In April at The Earth Laughs In Flowers, Jude wants to see our garden macros. This is also the Day 5 of the 7-day nature photo challenge. So here we have a bumble bee heading for my field bean flowers. I don’t blame it. They smell divine on a still, spring day.
This photo was taken up on my allotment, probably last year. At the moment the current crop of field beans, sown in September-October and overwintered, is only a hand’s width tall, but they’re looking quite healthy. Once they get going, they will grow as tall as I am, and need some support. The photo also shows bean weevil damage on the leaves. This is one of the drawbacks of allotment gardening. Pests like this become endemic. On the whole, though, the beans seem to carry on regardless.
Field beans are related to the broad bean (aka fava or faba) and they look much the same, but are less than half the size. Mostly they are grown in the UK as a green manure, the plants dug in before flowering. I grow them to eat. They make great re-fried beans, soup and a bean version of guacamole, which is astonishingly good.
My crop was so productive last year, I was able to eat and freeze them, and save masses of seed to dry and sow for this year’s crop. It’s the first time I’ve done this, so it will be interesting to see how they turn out. In consequence, I probably have grown too many. But once I see how the plants are faring, I shall sacrifice some of them. I mean to chop them down and leave them to rot on the soil surface, rather than digging them in. This will let the worms do the work, and keep the soil covered until I want to cultivate it.
I am beginning to see that digging is a very bad thing to do the earth. It wrecks the surface soil structure every time you do it, and so compromises fertility. Instead, the No Dig method relies on covering the soil surface with organic matter/compost every year, and then planting through it. The only problem is you need masses of compost. It also helps if you do your planting in raised beds. This way you do not walk on the soil, and can keep building up the fertility. Raised beds are easier to manage, and mulching the plants should massively cut down on the weeding, and the need to feed, or to water during dry spells.
Since last autumn I have been doing heavy labour on the new allotment plot that came with my polytunnel. (I hadn’t taken this into account when I got all excited about inheriting the tunnel from allotmenteers who were off to new territory.) The ground all round was heaving with dandelions and buttercups. And since this was before I discovered the no dig approach, I admit to using the quick and dirty method (though NOT weed killer) and slicing off the top layer of weeds, and dumping it in compost bins to rot down for a few years. The ground zero method of gardening.
I then commissioned He Who Does Not Garden But Lives In My House to construct and install on my plot several raised beds made out of recycled builders’ yard pallets. A couple went into action straight away, and were planted up in October with over-wintering onion sets. The others I have been filling up over the past few weeks. So far the onions are looking healthy and a few weeks ago I sprinkled organic hen manure pellets over their beds, an alternative to sulphate of ammonia, which I didn’t have to hand.
By now you will be beginning to grasp the lengths that this writer will go to in order not to sit in front of her computer and cultivate the master work. So far I have shifted around 30 barrow-loads of an old garden rubbish heap that has apparently been in the corner of the allotment for the last forty years, and until recently was covered in brambles and nettles. Strangely too, it was my idea to recycle it.
Off course when I say heap, I really mean small mountain. It’s full of bonfires past, rodent nests, and decomposed leaves from the nearby ash tree, as well as nearly half a century of weeds and waste. There’s also broken glass, bits of plastic fertilizer bags, and all sorts of unidentifiable metal items that gardeners of yore thought could be disposed of in such a manner. As I sift through the heap, I think how good it is that I’m putting the field practice of my long ago archaeology degree course to some sort of use.
In fact I have been keeping an eye out for old coins, remembering that a few years ago I uncovered a 1725 halfpenny right outside my shed door. It helps to keep me amused during the boring process of extracting unwanted detritus and plant roots.
I’ve also filled myself with a big enthusiasm infusion by deciding to dedicate one of the raised beds to growing flowering annuals to attract more bees. I shall also use it to grow on perennials (verbascum, heleniums, echinops) and biennial foxgloves that I’ve just germinated on the kitchen window sill. The thought of a raised bed bursting with summer flowers is so heartening. Doubtless you will see the results as time goes on.
But for now that’s enough talk about gardening. The sun is shining, and the weather forecast tells us we have a brief window of opportunity before the rain returns, so I’m off to the allotment with my pea and beetroot seedlings. I may even sow some parsnips. Happy Sunday one and all.