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On a Chalk Hillside February 2022

One thing leads to another –  Starting to put the plan into action
So, relocating a few compost bins and a net tunnel, simple eh?  Well, our compost bins looked like this:-

Each bay is made out of pallets and is a generous meter cubed.  There are three compost bays, and a leaf mould bay that is even larger.  They are freestanding so that I can get round behind them (between the back of the compost bin and the fence behind) to turn the compost.  As you can see from the above picture taken on 3 May 18 we were still using the bins to fill with grass/scrunched up newspapers.  The plan was to use this “fresh” compost up as much as possible filling up the bean trenches that are about to be dug, and the older, more composted material you can see in the picture below, taken on the same day, to mix with potting compost in the pots for the tomatoes that are about to be filled.  Once this has happened, then we would bag up the rest of the compost and all the leaf mould, demolish the compost bins and construct new ones against the fence behind, thereby gaining over 60cm more width.  Simples!!

Because I fill a meter cube compost bay with grass clippings and scrunched up newspaper at one go by 17 May it has composted to this (and is steaming as you dig into it) :-

And can be used to fill the bean trenches (45cm, 18” deep) as so:-

And, still on 17th May here is the first trench completed (we usually do two 20 foot (just over 6m) runner bean trenches, 1x 20 foot french bean trench, and a sweet pea trench.  The yellow flowers behind are the kales run to seed in the net tunnel that we are planning to move.  We leave the kale to go to flower to provide food for the bees and hoverflies:-

(In case you are wondering, the plants in the fleece protection are broad beans.  We are always rubbish at broad beans, and this was an experiment to see if the site is too windswept for them by building a bit of a windbreak all round them.  That had no effect either, so after more than 10 years of trying we have stopped growing them, and just buy frozen ones!)  
On the first of June – no more compost bins:-

(The green on the ground nearest the fence is the ivy that has been hacked off the fence.)  By 8 June, he had made all these new bays – and note the bare earth in front, which was the extra width we had gained from all this effort:-

We now urgently needed to move the net tunnel so we could plant it up with the young kale plants that I was growing on in modules.  We had to deturf the area of grass you can see above – and as you can see from 10 June picture below, this was quite an extensive area to do by hand:-

Because the hoops of this polytunnel were just pushed into the ground they come out comparatively easily, and we were able to relocate the hoops as you can see below – you may notice the door is still in its original position on the far bed as the wooden fence posts it is attached to are more firmly entrenched in the ground!  We were so pressed for time we just reattached the existing bird-proof netting:-

This shot (below) from 19 June shows the tunnel planted up, and the remainder of the original bed filled with courgette plants.  We were able to use the bed that HAD had the net tunnel in for other veg that growing year, so had just enough space to grow our crops without cutting another temporary bed.  You can see all the bags of leaf mould and compost sitting on the bed above the polytunnel still waiting to be used elsewhere in the garden:-

Turning the net tunnel up the hill meant that it cut into the path above the bed it was mainly sited on, and into the next bed slightly – so no path round the front of it, just mud to get into and out of the net tunnel by walking on the veg bed above it for a year.  Those sacks that are sitting on that veg bed had to be moved so we could plant it up.  
As I said we put the bird-proof netting back onto the tunnel, even though it was held together with cable clips from when the deer had jumped over the fence onto it and split it a couple of years before.  In the plan I mentioned last month I had specified that I would like to get butterfly-proof netting (much smaller mesh, more expensive, which is why we hadn’t got it the first time) for this.  You might not think there was much difference between bird proof and butterfly proof netting – but another of those things you learn, is that when suppliers describe something as bird-proof it really does mean it is only bird-proof.  The mesh is around 2cm and butterflies could easily get into it.   If you imagine the size of a cabbage white butterfly you think it can’t possibly get through that mesh, but having watched them getting inside, its as if their wings are each in two halves, and they seem to be able to slide one half of one wing over or under the other to squeeze through!  I spent quite a lot of time during the cabbage white season each year checking every leaf of every plant on both surfaces for eggs and caterpillars.  Given that we grew a minimum of 100 plants, that was time consuming AND quite tiring on the back.   (NB: Net being much more floppy can cope with going up the slope without the enormous pleats and tendency to split that plastic has, which is why we were able to turn the tunnel “up” the hill.)  The butterfly-proof netting would have to wait til the next stage of the plan was enacted, which I shall tell you about next time.  For the growing season of 2018, that was all the change we could accomplish.  
To update you on some of the plants I showed you in deep frost on 1 January 2021 last month, here is the Black Grass, Ophiopogon planiscapus 'Nigrescens', from underneath the acers now with the snowdrop Galanthus 'S. Arnott' in flower beside it from 2 February 2021:-

(This year, the snowdrops have been much slower to emerge, and have only just started to show some white flowers at the beginning of February, not fully out like last year.)
And here is the Harry Lauder tree (Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’)  on the same day, with its tiny red flower bud just opening though the catkins are not yet full of pollen:-

Also being a star plant at the beginning of February 21 is the Winter Aconite, Eranthis hyemalis, coming up in the orchard grass under an apple tree:-

Sheila May

Posted by Sheila May

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