Frost is your friend


Ever put tender plants out too soon in Spring? Guess you won't agree with the title of this post if you've had to watch them wither from an unexpected late freeze. But believe me, frost can be your best friend, particularly if you've got heavy soil.

First, how to avoid losing plants. Just don't plant tender specimens like tomatoes outside until all risk of frost has passed. That generally means the end of May. If you can put a cover over the plants you might manage mid May.

So how can frost be your friend? Well, garlic cloves benefit from a dose of frost to encourage the bulbs to split. And there's an improved flavour for leeks. But it's the effect of frost on heavy ground that's the main benefit.

My old allotment was on heavy clay. The kind of allotment you would stay well clear of in winter... unless you wanted to be six inches taller from the mud sticking to your boots. Needed digging over every year.

The Italians on my previous site knew a thing or two about allotments. They had frost utilisation off to a tee. By October the whole plot would be dug over, well before it became too soggy to stand on. And they would leave the biggest clumps of earth they could. No attempting to break down the clods. Doing this enabled a deeper penetration of frost into the ground.

The end result? After a light raking in Spring, they were left with a fine tilth of soil ready for plantingSo if you've got heavy soil, put a note in your diary for the beginning of October to give your plot a good seeing to with that spade!

Another new allotment plot????

I've got another allotment plot! How did that happen????

Here's the new plot in the foreground, with a corner of my now slightly less new plot in the top left. The latest edition is about half the size. And yes, you've guessed it, needs a thorough weeding.

It's only mine in effort. Acquired for my 12 year old grandson, Sammy. He's rather taken to the peace and tranquility of playing bowls and was also rather taken with the idea of having his own patch of earth. With an older (well, much older, by about 65 years) member finding the plot too much, seemed too good an opportunity to miss.

So I've started the long haul of weeding. Haven't quite finished the same job on my own plot, but only got a small corner to do and Sammy's need is more pressing.

Took him down the bowls club to survey his new possession. Within seconds he was talking about a small den he could sit in, beside a pond he could overlook. To buy time, suggested when he got home he draw a plan of how it would look. The constant state of turmoil his bedroom is in, it'll take him weeks to find a pencil.

Here come the broad beans

Hurrah... the broad beans are starting to pop their heads up! When I planted in early December, thought it might be a bit too late in the year. Bingo... here they come!

Tried planting early broad beans before without much success. Maybe the lighter soil on the new plot means things will get an earlier start all round. Hope so.

Can't help going around with a big smile when I see new growth shooting up. Gives hope that Spring is just around the corner.

Allotment Heaven January 2015

Here's the first monthly update on the new plot. Almost all dug over. Thinking I might be able to use a no dig regime. Not encountered any clay and weeding amounts to dragging a rake across the soft topsoil.

Currently got long term planting of raspberries, strawberries, chives and a blackberry bush. Seasonal planting of garlic, onions and broad beans. Also winter lettuce, plus the leeks transferred from the old plot.

Seasonal might not be quite the right term. Planted in late November and early December, about two months too late, some are struggling. Still waiting for any showing from the broad beans, winter lettuce and one of the garlic varieties.

Not much to do for the next couple of months. Just finish off the digging and that's it until March ~:0(

Weeds

It's amazing that, even with winter fast approaching, weed seedlings still manage to pop their heads up. Love or hate, their ability to survive is amazing.

Of course you could eat them. No joke, many of our weeds are edible and have been foraged for centuries. And you can't do better than use the Pocket Urban Foraging Guide, full of good advice, interesting facts and great identification photos.

Listed below is information on how to deal with weeds. Since I try to grow organically, there's no advice about using chemicals.

If you find yourself taking on an allotment plot that's gone to pot and is full of weeds, don't despair. Just tackle a little bit at a time. It's amazing how quickly the first small bed will become two, then three, then more. Accept you won't turn the whole plot into vegetable nirvana within one season. Prepare the rest of your plot for future development by covering with layers of damp cardboard interspersed with organic matter such as grass clippings. Not only will this suppress weeds, the topping will compost down and improve your soil.

If you want more information than that shown below, read the Illustrated Guide to Tillage Weeds, which gives heaps of information to identify and understand all our most common weeds.

Annual weeds
These germinate, grow, flower, and set seed all within one year. The seed can remain viable for decades in the topsoil until the right conditions exist for germination. Although a single weed can produce tens of thousands of seeds, not all are viable or survive.

Nevertheless, you must hoe or pull out weed seedlings regularly to avoid them setting seed and adding to the already plentiful reservoir waiting to pop up. So long as there are no seed heads, you can add annual weeds to the compost pile.

Ideally, plant vegetable crops once you've grown them on in a greenhouse or cold frame, so they are easily distinguishable from weed seedlings.

Perennial weeds
These survive for several years, overwintering by storing food in their roots. And it's the roots that make perennial weeds so difficult to get rid of. Some grow several metres in length.

If you're a fan of rotavating soil, you certainly don't want to do that if it contains lots of perennial weeds. By chopping up the roots you'll end up with hundreds of new weeds.

To eradicate perennial weeds, carefully dig out all the roots you can get to. You'll certainly miss some, so when more appear dig those out too. For a longer term strategy, chop off any growth the appears above ground. Gradually the roots will use up their energy stores and eventually die.

Never use perennial weeds for composting.

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