Well a week on and there is still of sign of the beans, so I'm pretty sure the mice have them. Lets put it this way - the bed did not have these little nose-holes in it when I finished planting!
There are one or two of the bean varieties I don't have more of, but most I can resow. I'm going to start them in a pot out of mice reach for the moment, maybe this weekend, and just get them sprouting before planting the plantlets out.
We've had a pretty dry and sunny week, so I've been emptying my shed and the workshop of cardboard that I'd put to one side for mulching. Almost enough to complete mulching the Northern bed - I just used the last batch of the seaweed to weigh it down.
I could do with just a few more sheets to finish up to the path properly....
The rest of the cardboard I have used to subdue the grass to the southern edge of the South growing area. There is a little gap between the solar beds and the trees, and I'm planting the very edge with some comfrey thongs in the hope they will stop the grass spreading back into the beds (once they are cleared for growing). The comfrey will also hopefully come in handy for mulching once they have established in a year or two. I've found in the past that I get better and quicker establishment if the comfrey doesn't have too much grass competition.
So far I have pushed in some thongs just on the outboard edge of the cardboard, but I will put in a second row halfway across the cardboard and maybe a third, depending on how much else I have to do. I needed a sharp knife rather than the spade blade to cut through the cardboard neatly so had to leave some thongs tucked under the cardboard for the moment.
Well I haven't got round to planting the rest of the fava/broad bean seeds. Life is a bit busy just now. However the good news is that I appear to have two beans that survived the mouse's predations. I have seen quite a few sprout tips, but there are two shoots that so far look like they may make it.
Interestingly they are both towards the centre of the bed - in the planting area that was furthest away from the edge. As pointed out by my friend AC, two probably isn't a statistically significant result, but I wonder whether they survived because the mice are coming in from the edge of the bed and whether that may be useful information. I still haven't got round to resowing the rest of the seed. I may see if I have lots of one variety (probably field beans and sow more to see whether they survive at a later sowing date.
There is a lot of pignut coming through that doesn't seem to have been badly affected by the turf inversion, but I was thinking of trying to leave growing by reseeding that anyhow.
The daisies and clover I transplanted into the paths either side of the not-very-lazy-bed have established well and are putting on growth and flowers.
It has been pouring with rain today, the river is brimming it's banks, so I thought I'd check on my stick drains. The second one appears to be functioning OK - although the seepage at the outlet is not flowing away that well, so I may need to adjust the angle of the turf slightly. The first one unfortunately has been dug up by our puppy. Della thinks her job is hunting for mices, so the stick drain was obviously where they were hiding, or they might have been. I didn't notice until most of the damage was done, so I've left her to play with that one on the basis that she'll leave the others alone, and I'll redig and reinstate the first drain when I've finished. It's difficult to tell how well that one is working now!
One thing though that occurred to me; because of the cross slope, the lowest (and last) drain may well need to do the most work, since the water was puddling at the lower exposed edge I'd dug and was tending to collect at the bottom corner. I may want to make the final drain away double size to accommodate more flow.
I have now almost finished three solar beds (I said I've been a bit slower recently). Bed one is finished and the green manure is growing well with good size true leaves. The second bed is finished and sown a week ago, the seeds are obviously sprouting with some green bits. The third bed is basically dug but not yet raked and seeded.
I'd quite like to complete 6 beds. I think that the angle of the beds is not sustainable, so in future I'll combine two beds together and halve the slope. That will be quite workable with.
In the lower part of the third bed I have come across a rocky outcrop. The basalt bedrock is less than a spade's depth from the surface unfortunately. That was one reason for the slow progress actually, since I broke my mattock handle trying to lever some of the rock out. However, I found an alternative mattock and have managed to get a couple of nice lumps of rock out. They must have cursed that outcrop when ploughing in the past...I can see scars across where it's been hit. It means that the drain I was intending to put there is truncated - there's no way the slope will work above the lump. I'll take out what rock comes easily and leave the rest.
Apart from a bit of rock breaking, I've been concentrating on the Northern area again.
I've started to transplant a few deep rooting plants into the centre of the lower bed - so far skirret and scorzonera. I have plenty of plants of these in more established areas that I have dug and divided. I've put them just inside the lower currant circle. They may stay there, or will be easy enough to dig up if I choose.
The area that I sowed last year with Rye and vetch doesn't look very impressive. I think if they were going to grow away they'd be pretty obvious now.
The grass is starting to grow, but I'm pretty sure it's all the original turf and not the new seed. I dug out my wheel hoe (really was covered with vegetation since I've never used it in anger), and freed off the wheel and lubricated it. I was going to try and scuff up the turf with the wheel hoe, scythe off the vegetation as short as I could and sow into the stubble. The wheel hoe seemed to want to tear the turf out though, so that's what I ended up doing.
I went round parallel to the lower currant loop and took off the turf for about 4 or 5 feet. It was pretty hard work sawing through the turf, so I'm, hoping it will be worthwhile! The bits I threw around the currant cuttings, and the Skirret and Scorzonera I had previously planted just inside the circle, to act as a bit of mulch.
Having scalped the area , I then scuffed it up, sowed in a mix of seeds: some of the green manure mix including clove, mustard, tiller radish, phacelia and ryegrass that I have used on the solar beds, also some large flowered dandelion seeds saved from last year, some sweet cicely (Myhrris odorata), buckwheat, and alfalfa. Some of the seed was pretty old but I thought I might as well use it. I then raked over the area and trod it down. It's been raining a bit since then, so the seeds are nicely watered in. I should have had some chiccory to sow in, but didn't find it when I was sorting out the seeds to use. I could sow some in pots and transplant as growing plants perhaps if the seed turn up.
The weather has turned a bit warmer now, so I was comfortable working in a t shirt until the sun went away and the midges started biting. They're early this year, so it could be a bumper year for them.
One of the two surviving beans in the not-very-lazy-bed has disappeared, but another has sprouted up, so I still have two. I used a couple of cut down pop bottles (previously used as tree vole guards) to push over them to try and protect the sprouts. I've now planted 6 of each of the remaining seeds in deep pots up by the house. Once these bean plants sprout and are a reasonable size, I will transplant them to the growing bed. I may do the same thing with the peas. There seems to be a very good reason not to sow these tasty seeds directly at the moment, so I need to come up with a strategy for the future....
I've changed the title of this thread. I think I'll be spending more time yet on soil structure, and the simple rotation that I aspire to is yet a few years away. The sun has come out at last and we are enjoying our summer here. The grass has shot up about a foot in a few weeks, so I've been scything the trackways about the field for access. This has the side benefit of producing lots of lovely mulch for my farming areas.
I've been putting more cardboard down in the North area, and have used the cut grass to cover that. The downside is that the dry cardboad and hay are rather slippery to walk on. Also as they are so light weight, I'm a little concerned that if the wind picks up, the materials could blow away. Probably once the rain starts again they will settle in. I also used some of the cut grass to mulch around the potatoes. Only the first planted are showing leaves yet - the pink fir apple and Maris Piper are still hidden underground. There is still plenty of grass to gather up.
Interestingly, I had spread a little compost from the shop on part of the North area that I had sown with radish, buckwheat and other deep rooting plants a few weeks ago. I thought that the compost would help give the seeds a bit of cover and so protect them from birds and drying out. The seedlings are still pretty tiny, but interestingly the ones with the compost are noticeably bigger that the ones which had no compost. I wasn't really expecting to see such a difference. I'm assuming that the nutrient levels have really helped the little seedlings. There is no other difference between the areas.
I've done a bit of transplanting into both areas. In the North area I transplanted a load of self sown Angelica seedlings from elsewhere on my plot. I've discovered that my husband really hates Angelica, which is a pity, since the plant seems to do well here. However, it's worth growing as a soil improver: it is a biannual, so hopefully won't get to be a weedy problem, strong roots will penetrate and break up the soil adding biomass; the top growth is tall and fibrous again providing lots of biomass as surface mulch. I think they don't like transplanting much, but the seedlings were pretty tiny, so I think they have a good chance of surviving OK.
Another plant I've transplanted in the North area is Silverweed which is a native plant on Skye. It has moderately long roots - up to about 10 inches or so. I'm hoping that over time it will penetrate the compacted soil and grow longer roots. These are quite tasty, and a silverweed/clover/pignut polyculture is another possible outcome for me, if the annual/biannual crop growing doesn't work out. I have collected plants from a few different parts of Skye in the past to try and find one with better roots, but the soil seems to make just as much difference to the root quality, so I didn't get very far. Anyhow it was easy to dig up some of my plants from different areas - they may cross and make better roots in time too. They are a bit far in growth, but hopefully will withstand the transplant shock.
The peas and fava beans I planted in pots have germinated well and will be ready to transplant pretty soon. Interestingly the pea seeds sown direct in the not-very-lazy-bed also seem to have germinated well with no particular sign of being eaten. Presumably there is so much else to eat now, that the pea seeds were less in demand. I didn't try sowing the beans direct, since I didn't want to lose too many seeds. It would be interesting to sow the beans at two to three week intervals and see if there is an optimum time to avoid vermin and still get a crop.
The progress on the solar beds remains slow. I was hoping to get the third bed sown by now, but haven't managed that. It is nearly ready. The brassica in the green manure on the first bed are starting to flower. There are mainly yellow flowers, which I assume are the mustard, but also a few white flowers, which may be the tiller radish. I was hoping that I would get away without that bolting, since that probably means it won't form a good taproot. I guess I might get some seed from it for later sowing though.
I've managed to transplant more comfrey roots to the cardboard mulched boundary of the south area. That gives me a two or three plant wide border, which hopefully will stop grass from creeping back in if I succeed in eliminating it in the growing area in future. I also stuck some perennial kale cuttings into the cardboard. I'm hoping that the weather isn't too hot for them to take. If they grow, they can form an overstory to the comfrey in time, and maybe a bit of a windbreak and source of biomass. I'm quite fond of my kale, which forms tough trunks and lots of side branches.
I was away for about a week and the field went from bluebell season to orchid season whilst I was away. It's all looking quite damp and lush. As I predicted, the cardboard and hay mulch is settling down nicely, although the hay is looking thin in places. The peas and beans in pots were well grown, so I have now planted those out. The bean roots had reached the bottom of their pots and wound round, but teased out fairly easily. I separated those and planted them individually. The pea pots I planted as a whole unit. One of the pots seems to have very poor germination, but generally the seeds have all germinated pretty well. Despite the dogs dancing on the beds, the plants still look pretty happy half a week later.
The first of the two surviving beans is in flower now - just normal white flowers. Actually I think all these fava beans are white flowered, although it will be nice to try and get some diversity in the flowers. It may be that the pink colouration is a recessive gene, so may disappear I suppose.
There do appear to be some carrot seedlings appearing, but they are still very tiny. I've got a section of tall metal net fencing that was discarded from a local building site as being damaged, which I'm going to use to allow the peas and beans to climb up. Not very 'natural farming' but it should last several years and help keep the seedpods out of the mud.
I've been spending a few more afternoons moving the cut grass from the trackways down to mulch the potatoes and the northern growing area generally - topping up the hay on the cardboard. Where there was not sheet cardboard, just wood chip, the grass, sorrel and plantains are growing through the mulch, which obviously wasn't thick enough, so I'm topping this up thickly as well
The third solar bed in the south area is now sown with the same green manure seed mix, and I've just started a fourth bed. The first bed has Phacelia now going to flower, as well as the mustard and radish, which should keep the insects happy : ). Most of the globe artichokes I transplanted a couple of weeks ago look as if they're going to make it, although they still need mulching. I'd like to surround them with cardboard under the mulch since it seems to make so much difference to the weed regrowth.
It's now getting a bit late to be sowing seeds. I've soaked the french (common) and runner beans and they are now in between sheets of wet tissue on the window sill where I hope they will be warm enough to germinate (about 16 deg C). I'll sow some direct once they start germinating, and pot some up in the heat of my propagator to hedge my bets! The last seeds to be sown will be the winter radishes. It is the longest day today, so they can be sown any time now I guess.
So pretty! Makes me think of 'jack and the beanstalk'!
Improve soil health
At first, you need to reduce Inversion Tillage and Soil Traffic.
Excessive tillage damages soil health in several ways. Tillage increases oxygen in the soil, which stimulates microbial activity and decomposes organic matter. Tillage also disrupts soil aggregates, exposing particles of organic matter that are physically protected within aggregates to microbial decomposition.
Increase Organic Matter Inputs
Healthy crops can be a valuable source of organic matter, and crop residues should be returned to the soil when possible. Organic matter can be increased or maintained by the incorporation of cover crops, perennial plants, and judicious additions of green manure and compost. By submitting soil fertility samples to your soil testing laboratory, you can request an organic matter analysis, allowing you to track soil organic matter over time.
Use Cover Crops
By growing cover crops, soil health can be improved. In the winter and other seasons when crops aren't growing, they cover the soil, reducing erosion. Cover crops return organic matter to the soil by producing biomass. By creating macrospores, covering crops with taproots can alleviate compaction. A fibrous-rooted cover crop can agglomerate and stabilize the soil.
Reduce Pesticide Use and Provide Habitat for Beneficial Organisms
Biological control insects and pest organisms can be harmed by broad-spectrum insecticides. Landscape farming increases and manages biodiversity with the aim of increasing beneficial organisms on the farm. Farms aping includes the use of insectary plants, hedgerows, cover crops, and water reservoirs in order to attract and support populations of beneficial organisms, such as insects, spiders, amphibians, and reptiles, bats, and birds that parasitize or prey on insects.
Crop rotations that really are diverse will help break up soil-borne pest and disease life cycles, working to improve crop health. Weed control can also profit from rotation. Infestations that thrive within a specific crop really aren't given the opportunity to establish their population numbers over time by expanding diverse crops in time and space. Crop rotation can also help to reduce nutrient excesses.
Planning the timing, process, and amount of manure, green waste, and other agricultural inputs carefully will allow you to meet crop nutrient demands while trying to minimize nutrient excesses. Plants that really are fit and active, vigorous, and grow quickly can withstand pest damage better. Nevertheless, overfertilizing crops can exasperate pest problems. Expanding soluble nitrogen levels in plants can decrease resistance to pests, leading to higher pest density and crop failure.
Sustaining a soil pH suitable for the harvest to be managed to grow would then increase nutrient capacity and reduce toxicity. Maintaining optimal calcium absorption will assist earthworms thrive as well as improve the soil agglomeration.
Thank you for your interest fokir. Some of what you write about is relevant to my situation: I am using cover crops to build organic matter and improve soil structure. I'm pretty sure the structure has been destroyed in the past by repeated ploughing, but am digging to try and relieve compaction in some areas to get a head start, and letting the plants do the digging in others.
I'm trying to carry out testing myself wherever possible having effectively zero budget except time. Do you have a suggestion as to how to carry out an organic matter analysis? The research I've done seems to indicate it is mainly done by colour analysis, which seems a little vague and base soil dependent. I tried to carry out a water permeation test today to get a measure of the soil structure, but the initial fill didn't soak away even in 5 hours, so the starting baseline is difficult to quantify. I wanted to do a soil penetration test to measure the compaction, but couldn't justify the cost of the equipment and thought the permeation test would be proportional to the compaction too...
I'm still in two minds about the soil pH, being reluctant to rely on constant fiddling with additions. I do have wood ash as a by product of heating and cooking, so it makes sense to return this to the soil to shift the pH to something less acidic. Several threads here suggest that with a good microbiome plants can grow well even in apparently hostile base soil.
So, about half the Runner and french (common) beans started germinating pretty quickly. The temperature on the window sill was about 16 degrees (Celsius); roughly the same as we're getting outside at the moment. In the end I planted all the soaked bean seeds outside rather than keeping some back. I just felt that the risks of diseases and lack of attention in pots of compost were probably greater overall than the risks in the soil. Plus it means I don't have to worry about transplanting the seedlings later. I've roughly put up my builders fence panel so the peas and beans have something to scramble up. It needs a bit better securing, but stood up to a bit of wind OK that we have had already.
The last of the hay I cut from the trackways has been moved to the North area, and I've also mulched the artichokes near the South area with cardboard and hay. I had planted out some Yacon and mashua to the North area and they seem to be growing slowly. I also had some surviving oca tubers which I planted out there. They had suffered from not being harvested in time before being frosted last winter so I only had a few tubers which I potted up on our windowsill. Our dog then knocked them about in his excitement when our Mastiff puppy went into heat (twice in three months!). For a rather stout labrador he was pretty agile at jumping up and out the window! However the casualties were stuck back in as cuttings and seem to have rooted into new plants....
As I mentioned in the post above. I've dug some percolation pits to try and measure the porosity of the soil in the hope I can quantify some of the improvements from the actions I'm taking over the years. However this was the pit after 5 hours: almost no soakaway at all!
This is the South area edge of the solar bed area I'm digging, after a day's gentle rain. The edge of the dug area holds the water back in a puddle at the lower edge. By putting in the stick drains I should be relieving this sodden area at the edge of the bed.
I've just started constructing the fourth solar bed section. Hopefully this will be completed this weekend and I can get another section sown with green manures. We're past the summer solstice now, so the days will be getting shorter again which should mean the tiller radish will grow better roots rather than going almost straight to seed as the earlier sowings appear to have done. I'm hoping that I will be able to gather seeds from these earlier sowings to use next year in more biomass plantings. The seeds in the third bed are already germinating nicely.
Busy doing stuff....including more in the bed preparation areas. I've got as far as I can to the North on the solar aspect beds, getting too close to the nearest birch trees now. I was hoping to have fitted one more bed in, but I think I'm going to have to put the 6th bed in at the South end. I didn't in the end make the drainage bundles any bigger for what will be the lowest drain. I have run out of birch twigs now, so these bundles are of alder twigs. They tend to be of larger diameter, so may have a better drainage capacity anyhow. I'm going to be running out of turf to build up the last beds - it seems that I'm a bit generous with my mounding up. What I've done is to dig a double strip along the uphill edge of the beds as a path, like I've got beside my not very lazy bed. This has generated quite a bit of extra turf but I may have to do the same at the Southern edge too.
Solar bed drainage sticks
As an experiment, when I sowed the green manure seed on the last solar bed I finished, I sprinkled a little compost over half the bed. Again the difference in the seedlings on the side that had the compost and those without, is pretty obvious. It seems both the germination rate, and the growth of the seedlings that had a little compost sprinkled on the bed is better.
Compost effect on Seed germination (on left)
Even after several weeks the effect on the green manure in the Northern area is pretty obvious. In the picture below the loop nearest me had the compost and the difference in the buckwheat (the pale pink flowers) is quite dramatic still.
Longer Term Compost effect on Growth
I'm still a bit intrigued by this and will start a separate thread to get some more ideas as to what's going on.
The seedpods on the fodder radish on the solar beds are growing pretty big. They are a little spicy, but quite nice as a field snack. My neighbour says she makes a pickle with hers. I must admit I've grown smaller carrots than these!
Fodder radish snacky pods
I've still got very few runner or french (common) beans growing in the not-very-lazy bed. I assume that the seeds must have rotted off even though they were germinating pretty well when planted out. I'm not too surprised by this, but will have to work harder next year to get some plants growing. I do seem to have a few runner beans growing, so if I get seeds from these it will be a good start for a landrace as these will be true survivors (if they do get that far...) I decided to resow some Daikon radish where the french beans should have been, and in the end of the bed next to the carrots. These should not go straight to seed now, since we are well past midsummer, and therefore should bulk up into better radishes to select for seed making.
Daikon radish sown at near end of bed
On the good news front, I'm pretty sure that the first broad beans have set pods, and the second lot are flowering nicely now.
First broad bean pods
The other good news is that the peas seem to be growing pretty well and are starting to flower. I've grown peas very successfully nearer the house, but have also failed to grow them in the tree field before, so am happy to see them make progress. I hope that some of the more unusual flowering ones do well. One of the Swedish ones is supposed to be a lovely salmon pink which I'm looking forwards to.
I've finished mulching the upper circle of the Northern beds with cardboard and hay. The Oca and Mashua are growing well. The Yacon are looking a bit purple. It's been a bit cool for them I think. Unlike the more Southern reaches of the UK we are forecast to escape the excessive heat next week, but a few more degrees would help a bit (be careful what you wish for...). Some of the potatoes are looking pretty good, others have disappeared (probably slug damage) There is a bit of yellow mottling on some of the potato leaves which I am concerned could be virus related. I'll have to do a bit of research on that.
The next steps are more mulching: I have cut some bracken over the river a little way upstream. My neighbour was quite pleased for me to cut it back and doesn't mind me taking the cuttings away. I've cut quite a bit and have left it to dry out so as to make it easier to move. I'm trying to work out how easiest to transport it to my growing areas: I'm thinking stuffing as much as I can into compost sacks, sealing them up and floating them down stream...
Since sowing into grass didn't work for me last Autumn (fall) I'm going to try and thickly mulch all the areas that haven't already been converted into growing beds. I'd really like to do this with a cardboard layer, since this seems to make the mulch layer much more effective I've also still got one and a half solar aspect beds to finish preparing, maybe with a little biochar in one - watch this space!
OP, I am loving this thread! Thank you for motivating me to start the restoration of my backyard.
I’ve let the grass fry and it’s nearly ready to start tilling. I want to start prepping the dirt/rock transformation > nutrient rich soil!
I do have a couple questions:
1) do your techniques translate to an extremely dry/hot climate (Arizona).
2) with a crap ton of hard dirt sitting stagnant, what are some things I can do NOW as a slow progression towards that NRS (nutrient rich soil 😂 😀🤷♂️)? I probably won’t begin the gardening/growing for another year or two.
I added some photos for reference. I don’t have any pictures of its current state.
So yeah. Cool! Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge here! I look forward to your reply !!!
It wasn't my idea to go to some crazy nightclub in the middle of nowhere. I just wanted to stay home and cuddle with this tiny ad: