Tuesday, May 1, 2012

It's Spring again.. technically..

.. although we've had some near freezing temperatures here, and snow, and days and days of relentless rain. Even this May Day, it's still raining, although at least the temperature has risen a bit.

And Spring time is really when I focus the most energy on my four little raised, terraced, deep-soiled food growing beds. I am very good at planting. Less good at weeding and hopeless at harvesting - in fact purple sprouting broccoli is my favourite crop because I'm harvesting it when I'm out there planting everything else, so at least it gets done.

I'm not quite sure what happens in Summer and Autumn - except life, children, friends, house and so on. I certainly don't manage to keep on top of weeding and harvesting the veg beds. I always intend to, but never quite manage it.

It's lucky I've got some determined and intelligent friends, who have the solution to the problem and know how to persuade me to implement it! (Mainly just by talking about it and being inspirational.) I've been making some gradual changes over the past few years, and undergoing some stark realisations. Firstly, that un-dug soil is very, very different to soil that is dug.

I first noticed this in some of the five-gallon plastic pots I've had on the driveway for the past few years. They're too big and heavy to empty and refill with soil every year, so they have actually (eventually) just been weeded and replanted with a complete mixture of things:

And when I plunged my hand into the soil to plant something, it felt like another substance to the regularly dug-over variety in the field. It felt alive, and had integrity, for want of a better explanation. (These pots also rarely need watering.) It was this that made me finally realise, after years of reading no-dig theories (and thinking: "Yes that's OK for other people, who have the time to pull weeds out..") that I have to stop digging the soil in my field beds.

Instead I've laid compost on top of grass clippings:

And my plan - when the weather is warm and dry enough and my seedlings are big enough - is to completely fill the ground with plants - one hundred plants for every square metre. And I plant in 20 sq m, so that's 2000 seedlings going in this season (or next, at this rate!) - the aim being to keep the soil covered to keep the weeds out. Every time I remove a plant, I'll replace it with a plug of compost from the bins, and probably with another plant. The idea is that I never have to dig again, or weed much, or do another huge planting or glut harvesting session. Instead, the beds are kept constantly full, the soil constantly covered and replenished, and not unduly disturbed so it can be allowed to develop that natural, integral structure it needs to be really healthy. I think it might be a gardening system that actually fits with the way we live our lives, as well as being better for the soil and the plants.

Here are some of the seedlings, taking over our garden room. (I will try to remember to post an update and let you know whether they all get planted and if the system works!) :