Lovely sunshine today and whilst bitterly cold it was dry, the first chance I’ve had to get a few jobs done around the garden. The raised beds needed a bit of attention. I built them quite cheaply six years ago using 6 foot gravel boards from Scats (£2 each) and a couple of them had rotted through. But at that price they’re easy to replace and it wasn’t long before they were all fixed up.
I have three raised beds in the back garden – the smallest is 6′ by 6′, then 12′ by 6′ and 18′ by 6′. There’s also a narrow strip at the side of the greenhouse. In the front is a bed for soft fruit and another 12′ by 6′ veg bed – this will be home for the winter brassicas and leeks this year.
With the beds repaired I gave Stanleys a call and within 30 minutes a delivery of manure arrived – they’re in Pitton just down the road and always have decent stuff available. Then it was just a case of transferring it to the beds leaving half a bed free from manure where the root crops will go.
Not much happening on the sowing front just some broad beans (Longfellow) and chillies (Joe’s Long) on the go. And the potatoes are all set out for chitting. The next priority is sorting out the mixes for the parsnips that will go in by mid-Feb followed by the long and stump carrots late Feb into March. The serious work has started!
It’s been a beautiful morning down here in South Wilts and I’ve managed to get the main task done – moving this pile of chicken manure!
A chap down the road delivered this £20 load and dropped it on the Dahlia bed. It’s great stuff, well rotted, ‘black gold’ in gardening terms. As it’s just like soil I’ve spread over all the beds, bar the one I’m growing roots in, and lightly forked in. The worms will do the rest for me. No need to dig if you don’t have to I say! And what’s left in the pile will fuel my Dahlias.
The next job was to dig up all the Jerusalem Artichokes, I had grown a 10 foot row of them planted late February last year. We’ve decided we’re not particularly fond of the taste after a couple of years of trying them out. It’s a shame as they are so easy to grow and a very productive crop. I can’t guess how many I dug up but it’s 10s of kilos of tubers. I’ll try and give some away so they are not wasted. So if you’re in the area and want some give me a shout.
And lastly the first signs of spring have returned to the garden. A beautiful little collection of crocuses are the first flowers in my snowdrop-free garden. With daffs and tulips pushing through it won’t be long now until those spring blooms come good. Hope you’re having a good weekend!
Having run out of planting space already I built a new bed this morning. I’ve been looking for hidden away and unloved areas of the garden to dig up for veg growing. The area I chose would fit a 12′ by 6′ bed with enough space to walk round all sides. Here’s the spot.
First I removed the turf (well mainly weeds!) and stacked it up in one corner to rot down over the next few months. Then using 6 stakes and 6 six foot long gravel boards I bought from Scats I made the frame. Then I dug the whole area to one fork’s depth and removed any tree roots and stones. Finally I filled up the bed with about a 1/10th of the chicken manure I had delivered a few weeks ago and some leftover top soil. Here’s the finished bed.
It’s position is not ideal as it’s the other side of a 5′ high fence which runs parrallel to the road but it is south-facing. At midday only 1/5th of the bed was in shade from the fence so by the summer the sun will be high enough to get to the whole bed. Straight in went the Brussel Sprouts which were followed by sweetcorn. I sowed some beetroot, radish and rocket to intercrop between these and squash plants will join them in a few weeks.
Elsewhere in the garden the tulips are in full bloom.
I love the deep red colour of these tulips, there’s some purple ones just about to come out too which will give some fantastic colour to the garden. It’s been a glorious day today, not a cloud in the sky.
I took delivery of this pile of chicken manure yesterday. I’m fortunate to have an agricultural contractors just down the road. I think they have contracts to clean out chicken houses and enough land to pile it up and let it rot down without upsetting the neighbours! This stuff is rotted down nicely, it looks just like soil really until you get up close. I’m a bit late as I should have done this in Autumn but better late than never I say. This stuff will be dynamite and its’ acidity will suit my soil which I tested the other week at pH7.7, too alkaline.
So guess what I’ll be doing for the next few days. What I don’t need now I’ll bag up for the Autumn.
One of the great things about being a member of your local Horticultural Society is that they organise talks on all sorts of topics. I went along to our village hall on Friday for a talk given by Ray Broughton from Sparsholt Agricultural College. He’s doing a series of 4 talks for us and whilst I missed the first one I really wanted to learn more about the soil in my veg beds and what I needed to do to improve it. I’d already taken and dried a sample as instructed and Ray then talked us through a series of tests to determine the soil texture, structure and pH. I have a clay loam textured soil, with a crumb structure and a pH of 7.7. The last two factors are not great for the veg garden but not disastrous (as I know from what I managed to grow this year!). But I do need to improve the structure of my soil. With a crumb structure I need to add a 50/50 mix of fine and coarse improver such as compost mixed with half-rotted organic matter. It’s important on a clay-type soil which is heavy, holding water, not to add a manure that is too well rotted as this will make the situation worse.
My soil’s pH is too alkaline at the moment. Most soil in the South Wiltshire / West Hampshire region is a chalky alkaline soil. You need to aim for a pH of between 6.5 and 7.0 as optimum. If you have 7.5 or above as I do start adding organic matter such as horse manure (use well rotted if you have a sandy soil or half-rotted if you have a clayey soil like mine). With an alkaline soil you need an acidic soil improver so avoid anything alkaline such as Growmore or Fish, Blood & Bone. Other good soil improvers for alkaline soils are seaweed, chicken manure such as Rooster, Miracle Gro, Maxi Crop, Vitax Q4. Half rotted leaves will also help on clay soil and woodash in moderation is a good additive.
Ray mentioned that the tests we completed in a couple of hours would cost over £200 if you sent your soil away for analysis so it’s well worth joining your local society and persuading them to get hold of someone who can run this through with a group – we all paid £6 which was a bargain!