December Apples And Other News From The Allotment

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These days it is usually dusk as I leave the allotment.  I go there late afternoon to pick kale, carrots and parsnips. It has been too wet underfoot to do much work (our soil turns to glue in winter rain) but I have been making paths between the raised beds and behind the polytunnel. For the permanent paths I have laid membrane, for others whose location I may change, I’ve put down recycled cardboard. Then I’ve been covering both with wood chippings.

These last I am currently scavenging from a big heap left by the council beside the footpath not far from the allotment. It means a longer walk from the house. Instead of going south along the field path, I strike out west up the Sytche, where I fill two bags from the heap and then slither my way along a hedgerow track and into the wood before I can turn east and drop down on to the allotment. All a bit daft I know, but you get a fine view of the town along the way.

Back in the summer I was gathering chippings from the Linden Field and using them in a no-dig experiment. When I took over the polytunnel a couple of years ago, I also acquired half a plot that had been neglected for several seasons. Some of it I cleared by digging until I saw the error of my ways. The rest I divided into terraces using old planks, and then  instead of hacking at the pernicious weeds (dandelion, buttercup, couch grass), I buried them in cardboard and several inches of chippings.

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This is not fool-proof. You can’t keep a good weed down. And I’ve had to pull up a few young dandelions since, but they are easier to get a grip on through the chippings.

Eventually, when the worms and fungi have done their work, I should be able to plant into this mulch. Thereafter, it will be a matter of adding more layers of compost. AND NO DIGGING.

Now is also the season of leaf gathering. They do take a good year to eighteen months to rot down, though someone told me you could speed up the process by stirring in some grass mowings. The leaves I gathered last year are already breaking down into lovely crumbly loam which I’ll use for seed sowing in the spring. Leaf mould is low in nutrients, but it can be enriched with the addition of shredded comfrey leaves that rot down very quickly.

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I make simple silos out of a rolls of chicken wire, but you can use black bin bags or leaf sacks.

And now I’ve lingered here long enough. The light is going, and it’s time to walk home across the field, the dusk lit by apples like lanterns along the allotment fence.

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41 thoughts on “December Apples And Other News From The Allotment

  1. wow, this is amazing. way to give and take from the earth, symbiotic. here, there is not much growing now, other than evergreens, it is all deep in the snow.

  2. Hi Tish, coincidentally, we have just started experimenting with no-dig methods. Have started layering newspaper and clippings around the marrows, and making a new bed using the method you describe. For a long time now, we have planted pennyroyal as a groundcover on the pathways in our monkey-proof veggie patch, and in our climate at least, it does quite well. I love the pics of your cold-climate apples. We have no hope of growing apples here in our tropical humidity, and even if we could, the monkeys would get there first! Not that I begrudge them eking out an existence in a hostile world with ever-shrinking suitable habitats. Enjoy your winter produce! Keep warm!

    1. I have some pennyroyal confined to a pot in the home garden. I hadn’t thought of using it for ground cover. It must smell wonderful when you walk on it. I shall give it a go at the allotment and risk it taking over the place once released from confinement. And good luck with the no-dig approach. We have a UK proponent Charles Dowding. He has a few videos on You Tube.

      1. If the pennyroyal gets too rampant, at least it is shallow rooted and easy to pull up and toss on the compost heap. I got the idea from Margaret Roberts, an inspirational gardening-with-herbs guru here in South Africa. She also plants pennyroyal under strawberry plants to keep worms and beetles away!

      2. Thanks so much for that tip, Carol. I’d better start propagating my plants. I’m now thinking of rows of it beside sowings of carrots to distract the carrot root fly.

  3. I love your blow by blow account of your allotment garden. As with all your writing you put me right there as you lug bags of leaves and travel home by apple-light. You also remind me of gardening exploits in Australia (J’s, not mine.) You lay down cardboard: he’s used coffee grounds for a Sydney garden (no! We didn’t drink that much coffee) and newspaper (leftovers snaffled from the local newsagent after the masthead had been clipped) and wood chips from the local sawmill once we moved to the coast. Raking up under the spotted gums on the bush block did double duty – this year fire hazard reduction, next year broken down leaf litter, if the lyrebirds didn’t get to the piles before they’d been consolidated and scratch Them back into scattered. So I’ve had double pleasure – from your garden, and from nostalgia.

    1. And now you’ve taken me to your erstwhile patches too. Lyrebirds – how lovely. It is amazing what can be used to mulch plants. In semi arid Kenya they tend to plant fruiting trees in a bit of a hole, bananas, citrus etc and then some farmers mulch round the roots with volcanic clinker and small rocks. It collects condensation which percolates through. I haven’t tried using newspaper as yet. Apparently worms like the glue in cardboard from dismantled packaging. I don’t know what they think about newsprint. Another experiment called for perhaps.

  4. I always feel completely inadequate when reading the blogs of masterful gardeners such as yourself and a few others I follow. But I also enjoy the wonderful things being done to work with the earth and to improved it, while also producing food and other plants. Maybe next year I’ll do just a bit more, although this year we did have a wonderful crop of cherry tomatoes, the sweet Sun Golds. Of course in a rental house and on rental property, I don’t know that the owner would appreciate me digging up the landscaping. 🙂

    janet

    1. Ah-ha! A raised bed on top of the landscaping. You could put a membrane underneath, for tidying up when you have to leave. It’s amazing how much you can produce from one square metre. Just a thought 🙂

  5. My efforts at No Dig turned out an abysmal failure, this year.
    The soil at the back is much like organic concrete and this didn’t help the first planting of chilies, which all bit the dust, or the clay.

    Have to have a complete re-think.

    1. Keep going! Perhaps you need more compost heaps. Or is this a problem with the animals? I remember our Nairobi soil was like concrete. One problem was the termites extracted any compost we added. Maybe you just need to confine yourself to improving one small patch at a time. Eight inches of mulch on top. If you haven’t got a lot of grass mowings and other vegetation you can add shredded paper and cardboard. Perhaps your neighbours have stuff?

      1. I made the mistake of not preparing the existing soil before covering it.
        The entire area needs thorough digging over to about a depth of a foot, composting etc and then once planting is done I can cover it.
        Patience!
        I’ll set about it in the New Year.

      2. Ark the idea of no digging means no digging. Just pile stuff on top. It should rot down. It will encourage a whole microclimate of fungi, worms and beneficial organisms to get going underneath. Digging just destroys this system, (and your back) and tropical soils are especially fragile and leach quickly when exposed. Think forest floor without the giant centipedes 🙂

      3. Fair enough. But this will mean composting / covering before planting out anything new. I am not going to risk losing another crop of chilli plants.

      4. You’ve got it. But apart from that chillis are happy in pots as long as you feed them now and then, and don’t let them dry out. Tomato food will do. You could even sink the pots into the ground this coming season, just to reduce water loss; and then mulch round them. That’s probably the best approach. Treat your organic cement as a giant flower pot holder until you can coax it into being more welcoming to plants.

      5. The odd thing is the soil is different in other areas of the garden.
        I have a few chillies planted in the soil just below the bathroom window and they are doing splendidly.
        Also, must the weeds that have grown through be removed or can one simply cover these with mulch as well and they will rot?

      6. You can keep covering them, so I’m told. But I have been pulling up some of the here and there perennial weeds that have been pushing up through the cardboard and chippings. I guess the quick and dirty method would be to pinch off the tops and then bury them. Basically this is about building fertility, not wrecking the fertility already there, and taking the heavy labour out of gardening. It might however require some heavy labour to get the whole thing going 🙂

  6. Lovely! I could do with you here… any tips on how to get rid of a lawn? I don’t really need one and want more flower beds and probably gravel the rest. It’s not huge, but would take too much digging for me. I’m thinking along the lines of cardboard, and then maybe using a membrane before covering with some sort of gravel. Any thoughts?

    1. A membrane covered with bark chips or gravel should kill it off. If you go the cardboard route, plus bark chippings or similar, then if the weeds push through you just add more cardboard and chippings. You could do the latter for any areas that you want to be flower bed. And then membrane/gravel /bark for the bits you want to have as path. You can of course make planting holes through membrane if you need to at some point. The area that I put down to cardboard and chippings in the summer had started to rot down by October, so I’ve planted my new raspberry canes into it, and added more chippings. Fingers crossed.
      You could also stick raised beds directly on the lawn that you don’t want and just pile compost on top. 6″-8″. You could put cardboard on the bottom to be on the safe side. The worms like it. Charles Dowding is the no-dig man to consult on You Tube. He has a website too.

  7. Lovely post. I so enjoy reading about your allotment and gardening activities. I’m reading now and itching to get out in my garden. It’s been a bit neglected lately and I really should tart it up as part of the “getting the house ready to sell” process, but I can’t quite bring myself to do something that will be cosmetic and instant, rather than properly nurturing. Or maybe I’m just being lazy. 🙂

    1. Reckon covering the garden in mulch might satisfy both requirements then. It will look nice, and then you can leave it, knowing the plants are happy. Does your local authority mince up tree and garden cuttings. Or anyone? You just need a trailer load, and some nice lads with shovels 🙂

  8. A wonderful cycle of plant life. Are the apples eating ones or crabs? so many go to waste don’t they, do you know anyone a generation younger who makes preserves and fills a freezer?

    1. You are right, Gilly. The younger generation doesn’t seem to do much preserving and freezing. And the apples in the photos, apart from looking lovely, just hang there till they fall. I don’t know what the variety is, not crabs, but I’m sure they’d cook. They are in a private garden, otherwise I’d probably go in for a bit of scrumping. But you’ve reminded me that we saw some crab apples on the old railway line. Not too late to make some crab apple jelly.

  9. I wish I had the space to hold leaves long enough for them to be useful. I certainly rake enough leaves every fall. I am familiar with the apple lanterns, Tish. Back in Michigan, there are several old apple trees similarly adorned. They’re a staple of the deer winter diet and every evening, just before dusk, small groups cross the property on their way for their evening meals.

    1. Thank you for that lovely image – the deer at dusk coming to eat apples. As to leaves, in the UK you can get loosely woven jute sacks for storing leaves. They’re quite attractive. I guess you’d have to hang them from a fence so they were off the ground.

  10. Enjoy learning garden tips Tish- like the mulch chips vs laborious digging – and the chipped bed will likely have more nutrients –
    Loved leaving at dusk with u too

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