Canterbury Fork, carpet and potatoes…

A very satisfying trip to the plot, on my birthday! A very cold day but fairly clear.

The good thing about the very cold and unseasonal weather has been the suppression of the grass and weeds so it has looked virtually the same for the last 4 months, including the state of the undug ground!

So, I managed to move the plot on a bit and have now dug over another part of the central area, between the raised beds and last years potato patch. This will be this years potato patch, leaving last years potato area for peas and beans. The area had been covered by a tarpaulin over the winter which possibly helped keep the weeds down, but there was still a lot of tough grass and accompanying roots to remove.

It was also a good chance to test out the new Canterbury Fork. Overall it was a bit easier using this, compared to the traditional fork, but I wouldn’t say there was a lot in it. The downside was getting the soil and clay off the fork, which was slightly more tricky than a normal fork. I even managed to bend my spade! I may have to use the solid metal one i’ve got at home next time : )

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Protected: Over Farm education day…

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Allotment planning…

This is my first attempt at thinking about which plants could go into the allotment (in a systematic way anyway) and I drew out a few plans with some ideas. Part of the idea of the allotment is to get as much from it as possible, including lots of staple foods, such as potatoes, onions and beans. These are all cheap to buy but come with lots of transport miles + it’s far more rewarding to grow things yourself.

There also has to be some variety in there and different people from the two families will have different things they want to grow. This is another reason why raised beds are good, as each one can be given over to a single plant and treated differently, according to what each plant needs. It also makes it easier to set things out and plan what to do. The beds are about 50 cms apart right now but this should probably go down to around 30 cms, to use the space better.

So, the main open area can be for the bulky crops, while also introducing the idea of the three sisters method, which uses a combination of corn, beans and squashes. This comes from native american culture and provided them with carbohydrates, proteins and lots of nutrients.

Mounds are built up, every metre or so, with the corn planted right in the middle. The beans are then planted next to the corn, with the squashes growing in the hollows around each mound. Water will run off into the hollows (and moisture collect there) and provide the more water-thirsty squashes with the water they need. The corn provides a stable frame for the beans to grow up (apparently), with the squashes providing ground cover to stop weeds growing, as well as giving them the roaming space they need.

But, also importantly, the beans fix nitrogen via their root nodules and replace the used nitrogen from the soil, therefore improving the overall health of the soil. The other idea is to use this combination as part of a 3 year rotation, by moving this area along the plot every year, so that the beans improve the soil following the growing of potatoes, onions, carrots and leeks. We’ll still have to use manure etc but this will help the process. The rotation system also reduces soil diseases and lowers the incidence of pests, which cannot get established given the changing plants.

In the open ground area, it could be mainly potatoes, onions, carrots and leeks, combined with the 3 sisters grouping of corn, beans and squashes. If the plot is split into thirds, this would relate to the 3 year rotation idea. The potatoes could be in a block on their own, with the next section being onions, with a split between carrots and leeks. The leeks would relate better to the roaming squashes and because they grow up, as opposed to onions which collapse over the ground, this could lead to less problems with squash leaves blocking light. There could also be a wooden partition between the 3 sisters area and the others, to keep the squashes in their area. Claire’s Dad has built a box type area for his pumpkins which he says works well.

This approach would allow 7 types of plant to be grown in the open ground, with various varieties possible. I’m keen to grow both red and white onions, as well as a couple of types of potatoes. The same goes for the beans and there could be both pumpkins and butternut squash. There could easily be 11 different varieties in there.

In the raised beds, the ideas so far are cherry tomatoes, broccoli & purple sprouting, peas, baby carrots, cucumbers, spring onions, strawberries and courgettes, or others depending on what people want. Each can have it’s own raised bed.

The other part of the planting should be insect-attracting flowers, which will boost the pollination of the other plants in the allotment. These could include English lavender, poppies and English marigolds. On the plan, these are placed next to the open ground, in the middle of the plot, therefore hopefully attracting insects right into the growing space. I also love the look of sunflowers, which can be grown around the shed, as well as the poppies which could be scattered a bit more randomly around the plot.

There is also an area on the right side, by the shed, which could be given over to fruit bushes, such as raspberries.

We’ve also just been given a really good wooden window from my Dad, which will be fitted into the frame of the shed. This will let loads of light into the space and make it useable for a variety of things, such as a kids play house. This will probably go within the space of the old doorway (as there is already a space for it), which is on the sunny growing side of the plot. This will mean more space to grow things by the shed. A new doorway will be made which opens onto the seating area.

I’ll remove all the corrugated rusty metal panels and replace with the KP’s old shed wood panels, which will make the whole thing look great and will be safer, with no sharp rusty edges.

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