The rain finally came, the soil seems moistened to a reasonable depth so it’s time to get moving on sowing for the winter. It’s been a year of frantic activity on the few occasions when conditions have been good interspersed with periods of worried attention when things were either too hot and dry or cold and wet. Climate change certainly seems to have made gardening less conducive to mental contentment. In pictures of growers from times past they always seem to be contentedly pondering something whilst sucking on a lit pipe. I certainly need to develop my pondering skills, possibly by buying a pipe, though the modern guilt associated with smoking would probably out way any potential mental benefits.
I’d probably better leave the development of pondering skills until later in the year though and get stuck into the late season’s sowings and planting! The next week or two are the ideal time to get all your empty ground growing something. A healthy soil should have plants growing in it whenever possible. Old ideas of digging the soil over in the autumn and leaving it exposed to the elements are certainly not conducive to soil health, a healthy soil needs roots in it. The most useful roots to have in your soil are obviously those of crop plants. We will be sowing spinach, white turnips, spring cabbage, chard and winter salads like winter purslane, corn salad and hardy leaf lettuce. We are also busy transplanting kale and leeks which we sowed in seed beds in the spring. Everything going in has to fit in with our rotations; in our gardens here at HQ I have a four-year rotation where plant families don’t return to the same area of land for - -- four years! Each part of the rotation has at least two families in it so, for no particularly obvious reason, the onion family (alliums) are combined with the pea family (legumes). So, our leeks are going in where broad beans have been grown and then dug in. And likewise, with all the other sowings they fit into the rotation to avoid the development of soil borne diseases.
Remaining ground will be put into green manures. Early in the season, i.e. July/August, I use a grass/legume mix like annual rye grass and vetch or crimson clover, later in the season- September to November I use grazing rye. The grass or rye “mops up” soil nutrients and has a great root system for breaking up the soil and, in a good year, the legume will fix a bit of nitrogen. The vetch seeds are unfortunately loved by pigeons and if my ramblings seem devoid of any lighthearted bits this week it’s probably because I keep having to jump up and chase the pigeons off my sown areas at the end of each paragraph. Though what would certainly cheer me up would be if pigeon appeared on the GROW HQ menu tomorrow.