Sunday, 18 October 2020

Heating up the compost heap.

 It is probably good practice to get the compost heap to heat up, although I think that you can make good vegetable mould without the very high temperatures that some advocate for compost making.  I turned my compost for the second time yesterday and the vegetable mould was steaming.  

Not sure whether it is clear from the photograph but the compost is steaming away.

This is what it looked like when the breeze had blown the steam away

My composts include all the residues from the allotment regardless of their woodiness.  Woody prunings are cut up into small pieces before I add them to the compost heap.  I also use rabbit bedding and woody shreddings.  
The temperature was quite hot and this probably helped to kill off some of the wildflower seeds and diseases that were on the residues.  However, I am never sure that even my best compost heaps are very effective in getting rid of seeds and pests and diseases.  The heat of the vegetable mould only helps to suppress them.  Other good husbandry needs to be employed to continue the suppression on the allotment.  
Usually the compost does not seem to warm up very much but recently it has decided to become much hotter.  I think this is mostly due to the strimmed grass given to me from another allotment and grass mowings from the lawns.  I don't know why grass heats the compost heap so much but I always like to put it on the compost heap if I have it.  
This is what it looked like a week ago.

And after two turnings it looks like this now.
Compost after the second turning 
I keep the compost moist not letting it get dry.  I have been making compost in this area for seven years now and I think that I have built up a good community of decomposing microbes in the soil and on the pallets around the area. There are certainly lots of invertebrates like flies and worms.  This all helps to break down the organic matter.  I am hoping to get some useable vegetable mould during the first week of November.  Maybe a little later if the weather gets any colder.    I will probably dig it into next season's potato bed.  
I cover the windrow with old rags and a tarpaulin to keep the heat in and excessive rain out.  It doesn't look very good but it makes good compost.  So that the tarpaulin does not blow off the windrow, I put a bread tray with bricks in it on the very top.  The tarp only blows off in serious windy weather.  

Saturday, 17 October 2020

 Bastard Digging or True digging. 

There are methods of bastard digging that the Victorians developed that allowed you to dig continuously without having to stop.  I do not use these methods but dig out trenches.  The trenches are usually about three spits deep.  Bastard digging mixes 'subsoil' with topsoil or replaces the top soil with 'subsoil'.  This begs the question, "What is subsoil."  In the past, I could have easily described subsoil.  It is that part of the soil that is below the topsoil and is usually a different lighter colour to that of the topsoil.  The dark colour of the topsoil is due to the presence of organic matter.  The lack of dark colour in the subsoil is probably due to the lack of organic matter.  The subsoil usually has a different structure to that of topsoil and feels different.  However, after bastard trenching for several years the 'subsoil' has become more and more like topsoil and there is little difference throughout the profile until you get below the third spit deep.  

It has been said that the subsoil is less fertile than that of the tops soil and should never be brought to the top of the soil.  It usually has a greater number of stones in it than the topsoil.  The lack of fertility and the abundance of stones would make the germination of seeds difficult and the growth of transplants slow.  

So why did the Victorians develop bastard digging husbandry where topsoil was buried below 'subsoil' and the subsoil was placed on the top?  

The main method of transport in Victorian and earlier times was the horse.  Horses produce prodigious amounts of manure.  Manure was seen as a waste material that needed to be disposed of.   The stables of  the super rich were bulging with horses which produced lots of manure.  One way of disposing of this waste material was to bury it deep within the subsoil.  Large trenches were dug and manure laid at the bottom, covered with subsoil and the topsoil replaced.  The exceptional gardeners of the Victorian era and earlier noticed that horse manure helped vegetables grow.  However, they had just buried the manure deep in the soil.  Here horse manure decomposed and formed a very friable fertile layer that mixed to some extent with the subsoil.  They dug this fertile soil from the bottom of their trenches and placed it on the top of the soil.  Stale topsoil full of weed seeds and disease was put at the bottom of the trenches and covered with copious amounts of horse manure together with any other organic matter they could find.  All this was covered with 'subsoil' infused with horse manure and vegetable mould.  Eventually they achieved a very deep topsoil.  A spit of topsoil could cheerfully be buried because the soil was similar to a depth of about one metre.  

If very poor subsoil from deep in the soil is composted with organic matter it changes very quickly into a topsoil like soil.

I am bastard trenching at the moment but I am not necessarily bothering to separate top spit soil from that of the lower spits.  There is a difference.  The top spit has noticeable amounts of vegetable mould mixed within it and the lower spits have the remnants of previous year's hügelkultur.  

One of the reasons I dig is to add organic matter.  The larger and deeper the trench the more organic matter I can bury.   I have buried the remnants of two goat willows and a small oak tree from my neighbours allotment.  Also the brushwood from a branch that fell from an ancient oak tree further down the allotment site and some sycamore brushwood have been buried in the most recent hügelkultur trenches.

As I removed soil from the trench, I passed it through my bread tray sieve. 


The vegetable mould mulches and the old hügelkultur wood that had rotted down to a friable, spongy mass are being mixed thoroughly with the soil removed from the trench making it a very homogeneous mixture.  Whether mixing topsoil like this makes an iota of difference to the growth of crops is debatable.  But I think that it does on the anecdotal evidence that I have accumulated over 60 seasons.  Why would commercial compost makers mix their concoctions if it did not make any difference to the growth of plants.  

So why do I dig?  I dig - particularly bastard dig - to add copious amounts of organic matter to the soil.  What some would call compost trenching nowadays.  Logs and brushwood can be added to the bottom of the trenches and dug into the true subsoil at the bottom.  I dig to mix vegetable mould and the decomposed remnants of hügelkultur with the top soil.  I dig deeply to remove the rhizomes of bindweed and the rhizoids horse tail.  I dig deeply to bury topsoil wildflower and grass seeds deep within the soil.  I bastard dig to bury stale and disease ridden top soil well away from from next year's crops.  I don't necessarily dig to add air to the soil.  Air and the oxygen within it will infuse the topsoil whether I dig or not.  I add more air when digging and sieving the soil and this removes organic matter by encouraging aerobic microbes to mineralise it to carbon dioxide, water and a few micronutrients.  This is what I want to happen.  My vegetable crops need the micronutrients.  However, at this time of year few of the nutrients would be used. So I sow  a good cover crop like rye grass to mop up the nutrients and lock them inside until next spring when they can be dug into the soil to release them again for the new crops. 




I bastard dig to deepen the soil.  Adding big pieces of organic matter like branches and brushwood raises the level of the soil and break down adding to the volume of soil.  

I do not raise beds.  I raise allotments.  

Saturday, 6 January 2018

Pinching out all the sweet pea seedlings.

In order to grow exhibition sweet peas with very long stems and large flowers, you have to pinch out the growing tip of the seedlings after one or possibly two leaves.  This makes the seedling throw out  side shoots which will become very strong vibrant vines producing the big flowers.  I just keep one side shoots because this gives stronger and bigger flowers but you can keep two and get twice as many flowers.  It is a little more complicated taking them up the cane supports and layering them when they have reached the top but still possible. 
I have finished pinching out the growing tips of the main crop of sweet peas but I sowed some in December and these are only now germinating.  I will pinch them out when they get a little bigger. 
Some of the seedlings that I have in Wightwick Manor greenhouse have been eaten by woodlice right down to the compost.  I am leaving them because often they regrow from the seed and produce very vigourous shoots that produce the best flowers. 
Not done much to the allotment.  I have started to dig up the woody shredding paths and put the decomposed shreddings around the fruit trees as a mulch.  I replace the old shreddings with new to maintain the path. 
The soft fruit bed has been thoroughly mulched with woody shreddings.  I might pull this back and put some farm yard manure around the bushes before pulling the shreddings back over. 
I have two infant classes coming to visit the allotment in March.  There will not be much for them to see so we are having to pretend.  I will bury some potatoes so they can dig them up and leave some carrots and parsnips for them to see in the ground.  It will be quite spectacular to dig out a big parsnip and carrot.  I have suggested that they come back in June when the allotment will be full and I think that they are considering it. 
Spent some time at Wightwick Manor cutting back the large cherry laurel hedge around the vegetable garden.  It looks very tidy now.  The gardeners are going to burn the considerable heap of prunings but I have suggested they get a shredder instead.  They are having to dredge the large ponds because they have silted up quite badly and this will take up much of their budget so I think that a shredder will not be at the top of their list of things to buy this year.  I just don't like to see so many nutrients going up in smoke. 

Saturday, 25 November 2017

Sowing sweet peas.

I have been quite busy recently so I have not written the blog with as much regularity as I have in the past.  However, now that the colder weather has set in and the allotment has been covered with green manure, I have more time to reflect on things.

I have sown all the sweet pea seeds in three inch pots and they are in the greenhouse.  Some that had been sown in October have germinated successfully and are growing on remarkably well.  They are still too small for pinching out but they will be big enough soon.  I have kept the sown seeds fairly dry and this seems to be the secret of getting almost 100% germination.  They do not seem to rot of quite so easily.

After taking some of my sweet peas down to Wightwick Manor National Trust property to show to the volunteer gardeners, I suggested that I grow some for them in their vegetable garden.  So the large mound that you can see in their vegetable garden is the result of my triple sieve digging.  I added quite a lot of their compost and scraped out a horse manure bay to add to all three spits.  I do feel a little guilty about using so much of their resources so I am going to continue triple digging across the bed to recompense.

So if you want to see some exhibition sweet peas cordons similar to the ones I grow on the allotment then come and have a look at the ones at Wightwick Manor.  The gardens and house are fantastic anyway and worth a visit regardless of my sweet peas.
 I am not going to be able to use canes so the supports will probably be hazel.
Now that I have settled into my new house, I can start to consider the design for my garden.  It is just a pocket handkerchief in size but with the allotment and my volunteering at Whitewick Manor, that is just about what I can cope with.
I have already bought some Elaeagnus x ebbingei for the hedge alongside the house.  The hedge will be very near the road and Elaeagnus is very good at resisting the effects of pollution.  The bed for them is south facing and will get dry and Elaeagnus is good at resisting drought.  It also has  nitrogen fixing Frankia alni  actinomycetes in nodules on their roots.   It flowers in the autumn and although the flowers are little white jobs their scent amazing.  They produce berries in the spring which are edible but whether I pick them depends upon whether I think I can wash off all the road pollution.
I will probably plant some of the Sorbus I grew from seed in the hedge as well just to add interest.

The back garden will probably be all shrubs but I want to get some really good ones and to make sure that I have flowers throughout the year.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Allotment photographs for July 2017 third post.

Still more photographs of the allotment.
Sweet Peas 



I have left the sweet peas to grow where they will now that they have reached the top of the canes.  I could have kept taking out side shoots and tendrils but I did not have time to do this properly.  They are from seeds I kept from last year.  I think that I will buy some new seed and plant varieties in rows next year.  The plants grew much better this year.  I sowed them much later than I usually do - in March and planted them out late to miss the flea beetle damage.  Although the soil is quite fertile, I don't think that the right Rhizobium bacteria has colonised the ground. The plants are not as good as those on my old allotment.  I reconsidered the effort I was putting in to produce four and five flower stems and it was not really worth it for cutting for the house.  I don't exhibit so it is not quite so important.  I have shown to myself that I can grow really good outdoor sweet peas and that is all I wanted to do.

They are a break crop, flowers for the house and a green manure; all of which are of great use for the allotment.

However, I might put in a little more effort next year.  I will trench the rows, use compost and woody chippings as a mulch and possibly use some hoof and horn to fertilize them.  The hoof and horn is very slow acting nitrogen fertilizer.  This will provide a little nitrogen but also allow Rhizobium to colonize the roots of the sweet peas without being inhibited.

I have started to collect some dahlia plants 
One of the plants I liked to grow to exhibition standard when I was younger was the dahlia.  I have started a new collection with the five planted here.  One of them was eaten back by slugs but it seems to have recovered.  I am not sure whether it will flower though.  I got some seed from a strikingly red Canterbury bells I found on  the waste ground at Shrugborough Hall when I was gardening there. I am hoping that the seedlings will be as good as the parent.  They are planted around the dahlias.  Lots of borage here which has self seeded.  It has been very good for the bees and other pollinators.

Leeks under the enviromesh.
There are few people still bothering to cover their leeks on the allotment site.  It would seem that Phytomyza gymnostoma  is not as prevalent pest as it has been.  I have leeks that are obviously infected but most are very healthy and so are other people's unprotected ones throughout the site.

I will continue to cover the leeks until I am sure that it is not going to cause the leeks problems.  I took the covers off during the summer last year and did not put them back on soon enough to prevent the fly from laying eggs so this year the covers will stay on.  The flies emerge at the end of summer and lay eggs through September and October and these are the ones that cause the damage in leeks.
A weedy patch of leeks.

This shows what would happen to the allotment if I did not weed and mulch the ground.  There are lots of weeds under the scaffold netting because I have not taken it off to remove them.  I need to do it fairly quickly so that they are not infected by leek miner fly.  As I spend little time on weeding the allotment because I have strategies to suppress their germination, people think that I do not have a weed problem.  I am not daft enough to think that there are few weed seeds on the allotment.  There are lots but I try to suppress them with mulches and getting the vegetables to form a shade producing canopy.  However, the weed seeds are there just waiting to germinate as this photograph shows.

I got an email from someone whose new allotment had been reinfected with couch grass after having to leave it for four weeks.
Well, you can't leave the allotment for four weeks and expect to come back to a pristine allotment. Weeds grow, get over it.  Gardening consists of 99% weeding and is hard boring work.  That is why we try lots of strategies to reduce the amount of weeding we have to do.  The paths alongside the leek beds are covered in a thick layer of woody shreddings.  This helps but is not the final remedy.  I find that it is a very long way along the track though.

These leeks are quite large and could be used now but I have so many other vegetables that it would be a waste to use them now.  They will just get bigger during the summer and will resist the frost so I might as well leave them well alone, except for weeding them, until I need to use them during the autumn and winter when there is little else.
Onions under the scaffold netting.
All the onions are falling over now indicating that they are ready for drying and stringing up.  There is no longer any use for the net and this can be taken off now.  When the garlic and shallots have dried and been stored away, I will have room on the shed roof to dry these off even more.  The drier they are the longer they will store.
Clary sage, lemon balm, rosemary, mint etc alongside
the path.  The apple is Winter Density.  
The giant Victoria rhubarb has not recovered from the move during last autumn.  However, they are beginning to show their true colours and producing two to three foot petioles.
Giant Victoria Rhubarb
The potatoes have gone over the most where the top of the plum and pear tree were buried in a Hugelkultur.  It is similar to what happened on the bed on the other side of the path.  The potatoes are fine if a little smaller than last years.  They have not liked the really hot weather, particularly as I have not watered them at all.  I am hoping that the Hugelkultur will mature a little more during the summer and winter, rotting down and making a water sponge.  When the potatoes have been taken out, dried and stored in the large paper bags, I will cover this bed with rows of clover for the winter.
Kestrel potatoes
This redcurrant and the white currant beside it have been fan trained and this pruning procedure still produces an abundance of currants.  They are later than the other currants on the allotment and this means that I have no room to store these in the freezer.  I will just have to start to make jam or jelly.  This has shown me just how successful fan and espalier training can be.
Red currants
I counted five immature black birds trying to get to the currants.  Netting them has shown me just how many they take each year - I don't usually net them.

Fan trained redcurrant.

The white currant next to the red currant.
The sorrel is ready to make some soup with and that is what I am going to do for the weekend.  I have not thinned the parsnips because I don't like the really big roots.  These will come in for vegetables during the winter.
Sorrel and parsnips
I am not sure that the construction over the carrots has been particularly successful.  It is falling apart and there are lots of holes in it.
Carrot protection 
There are carrots in the frame and they are growing well.  These frames were given to me at the beginning of the year so I used them more as an experiment than anything else.  The wood has really rotted away in places so I will ether add it to the compost heap or bury it in a Hugelkultur.  The ripped scaffold netting will have to be taken to the tip.  
Beetroot and chard
I have just started to harvest the beetroot and having them in salads.  I have been using the leaves of both the beetroot and chard in salads but they are getting a little  large for that now.  Not really bothered about having chard when it is this big so I will take it out and resow for the autumn.  I have left the chard because I was going to see if I could keep the seed but this is a bad idea and I should wait until the plants flower next year before taking seed.  I do not want to select for chard that bolts in the first year.
Second sowing of rocket and spinach
Has lots of rocket and spinach for salads.  I have sown some more but they really needed to be watered regularly.  The germination of spinach is very erratic.  The florence fennel is growing well and I should have some soon.
Some radish and lupins
Radish and mizuna growing together.  Not sure that I am going to get much of either.  I am growing the lupins as perennial nitrogen fixers.  And they look quite good too.  

So that is the allotment in July.  Everything has grown well this year despite the very hot weather and me not watering.