Saturday, 6 November 2010

Raised Beds - To Dig or not to Dig

So many people are up at the allotment whenever the weather allows in this mild and wet autumn, digging and digging and no doubt suffering many bad backs along the way. I never have to seriously dig my plot! And neither do any plotters who have made raised beds for all their cultivation needs.

It seems to have taken the gardening fraternity a hugely long time to realise that the main reason for digging is to break up the soil compacted by continually walking over it in the first place. Classic books of my childhood such as Middleton's Gardening Guide (2/6d in old money or 12.5 pence in new - paid for out of hard earned pocket money!!) and Arthur Hellyer's The Illustrated Gardening Encyclopedia have no mention whatsoever of the technique of raised beds and both devote quite some space to telling the reader exactly how to dig, and double dig!

OK when we took over the plots originally they did need digging - to clear the area of the rough grass that was the initial field. I have described before in this blog how I laid out my plot in the first place, and this includes several raised beds - simply cut out of the plot by creating sunken paths in between. No need to buy wooden boarding at all. The beds are of a width that enables me to work them by reaching across from each side, never therefore having to tread on the soil itself. And along the paths I spread wood chippings that I have made myself from all my wood prunings saved throughout the year (having inherited a very useful chipping machine). This means I can walk along the paths and reach the beds in all weathers when other plotters cannot get on to their allotment for the mud! And weeds on the pathways are totally suppressed.

And this week I have been up there smartening the paths again, spreading more chippings and generally tidying up. Adding my own compost, fresh manure or rotted manure on top of the soil according to the planned use of the area next year helps to maintain the height of the raised beds above the paths and only needs a light forking in when I am ready to sew or plant or whatever. And harvesting roots etc loosens and works the soil with minimum effort. So - NO DIGGING!

Thursday, 4 November 2010

A Toad in the Netting

This warm November weather is quite amazing. Yesterday I spent several hours up at the plot generally tidying, weeding and harvesting, with just a thin tee shirt and summer weight trousers. I'm very glad I went up there because I found a toad caught in the netting around the brussel sprouts. He seemed exhausted from struggling to get free. I carefully disentangled him, gently put him amongst the strawberries where I knew I would not be working, and he seemed to recover well and crawl away beneath the leaves.
This summer I ran out of space for the courgettes, marrows and squashes, so I covered one of the paths across the plot with black cloth (the sort used to smother weeds) and piled manure onto it before covering the resulting heap with soil into which I planted the cucurbits. They thrive on this treatment - the heap becomes warm as it rots beneath the plants, and they are provided with a rich growing medium, which they love, and it doesn't dry out in the driest of summers. The benefit now at the end of the year is that I have a plentiful supply of well rotted manure which I am using to top dress all around the plot where needed - for example on the asparagus bed, around the flowers in the flower bed, and around the cabbages, sprouts, spinach, etc. which i am still harvesting.

I am well pleased with my handiwork. The plot is beginning to look very neat and tidy, ready for the quieter winter months ahead, and there is still an amazing amount of produce to see us through the next few dreary winter months.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

a plate of vegetarian home grown food

How satisfying it was to sit down tonight to a plate of home grown vegetables, all gathered earlier today straight from my allotment, apart from the small spuds that were out of storage! (oh and the cheese on the cauliflower was actually from Sainsburys but everything else I grew myself).