Sunday, 24 January 2016



To create a successful garden, we select our favourite plants, arrange where best to put them and give them the soil conditions best suited to their needs. Some research is always handy to establish the best plants for dry soil, damp soil, poor soil, shady areas, suntraps and even on the allotment you need to know which plants need very fertile soil and those that are best on land manured the previous year. Many problems start with the new garden around new property once the builders have left the site. Poor soil, consolidation, poor drainage and buried builders debris are normal.
Once you start to dig over the site, coupled with a visual inspection you will quickly determine the state and nature of soil, and if drainage is needed.
Anna starting the winter digging
A rubble drain can often be integrated under garden paths and lead to a large sump. Soil improvement is an ongoing event involving digging annually, incorporating organic manures, practicing green manuring, establishing a compost heap and using fertilisers and rock dust to get plants off to a good start. Any areas to be planted with permanent or long term crops such as fruit bushes, shrubs, trees or roses should have the ground double dug adding in as much compost or other organic material as you can get hold off. When double digging nearly two feet deep don’t allow the soil or clay in the lower depths to come up into the top soil. Deep digging opens up the soil allowing good aeration, root penetration and improves fertility and drainage.
Adding bulky organic manures feed the soil increasing worm activity and soil organisms which break down the manures into humus. This creates a fertile crumb structure which opens up the soil, aerates it and improves the drainage. Humus also darkens the soil which then warms up more efficiently. On allotments where a four year rotation is practised it is usual to lime one section each year where the brassicas are to be planted. On sandy soils often deficient in minerals consider using rock dust to improve mineral uptake.
Shredding branches at City Road Allotments

Compost heap
This is where the fertility comes from. I compost everything unless it is diseased , e.g. clubroot or rose black spot or has seed heads such as poppies. Even domestic newspapers, utility bills, bank statements can be shredded and woody material such as shrub prunings can be chipped and shredded then added to the heap. Grass cuttings, leaves and annual weeds will all rot down. However discard or dry out any perennial weeds such as couch grass, mares tail, nettles, willow herb, dockens or dandelion.
Keep the heap for nine months and try to turn it over at least once. Keep it moist to assist worms and organisms, but also keep it covered to retain the moisture and warmth.

Green Manuring
This is an excellent method of improving soil fertility. When the early crops such as broad beans, early potatoes, sweet corn, dwarf french beans or even old strawberry plots are finished, dig or fork over the ground, add some fertiliser then scatter some mustard, clover or tares. As soon as the first flowers appear, trample down the stems and dig it in.

Wee jobs to do this week
Pruning Black Hamburg grape vine
Prune grape vines in the greenhouse as well as outdoors. Vines under glass are usually trained as upright rods spaced about 18 inches apart with spurs established about ten inches apart up these rods. Prune all young shoots right back to a couple of buds from the main stem (rod). Grapes grown outdoors can also be grown as rods or if covering trellis, fences or sheds left to form a framework of main stems spaced about a foot apart. Again spurs are encouraged to form about ten inches apart and in November to January all young shoots are cut back to a couple of buds. Commercially outdoor grapes are trained in the single or double guyot system to form well managed rows with plenty of light and growth restricted in summer to encourage fruiting.


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