Experiment 17:2- Three ‘pain free’ approaches to improving soil and braving the stranger things in the allotment

Stranger Things digital-print by charamath @ etsy
Stranger Things digital-print by charamath @ etsy

After several months getting the majority of the upside of the plot into shape I have now got the courage to take on the upside down of the north west corner – here there be monsters.

The previous owner was obviously aware of the monsters as he used several nefarious methods to keep them down.  However, after several years of neglect by the previous occupant, and it seems just giving up and retiring to a safe distance, the monsters are most definitely winning.  The tarpaulin that he had put down has taken into the Upside Down and assimilated.

My first incursion will be to try and separate the weeds, brambles, grasses, tyres, concrete slabs, ants nests etc from the aged tarpaulin then working on and improving the soil without removing what goodness still persists there.  The ultimate aim is to create raised beds where vegetables and flowers can be grown without too much soil depletion or letting to many of the monsters get through.

Because of the desire to grow plants at the earliest opportunity and to find ways to reduce what is a momentous undertaking I am going to try and clear as many offending items as soon as possible and then try three ‘pain free’ approaches to develop beds that share similar DNA.

Venn diagram of no dig methods
A basic Venn diagram of three types of no dig methods

The three methods are No Dig championed by Charles Dowding, Sheet Mulching with a cardboard weed barrier and Lasagna Gardening which shares many of the characteristics of the first two and is often used online interchangeably with the term sheet mulching.  I believe, however, that there are important differences between the three.

At a glance all three share a focus of minimal disturbance of the ground, killing weeds by depriving them of light and  building soil fertility on site through control and maintenance of layers of organic material.  However, I believe they also have important differences.  The Lasagna method can be differentiated from the other two by a greater intricacy of layers and a predetermined focus on varying layers of nitrogen and carbon, while sheet mulching has a prerequisite of a biodegradable weed barrier and a lesser focus on intricate combination of layers.  No dig in contrast shares elements of both but in most cases the weed barrier is removed by hand or planted through rather than let to degrade naturally.

It will be hard to make any initial predictions on which will give the greatest short, mid and long term benefit.  Therefore, as I clear the bad lands of the north west corner I am going to create three different beds with one for each method, report on my findings and see if any general recommendations can be made.  No pretensions of science just anecdotal evidence and to see what might help the new plot owner who takes over a wilderness rather than an allotment plot.  I will try and grow something in each bed in the first year, not because I think it is a short term solution but to see what benefits can be achieved in each stage.

Therefore, one of the major experiments of the year begins with the scaling of the north west corner and the improving of the upside down.







Experiment 17:1-A carrot bed in a bathtub (Stage 1)

Stage 1 of Carrot Bed in a bathtub
Stage 1 of Carrot Bed in a bathtub (Photo by Claudia) . . . a bit rough and ready.An ugly ducking waiting to become an ugly swan

Stage 1 – Putting it together

I have always been a bit envious of the other plot owners who have bathtubs on their allotment who seem to grow absolutely everything in them.  Last year I feel if we had got a bathtub last year it would of just gathered rainwater.  This year I feel we are a bit more confident and so when a free bathtub came available on a neighbouring plot we jumped at the chance.  This is Stage 1 in our attempt to make sense of our new addition to our plot.

Things I thought were a good idea:

  1. Removed the drain  of the bathtub and drilled holes in the bottom of the bath to improve drainage.
  2. Secured a lining of fleece across the drain to ensure not everything falls out or blocks the new drainage holes.
  3. A layer of gravel and polystyrene chips along the bottom of the bath approx. 2 inches deep to improve drainage (also cuts down on the amount of soil / organic matter required to fill the bathtub).
  4. A layer of fleece on top of the gravel and chips so the soil / organic matter does not mix with the gravel et al.  This is often done in planting bulbs in containers so why not here?  What could go wrong?
  5. Raised the end without the plug hole so water ‘should’ drain towards the plug hole.

Things that might be a good idea:

  1. Angled the bathtub south-east for the light conditions and in theory with the raised aspect possibly more light for the whole bed.
  2. Raised the bathtub off the ground to increase a gap for drainage and reduce the chances of carrot fly attack (to exclude the low flying flies).
  3. Filled the bathtub with the sandy soil the foxes had kindly excavated in making their network of dens underneath my plot.

Things that are probably not a good idea (aka my attempt to defy physics):

  1. Rested the bathtub on an old dilapidated pallet.  I appreciate physics will win here.
  2. The angle of the bathtub with the raised end and only braced by a stick – barely an equal or an opposite force. Physics will be 2 for 2 as one day I will find the bathtub slid into the nearest bed like an ocean liner leaving its dry docks.

Oh well, I am sure we will work it out . . .

Jobs for the future

  1. Add support to the bathtub so there is no horrible surprises.
  2. A bit of landscaping to ‘prettify’ the scene

A little bit extra from people who actually know what they are doing:

RHS – How to Grow Carrots

BBC Gardening Guides – How to Grow Carrots

Carrot Fly

Vegetables and Bathtubs (Video)