Emptying out and refilling of the Long Carrot Drums
23rd Mar 2005
A chore that must be carried out every year is the emptying out and refilling of my long carrot drums. A few years ago, in an attempt to save a little time carrying out this quite physical task, I opted to leave them as they were and the resulting carrots were definitely not up to expectations. The problem was that what I had gained in the strenuous effort of emptying the bins was lost by the sheer hard work in creating a bore hole through a material that resembled concrete.
This year I managed to completely empty all the drums in January which has given them sufficient time to settle down. I am also hoping that the application of Jet 5, a horticultural disinfectant, throughout the sand will help cleans it giving me the comfort that I am starting off from a clean base. I have been growing long carrots in the onion polytunnel since I moved the drums there three years ago. They were positioned at the back of the polythene and along both sides on top of the existing raised beds. Depth is therefore no problem and I can get bore holes down to 5ft 6ins without too much trouble.
Last years carrots were certainly not the best that I have grown and, those of you who follow my column, will remember the almighty clanger that I dropped. It was only after the seed had been sown that I realised the fertiliser compound used was not Vitax Q4 but Vitax Q4 HN, the HN signifies High Nitrogen. During the growing season my concerns diminished as the lovely deep green and powerful foliage seemed to imply that all was well. I remember having a cautious and careful look around the shoulders prior to pulling them to realise that the shoulders were far too big for my liking. The main problem was that they just hadn't gone down enough, the high nitrogen element seemed to have produced marvellous top growth and shoulders at the expense of producing a decent slow tapering length of body.
This coming weekend I shall start to core out the holes, as I have done over the past few years, using a modified 3 inch diameter plastic downspout pipe. I have two or three of these made in various sizes for the parsnips, long carrots and other than long carrots. They certainly make the work a lot easier than just simply pushing a bar down and forming a conical hole which one hopes will form the shape of the mature and harvested carrot. I intend to start coring out the sand with the 3inch pipe down to 18 inches followed by a 2½ inch pipe down to three feet. The remainder of the hole will be formed using a 6 ft steel bar as far down as it will go. Generally I get down so far that there is barely enough room left on the end of the bar for me to be able to withdraw it. Do make sure, whether or not you are coring or boring a hole, that they are all as upright and vertical as you can manage work them. You certainly don"t want the holes to go in at an angle with the roots possibly getting too near to the side of the plastic drum. Fill the holes by trickling the compost in, use a cane when about half filled to prod it down to make sure there is no risk of any air voids being left. This is more likely to happen if your compost is a little on the damp side and not running freely through your hand which is essential.
The compost that I shall use will be based on the old and tried ratio of 1:1:1, 1 part sieved sterilised soil, 1 part (a builders bucket - 15 litres volume) shredded moss peat and one part dry silver sand. Last year was the first time for me to shred peat when I used it for my potato mix. The shredder made it so fluffy and soft, as well as being void of any hard lumps, that it didn't really require any sieving. It is however important that you carry out some trial runs through your shredder to make sure it does the job correctly. In my case I found that if the peat was dropped in at the top of the shredder it simply passed through it far too quickly and with minimal effect on it"s structure. I therefore, temporarily, blocked half the outlet by wedging a piece of wood in the aperture. In addition to this I pass the peat through the machine twice. To this mixture I will add the following nutrients - 4 0unces Vitax Q4, 4 ounces of lime and 4 ounces of fine calcified seaweed plus 3 ounces of Nutrimate. I believe it be important to have the calcified seaweed as fine as possible, indeed this applies to all the materials used. The fact is that the carrot will be growing for only 16 weeks or so, therefore the nutrients need to be available as early as possible and certainly not being released to the roots, wasting time and effort, when they have finished growing. Four holes will be formed in each barrel, after they have been filled, I place a small split cane in the centre of each station to mark the spot. They will be sown towards the end of this month by removing the canes and making a small indentation with my index finger where I place five seed in each one which are covered over with the same mixture. Moisten the compost well and keep lightly moist thereafter, not saturated, until the seed have germinated.