Tuesday, April 25, 2017

5th Bed: Rake, Riddle, Dig, Repeat...

A lot of last weekend was spent working this 5th bed. The methodology: rake the surface, getting glass, stones, bits of wood and a certain amount of earth into heaps. Riddle the heaps through the medium riddle into the barrow. Riddle that by hand to get out the gravel, (there's a LOT of gravel in it). If you look closely, you can see 5 heaps all waiting to be riddled. This is the second going over with the riddle.

When I've done those 5 heaps, I'll rake it all over again. It's surprising how much gets missed. When I'm fairly sure there's no more glass and other debris on the surface, I'll dig it all over and repeat the raking and riddling. And then probably dig it all over again, and again repeat the riddling and raking.

When I've got a reasonable tilth, spread on 2-3ins of oomska, then the riddled topsoil, and then sow with a green manure, probably the clover seed I've found a bagful of. Probably winter field beans on in September, and more oomska. Voila: 60sq metres of ground with a good tilth for no dig gardening in 2018.

Easier said than done, mind. It's tedious work. I'm kept going by the thought that this whole area has been left as waste for decades, and that I'm doing a good job in at last bringing it back to life. The soil itself isn't so bad: years of weeds at least lay down organic material, so the clay has plenty of loam. Unfortunately it also has plenty of glass and stones through it. Heigh bloomin' ho.

And I'm cognizant of the fact that this is No.5 bed. Nos. 1-4 still want work. No. 1 is covered in heaps of oomska, kindling, and riddled earth now. I got the heavy rubble out of it some time ago with the grubbing hoe, but it's never been properly dug over. No. 2 is under tarpaulin. It's been dug over but never given a good-old rake and riddle.

Ditto 3, which has the garlic, an as yet unplanted tattie patch, and another pile of oomska. No. 4 has the winter field beans, growing until they crop, and had the tatties in it last year, so it shouldn't take too much work before next year.

I'm consoled by the thought that all of this graft is keeping me fit, and that this time next year I'll actually be gardening

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Bot Bait

To test out my theory that the French bot appearing to give me page views is attracted to 2 word post headings only.

No. 5 Bed: The Great Riddling Abandoned

Riddling worked fine with what was in effect a heap of earth, but the same procedures just couldn't cut it in the bed. The earth was far more claggy, for one thing. And some areas very compacted. After an hour or so of experimentation with the big and medium riddles, I gave it up in favour of a regime of rake, dig, rake, dig, etc. Weather, work and domesticity permitting, I can get this done in a few weeks.

It's looking better already.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

No.5 Bed - Preparations for the Great Riddling Continue Apace

Yesterday I started lifting both the rediscovered path and the comfrey, both of which mark the boundary between bed 4 and 5. The comfrey then goes to the central path edge, where it should look spectacular when it grows to over a metre, and flowers.

I suspect it's Symphytum officinale (rather than one of the Bocking F1s) because it was growing randomly at the old Pig Sty Avenue, by a common path. Just the sort of place a plant would grow from a stray seed. I think regular garden comfrey is fine for composting and fertiliser, but wants watching because it's a persistent bugger, and I don't want to be invaded by even a beneficial plant. So it'll need cut down before it has a chance to set seed.

It's not all good, comfrey. It has anti-fungal qualities, which is of course a mixed blessing. It might have some effect on the chocolate spot which is infecting the winter field beans I'm growing as a crop this year, (the comfrey is growing right along the edge of their bed), but it will also inhibit mycorrhizae.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

NOT Big in France, After All

I'd imagined an absurd scenario: a French horticultural college, the English lessons, (I don't think they'd bother, but stay with me), used this blog as materials. We teachers do that sort of thing, and it made a kind of sense, it's horticultural and it's written by an English teacher so it's reasonably well punctuated, at least.

Balderdash, of course. Google analytics show that it's actually mostly viewed, as you'd expect, from the UK and USA. Hardly anyone in France even gives a shit about it. It's all some kind of click-bait. A bot, nominally based in France, keeps pinging the blog with apparent page views. The idea, apparently, is for the curious blogger to wonder where the traffic is coming from, and click on the source; (I'm glad to say I'd worked it out before I did that.

But I have noticed this. The posts which gets 1000s of hits from the bot all have 2 or 1 word headings. Botanical names in headings are the bots particular favourites. A heading with 3 or more words, will get a few dozen hits, which are probably genuine.

Friday, April 14, 2017

It's really quite simple,...

...the absence of a project plan notwithstanding, the biggest drag on allotmenting is all the glass, which means the dogs can't go there. This means I have to walk the dogs, bring them home, and only then can I go to work on the allotment. This is doubly aggravating because their daily long walk takes us to Alexandra Park, the East gate of which is 2 minutes from the plot.

If the dogs could come to the allotment with me, then I could walk up of a morning or evening with them, do my 2 hours of work, whatever it be, and then walk home again. Dogs exercised, me exercised, another couple of hours further forward at plot.

It's no.5 bed, now much extended with the greenhouse foundation gone, where most of the glass is. Obviously, most of it came from the old greenhouse. And part of that area was used as a midden, so any glass that the Predecessor was unable to ignore, would have been gathered up there.

It hit me last night over a glass of wine, as we were watching telly. Never mind the gorse in the hedgerow battling it out with the grass. Never mind breaking rocks for the shed, or indeed the shed. I've just got to set to with a will, big and medium riddle, and get that whole bed cleaned to about a spit's depth. It's about 60sq yards. It's also well drained, so the soil is pretty dry, making the riddling easier.

I've had a lot of opportunity to observe the behaviour of glass in soil. The credit- to playing-card sized fragments are the worst, being most likely to sit end up in the ground, 2/3 buried, like knives waiting for the dogs' paws. Smaller pieces are more likely to lie flat. I've started to smash up all the larger pieces as they go into the rubble of the shed base.

Anyway, I can't begin to build the shed until the base is ready. There's the rubble I need to smash up, but there's still going to be a hell of a lot of debris from no.5 bed, and if it doesn't go under the shed, I'm stuck with it. The shed base does need to be higher than it is by quite a way, to avoid any waterlogging - it's lower, still, for now, than beds 1 & 2.

So, that's me, apart from any urgent weeding. IF I had a project plan, which of course I don't, I'd estimate that the cleaning of this big bed will take me up to mid June. Let's see.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Why I Don't Have a Project Plan

A few years ago, working in language assessment, (writing tests of English, really) I started to do project plans. Well, everyone I worked with seemed to be doing them. On a spreadsheet, tasks down the columns, time to get to each stage along the rows. Utter bullshit. Like the small raised beds I see most of my allotment neighbours have. Everything in its place. No room for improvisation or good fortune.

I have to keep reminding myself of this now that the Spring is well and truly under way, and the tasks proliferate. Only the floor of the shed is treated. Only maybe 20% of the pile of rubble has been reduced by the 7lb hammer to small bits for the shed-base. The hedgerow: my wee gorse plants - put in the ground too soon - are getting choked by weeds. And I haven't riddled the glass out of... anywhere, lately.

One thing I have managed to do: the old greenhouse area is no more. first I excavated it, then knocked out the old wall, then cleared the rubble and its old path, and finally levelled the ground, filling in the excavation trenches. It's still pretty rough, still needs riddled and there's a lot of glass and rubble and god knows what else in there yet.

Back in the beginning, Summer 2015, this was all weeds, rubbish, stacks of old doors and windows, that rotten old shed, inexplicable mounds of earth, and of course the old greenhouse foundation wall, which seemed like it had been there for centuries, a permanent unmovable fixture shored up by ramparts of earth and timber, commanding the entire plot.

Now, it's a bed, a nice big bed of infested soil which can be cleaned and restructured into good earth for growing. This is the heart of the garden. I suspect the Predecessor, when he took the plot 30, 40 or 50 years ago, (accounts vary), put an experimental fork into the rubble and glass infested ground and said, "aye, right", and did no gardening there. This year, this year, it will be brought back into cultivation.

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Allotmenteering is the Art of the Possible

I arrived today to find two mallards nosing around the plot, quite the thing

Photography often reveals things unintended by the photographer. Here, for example, I was charmed to see these two ducks wandering around the plot. But the photo shows just how much there is still to do: it's a building site with its rubble, materials stacked temporarily; and the emblem of work-in-progress, the tarpaulin in the background.

Anyhow, despite the building site look, I'm really going to make an effort to get on with the actual gardening this summer. And yes, that is indeed possible. See, I've had this mental image of a shed, an idealised shed, lots of light for seedlings, a workbench. And a couple of hurricane lamps. I imagined being there at night, listening to jazz broadcast on short wave from a foreign city. Which would be nice, but the thing I'm wanting to do is grow vegetables.

So, the building site in the photo - that's where the mythical shed was to go. But bugger the mythical shed, for now anyway. The shed I've been given and started painting, is an actual shed, and it's going there. The next task is to get that heap of rubble in the photo into a level base for the shed. I might have to go at it with the sledgehammer.

Then back to the riddling, clearing the glass-infested no.5 bed, and getting a poly tunnel, using the yellow ribs on the left of the photo, with 8 scaffold tubes and a bought cover, and I can use the poly tunnel for bring up and potting on seedlings. I can, maybe, get this done by mid June. Late, I know, but better than waiting for next year. I've got no real experience with later planting, winter and spring vegetables, so this year will be the year I learn about it.


NB, this is not the first time I've had an anatine visit to an allotment.

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

When the Navvying Stops and the Gardening Starts

The only good thing about having a rotten cold for a few days is the time it gives one to think and plan ahead. Though, actually, I've spent a lot of thinking time for several months now about how the plot will look when I've got the glass riddled out, with a potting shed and poly-tunnel to bring seedlings away.

The picture is a representation of the sort of scheme I have in mind for the beds. I imagine this is how No.4 bed will look next year, with brassicas, and ignoring the fact that it should be more irregular in the bottom right corner, where the cherry trees are.

Along the bottom, the hedgerow, next to which in pink is the skinny brick path. At the top the purple line represents where comfrey is growing along the central path edge. The bright green areas at the two ends of the bed will be perennial edibles and/or herbs. In the middle will be something edible or otherwise useful and architectural: teasel, sunflowers, angelica, globe and jerusalem artichokes...

The coloured dots represent whatever annual crops are growing there, according to the rotation, planted in rows or circles or clumps or spirals.