Sunday, September 17, 2017

Shed Update: Work Begins

Bit of an unintentional tilt on that photo there, I was probably a bit shaky after moving the shed floor from the Southern boundary where it's been propped against the fence since March, to its intended berth under the ash tree, because it's bloody heavy and awkward to move. I was reminded of the way large sheets of metal, maybe 25mm thick, would wobble as they were hoisted by a crane around a shipyard, appearing deceptively delicate. 

I dragged it on its edge down the path, a few inches at a time, after manoeuvring it out from the fence, perilously close to the still active wasps' nest. It needs levelled up - the rubble base is uneven.  Nontheless, this feels like a significant moment. This area under the tree was a kind-of raised bed for the predecessor, his last crop, onions, were growing there when I took over, and we had them with our Christmas dinner in 2015. 

The soil was awful, full of stones and glass. I removed the mortar-less wall of the bed. I excavated it, riddling the spoil, until I got down to a peculiar set of structures, which, I notice, I was inclined to leave-be back in April 2016. By June of last year, however, I'd clearly decided this was the place for the shed, and began on the work of riddling stony earth and filling the hole I'd dug out with rubble. One way or another, I've been pretty much doing that ever since, and now it's done.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Heavy Hoe: Socket Looking for a Handle - That's Not a Betty Smith Song

Socket: 40x43x32mm

Ordered a new handle.

Essential kit for every permaculturist.  

Operation Jasper: Mission Accomplished: Wasps Have Been Served with a Notice to Quit


Plastic sheet removed at 6.30, without drama. Returned with dogs at lunchtime. It appears that the nest is inside the manure heap, and there are multiple entrances. I know I'm being very subjective, but the wasps have a forlorn aspect to them. I didn't want to take any liberties, though. When I finished taking this video, Cleo joined Sparky on the heap, and they chose that spot, of the entire allotment to have a play-fight. At that moment it began to rain, so it felt like a good time to retreat. Hopefully, the plastic sheet covering gone, any rain will hasten the nest's demise.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Synchronise your watches: Operation Jasper commences at 0600 tomorrow...

Another lovely autumn afternoon, sunny, but thick black clouds intermittently passing overhead, shedding only a few drops of rain, and then the sun again. Here's how the area I was working today looked back in March. That's the manure heap covered in an orange plastic sheet in the background. Since March, it's sunken to half that height, and accumulated a lot of bits and pieces as I've worked: the shed's roof timbers, a lot of bricks dug up during the year of more digging.

I cleared away all of these odds and ends, lastly the bricks holding the plastic sheet down onto the heap. The activity seemed to communicate itself to the wasps, and I was glad to finish and leave.


Maybe it was my imagination, but activity at the entrance to the nest began to increase.  I read somewhere that autumn brings a whole load of crazy shit to a wasps' nest. The queen leaves to hibernate elsewhere, and, leaderless, the wasps turn to fermented fruit and cannibalism to pass the time. They seemed to milling around rather aimlessy. Earlier in the summer, they would shoot in and out of the entrance and whizz away so fast it was impossible to be sure if they were wasps - they were too fast to see, and I just couldn't make an i.d. This morning, there was no doubt, these guys milling around are wasps.

Anyway, Operation Jasper. Tomorrow, in the pre-dawn, about 6am, enter the allotment, and with no further ado, whip the plastic sheet off the manure heap, and then quickly depart. IF the nest lies between the manure and the sheet, they'll be exposed to the elements and done for as soon as it rains. If, however, the nest is in the manure, well, back to drawing board. But at least the plastic sheet is out of way of the dogs and their tug-o-war antics.

I hope it's a chilly morning. Raining preferably.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Wasps, a heap of oomska, and a sheet of plastic...

Yesterday afternoon was really pleasant, something about the air in autumn casts me back 30-odd years to the start of the new University year, youth blooming through regardless of the season.

I wound up the hosepipe and put it on top of the arbour. Collated and rolled up the inherited bird nets, (including the fish nets: would a dunnock get through that gauge?). All bits of rope collected up and stashed. So: safe for dogs, nothing to play tug-o-war with? Hmm. There's a plastic sheet over the heap of riddled earth... And then I realised: the wasps' nest is between another plastic sheet and the dunghill. It's quite clear that the dogs would love to drag the sheet away, and thereby get into an unlooked-for show-down with the wasps.

Professor Google suggests that the wasp queen will have, winged her way to find a hibernation spot. (I found one last winter when I demolished the old shed - thought, 'that's a bloody big wasp!'). But the rest of them will hang around until the cold kills them off, and will stay longer if they have enough to eat. Next door has apple trees, and never have bothered to harvest them, so there'll be plenty of decomposing apples for the wasps. Bugger.

I levelled as best I could the shed base, and then had a go at moving the floor. But it's bloody heavy, and piles of bricks, the oomska, the perennial weeds' roots for burning, are all in the way, making it difficult to maneuver. So I need to tidy up that whole SW corner before I start building the shed: the allotment rubik's cube strikes again. And there's a rudderless wasps' nest in that mix.

At the moment I'm thinking, clear up as much as possible. And then go again very early, 6am, say, when it's still dark, and whip the plastic sheet off of the top of the oomska heap, exposing the wasps' nest. And then run away. Come back later to see how things stand. I have no idea how the nest is configured, between the sheet and the shit.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

riddling glass and spreading mulch II

The SE quarter consisted of the site of a defunct shed, a midden, and the base of an old greenhouse. There's a patch maybe 9sq yards which may once have been cultivated but was weeds when I took over, and I used it to keep flammable rubbish pending bonfires - and it saw several of them.

The former shed's site has now been riddled down to a depth of 1ft, and boy did it need it. I suspect the shed was there because the ground beneath was more slag or clinker than it was earth. It took me all of this year's growing season, but it's done: all good topsoil, albeit without structure, for the time being.

That area makes up about a quarter of that SW quarter. I planned to riddle it all, but that would involve struggling on through the winter, and giving up all of next year too, and maybe not being finished by end of 2018, for goodness' sakes. And the more I read and thought about the soil and permaculture, the more unnecessary and even barmy this toil began to seem.

The soil must be in pretty good condition in the area where I had all those bonfires: the borage was fantastic: what I took to be a patch of volunteers, (grandaughters of the first plants I sowed in the plot back in 2015, just for the sake of planting something,) were in fact just two plants, with stalks 3-4ft long and 2-3ins thick at the base.

The borage and the poppies, and other plants I can't name, were chopped down, and bags of hedge trimmings and florists off-cuts spread on top. So now, there's a layer of decomposing plants 3-4 ins thick. Remember, the primary reason for all of this riddling is to get rid of glass in the interests of the dogs and their poor wee paws.

But any shards of glass near or on the surface are lying flat, and covered in that layer of mulch. The dogs could run around on it quite safely.  I'm pretty sure they both got injured in the past playing tug-o'-war with a bit of hosepipe or rope, which involved them digging down with their paws in the loose, glass infested earth as they tried to get traction; that issue can be solved by leaving around nothing they can use for tug-o'war.

The other danger area would be the site of the shed, now a thick layer of clinker, bricks and glass - actually, I noticed, at about the right height at last...

Oh blimey! It all came together as I walked home yesterday. Just start building the shed, and that's covered, and the dogs can come back. I fill in the "bastard" trench with the riddled earth, and put it back on the road to structure with oomska and field beans.

The rest of the bed I can riddle a yard at a time, clearing away the mulch, hoeing 3-4ins deep, raking and riddling it. The really nasty-glass area is along the fence, and I can dig that out a yard or two at a time as I plant the gorse there during the winter.

And that's it... Once I get the shed base moved into position, (easier said than done, on my own, it's bloody big and heavy), the dogs can come back; dog-walking and allotmenteering are one and the same task. Build and paint the shed, (with adaptions to make it into a potting shed); put-up the polytunnel. This winter I can start to buy seeds, at last. Boom!

Monday, September 04, 2017

riddling glass and spreading mulch

Half a dozen barrows-full of hedge trimmings, and a few bags from the florist, were piled up on the area to be riddled. I had another couple of bags from the florist, too. That whole bed, formerly the 5th bed, is thick with weeds, poppy and borage and comfrey, just to name the volunteers. I chopped them down, and then spread out the heap and other florist's green material over the bed as a mulch. Plenty of organic matter, but it will kill off the weeds and make them easier to deal with as I dig and riddle my way through this stretch...

Which is, frankly, becoming a thought. And think I did this evening. At the rate I'm going,  - held up by wet weather, paid work and domesticity, - it's going to take months, years, to go through the entire top-soil of this stretch and get out all of the glass. The point is, to keep the dogs from cutting their paws. Otherwise, I can cope with some glass in the ground, picking it out bit-by-bit as I garden there, especially if I'm digging potatoes, say.  And so...

The stretch by the fence is viciously infested by big shards of glass - it being the custom of old time allotmenteers to rake any problems to the edge. And besides, that became a midden. So that stretch, a yard wide and maybe 5 long, I'll dig out and riddle to a spit's depth as I have been.  The rest, I'll hoe and rake and riddle about 4ins or so deep, to be sure the dogs' paws are safe, there being much less glass there, anyway; (bearing in mind, I won't be digging until spuds go in, and anyway there's a lot of oomska and florist-mulch to go on top, yet). 

That's do-able by... Christmas, maybe. And a great weight off my shoulders. 2018, here we come.

Plant families colour coded for crop rotation

When I get started with a yard-square bed rotation system, it's going to get complicated, and I'm going to have to keep records - here, I suppose. So I've got a colour coded system. Ten families should cover all but the most exotic alloment needs, eh?

Brambles, weeds, and earth paths: this is permaculture

Carrots and French beans sowed in the top NW corner were a complete failure thanks to the birds. The lesson there: nets. But that's another story. I went to work on that corner, trimming the hedgerow, mostly bramble in that stretch. A sucker had grown a few feet into the bed, and it was perfect for filling a gap. Brambles in the hedge have caused head-shaking and a sharp intake of breath from a gardening relative. I get why, but the point is, it's worth the extra work: digging up suckers, pushing back the canes into the hedgerow, tying them to the fence... All the fruit, the nesting for birds and goodness knows what other wildlife, and a barrier impenetrable to humans.

I pulled weeds from the hedgerow, not being too fussy as it IS a hedgerow, not a prissy garden hedge, and needs must look after itself. I also dug up the ill-advised skinny brick path. The weeds I threw onto the bed, not even hoeing it, though I dug out the docks and comfrey. Where the brick path was, is now just earth, somewhat trodden, but not exactly compacted. This is where I fall out with Charles Dowding, who suggests (Dowding, 2013, p17) raised beds and "permanent... pathways".

Ground's not going to get badly compacted if it's walked on by a solitary gardener 2 or 2 times a week. And if one HAD to do a lot of work on a particular stretch, in the wet, say, (unlikely, but for argument's sake), then, work completed and wet weather over, that would be one of the few occasions when a bit of digging would be ok to loosen the soil. But I can't imagine that happening in the general run of things. And Dowding rows back, (2013, p29) "weed free paths with some compost on, even when regularly walked over, develop and retain a sound structure." Ha!

The rain intervened before I could finish that corner: I'm going to bung on a load of WFB seeds, not even hoeing or anything, and then a couple of inches of oomska as mulch. I've got a LOT of WFB seeds: about 1200, actually.

This corner: where the now waist high hedgerow grows was once a waist high mound of earth, (topped by nettles and thistles reaching far above my head); and where I trod the path I'm discoursing about, was once an overgrown ditch. And it was here, this weekend, I had some kind of epiphany: not bothering to dig up annual weeds, just covering them with pulled up weeds, preparatory to sowing with a cover crop and oomska, walking on the earth that is, and isn't a path, this is permaculture.

Dowding, C. (2013). Organic gardening. Totnes, Devon: Green.