Addressing as soon as possible the preparation of the soil in the beds and getting hold of the right type of manure. Was the bedding material which was used under the cattle or horses subjected to weedkiller when it was growing in the field? If so some residual chemicals can stay within the plant for a long time and could possibly cause you a problem later on.
I don’t know what it was about this season, but I never saw any really good leeks in abundance on the show benches, even at the National there were only a few entries. In my case the leeks were nearly as bad as my onions, they were all different sizes as if they had all decided to grow at a different rate, it was certainly disappointing. One aspect of the growing that I must address as soon as possible now is the preparation of the soil in the beds. It”s three years since both the leek and onions beds have had any manure incorporated into them, and whilst I do feel that manure is not the be all and end all of bed preparation, it is certainly an important aspect.
Getting hold of the right type of manure is important, if you know it’s history so to speak, then you know exactly what you are getting. For instance was the bedding material which was used under the cattle or horses subjected to weedkiller when it was growing in the field. Some residual chemicals can stay within the plant for a long time and could possibly cause you a problem later on. I was lucky this year to meet an organic farmer who lives only a few miles from my house and all his cattle bedding is hay not straw.
All the manure that I have used in the past has always been straw based not hay, so it will be interesting to see if the results will be noticeably different. I ordered a full trailer of this muck which was incidentally, two years old, it was noticeable immediately that it was well broken down with hardly any hay visible. I am sure that had the bedding material been straw then at the same age the straw would probably have been far more visible.
My problem over the years with manure is storage space for it, I just haven’t got any, so when deliveries were taken I had to have a large polythene sheet on the tarmac and the whole lot would have to be shifted to the back of the house as soon as possible; particularly if I stall wanted to be with my wife!! My method of overcoming having to deal with a large trailer full was to go the farm with my own trailer and bags and load it directly from their manure pile. I don’t know if you have ever noticed where the farmers leave their manure, usually in a big pile at the back of the buildings and because of the very nature of the material the ground around it is usually like a bog. It’s sensible therefore to get this material during September to early October when there is every chance that the ground around the manure heap will be dry.
Fortunately I now have a compound a short distance from my home where I have an area of land that I can store materials and this has come in very handy for this load of manure. Immediately it arrived I covered it over with a strong plastic sheet and some blocks to prevent the gales from taking it away. I don’t want the rains to wash out all the goodness into the ground below, that can happen when I soak my beds. Good quality manure is not easy to find on an ad hoc basis, when I say quality manure I mean black material that has broken down to resemble tobacco. It should crumble in your hand with no trace of straw or hay and with plenty or red worms wriggling their way through it. I intend to have another load of this material during early Spring with the intention of sheeting it over and leaving it for a further year to break down. This should make excellent material for all my beds, particularly the celery ones.
My intention is to start as soon as possible now and I have four main beds to work on, two for the large onions and two for the blanch leeks. The beds are all raised above ground level by three rows of concrete block which give me a good depth of soil. The existing soil will be removed down to a depth of 15 inches or so, and for a length of a metre. As the beds are only a metre wide this makes the job comparatively easy. The removed soil will be piled up on the paths, both side of the bed, and at the rear, this will be used to work back into the bed with the manure at the very end. Make sure you fork the bottom of the trench for good drainage and should you have a problem with drainage then incorporate some limestone chippings, about two inches deep along the very bottom. Add some manure on top, about three to four inches and then add some more soil from the bed behind you. Continue in this vain until you get well above the concrete blocks to allow for settlement.
In my opinion the last thing you want in a well prepared bed is a sandwich of soil and manure, therefore in between creating these layers of soil and manure, mix each layer thoroughly with a fork. During early spring this will be further worked in with my small Honda rotovator to create a beautiful tilth full of organic matter and humus. Once the beds have been completed I shall leave then alone until the new year, at this point my garden sprinkler will be connected and the whole beds will be thoroughly soaked. This will take at least 24 hours until the beds are visibly ponding over. This is only necessary if you are growing under cover and that cover is not going to be replaced leaving the beds exposed to the elements. The reason for this saturation is to get rid of any unwanted salts from the soil which, in a dry environment will give you a high Conductivity reading. A high conductivity reading means that elements of any fertilisers added to the bed as well as any nutrients in the bed will be locked up and the plants will not grow on to their optimum.