Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Digging & Riddling

The region of what I used to call 'the old greenhouse foundations' was unnaturally high, a kind of island in the middle of the plot. Or more like a fortification, with a series of ramparts of brick and corrugated iron. I levelled the West side last spring, getting down to a concrete and brick base, which was actually by then lower than the rest of the plot. Since then I've been filling it with rubble as the foundation for the shed. You can see it on the left middle ground of the photo, with a scaffold board over it because I've been checking to see if it's level enough for the shed to be built on it.

It should be a formidable foundation: a course of bricks and concrete on top of the original heavy clay subsoil, topped off with 6ins or so of rubble. Before I actually start building the shed, I'm curious to see whether or not any water's going to puddle there. So meanwhile, I've started on the right hand, Eastern side of the 'old greenhouse'. This looked like a peculiar kind of walled, raised bed when I got started last summer, and I planted it with phacelia and borage because digging down it was clearly full of bricks and unsuitable for veg. I remember wondering whether or not to excavate it back then, and also remember quite clearly thinking, 'not yet'.

It's difficult to imagine how it looked back then. There was almost a spit of earth and rubble above the level of the path which I uncovered earlier this year. And in uncovering the path, and excavating the West side, some earth and rubble got thrown over onto that Eastern side. Now the time has come to begin excavating it at last. So the last 3 'allotment days' (about 2 hours per day)  have been spent gradually hacking into it with, first, the shovel, and latterly with the spade. I changed because a spadeful is just the right amount to get a riddle-full of earth, a shovel is too much. Then I riddle it into the barrow. It's a bit damp, so I have to rub the soil into the wire of the riddle to brake the last lumps up.

Then I'm left with a few larger bits of rubble, and a lot of very small pebbles or maybe gravel. These are thrown onto the shed foundation. 2 hours of this yields one barrow-full of lovely riddled soil, which is getting put into a heap ready for the raised beds. I took the photo above yesterday, and have gotten a little further into it today, but even at that I've probably gone at most 1.5x6ft into an area 8x6ft. So it's slow work, but it's satisfying to see a growing heap of good earth, free from rubble and pebbles and bits of bloody glass.

And there's the understanding that's dawning on me this week: the earth of the entire plot needs this treatment over the next few years. Ah well. Good exercise, riddling, better than you'd get in any gym. I notice I paid £8.40 for the 9mm sieve/riddle back in February, but it's only really going to work now; let's see how long it lasts.