Shovelling shit on a Saturday

Saturday, 16 February 2008

Another glorious weekend and with the arrival of a couple of tons of fresh shit, a lot of donkey work too.

I am building two new raised beds this year on an old area of lawn. This requires digging – a once only operation, but a back-breaking one. I do recommend this technique however. Old lawns need burying. Forget double-digging. An act of pure masochism to be avoided at all costs. I take out my first spit a full spade deep and set the whole row to one side. I then fill this trench with manure, allowing a large barrow load for every 10 feet or so. Ideally I like to use well rotted stuff but the fresh supply in today was dumped a short distance away and because I will use this ground for my maincrop potatoes – reasons to follow – I figured a bit of slightly fresh manure wouldn’t hurt. By the time I am ready to plant in April it will have pretty much completed rotting down anyway. I then turn the next spit over, grass-side down on top of the shit-filled trench. Because it is impossible to cut the spits exactly to fit in place every ten spade lengths or so I chuck one spit on top of the previous row. Don’t worry about things being tidy. The important thing is to make sure the grass sward is upside down on top of the shit.

Each raised bed is a metre wide. So, once I have dug the bed to this width I then dig two trenches without adding shit, setting the spits to oe side and then digging down a second spade deep – alright, I occasionally do a bit of double digging – pilling these spits on top of the dug bed. These two trenches will become a path about 14″ wide between the raised beds. I return the top spits to this trench grass-side down. It is also necessary to double dig the outside of each raised bed. Once again, set the spits to one side and then dig another spade deep, chucking this soil on top of the new bed. Then take the first spits and put them in the double trench upside down to make the path down the outside of your bed.

My other rather easier job was preparing the bed for my broad beans. the seeds I sowed in January are now lovely strong plants, sitting in a tray on the floor of the allotment greenhouse. In two weeks time I want to plant them out. In order to avoid them having a check in growth I want to put them under a cloche. So today I raked some fish, blood and bone into a bed that had previously had brassicas in it and had been manured last year and then put a poly-cloche over the ground to warm it up a little.

Oh yes, and why plant potatoes in new ground? Because it’s a crop that smothers weeds, so makes a gardener’s life a little easier. Also, by ridging up the ground as the potato shoots emerge one is already weeding. I’ll need to be vigilant and remove perennial weeds like dandelion and creeping buttercup, but hopefully after one season the beds will be in pretty good shape. My one worry is the dreaded wire worm, which are found in undisturbed pasture and love to eat potatoes. There isn’t much I can do to stop an attack, but once ground has been dug they tend to bugger off to pastures new so following crops are left alone.

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