 years is too frequent-would you go for 3? or maybe 4?
    I have former pasture (small acreage) composed of a thick clay gumbo soil that when wet: is gooey and when dry: is mason quality brick. Being a new property, I'm forced to buy bagged soil, compost and mulch. As I try to bring my own up to snuff...using the above described technique, I wonder how long it might take-or if maybe it is an unending process. :)
    Thanks again, GREAT BLOG. Love it. (Esp. all the photos.)

  2. Thanks for the comment Barbee especially about my photographs. The photographs are not very beautiful but they show what I have done in the past. I am always worried about advising people with different soil and in different climates about how to garden. There are far too many pundits that will meddle where they have little or no experience. An adoption of techniques developed in the British maritime climate has been exported throughout the world with nothing but very bad results.
    However, completing a permaculture course has taught me one big lesson. Adding organic matter improves the soil immensely whatever the climate or soil type. Adding woody material and brushwood to the subsoil and composted organic matter to the top of the soil increases depth both from the top and the bottom. Mixing in farmyard manures by digging also helps to increase the depth.
    In a British climate, with a soil like yours Barbee, I would not dig – as in the way that the Victorian British gardeners did. I would raise the soil as you are doing with bought in soils. But this gives you an opportunity to use woody material as a base to build on. So a brush wood base over native soil with new soil, compost and manure heaped over it and then planted with vegetables with a thick mulch of woody chippings would turn around a clay soil like this fairly quickly.
    There is a definite limit to the number of times that you should add wood to the soil. One aim of putting this amount of woody material into the subsoil is to raise the top soil above the general level. This allows water to pass through the subsoil and the top soil remains relatively dry. If I have achieved this then there is less incentive to continue adding this kind of material. I would definitely only return to doing this Hugelkultur after three or four years. Digging down this year, has demonstrated that large pieces of wood do not rot down within two years.
    While adding organic matter to the soil is an unending process, I think that adding it in the form of thick branches and trunks is not one that I would contemplate doing very often. I did it this year because I took down three small trees in my flower garden. If you have a lot of woody material that will not rot down very quickly, I would bury it rather than burn it and loose nutrients from the growing area.
    I am not too worried about nitrogen immobilisation because I have added a lot of farmyard manure and I am growing peas on this bed. Peas are legumes and can tap into atmospheric nitrogen through bacteria in their root nodules. So just as long as the woody material is as low in the subsoil as I can reasonably make it then I don’t think that it will have a deleterious effect on the growing area.
    I would definitely not dispose of any crop residues off your property. I would compost it regardless of the woodiness. It is remarkable just how much material a vegetable garden produces that can be used on the compost heap. And it always amazes me how good a compost even woody material produces.