Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Old Greenhouse Floor, Clear at Last, Temporarily

I notice I started working on this area back in September, I got it clear then, and used it to pile up excess earth. That pile at last got cleared and has all now been through the big riddle. I lost count of how many barrows full it involved; a lot, anyhow. But now that it's clear, this morning I've rigged up a new improved version of the big riddle on the old greenhouse floor, and when Storm Doris has done her worst and moved on, I can at last get started riddling out the rubbish and glass infested no.5 bed.

That will likely take up most of March. Already, following a few days of mild weather, the weeds are re-appearing. I get a bit stressed about this, but tell myself that 2017 just isn't going to be pretty. Dad said, when I first got started on this plot back in summer 2015, spend a year just getting rid of weeds. And that's what I should have done, but decided instead to plant a potato patch and a few rows of other crops, which got trampled by the dogs, or choked by weeds whilst I was at Greenwich University last summer.

So heigh ho. This entire year is to be given up to clearing the weeds and stones and glass. No crops apart from the garlic I've already planted. Things have to follow a natural course here. Charles Dowding points out that it's far better to have plants get a head start in the greenhouse (though I'll use a potting shed and poly tunnel), before putting them in the ground, (which reinforces the conclusion I came to last year). And I can't build a potting shed until I've got all the rubble out, because I get rid of said rubble (not to mention the bloody glass) in the shed foundation. Likewise, I can't yet put up a polytunnel, because I need the old greenhouse floor as a workspace, mostly for piling up earth as it gets riddled.

And so, as I said, heigh ho. I may have to break off from riddling to fight a rear-guard action against the weeds, making sure none of them this year grows big enough to give seed. The bloody well did last year when I was away, and that summer in London is going to haunt me in the form of "one year's seeding, seven years' seeding". Mostly, then, I'm working out the logistics of weeding, and the green manures I'll sow onto the riddled beds for this year. But sometimes I glimpse, dimly, the plot in 2018, with my shed and poly tunnel and 5 beds with rows of crops, edged with perennials...

22 Barrow-fulls of Oomska

This is Bed No.1, this winter a workspace; (I fret somewhat about how trodden it is, but hope that digging and riddling will restore it). Right foreground, the finely riddled earth. Left of that is the 22 barrows full of horse manure, about 2 tons. That arrived on Saturday, 2 trailers full between 13 of us. It was offloaded at the far end of the allotments, so quite a bit of walking, heavy laden, about 3 hours non-stop.

Behind the oomska, the woodpile. This has been there for some time now, providing a wild-life refuge over 2 winters. The plan is, this spring, to chop it into stove-sized lengths, and then pile it up beside the compost heap. It will be well and truly seasoned and ready to burn by the time I get the shed and the stove, sometime this year.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

5th Bed: New Compost & Woodpile Area

That's the corner of 5th Bed, just by the gate. The pallets I got from the old railway cutting, where rubbish is dumped; (though why anyone in Glasgow dumps rubbish is a mystery: just leave it outside the house, and the council pick it up).

The blue one is bloody heavy, I had to go back with the barrow to get it. To the back there's a living privet shrub on the right, the others you can see are all dead. I'm hoping a compost heap next to decomposing wood will be good for invertebrates.

To the right will go the woodpile.

I thought at first it would be ok to leave this area unriddled, but after having a look have decided to move the pallets temporarily and riddle the ground here because, like everywhere else, there's plenty of broken glass, and I don't want that through the compost.

So I'll start the process of riddling the beds here, and work my way through the 5th bed. I said I couldn't give any time estimates for the riddling, but mid-March would be good to finish this bed, then I could get it sown with vetch, and leave it to its own devices for a few months. I could also cordon it off and leave it, by then glass free, for the dogs to play in.

The Big Riddle

This is the big riddle as I left the other day - the cover is to keep any rain off the riddled earth, stop it clumping. The fish box is to catch stones and glass as I scrape it off the riddle. After this, it takes the medium riddle over the barrow to get the worst of the glass and smaller stones out. The advantage of putting it through the big riddle first is that I throw a shovel full of earth at it, and then gravity and momentum break up aggregated lumps.

Just now, I'm half-way through the heap of surplus earth pile up in the old greenhouse area. It's taken much longer than I estimated back in October, (but then I have been diverted somewhat, demolishing and burning the old shed, and then ground-breaking the 5th bed). Estimating how long it's going to take from hereon in, I'm not even going to bother. But I'm not going to plant anything but green manures this year.

It's Not Just the Weather

Actually, it hasn't rained that much in the last couple of weeks. The main brake on allotment attendance is all the glass, which debars the dogs. Sorry to whinge about it. But I have to share my free time, such as it is, between the allotment and the dog-walking. When all of the pigging glass has gone, I can combine dog-walks with allotment visits. So it's an almost Catch 22 situation. I will get the glass riddled out, but it's taking much longer than I would like.

Friday, February 03, 2017

Clay & Gravel Dilemma

This is what's left in a shovelful of earth at the end of the 3-riddle process, the bigger stones, glass shards and perennial weeds having already been extracted by riddles #1 & #2. So, that's about a tea cupful in a shovelful.

My dilemma now is whether to bother with the hand riddling, which removes this last cupful. I'm wondering if there's any point, and indeed if this amount of gravel could actually benefit the soil.

Gravel helps with drainage, which is a serious point in its favour. It helps break up heavy clay - and I do have some of that in the diggings from drainage works.

There's an immediately pragmatic issue here. I need to get the really nasty glass out of the soil asap, so that the dogs can come back to the plot; (the little bits of glass you can see in the photo are unlikely to do any harm ). And, I would like to get it ready for planting by spring, of course. #3 riddling is by far the most time-consuming and laborious part of the process.

Voila. Decision made. I'm going to put the hand riddle aside.

And I'm starting no-dig this year, throughout. But that's another blog post.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Clay? Gravel?

The bloomin' rain lasted until an hour before dusk today, so no chance of getting to the plot. Been a dry January, so no complaints. Gave me time to think about all that gravel which is left over in the hand riddle. For every spadeful, (and a spadeful = a hand riddle-full), there's enough gravel to fill a half-pint glass, or thereabouts. Was it always there in the soil?  I did a bit of research as the drizzle fell from a pale grey sky.

Allotment research is a relief from what I was doing for "real" academic research for the doctorate, in that it's fine to yield to a temptation to wander off-topic. On one such detour, I learned that it is opined that adding sand to clay is a really counterproductive thing to do, and will result in concrete. 

I also learned from the RHS the definition of "heavy clay"; (to summarize, if you can roll it into a ball, thence to a sausage, and, after giving it a rub, if it's shiny, that's heavy clay - no, really.)

Back to the gravel. Several gardening advice sites suggest it as a means of breaking up heavy clay. This yin, for example. So I'm going to theorise that at some time in the past, perhaps when the ground was agricultural land, gravel was dug or ploughed in to the then clay topsoil to improve it. And it has worked well enough - I mean, it's garden-able. The heavy - RHS shiny-sausage - clay in the subsoil would not be.

Time has passed. There have been 100 growing seasons, with organic matter being added every year. Even when it was derelict, annual weeds grow and die and add to the ground. In recent decades, all of those currants and berry bushes, the cherry and ash trees, and nettles, left a lot of leaf mould. The paths I discovered were under 8-10ins of earth, so the beds must have gotten at least that much added to them.

The ground is clay, but there's a lot of organic matter in it now, as well as grit. The gravel has done its job, and can now do new ones: forming a hardcore base for the shed, and filling-in drainage ditches. It's my job this year to relocate all of these stony little labourers to their new places of work.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Rubik's Cube-like Riddling

After the interlude caused by demolition and burning of the mad old shed, and turning over the 5th bed, it was back to the riddling-out of stones and glass this afternoon. I've now got a 3 riddle system, which might seem a little OTT, but it works well.

  • First comes the big riddle, which gets out the bigger bits of rubble, and glass shards bigger than a credit card. It also gets out perennial weed roots. 
  • Then the intermediate riddle. This is a wire grid with smaller mesh than the big riddle, just the right size to lay over the top of my builder's barrow. This gets everything but gravel - that is stones, say, the size of a pea or bean, - and glass as big as thumbnails. 
  • Finally, the hand riddle, which lets through only stones small enough to call grit, and, so it appears, no harmful glass at all. 
I'm using the Rubik's cube analogy because the process entails a lot of moving around the plot with two barrows and a shovel, having places to put heaps of earth at various stages in the process, avoiding too much walking on the beds, and getting beds ready for planting, even if it's just vetch or phacelia. I'm concentrating first on the area around the old greenhouse, which merges with the old midden, which are, of course, the most glass infested. The priority is to make it safe for the dogs.

Letting the pooches off the lead in the park is great 90% of the time, they love to play with other dogs, and other dogs and their owners love that too. But then there are the 10% of dog walkers who are socially challenged, keep their mutts on a lead, and don't get it that running around barking at each other is all part of a dog's healthy life. The bastards. The anthropology of dogs and their owners in an East End Glasgow park, now there's a research paper for someone.

When the allotment is as glass free as possible, I can walk them there on the lead, and let them run around the plot. (Keeping them off planted beds, well that's a bridge I'll cross when I get to it.)  I will be riddling all of the beds this summer, but think that only the old greenhouse/midden area (mostly the 5th bed and environs) has dangerous quantities of glass.

So that's me busy until Spring, perhaps for most of 2017. If it comes to it, I'll grow nothing but green manure this year, not even neeps and tatties. We'll see. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

5th Bed - The Ground is Broken

Et... voila! Photo taken from the top of the allotment, at the S end. That's the 5th bed to the right of the path. Roughly dug over, and frankly the iPhone camera is being quite kind to it, because I think it looks much better than the reality, where you can see that even on the surface, there's a lot of unwanted matter in the soil: wood, stones, bits of plastic. And of course, broken glass.

To the left, in loose stacks, some of the bricks and bigger bits of concrete. I also got 4 or maybe 5 barrows full of rubble - mostly brick fragmentsand glass. That's gone into the French (or rubble) drain which runs beneath the route of the skinny path on the edge of no. 2 & 3 beds, (and then across no. 3 to the pond).

I'm taking a few days off - that digging-out of all those bricks was bloody hard graft. And then back to riddling-out all the smaller stones and bits of bloody glass.