Thinking

clay soil 001

I’ve been thinking recently about my soil and about the slugs.  I am starting to think that the problem with my garden may not be so much about the slugs but about the soil.  the above picture is of some Sweet William plants which I planted out in the autumn.  Some have been eaten by slugs, but even those that haven’t have just sat there and put on very little growth.  If the soil was more crumbly and ‘friable’ I can’t help thinking that the roots would have been able to grow further and take more nutrients from the soil.  The larger healthier plants would have been less suceptible to slug attack.

garden & ase conference 10.01.16 025

As you can see above when I first planted the Sweet Williams the soil was much more crumbly (although the young plant was still pretty nibbled).  Over the course of the winter though all of the tiny particles of clay have clumped together to make a dense, inpenetrable substrate with little space for air.

Ironically the benefits of adding a thick mulch to the soil seems to be outweighed by the hospitable home that it makes for slugs, allowing them to spend the day resting close to the unhappy plants that they spend their nights munching.

clay soil 003

In the foreground you can see the deep bed in which the Sweet Williams are planted.  They are to left.  Adjacent to this plot you can see one in which I have worked lots of compost into the top few inches of soil and top dressed it with coir.  I have planted my Red Duke garlic and sown mixed salads and greens.  I am hoping that this more friable surface will allow the seedlings to ‘get away’ before they are completely annihilated before the resident moluscs.  We shall see.

Transformation

Helpringham light 080

Do you remember this big pile of soil in the middle of the lawn from when Chris was digging out the slabbed area in front of the compost heap?  Well, it has been transformed…

easter 019

Although not in the strictest sense part of the productive garden, since this bed is going to be filled with flowers to attract bees and other polinators I am including it here.  I have raked it to remove roots and stones and break up clods of soil. I added several bags of rotted manure, mainly to try and improve the texture of the soil. Chris then used a drag to create a gentle even mound.    the pattern on the surface is created by raking sand into the top layer to help me to divide the bed into even sections.  There are four thin paths to the Christmas tree stump in the centre which I plan to use as a support for sweet peas.  Yesterday I sowed each section with different mixtures of seeds which have been chosen for their desirability for bees.  I am hoping that the next few weeks will see an even bigger transformtion as the seeds germinate, grow into mature plants and eventually produce a riot of colour which will be buzzing with butterflies, bees and other insects.

Compost Progress

paths and potatoes 004.JPGAlthough Chris finished constructing the compost bins a few weeks ago they really need a slabbed area in front of them if they are to properly useable.  Moreover, we would like to make the area big enough to put our garden bench; it will be in just the right place to sit with a nice cup of tea and watch the bees!

paths and potatoes 023.JPG

So last week he begun the job of preparing the ground.  He needed to dig out the top soil to a reasonable level so that there is room for hardcore and sand on which to bed the slabs.

Helpringham light 084.JPGThis week he carried on with the job.  He was pleased when, after a while, Luke came to join him.  The amount of top soil being dug out was a little problematic.  They have already made me a couple of little hillocks which I hope will make a suitable nesting place for bumble bees.

compost heap and path 026.JPG

One of my wild flower hills.

I thought that the rest of the soil might be added to the large round flower bed that we recently made in the middle of our lawn.

We are hoping that by the time the soil is spread about it will make a nice gentle mound.

With Luke’s help the paved area was soon dug out.  The two chaps also enjoyed discussing whether it was the right depth for what it will be used for.  Then Luke had to go but Chris cut some weedproof membrane to size.

Helpringham light 089.JPG

Then he covered it with hardcore.

Helpringham light 095.JPGIt’s really starting to take shape now isn’t it!

More preparation

Helpringham light 074.JPG

500ml seaweed meal ready to be applied to half of the plot.

I’ve been continuing my preparations ready for the growing year ahead.  However, I am trying to be a bit more systematic and scientific about it than I was last time when I put everything that I had on the plot.  This time I prepared two plots.  Each was divided in two and half had no additive and the other half had either 500ml seaweed meal or 500g of growchar added.

 

After the product was evenly spread over the soil surface it was worked in with a rake  to ensure that it was evenly distributed into the top few inches of soil.

Helpringham light 082.JPG

Then a thick layer of compost was spread over the top of both plots.  In the foreground you can see some of the stones that were removed from the plot while this preparation was taking place.

Helpringham light 085.JPG

The two plots that I prepared this sunday on either side of the plot I prepared last week.

Lastly both plots were covered with black polythene to keep out the wet and cold so the will be read for planting out and sowing a little earlier.   This preparation means that I will now be able to make a comparrison of crops grown without additives, with the addition of seaweed meal, with the addition of growchar or the addition of both.

Harvest Time

Helpringham light 086.JPG

The microgreens that I have been sowing weekly the last month or so are doing well and ready to harvest.  Although the leaves are still so small that a lot of leaves have to be cut to make a meal.

Helpringham light 097.JPG

Chris cutting some leaves for a delicious salad for tea.

In the foreground you can just see one tiny tomatoe seedling.  The ones that I showed you a week or two ago have made a great recovery and I have now pricked most of them out.

Other crops that we are harvesting now are some fresh herbs that we have overwintered in the conservatory.  The most successful of these has been the mint which has been a very welcome addition to our salads.

Helpringham light 088.JPG

I put a few roots into a bag of compost that had had tomatoes growing in it.  I added a handful of seaweed meal too as mint is a hungry plant.

We have also harvested the first of the forced rhubarb and had a delicious crumble for tea on Sunday night.

With luck there should be many more pickings of rhubarb this year.  I moved two pieces of the crown to a new site in December.  The plant that is left is going to be dug up at the end of this year.  This means that we can keep on harvesting it for as long as we want.  Usually we would stop by early summer in order to let the plant replenish its stores ready for the following year.