So what can you get done on a bright cold winter's day in the garden? It took me four very warm and pleasant hours to spread 2 tons of lovely compost, dig and fill my bean trench and finish off pruning the fruit trees and greenhouse vine.
Digging the bean trench is a regular Christmas routine. This year I've moved the beans to the south side of the “forbidden garden” where the sub-soil is surprisingly heavy clay (under about 15 cm of black topsoil). I put 2 heavy wheelbarrow loads of compost into the bottom of the trench and then backfilled it and whacked in 2 posts to mark its position for my May sowing.
Here's the trench – you can see how much clay subsoil there is!
When you bury good compost deep underground like this the runner bean plants really love it. By doing all the ground work now, in winter, we allow all the soil to settle and the compost itself will “calm down” before the roots arrive late next May. As we move the beans from place to place in the garden we are constantly improving the performance of our soil by this deep digging.
And here's the finished article with compost underground and posts in place.
You may think it's easy to remember where we dug in the compost for our summer beans but 4 months is a long time – and there will be a lot of other activity before May arrives. Knocking in a couple of posts just makes life a little bit easier.
Now we come to the compost itself. Opening the year old compost heap and spreading the wonderful compost is always such a magical and rewarding experience. It is truly amazing to see how all those weeds, nettles, thistles etc. that we piled onto the compost heap a year ago have been transformed into dark black “soil”. Bacteria, fungi, worms and beasts of all kinds have been working away in there – and loving it! It is a sharp lesson to find that even the tiniest piece of plastic will emerge completely unchanged – a few plant ties. It's also surprising how many small branches and bits of wood need to be removed and put on the bonfire – they simply don't break down in 12 months.
Don't forget that our system for making compost is as simple and labour efficient as it can be. We have strong bins that can take pressure and do not break or rot – so we just pile up the green material, vegetable waste and weeds as high as we can (9 feet or more!) and nature does the rest. What we don't do is put in any leaves, woody material or household high value waste. Leaves go in a separate wire leaf bin and the household waste is put into the closed composter. We don't expect the closed composter to be full for another couple of years (making 6 years to fill it in all) – then it will not be emptied until its twin has been filled up in another 6 years or so.
This year I got 24 heavy wheelbarrow loads out of the compost heap. I reckon each load weighed in at over 100 Kg (it certainly felt like it!). So all in all the garden took on a present of over 2 tons of new organic material. This is just dumped in piles at present. If the weather stays dry for another few days these will dry out a bit and I'll be able to spread the compost out so it can be rotavated into top 15 cm of soil. We do this well in advance of planting time so the worms and beasties can help incorporate all this new material into the soil without it being too fresh for the new plants.
Here's the scene at the end of today!
And here's the empty compost bin:
After the digging and spreading (nice warm work) there was still an hour left in the day to prune the greenhouse vine and finish pruning the orchard apple trees. So all the pruning and training has been done now and we are ready to burn the bonfire (when the wind swings into the north so the smoke does not upset the neighbours horses).