Things started to look more purposeful by mid Summer 2010
Once we had put in our boundary fence the plot seemed somehow more manageable - luckily I had some fence posts not needed at work - and we set to with the digging. Dealing with wireworms turned out to be relatively easy:
out every one seen when digging, and then feed them to the Chicken Club's hens at the end of each day.They rapidly learned that my appearance equalled treats so they were always waiting eagerly at the fence for me. They ate every single one, and there were
over a hundred at a time to start with.
2. Make "potato kebabs" out of cut up potatoes with cane stuck in them and bury these 10cm deep at regular intervals, over a strip of land about a metre wide. The canes mean you can find them again!
Dig these up a week later and clear off all the wireworms hanging off them and in the soil around... more food for the chickens Replace the kebabs and continue until that area is clear, then move to the next metre wide strip. I actually did three metres at a time as I was impatient, and it certainly was effective!
Other plot holders seemed bemused by the Potato
Kebabs, and several told us that "everything would turn to mush" and there was no point in trying to grow anything at all. Interestingly a year later we were being told what good soil we had!
There were hundreds and hundreds of stones, so as we
dug, out they came. We made a huge pile at one end of the plot, which was destined for hardcore for the base of a shed. Every time it rained, more appeared. It was never ending.
The soil was slippery clay with a compacted pan of gravel about 20cm
down, and walking about when it was wet was difficult.This helped us decide on slightly raised beds with membrane lined paths covered with woodchip, and a plan was drawn up. We were given three compost daleks, a neighbour gave us lots of decking boards
they no longer needed, and we were off!! Initially our beds were "sunken" rather than raised, as the soil level was below the level of the paths due to the volume of stones we had removed.
By mid April, there were four beds installed, one planted with
onion sets, one with first early potatoes and one sown with spring onions, radishes, carrots and parsnips.
When we went away on holiday, the whole plot had been dug over and we felt very pleased with it all.
What a shock when we came back!
Ten days of warm, wet weather in mid April equalled weeds, weeds and more weeds. The plot was covered in a complete carpet of green. All the ploughing had chopped up and replanted the roots of perennial weeds and weed seeds had of course germinated by the
handful, swamping the precious seedlings. On the plus side, the soft green growth, mixed with shredded paper, did make good compost for later in the year. The onions sets were still there under the weeds, and had nice green shoots, so all was not
lost The potato tops had been frosted in our absence, but they did eventually put on new growth.
* Cover up the ground you are not using
* Give weed seeds a chance to germinate
and then hoe them off before sowing seeds of anything you want to grow
* Cover up early potatoes if frost is forecast, or if you are going away when it might be.
* Do not let weeds set seed as it is
just storing up trouble. That old saying of "One year of seeds gives you seven years of weeds" has some truth in it alright!
In the next few weeks, five more beds were installed and the middle of the plot was planted up with maincrop
potatoes rather than leave it empty. A large section was covered with membrane, through which were planted some squash plants we were given by a plot neighbour. Carrots, parmips, radishes and spring onions were resown and carefully hand weeded once they had
Canes were put up as bean supports and both runner and french beans sown..... only nothing came up!
* Voles and mice eat bean seeds that are sown directly into the ground here
More were sown in modules and germinated at home, then planted out once they had two sets of true leaves. Slightly later crop, but better than no crop at all.
Most things grew well, and we proudly took our harvests home to eat. The remaining
wireworms made holes in some of the potatoes and root vegetables, and ate the roots of lettuce plants virtually overnight, but they were tracked down and duly fed to the chickens. Some of the beetroots housed large fat grubs, and the chickens enjoyed
these too. Carrots were a decent size but very difficult to prepare as some were a bit twisty and had black tunnels of carrot fly larvae through them.
The following year we attempted to deter this pest through companion planting, sowing onions,
garlic and chives to disguise the smell of the carrot foliage. A resounding failure! We also had tiny seedlings disappearing almost as they germinated, thanks to very small black slugs living under the soil.
Lessons lesson learned:
* Remove every possible stone from the soil prior to sowing. Cover carrot bed with enviromesh or similar as soon as the seeds are sown, and only remove this to thin out. seedlings. Sowing very thinly means less of this! Plant
slug bait in the ground too, so that the seedlings have a chance of survival.