Thursday, February 23, 2017

Cover Crops

I don't like the term "green manure", it summons up an image of verdigris horse shit. And non-gardeners are completely scoobied by it, leading to tedious explanations. Cover crop it is, then, from here on in.

It's essential this year to get the ground riddled, the shed and poly tunnel built. Trying to grow any actual produce this year, even tatties, would be counter productive: frankly it would just get in the way. (Not that I haven't agonised over this, in particular every time I go into the Tesco and pay good money for agro-industry reared vegetables).

With a whole year to play with, I can experiment with a range of cover crops across the five beds. Sow them, chop or hoe them down, sow another one... Mostly, I'm for leaving them on the beds as mulch.

This is preferable to the black plastic in many ways. In particular, the riddled soil will have had all of its mycorrhizal structures broken to pieces. Cover crops will re-establish them before I plant actual crops, hopefully starting in September, but next spring for sure.


Things have moved on a lot since a post last year when I blogged that the riddling would take a few weeks, [laughs hollowly].  Now, it's clear that getting all the stones and glass out by riddle will take at least up until the summer of this year.

So here's how the riddling and the nae-dig work together. I have no choice but to riddle, because the ground is currently dangerously infested with broken glass. A beneficial side effect of getting rid of the glass is that I get rid of all but the smallest stones, thereby improving the till.

But there's another side-effect, crucial in getting me started more quickly on the auld nae-dig. I have the usual suspects as perennial weeds: docks, nettles, ground elder, bindweed and mare's tails. The standard advice on removing these from the ground before starting a no-dig is to cover the ground in heavy plastic for a year.

It would have to cover all 5 beds, about 100m2, and that would be expensive, (£1.29 per metre). But even if money were no object, I wouldn't be for doing that. Firstly, it's what allotment-numpties do: cover the ground in plastic, and then bugger off for a year. That's not gardening.

But the main reason is mare's tails, Equisetum arvense. I only have a few popping up, in a corner of no.4 bed. We had them in the original Pig Sty Avenue, too.

Some near neighbours tried the black plastic routine. The mare's tails loved it. When the black plastic was removed a year later, all the docks and what not, sure enough, were dead, but within a week or two, the entire plot was a carboniferous era forest of E. arvense. Maybe the roots had spread underground in the darkness, or spores had germinated, but that particular plot became ungardenable in perpetuity.

So I'll be riddling the perennial weeds and their roots out. Docks and nettles will be easy, the others less so: ground elder and bindweed roots break up, and propagate from fragments, but I'll get out and burn as much as humanly possible. E. arvense, the roots are too deep to remove, but they're not a big problem: the key is to get as much out as you can before they can issue spores.

As each bed gets cleared, I'll commence sowing cover crops...

No-Dig; Nae-Dig; ZeroTill; No-Till; Shallow-Till; Whatever...

The nomenclature varies, depending on which side of the Atlantic you are, Americans saying "till" where we say "dig".  And a person or persons unknown, heedless of others using search engines, fixed on the wheeze of substituting "zero" for "no", (ffs). And there's confusion involving "shallow" and "minimal" too, because you may have to hoe the ground, (say, slicing through the top couple of inches), but that's still "no"-dig - I mean, you're hoeing, not digging.

As for the hyphen, don't get me started. Wikipedia uses it, Dowding doesn't. 

Well, then. On Pig Sty Avenue, being a Geordie Glaswegian blog, it's "nae-dig", (and notice the hyphen). But, just in case anyone is googling for the craic, I'll include all of the commonest terms, whenever I'm blogging about this, as labels. So, if you're leaning comfortably on your spade, we can begin...

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Old Greenhouse Floor, Clear at Last, Temporarily

I notice I started working on this area back in September, I got it clear then, and used it to pile up excess earth. That pile at last got cleared and has all now been through the big riddle. I lost count of how many barrows full it involved; a lot, anyhow. But now that it's clear, this morning I've rigged up a new improved version of the big riddle on the old greenhouse floor, and when Storm Doris has done her worst and moved on, I can at last get started riddling out the rubbish and glass infested no.5 bed.

That will likely take up most of March. Already, following a few days of mild weather, the weeds are re-appearing. I get a bit stressed about this, but tell myself that 2017 just isn't going to be pretty. Dad said, when I first got started on this plot back in summer 2015, spend a year just getting rid of weeds. And that's what I should have done, but decided instead to plant a potato patch and a few rows of other crops, which got trampled by the dogs, or choked by weeds whilst I was at Greenwich University last summer.

So heigh ho. This entire year is to be given up to clearing the weeds and stones and glass. No crops apart from the garlic I've already planted. Things have to follow a natural course here. Charles Dowding points out that it's far better to have plants get a head start in the greenhouse (though I'll use a potting shed and poly tunnel), before putting them in the ground, (which reinforces the conclusion I came to last year). And I can't build a potting shed until I've got all the rubble out, because I get rid of said rubble (not to mention the bloody glass) in the shed foundation. Likewise, I can't yet put up a polytunnel, because I need the old greenhouse floor as a workspace, mostly for piling up earth as it gets riddled.

And so, as I said, heigh ho. I may have to break off from riddling to fight a rear-guard action against the weeds, making sure none of them this year grows big enough to give seed. The bloody well did last year when I was away, and that summer in London is going to haunt me in the form of "one year's seeding, seven years' seeding". Mostly, then, I'm working out the logistics of weeding, and the green manures I'll sow onto the riddled beds for this year. But sometimes I glimpse, dimly, the plot in 2018, with my shed and poly tunnel and 5 beds with rows of crops, edged with perennials...

22 Barrow-fulls of Oomska

This is Bed No.1, this winter a workspace; (I fret somewhat about how trodden it is, but hope that digging and riddling will restore it). Right foreground, the finely riddled earth. Left of that is the 22 barrows full of horse manure, about 2 tons. That arrived on Saturday, 2 trailers full between 13 of us. It was offloaded at the far end of the allotments, so quite a bit of walking, heavy laden, about 3 hours non-stop.

Behind the oomska, the woodpile. This has been there for some time now, providing a wild-life refuge over 2 winters. The plan is, this spring, to chop it into stove-sized lengths, and then pile it up beside the compost heap. It will be well and truly seasoned and ready to burn by the time I get the shed and the stove, sometime this year.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

5th Bed: New Compost & Woodpile Area

That's the corner of 5th Bed, just by the gate. The pallets I got from the old railway cutting, where rubbish is dumped; (though why anyone in Glasgow dumps rubbish is a mystery: just leave it outside the house, and the council pick it up).

The blue one is bloody heavy, I had to go back with the barrow to get it. To the back there's a living privet shrub on the right, the others you can see are all dead. I'm hoping a compost heap next to decomposing wood will be good for invertebrates.

To the right will go the woodpile.

I thought at first it would be ok to leave this area unriddled, but after having a look have decided to move the pallets temporarily and riddle the ground here because, like everywhere else, there's plenty of broken glass, and I don't want that through the compost.

So I'll start the process of riddling the beds here, and work my way through the 5th bed. I said I couldn't give any time estimates for the riddling, but mid-March would be good to finish this bed, then I could get it sown with vetch, and leave it to its own devices for a few months. I could also cordon it off and leave it, by then glass free, for the dogs to play in.

The Big Riddle

This is the big riddle as I left the other day - the cover is to keep any rain off the riddled earth, stop it clumping. The fish box is to catch stones and glass as I scrape it off the riddle. After this, it takes the medium riddle over the barrow to get the worst of the glass and smaller stones out. The advantage of putting it through the big riddle first is that I throw a shovel full of earth at it, and then gravity and momentum break up aggregated lumps.

Just now, I'm half-way through the heap of surplus earth pile up in the old greenhouse area. It's taken much longer than I estimated back in October, (but then I have been diverted somewhat, demolishing and burning the old shed, and then ground-breaking the 5th bed). Estimating how long it's going to take from hereon in, I'm not even going to bother. But I'm not going to plant anything but green manures this year.

It's Not Just the Weather

Actually, it hasn't rained that much in the last couple of weeks. The main brake on allotment attendance is all the glass, which debars the dogs. Sorry to whinge about it. But I have to share my free time, such as it is, between the allotment and the dog-walking. When all of the pigging glass has gone, I can combine dog-walks with allotment visits. So it's an almost Catch 22 situation. I will get the glass riddled out, but it's taking much longer than I would like.

Friday, February 03, 2017

Clay & Gravel Dilemma

This is what's left in a shovelful of earth at the end of the 3-riddle process, the bigger stones, glass shards and perennial weeds having already been extracted by riddles #1 & #2. So, that's about a tea cupful in a shovelful.

My dilemma now is whether to bother with the hand riddling, which removes this last cupful. I'm wondering if there's any point, and indeed if this amount of gravel could actually benefit the soil.

Gravel helps with drainage, which is a serious point in its favour. It helps break up heavy clay - and I do have some of that in the diggings from drainage works.

There's an immediately pragmatic issue here. I need to get the really nasty glass out of the soil asap, so that the dogs can come back to the plot; (the little bits of glass you can see in the photo are unlikely to do any harm ). And, I would like to get it ready for planting by spring, of course. #3 riddling is by far the most time-consuming and laborious part of the process.

Voila. Decision made. I'm going to put the hand riddle aside.

And I'm starting no-dig this year, throughout. But that's another blog post.