Monday, 1 August 2016

A Weekend of Backbreaking Progress


This weekend, very excitingly  I cut the first turf on what will become our soft fruit bed.

Our patch has been under turf for a long time and needs some nourishment, so the first step was to order some manure. I found a local farmer who delivered a load on Saturday morning, for the bargainous sum of £30. I have to say I was very impressed with his reversing-around-a-corner skills with a tractor and trailer into our narrow driveway, dropping it pretty precisely onto a tarp.

 
 

It isn’t the most amazing quality – it is farmyard manure (so cows, not horses) cleared out of the cow barns over the winter. Although it is dark and rich, there is still recognisable straw in some parts, which is high in carbon.
 
Generally this is bad, because decomposer organisms need a 25:1 balance of carbon to nitrogen to break organic material down, so as they work on the straw, they burn through any nitrogen in the soil, potentially depleting it.
 
 

But, there is also a lot of (lets face it) poo and wee in there, which is nitrogen rich. I am hoping this balances things out a bit. In any case, it has a good five months before I intend to plant anything in the new bed, so hopefully it will be nicely broken down by then.


 
Which brings me to…the double digging. I have a confession to make: My name is Bonnie and I am a sadist. I LOVE double digging. Even better when there is a thick layer of turf to be chewed up and destroyed. No, seriously!
Not only is it fantastic upper body exercise, which, when you have a sleeveless wedding dress and arms a little on the large side, is no bad thing. But it is oddly meditative and SO satisfying. You can just think your thoughts in the fresh air, plodding forward towards your goal.
I started by removing a trench and depositing the soil somewhere else for now.
 

 
 
 
 


Then, I loosened the clay subsoil with a fork to try and improve aeration and drainage. If I had it, I would have added some bone meal for long-term nutrient release. I will get some this week.

 
Then the turf from the next row went in, grass side down. This is to kill the grass (hopefully!). The top layer of most soil is where the good stuff is – as the organic matter (years of moss and grass cuttings) has broken down on the surface and begun to be pulled down by the worms. So I was loathe to remove it – this would also mean a lot of extra lugging around.

 
So, I decided to upend the turf into the previous trench, thus starving it of light and retaining the goodness.

 


On top of this went a thick layer of manure, and a further layer of soil to expose the subsoil in the following trench. I am hoping that this will be enough to starve the turf of light and therefore kill it. We all know that grass is tenacious, so this could go terribly wrong, and I could be faced with the job of weeding it out later in the season – we shall see. If the worst comes to the worst, I will put the chickens on it and let them do the job.

 


There is still much to do and the process reminds me a bit of a loading bar on an internet browser – progressing very slowly. But it was satisfying to leave this bit (which took about two and a half hours) nicely dug. I shall try and squeeze in an hour or so a night between now and the wedding in four weeks time.  By then I should have nicely toned and brown arms, as well as a soft fruit patch ready to go!