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Deeply stirred

Posted by Guy Barter on 17 Apr 2008 at 05:12 PM

At last the weather has turned around enough to get cultivations finished.  Two days without rain, and with a light breeze, is sufficient in these lengthening days and increased warmth from the sun, to dry the soil enough to consider rotovating.

I rushed home from work, oiled, greased the machine, having to my shame put it away dirty, used old coat hangers to re-attach the bits that were hanging off (until I can get to the local dealership) and headed to the allotment. The potato ground was ‘milled’ into a fine mould with the manure thoroughly mixed in.  Now that the drills can be drawn and ridges easily made, the seed tubers sprouting in my garden shed can be planted.

Next the future broad bean plot was deeply stirred, before dealing with where the over-wintered brassicas had been growing.  These had already been consigned to the compost pit or, for the stalks, the bonfire.  The ridges where broken down and weeds chopped-in ready for the intended crop of pumpkins and squashes. 

Panic set in last week when the weather seemed set cold and wet.  The rapidly growing grass weeds on the brassica plot were treated with diquat (Weedol) before they got out of hand.  Their dying remnants were easily rotovated into the soil. 

Finally, all the areas previously rotovated in March were cleaned up, removing the germinating weed seedlings by using the rotovator as a ‘motor-hoe’ just scuffling the surface, wiping out every last weed.  They will soon be back, but will meet their come-uppance beneath sheets of black plastic that will keep the soil weedfree and damp until it is needed for sowing.  Two weedings in this way reduce the ‘weed pressure’ in the ultimate crops by depleting the reserves of weed seeds near the soil surface – a process called a ‘stale seedbed’ in the jargon.

While I was waiting for the weather to improve I dug by hand the most trying and weed-infested areas removing weed roots by hand, saving rotovator fuel and glyphosate weedkiller. Hand-digging is always much better than rotovating – if you have time. These hand-dug areas were also getting weedy, but a curved-tooth steel rake, with a particularly aggressive action, made a level seedbed and killed the emerging weeds in one operation. 

Germinating weeds are a sure sign that the soil is warm enough to sow. Although I have been happy, so far this spring, to chance beetroot, broad beans, lettuce, early peas, radish, spinach, turnips and salad onions in cold soil, I have been hanging on for warm soil with most crops.  My ‘sowing box’ is bulging with seeds that must now be thrown in as fast as possible.

In the meantime the transplants in my growing on area in the back garden have finally been growing after early slow progress.  Slow-growing seedlings are vulnerable to disease and pests. Although slugs have been well-controlled and diseases kept off by using Cheshunt Compound fungicide, something was setting off my mouse traps and nibbling seedlings.  It could only be rats and in fact two were quickly trapped.  Poison bait should get any others in the area.

The next batch of seeds are now going through the propagator, autumn cabbage and cauliflowers, late leeks,, ready for a splurge of tender crops with large seeds next week – courgettes, cucumbers, melons, pumpkins, squash, sweet corn – that sort of thing.  My only two failures have been aubergines and cape gooseberries.  A crafty slug slipped in by night and ate most of the aubergines and the cape gooseberries failed to emerge.  Good plants at fair prices are offered by local nurseries; I won’t re-sow.

Other, outdoor plants are also growing and the over-wintered onions, broad beans and peas are doing much better.  The former two were given extra nitrogen fertiliser in February and they are only now showing the benefit.

The last few crops are being gathered – plenty of purple sprouting broccoli and leeks, some cabbages and the last of the stored potatoes.  The last Swedes were gathered at the weekend and now no root crops remain.  The freezer however is still fully stocked and should see us through until June.

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