Thursday, 8 December 2011

The potato patch, seaweed and manure.

I took advantage of the warm November to give the potato patch a good dig over.

The potatoes were lifted in October on warm drying days and before the first frosts threatened. After drying they were stored in paper sacks in a dark corner of the potting shed and we have been using them steadily since then. The patch will be used for legumes next year, mostly broad beans and peas.

I hope my thorough digging will mean that I will not have too many potato volunteers next year. Meanwhile I dislike seeing the bare soil which is vulnerable to winter rains and liable to sport a crop of chickweed.

Green manures have become relatively popular recently, an idea that has been imported into domestic spheres from agriculture. Personally it doesn't suit my gardening practice.

Having spent hours forking over the soil and removing weeds the thought of having to dig in a green manure before I can plant is extra work I can do without. In addition I expect to plant in early spring and wonder how much useful growth, if any, the green manure would have produced by then. Finally many green manures are brassica crops and it would play havoc with crop rotation.

Instead I resort to an old practice prevalent in Scotland, I collect seaweed after winter storms and spread it over the soil. Collect after rain and most of the salt should be washed off. Spread reasonably thick and the weeds are smothered and the soil protected. During the course of the winter the seaweed will begin to breakdown but you can plant around it if it is still there come planting time. Slugs don't seem to like it and it contains many useful trace elements.

The patch previously planted with legumes will host the brassicas next year. It is treated to a layer of sawdust and straw from the goose and chicken sheds and covered with black plastic. This will protect the soil, feed the worms and later the brassicas, and the plastic allows the soil to warm and remain drier than it otherwise would. Come planting time a sprinkle of lime and the plants are planted without further work.

This coming year I am considering planting the brassica plants through a black weed suppressing membrane to reduce the weeds and keep the soil warm. Should you suffer from cabbage root fly it should help with that and I am interested to see what impact it might have on slugs.

The allium/carrot patch still has vegetables in it but will be next years potato patch. This patch will have some of the compost from the compost bins after the potatoes are planted. I add it to the top of the soil and will hoe off any emerging weed seeds, it will feed the emerging potatoes, add another protecting layer to the soil and young potato shoots, and is an easy way to incorporate the compost to the vegetable patch.

This leaves only the present brassica patch. Still holding winter cabbages, swede, and planted with next years garlic crop on soil which has been harvested of earlier brassicas. This patch gets no extra treatment. The onions and carrots etc. will benefit from the previous years goose and chicken manure. When the winter brassicas are harvested the ground will be almost immediately replanted, if there is a delay I will cover it with black plastic which will warm the soil and keep it drier ready for seed sowing.

Snow, deer and carrots

After the warmest November on record for Scotland we entered December and along came the snow.

The last few days have seen falls of about 3 inches or more which have smothered a still warm soil. This has left soft ground underneath which means that vegetables still in the ground are unfrozen. So when the deer entered the vegetable garden, it's tracks clear in the snow, it managed to pull out the carrots whilst enjoying the tops. It is a timely reminder that they need lifting, usually a job done much earlier but left because of the warm weather. I will sort through and pack the large ones in dry peat which will keep them in excellent condition.

The deer's trespass reminds me of why I plant winter veg in the polytunnel; to avoid predation by hungry animals. Inside the cabbage, kale, winter broccoli, carrots and salads will continue to grow and remain for me to pick when I want them. Outside I have netted the most tempting vegetables.

During the snow showers you do need to be vigilant with polytunnels and greenhouses. Heavy falls of snow need to be cleared from the roof to avoid damage. Last year the polytunnels collected a large quantity of snow which began to melt from below during spells of sunshine, caused by the temperature inside warming the snow, only for it to refreeze during the night. This led to a thick layer of ice which was heavy on the plastic and difficult to shift. Domestic sized tunnels are relatively easy to clear snow from, larger structures present more problems and many suffered snow damage. My tunnel has a double skin which does make it stronger but care still needs to be taken when clearing snow as the plastic can be brittle and easily torn. A brush may take longer but tends to be a safer tool than a rake or metal implement.