FEED THE SOIL NOT THE PLANTS

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.”

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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.

PRODUCTIVE DAY IN MY GARDEN

What a most beautiful day here in West Cork, glorious sunshine and 20C, so excellent weather to work in. And a project was waiting to be done, so no better day than right now. Bought two cold frames early last spring, and they needed some repairs (storm damage) and also they needed to be fastened better (for the next storm). I got a loan of Ian’s electric saw, and cut some lengths of timber, and I had to screw these in so as to stop the plastic flying around at the bottom. I love using this little screwdriver, love the feeling of the screw going into the wood, as if the wood was butter, so easy. Anyway after a few hours of work, with rest periods in between, the work was done and the two cold frames are now ready for planting out young vegetables to harvest during the winter months. I have salad leaves ready to go in, also will probably plant in some of my young beetroots, and the black radish, it is about time I make up my mind about it, but what I really want from these cold frames are good honest down to earth vegetables to cook meals from, not fancy experiments like the bitter gourd that I tried to grow during the summer. Ok I will be trying out new vegetables again next spring, I cannot resist the temptation, but as for this winter I just want to fill the cold frames with food, it will be my first time growing stuff in a sort of greenhouse (which is what these cold frames are really). I shall be reading up on suggestions.

Meanwhile, though wrecked, I am really happy this evening about the work I was able to do, so satisfying to get it done.

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My greatest tool, the screwdriver!   And inside the cold frame sides all secured and closed off.

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Ready for planting stuff in now, another job done to prepare for winter.

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Teaching one of my grandchildren about ‘soil’ and it’s importance.  And a super great caterpillar found and distributed to the wild fields.

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One of the poppy’s a single one this time, still quite a few flowers in bloom this autumn.

CHECKING THE SOIL

I thought today was a good day to check the readings of my soil in the raised beds. And I don’t think that the readings are too bad for February. Since it has not rained all week, it appears that the soil is only just on the moist side, between 7 & 6 which is not bad.  I was very surprised that the soil temperature is 12degrees Celsius, this should almost be good enough for planting some of the hardier seeds like broad beans.
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I’m also quite happy with the readings of  light (around the 1000 mark), the bed where it took the light reading is one of the lighter beds, I had better check the other beds too in order to see where I plant what.  Then the PH of the soil is pretty good too, on the alkaline side (just between 7 and 8).  I find it very helpful to have these gadgets to be able to take readings, keeps you well informed.

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Then the seedling which are only sprouting now, sowed them about a week ago, I moved them to the window sill, they are so far only Sweet Peas (for the scent), and there is also a Ginger and an Artichoke starting off.  The little seedling is suffering from not getting enough light but I hope that will rectify itself now that I moved them.

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The Ginger popping up, but being very slow about it.  And one of the Sweet Pea seedlings.

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