Category: Soils and soil improvement


rhsc-allotOverview
Thanks to a new wave of Year 12 volunteers, two very kind parents (Mr Fox and Mr Southgate), Mr Crick and his construction group, Mrs Brook and her ‘Care of the Countryside group’, Roy the horse poo man, Mike and Keith and Whitwell Railway station, Malcolm at Reepham Hardware store, the wisdom and help of Mr Nigel Boldero, the kind donations of unwanted garden tools from staff, students and parents, Mr Ernie Adams and the site team and, of course, our regular Saturday volunteers, the winter work is now very nearly at end down at the allotment site. Without these people, the Allotment Project would not be developing as quick and with so much dedication and devotion for a third year since February 2015.

The raised beds
We have made some major improvements to the raised beds. Due to the fact the water table is very shallow and often causing us some flooding issues, we have had to make the raised beds even higher. On our largest raised bed we used a technique borrowed from the ‘permaculture’ gardener Sepp Holzer whereby we buried dead branches and leaves under top soil. This not only aides drainage but it will create long lasting nutrients as this organic matter rots away over time.

r1Just before the start of the February half-term, and thanks to Whitwell Railway Station, we used more kindly donated railway sleepers to heighten two other small raised beds. Again, this means we will be growing crops well above the water table and we will be able to create our own new fertile soil that it not clay based (the allotment site mainly sits on clay).

r2The soak away/rainwater catcher/harvester
In an effort to be super green and sustainable we continue to work towards supplying the allotment site with its own water supply by catching rainwater from surface runoff. Thanks to Mrs Brook’s ‘Care of the Countryside’ group, Mr Crick’s construction group, Mr Southgate’s brick donations and of course the Year 12 volunteers who dug the whole another metre deeper, we now have a much more soundly made and reliable soak away area to harvest rainwater. This water will soon be pumped out using a simple solar powered pump into our two 1000 litre containers.r3

The polytunnel
Everything has been reorganised in the polytunnel and everything is now ready for the new growing season. There are two new raised beds, using old wooden pallets, to hopefully grow tomatoes again for a second time. These new raised beds mean we no longer have to buy and use grow bags as the tomato plants will have all they need from the soil we have created for them.

r7The fruit cage
The Year 12 volunteers have improved the inside and outside of the fruit cage. Many thanks to Mr Southgate for donated unwanted bricks which we used to make a new path so the strawberries don’t get trampled on! The ceiling of the fruit cage was also raised so volunteers no longer have to crouch!

r9Other pathways
As we are getting more volunteers it was only sensible and practical to improve access to the allotment site. Thanks to the College Enrichment group a new path has been built using old broken bricks (thanks again Mr Southgate) as a drainage layer and paving slabs kindly donated by Mr Raggett. This means no more muddy and slippery paths in and out of the allotment.

r10Compost and horse manure
In an effort to be even more sustainable and green, we have started to create our own compost area. This is made using green waste from the allotment and leaves kindly gathered by the site team and the contractors Countrywide. Old straw bales, food waste/tea bags from the staff room/canteen and those who fly-tip the countryside have also all been composted. Thanks to Roy (the horse poo man) from Reepham Rotary Club we have been well supplied with ancient horse manure that is fantastic for growing our produce in. Thanks a million Roy.

r11r12Chicken coop
Hopefully by March we will have a small brood of chickens down at the allotment site. All preparations are being made to build the chicken coop on a limited budget. Most of this will be paid for by the East of England Coop token scheme which is currently operating in Briston and Melton Constable Coop stores. Thanks to Callum Pell who kindly donated a disused and battered old children’s playhouse. Thanks mainly to Mr Fox, this playhouse has been reassembled and will soon to become a new chicken house for the chickens to live in and lay their eggs. Molly Brown (Year 12) has taken the lead on this mini-project and has organised obtaining some hens for us. We intend to sell these eggs to the school canteen for them to use in their cooking.

Spring 2017
Spring will be here soon which means will we will start sowing and propagating seeds in order to plant in our raised beds. Thanks to Solana (a local potato seed company) we have secured a great many seed potatoes that we will be planting in March when they arrive. In other news, we were approach by the company Adnams who run a ‘Food for Thought’ scheme. If we had decided to join up, it would have meant that Adnams would buy our produce and use it in their restaurants over East Anglia. They could have also given us £1000 on top of the money given in payment for our produce. After some careful thought, and an open discussion with our regular volunteers and others, it was decided that this would undermine the whole purpose of the Allotment Project. Food should be grown locally and for the local community nor should it have to travel hundreds/thousands of miles to get to us. This should be the message for the children to understand. Food production should be both sustainable and environmentally friendly. In time we are planning that more and more food can be sold to the school canteen. It would be amazing, maybe one day, if we could provide all food products for the school canteen. This remains a dream.

r15Thank you very much for taking the time to read this update. If you would like to help out one lunchtime for the younger volunteers I would be extremely grateful. I hope that this year, now that we are getting more and more established, there can be a shared responsibility amongst other staff to help run the Allotment Project. One person ‘running the show’ is not sustainable. There will be another seasonal update in the summer.
Thank you again for taking the time to read about the ‘goings on’ down at the Allotment Project.

Matt Willer
Staff volunteer at RHSC’s Allotment Project

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wp_20161126_12_45_09_proI attended a celebration for the Norfolk Master Composters on Saturday. It’s ten years since the project was established, jointly run by Garden Organic and Norfolk County Council.

Several hundred volunteers have been trained up as ambassadors of compost making and waste reduction and they’ve delivered thousands of hours of advice to schools, communities and households, making Norfolk one of the most ‘compost friendly’ places in Britain.

Held at the Roman Catholic Cathedral in Norwich, the celebration heard kind words from County Councillor Martin Wilby and Chief Executive of Garden Organic, James Campbell.

wp_20161126_12_46_14_proCertificates of hours served were also handed out, including one to longest serving volunteer George Muttby, who joined at the beginning of the project in 2006 and has committed over 300 hours of his time to the cause. He spoke passionately about his work with his local Primary School and how government needs to change legislation to make it easier for schools and other institutions to compost and recycle their waste.

wp_20161126_13_10_15_proIt was also an opportunity to have a tour of the interesting garden next to the Cathedral (I’ll be doing a separate post about this) and the cathedral itself, including clambering up narrow stairways to walk inside the nave roof, around the high gallery at the crossing point and up to the top of the tower, from where we had a wonderful view across Norwich to the coast and surrounding countryside.

We had a chance to make some christmas decorations too and had a tasty lunch to follow with a piece of the celebration cake to finish.

Here’s to the next 10 years!

Old School Gardener

 

IMG_7289The nights are squeezing the light of day, despite sunshine there’s a chill in the air, and mornings are often shrouded in mist and fog. October marks the real onset of autumn, I think – here are a few important things to do in the garden this month.

1. Leaf litter pick

Clear up fallen autumn leaves regularly, including rose leaves, to prevent diseases such as black spot from over-wintering – don’t compost these leaves. Create compost bins for collecting fallen leaves and dead plant material or a separate ‘Leaf mould’ bin if you want to create this wonderful material – stuffing leaves in black plastic bags is another option.

Using black bags for leaf mould making

Using black bags for leaf mould making

 

2. Cut backs

Cut down stalks of perennials that have died down, unless they have some winter or wildlife merit. Clear overhanging plants away from pathways and prune climbing roses and rambling roses once they’ve finished flowering, tying in the stems before autumn winds cause damage.

3. Parting is such sweet sorrow

Divide herbaceous perennials and rhubarb crowns. This is also the time to move trees and shrubs, and plant hedges.

Dividing rhubarb crowns as well as herbaceous perennials can be done safely now

Dividing rhubarb crowns as well as herbaceous perennials can be done safely now

 

4. Come in out of the cold

Move tender plants, including aquatic ones, into the greenhouse or other frost-free place. Lift Dahlias and Begonia tubers and Gladiolus corms to store in the dry (removing the dead leaves before storing them). Cannas, Pelargoniums/Geraniums and fuchsias can also be lifted before any proper frost. Trim back soft growth on geraniums and fuchsias, potting them into multi-purpose compost and keeping them barely moist over the winter in a cool frost-free place.

5. Food – strip, store and plant

Strip: Apples, pears, grapes and nuts can all be harvested as can squashes and pumpkins before the first frosts. Finish harvesting beans and peas and once finished cut the plant away at ground level, leaving the roots in the soil as these have nodules on them that have fixed nitrogen from the air and will slowly release this as the roots break down. Any plants with green tomatoes or peppers remaining can be hung upside down indoors to ripen.

Store: Check over any  stored onions, garlic and potatoes and remove any rotten ones immediately. Try to improve air flow around your stored veg to prevent rot e.g use onion bags or hessian sacks.

Plant: spring cabbages, garlic bulbs and onion sets. Reuse old grow bags by cutting off the top and sowing late salad crops – cropping can be extended into winter if grown under glass or a cloche. Autumn is an ideal time to plant bare root fruit trees – alternatively order fruit trees now in preparation for spring planting.

Careful storage of apples will give you a supply well into winter

Careful storage of apples will give you a supply well into winter

 

6. Sourcing seeds

Collect seed heads from perennials, alpines, trees and shrubs. Order seeds for next year.

Save money by saving seed

Save money by saving seed

 

7. Spring loaded

Plant spring bedding such as wallflowers, Bellis, Primulas and winter pansies. Now is the ideal time to plant Clematis. Finish planting spring bulbs such as Narcissi and Crocuses – Tulips can wait until November.

 

8  Grassy act

Finish off essential lawn maintenance to avoid water logging and compaction over winter (see September tips for more detail).  Fresh turf can still be laid now – Autumn rains (assuming we have some) should ensure the turf settles in.

9. Odds and …..

Remove netting from fruit cages to allow birds to feed on any pests and invest in bird baths and bird feeders if you don’t have them – the birds you support will help you keep pest numbers down.  If you haven’t already done so, turf out the last of the tomatoes, cucumbers etc. from the Greenhouse and clean and disinfect it. This will allow more light in and prevent pests and diseases over-wintering. Set up your greenhouse heater if you have one in case of early frosts. Empty and if possible clean out water butts and let the autumn rains refill them. Maybe install a new water butt ready for next year? Check tree ties and loosen if they are too tight around growing stems – and add stakes and support for young trees and shrubs to avoid them being ‘wind rocked’ during the winter.

Check and install tree ties and support for young trees and shrubs

Check and install tree ties and support for young trees and shrubs

 

10. …Sods

Prepare your soil for next year – start digging in leaf mould, compost, manure and as much organic matter as you can lay your hands on to replace the goodness in it, though if your soil is on the sandy side, like mine, richer material like compost and manure is probably best left until the Spring when it’s nutrients are needed and they will not have leached away in the winter wet. However, if your soil is heavy, then pile it in now! It can be left in a pretty rough state over the winter when the elements will break the clods down, making spring planting that much easier.

Old School Gardener

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double-digging-hero‘There is great healing power in digging. This is so much the case that one is tempted to wonder if any actual electrical power comes up to one from the earth. Perhaps the benefit is merely from the rhythmic movements of the body. At any rate, however sulking and rebellious one may be at the start, sesitiveness creeps up the fork into hands and body and legs. Finally the brain surrenders and one is again at peace with the garden.’

Clare Leighton 1935

magnesium deficiencyIf a plant lacks certain nutrients, it will look unhealthy- with pale of yellowing leaves, stunted growth or withering stems. In general, sick-looking plants are suffering from more than one nutrient deficiency. However, it can be difficult to identify which deficiencies a plant is suffering from, because there are so many different  types and symptoms can vary from plant to plant.

As a quick and easy solution to reviving a plant that you suspect is lacking nutrients, giver it a liquid feed that contains a good mix of trace elements or a foliar feed for faster uptake. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Some liquid feeds can also be used at half strength as a foliar feed.

Source: ‘Short Cuts to Great Gardens’- Readers’ Digest 1999

Old School Gardener

There's such a choice of  containers to grow in!

There’s such a choice of containers to grow in!

It’s getting to that time when we plant up containers – with annuals, or perhaps longer lasting plants. Which type of compost should you use?

There are two main types of compost: soil-based (John Innes) and soil-less, which may be based on peat or a peat substitute such as coir or perhaps recycled household waste. In addition, depending on the drainage requirements of the plants you’re placing in containers, you’ll need to add some horticultural grit, Pearlite or similar. And some plants- bulbs for example- like a mix which is less nutrient rich, light and leafy- so add in plenty of leaf mould.

All containers need some means of letting excessive water escape- in most pots there’s a hole in the bottom and permeable liners (or a few holes punched in a piece of plastic) in hanging baskets will achieve the same result. But don’t forget to rest some pieces of broken pot or tile over the drainage hole in the bottom of the pot to avoid the compost washing out.

Plants like this Box ball requires a soil-based compost to thrive long term

Plants like this Box ball requires a soil-based compost to thrive long term

Soil-based composts

These are heavy, retain water well and provide a long-lasting supply of nutrients. They are the best choice for permanent plants in containers and for plants that grow tall and are top heavy. For permanent displays, use john Innes Number 3 because of its high level of nutrients.

Soil- less composts

These are lightweight, clean and easy to handle, but dry out quickly and contain few nutrients. Soil-less composts are best for temporary displays, such as bedding plants and hanging baskets. Peat-based composts are the most consistent in quality, though alternatives are improving all the time (especially some of the recycled organic matter types) and do not deplete the landscape like peat-based types.

Plants like Pelargoniums (these are in the courtyard at Old School Garden), require a very gritty soil-less compost.

Plants like Pelargoniums (these are in the courtyard at Old School Garden), require a very gritty soil-less compost.

Source: ‘Short cuts to Great Gardens’- Reader’s Digest, 1999

Old School Gardener

 

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