Tag Archive | Fixed beds

Soil Testing And A Kitchen Garden Plan

Last weekend I decided to take a look at the soil in my new kitchen garden.  I had a good idea that it was a heavy clay soil by how it sat in big hard ‘clumps’, but I wanted to confirm this before I started to grow any vegetables.

My soil before I have worked on it

My soil before I have worked on it

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I started by checking the soil texture:

  There is a really good RHS guide here that tells you exactly how to check your soil texture.

The three main categories of soil texture are…

  • Sand ( has the largest particle size, so it feels gritty )
  • Silt ( the particle sizes are moderate, so it has a smooth, more floury texture )
  • Clay ( has the smallest particle size and it feels sticky).

(A ‘loam’ is the ideal soil to have, which has equal parts of all of the three categories above).

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 Why do I need to know this?:

Clay soils have the smallest particles which helps to retain water as it drains away more slowly than other soils, however this can make the soil more prone to waterlogging in prolonged wet weather.  Clay soils also hold nutrients well, but they are slower to warm up in the Spring and they can be very hard to dig.

Sandy soils have much larger particles which allow water and nutrients to drain away easily which is not good in dry weather, but is better in prolonged wet weather. Sandy soils are much lighter to work with and have the added advantage of warming up quicker in the Spring.

Silt soils are fertile and light to work and have the advantage of being moisture retentive, however it is easily compacted.

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My soil:

My soil

My soil rolled into a ball very easily and then easily into a long sausage….so I was right that my soil was a clay soil.

My old allotments had a clay soil so I am well used to working with this:

My old allotment plots

My old allotment plots were clay soil.

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I also decided to check my Soil pH…..

The pH of soil is measured in a scale of one to fourteen.  Soils with a pH of less than seven are acid and soils above seven are alkaline.  Soils with a pH of seven are known as neutral.

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I decided to test five different areas of my new kitchen garden .  I first used an old soil tester that I have, which you just insert the prongs into the ground.  In all the areas it gave the same result of alkaline soil.

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As my pH tester was very old, I decided to also buy a soil pH testing kit, (just to make sure my old soil tester was working correctly) and I also tested five different samples:

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The kit was very easy to use and it actually confirmed that each sample of my soil is alkaline:

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So why do I need to know this?

Different plants need different conditions, for example blueberries need an acid soil to grow well.  Also acid soils are more prone to ‘clubroot’ (a fungus-like organism) which can affect brassicas, so if you know that you have an acid soil you can add lime to your soil to increase the pH.

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So I now know my soil is a clay, alkaline soil.

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This week I began planning my kitchen garden by drawing out a plan on graph paper.

I was then able to replant the raspberries and fruit bushes that I ‘heeled in’ three weeks ago, to their permanent position along the ‘sunny’ edges of my new kitchen garden and lay my ‘weed suppressant’ paths in front of them:

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I could then start the job of creating my beds and preparing the soil:

I am a big fan of ‘fixed beds’ as I don’t need to walk on the soil (as the beds are small enough to reach into) and this stops the soil from becoming compacted.  I also choose fixed beds rather than raised beds, as I don’t like the idea of having to import top soil to fill the raised beds.

I again decided to use my old weed suppressant paths from my old allotment to separate the beds and I worked out that I could have four beds either side of my central path, with each bed being 130cm’s wide.

So I began digging…..

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The soil was very heavy to work, with plenty of weed roots such as bindweed and couch grass and I also found lots of rubble in it too.  It was a lot different from my beautiful allotment soil that I had worked on for the last ten years.

I must admit that I never really did anything previously to this part of the garden (except plant a few shrubs when I first moved in), so I knew the soil would really need improving.

After just an hour of exhausting digging, I began to wonder if I had done the right thing to give my allotments up and start again here….but unfortunately circumstances that brought me here can’t be changed, so I gave myself a ‘good talking to’ and carried on!

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After I dug a bed I then ‘forked in’ a bag of soil conditioner, (I managed to get a few cheap bags from my local nursery), but I know that the soil will need a lot more than this.

I must say I have really regretted not bringing some of my lovely well rotted organic manure back from my old allotments before I gave them up, but I suppose time was against me.

However this week, I did managed to complete my first two kitchen garden beds:

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So now I just need to complete the other six beds and to plan what I am actually going to realistically grow in them.  I know this will be a challenge as I am so used to growing my vegetables without thinking of space, or even shade…. but I like a challenge!

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Thank you for reading my blog today.

I will be back next Friday as usual.  I hope you have a good weekend,

 

Batch Baking, Fixed Beds And Celeriac

Before I start I thought I would show you a couple of photos that I took yesterday out of the car window, whilst my husband was driving.  I think the display of daffodils that Leicester City Council planted a few years ago, really look beautiful this year.  I think the daffodils are the variety called ‘Tete-a-Tete’ and they look stunning planted all along the central reservation.

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Yesterday morning I did my usual weekend ‘batch baking’.  I love baking all in one go, as it saves me time during the week and energy as I cook things together.

This weekend I made fruit scones and weetabix chocolate brownies for lunch boxes and a chocolate cake for tea. I butter the scones before freezing them as it makes it easier in the mornings, as I just take a couple of scones out and pop them a lunch box.

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I also made a large pot of vegetable soup to take to the allotment with me in my flask.  I love having homemade soup with a homemade roll, sitting in the sunshine at my allotment watching all the birds and insects buzzing around….and it’s full of vitamins and cheap too.

My homemade soup has whatever I fancy from the freezer when I make it.  Yesterday’s soup has my homegrown swede, turnip, courgettes, runnerbeans, broadbeans, pumpkin and leeks in it.

I just fried the leek in a tablespoon of olive oil until it was soft and threw everything else in and just covered it all with vegetable stock and left it to simmer for thirty minutes.

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I then used my hand blender to ‘blitz’ it until it was smooth and divided it into portions which I froze when it had cooled down.

It really is an easy meal to make.

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At my allotment this weekend I noticed lots of ladybirds appearing.  In this particular clump of overgrown grass there were loads of them together, though the photograph actually only shows three.

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I have ‘fixed beds’ at my allotment, which just means I have paths either side of my beds so I don’t need to walk on them.  This makes it far easier for me to manage the soil, as I can just lightly ‘fork’ over my beds if I need to.

I chose not to have raised beds as I couldn’t afford the wood for raised beds (as I have four plots) and I would also need to buy in the top soil to fill them.

My top soil is nice and deep and I don’t think raised beds would be an advantage for me.  The only exception is my one raised bed that I use to grow my carrots in, as I can not grow carrots in my very heavy soil.  This one and only raised bed is made up each year of my homemade compost, leafmould and a bag of sand and this is the only way I have managed to grow carrots.

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So this week I have been busy finishing the weed suppressant paths that I talked about here and I have been ‘forking’ over this area ready for my legumes.

I think this area looks much better without the bricks holding the weed suppressant down and it will be lovely not to have the weed suppressant ‘fraying’ all over the place as it gets caught up in my fork, which is very annoying as it makes the job harder to do.

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There was one area that I had been treading on all winter, as I had put the prunings that I took from my plum tree late last summer there.  This wasn’t a wise move as it was really hard work forking the soil over, as it had all compacted and the water was slow to drain from this area.

  I thought I would show you the difference between the soil that I had trod on lots over the winter and the soil that I hadn’t trod on.  Both photos were taken when I had turned the soil over with my fork.  You can see the soil structure where I hadn’t walked, in the right hand photo. This was far better than the soil on the left hand photo, where I had walked.  So this is really enough proof to me that my ‘fixed’ beds do actually work.

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This weekend I had been transplanting some of my plants at the allotment.  I have divided my chysanthemums and planted them through my weed suppressant next to the boxes that I made last week to edge my plot:

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I have also been transplanting some of them to the outside of my woodland area, together with foxgloves that have self seeded around my plot.  Hopefully they will look lovely when they flower.

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And finally, I transplanted some Michaelmas daisys that had outgrown their spot, to the back of my plot around the Hazel trees which I coppiced this winter…

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…I do already have Lavatera and Buddlia growing at the back of the Hazel, so hopefully with the  Michaelmas daisys,   this area won’t look so bare whilist the Hazel is growing back.

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One last thing, I picked the last of my celeriac this weekend.  I don’t usually leave it in the ground overwinter, but I somehow over looked it….but I have got away with it as it has been so mild.  The celeraic does have one or two slug holes in, but I am really pleased with it overall.

So my next job is to freeze it this week.

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I hope you have enjoyed reading my blog today.

I will be back on Friday at my usual time.