Thursday, 29 March 2012

6 ways to keep weeds at bay

Have just spent a few happy hours at allotment and will pay for it tomorrow - back already twinging!
The sun was fierce - a sun hat was essential kit today.
Folks often ask me: How do you keep on top of your weeds so successfully?
The answer is really simple - just remember:

One year's seeding means seven years' weeding. 

It really is that simple!

Every time I visit the plot I walk around it and pick off any stray dandelion flowers etc. both on the plot and in the surrounding grass edging before they get any chance to seed. And I also, whenever I have a few moments, take a hand fork or trowel around the plot and dig out any perennial weeds such as dandelion, dock, etc. making sure the deep tap root is removed as far as possible. Leave any root in and the weed will spring up again.

I also never ever rotavate the soil with any kind of mechanical digger. Apart from being cruel to all those worms, that we should be encouraging, the digger shreds up any perennial weed roots so that the weed problem is multiplied many times over! Not a good idea!
The digger also produces a fine tilth that is as as good as any seed bed - perfect for encouraging germination. The problem is it encourages all the weed seeds to germinate as well - they've been lying dormant beneath the soil waiting for just this moment!

Then again - if I know I am going to leave a patch of soil bare for any length of time, I cover it with a thick layer of manure. If you don't have this readily available, then old carpeting or black plastic will do the trick - or why not sow some green manure seeds - such as annual sweet clover - and dig the resulting growth into the soil before it seeds.

So - just a few ideas. And I certainly seem to keep on top of those weeds without too much effort - valuable time and energy is best spent growing the vegetables, not fighting weeds!

Thursday, 15 March 2012

4 jobs at the plot today

It's tempting to be lulled into a false sense of spring during this extraordinarily mild, indeed warm, week at least down in the South East of England. 17 degrees C it might be during the day, but there are still frosts at night sometimes, albeit not the really deep hoar frosts of mid winter. But they can still damage tender plants.
I spent nearly three hours at the allotment this morning. First thing, there was a thick fog and it was quite spooky down there. Later as the sun burnt through the fog it became quite warm by 11 ish.
What was I doing?
First I wanted to dig out all the strawberry plants that had spread far and wide across the plot during the autumn and early winter. They had to come out - I need the space.
So out they all came - and onto the compost heap.
Then I raked out all the dead leaves and runners - all brown and crackly now - from the two rows of strawberries I want to retain for fruiting this summer. These dead remains contain toxins that inhibit fruiting if they are left to rot around the strawberry plants. Mixed with all the other compost material, and plentiful farm manure, and left to rot over the summer, the resulting compost will benefit the rest of the plot no end.
Then I looked at the other compost bins and forked through them to turn the material a little in each one, to promote faster rotting down. In a couple of them I noticed the tell tale little runs of field mice - no harm there - they like the warmth and no doubt the vegetable peelings etc brought from home. Now rats I would be more worried about - but no trouble with those so far. The biggest problem with vermin at the allotments comes from wood pigeons. They will strip bare any sprouting broccoli, cabbage, and other brassicas unless the crop is completely covered with netting to keep them off. Some plotters have covered their whole plot with a fruit cage to tackle this problem.
So - to carry on - I then lugged umpteen barrow loads of manure from the communal pile and spread this all around the plots - except for that part where I plan to sow root vegetables this year. Fresh manure and root vegetables don't go well together, unless you want to see how grotesque you can grow your carrots!
All in all a good morning's work. The other day I bought some Broad Bean seeds and must sow them soon! Also the seed potatoes need chitting and planting - more about that later. Traditionally potatoes are planted on Good Friday - I don't off hand know why - but this year that will be 6th April so I have a few weeks in hand yet.
Good gardening!