Feeding frenzy

nettle patch

I seem to be on a massive mission to feed the soil on my allotment, like an over maternal mother making a huge Sunday roast and trying to push everyone into eating seconds and thirds. The weather has been so dry of late (as glorious as it is) the soil just looks so parched and lifeless, I feel it’s in need of some nutrients. Not just water, but something to hold onto the water.

It seems many lucky people get a huge pile of manure delivered to their site and can help themselves to barrow loads of good stuff, so long as they put the work into shovelling it. We never seem to be lucky enough on this front, and I’m never organised enough to source my own. So I resort to whatever methods I can to replenish the soil that has given me so much over the past 12 months.

If you’ve just taken on an allotment plot (one which hasn’t been cultivated for a while), then you are lucky, and not just for securing a plot. Once you’ve managed to clear the grass and/or weeds, the soil will be in pretty good condition as it won’t have been exhausted of nutrients. The weeds will have grown, but then died down back into the soil, and so long as nothing has been taken out, all the valuable nutrients will be there. The first year we had our plot, we grew some of the best crops, and we’ve been playing catch-up since. The more you take from the soil, the more you have to put back in.

So, first up, homemade compost. I have 3 bins on the plot, (2 plastic, 1 slatted wood) which get filled with the annual weeds that I pull out, and any trimmings from vegetables that I’ve harvested, such as leek and carrot tops, potato foliage, yellowed brassica leaves etc. Plus the odd bit of cardboard here and there. I’m always convinced there must be a good mix in there, yet somehow they never really produce very good compost and I’m not sure why. The results are often too dry, so I guess I need to water them more.

emptied compost bin

However, my compost bin at home (ramshackle, homemade thing in the picture above) is way more successful. I think it must be because it’s ‘fed’ on a more regular basis, with all of the kitchen waste, coffee grounds and tea bags, cardboard and newspaper, even fur from my dog when she gets a trim. Once in spring and once in autumn I remove the top and middle layer and dig down into the bottom third to some beautifully rich dark compost. I know this makes me sounds like a complete nerd, a compost nerd at that, but it is a very satisfying thing. There are masses of tiny red compost worms, which I never see in the bins on the allotment.

bagged compost

So, along with filling 6 used compost bags with my own compost, I also filled one with some semi-rotted material and as many of the worms as possible, to add to one of the bins on the plot. It’ll be interesting to see if they take to it and make a difference for me. One bag was used to mulch the broad beans, one for the raspberries, and the other 4 went onto the bed I’ll be using for the brassicas (sprouts, savoy cabbage and purple sprouting broccoli).

We’ve also been throwing poultry manure pellets around left, right and centre after we discovered Wilkos were selling tubs of the stuff for a bargain price, and we bagged 21kg of it. I also bought a sack of dried manure online, and this is an awful lot easier to spread around. So a few handfuls go under any mulches – such as grass clipping over the garlic, and shredded woody material from the garden over the strawberries – and a handful goes into the planted hole of pretty much anything really.

Finally, I have made some nettle fertiliser. There’s a patch of nettles at the very bottom of my plot (see first photo) and as much as I try to contain it, I don’t want to get rid of it entirely. The nettles are very good for wildlife, and they make great fertiliser for free.

nettle fertiliser

You basically fill a bucket (or two) with the leaves. Chop them up a bit and cover them with water. Add something on top to weigh the leaves down and keep them submerged and then leave them aside for a couple of weeks. I recommend popping a lid on if you can as it can get quite smelly. Then dilute the ‘tea’ by 1:10 or 1:20 if you want to add it to a spray bottle and use as a foliar feed. Apparently it’s good to repel aphids, though I can’t testify to this.

It is very good for leafy crops, such as brassicas, and heavy feeders such as squashes and courgettes. It’s good to make good use of the weeds.

It’s just me and the other half that need feeding and watering now!

6 comments

  1. If you have a stables near you, the chances are that they are crying out for someone to come and shovel manure away. My local one even leaves it in bags for people to take away. If they have a big pile of it the stuff, the underneath will be well rotted and you can just put it straight on the plot. Otherwise just leave it in a pile and use it when it’s rotted down.

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    • Thanks Andy, I don’t know of any local stables, but I’m sure there must be some, I’ll look into it. My allotment neighbour sometimes gets a trailer full of cow manure from a friend, if I happen to be around at the same time he gives me some in return for a bit of shovelling help. I haven’t seen him much this year though.

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    • Good question! I guess you know when the compost is good when it looks dark and rich. It’s never quite as fine as the stuff you’d buy in bags from the garden centre, mine is usually a bit more woody, but pretty close. There’s a good chapter on compost in a book I have by Alys Fowler called ‘Abundance’, she says it should be damp and have the look of rich dark chocolate. She means in colour! Hope that helps.

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  2. I have the same problem with the compost bins on our plot. The material never seems to rot down very well and like you I came to the conclusion that it was too dry. Must remember to water it along with the plants!

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    • Oh that’s interesting to know you have the same problem. I don’t think it helps that the plastic bins have lids, whereas my one at home is open and so gets the rainwater. I noted in Alys’s book that she leaves a container next to her bins, and whatever rain water they collect she tips into the bin. Good tip I thought.

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