Raised Beds - Organic Material and Cleaning the Tunnel Covers
19th Jan 2005
I was really pushed before Christmas trying to get all my raised beds completed before the end of the year. In the end I managed to complete all the onion beds and half of the leek beds before I ran out of organic material to dig in. This winter, through a friend of mine, I was able to get two car trailer loads of some beautifully composted leaves and grass cuttings that must have been piled up in a huge heap for many years. As soon as I put the fork into it, the red worms were evident right through it and the whole heap had thoroughly broken down to a black manure like consistency. Each bed was given about two barrowfuls and thoroughly worked into the top and bottom spit.
As the polythene over the tunnels is still in remarkably good shape I have decided once again to leave it for another season before replacing itIt will however be given a good washing down adding a strong solution of Armillatox to a bucket of water. Unlike some cleansers, Armillatox is safe to use on polythene and will not deteriorate it in any way. To clean the outside, I have a strong nylon rope that is long enough to be thrown over the top of the polytunnel and down the other side. In the middle of the rope I tie some old cloths together to form a sort of cushion which is then soaked in the Armillatox solution.
A friend of mine will then give me hand to pull the rope back and forth and along the length of the tunnel, removing all traces of algae and dirt that inevitably form on them. This will be repeated a few times until I'm happy that the polythene is as clean as is possible to have it before finally rinsing the whole tunnel off with the hose pipe. When you do carry out the cleansing operation, make sure you wear some goggles as the splashes could get into you eyes, on completion you'll be amazed how much more sunlight you will now be able to get to your plants.
I was able to complete my parsnips beds much earlier than usual last year, the whole lot were completed by the end of November and the sand will now have plenty of time to settle down. Don't however be down hearted if you haven"t completed your preparation as you still have time but you may have to soak the beds for longer afterwards to get the sand to really settle in. The last thing you want is for the beds to continue to settle down as the parsnips are growing which could cause problems later on.
I had intended to change my preparation work on the parsnip beds this year, rather than emptying the whole load of sand out of them, I was going to use a four inch diameter corer to core out the old compost from each of last years bore holes. This would; have meant that the peat based compost wouldn't get mixed in with the sands and therefore, hopefully, keep the sand clean for a longer period of time. However I was unable to get a corer in time so in the end I reverted to my old method of emptying out the four beds, right down to the sub base. This is a good 5 foot six to 6 feet in places and before the sand is replaced, the sides of the concrete block work is lined with strips of black and white polythene. It doesn"t have to be black and white, any fairly thick polythene would do and opening up some old compost bags to from a sheet would be ideal. The idea of this is two fold; it makes sure that the sand settles down in the bed evenly and not being restricted by the sides of the rough blocks. Secondly it prevents any moisture within the sand from escaping through the blocks and drying out the beds, particularly around the edges.Last year was the first time that I reverted to this and it was also the first time for a few years that I was able to pull and stage some decent specimens. The sand was replaced in layers of 300mm and the bottom two layers had a handful to each metre run of bed of Vitax Q4 forked into it. Every 300 mm layer was given a thoroughly good soaking with Jet 5 which is a strong Horticultural cleanser or disinfectant. This will kill off any impurities that may be lurking within the sand particles and hopefully will give me a sound basis from which to start. Last year I used it on both my leek and onion beds just prior to planting them and it certainly made a big difference to the quality of the onions. If you have a problem getting hold of this product, you can order it direct from N A Kays who regularly advertise in the back pages of GN.
I hope to have the Parsnips sown around the middle of February this year, this will be some two weeks earlier than I have been able to manage in the past. This two weeks difference in sowing times may not mean a lot early on but can mean a the difference between a light or a heavy parsnip towards the end of August to early September.
I haven't quite made up my mind up yet which variety to grow this year, it will be between Gladiator and Albion and in the end, I may sow both in two beds just to make sure that I have a fair comparison. Albion is the latest Parsnip to be released by Dr Dawson, the breeder of Gladiator, and it was awarded the best exhibit in show for Gerald Treweek last October at the London RHS show. It certainly has good pedigree and I shall be interested to see how it compares against Gladiator on the show benches this coming Summer.