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. 

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