For the past week I have been trudging up to the allotment under leaden skies, dodging rain showers and the occasional hailstorm, to dig. So it is somewhat ironic that on the first sunny day since 17th February (not that I’ve been counting) I drove up to the plot in the van.
One of the things I love about how they’ve set up this allotment site is the native hedge that surrounds it. The allotment association put it in themeselves four years ago, having been knocked over sideways by the quote from the farmer they bought the land from. It is a double staggered row, and is thickening up nicely.
It isn’t very green yet, but there are lots of buds and catkins – and thorns!
The reason for taking the van up was because I needed to transport the log pile and set it up. You might remember that a couple of months ago I pruned our silver birches. I sawed the larger branches up into roughly equal lengths to give me a log pile for the allotment. It seems only sensible to try to encourage a wide variety of wildlife on the plot, hopefully it will help with pest control. Having decided to put the log pile beside the compost bins, the only task was to dig out the couch grass infesting that area and move the gooseberry bush that was being overwhelmed. Easy to say, not so easy to do.
One of the benefits (I use the term loosely) of digging over the plot has been learning the different soil conditions. In some areas, where there has been some cultivation over the past few years, the couch grass roots pull away from the soil easily in whole pieces. In others, like this one, the roots are so matted together it is a fight to even get the fork – or spork – into the ground. Clearing the small area around the gooseberry bush, digging it up, gently cleaning up its root ball (no point leaving couch grass wound round it to come back and wreak vengeance). I thought half an hour. An hour and a half later I’d finally finished. In the same time FIL had dug over a 2m x 3m area, clearing it of weeds, and chatted to one of the neighbours.
That was last Sunday, before we made a smart exit as the clouds darkened from grey to black and the hailstorm hit. Wednesday’s task was to clear the rest of the bed ready for the woodpile and, when they arrive, my comfrey plants. Apparently a deep bed of comfrey can act as a barrier to couch grass, as well as providing a source of nutrient rich mulch and plant food. I don’t have room for enough to deter the couch grass which threatens my newly cleared area from the plot behind me. I will have to hope that they get on top of their side a little more and that I can keep my patch reasonably clear. It probably won’t work…
Mission accomplished. The sharper eyed amongst you might have noticed that the large pile of black plastic bags holding the couch grass has magically disappeared to be replaced by a (somewhat precarious-looking) turf pile. I say turf, but that’s mostly couch grass too.
We’ve given up on the Great Couch Grass Anaerobic Composting Experiment, and I’ve updated the tip to reflect this. Not only were we rapidly running out of precious room, even the heavy duty rubble sacks we were using kept breaking. Given they would have to remain in place for at least two years, we concluded that it was a project for when (if) we ever have more space.
The log pile is rather more attractive than all those plastic bags, don’t you think?
The gooseberry seems pretty happy in its new home too, fresh new leaves are emerging all over it.
The next project was to test soil PH and temperature. I’d woken up at 5am all excited at the idea that, hey, it was March, maybe I could sow parsnips…
I’d experimented with covering sections of two of the beds – the legumes and roots beds – with black plastic to warm the soil. Armed with my trusty soil tester and my brand new soil thermometer, I pulled back the plastic.
The soil testing was very consistent, 6.5, fine for everything I want to grow in these beds. I do need to check the beds I am going to grow potatoes on though, 6.5 is a little alkaline for them, though I doubt it is enough to worry about.
Unfortunately the temperature readings were consistent too, covered and uncovered areas both 6½C/44F. Disappointing on two counts – no gain from covering for several weeks and too cool for sowing (I’m using the germination temperature guide from the very helpful “Grow Organic Food” site). Besides, in the latest copy of “Gardener’s World” Monty Don says wait, possibly until the end of April. Who am I to argue with the person that the “Radio Times” has taken to rather annoyingly describing as “The Don”? When do you sow yours?
I removed all the plastic in a fit of pique, only realising when I got home that the lack of sun might be to blame – duh – and it might still be worth trying. Do you warm your soil? What do you use?
Part 2, in which I change my mind yet again, soon…