In the bleak mid-winter, frost made the earth stand hard as iron, water like a stone. No problem for no dig gardeners – Charles and I decided to make another bed at Homeacres!
(We didn’t get the snow mentioned in Christina Rossetti’s poem here in Somerset, just sleet and hail!)
It felt really cold… my garden sparkled as I was leaving home to drive to Charles’.
It was around -3˚C when I arrived at Homeacres.
The ground was hard, cold and sparkling.
Even the piles of well rotted manure and other composts sparkled!
This winter we are creating more beds adjacent to existing ones, in an area between the polytunnel and the greenhouse. The small wooden sided bed here is the ‘Gardener’s World’ bed, which was made for the programme (see how here) when I had my very brief ‘starring role’ on TV, carrying the frame! The weather was rather different on that day.
We have made two beds already, one on camera for Croatian TV, so the little Gardener’s World bed is no longer an island in the grass.
The wooden sides were frozen hard to the compost which made removing it rather difficult. Charles prised the sides up whilst I stood inside the bed to help the frozen compost and timber to separate. I had so many clothes on, including 2 thermal vests, I look barrel shaped!
Top tip for cold weather – under my waterproof gardening gloves, I wear thermal glove liners. These are fabulous things, light weight, thin and warm. Great when you want to wear thinner gloves for flexibility but don’t want your fingers to drop off with frost bite 🙂
We surprised a slug, sheltering under the timber edges.
Fortunately the compost remained more or less intact: all I needed to do was take a corner off, as the bed was made at rather a jaunty angle, so that the new bed could carry on aligned with the ones already there. spreading this spare compost on the existing beds.
We had cardboard, we had compost, wheelbarrows and manure forks – all we needed to make a new no dig bed on weedy grass!
The cardboard creates the paths, so that went down first. Old fence posts are used here to weigh down the card and create temporary sides, which keeps the compost in place. These will be removed another time, probably when we make the next bed. The beds are 4ft wide and 6 ft from the greenhouse, so Charles measured regularly to make sure everything was accurate.
A key consideration when we planned where to put the beds and how long they should be, was ease of movement around the garden. We imagined how it will be walking around to the back of the greenhouse and between the new beds and polytunnel, with wheelbarrows and also when showing groups of people around the garden. It’s much better to spend time making sure everything is in the right place, rather then end up with people accidentally trampling on the cabbages at a later date!
The cardboard is double thickness to help kill off the grass and tucked just inside the bed. You can see in the photo below that we almost forgot to put some card at the end of the bed! Although this isn’t going to be a compost path, a few inches of card helps deter grass from creeping into the veg bed.
We filled the bed with well rotted cow manure; it took several wheelbarrow trips across the garden. Hungry birds, all fluffed up against the cold, were delighted to find the worms we exposed.
The compost goes directly on top of the weedy grass (which harbours such delights as creeping buttercup, creeping thistle, bindweed and couch grass). Once the bed was full, Charles levelled it with a manure fork and then topped it with a little homemade compost. Altogether it’s around 6 inches/15cm deep.
The homemade compost is only 4-5 months old and is a bit woody, but this will be fine for planting in the spring. Spreading the homemade compost adds another dimension of soil fungi, bacteria and ingredients to the bed. It would be fine to just use composted manure.
Here is is, the lovely new bed. Very straightforward, easy on the back and a great job on a cold day – it certainly warms you up! I would not have fancied trying to dig that frozen ground – not having to not only benefits the soil life but also enables the gardener to do things that might otherwise be tricky due to weather conditions.
The next one will be made alongside it to the left, another day.
During the morning at different times, I took photos of some of Homeacres.
Homeacres, December 2017