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Waiting for the sun

Posted by Guy Barter on 17 Mar 2008 at 11:35 PM

The rotovator got its first outing a week ago.  Where big plastic sheets had kept the rain off, all went fairly well with the soil dryish and all the weeds killed by smothering.  But where manure had been spread the rotovator struggled.  The truth is I had been too previous and the soil was too wet for effective cultivation where soggy lumps of dung were present - I had expected it to be difficult, but it was in fact impossible.  The manure was very lumpy and also had blocks of silage mixed it.  The best that could be said is that the manure was very well chopped up and mixed into the top 10cm of the soil.  The rotovator would not go deeper.  This leaves me in a dilemma.  Do I make the best of a poor job; or should I finish the job off with hand tools or come back in April when the manure has rotted more and risk losing valuable growing time and soil moisture?  Go back in April I expect.  At least the base dressing of poultry pellets were spread at a 200g every square metre (half this where manure has been applied or where carrots and peas are to be grown) and 20g of sulphate of potash per square metre.  Almost complete lack of wind made spreading very easy.

A third of the plot is still covered with winter crops; cabbages, Brussels, leeks, Swedes and other roots.  I will have to rotovate this in April ready for late crops sown and planted in May and June.

Another third is either hand dug already or was planted/sown in the autumn with broad beans, garlic, onions, shallots and peas for example.  There won't be cultivated until mid-summer.

This only leaves a third of the plot so the problem is not unmanageable, but I did hope the get the job done nice and early.  Onion sets and parsnip seeds are waiting to go out, but is no good trying to force a tilth when the soil is sow wet and cold.  I expect that it will all catch up with itself later when the weather turns around.

The raised beds were largely hand dug this weekend mixing in a moderate dressing of manure and getting rid of spent crops and hooking out weeds and many mint runners.  The mint runners have come home to the back garden for potting for this year's mint crop.

Sorrel has also been uprooted and taken home to the permaculture area of my back garden.  The deer just won't leave it alone on the allotment. Horseradish has also gone home - this time because the pigeons are all over it.  In fact pigeons are numerous and destructive at the moment.  Fortunately my double netting of all brassicas is keeping them at bay.

Mice have been at my newly sown peas and have been eliminated by trapping.  Rats have taken shelter in my propagating areas and baiting has been necessary and finally slugs are very active.  The latter have been countered by the very low toxicity iron phosphate based pellets that have done impressive slaughter amongst the slimy fiends.  If the weather turns drier this may hold them at bay for the rest of the season - slugs are usually manageable on my sandy soil.

On the wetter patches of the plot there is standing water.  It is impossible to control slugs here and so sowing and planting won't start until warm dry weather limits slug activity and slug free crops such as globe artichokes are grown.

Shed work occupied the wet periods.  An overgrown buddleia had been cut down and was turned into 30cm pegs for ‘marking out'.  I took a ball of string and my measuring stick in a lull in the rain and marked out the brassica plot for three rows of Brussels sprouts, one row each of summer cauliflower, autumn cauliflowers, red cabbage, green  cabbage and savoys and a row of Swedes.  Although these won't be planted up until May I like to sow a row of small crops for pulling in summer between where the major crops will go later - this is called in the jargon ‘intercropping'.  This might amount to a row each of beetroot, kohl rabi, turnips and part rows of lettuces, radish and rocket.  As soon as the soil dries these seeds will go in. Later cropping brassicas, sprouting broccoli for example, will follow early lifted onions and garlic.  

However there is a complication.  The very heavy infestation of club root disease in my soil has to be countered by liming to a high pH using calcium cyanamide fertiliser.  This costly fertiliser is applied, with a generous sprinkling of lime, in 30cm wide bands where the brassicas are to go.  This has to fit between the rows of small crops that won't appreciate this highly alkaline concoction and in any case won't repay its high cost.  There is more; the lime will ‘lock up' boron, already short in a sandy soil, so borax solution will have to be watered on. However, this not the end; the borax will also harm some small crops so it too has to be applied in a 30cm band.  That is why the ‘marking out' is important.

Back in the shed late Brussels sprouts, autumn cabbages, summer cauliflowers and cabbages were sown in pans in the heated propagator, to be set out in individual pots later.  Aubergines, peppers and tomatoes were also sown in pans.  Module trays of beetroot and lettuces were sown too.  Finally the celeriac was sown, but when I came to the celery no seed was to be seen.  Disaster.

An expensive disaster because I leapt in the car and headed to the nursery where there was no celery seed but I bought three trays of excellent lettuce plants and one of ‘Hispi' cabbage, and then passing Wickes I nipped in and bought some half-price mulching sheet, a few drain pipe accessories to finish off the water butts and some more timber (you cannot have too much on an allotment).  Then on the garden centre where I found some ‘Loretta' celery seeds and stocked up on copper fungicide to control damping off in the newly sown seeds and some more glyphosate weedkiller (this is insurance in case the rains persist and the weeds run away with me in April).  A few more mouse traps were also bought.   Finally I called into the hardware store and bought a packet of household borax - enough to five years of brassica growing for the sum of £1.50.  At least the borax was cheap.

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