So another day looking out at the kitchen garden, as I write, and quietly formulating what needs to be done over the coming month and the Spring. At some point I need to clean and tidy our small greenhouse but keep putting it off. Thinking back over the 27 years since we moved into this house I always think of mid-January and February as months when the ground is so hard with frost that it was best to plant Garlic and Onions in advance. Garlic needs a period of cold as does Rhubarb. Now I’m worrying that the ground is so wet that the Garlic crop, which is beginning to show, will rot. The weather has been so mild that Rhubarb has begun to sprout – which is not a good sign at all. Our hardy Leek crop has started bolting too. All of which raises questions about whether the changing weather patterns will lead to these crops being unviable. So much for global warming and the benefits of a Mediterranean climate! No doubt growers will adapt but what other changes will the unpredictability of our weather bring?
I planted 13 black currant plants from cuttings I’d taken from our mature bushes and have been concerned that fruit buds have developed in the absence of cold weather. The problem this brings about is that when the flowers show too early there’ll be no bees and other insects to pollinate them. Disaster! The apple trees in our small orchard are not showing fruit buds and there’s still time for some cold weather to slow things down. We juice most of our apple crop which provides us with apple juice for the year. I know that apple growers across the country are getting a bit twitchy because of the prolonged mild weather and the risk of an entire crop failure. Its changes like this and the repercussion for anyone growing vegetables and fruit that has been absent from any discussion about climate change. And I suppose as long as people can buy fruit flown in from Chile and Brazil throughout the year it won’t be at the centre of public attention and what the individual wants politicians and the government to do.
So to more mundane matters and worm life!
In the 70’s John Jeavon’s writing on growing was really inspirational with its emphasis on “raised beds” and the French intensive growing system. John Jeavons was also influenced by the Irish “lazy bed system” of growing used on the western Atlantic coasts of Brittany, Ireland and Scotland. Alan Chadwick was also an inspiration in terms of the concept of intensive growing. Our ground floor Brighton flat had a lovely walled garden and I quickly turned it into a growing space using raised beds much to the amusement of our neighbours. Not. Getting nutrient for the beds was problematic, there was no back entrance into the garden, so we had to bag and walk “it” through the flat. One year a very good friend donated a ton of manure ( a birthday present) which mysteriously arrived one day in the parking space outside our flat and I watched with some amusement the furious parking warden march up and down unable to slap a ticket on the steaming pile of dung. Once it got dark we bagged said dung and brought it in off the street. Other friends would donate bags of vegetable waste on our doorstep. Things haven’t changed much with our present ground as soon as we moved in our neighbour closed off the back access so that any manure delivered to us has to be bagged and carried through the garage to the back garden!
When we had a flock of thirty odd ducks I used a deep litter system so that in the spring we could clear out and compost a large amount of straw fertilised by the ducks which broke down into the best compost I’ve ever made. It was a self-sufficient system much admired by my father in law Jimmy Anderson (OBE for services to Organic Agriculture) who knew a thing or two about growing. Now that the fox has taken the last of our chickens I am keen to bring in some Khaki Campbell ducks which are great egg layers, exterminate the slug population and have the added benefit of providing straw based manure!
As I write I’m looking out at three raised beds one which had our autumn leek crop which I am now trying an experiment which involves no-dig and laying vegetable waste on the soil surface to encourage worm life. I’ve adapted it slightly by dressing with straw. My examination of the bed over the last two months confirms a very active worm population and the gradual disappearance of the vegetable matter. I first read about this style of growing by an American, Ruth Stout, who was writing in the 1950’s about her experiments with no dig. At the time I read Ruth Stouts books in the 70’s I was pretty much under the influence of John Jeavons. Ruth Stout’s book proved a challenge too far!
Over the past couple of years I’d become concerned about the absence of worm life in the growing beds even though I was adding large amounts of compost and manure! One bought in pile of manure had straw treated with a weed killer that poisoned our kitchen garden so that for three years we could grow nothing! So I decided to go back to the way of growing I’d started back in the garden of our Brighton flat in 1977.
Looking at Charles Dowding’s use of the no- dig method has brought me back full circle. I began using no dig last year for our Garlic crop and we’ve had the best and largest garlic I’ve ever grown. So my intention is to convert the other 5 raised beds to no dig over the coming year. So for those of you worried about lack of worm life consider no dig and raised beds!