To weed or not to weed 

Since the rains last week, phacelia and poppies have shot up out of seemingly nowhere. They are smothering the onions and getting very cosy with the broad beans.

The question of whether or not to remove them has therefore arisen. Anyone who has been following my blog for a while may well remember the dilemma I had over the poppies last summer and the fact that I was determined not to go through the same this year.

However, I have learned on the MOOC about soil that weeding may in fact be less than beneficial. Green manure such as phacelia may be considered a living mulch, so why not weeds?

Now, you might say that poppies are hardly weeds. Er, well, are not dandelions seen as weeds because they are in the wrong place, when in fact they are simply wildflowers? So, all plants being equal, I need to decide the cut-off point.

In other words, the living mulch round (over the top of) the onions could do with thinning out, while the broadbeans are probably happy with the companionship.

Next question, should I go out in the midday sun or wait till bedtime?

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The benefit of stones in the garden

One activity we have done on the MOOC about soil recently is to measure the amount of stones in our own parcel of land. Fortunately, my soil is pretty free of them, so they aren’t restricting root growth or increasing drainage, when I’ve got sandy loam, which hardly needs help that domain.

However, there is a plus side to stones. But rather than stones in the soil, this time I’m referring to rocks (or bricks, for example) on top of the soil. The benefits are twofold: the soil under them conserves moisture for longer and they hold heat, so they alter the microclimate slightly.

When I moved the coldframe yesterday evening (from the area where I intend to build another hugel bed to a spot I have cleared of chard), I noticed the soil under the bricks was indeed still moist in comparison with that which had not been so covered. So, I strategically placed other bricks around the garden to give various crops the benefit of water for longer.

Then it occurred to me that the walls of the coldframe, also being of brick, might make the environment for seedlings within somewhat warmer. In other words, taking it that my neighbours cut their conifers down before this winter (it’s on the cards), which would mean sunlight could reach the ground in my garden, the bricks might give any plants in there extra insulation….

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The biggest magnet for insects

Yesterday, I was pleased to get a few more plants potted on. It looks like temperatures are warming up and it won’t be long before tender crops can be going in the garden.

Of course, in this activity there is also now the pleasure of being in the shed, which I’ve had for almost three months. As I open the door, I get the smell of still fresh wood and the sight of useful gardening equipment which used to grace the living room floor. And on this occasion, there was the addition of a bee and several ladybirds.

I was puzzled as to how the bee and ladybirds could have got into the shed – there are no windows and the door wasn’t open at all on Saturday. Then I noticed a small hole in the shed wall and wondered if that might be used as an entrance. I doubt very much the honey bee would have squeezed through to bed down for the night, though.

Mystery not totally solved but at least they didn’t get tangled up in the spider’s web. I’m seeing more and more ladybirds round my property these days, which may just mean I am being more observant. Or maybe there is more to attract them in. Either way, I hope there won’t be too many aphids this year.

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Not even hardened off yet

I’ve finished Week Two of my MOOC on soil early, so I’m a little lost. That said, there is plenty of observing of my own to do in the garden. 

Every time I go past the apple tree, I have a look to see how many apples are forming. The blossom has almost gone and it’s not just the petals which are falling to the ground. However, I doubt the tree could cope if every flower fertilised, although I am hoping for more than the eleven or twelve I got last year.

A flower which is on the advent is on the tomato plant which I’m putting outside to harden off.

I’m amazed by the plant, as I’ve never managed to grown one so big before planting out before. On the other hand, it is nowhere near as robust as the ones in the shed. It was quite floppy until I put a stake in but hopefully over the next week it will gain more strength.

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The results are in

Earlier in the week, I did a practice soil test with material from the front garden. The result for this was that the A-Horizon (top soil) was something like sandy loam but I felt certain my B-Horizon (sub-soil) was some sort of clay.

Anyway, I decided not to test out this theory as I wanted to sow seeds while the ground was wet – and I was supposed to be investigating the forest garden for the MOOC, having chosen this parcel of land last week. So, this afternoon, I dug the requisite hole by the shed and got more than one surprise.

First, I was intrigued to see how deep the strawberry roots went, as I’d imagined them to be a shallow-rooted plant. There were also very few stones, except in the B-Horizon, which turned out to be remarkably easy to dig into. Not one bit like clay.

Sandy loam perhaps? Maybe even loamy sand but it did seem a bit stickier than sand. However, it is clear that the soil is not the nutrient-packed medium I imagined it to be. But why don’t carrots like it?

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Upgrading the coldframe

Now that the soil is once more not only diggable but friable, I decided it was an opportune moment to sow some flower seeds in the front garden (in the space vacated by the primulas yesterday). It’s unlikely that we’ll get a frost now, so the next hope is that they aren’t eaten by birds or dug up by cats which occasionally think the front garden is a toilet.

Another job I’d been planning to do this evening, though this wasn’t weather dependent, was to replace the glass with netting over the coldframe I built last month. 

Some of the sprout seedlings are getting so big that they need more space than the glass laid over the bricks can afford them. So with the wires and netting in place, I think they will be good to go. The next issue will be butterflies later in the summer but I’ll deal with that once they are planted out.

More work to do before then, though…..

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For the good of science

This week on the MOOC about soils we are getting into our own soil to find out more about it. The thing is I don’t have a lot of uncovered ground to actually dig into. But, fortunately, I don’t like primulas too much and the front garden had plenty that could go to make way for a bit of citizen science.

The soil I was supppsed to have analysed was the subsoil (B-Horizon) but that being such a hard pan I can’t actually dig into it I instead use the topsoil (A-Horizon). And in doing a bit of digging I noticed the very top layer of soil, which is called the O-Horizon (O is for organic). Until the course I am doing, I’d not been aware of this stratum.

Anyway, for what it’s worth, it looks like the A-Horizon in my front garden is some kind of sandy soil, which is not a complete surprise. On the PDC last year, we also did soil tests and the result for my back garden had been the same. However, I didn’t do a full analysis to work out precisely what the soil was, so hopefully I will have the answer tomorrow evening.

In the meantime, I’ve loaded the compost bin with lots of green matter as well as lots of brown. I had some cotton garments that I decided not to salvage, so they can be repurposed for my plants instead.

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