Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Dig It Out. Riddle It. Put It Back.


Just raking it wasn't cutting the mustard. So I've divided the 5th bed into 12 sections, and will dig out each one to a spit's depth, riddle the spoil into the barrow, and then back into shallow trench. As you can see, I've started in the SE corner, by the gate.

Since taking the photo, I've done 5 barrows-full, which I'm estimating is about 25-30% of this trench. 15-20mins per barrow-full. Which means I can do each trench in 6 hours, that's 3 allotment "days" of 2-3 hours. That's 72 days to do the whole bed. Blimey. I usually get there for 4 days a week, so that's 18 weeks, which takes us right up to the autumn.

I can't see any way around this. The photo below shows a barrow full of riddled soil on the left, and the amount of rubble and glass I got whilst riddling it out on the left. And this is just the medium riddle, so there's still a lot of gravel in it.


Most of the rubble is what looks like clinker, the slag you get out of a furnace or maybe a domestic fire where coke has been burned. It may have been the case that clinker, a cheap industrial bi-product was ploughed into the land to break up the clay. If that's the case, it's surprising that since it became an allotment, 100 years ago, no plot holder has taken the time to riddle it out.

It's hard work, and somewhat tedious. A few notions keep me going. Maybe all of this clinker is just in this particular area - I haven't encountered it when digging in other parts of the plot. I'm beginning to think that this area has never been cultivated, ever, and certainly not for several decades.

Perhaps it was a work area with the clinker and other rubble laid as hard-standing for barrows and barrels and what have you; the topsoil is very shallow, short of a spade's depth down to the heavy clay. I hope that's the case, and that I'm wrong on the clinker-ploughed-in-to-break-up-clay theory, because it means the ground will have less rubble elsewhere. Curiosity about what I'll find further down the bed keeps me going.

But my main motivation is the disdain, not to say contempt, I find myself feeling for raised beds. Everyone seems to have them now: less than a foot high, and about the size of a dining table. I had thought that they were some kind of fad, like decking in domestic back gardens in the 90s.

Maybe all of my neighbours have rubble filled ground, and the raised beds are a way of getting round that, just fill them with supermarket compost? I could ask them, of course, but I rarely get the time or opportunity to chat over the allotment fence.

And it could just be that I'm stuck in my ways. I've been around allotments and vegetable gardens since I was a very small child, and always cultivated crops in the ground. The only thing I'd consider resembling a raised bed was what we called on Tyneside a leek trench, which was a raised bed, I suppose, filled with the best growing material, for show-leeks. No one would dream of using a show-leek for cooking on account of them being fed with diluted human urine, another reason for keeping them sequestered in their trench.

We once had a 4ft high version for show-parsnips. But these arrangements took up only a tiny proportion of the plot. And you'd grow leeks and parsnips "for the pot" directly in the ground.

A raised bed is a few square feet, usually used for one particular crop. Whereas, if you grow directly in the ground, in a bed of 30-60sq yards, there are endless possibilities for being creative with your annual crops, edible perennials, herbs and flowers. A work of art, not just a "veg patch".