Now that things have slowed up a bit, with less weeding, planting, watering etc. to do, we’re on a bit of a mission at the farm to get as much preparation done over the winter months to put us ahead of the game next year.
A big part of that attempt is going to be preparing a good number of beds for planting in the new year. Preparing ground for planting can be a fairly time consuming process and, depending on what techniques and equipment you’re using, can be very weather dependent. Getting beds prepared over Winter will hopefully ease the time pressure in the new season and also mitigate the risks of a wet Spring.
The soil is pretty soggy now so preparation with our two wheel tractor is out of the question. The strategy that we’ll be using instead is to effectively create raised beds by hand with a covering of compost (having had some 20 tonnes delivered from the near-by municipal composters, Agrivert, a few weeks ago).
One example of this, which I’m particularly excited about, is a little experiment we’re running for our outdoor curcubits (squashes and courgettes) next year. We made the decision to ri-jig our crop rotation a bit so that we could take advantage of an area of red clover that we sowed in late Spring this year and which is now very well established. The idea (partly stolen from Iain Tolhurst’s Growing Green) is to plant directly into established clover, first clearing a space whilst the plants are young, but then allowing the clover to re-establish beneath the mature plants. This keeps weeds down and also gets you a sort of ‘bonus’ fertility building phase – the squashes and courgettes taking up only a relatively small proportion of the ley area. At the end of the season, you pull out the plants to leave a pretty much complete covering of clover, as if the squashes had never been there.
As part of our early bed-preparation spree, we started this week preparing the planting holes for this curcubit experiment by digging in the clover in 1m circles and adding a good deal of compost as a surface mulch. In many ways it’s a shame to be killing off any of the clover, as much of its nitrogen-fixing work will only really get going next year. However, with the added compost I think we’ve probably done enough to ensure suitable fertility for the plants. And the reassurance of knowing it’s all ready to go for planting without any further work is, for me, well worth it.
It’s great to be thinking ahead to next year and to be trying out something a bit new for all of us; in conjunction with the little bouts of sunshine, it’s put a bit of a spring in our step over the last week!