The Idunn Project – Part Two

| January 11, 2009 | 1 Comment

In this article I want to look at winter preparation for the coming year. It might seem plausible that nothing much needs to be done in winter months and whilst the time needed to work on the land is considerably less there are still tasks that need addressing.

The most important task will be preparing the ground for next year’s crop. This in itself is not just a question of preparing the soil it takes into account the fundamental question of how you want your allotment to work. Do you plan to use raised beds? Do you plan on a dig or a no dig allotment? Are you making sure that when you plan which crops you want where that you are rotating them adequately?

To look at digging first there are two schools of thought, dig and no dig. Those who advocate the no dig system do so on the basis that annual digging disrupts the soil, breaks down organic matter to quickly and leads to increased moisture loss. After an initial dig the soil is never turned over again. Soil improvers are added, but not worked into the ground. Personally I have never tried the no dig system so I can’t comment on its effectiveness, so I will concentrate on digging only. For winter preparation a single dig over is more than enough. It gives you the opportunity to work any manure or other fertiliser you have into the ground and leaves the soil open to the elements and wildlife, particularly birds who will remove many of the pests you don’t want. Also it’s around this time of year that you want to begin digging out your trenches for any bean crops you want for the coming year (I’ll address early crops in my next article).

Over the last few months I have been hearing about the benefits of using a raised bed system. Whether you choose to use raised beds or not it is for your own benefit that you mark out beds early on. This makes it easier to manage crop rotation, means that you won’t be walking over the prepared ground so you can make permanent path ways and makes cultivating and digging the soil easier as it doesn’t compact so much, also weeding is far easier to carry out and you will become quickly acquainted with what is a weed and what is a crop just pushing through the soil! Last of all the crop yield is much higher with little need for more widely dispersed rows. The size of a bed is dictated by ease of access. The full length of an allotment is quite feasible but as for width around four foot allowing you to reach the middle of the bed. The benefit of raised beds is mainly drainage but also ease of use. For those who have back problems (like my father) a raised bed of around 4-8 inches off the ground is more manageable. It’s usual to make the edges of the bed from timber and paths between beds should be around 12 inches wide.

With a bed system planned out you will find it easier to decide what crops to plant where and also vitally to remember where the previous year’s crops were when it comes to rotation. The benefits of crop rotation are not only freedom from pests and diseases but also ease of management. It is usual to divide crops into three types, root crops like potatoes, carrots, beet root, brassicas such as cabbage, cauliflowers, sprouts and legumes mainly beans. Some crops don’t conveniently fit any of these groups, tomatoes for example, and will be squeezed in where there is room. Each variety of crop needs similar soil preparation (which I will address in later articles). An easy way of rotating would be to mark each plot, for this example we will say A, B and C. So in year one bed A might be roots (manure), bed B might be legumes, and bed C brassicas (manure). In year two you would move the legumes onto bed A (which has previously been manured), onions and garlic would be moved to where the brassicas were the year before and the soil would be limed and the brassicas moved onto a freshly manured plot. In this way only a quarter or so of the ground needs to be freshly manured each year. This is a basic summary and I will go into greater detail in following articles.

That’s all for now, and remember that if you have any comments or criticism don’t hesitate to contact me.

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Category: The Idun Project

Comments (1)

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  1. Kellie S says:

    Thank you for these articles. My husband, Noel S and I are living in a family owned home now and don’t plan to move anytime soon. Our first attempt at gardening was last year. Well, lets just say that we learned alot about where the sun shines the most and does not, where its too sandy,the ground is not level,ect. I think that the raised beds would work well for us. I will continue to read your articles for more help.
    Thanks again, Kellie S

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