Beginning of January, and even though the days are still quite dark, there is a change to be noticed and it does the soul good. The mist and heavy clouded days have left us for the last few days, and though we have still not seen any sunshine, there seems to be more light in the sky. It is good, I think that one could learn to live without any sunshine, though it is hard to get used to it – it seems to be here to stay!
This morning I went into the garden and took stock of what is happening, and there is lots! There are the strong rigid and juicy looking leeks, the bright red and colourful chard, the celery and the cropping cabbages. There are also the many different herbs which are flourishing right now, oregano, thyme, lavender, sage, feverfew, dandelion, mullein, broad leaved parsley, three-cornered wild leeks, young cleavers, and even some young and tender nettles. It’s a very mild winter here, though we had very much rain during October, November and part of December. The temperature has not gone much below 10 or 11C and the soil temperature has only just now reached 10C whereas it kept to a steady 12 to 15C before Christmas.
The days for planning my garden for the next season are now, that is always very enjoyable. This year my plan it to grow many more flowers, wild and cultivated, so that as many as possible insects will have food. For ourselves I plan to grow some flowering shrubs that will cheer us during winter. Bright yellow Forsythia comes to mind, but more research is wanted.
What I take away from this winter is that there are certain vegetables that will grow easily and that we eat every day, these would be leeks, kale, chard, and herbs, these I will grow again and more plentiful next winter.
I wish those of us who garden a great season and much fun and happiness in their garden! 🙂
We were in Antwerp for a few hours only, Ian wanted to see the area around the cathedral, and I wanted to see the Lace shops in the same area. We had some lunch too 😃 Flemish food obviously! I love going back to Antwerp, eventough we mainly stay in Lier, which is not very far away, only a short train journey.
I have written up my report on my soil experiment, as part of a course I took early in the year, ‘CITIZEN SCIENCE: LIVING SOILS, GROWING FOOD’ with the university of Dundee and Grow Observatory. Its a long enough read but I thought to include it anyway in this blog post as some people showed an interest in my results. So here goes.
My question was: What will give a better crop? If I use compost from the garden compost bin, to improve both the fertility and the texture of my clay soil. Or if I use a combination of leaf mould and organic seaweed liquid?
My hypothesis was: Using compost will improve clay soil, & may result in a better edible yield of produce.
Measurements: Yield of edible produce as weight (grams/ square meters), and seeing that I am also testing the effect the experiment has on my clay soil texture – my measurement will include testing soil texture before and after the experiment. I will also measure the Ph. and nutritional readings (nitrogen/potassium/phosphorus measured against the original texture readings/findings). I will use home testing equipment. For soil texture testing I will use the ‘Field Texture Grade classification chart’ after doing the Bolus test.
Variables: Varying effects of pests invading the plots differently, perhaps some plants dying as a result. So one of the variables will be competition from pests.
I plan to grow a total of 12 bean plants in each plot, as they will be planted 30cm apart with 60cm between I can fit those 12 plants in half of each raised bed and keep the other half as a control with nothing growing on it. The radish and spinach I will grow in between the bean plants, 4 of each. Dimensions of my raised bed are 1.20m by 2.20m so this will just about do it.
OBSERVATIONS BEFORE THE EXPERIMENT STARTS
The soil in both my plots smells good, perhaps a little sweeter in Plot 1 than in Plot 2. When I made a Bolus of the soil in each plot they were the same. The plots have a moisture content between 1.5 and 3 indicating that the soil is fairly dry.
Readings of soil nutrients before experiment:
Nitrogen: deficient in Plot 1 and depleted in Plot 2.
Phosphorus: deficient in Plot 1 and deficient in Plot 2.
Potash: adequate in Plot 1 and adequate in Plot 2.
There is a slight difference in the two plots, Plot 1 had a light reading of 1000 units while in Plot 2 the reading was 2000m – both plots were overshadowed by a tree, but differently. Plot two receives the evening sun, whereas Plot 1 receives the morning sun.
Moisture content was also different in the two plots, in plot 1 it was 2 units whereas in plot 2 it was 3.1 units. So plot 2 was wetter.
The PH was 7.5 in plot 1, and 7 in plot 2 – Meaning that the soil in both plots is quite alkaline.
The result of the bolus test showed that the soil in both beds, according to the ‘Field Texturing of Soils Table’, is a light clay, with a plastic bolus, smooth to touch. 35 to 40% of clay contend.
Beginning of experiment;
On the 8th of May my Plot 1 and Plot 2 were ready to have the allocated fertilizers added. It turned out to be a dry and warmer than usual summer here in West Cork. For some part of the summer there was a ban on watering the gardens, so plants did suffer, they easily bolted. Some things did not grow at all or very little. Plot 1 was treated with compost from my home compost bin, and Plot 2 received leaf mould and would be given liquid seaweed compost on a regular basis.
I planted out my bean seedlings (Climbing French Beans – Cobra), on 22nd of May. The soil temperature was already between 13 and 15C. The air temperature was around 22C at noon. We had no precipitation for the week following planting, but I watered the garden with rain water once a day. Slugs were a slight problem so I put out beer in trays. I sowed the spinach (Spinach Matador) in trays. The following week we received 2.5mm rain.
On the sixth of June – no precipitation, watering by hand. The beans in Plot 1 started to grow and were doing ok. The beans in Plot 2 did not grow or do well. They received seaweed liquid feed once a week (2tops in 6ltr of water as recommended). I planted out the spinach seedlings. I threw organic slug pellets and picked off the slugs every evening as there was some slug damage. Still no rain but watering garden daily. Temperature 20C at noon. Some of the time overcast but warm. By the 12th of June Plot 2 beans were doing ok too but definitely behind Plot 1. Spinach bolted as soon as they were planted out. On 14th of June we had a storm and the plants received some storm damage. Temperature went down to 18C. By 21st of June the beans in Plot 1 were 82cm high but only 43cm in Plot 2. There had been no sun for 5 days. Still no rain. Ban on using water hose in garden. I used all grey water to keep beans and spinach watered. Slugs had disappeared. Moisture levels were 2 in Plot 1 and 2.5 in Plot 2. Temperature was still 18C and precipitation was still at nil.
One month later; on 21st of July, the results were as follows: Moisture in both plots did not even reach 1. Temperature reached close to 30C in the sun and 25.7 in the shade. Soil temperature reached 21C in plot 1 and 19C in plot 2. I found some slug damage in both plots.
On 28th of August the temperature had dropped to 14C with precipitation of 25mm in 24hrs. I harvested overall 800gr of beans in plot 1 and 300gr in plot 2.
Readings of nutrients in the soil after harvesting:
Nitrogen: depleted in plot 1. Depleted in plot 2 and depleted in controls of both plots.
Phosphorus: depleted in plot 1 adequate in control of plot 1. Depleted in plot 2 and its control plot.
Potash: adequate in plot 1 but depleted in its control plot. Adequate in plot 2 but deficient in its control plot.
PH: 7 for plot 1 and 7.5 for its control plot. 7 for plot 2 and 4.5 for its control plot. (I cannot explain why there should be such a difference between the readings of Plot 2 in the Ph. of the control plot.)
To answer my experiment’s question regarding the soil texture:
I have come to the conclusion that my Hypothesis “using compost will improve clay soil, and may result in a greater yield” is true, I can say this because the yield of Plot 1 was 800gr, whereas the yield in Plot 2, which was 300gr, shows that Plot 2 produced 62.5% less in relation to Plot 1, which I think is significant.
As well as that, and all though the soil texture test of both Plot 1 and Plot 2 resulted in similar readings before the experiment (light clay), I did detect a slight improvement in the soil of Plot 1, and I would say that, using the ‘Field Texture of Soil Table, my soil now has perhaps only 30 to 35% of clay contend, instead of the 35-40% before the experiment – that is in Plot 1, which received the compost from the garden composter. It can now be categorised as ‘Silty Clay Loam’ instead of Light Clay.
And my question regarding the fertility of the soil: Here my hypothesis was that the compost of the compost bin would improve the fertility of the soil versus using a combination of leaf mould and organic seaweed liquid. And here I did not immediately see results because after harvest, both nitrogen and Phosphorus were found to be depleted in the soil of both plots. Potash was found to be depleted in Plot 1 and deficient in Plot 2. The produce was very poor in plot 2 as was some of the growth. Growth and produce were better in Plot 1 but still the harvest was rather poor. I think both plots are still very lacking in nutrients and need more manure/compost or leaf mould before I can come to a conclusion on fertility.
Comparison of nutrients before and after experiment.
The nitrogen contend of the soil in plot 1 was deficient at the start. But when I retested the soil after harvest the nitrogen contend of plot 1 was depleted.
The nitrogen contend of the soil in plot 2 was deficient at the start. When I retested the soil after harvest the nitrogen contend of plot 2 was depleted.
The phosphorus contend of the soil in plot 1 was deficient at the start. When I retested the soil after harvest the phosphorus contend of plot 1 was depleted.
The phosphorus contend of the soil in plot 2 was deficient at the start. When I retested to soil after harvest the phosphorus contend of plot 2 was depleted.
The potash contend of the soil in plot 1 was adequate at the start. When I retested the soil after harvest the potash contend of plot 1 was depleted.
The potash contend of the soil in plot 2 was adequate at the start. When I retested the soil after harvest the potash contend of plot 2 was deficient.
The spinach totally bolted as soon as they were planted out, and for this reason I have left it out of the experiment results.
The slugs did about the same damage in both plots, but they did eat more leaves of my bean plants in Plot 2. I did find that, because of the leaf mould there was much less weed growth in Plot 2 than in Plot 1, it might have.
It was a warmer and dryer summer than is usual here, did this have an effect on the results of my experiment? Did I water enough?
My findings and final conclusions:
So the soil in both plots are after harvesting depleted in nitrogen, phosphorus and to a lesser extend in potash. But the nutritional value of my soil was quite poor even before growing my beans (and I would have thought that bean would have improved the nitrogen in the soil). It is therefore obvious that if I want a better crop I need to improve the nutritional value of my soil and using organic compost would be the wisest decision, and in addition it will improve texture of my light clay/silty clay loam soil. I have now been offered horse manure, additionally I have purchased a different type of organic seaweed fertilizer having good percentages of the missing nutrients. And I plan to make use of the plentiful comfrey plants that grow in one of my raised beds, eggshells and coffee grounds are also going to help. Some of my beds, those that don’t have winter vegetables growing on them, I will seed with green manure, all this to improve my soil.
I want to make a note that I did not add enough leaf mould to my Plot 2 and I wonder if this could have contributed to a poorer overall result in that Plot.
I think that this experiment has been a great learning curve. I would definitely take on board its findings, but perhaps with reservations. I do believe that I learnt a lot doing this, and it was very enjoyable, I also included my grandchildren in to the testing work, they loved it too.
Today is another day with, for West Cork, fairly high temperatures (29.7C in shade), and we are so enjoying this lovely warm weather. For the plants this is a different matter. We have water restrictions in place which means of course that we cannot freely water our vegetables and herbs. So far I have only lost one ornamental fir growing in a tub, I guess that the reason is that I am giving most of my gray water to the vegetables and only very little to the ornamental plants.
And so today it became time to give a good update of my soil experiment. Though it is too early yet to make final conclusions, I can see how overall the plants are not growing as lush as I expected, probably due to the drought (since the 8th of May we are without substantial rain, only once did we have a shower, but not enough to really wet the soil thoroughly – only 2.5mm during May, and 8mm during June). The soil looks to be very coarse and dry, pale in colour and hard to put a shovel in. In places the soil has come away from the raised bed frame, a sure sign of dryness.
While both plots had a moisture content figure of over 3 during May – today’s readings were as follows:
PLOT ONE – FIGURES FOR TODAY THE 21ST OF JULY AT TWELVE NOON
MOISTURE CONTENT: DRY the needle stood at 1
LIGHT MEASUREMENT: 2000
TEMPERATURE OF THE SOIL: 21C
PLOT TWO FIGURES
MOISTURE CONTENT: VERY DRY the needle did not reach 1
LIGHT MEASUREMENT: 2000
When I compare the light on both plots with the May figures there are quite a few changes due of course to the normal changing season but also due to the very warm & dry summer. Light in both plots seem to have increased from 1000 to 2000 measured in full sun. PH of soil has gone up a few degrees in both plots and is now 8 which is too alkaline. Moisture of course has gone down from 3 to 1 and even less than 1 in plot two. Soil temperature has increased from 13C in plot two to 19C today, and in plot 1 it has increased from 15C to 21C.
Overall the bean plants did not do so well, they look fairly poorly and did not grow lush, there are, however, some beans ready to be harvested in both plots, and there are more flowers showing.
One of the observations I have made is that the bean plants which I sowed inside early in spring – and then planted out, did not do as well as the beans I sowed straight in the garden at a later date – these plants became very robust and grew fast – they will have a later harvest as they are only at the flowering stage. I will take that into consideration for next years sowing.
In both plots all the spinach plants, which looked very healthy to start with, bolted immediately and I have had no produce from them at all. But in plot 1 where I sowed the radish early I had about 150gr of edible produce. The radish in plot 2 have not matured yet due to a later date of sowing.
As regards weeds, plot 1 has had many, partly probably because of the compost I used from the garden bin where perhaps seeds were not destroyed during the composting stage, for example, I have seen tomato plants starting to grow in between the beans plants. I also made the mistake of accidentally spilling some of my spare heir-loom double poppy seeds among the bean plants, and once I realised and saw the plants I could not bear to pull them up, so right now the bean plants growing side by side with the flowering poppies. Good for attracting insects to pollinate the bean flowers anyway.
Plot 2 has had no weeds growing to speak of, the leaf mould here has done a good job keeping the weeds down. I find that the bean plants here have not taken as well as the ones in plot 1.
Both plots have had some slug damage in the past week, but due again to the drought there has been very little slug activity in the garden.
Some photos of what is going on in the experimental plots, and also in the extra plot where I sowed the bean plants straight into the garden soil, (the ball is there to chase the cats away). I notice from the flower that one of those bean plants is actually a different bean (a runner bean).
I must say also that the moist/light/ph measuring tool I use is a simple one that I bought in a garden centre. I doubt if it is very scientific, and having checked the Internet on moisture of soil measuring tools I fear that I am only playing at this. But on the other hand it does tell me a little of what is going on in my soil and that for the moment is good enough. I do know that my soil is lacking in potassium and in nitrogen and I mean to address that organically – but I have not found out how I should go about it, apart from using banana peels and growing leguminous plants on my soil both of which I am doing.
I think any attempt however small at understand more about our soil is worthwhile, and I love what I am doing right now. I intend to see my soil increase in fertility, and also I intend to get a much better understanding on how it all works together.
I saw a heart in the sky the other day, and I would like to wish all my friends and followers love and kindness in their lives.
Lots is happening in the garden of course at this time of the year, wonderful things; strawberries ripen, some are eaten by the birds who then give us their beautiful singing in return. Basil mint is about the nicest scented mint I ever smelled, I am glad to have been given a pot of it. The empty beehive on the little roof in our next door neighbour’s garden has of today received a swarm of bees. We have to find out yet what type they are, they came buzzing around my head quite aggressively while we were drinking tea outside, so I wonder. The comfrey flowers got destroyed by a week of wind and rain and it is now all manure on some of the raised beds. There are but few flowers left in the garden at present but more are on the way to blooming.
I think that there is something so nice about seeing clean linnen blowing in the wind outside, the will be so fresh when I take them in.
But more importantly here is an small update of my experiment in plot 1 and plot 2.
In Plot 1 the beans are finally growing better, they are well established and are climbing up the poles. The spinach on the other hand are bolting, though they are growing leaves too. There is a lot of wild plants growing in between the beans beside the spinach, the beans, and the radish (for the experiment). I have found double poppies and also borage plants which I want to keep so I am not touching them at the moment. In Plot 2, and there is a huge difference, there is nothing growing from under the leaf mould. I am still giving this plot seaweed fertilizer every week. I have sown radish there also. The bean plants are doing ok but they are only 42cm high whereas the ones in plot 1 are already 82cm high. So there is a marked difference between the two plots already. In plot 2 also I have found a few flowers on the beans. When not raining I give both plots water. I have also noticed that now that the leaves on the trees in the canopy above my two plots are throwing a huge amount of shadow – I think that this is interfering with the growth of my plants.
And here in the following photos are some of the other vegetables growing such as asparagus, onion, marrow, rhubarb, chard, kale, leeks, orka, several different types of herbs, and finally runner beans and broad beans. If they all do well we will not be stuck for vegetables next winter.
This beautiful Cinnabar moth was on the leaves of the lemon balm.
I was given this lovely window hanger by my daughter, I like it very much. White and blue (in this case the sky) are some of my favourite colours.
And so ends my present story of my garden. I’m in the garden everyday, planting out young vegetables and tending to seedlings. I love it very much. The birds are singing, blackbirds have nests quite close by and are feeding their young. I find that the closeness to the earth and the soil is what gives me solace and is what keeps me very happy indeed. I can only say one thing about it….
IT IS PURE MAGIC!
I already notice quite some difference even though the plants have barely been able to establish themselves and have been fighting lots of slugs despite my efforts at keeping them checked. Plot one (compost from organic waste) is way ahead of plot two (leaf mould & organic seaweed fertilizer). The young plants in plot one already look much healthier than those in plot two, but of course there are variables, like plot two is getting the evening sun while plot one is getting sun most of the day. Both are overshadowed by now with tree canopy’s. Weather has been very warm with no rain in the last fortnight. Terrible trouble with slugs despite going out every night and picking them off, even now resorted to using organic slug pellets. Cats have also done damage by uprooting young plants and messing soil, hence the covering of my two control plots. I’ve lost some bean plants but have sowed more of them.
Top left is a bean plant of plot two, underneath a bean plant of plot one – big difference so far. On right are the spinach seedlings and beneath on left the radish seedlings all of which are part of the experiment and are ready to plant out.
And besides the ongoing experiment I have quite a few other young plants ready to be planted out, such as leaf beet, kale, marrow, marigolds, borage to name but a few.
The broad beans which I planted out a month ago are now in flower, I did have trouble with some black mould or fly on them, someone called it Chocolate Spot. I sprayed it with a combination of tea tree oil and a natural soap, I also nipped out the affected parts and it seems to have solved the problem. Today I can see young beans appearing on the plants already.
Some of my variety of herbs growing good, two different types of thyme, two different types of oregano, lemon balm, rosemary, lavender, and more to be added.
Garden is absolutely full of insects especially bumblebees and bees. The cat is the culprit that does damage, but she is rather beautiful! The two comfrey plants are flowering and have grown enormously, the variety of bumblebees visiting these plants is fantastic!
And finally some good reading. I started ‘The Butterfly Isles’ a while ago, it is a slow read but delightful and so informative – learning such a lot about butterflies habitats in Britain. The other one I’m reading is great too, ‘Earth Matters’ is all about the soil and the importance of it and how soil underlies civilization, it contains so much good information and is told in an interesting way – enjoying this, it’s written by Richard Bardgett and published by Oxford University Press.
Some weeks ago after I finished my course about the soil (with FutureLearn). Then just recently I started another online course this time with Coursera. Its run by the University of Tel Aviv and it is all about plant physiology, quite deep and intense but also very interesting. I’m sure happy to be able to avail of these on-line courses, they are a great discipline and education. I am extremely busy and hardly find the time to write a blog post, but I hope all my friends and followers have enjoyed my update.
An interesting facebook site of GROWOBSERVATORY
Today while gardening a lovely butterfly came to check out some dark pink Oxalis flowers, it was a warm and sunny day here in West Cork, and because the two previous days we experienced soft Irish rain the garden was fresh and beautiful. The colours and the green shades were easy on the eye. And since we have quite a few wild flowers in bloom, we are visited by a good variety of visitors from the insect world. But today it was the butterflies that took away first price. Yes, since I started reading the book “The Butterfly Isles: A Summer in Search of Our Emperors and Admirals” by Patrick Barkham, my interest in butterflies has intensified. Patrick Barkham first went butterfly spotting as a child with his father in Norfolk. His book documents his search for different butterflies found in the British islands. It is a slow read but quite interesting, I am hooked.
I think that the butterfly in my photos is a Green-veined White (Pieris Napi).
Biodiversity Ireland is holding a Butterfly Bash this week and we are sending records of all the butterflies we see into https://records.biodiversityireland.ie/start-recording
Lovely to have seen this striking butterfly today and I will be on the look out for more. I hope you enjoy them too.
“WE ARE ALL BUTTERFLIES. EARTH IS OUR CHRYSALIS.” LeeAnn Taylor
For the past three weeks we have both been working in the garden. I am told that it was an extraordinary wet spring and we have had a fair bit of rain since we came home too. We lost one of our trees, a pine tree that stood at the back of the garden where water is inclined to collect. Ian has found that the roots were totally rotten so no wonder that the storm caught and tumbled the tree.
And the garden was totally overgrown as would be expected, Ian soon had the little bit of grass in the middle of the raised beds strimmed. and the grass that was invading the path cut away. While I started with the beds, some of which were full of Ranunculaceae with very tough roots systems. The whole garden was also covered in Three Cornered Leeks with their lovely white flowers as usual. One of the days I had some help from two of my small grand children and we sure had a day of fun, and yet we achieved a lot.
To our delight we found all sorts of vegetables that had survived the long winter rains and storms. And then out of the blue I received an email from FutureLearn (https://www.futurelearn.com/) to remind me that a course I had registered for had started, and this has been occupying my time totally these past few weeks. The course is called – Citizen Science: Living Soils, Growing Food – and is run by the University of Dundee, Scotland. It is immensely interesting and I have been enjoying every single minute of it, and learnt such a lot. I had decided even last year that it is my soil that I should be putting time and effort into, and educate myself about what it needs, and running tests to see what it may be lacking, and what to do about it. Anyway, all this the course taught me and more. I also learnt about the C3 and C4 food types and how the increase in CO2 is affecting the nutrients of our vegetables and fruits, and the relationship between nutrient depletion in our soils, and less nutritious foods. Something I knew very little about, and found interesting.
Anyway, together with Grow Observatory (https://growobservatory.org/) students were invited to take part in a communal worldwide experiment. (This was for certain areas but not my area in Ireland) so I did not take part in it. However, the Citizen Science was also running an experiment as well as inviting us to ask our own question and in that case run our own experiment, and so I asked myself the question: What will give a better crop? If I use compost from the garden compost bin to improve both the fertility and the texture of my clay soil? Or if I use a combination of leaf mould and organic seaweed liquid? The course took us right through all the factors that are important to carry out our tests with hypothesis, controls, variables, data taking, analysis, and so on. My experiment is set up, my bean plants have been sown and test kits arrived by post, I’m all set up for this experiment.
The two beds are totally ready for the experiment. One is treated with compost from the bin and the other is treated with leaf mould, and later in the experiment I wil be adding the organic seaweed fertilizer to the latter. Hedges have been cut real low to allow maximum light reaching the beds. A rain gauge is in place in both the beds to measure precipitation. And I am testing the actual consistency of the soil, though I know that it is mostly clay, has quite a bit of stones in it, and as I’ve already found out not enough organic matter. Half the beds will be planted and the other halves will be controls. Spinach is the other crop and radish also. It is going to take up time but will be lovely to eat all the produce and enjoy taking all the measurements and learn a lot about my soil.
Not sure where all this is going to take me but I am sure enjoying it all.
I came across this lovely quote from one of the books by Jan Shellenberger. that’s also where I took my post title from: I quote:
“Our most important job as vegetable gardeners is to feed and sustain soil life, often called the soil food web, beginning with the microbes. If we do this, our plants will thrive, we’ll grow nutritious, healthy food, and our soil conditions will get better each year. This is what is meant by the adage ”Feed the soil not the plants.”
And the view from our back garden, the minute the hedge gets clipped – I know I need to work on it a bit more – behind that rocky hill lies the sea.