Thursday, October 27, 2016

Blood, Glass and a New Riddle

That's wee Sparky in the photo, which I took whilst having a breather from tidying up the rediscovered path, and moving the pile of earth at the end of it. Soon afterwards, she cut her paw really quite badly, presumably on one of the plots innumerable shards of glass.

Emergency visit to the vet. No stitches, but a couple of metal staples to keep the flap of her pad on. That was 10 days ago, though it feels much longer because a slightly disabled dog becomes incredibly tying, and none of us are getting as much exercise as we'd like.

Cleo, too, cut her carpal pad a few weeks ago, though not entailing a visit to the vet. Long story short, I caught have my dogs getting injured like this, so they've been banished from the plot pending clearing of the glass.

This project got a major boost this morning when I was able to delegate domestic & canine duties for a few hours. I remembered Dad using a large riddle when we had a big Edwardian back garden in Hampshire which he restored.

So here's my Glasgow version, nearly 50 years on:

That's 2 large sheets of wire grid, on one top of the other, resting at 45 degrees or so on a palette, with a 6in pipe propped at the back to help steady it. You can see the small heap of earth underneath.

The methodology is to throw a shovel full of glass, stone and root filled earth at the riddle. The earth falls through, and the unwanted heavy stuff rolls down the front and onto the ground, you can see a little heap of it, to the left of the contraption.

Wow. It certainly worked. I'd estimate 10x faster than using the hand riddle. I took this photo soon after getting started, and by the time I finished the heap was almost filling the triangle formed by palette, ground and grid. Which demonstrates one drawback: when that space is filled, it's necessary to dismantle the riddle and move it.

Another problem is that the mesh is quite wide, even with one superimposed on another, it still lets smaller stones and glass shards through. It might be that I need to hand riddle it, but that will be much easier after the big riddle has done the donkey work.

I left the plot with a song in my heart this afternoon. Providing the heap of earth waiting to be riddled, (including what I used to call the midden), doesn't get waterlogged by the rain forecast to fall soon, I can get this all done in 10 hours or so.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Stratification Season

A bit early, but I'm looking at starting stratification of hedgerow plants now. They'll be ready for February, when, inshallah, I'll have a heated potting shed to sow them in, ready for planting out the following winter, (2017/18).

There's 100 Pyracantha coccinea. I'm putting them in warm water today, and will put them in the fridge tomorrow for 3 months - maybe 4. The methodology is to use a fairly small amount of seedling compost, which seems to be 50% sand, in a plastic bag which is not-quite air tight. When they come out of the fridge in late January, I'll spread the seedling compost over a tray full of more of the same.

I've also got Pinus sylvestra, which really ought to be stratified now, we got the seeds on a visit to Edinburgh Botanic Gardens in summer 2015. Don't know how many, and it doesn't say on the packet, but I'd estimate 100 or so. According to the packet, and to treeseedonline, the stratification is only 4 weeks. I won't have a potting shed in 4 weeks from now, so would have to start them on the windowsill at home...

I've spent a bit of time googling to see if Scots pine is suitable for a hedgerow, but, let's face it, the "hedgerow" I'm planting is pretty outre anyhow: gorse, fig, firethorn, and anything else I can grow from seed, preferably for pennies or nowt. I want Scots pine in the hedgerow to increase the bio-diversity.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Garlic, oomska and rye

The northern 1/3 of the NW bed is still neeps - and the marigolds are thriving, still. The middle section is now garlic: I dug in 3 barrow-fulls of oomska, and then left it for a week or so. Then raked it all as level as possible, and planted 3 rows of carcassonne wight  to the north, and 3 rows of picardy wight to the south of them; (I'm being precise because, whilst I found enough plant markers, I couldn't write on them, being unable to find a pen or pencil: the conditions in the old shed mean I struggle to lay my hand to anything I need).  That was last week, so say 10th October. They were planted 10ins apart, in rows about 1ft apart. (One is advised to plant them 6ins apart, but that won't give quite enough room to get a hoe between them).

The final, southerly, 1/3 of the NW bed, and the whole of the Midwest bed, I dug over a week or so ago. I then left it for a week, as 'tillage prompts germination', apparently, and it seems like a good idea to give the weeds a week to germinate, before dashing their hopes with hoeing or more digging over. I then put on about 10 barrowfulls of oomska, raked it level (2-3ins thick all over), left it another couple of days, and then dug it all in. Finally, I sowed about 600g of hungarian rye, (over about 50sq metres), raking it all in.

Couple of things I noticed: maybe it was the light, (somewhere between pearly and murky, this weather), but the earth on the MW bed is still the green-grey-blueish half clay which I think of as the plot's 'original' soil. The other thing: I dug this 50sq metres over in 2 hours or so. Admittedly, it wasn't heavy digging as I'd already turned it over a week ago, but even so, I recall being out of breath digging over an area the size of a dining table when I got started in June last year.

As for the oomska, it's about done now, (which is fine, more on its way in the next few weeks). I got 20-something barrows full onto the plot, but it was 40+ when it arrived, so it's lost half its bulk rotting down over the summer. And the brandlings, goodness me, 100s in every shovelful. As they inhabit decomposing organic matter, I suppose they'll die out as the manure breaks down into the clay. So much for Eisenia fetida. Let's hope our native population of Octolasion cyaneum thrives now that there's more organic matter being added, and less waterlogging. (I'm guessing that they're O. cyaneum, btw, the British earthworm situation is more complicated than I'd thought.)

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

We heard 'e foolishly joined corkscrew climber? (6, 5)

Like most tenements, we have a "drying green" (never used to dry clothes, though) with a brick structure to contain the bins. Ours is covered with a 9in thick mat of ivy. There's lots of information about propagation online, the upshot being, it's incredibly easy to do.  There's so much of it growing at the drying green, I could easily chop away literally sack loads of it. There's so much, I wouldn't bother with rooting hormone or pots, just plant the cuttings a few ins apart in situ, round the boundary. A 10% strike rate would be fine.

It's a most excellent plant for wildlife. Here's a pdf document about that. I'm worried that it might smother the other plants, especially the gorse, but that could be managed with keeping it cut back in the early years of the hedgerow. Its thuggishness is another attraction for me: it's the boundaries of the plot which are now most liable to the persistent weeds: nettles, ground elder and horsetails. Ivy might shade them out.

Good work yesterday

I got the rubble-infested heap of earth moved up to the old greenhouse area, now the temporary home for to-be-riddled excess earth. Then I got the rest of the Mid- and North West beds roughly dug over, and shoveled the spoil from the new drainage trench over. It's ready to have a load of horse manure dug into it, and then to have Hungarian rye sown on top of that.  Also yesterday, I got a lot of the individual bits of glass I could see, and put them in the new drainage ditch. I'm horrified at the thought of the dogs taking any more injury from it.

I noticed that the worm population along the path edge of the West beds appeared to be significantly higher than anywhere else. There's a lot of heavy clay in the earth there, from digging the drainage system under the path, but also being near the path it was well drained - the phacelia did best in a yard-wide strip down the side of the path, so maybe it likes clay, more likely it liked the better drainage. I'm hoping that the new drainage ditch will help, and so will the incorporation of horse and green manure this winter.

Saturday, October 08, 2016

100 get fresh egg in earth. (4)

Also, the garlic wants planting in the next week or so. As well as the Carcassonne wight hardneck, there's Picardy wight softneck.  That's in the North West bed, brassicas last year, (there are still neeps in it, doing very well, we should have 1 a week up until Xmas), and roots/alliums next year. I'll harvest the garlic in May, or thereabouts, and then riddle that bit of the bed before sowing carrots and/or parsnips. Which is how I'm going to proceed next year: riddle ground between crops in the summer, when it's dried somewhat.

That's because I've learned that riddling with wet clay is bloomin' hard work, slow.  Mind, the West beds have soil from all over, including the yellow subsoil clay that came up from the pond and the drain beneath the path. And it's another job which I stupidly put off with my own no-dig can-do overnight delusions, (it's going to have to wait until the whole plot's riddled, years). The job I didn't do was dig over the all of the Mid and North West beds, except the two ends which were cultivated, maybe 25% of the total. So there's clay still in lumps as big as an orange.

Which is fine for the soil in the long run, when it all breaks down. But in the riddle lumps of clay get rubbed round by the pebbles, and gets a coating of powdery soil, and so becomes indistinguishable from a bit of gravel or pebble. It's been modelling clay consistency.

So you need to rub the contents of the riddle hard with your hand, (takes a bit of juggling, because you've now got to hold the riddle, quite heavy with stones, in just one hand), once you've gotten rid of the loose soil, and the smaller spherical bits of clay get rubbed through the grid by the stones. Bigger bits, bigger than the end of your thumb, don't become spherical, kind of plum shaped, and you learn to spot them. I put them through the riddle by rubbing them at the grid, using it like a cheese grater. 

It's making for a lovely basic soil, a mixture of clay, organic matter and grit, in particles no bigger than 1/8in. This is all "extra" soil, mind: taken from the old greenhouse, where it was 6-8ins deep on what had been a greenhouse floor, from the wee mound of earth and rubble at the East end of the old greenhouse, what I used to call the midden, and the pile of earth and rubble on the West beds, which is where the clay comes from.

I've got a decent pile of riddled topsoil now, about 7 or 8 barrows-full. It takes an hour - or so it seems - to fill a barrow. I'd estimate, in total, I've got at least another 20 barrows-full to do. Needs must. I've got really good earth here, spoiled by all the rubble and glass. This extra soil will of course be perfect for the raised beds. In fact, the raised beds which I sneered at not that long ago have become a perfect solution to what I do with all of the extra soil.

Dad's employment of respite (5)

The iPhone's not charging, so it's sitting on a coffee table until I get into the city centre and get it sorted out. Which means I've been developing a wonderful freedom all this week, from calls, updates, messages and most of all, the time. Been busy at the allotment, and I've noticed that I work longer when I don't have a clock to refer to: 3 or 4 hours as against the usual 2. Which means I've done a lot this week, but by last night, Friday, was utterly exhausted: taking the dogs around the block for their last walk at 11ish last night was quite a chore, just putting one foot in front of the other.

Weeding, digging over, riddling soil, shovelling horse shit. I cleared the whole old greenhouse area, breaking up its 7in thick layer of compacted earth, and revealing the whole of the path beneath; there was an ash-filled break in the path at the East end, so I assume it was once heated from a stove of some sort there.

Another heap of tbr (to be riddled) earth is on the boundary of the North and Mid West beds: when I excavated the area where the new shed is to go, I foolishly scattered the earth, full of glass and rubble, onto the beds; I then raked it up into a heap, ignored it, and weeds started growing through it. So I'm dealing now with a classic reminder of a job put-off until another day. And I broke up the ridiculous mound which lay between the old greenhouse foundation wall, and the Eastern boundary; all of that wants riddling too.

There's still a lot of broken glass amongst this soil, and one of the dogs has badly cut her paw - I don't know if she did it at the allotment, but that looks the most likely explanation. So the next job is to get all the tbr earth heaped up in one place, the old greenhouse area, where I can keep the dogs away from it until I can get it riddled: a tedious task, made much more so when there's lumps of wet clay through it, which need to be broken up by hand to pass through the riddle's grid.

After the heaping-up of tbr earth, finish off the digging over the mid-west bed, and get it manured and sown with Hungarian rye. Then I can return to the riddling, using the rubble for the new gravel drain/path, and the new shed base.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Allotment chore wants crazy gin chaser after Home Office drug. (6)

Also yesterday, I got that area of hedgerow hoed, running North and then East from the ash tree up and along to the central path. As I hoed away, cutting off ground elder, grasses, and clover, uprooting a comfrey volunteer and some small docks by hand, it occurred that it's going to be several years before the hedgerow shades out most of its competitors. That's a lot of weeding.

The boundary is 70m long.  April to October, 5m a day means it would all be done every fortnight, which would be enough to stop it running away with weeds, as it did this Summer. That's in addition to hoeing all the beds. But, keep at it and it gets easier, mostly because hoeing 30mins to an hour every day for six months gives you forearms like Popeye.

This from Cornell is good on hoeing, as it is on weed management generally. All of which I'm taking careful note of: next year, I manage the weeds rather than they manage me.

Carcassonne Wight

Hardneck garlic arrived just now. Long time since I've grown garlic, so I've done a bit of googling. This was helpful. Garlic doesn't like waterlogging, either, apparently, so let's hope the new drainage, right by next year's onion and roots rotation bed, does the business. I was going to dig in 2 barrowfulls of oomska, but I think I'll dig in 2 more, now.

This area - well, every area of the plot - wants riddling, but I'll wait now until the garlic's harvested late Spring, and riddle it all when it's less claggy, and then sow carrots or parsnips.

Carcassone, we're told, has been occupied since the neolithic, and was the site of an important Roman fort, so maybe legionaries planted the first garlic there.

I like the virtues of hoeing being extolled on that quickcrop link. S/he's right there. But that's another post...