Joe and I went to a couple of home improvement shops on the weekend to get some stuff to lay a path and some compost for the allotment. It’s suddenly got quite cold here and when I visited the plot to put some food waste on the compost it looked very sad and rejected.
I got up early today because the clocks have gone back and the heating came on so I’ve been leafing through a couple of books that Joe bought in a charity shop last week. One – ‘The Natural Garden Book’ by Peter Harper et al. 1994 is pretty perfect for our purposes. It’s a bit outdated because it recommends using carpet as a mulch (extremely frowned upon now due to the amount of unstable plastic they can leach into the soil), but the authors are focused on sustainability and making the most of land and they created one of the most inspiring places I ever went as a child/young person – the Centre for Alternative Technology in Wales. The book recommends experimentation with digging and not digging, assessing the soil, its components and the wildlife to nurture a garden which benefits all of its inhabitants not just the human ones.
As far as techniques go I will try and fact check as much as possible but it seems like the gardening world is full of conflicting and confusing advice and we have already started with using an empirical approach instinctively. There are some very old fashioned and labour intensive ideas about how much to dig and experts are of the opinion that you should do as little as possible. However, we’re all under the agreement that given the initial state of the plot we need to get out as many grass, nettle and other roots as possible in order to bring our silty clay soil into production. This has been sharply demonstrated by the fact that our neighbours that took on a third of a plot at the same time as us and had a big working party to dig it all over straight away, have left most of the dug soil untended and the grass is growing back vigourously after six weeks.
Joe, Mark and I have all dug different areas of the plot with slightly different degrees of attention to detail and invasiveness. Mark mattocked a large area, taking out as many visible weeds as possible. I dug trenches and sieved out as many weed roots as I could in a smaller area about 1m by 3m this was quite back breaking and boring and lacked the visual effect of what Mark had done. Joe went back over a small area by the raspberries that Mark had mattocked with hand tools and sieving taking out the weed roots by hand. I intend to do the same next to where I dug the trenches then to mulch with compost and cover with cardboard if I can get enough.
I’m hoping for some sun soon after all of the rain we’ve had since Saturday. I’d like to get the path in before December but I suppose there’s no rush because we’re not going to be doing too much anyway. I’m planning to invite Mark over one evening so that we can all go through seeds together and get an idea of what we’re putting in in spring but that seems too far off right now.
Here’s a haiku for fun…
Nature winds downwards
austere in its dormancy
worms turn in cold soil
Thanks for reading, lots of love,