We were brimming with enthusiasm when we arrived at the farfield last Saturday. The sun was shining, the wind had died, there were green buds everywhere.. a new growing season was on the horizon.
Our priorities were on mulching and preparing beds for imminent sowing.. the soil in the tunnel is already warm enough for beetroot, radish, some cut-and-come-again salads and carrots at a stretch. The best method for these crops, we have found, is to direct sow in the stale seed bed.. which we have yet to prepare.
Our preferred technique this time was to lay newspaper thickly on the bare beds of the tunnel, covered with a thick layer [6 inches] of seaweed. The intention is to keep the soil warm and protected, weed-free, while allowing the seaweed to break down and combine with top layer of soil. We intend to plant directly into the mulch by making small holes in the newspaper.. but this won’t be until late spring.
What stands out clearly is the apparent success of leeks on our plot.. everything else succumbed to water-logging, slugs, or plain neglect..but when it was time to transplant our [very late] leek seedlings, we decided to try a technique seen before on other farms.. we laid a thick layer of newpaper, wet it thoroughly, spread a layer of rotten horse manure over, mainly to hold down the newspaper, but also to provide the leeks with a slow release nutrient source as it rotted away. We then made holes in the newspaper with a dibber and planted the leeks as normal. This gave the leeks the head-start they needed on the weeds late last summer. There has been mixed levels of growth among the 2 varieties used [Axima and Bandit]. The Bandits are suitable for over-wintering, and they have performed better, but we have fully mature plants in both varieties.. we also have a lot of babies, that have weathered the worst of winter and we hope will get going again now, allowing us to crop right through Spring and early Summer..
One may observe from the above photos, that our beds have been almost entirely re-colonised by the pre-existing meadow grasses.. these tenacious roots are no match for our pathetic hand-weeding attempts, so we have stepped up our mulching in order to clear some beds for the coming months..ideally we would have had these beds covered since last Autumn, better late than never! The ideal membrane in this case is whatever is close to hand, excludes all light, can be removed easily, will not fall apart and allows the soil to breathe. Those requirements were partially satisfied by a large piece of carpet we happened to come across while looking for sticks. It wasn’t ideal since the backing is synthetic and will end up in the soil if we don’t remove it carefully before it starts to break down. We lcut it into three strips and laid it over three neighbouring beds where no crops were planted. Hopefully the roots underneath will be suppressed enough by early Summer to allow us to use these beds..
This time of year brings excitement for the coming growing season, the potential is there, we have learned some valuable lessons, there has been tentative enquiries from friends who want to get their hands dirty, up-skill, down-shift, enjoy their food from seed to plate.. we always welcome helping hands and inquisitive minds. It is also a time to plan and prepare, order seeds and stock up on equipment.. our next mission is to set up a racking system to house all our module trays in the polytunnel and install a water tank to dip them in, which will also provide a bit of thermal mass to keep our babies cosy on frosty nights.. stay tuned for more on that..