Nutrimate and Jet 5
8th Dec 2004
October was certainly the wettest month that I can remember for a few years and I found it very difficult to get dry days in order to clear up and start the preparations for next season. The first task is to thoroughly prepare both the leek and onion trenches in both polytunnels. The intention this year is to incorporate plenty of well rotted farm yard manure into the beds mixing the manure throughout the depth of the bed. I firmly believe that both the onions and the leeks don't need more than two spits depth of soil for top quality produce.
What I do consider important though is that the bed is raised above the original ground level in order to help the soil to warm up faster in the Spring. A very important criteria is good effective drainage, the worst scenario is one where the roots of both the onions and the leeks are sitting in constantly soaking wet soil. It's important therefore, right from the outset, to make sure you have no panning lower down in the bed. Panning occurs when you have consistently been using a rotavator on the beds that has left the surface area, just below where the tines revolve, shiny and smooth and if you have soil of a clayey consistency, water will sit there.
Mechanical Make Up of the Soil
Another important facet is the mechanical make up of the soil, it has to be sufficiently open and be reasonably free draining in order to allow oxygen to permeate through to the roots. It may therefore be necessary, particularly if you have some heavy soil, to open up the structure by adding some grit or Perlite to it. However, if you are uncertain regarding any aspect of your soil, be it structural or nutritional, you can have it professionally tested. I use Lancrop laboratories for this function and if you write to them at The Airfield Industrial Estate, Pocklington, York YO4 2NR or phone them on 01759 305 116, they will send you a kit comprising of full instructions as to how you remove a sample from your beds. You can also tell them at this time what you propose to grow in the soil in order that they can given you the correct nutritional requirements for the specified plants need.
I start digging, or removing the soil, from the beds at one end throwing it out onto the concrete paths on either side. I will remove a yard run of bed and go down two spits deep then thoroughly fork over the bottom layer. In my case I know full well that I won't have any drainage problems there because when they were first constructed I incorporated a thick layer of lime stone chippings at that level. The next step is to spread a couple of forkfuls of well rotted manure on the bottom then add some soil whilst at the same time mixing them both together.
After the first layer I intend to add 3 ounces of Nutrimate to the yard run of bed and the same again when the bed will be completed, forking in to the soil.
I was very impressed with the performance of Nutrimate last year, I added it to all my final potting mixtures as well as to the beds. The plants at planting out time were unbelievably powerful with the foliage standing bolt upright in their pots.
Once the whole bed has been completed it can then be left alone until early in the new year when you can consider whether or not to apply lime. Never add lime on the soil at the same time as manure or fertilisers, it's a chemical problem. The lime will turn any Nitrogen within the manure into Ammonia gas which is simply blown away depleting the manure of an essential nutrient. This also slows down the rate at which the manure decomposes into valuable humus. Check your soil PH as well - a scale devised by scientists to determine the acidity or alkalinity of your soil, both determine the availability of nutrients as well as the ease with which they can be taken up by the plants. The value of 7 on the PH scale is Neutral and fine for vegetables.
Another product that I used with marvellous results last Spring was the horticultural disinfectant, Jet 5. As I wrote then, the beds had nothing done to them until two weeks prior to planting. At that time they were roughly forked over and a whole 45 gallon drum full of mixed Jet 5 was soaked into each bed (at their recommended strength for cleaning out seeping hoses on benches) The onions I had out of the two beds were superb and had I not been too greedy in trying to push for a set over 22 inches around I could have staged some good ones. In the end I wasn't able to stage them as they just wouldn't ripen evenly all over.
The drum was positioned as high up as was safe, in my case on top of a steel stand which in turn was on top of my old long carrot brick beds. This made sure that I had enough head for the diluted Jet 5 to be worked into the soil through a length of hose pipe with my watering lance attached to the other end. To make sure that the pipe stayed at the bottom of the tank a brick was laid on top of it prior to adding the Jet 5. You can buy this product at most farmer supply stores or directly from N A Kays who regularly advertise at the back of this magazine.