Saturday, 2 May 2015

A lesson in green manure...

I  have books, magazines, the internet and tv to learn from, seems like a lot to go on but sometimes you read something and think...great I'm going to do do...only to read something later that tells you why you really shouldn't have bothered!

And so it was (in part) with my lesson in green manure last year. I read loads, it all seemed so positive. I researched meticulously about which to plant before which crop, the ones that are from the brassica family, the legumes, the all rounders.

I had my brand new plot marked out and Chris built me raised beds on one side with old decking that we'd taken up from our garden. Eventually though we ran out of decking so I had concentrated the initial planting in the beds that I had. I needed to do something with the side that I wasn't ready to plant quickly before the bindweed realised that I had stopped watching for a second. I hated the idea of covering the whole thing in plastic, beside I couldn't afford the decent weed suppressant fabric, the stuff that doesn't just shred into a thousand pieces at the slightest gust of wind (believe me cheap weed fabric isn't worth it...said in my best EastEnders accent for just ain't worth it). So I did my homework, green manure seemed like a great answer.

 I sowed 4 lots of different green manures in early Autumn dictated by what I was hoping to be able to plant there this year. I grew Phacelia, Italian rye grass, Winter Tares and Mustard all from, who have great information on their site. I grew Mustard on what is now the potato bed, it grew and looked brilliant,  the healthiest thing on my plot. It did battle with the bindweed and seemed to win, the nettles still held a corner though;) It flowered and looked even better,  I know you're not really supposed to let it flower but I was doing it for the bees, the Phacilia was particularly beautiful.

It was the Mustard that I had a bit of an issue with though, it just kept growing...I had no idea it was such a monster plant, nothing beat it, it was quite spectacular. I should have realised when I started to have to hack at it to keep it within my boundaries and not let it thugishly take over my neighbours plot, that I had unleashed a monster. The first frosts came and the Phacilia soon succumbed as I knew it would, it just laid down and gave up, it had done its thing very beautifully, I'd had vases of it in the kitchen, I would miss it. The mustard however wasn't quite ready to give up, it fought on, the gloves were off but eventually a few inches of snow put an end to its nonsense...or so I thought. It was when the snow cleared that I had the first indication of my possible naïve mistake, where the mustard had been I had what looked like a patch of bamboo...rigid hollow stalks like so many fingers put up at me saying, 'take that you idiot'. Now I read Bob Flowerdew's book on companion planting, saying green manures are great...for farmers with acres of land and the tractors and machinery to clear it. I didn't have acres or a tractor, I had a lot of digging to do and god knows if those lovely strong hollow stalks didn't just scream 'slug hotel' come on in!

The jury is still out for me on my green manure experiment. It had to be a good thing for the soil in the long run, but the proof will be in this years planting, which I've only just begun in my new raised beds. I'll probably avoid Mustard this year, it took an awful lot of digging to clear it, but I've already got my Phacilia seeds at the ready;)

I've just seen this article by Alys Fowler on the Guardian website...

I'm going to give Crimson Clover a go too now around my raspberries. It's an on-going experiment in green manure for me but hopefully I will find the right formula eventually:)

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Comments are always welcome, nice kind ones at least! Any advice for a complete novice would also be gratefully received:) Thanks.