Soil Analysis and Preparing the Beds
14th Dec 2000
I can't remember ever such a wet and miserable October and November that we have just had, here in Anglesey, I honestly don"t think that we have had a whole day of dry weather in that period. This of course means that I was only able to carry out work under cover and I still have an awful lot to do outside when the weather settles, if ever! I have always been one to advocate soil testing or analysis as a good foundation from where to start growing your vegetables. This coming season there will be many gardens that will suffer from nutrient deficiencies because of the heavy persistent rains that we have had and one of the first elements to suffer will be Nitrogen. So I believe that soil analysis for the coming season is going to be more important then ever.
Build up of Salts
Even though my leek and onion beds are all under cover they will not have benefited from the rains as I have not removed the covers this Winter so the beds will have to be soaked later on. This soaking of the soil will be done by leaving my seeping hoses on the bed for at least 24 hours to make sure that I will not have a build up of salts in the beds to prevent the macro and micro nutrients from performing properly. The build up of salts will be shown on your soil analysis under the heading of Conductivity and that reading should be as near to zero as possible. If you were to analyse soil form the open garden where it has been particularly washed through this year, then this reading would be very low. This means that any nutrients added, following the soil analysis report, will really perform uninhibited.
Removing Compacted Sand
Some of you will have already emptied out your barrels and raised beds of the compacted sand and then re filled them so that they will be ready for boring holes in them for the long carrots and parsnips next year. In past years I have always done this during late October but as I stated earlier I really found it difficult because of the wet weather this year. Emptying out the barrels or drums of sand and refilling them is not a chore that I relish but is certainly one that I always considered to be necessary if you are to be among the winning cards. The main reason for emptying and refilling is to make the job of boring or coring out the bore holes next Spring a lot easier.
I was talking to John Branham from Aylesbury about this particualr aspect of Parsnip and carrot growing, and undoubtedly John produced some of the heaviest quality roots that I have ever seen this past season. The weather must have been kinder to him as well because he had completed the emptying and filling when I spoke to him at my Vegetable growers weekend which was held from the 10th to the 12th of November. John is very much a thinking gardener and has worked it out that by emptying the drums early and allowing them to be exposed to the elements, the weather will settle down the sand to such an extent that when the boring is carried out early next year the re filled sand will have completely settled down.
John firmly believes that carrying out this aspect properly subsequently helps to pull parsnips and carrots out of the bore holes that are not bent. If the drums or beds are emptied later on then after you have bored the holes, filled them and sown the seed the sand within the barrel or raised beds is still settling and can take weeks before it stops. This is therefore one reason why some of us pull out carrots that are bent or twisted. The other reason of course for emptying out the containers is to mix the material that was in the original bore holes with the sand so that they become as one.
Coring out the Bore Holes
All of this made me think hard about the whole idea, if emptying and refilling the drums and allowing them to settle is part of the reason for preventing carrots from bending, then why empty them at all in the first place. The sand can not settle any more that what it's done over a whole growing season so why no leave it well alone and just use a plastic pipe to core out the bore holes and position the corer as close as you can to where last years bore holes were. This would mean that the old bore hole compost would be removed and by careful compaction with a cane of the newly filled compost, the hassle of the sand settling and causing bendy carrots should be eliminated.
A few years ago I used to compete regularly against and excellent long carrot grower from the South Wales valleys called Bill Simmons and he used to regularly produce some fine specimens of carrots. They were grown on his allotment in raised beds and Ivor Mace told me once that Bill never emptied his beds he just used to bore the holes in the same material every year. It must have been very hard work because boring a hole in compacted sand, without first having cored it is very difficult, but I think that if the holes are first cored out with a plastic pipe, then it should become relatively easy.
This coming season therefore I intend to give it a go, not on all the beds, but on two parsnip beds and one of the long carrot beds and believe me, I just hope it works because it really is hard work emptying out the beds. Is it a case that I"m getting a little bit older or am I perhaps getting a little bit wiser? I'm not quite sure.
As I mentioned above the Vegetable Weekend went off really well and many of those attending said it was the best ever with all the speakers of the highest calibre. A similar type of weekend will therefore take place for the fifth time next year and I have already lined up some top speakers. Charles Maisey has won the UK potato Championships many times so he will talk about the growing and showing of Potatoes, John Branham will talk about the growing of vegetables for collections as well as the staging of them. I can't think of anything more difficult than growing vegetables for exhibition from an allotment without mains water. Jim Thompson from South Wales has mastered this over the past few years to such an extent that he is now winning at the highest level so he will tell us how he has mastered it.
If you haven't already attended one of these weekends and you would like to receive full details next year about the whole seminar, then please send me your name and address.