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.
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.
The first year the allotment was an escape from the horror of my workplace, a coping mechanism for me as I tried to handle the deteriorating health and eventual death of my father, a social network platform as we arrived in a new village and a shared activity for my wife and myself as we worked together to build, grow and develop something afresh.