In the next couple of weeks we will be clearing the site and putting in square metre beds using the same methods as the trials of 2009/10. The plot is approximately 7m x 6m with a 3m x 2.4m greenhouse. The soil is poor but veg has been grown on it before.
The site is about 270m above sea level in a valley that runs east to west. There are regular night frosts at the moment and a cool easterly breeze, challenging but not impossible. We will record exactly what we do with the plot, the successes, the failures and the yields we get, so please come back soon!
It is still cold here with night frosts. The soil is drying out, we need some rain!
I bought a couple of pots of broad bean plants a few days back and potted them into single pots in the hope they would not experience transplant shock when it comes to plant them out – hopefully next week. I just want to growing again!
Good progress has been made with clearing the site. Today I measured the plot and drew up plan. The intention has always been to use no-dig, square metre raised beds. Previous trials on land much worse than this showed it is possible to get yields of around 9kg per bed.
Not digging means the soil structure stays good all year round. The simple rules for managing the beds are to avoid soil compaction by never walking on them and keeping heavy winter rain off the soil.
After drawing up the first plan the aim is to make nine, meter square beds. I had hoped to use four course crop rotation but it will have to be three course. That is not really an issue as I have never grown potatoes in a square metre bed! I Could try this method.
The soil looks good, it is black and very easy to crumble by hand. No trace of any worms in the first test dig but has been very dry so they could be deeper in the soil.
Today we did some clearing of the site and started to move the path into part of the lawn. Hard work but worth it. The aim is to clear the rest of the tree stumps, make some frames for the beds and start planting by the end of the month.
The aim is to have 9 square metre beds in a 3x 3 grid with 1 metre paths..
We will use the turf removed to make the paths between beds.
Work is progressing well and we hope to have the first beds in place by the end of this week. As mentioned before the soil looks good and has supported various veg crops over the last few years. But looks are not enough and it is time to test the soil to determine the level of nutrients present and the soil ph. See this page for an introduction to soil chemistry.
Luckily, I still have an unused soil test kit which should give a reasonable estimation of the state of the soil. The first things test is the acidity/alkalinity of the soil known as ph. This not only determines which plants will thrive but is an important consideration for the uptake of nutrients. The of the first test shows a ph of around 7.1-7.2 which is fine for now but I would prefer it to be lower. See the chart below which shows nutrient availability vs ph level.
After a few days away from the garden we decided it was time to remove the apple tree stump. Never an easy task but with my partner doing most of the digging we got to the roots. They were cut using a sabre saw. It so happened that a friend called round, saw what we were doing and went home to fetch his spade and large crowbar. He said he has done this before and after some digging, more root cutting and a grunt or two the stump was out. Thank you, Bob, we could never have managed without your help.
Next job is to assemble the bed frames and put then in place.
The first three bed frames are made, positioned, levelled and the soil lightly forked over ready to be filled with green waste compost later this week. The other bed frame near the greenhouse was the first attempt made from pallet wood was too flimsy and not deep enough.
More progress today after a big change of plan. We discovered an old water tank in the middle, of the plot which is only about 15cm (6 inches) below the surface. We could of built raised beds over it giving a total soil depth of around 38cms (15 inches.) Instead we decided on a major redesign to leave the area clear. There are now five, 2m x 1m beds and one, metre square bed (not yet filled.) This has increased the growing area to 11 square metres using the same number of boards with two 1m lengths left over. They might end up as part of a planter for the centre area.
The beds are now in place and have been filled with a soil and composted manure mix. All that is needed is some green waste compost to top off the beds and we can start planting.
We broke into the two compost heaps we have inherited and found some useful stuff at the bottom of one of them. Material had just been piled on with no mixing so there were thick bands of grass cuttings in various states of decay. There will be enough good stuff to cover the beds, we expect lots of weed seeds to germinate but will nip them off quickly.
The good news is that we planted some broad beans which had been kept in pots for longer than they should. The first veg in the ground since 2013. It was a happy day!
The final stage of preparing the soil for planting, or even after planting, is the application of rock dust. This is to remineralise the soil as explained HERE.
I started using rock dust many years ago when I made topsoil by mixing volcanic rock dust with municipal compost. This time the rock dust, from REMIN Scotland and spread on top of the beds and raked it. There is no need to worry about a pH change and rock dust is not a fertilizer so will not upset plants already in the beds. It is simply a replacement for the dust that would have been present in soil after the last ice age.
Soils have become very depleted particularly over the last 70 years as agricultural practices became reliant on chemical fertilizers. The result is a drastic reduction of nutrients in food as explained in this report.
Work on the new three bay New Zealand compost bin is progressing slowly. The first two bays are in place. All of the timber is reclaimed, the back is made of sample oak flooring panels the local B&Q were throwing out. The rest is either from dismantled pallets or has been found lying around the garden.
With four days of heavy rain forecast there will be no further work this week.