Yes it’s that time of year again, when I make up a hot bed (or homemade ‘hot box’), ready to help propagate heat-loving seedlings such as tomatoes and peppers. We put the frame back in the Little Tunnel a week or so ago so the wood could dry out after standing out in the cold for months; and then today I filled it up with barrow-loads of fresh horse manure, soiled straw and wood shavings from the nextdoor horse stables. I added a bit of water as I went, just to ensure that the straw wasn’t too dry for all that lovely biological activity to happen. Then I turbo-screwed in the ply-wood front, filled the frame up to the top with more manure and straw/shavings, and finally placed the old recycled door on top which acts as a lid/bench top for the module trays to stand on. Hopefully in a few days the heap temperature will have crept up to around 60-70C, then started to drop down again; to leave us with a nice warm 10-20C continuous heat for sowing the seedlings next week!
Charles Dowding very kindly volunteered to host our last meeting on Saturday, and it was a real pleasure to see his site Homeacres, in Somerset. 13 BABOGers were keen to learn about Charles’s no-dig techniques: he kills off perennial weeds by laying plastic or carboard down on top of a layer of compost/muck, then the following year adds more compost and sows or plants straight into it. Each year he adds around 2 inches of compost/muck to the beds and, as the name suggests, doesn’t dig it in, but rather lets worms and other sauna flora and fauna do the hard work for him until there is little to see on the soil surface. This little disturbance of the soil means fewer weed seeds near the surface to germinate; those that do are quickly hoed off at an early stage using bronze (copper with a little tin) hoes and other tools (available from www.implementations.co.uk).
He sells from his 3/4 acre garden to several outlets in and around Bruton, and makes a decent turnover from the small patch – with the grass paths etc taken out of the equation, the total cropping area is more like 1/4 acre, including a small polytunnel, and greenhouse also used for propagation, and a muck hotbed which has stayed at a steady 20C all spring. Members were very impressed to see so much in the ground already on a chilly Saturday afternoon in April; although most of it was tucked under weighed-down fleece to help keep warm, and also keep pests off such as rabbits in these lean early weeks.
Charles has been running dig vs no-dig experiments and trials for a number of years, and has found that most crops yield more from the no-dig beds – apart from the odd crop such as beans; but further ongoing trials will help decide whether all these results are typical or not. He grows a wide variety of crops, but specialises in year-round salads and lettuces (a favourite being Grenoble Red); and follows some biodynamic practices such as sowing to the lunar calendar, and preferring copper tools to steel.
For compost he buys in either green waste compost or spent mushrooms compost by the tonne, and gets delivered horse manure from a neighbour. He also makes his own compost. He has recently planted apple trees from Walcot Organic Nursery, and is also running a small trial drawing on some aspects of Shumei Natural Agriculture (another BABOG member though not present today); so crops are not rototated, but grown in the same place year after year. He does add compost however, contrary to Shumei principles which believe the soil is already perfect and does not need anything else.
After the farm walk, we were treated to tea & cake, including delicious spinach & chocolate brownies: so could feel virtuous while indulging and chatting! Ours thanks to Charles & Steph for hosting us; for more information on Homeacres & Charles’s books and courses, visit www.charlesdowding.co.uk. The next BABOG meeting will be over the summer, please get in touch if you’d like more information or to be added to the email list.
For more info on No Dig Gardening visit Charles’ website, and Steph’s blog: there is also a new No Dig logo that other no-dig growers and gardeners are encourgaed to use to spread the word.
Well if January turned out to an oddly busy month due to the milder temperatures (still picking outdoor leafbeet mid-January, weird); then February was also a funny month in terms of lots of things on the go. Today however, following the freezing hail thunderstorms, I’ve decided to hide inside and have a breather, while planning all the next batch of monthly jobs.
I’ve been turning the hotbed – which has now really dropped in temperature, so I’m hoping there’s enough energy left in it to
keep my poor tomato seedlings warm enough in these coming cold nights. Horticultural fleece is currently my friend during this cold spell (reclaiming piles of it from under the tables in the propagation tunnel, where it had been colonised by sneaky mice), and will hopefully do enough to keep the tomatoes going; as well as bringing on all the seeds now sown in the module tunnel: lettuces, spinach, spring onions, rocket, micro leaves, kales, kohl rabi and peas for shoots.
I’ve drilled a few rows of early beetroot in the Little Tunnel too, which started to come up nicely last week, but now seem to have been razed to the ground by something or other: could be mice, could be slugs – yet there’s not many hiding places for either in the tunnel. Where’s the CCTV cameras when you need them?
I’ve also taken delivery on another truck-load of green waste compost: over 5tonnes of this lovely black soil conditioner was dropped off next to the polytunnels, and I’ve already shovelled around 20 barrowloads onto some of the herb beds, raised beds (disturbing a very cross-looking hibernating toad as I did so); and into the Vole Tunnel (having cleared out the salad there) – then wheel-hoeing it in before drilling early carrots in there (Purple Sun, White Satin & St Valery – Yellowstone seed was unavailable but apparently is on its way now and will go in asap).
I’ve also squeezed in a couple of rows of coriander next to them too. This tunnel has been pretty much decimated in the last year due to the storms, and needs re-covering desperately: I’m just hoping the plastic stays on long enough to get the carrots established, so I can them cover them with more fleece when I have to take the plastic off. Then it will be a case of waiting for a still, sunny day (HAH!) to re-skin it. The skinning of the tunnel should only take a few hours, and will be a fun volunteers’ day, probably in early April, with free yummy lunch from the café for all my lovely volunteers. If you’d like to come along and join in, and also learn how to cover a tunnel, email email@example.com, and I’ll keep you posted about when the likely day will be!