All tucked up


Teeny-tiny leeks

There’s not much going on in the garden at the moment… some leeks that I planted out very late are growing and the weeds never seem to sleep, but generally it’s all quiet. At this time of the year it’s easy to leave the vegetable patch to get on with things and allow it to develop its own layer of vegetation that will need dealing with in the spring. This year, however, I have decided that I want to avoid as much weeding as possible prior to planting, so I have started to mulch.


All secure for the winter

Despite some blustery weather yesterday, I got outside with a length of MyPex that had been hanging around the shed for a couple of years and covered one of the raised beds. Until a couple of weeks ago there had still been nasturtiums flowering in this area, but the first frost killed them off and it was all looking rather sad. I dug the edges in to secure it, but because I know how easy it is for a sheet of mulch to get blown about, I also weighed it down with planks and pots, stones and a couple of spare log rolls. The MyPex excludes the light, but allows water to penetrate, so the vegetation that was left underneath should rot down nicely over the winter and provide lovely organic matter for the plants that I put in when spring comes around.


I’m regarding this as green manure

Unfortunately I only had enough MyPex for one bed, but I do have some black polythene mulch that I am going to use to cover a second bed. The wind got up whilst I was working yesterday and so I decided not to battle to get this done, especially since there are some rogue brambles to deal with first. For the time being the weeds can grow as a green manure… they will turn into great compost once the mulch is finally down The main drawback of this approach is that mulch provides a great habitat for slugs and snails. I will deal with this by feeding them to the chickens when the mulch is lifted in the spring – you can plant through it, but then in our wet climate, you lose all your plants to molluscs!

Today there has been a mixture of sun and very heavy showers, so no gardening. We were lucky to have a rainbow though, which made me smile and grab my camera:


Even on a grey day there can be brightness

Life finds a way

Soil has been on my mind quite a lot recently… mainly because there’s a bare bed in the garden since Mr Snail of Happiness harvested kilos and kilos of potatoes on Saturday afternoon. The potatoes are safely in boxes in the loft now and the bed is awaiting some pleasant weather so I can get out there and plant something in it. I quite like the look of bare soil, but it’s not an ideal system… it’s available for all sorts of seeds to colonise, it can get washed or blown away, and in my small growing space it seems like a waste of a resource.

If I leave this soil, it won't stay bare for long

If I leave this soil, it won’t stay bare for long

In fact, the only reason my soil is bare is because it poured with rain yesterday, so I was not encouraged to go and plant it up. I could seed it with a green manure, but I have other plans for it. I have some red onion sets (variety Electra) waiting to go in one end of it, plus several varieties of oriental vegetables to go in the other end. Earlier in the year I tried inter-planting onions and oriental greens, but the latter were too successful and swamped the onions… I will not make the same mistake again.

Given the presence of all this bare soil, I was interested to read this post on Australian almond orchards (I’ve only recently discovered the blog, and I really like it), in which the soil below the trees is kept completely bare, thus supporting no pollinators so that the farmers have to bring in bee hives to ensure pollination. The energy required to maintain this system must be huge, and makes no sense in terms of sustainable production.

The idea that keeping soil bare artificially over a long period of time is a good thing, seems very strange to me. Whilst in nature you do see bare soil, it is always only temporary, and something always comes along to colonise it pretty quickly. Even when a site is severely contaminated, some species can survive. My first job as an ecologist involved surveying old metal mines in mid-Wales. Many of the spoil heaps appeared quite bare from a distance but, close up, even the most toxic spoil (contaminated with lead, cadmium, arsenic, copper and other heavy metals) had a flora of lichens and even grasses (such as sheep’s fescue). And more than 20 years on, I return to some of the sites and they are supporting heathland, grassland and even trees.

The spoil heaps at Cwm Rheidol in 1982

The spoil heaps at Cwm Rheidol in 1982

The same spoil heaps 20 years later

The same spoil heaps 20 years later

Since, as Ian Malcolm says in Jurassic Park, “…life will not be contained. Life breaks free, it expands to new territories” I think I want to control what’s growing in my raised beds, so I’m off to plant those vegetables now!

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