Another early start today. Am at Allens Gardens for 9am. Bit of a difficult day for me as not feeling 100% full of energy. If the sun hadn’t been shining when I woke up, I definitely would have given Ru a call to say I wouldn’t be able to make it in. But the sun IS shining (though not for long!) and I leave home early so I can pedal slowly to the site.
Ru is very understanding and we decide that I am only going to do ‘delicate’ work today. Delicate in a job where everything is outdoors, no matter what the weather, means no hard digging. I drink lemon balm tea as we walk around the site deciding what tasks there are to done and what’s to be harvested for this week’s salad bags. There’s not too much planting for today and the soil is very wet from all the rain. Lots and lots of weeding to be done!
Ann-Marie arrives and takes on the hard labour – clearing a bed of overgrown nettles and other weeds, digging in a barrow load of compost (or two) and then planting up the chard ( = kind of like spinach). I finish weeding the beds where I had left off last week and then move to the celery bed. This is the last week we are harvesting celery, so once the final leaves are picked, I pull up all the celery plants and every other weed in the bed ( = these go into the compost so I don’t feel bad about pulling them up), rake it smooth and broadcast a green manure mix of seeds over the soil.
Broadcast? Green manure mix? Green manure????
I’ll start at the end. Green manure is plants that are grown which help to fix nutrients in the soil, primarily nitrogen. As we are certified organic at Allens Gardens it’s crucial that we use green manure to help increase the fertility of the soil. We have a five year crop rotation cycle at the site which helps us to manage pests without using horrid chemicals. I’ve slowly been getting my head around the whole system since I started here, but trying to explain it has made me realise that I need to devote more than a few sentences to the subject. More on that soon!
Green manure mix, in this case, is red clover and rye grass. The red clover is a great fixer of nitrogen: simply put, it takes nitrogen from the air and puts it in the soil where it can be used by other plants. Rye grass, on the other hand, is known as a lifter: it has very deep roots so it can access the subsoil and bring nutrients up to the surface. By using a mix, it means both these activities can take place at the same time. Other uses to us include suppressing weeds and improving water retention in the beds.
And, in the good old-fashioned sense of the word, broadcast means to cast the seeds out in a broad action. So it is just a case of taking a handful of the seed mix and scattering them across the bed. You then rake it in a little.
I leave some of the celery plants in the bed to grow to seed. Although we do collect the seed, the main reason we do this is to let the plant flower. This attracts the hover fly, a beneficial insect because it likes to eat aphids, so another form of natural pest control. A nice little fact, I learn, is that hover flies have short tongues. The flat flowers of the celery are, therefore, perfect.
This all takes till lunchtime amid some unwelcome cold showers. It is such a cold day for end of May. Ann-Marie leaves and Precious arrives, then Bruce and Farah. A good showing for such bad weather. The support workers come next to get started with the harvesting. And there I will leave them, and you, as I think I have used up my word quota for today…
Grower: 1 | Apprentices: 2 | Volunteers: 4 | Support workers: 2 | Family wandering round: 1 | Dogs: 2 (one came with the family) | Fox: 0
Harvested from the site…
Salad greens & edible flowers: 15kg | Rhubarb: 2.1kg | Water Mint: 100g | Oregano: 20g | Tarragon: 100g