February 2018 V: mid February Activity…….

Two major activity streams:

1) Build a new horse manure pile; and

2) Sowing early leaves, tomatoes and beetroot.

A new manure pile involve four trips to the stables.

Each trip I return with this:

Put together, it looks like this:

After three months, last year’s pile looked like this:

After six or seven months, last year’s pile looked like this:

And twelve months later, three months after mulching the no dig bed in November 2017, last year’s pile looks like this:

So three hours of driving and hard labour is the price of a fertile bed for potatoes each year, as from now until November, I do precisely nothing to the pile.

I will sow leaves (lettuce, spinach, spring onions, dill, coriander and cabbage) on Sunday 18th February, a leaf day in the Thun calendar; Red Alert tomatoes on 21st February, a fruit day; and Boltardy beetroot on 23rd February, a root day.

The leaves and the beetroot will be sown in modules, the tomatoes in an ice cream tub for picking seedlings rapidly into 8cm pots on 28th February.

February IV: the 2018 season starts today, 15th February….

Today, 15th February, I sowed my first seeds for regular harvest. I sowed Kelsae onions on 19th January for exhibiting, using seeds I made in 2017, but the process of growing food to eat started today.

The home made Kelsae seeds germinated at about 40% efficiency between day 7 and day 14 in modules containing Klassmann-Deilmann  compost as shown below:

Twenty one seedlings were picked into 10cm pots containg Multi Purpose Compost (MPC) on day 21. By day 27, 16 of the 21 have their first true leaf.

These will continue growing indoors until 21st March, when further potting up may be necessary.

Today I sowed five first early Casablanca potato tubers in 10 litre pots containing MPC, a dribble of rock dust, some friendly bacteria and fungi, a scoop of Vitax Q4 organic and half a scoop of Nutrimate.

Prior chitting of tubers created several visible stems (see below):

The pots will now sit by an east facing window until plants emerge (usually around 28 days), when they will be moved outdoors:

In 2017, four pots each yielded around 2lb of small tubers from about 12 weeks after sowing, showing the method to be consistent and worth relying upon. This year, I am doing 5 pots to provide a weekly harvest from mid May to mid June, after which soil-grown early potatoes should start to be ready.

After succeeding in growing carrots in 17 litre bags through both summer and autumn in 2017, ths spring I am testing Amsterdam Forcing carrots in bags also.

I filled two bags  with MPC, bacteria, fungi and rock dust and watered copiously. I riddled my new leaf mould on top, dropped seeds in a spiral form spaced around 4cm apart in the leaf mould, then riddled more leaf mould on top to cover. A brief watering and the bags will live with the potato pots until seedlings emerge (hopefully 14-21 days) before assessing whether the weather is benign enough for them to live outside.

 

As the new season begins, I harvested the second bag of Berlicum carrots from a June 30th 2017 sowing and obtained a yield of 6.2lb, with almost no fly damage at all. This suggests that 1.5lb of carrots can be harvested each week from two 17 litre bags from January 1st to the end of February, providing a supply of roots through the depths of winter.

 

It is good to get underway again, with a few more February sowings still to come in the next 13 days.

February 2018 III: organic, no-dig, biodynamics and Permaculture: similarities and differences….

In the 20th century, industrial farming brought chemical fertilisers, tractors and combine harvesters. Short term yields increased, whilst effects on soil fertility, plant vitality, plant nutrients etc took a back seat. At least in the mainstream….

The 20th century also saw the emergence or re-emergence of other approaches. Four of those are discussed here.

ORGANIC agriculture was based around only using naturally derived inputs to fertilise soil, notably the use of compost, the use of green manure crops to fix nitrogen in the soil, the development of plant and herbal teas to feed to crops, the use of open-pollinated seeds, the provision of sources of nectar for pollinators and plants to divert pests away from crops. Albert Howard, the Henry Doubleday Association and the Soil Association were all prominent in that effort.

NO-DIG agriculture may or may not be organic (although I believe most if not all of its practitioners are organic adherents) but focuses on leaving soil undisturbed throughout the year, letting earthworms, fungi and bacteria develop a rich topsoil, good drainage and healthy pH for the soil. A Guest of Yorkshire, Ruth Stout in the USA  and Charles Dowding in Somerset have all contributed significantly to its development.

BIODYNAMIC Agriculture emerged from the teachings of Rudolf Steiner in Austria in the early 20th century, focussing on running a farm as a single holistic organism. The use of particular sprays and preparations, notably horn manure and horn silica is reputed to improve soil fertility, improve nutrient uptake and assimilation by plants (notably silica) and improve resilience to pests and disease. More recently, Maria Thun has suggested that outcomes may be improved by perform key activities at certain times of the lunar cycle. Furthermore, preparation of compost piles using the biodynamic preparations is said to enhance compost quality, perhaps through optimising heap temperatures (and the bacterial composition within them) during maturation.

PERMACULTURE as a term emerged from the work of Bill Mollison in Tasmania, who coined it as an acronym for PERMAnent agriCULTURE. It focusses on sustainability, particularly within warmer and drier regions, but can be applied in a locally adpted manner anywhere in the world. It focusses on water retention, collection and recycling; polycultural planting; the use of perennial plants to create forest gardens; the use of animals to clear and fertilise areas prior to planting (chicken and pig tractors) etc.

 

What all the four approaches agree on is that CARE OF THE SOIL is paramount. All agree on the recycling of organic waste into soil, be that through composting, mulching and/or application of organic teas.

Differences may be due to different desired outcomes. If you are a vegetarian market gardener, you may not keep chickens to clear ground for no-dig beds, preferring to apply a mulch of manure instead.

Similarly, if you do not have 60 hectares for biodynamic rearing of animals in general and cows in particular, you may not acquire cow horns and healthy manure to use in preparing horn manure, choosing to buy small quantities instead commercially.

Those seeking to convert impermeable clay to deep fertile topsoil may consider initial growth of deep rooting green manures such as alfalfa or crimson clover to break open the soil, the generation of hay for composting etc. Clay may after all be the result of previous forests dominated by fungal soils, rather than those with more bacteria suited to vegetable growing by market gardeners. But those growers are seeking to improve soil fertility for their own aims.

Biodynamic growers believe in composting in autumn, just like organic gardeners and no-dig adherents. They believe the horn manure spray after composting enhances the over wintering maturation ready for sowing in spring. They happen also to believe that the soil is preferentially responsive on certain days during the lunar cycle.

Permaculturists are perhaps the most laissez faire of all, after being master planning apparatchiks at the start. A permaculturist moulds the landscape to their desire, plants an ecosystem to create a sustainable ecology, then sits back and admires their work, occasionally harvesting crops like an old fashioned hunter gatherer.

There is little reason for these four disciplines to be anything other than cooperative. Different folks will feel more at home with each approach, but all seek to care for the soil.

There is indeed an argument that all should join forces under a framework of Innovative Ecology, Soil Science and Agriculture (of which Horticulture is a valued part).  What the banner should be is a secondary consideration, since without cooperation and unity no banner would exist.

 

All four approaches have educated my path toward gardening sustainably, they all have their part to play in restoring health to the world’s land surfaces.

February 2018 II: 5.7lb Berlicum carrots from a 30th June sowing

2017 was a year experimenting with growing carrots in 17 litre polypot bags.

Back in September I harvested Sweet Candle carrots sown for show, with 11 roots weighing 7.5lbs.

The second experiment concerned sowing carrots late (at a time later than normal garlic harvest). The date chosen was 30th June 2017.

Seeds were sown at a higher denisty than the Sweet Candle bags as it was unclear what sort of yield would emerge.

The results of harvesting the first bag on 7th February 2018 were excellent, as shown in the feature image.

32 roots were harvested:

4 large roots weighing a combined 2.2lb;

14 medium roots weighing a combined 2.5lb;

14 small roots weighing a combined 1.0lb.

A total yield of 5.7lb was achieved, suggesting further optimisation of sowing density and date is worthwhile.

Whilst there is minor damage to around eight roots from carrot fly, the quality is more than good enough for home use.

The conclusion to be drawn is that six months worth of autumn/winter carrots can be grown in six bags through two sowings in late March/early April and late June/early July.

This represents no more than 1 square metre of space required on a patio and the issues of slugs eating young seedlings can be largely eradicated.

February 2018 I: review of 2017/18 winter crops…

At the beginning of February 2018, the majority of the winter harvests are out of the ground. Still remaining are two of five Cavalo Nero kale plants, four over-wintered chard plants and two bags of Berlicum carrots.

The crops sown for planting in winter were:

1) Parsnips – a reasonable crop of smaller roots than previous years.

Two possible reasons: proximity to roots of large trees in neighbours’ garden (new neighbours have cut the trees down); and initial crowding by radish sown in the row, rather than between rows, which may have inhibited growth (in future, any radishes sown will be between rows).

2) Autumn King Carrots – seeds on a tape. An impressive harvest which started to show mild root fly damage by the final harvest in early February. The balance is between how well harvested roots store vs fly damage in the ground.  The compromise may be initial harvest of smaller roots, then storage just of large ones.

3) Cavalo Nero Kale: a good first crop allowing harvesting from late October and likely to finish in early to mid March. The crop grows fine in shaded areas and is a prime candidate for those spots where other plants do less well.

4) Over-wintered chard: 4 large plants grew well in semi shaded spot with plenty of harvest in late autumn and some through winter. Likely to crop until early May.

5) Musselburgh leeks: a complete failure due to allium leaf miner attack in October. This has happened two years running so sadly, leeks must be sacrificed as a winter crop from now on.

6) Spanish Round Radish (seeds from Real Seeds Ltd) – this new discovery gave an excellent harvest from late November to the end of January and can in effect be a winter turnip replacement.

7) Perennial Spinach/Tree Cabbage: this crop was established during 2017 but was not harvested this winter to allow the plants to become well established. The image at the top of the article shows the plants.

8) Mulatka Beetroot: the roots remain in the ground and will be utilised in soups in February and early March, along with Berlicum carrots. These were sown early May 2017 and placed in semi shade next to runner beans. The 28 roots are a reasonable size.

9) Berlicum Carrots in bags: these were sown as an experimental late crop on June 30th and have grown superbly. They are ready for harvesting and a detailed article will follow when I harvest the first bag this month.

10) Lamb’s lettuce. For some reason two separate sowings in late August/early September failed to germinate.

Obviously, onions and potatoes have also been eaten during winter….

So overall, attempts to create a reasonable winter harvest are improving, although a replacement for leeks is sought.  Continue reading “February 2018 I: review of 2017/18 winter crops…”