Flicking through some gardening books at a book shop on Park Street, I stopped at a heading on a page that caught my eye. I can’t remember what book it was or who wrote it but the heading read something along the lines of:
“Is a few hours spent relaxing with friends on a plot any less of a ‘yield’ than kilos of vegetables?” Read More
This is my first allotment update of the year. Please don’t judge it by its looks as it’s early days. My overwintering food – perennial kales, leeks and perennial leeks – are providing me with lots of food and though I want to preserve the perennial kales (in place) the leeks I want to lift so I can grow new things in the space, most probably peas or broad beans. Some of the leeks I am going to leave where they are even though they will go to seed in, probably, May. I want to save seed and also collect the “king pods” which form at the base of bolting leeks. Read More
I had a thoroughly good time today. It felt like spring *touch wood* but to be realistic I need to hold back my enthusiasm until the real spring which is normally the last week of March. Or am I being pessimistic?. I heard that the Bristol Permaculture Group was meeting to do a spot of allotment work on the Royate Hill allotment site. It was about time I introduced myself because I have been mouthing off about permaculture for some time. It was nice to meet other permaculturists. Read More
So, what have I learnt from the past year? Well, as usual my gardening year hasn’t provided the sort of yield I wanted, or if gardening magazines are to be believed I should expect. I don’t know why I should expect my gardening abilities to be as great as Monty Don or Geoff Lawton, especially only being 5 years in, I am a beginner. I do of course hamper myself with ridiculous rules like not importing fertility, especially as I am practically guaranteed to have awesome crops if I dump half a ton of horse manure on the allotment. Read More
My quest to reduce – or stop entirely – inputs into my vegetable plots continues. As usual I look down at my compost heaps with dissapointment as the huge piles of organic matter I had accumalated vanish into thin air. Or leave thin layers of “black gold” topped with woody matter. I’m tugged both ways in the compost / sheet mulching debate. What I have learnt over the last year is that slugs and snails dissapear if they have nowhere to hide. So you would think that would mean mulches would be out then in my gardens. Indeed, on the allotment, nary a mollusc could be found – and that was down to a religious determination to tidy the place up. Grass paths trimmed, weeds weeded and rubbish put on the compost heap. I’m not one to follow advice (stubborn I’m told) but I wish I had, because the same story is always told – if you want to keep the gastropods away tidy up!. Read More
I had a chat with one of my allotment neighbours two days ago, a guy who with his partner has a very pretty allotment, packed with really good looking veg, lots of it and in wooden sided raised beds. He seems quite a progressive kind of guy so I started talking about sustainability and how his quinoa stalks and corn stalks, when composted, would add fertility to his plot. Of course, he replied, both those plants don’t add anything to the soil.
And he may be right.
Because I am an argumentative, political, kind of bloke I rely on my gob to keep flapping to win arguments. But I was a bit stumped. I came up with some guff about all organic matter feeding microbes that multiply, die off and add more plant food than you had before, but the way I trailed off suggested even I didn’t believe it, and I was the one talking. Plus his family farm acres in America and they have compost heaps the size of my allotment plot. They know that external inputs create fertility (manure and fertiliser) and the proof was in front of me, in front of my own eyes, in this guy’s allotment.
Have I been sold a pup? I need to audit what I’m doing.
I don’t necessarily believe (from the doubt that has crept in) that recycled organic matter does the business. Therefore, my 100 sq feet of broad beans (fava) will not add any further fertility to the soil than was already there. The plant is nitrogen fixing but all of that nitrogen, apparently, goes into making the beans and not into the compost heap. John Jeavons says that it is the carbon we are after to fill up our compost heap, thus allowing us to enjoy our beans, but I think it is the nitrogen, because the plant uses clever biology to add it from the air – a new resource that wasn’t in the soil in the first place. This means, if I am right, that I have to cut down the broad beans before they make beans. I can’t have my cake (fertiliser) and eat it (food).
1) I have two young hedges of nitrogen fixing trees that I will trim to provide nitrogen for the compost heap and, because they are trees, draw up nutrients from deep in the soil. There are other benefits, hedges control soil erosion, provide habitats for wildlife and provide hiding places for cats to ambush pigeons when they try to scoff my brassicas.
2) Interplanting my crops with nitrogen fixing clovers and vetches during the growing season
3) Growing nitrogen fixing green manures (again clovers and vetches) during the autumn and winter on my growing beds.
4) Several large clumps of comfrey. Yes, I know it doesn’t add anything to the soil that wasn’t already there, but myself and others have had good results from it, and it doesn’t seem to run out of nutrients.
5) Growing perennial nitrogen fixing clumps of sweet peas (the everlasting kind) and composting the greenery in the autumn.
Not too bad, though I don’t think I am going to be able to stop using inputs next year, I should be able to halve them. That being said, the compost heaps are starting to look good and big, and may provide a substantial part of the 48 buckets of compost I need according to the biointensive system. Sadly, though, I’m not sure I believe in the value of my own compost anymore. Anyway only one way to find out and that is by experimenting, growing veg and eating it. If I get any at all that is.
Perennial Vegetables by Martin Crawford (along with Forest Gardening by the same) is my bible. All the pages are falling out because I read it so often. I agree with the basic premise of it: that annual vegetables are hard work and suck the ground dry of nutrients, and that perennial vegetables give year on year. I don’t agree that all of the vegetables included in his books are actually that edible. The idea is that you replace all your annual veg with perennial versions – so replace carrots with scorzonera, ragged jack kale with daubenton kale, onions with shallots and peas with perennial sweet peas. Unfortunately eating sweet peas (lathyrus) will paralyze your legs if you eat them as a staple for weeks on end. So…bog standard annual green peas it is then!. Read More