Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Spring! (and the art of compost making)

 For me, spring truly arrives when the primroses come out and this clump in the corner of my vegetable plot is bursting with colour.
 The last month has been full of boring, hard jobs such as fruit tree pruning.  The Blenheim Orange apple was growing over the path and getting too tall (in the centre of the photo).  Now that it had a good structure I decided that serious surgery was required to bring it into shape and encourage it to put out flowering shoots.  It took over an hour of sawing and chopping...
 ... with a lot of long offcut shoots...
 ... and a few larger branches but the work is done.  The pruning should encourage the growth of smaller shoots which bear fruit, I hope!
 On 31st March I picked my first rhubarb of the season, the earliest I have ever picked it.  While the winter has been wet, it hasn't been cold and so the rhubarb got away early.  A nice early dessert dise.
 We have done a lot of digging and soil preparation in March, once the soil had dried out a bit.  Given the wet winter, we hadn't been able to do any digging after October, so there was a lot to do.  But 10 years of hard work here mean that it doesn't take too long to reclaim a bed from weeds, and this part of the plot is now done.  The three long beds here have been manured (horse manure) and composted for the planting of potatoes next week.

And this brings me to compost - making it is an art, which has taken me several years to perfect.  Too much wet material means it is slimy, rots and attracts slugs, too much dry and it doesn't break down, gets ants nesting in it and is generally useless.  Two years ago I switched my tactics on compost making.  I still use the black compost bins, but in addition to the vegetable material and odd bits of paper I now layer the compost with (used) wood based cat litter.  I have mentioned cat litter before and was chided by someone who warned me of the dangers of contracting some kind of dread disease.  Well, I did my homework and found that unless my cat hunts wild deer or sheep and eats them raw, the risk of contracting this disease is very, very minimal.  Since my cat exists solely on a diet of cooked, commercially produced catfood and has never eaten anything raw larger than a spider, I will take my chances.  The wood based litter is full of ammonia, I do compost a lot of it separately for about 2 years, but by layering it in with household waste my compost has improved massively in quality and quantity.
 About 4 weeks ago I planted my first lot of broad beans under a cloche to keep them warm.  They have now emerged, and will be able to leave the cloche soon.  Today I planted the remaining seeds in another spot but without a cloche, so we can have a second crop as we love broad beans (Claudia Superaquadulce).
I also planted my garlic (Picardy Wight) at the same time.  In a spontaneous moment, I planted the gaps between the garlic with Stuttgarter onion sets.  The rationale for this is that the onions and garlic have roots at different depths in the ground and I hate weeding between garlic plants.  My hope is the onions will reduce the weeding.  However, as you can see, there are already weeds in here, a couple of forget-me-nots in the foreground!  Will see how this rather random experiment goes.
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