April 1

Keeping busy …

Gosh, it’s a difficult time at the moment. I have been holed up in my house for about 15 days now and can see this going on for months and months – in fact, until we get a vaccine for Covid19. We are still able to walk around so I can get down to the allotment but have been thinking for some time about growing some vegetables in my garden. In the past, I have wanted to keep the flowers and vegetables separate but found myself wondering what would happen if we went into a ‘total lockdown’ like Spain or Italy and I couldn’t get to the allotment even though it is only 5 minutes away.

Over winter, I removed a hedge as I wanted to replace it with fruit trees and have started to plant some – a cherry bush Porthos and an apple, Christmas Pippin, which I am espaliering.  However, I have now decided to use the space to grow vegetables as well.  I have become more and more interested in saving my own seed and so have decided to grow only open pollinated seeds in the garden where they will not cross with F1 plants which I have on the allotment. I have started to create the beds and planted out my Ailsa Craig onions under fleece yesterday. I grew these from seed, sowing them mid February, and am hoping that they don’t bolt as easily as sets sometimes do.

The other thing that I have become much more interested in is Permaculture and its principles.  I had started to tidy  where the hedge had been but had three tree trunks that were quite old and starting to rot down and wasn’t sure what to do with them. I can’t take them to the tip now and one is too heavy to move. I thought about putting them behind another edge on the other side of the garden to rot down but really they would just get in the way there.  Then I read about Hugel beds.

These are made out of materials that are generally lying around the land but have a core of wood at the heart. The idea is that wood, leaves, twigs, compost soil and turf are layered on top of each other to create a mound which rots down slowly over time.  Vegetables and shrubs can be planted into them and are reputed to perform very well.

Being an impatient sort of person, I started straight away. I marked out an area where the bed was to go. The advice says to put it so that the prevailing winds hit it sideways on to provide some protection for what is behind. I have managed to do that and therefore protect the vegetable beds behind it.

You have to clear the grass and then dig down so that the trunk is buried a little bit. This helps it to act as a water soak and to be in contact with more soil which will help it to rot down.  As a no-dig gardener, this part is proving to be difficult. It just feels wrong to dig and because I don’t dig, I have managed to rub blisters in several different places on my hands just removing the turf.

Once the grass was cleared and I had dug down 1 fork’s depth, I rolled the trunk into the pit and then packed all around it with twigs, old grasses I had cut down and then weeds.  I trampled all over these until they had all squashed down and were quite compact.  Then I laid all the turf over it again but across to try and hold the ingredients in.

I watered it thoroughly and then started to put the soil I had dug out back on to of the turf. You can see both in this picture. I have to admit, it is starting to look a lot like a burial mound.  This is as far as I have got for now but intend to top it with home made compost and possibly pin some twigs the length of it down the sides to act as little shelves for the plants because I am worried that when it rains everything will just run down the sides.  Then I will plant into it.  The far side in this picture faces south-west so I will probably put lettuces this side and more sun-loving things the other side.  I am also presuming that it will be damper towards the bottom of each side and drier on the top so need to plant accordingly. More photos of this in the next post. I have to say that this has taken me days and in the meantime, I made two beds that are bigger than this my usual no-dig way in 2 hours this morning. Just cardboard and compost on top of the grass. And I didn’t get any blisters doing it!

What are you doing in the garden to keep busy?

December 3

Covering it all up

This is the month where I start to cover the beds that are empty and wonder how much more compost I need to make next year.

I have a mix of 2yr old manure and compost that I have made myself over this year and I am trying to remember what I put on each bed last year so that I can alternate: compost one year, manure the next. I don’t think this is necessary but I think each has its own type of goodness and the plants might benefit from a range rather than one thing.

The parsnips are ready so we have started to eat them. They are enormous – perhaps a little too big – so I think I need to sow them a bit later next year. I think May should be early/late enough. Perhaps I should sow some in April, some in May and some in June. I definitely need better notes than I kept last year about when I sowed things.

I sowed some broad beans in the greenhouse on the 10th of November and planted them out on the 4th of December. They are tiny in comparison with many other plots but should catch up. I also planted about 12 in the polytunnel which is not enough so need to sow more.

Today, I harvested parsnips, kale, leeks, sprouts, radicchio (not sure if I have spelt that right!) and parsley. I have a few peppers left on a plant in the polytunnel which I will need to pick soon or they will rot.

One of the things I will be doing this month is searching for other vegetable/gardening blogs to read and learn from.  So far I have found

Our Plot at Green Lane Allotments

Sharpen Your Spades 

What are your favourite vegetable growing blogs?

 

 

 

 

November 11

What I have learnt this year

As I come towards the end of my no-dig year I realise that I am a convert. So many of the vegetables and fruit did better than I have grown for some time.

What I have learnt about compost/manure

  1. Only use well-rotted manure. Mine was too fresh and sat in lumps that slugs and snails could hide in.
  2. Seaweed works well and plants love it but it works even better with some compost on top.
  3. It is a struggle to make enough. I have two allotments and probably only make enough for one plot.
  4. Leaf mold is good on the sandy soil. It works even better with a topping of compost.

Successes

  1. The squash have been fantastic. Only one of my Crown Prince squash plants survived but it provided five squash. Usually I have one plant, one squash although I did see that Charles Dowding managed six off his plants so still a little way to go.
  2. Sarpo Mira potatoes were fantastic and I will definitely grow some of these next year. Thank you to John for sharing his surplus plants. I only had four seed potatoes but the crop will probably last us all winter.
  3. The leeks are enormous!
  4. The kale is big and healthy and I actually managed some red cabbages this year.
  5. Flat leaf parsley is hard to keep up with and my lemon grass is doing really well in the polytunnel.

Things that didn’t work so well

These things are not because I used no-dig rather than the weather or my lack of knowledge.

  1. My onion sets had rot but my seed-sown onions didn’t. Next year I will grow all my onions and shallots from seed. I planted the onion sets in lumpy manure and the slugs and snails dined on them.
  2. The Celariac are much, much bigger than previous years but the wood lice have taken up residence in them.  The compost was well-rotted so I will just have to try again.
  3. My garlic was thrown by the cold spell in spring and thought it was winter again. This year I have planted half outside and half in the polytunnel.  We shall see what the difference is.
  4. I need to keep the grass a bit lower and remove the grass hanging over the edge of beds. Slugs and snails hide there!

What has worked well for you this year?