Over the past years we have seen several long dry periods and in the spring when water is needed for newly planted seeds etc. we have often had to resort to carrying water long distances from the troughs dotted around the site.
This water has, using a lot of energy, been treated to make it safe to drink, treatment that is not at all necessary for our flowers and veggies! We should do all we can to reduce the amount of this water we use.
Perhaps the thing that makes most difference is mulching and increasing the amount of organic matter in our soil so that it can hold more water. Personally I use a lot of grass clippings and comfrey for this, particularly on my potatoes. I also use wood chip, initially on paths and then when it rots down a bit I transfer this to my beds before replacing it.
Those of you reading this who have plots in the fenced area and others who have been to the trading hut recently will see that we have also added some extra water storage next to the hut. A 6,000 Litre superbutt! This was installed earlier this year and is now over 1/3 full. It will shortly be connected up to a trough for those with plots in the area to collect water from it. If you have a shed on your plot do think about getting water butt. Also essential if we get very dry weather for blueberries as the hard water in this area contains chalk and they like an acid soil.
Finally, many thanks to those who helped on the day and Ceri for taking the pictures.
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As some may know, last year, during an inspection because this disease of bees had been found in the area, one colony was found to have this disease and had to be destroyed. A subsequent inspection provided the all clear but it looks like we will be subject to annual inspections for the foreseeable future as the strain of the disease previously limited to North Cambridge now seems to be endemic in the South of the area.
The good news is that this year’s inspection was clear though there have been warnings of the disease in the area again.
The other good news on the disease front is that the requirement for poultry to be kept under cover because of Avian flu was lifted on the first of April. This has never affected poultry kept on our site but there is a danger of spread, particularly from large intensive farms.
The society sold New Horizon general purpose compost at the Trading Hut for 20 years. Back in 2000 it was almost the only peat-free compost available. In 2020 we started stocking another brand, SylvaGrow, instead of New Horizon, so I wanted to compare these peat-free composts.
Trialled here are New Horizon All Vegetable compost and Sylvagrow Multi-Purpose compost.
Pictured below are grafted tomato seedlings received by post and planted into identical pots on 14th April, and placed on a south-facing window sill.
The four plants on the left are in New Horizon, those on the right are in Sylvagrow. I have swapped the two trays over every few days to ensure that each batch gets a similar amount of light. I have watered so as to keep the compost moist in each pot. After 20 days the SylvaGrow batch shows considerably stronger growth: the plants are double the height, they have more leaves, and their stem diameter is about 50% greater than the New Horizon batch.
It’s very clear: my tomato seedlings have performed much better so far in SylvaGrow than in New Horizon.
The plants here are the Crimson Collection from Chase Organics, each batch of 4 plants comprising 1 each of Crimson Crush, Crimson Blush etc. I bought two batches for £13.99 so these grafted plants cost £1.75 each.
I have potted up some other (ungrafted) tomato varieties in the same way: half each in the two brands of compost. They are all younger and smaller than the Crimson Collection at the moment, but I will have more examples to compare as they grow.
The two compost products seem to have similar ingredients but it is not entirely clear, because the info on the New Horizon sack uses marketing terms whereas SylvaGrow simply states what its ingredients are.
The particle size is larger in New Horizon than in SylvaGrow. The New Horizon compost does not hold water as well as SylvaGrow. Perhaps this is the reason for the performance difference: it dries out quicker, and when it is dry, water drains straight through.
New Horizon also do a product specifically for tomatoes which I have not tried yet.
In the foreground, old secondary double glazing is laid on a bed to warm the soil ready for a speculative sowing of salads.
Behind that is a protected early sowing of Crimson-Flowered Broad Beans. Hard frosts were forecast so I used whatever I had to hand to add some protection. A single layer of new fleece would probably be as effective.
I’ve put homemade compost on some of the beds. That’s why they differ in colour.
After a warmer & wetter weather forecast, I removed the protection from the broad beans. The old canes laid diagonally tell me that seed has been sown. Thus I will not absent-mindedly hoe the bed and destroy the crop just as it germinates.
I also had a look under the warming glass. I found that some weeds have germinated, which indicates that the soil is warm enough to make small early sowings of radish and lettuce. Even better, there are some seedlings that might be self-set lettuce, so I will leave them and sow fresh seed in the gaps.
This bed is marked with two parallel lines in preparation for sowing onion sets. I use nylon builder’s line stretched between strong metal stakes to get straight rows.
FAQ: Why sow in boring straight lines? You could grow in pretty circles instead!
A: I plan to use a hoe to control the inevitable weeds, and hoeing is easiest along a straight line. If weeds grow unchecked the crop will get smothered and fail. This is true of almost every annual vegetable, and especially of onions.
Sow your veg seeds in a mandala pattern or inspirational spiral if you want — you can hand-weed this effectively on a small scale. But whatever scale you grow at, you should have a realistic plan for weed control!
The fine mesh was added last week to protect my leeks from Allium Leaf Miner. This fly can be on the wing mating and seeking laying sites throughout March & April. The hungry larvae cause serious damage to onions & leeks. There is a second brood in autumn so crops also need protection then. At other times you want to leave the mesh off to allow more light in, and easier access for weeding and harvesting.
In the foreground are my last parsnips which will need digging up in the next couple of weeks. You can see that they are already growing new leaves. This is the start of the flowering process when the roots lose food value. Get them out and eat them!
That’s our plan. It may be cold and wet as I type this on a February afternoon, but recall the dry spring/early summer 2020 during lockdown, the hot & dry spells in 2019 when Cambridge broke the UK temperature record, and the very long hot & dry 2018 season. Rainwater butts were empty and we had to wait for the dip tanks to re-fill. We should aim for better water provision on site, and we should make the fullest possible use of rainwater to reduce dependency on the expensive mains supply.
Superbutts – Large rainwater containers collecting from our existing roofs. A 6250L butt by the Trading Hut will serve plots 13, 14B, 14D, 17B, 17D, 18A, 18C, 18D, 19A, 19B & 19C. It will have a dip tank for convenient use. Expect calls for help installing all this. If this works out we may add superbutts on the polytunnel.
Auxiliary dip tanks – Connected to the existing tanks at plots 16A and 18B, these will double the current capacity for immediate use at busy times, so there will be less queuing to fill your watering cans.
Rainwater butts on all sheds – The committee wants to see covered butts collecting rainwater from every roof on site, including all sheds and chicken huts. On the veg plots, currently 22 of our sheds have butts collecting up to 24,000L of summer rain. 20 other sheds do not have butts: these could collect another 17,000L. To help you install cost-effective rainwater collection we will purchase some good quality water butts and guttering and offer to you at a good price, all on site at the Trading Hut. Watch out for Pat’s emails with details. If you cannot afford these or need practical advice, please contact the committee and we will help.