Five Minutes In The Polytunnel ~ Regular Random

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As ever, I have probably overdone things in the polytunnel, been too liberal with the seaweed extract. On the other hand the half dozen Tuscan kale plants have been producing succulent leaves since the winter. Almost undamaged too. I’m wondering how long they will keep going. Forever? I’m also pleased to find ladybirds in there, although the one featured below seems to have missed the aphid on the aubergine leaf. Maybe it’s trying to lull it into a sense of false security.IMG_5272

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Regular Random Please visit Desley Jane for more Five Minute Photo Shoots

Oh, my love’s like a red, red…radish? Or the joy of growing one’s own dinner

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Even if I say so myself, with radishes as beautiful as these, you can see why Mother of Rapunzel so craved them that she sent poor Father of Rapunzel scrabbling over the witch woman’s garden wall on nightly radish-scrumping missions.

We all know what trouble that led to, and hopefully there will be no similar repercussions (whether the enforced letting down of over-long hair from tall towers or the scratching out of princely eyes ) from eating these dear little Cherry Belle radishes. Because eaten them we have. They took pride of place in the salad that accompanied Friday night’s dinner.

And the secret of this particularly successful, if small-scale production, was to grow them in a large plastic flower pot inside my allotment polytunnel. You can see them growing in the bottom left-hand corner, along with the component parts of many other future dinners:

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This week at the Daily Post photo challenge the theme is:
Dinnertime

Apologies to Robert Burns for the radish intrusion.

Also I don’t think Jude has yet featured radishes in her April garden close-ups challenge.

World Soil Day & December at the allotment

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Here is my path to the allotment. I’m a bit fixated on it, and have been snapping it at different seasons. I like the way colour has leached from the grasses.

The allotment looks bleak at this time of year, not improved by the fact that many of us are untidy allotmenteers. There’s all sorts of unsightly takataka lying about – things that might come in handy for something, sometime. I’m guilty of it myself, and of course when you take on a plot, you inherit your predecessor’s junk. I’m gradually whittling mine down.

There are also jobs I haven’t done – edging the beds, giving the paths a final mow while I had the chance. But I did sow my mustard at just the right time and now have an impressive crop.

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I’m growing it both as a cover crop and a green manure. If we have a hard winter it will probably be frosted and die down by itself. For now it’s still growing, and if it survives till spring I’ll cut it down and probably just let it rot on the  soil surface. With green manures it is usual to dig them in before they flower. But I’m beginning to have second thoughts about digging, much as I enjoy wielding my grandfather’s sharp bladed spade.

For years I’ve known (vaguely) about No Dig Organic Gardening, just as I’ve long known that mulching crops produces sturdier, tastier produce that needs little watering. But it has taken a while for the penny to completely drop.

No dig cultivation is not simply about saving labour. It’s about protecting and nourishing the soil. And since today is World Soil Day, there can be no better moment to think about this totally essential, life protecting, life enhancing substance. If our soil is degraded and low in nutrients, then our food is not giving us the nutrition we need to stay strong and healthy. M.S. Swaminathan, India’s ‘Father of Green Revolution’ calls this ‘hidden hunger’.  Paradoxically, we suffer from it even in rich countries where we eat all day, and it contributes to (and some would say lies at the root of) much chronic disease.

Soil anaemia also breeds human anaemia. Micronutrient deficiency in the soil results in micronutrient malnutrition in people, since crops grown on such soils tend to be deficient in the nutrients needed to fight hidden hunger…Managing our soil and water resources in a sustainable and equitable manner needs a new political vision.

M.S. Swaminathan

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All my gardening life I have tended towards the traditional notion that digging the soil well, weeding, and adding plentiful compost is a ‘good thing’. Yet after 8 years of digging, weeding and forking in compost on my allotment plot, I’m seeing only marginal improvements in the soil: i.e. it’s a little better than it was.

In dry weather the soil surface still turns brick-hard,  which in turn constricts plant growth, (and in some cases  ‘bonsais’ the plants) making then weak and susceptible to pests. I then have to do a massive amount of watering which is not ideal either; it discourages the plants from rooting deeply.

Also every time you slice through the soil with a spade you disturb the complex community of bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and nematodes that support vibrant plant growth.

Better, then, to thickly pile shredded garden waste over the entire soil surface, and allow a microenvironment to establish underneath. The mulch gradually breaks down as all the matter is digested and re-digested, creating a nutrient rich, moisture retaining medium.

I now realize I need to cultivate a cohort of  jobbing domestic gardeners who will let me have their shredded garden waste rather than taking it to the recycling centre. In the meantime I decided on a little experiment.

Lacking the necessary quantities of gardeners and their shreddings, I spent three hours hours yesterday digging out my partially rotted compost bin, and spreading it several inches deep over four square metres of exposed soil. It was a messy process after days of downpours. But it’s amazing what lengths this writer will go to to avoid writing the novel.

The trouble is, rooting around in one’s compost heaps, turning stuff over, redistributing it, tends to be rather more satisfying than staring at the computer screen and straining one’s brain to dig out the right words.

I’ve also been making simple ‘silos’ out of chicken wire, to collect the leaves and so make leaf mould. This will take a year or two, but I might try and speed the process up next year by adding in some grass mowings. The resulting dark compost is just the stuff for seed sowing, so hopefully there will be some in  spring 2017.

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And I’ve been busy in the polytunnel. The summer’s ludicrous tomato forest is long gone and the last of the fruit turned into soup, sauce and chilli tomato jam. Now all has been raked over and planted with winter salad stuff – Chinese mustard, chard, pak choi, purslane, perennial rocket, lamb’s lettuce, Russian kale. I also have some parsley in there, onions, garlic, leeks and a bucket each of carrots and Florence fennel. The fennel probably won’t grow much, but we can eat the feathery leaves.

And just in case we do have the promised hard winter, I already have the fleece ready to lay over the young plants. Last year was pretty mild, and I found that once I put fleece over everything, the plants continued to grow, if only a little. I also have two small water butts filled to the brim and stationed inside. Their presence is supposed to provide a slight increase in temperature within the polytunnel. They are also handy when the allotment water supply is switched off for the winter.

Meanwhile, out on the plot, there are still lots of crops to harvest – carrots, leeks, kale, small amounts of  perennial spinach, and cauliflowers. The Brussels sprouts, cabbages, purple sprouting and Romanesco broccoli are all coming along. The field beans have sprouted, likewise the overwintering Radar onions.

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I know I am very lucky to have my allotment. But everyone can do some gardening, even if you only have a bucket. In fact a bucket is great for growing carrots. Lack of space need not be an obstacle. A single raised bed of one square metre, topped with layers of mulch can be intensively cultivated with leafy crops. And remember, there’s no need to dig it. Also mucking around close to soil is good for lifting the spirits. Scientists have discovered it gives off some kind of anti-depressant molecules.

All of which is to say:

SOIL – WE CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT IT. HEAL IT, AND WE HEAL OURSELVES AND THE GENERATIONS TO COME.

HAPPY WORLD SOIL DAY!

 

copyright 2015 Tish Farrell

Polytunnel Vision

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Oh all right, I know. As ambitions go, wanting to own a polytunnel might seem pretty odd. Also it’s not as if I don’t have enough housework in the house without having additional premises to tend elsewhere. But then sometimes in life you get precisely what you wish for, and most unexpectedly at that.

Ever since I took over my plot from Much Wenlock Allotment Society some seven years ago I have increasingly thought that a polytunnel was the very thing I needed. Gardening on the edge of Wenlock Edge can be challenging. The site is exposed, sloping, and often very windy. Much Wenlock is also in a frost pocket, and thus is a degree or so cooler than anywhere else in Shropshire.

Worse still, the soil comprises a decaying fossil volcanic ash that is like wet cement when it rains, and hard baked cement when it doesn’t rain. It has thus taken seven years of digging, mulching, composting, green manuring, horse manuring, hacking and weeding to get the soil looking like something that vegetable plants might want to grow in. The dandelions, however, grow most verdantly, along with the creeping buttercups, sow thistles, docks, bindweed and couch grass. And so despite improvements, small vegetable seeds still find the soil heavy going. If they germinate at all, they struggle, the soil creating a bonsai effect on the roots, and then the slugs quickly finish them off. Most seeds thus need to be germinated under cover, and grown on before they can stand a chance after being planted out.

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And then, of course, there are the pigeons. They sit on the telegraph wires and watch what I’m doing. They especially like to eat cabbages and newly sprouted pea plants down to the roots. The rotters. In consequence I spend a lot of time making defensive systems out of environmesh and bits of wire fencing. This kind of protection also has to be applied to beds of leeks, garlic and onions due to the arrival in our part of the world of the allium beetle that likes to lay its eggs in the fleshy roots. The effect of these assaults on the leeks is especially dramatic: they unfurl in spiral fashion and develop rust-coloured stripes.

So you can see that to be an allotment gardener in Wenlock requires the same kind of pig-headed (idiot) tenacity it takes to be a writer. I have visions of deep, humus-laden beds bursting with lush, green spinach and broccoli, in much the same way I have visions of producing beautiful books that everyone wants to devour, and feel nourished by.

And that’s where the polytunnel comes in. I’m hoping I can crack both objectives in one fell swoop, this on the basis that if I can raise and eat more broccoli and spinach, my brain might produce writing with the requisite added enrichment. We can but hope. I might also say, as I probably have before, the contents of my writer’s brain have much in common with the contents of my compost bin, although at least they don’t smell. (Please note pallet structure installed by the Team Leader aka Graham who endlessly tries to bring order to my chaos).

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Anyway, back in the early spring when I was clearing my plot I noted, with a severe pang of envy, that my neighbours, Bob and Sally, were making preparations to erect a fourteen foot long polytunnel. I could see it was hard work, with foundation trenches to dig (in the aforementioned concrete soil) and the frame to erect. I watched them toil, hanging doors, and making beds. Next, I watched as my other neighbours, Pete and Kate, followed suit. Their installation was even more hard work, being on a slope. It took them weeks to complete. In the meantime I kept the Team Leader posted as to these events, from time to time mooting the possibility of us having a tunnel; perhaps something smaller, I hazarded.

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I have to say the response wasn’t altogether encouraging, even though we were by then falling out at home over whether the small conservatory on the back of the house was my potting shed and greenhouse, or his workshop. Increasingly my bean and sweet corn seedlings were having to compete with saws and wrenches and other man-things whose function I cannot identify. Nor was there the possibility of building either a man-shed to contain his stuff or a woman-greenhouse to contain my stuff since the garden at  home is too narrow.

Back at the allotment I watched the new polytunnels fill with tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers…I thought longingly of gazpacho that simply cannot be made from flavourless supermarket produce. Ho hum.

Then out of the blue in mid-summer, a little bird, otherwise known as ace fellow allotmenteer, Phoebe, told me that Bob and Sally were moving and were looking to sell their tunnel. She thought I should discuss terms with them.  Not long after this I received a small inheritance from my once passionately gardening Aunt Evelyn of whom I have written elsewhere.

And so to cut a long story short, a week last Sunday I became the proud owner of the Auntie Evelyn Memorial Polytunnel, complete with potting bench, garden chairs and an automatic watering system. My aunt would have loved it. Bob and Sally even left me the last of their tomatoes and cucumbers. Not only that, the plot comes with a new shed that does not lean, nor provide roosting space for snails as my old one does. Already the Team Leader has added a shelf and guttering. In short, my water butt runneth over…Or will do very shortly.

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I have started clearing the tunnel’s beds and planted out lettuce and oriental vegetables to extend the salad season. But from now on, it is all new territory on the gardening front. There’s a lot to learn about tunnel cultivation and management. Planning and forethought are required. Better get cracking with that spinach and broccoli then.

Related stories about my aunt:

The Many Faces of Evelyn Mary Ashford

Grand Girl: Great Prospects

The Birds; Who, Where, When?

      copyright 2014 Tish Farrell

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