Flushed with our early success and with grand ideas to plant crops to keep us in home grown food all year, and not just with a glut at harvest festival time, we decide to add two more beds.
Next to the greenhouse, we thought, will be ideal. Close to the house and close to the water supply in what once was in the field outside our garden boundary. We moved the fence after extending the house in 2001 and planted fruit trees and sowed meadow flowers. For a year it was lovely, but then
it flooded and half the fruit trees drowned; then there were gales and all but one of the surviving trees were damaged in the wind. After that we left it mainly untouched apart for the occasional strim to keep down the weeds and grass. Docks, nettles, buttercups and thistles thrived, but the birds loved it.
The ground slopes up away from the greenhouse and fortunately after changes to the drainage system the "orchard area" no longer floods. The flooding problem has moved out into the field beyond the fence.
At the end of last year (2017) we took delivery of a new carpet and the old one was pressed into service suppressing the weeds. I don't know what I'd do without carpet. Our original idea had been to restore the orchard and re-sow meadow flowers, but the addiction of vegetable gardening has overtaken us.
We didn't have enough carpet to cover the whole area so the rest was sprayed with broad leaf weedkiller and then regularly strimmed to keep the grass under control. When it came time to make the beds we needed to kill the grass too. Grass that had been under the original carpet was well and truely dead (you can see it in picture below, right) and the roots were easy to dig out, but more work was needed.
We laid out the 4.80m wooden boards which we would be using to mark the edges of the bed and provide for a slight raising of the soil level and set about clearing the grass.
Not wanting to wait for the carpets to do their thing at the other end of the beds (and fearful that if we did grass would re-seed where it had died), we resorted to spraying with a general, kill all plants, contact type weedkiller. It sort of worked, but not well enough and we didn't want couch grass growing up through our vegetables. In the end we had to used the tried and tested carpet method on the patch adjacent to the greenhouse.
Having cleared the grass from the first bed we dug over the ground and losened the soil, we constructed the wooden edging, spread on a layer of horse manure and left it to dry and rot. Then we dug it in. Finally we broke into our soil mine and barrowed 15 or 16 loads of top soil, raked it out, removed the stones and then lightly dug to mix with the rotted manure. Once finished we covered it with black water permable membraine and repeated the exercise on the second bed which had in the mean time been carpetted.
Our soil mine as we call it was an old muck heap from almost 20 years ago. It had been tipped and left to its own devices, which were to become overgrown with nettles, and then when the nettles were cleared from it last year, with moss. We had almost forgotten it was there, but when we opened it up the muck and straw had become crumbly, rich soil. The hardest part of digging it out, besides filtering out the stones which were mainly embedded in the top few centimetres, was extracting the bailer twine and lost head-collars that had evidently been tipped away with the muck
I didn't realise how lucky we were to have an on tap supply of home produced soil and horse manure until I went to the local, reasonably priced, garden centre and saw the price of both. For small bags too, although if I'd needed to buy in the soil I'd have had a lorry load delivered as I did when we made the first vegetable beds 20 years ago.
The first bed has now been planted with spring greens but the 2nd bed was layed a few weeks later. It still needs to be dug over one more time and then it will be covered over and left for a few more weeks before being planted up with onion sets and garlic.
I've never been successful with cabbages and cauliflowers, the slugs usually beat me too it or the cauliflowers are all leaves and no flower, and I've never grown anything over winter before, so this is a first attempt. Paranoid about the slugs I've scattered slug pellets (so much for being organic, I might try that when I get to expert level) and covered it over with micro mesh. The first morning after planting I found a 5cm, fat slug, dead only 2cm from one of my cauliflowers. Somewhere I've got collars for them but I put them somewhere safe so they wouldn't get lost and now I need to find them.
So what have I planted?
A row of winter hardy spring onion seeds, still to germinate - expecting to see them come up in about another week; The others are plants.
A row of 5 x sprouting broccoli (Claret F1)
Two rows of 5 x spring cabbages, one Hero and one Advantage
5 Cauliflowers (Aalsmeer) in two rows.
Having never done this before & not sure which varieties to selected I bought a collection recommended by the nursery. I had been too late to grow spring cropping veg from seed. Now all I have to do is worry about them and panic. If they don't grow the webmaster will say it's easier to go to the supermarket.