Shifting Sand Around
5th Dec 2002
It's the time of year now, if I can manage to create some time for the job, to start shifting sand around. This might seem like a chore you would ask your worst enemy to do really, it seems plain silly, yet it has to be done if you are to win some red cards at next Summers shows. The sand that needs moving is actually from my parsnip bed and back into it, sounds daft doesn't it. The Parsnips are growing in two raised beds built a few years ago from concrete blocks and, up to last year, each bed was independently covered over with a wooden framework and sliding glass panels.
The reason for emptying out the beds or drums of sand is not quite as daft as it sounds, there is a need to loosen up the whole bulk of material, right down to the very bottom. This will make it a lot easier to bore the holes for the parsnips next February when the growing will start all over again.
When I built the parsnip beds I designed it in such a way that one face of each bed is built up with timber planks. The wood was chemically pressure treated at the time to prevent it from rotting and it was also given a couple of coats of a wood preservative. The planks were 6 inches wide and 1½ wide and 4 ft long and since I have constructed a timber structure that covers over both beds, the plank system has come to it's own. Emptying
When it's time to start emptying the beds, all I do is to remove the planks one by one and some of the sand will naturally fall out. The remainder can then be easily gaffed out or spaded out right to the very bottom which is over 5ft in depth. The bottom of the bed is then finally forked thoroughly and if you get into soil, then work some of the sand into it to loosen it up. The planks are then replaced one by one with the sand being thrown back in as the bed is built back up. What you will find is that through loosening up the bulk you will have more material left over than you started with. You must make sure that some of this is heaped higher than the level of the blockwork so that as the sand settles it will naturally level off. Any sand left over can then be used to loosen up the soil in the vegetable plot or even in the onion or leek beds.
Excess Nutrients and Salts
As I now have the beds completely covered over with the new greenhouse type structure, the rains can not get at the sand to clean it out. This is really quite and important job as it not only allows the sand to pack down naturally with the weight of water gradually falling on it, it also cleans it out. By cleaning it out I mean getting rid of any excess nutrients that may be lurking within the sand as well as lowering the salt level of the material.
This is the level of salts within soil and is known as a conductivity reading if you were to have an analysis and is measured on scale from zero to ten. Ordinary soil or beds of sand left outside in the weather will normally have a low conductivity figure, near to zero. Any beds under glass or polythene will have been dry since you probably last watered them in October so the probability is that the material could have a reasonably high figure.
If you have too high a conductivity reading because of a high build up of salts it is very similar to actually poisoning your soil and once the roots get out of the fresh compost and into the bore hole, they will struggle to cope. My first job therefore, after filling the beds back up, was to set up the sprinkler to thoroughly saturate the beds, Initially it was left on for about eight hours and between now and sowing time, during mid February, it will have another couple of soakings.
Having completed this task the next important consideration is adequate light, It really is quite amazing how much dirt and grime can settle on glass and polythene over a period of 12 months. The glass in my case will therefore be given a good clean, not necessarily right now, but certainly before sowing any seeds. As my glass was new last year it won't be big job to clean it, I shall use some Armillatox added to the water in a bucket and a narrow floor brush will be used to scrub them clean. If your drums are under polythene and that polythene has been there a couple of years, it will certainly need a good clean as it will probably have quite a lot of algae on it. Armillatox is ideal for this job as it is not a petroleum derivative and will not therefore harm the complex chemicals that are within the modern polythene covers.
The next stage is to move on to the polytunnel where I now have quite a few plastic drums for growing my long carrots in. These will be easier to empty out as once you have emptied the first, the second one can be emptied into the first and so on until the job is completed. Don"t rush the job, do it thoroughly and you will be well rewarded next Spring when boring the holes will be a lot less arduous.