There are so many different things to think about nowadays on an allotment: using less or no plastic, planting for bees, climate change, using water efficiently and the erosion of soil quality. I wake early and often listen to Farming Today where they discuss the soil and the loss of soil quite a lot. It has even become one of the story lines on The Archers. I was shocked to hear that we were only 30 to 40 years away from having soil with no fertility with only 100 harvests left.
Making and using compost is one of the key ways in which we can keep our soil healthy and the allotments are helping by offering compost bins at an excellent cost but there are many ways of keeping your plot soil healthy and productive so this post focuses on one couple who are developing sustainable methods of running their plot.
Chris and Dave on Hamilton Lane run a closed composting system on their allotment and by that I mean that they don't bring in any compost/manure/fertiliser from outside or the shop but make everything they need from and on their plots.
The first thing they do is compost everything they don't eat in their compost heaps.
There is one large heap (to the left of the image) where they collect everything whilst they use the compost that they have already made. This compost is to the left of the big pile. Once this is used, they turn the collected material into that compartment and top it off with soil which they sometimes plant into. This year, on the right of the big heap, it is a courgette behind the hose and to the right. This heap sits there and is not turned.
Leaves are stored in bags and then added to the new heap in layers and they also benefit from allotment waste from plots near by. In this way, they make a lot of compost; enough for their plots.
Bindweed, nettles and comfrey are put into water barrels, left to rot and to produce a liquid feed which has quite a distinctive smell! This they use on all plants but especially on potatoes and tomatoes - both of which grow exceptionally well. More weeds and water are added as the liquid is used. Nettle feed is high in iron and works best on heavy feeders and leafy plants.
Through the use of compost and liquid feeds, Chris and Dave's plot is extremely productive and very varied. The grapes do as well as the potatoes and the peaches as well as the peas with no external inputs. This makes their plot very sustainable and must surely be a key method of food production now and in the future. It is of course much cheaper as well if no purchases are needed to feed the soil.
The other benefits of a closed loop system of composting are that pervasive weeds such as the dreaded oxalis and thistles are not introduced through manure. There is also no danger of aminopyralid residues in bought compost - even that which says it is organic. This is a herbicide used on grass that is then eaten by horses and is still present in the manure once it has been bagged. It shows itself on plants as stunted growth and distorted leaves when present and means a crop will not grow successfully.
One way to tell if you have it is to plant a couple of broad bean seeds in the compost/manure and watch their growth for tell-tale signs. To see more about this, Charles Dowding's video is useful.
So, are you doing anything interesting with composting? Anyone using biodynamic composting? Bokashi composting? How about Bob Flowerdew's snailery? If you have a way of composting that is different, do let me know via the comments and we can share it on the blog.