NOTES FROM THE ALLOTMENT

November 22, 2017

With winter nearly here it is not the best time to be digging the allotment as the soils are glutinous. Digging wet soil acts to compact the soil even more, so hopefully, you will have dug your allotment over in October.

I have completed mine and my new raised beds made this a fairly easy and enjoyable task. One of the allotment owners has a no dig policy, with the idea that the worms will do the business of redistributing the soils and matter and the worm holes will provide drainage. This is also a well-established farming practice, as it is thought that if you plough soils you disrupt or destroy their structure. Also by ploughing or digging you expose the soils to the oxygen in the air. This mineralises the organic nitrogen into highly soluble ammonia and nitrate and this can then get flushed away into our streams when it rains. This means you lose the essential nitrogen required for plants to grow. Hence farmers have to put fertilisers or compost back onto the soils to replace this natural nitrogen. A bit on the daft side from a farming perspective as nitrogen fertiliser is expensive.

As part of the cleaning up on the allotment I have a mountain of dead plant remains and quite a few woody weeds, which were growing up amongst the sweetcorn and the asparagus bed. Getting rid of these weeds is not straightforward as they have lots of seeds so you don’t want to distribute these over the allotment. Also many of the plant remains such as cabbage stalks and sweetcorn material are thick and woody, so composing these is not so straightforward. So it’s best to chop these up, not an easy task without the proper tools. I have a garden shredder at home so I am taking back the woody plants and shredding these to add to the compost or just dig back into the soils as direct compost. The weeds are best to burn, to avoid spreading the seeds everywhere. Having a small fire on the allotment is a bit of an annual ritual and generally results in a lot of smoke, not much fire, and you inhaling lungful’s of smoke!! The wind always seems to change direction, to give you a full frontal blast of bonfire smoke. Not good for your lungs and asthma, or for the environment really, but it does mark the passing of an allotment year. There are still many jobs to do on the allotment and it’s a good time to prune the soft fruit. Soft-fruit crops are excellent to grow on an allotment and being perennial, they are easy to maintain once established. Pruning is not that straightforward as different varieties need different approaches. Generally you remove the dead canes in the autumn and trim back to say 5 strong canes in the spring. Raspberries and other soft fruits are great to grow on the allotment even if many get eaten before you get them home. On the Blewbury allotments, one allotment owner has about 100 productive raspberry canes and almost none were picked this year. So this proved to be a great magnet for kids to snaffle a few. I would have been worried but with such a mass of fruit unpicked it seemed reasonable for a few to get eaten in this way.  Paul Whitehead