by Andy Cawthray, 5th January 2017
October - While the autumn breezes sing the lament of the season gone, the last of the summer visiting birds leave for warmer climes and their places are taken by the first of those arriving for the winter months ahead...
Andy Cawthray is a writer, gardener and poultry breeder based on the Welsh Borders. Extracts from his monthly column in Welsh Border Life appear here on walesandborders.com
Q: I grew runner beans and peas for the first time this year and got a very good harvest. They have now finished. Should I just pull them up and add them to the compost heap?
A: Once you have finished harvesting beans and peas simply cut them o at ground level. Compost the above-ground plant but leave the roots in the soil. Beans and peas are very good at fixing nitrogen within their root system and by leaving these roots in the ground they’ll slowly release this nitrogen back into the soil.
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Down the potting shed
Gardening is often about planning six months ahead so now is a good time to think about what you might need next spring and onwards into the year – and that includes ‘recharging’ the soil.
I’m a great believer in making as much use of any ‘waste’ biomass as you can in the garden. After all, the plants use up the nutrients in the soil, so why not replenish what you can with any ‘waste’ biomass you can collect right there in the very same garden?
One way is to create leaf mould and now is the time to knock up a leaf mould bin for the impending leaf drop. It’s simple enough to do using a bit of wire mesh and some garden canes. The resulting product after the content has sat there for about 12 months is second to none in terms of the benefit it brings to soil structure. If you don’t have enough leaf fall in your garden then ask a neighbour if you can have their leaf waste. If you offer to collect it up it’s distinctly possible you will be invited back time and again.
Leaf mould is one of the simplest things to create yet its source, dead leaves, are probably one of the most wasted sources of lasting humus. Come the autumn I’m horrified to see people burning leaves, when I would, without hesitation, happily take them all.
When collecting the leaves don’t worry about mixing up leaves from different trees, they’ll all rot down in the end – although, where possible, avoid those from holly trees; in my experience they take much longer to rot and come the following autumn when you want to use the resulting ‘compost’ you’ll find their spiky leaves will still provide an unwelcome jab to the ungloved hand.
Leaf moulding is a way of creating an excellent soil enhancer and mulch, and is one of the best ways of improving your soil structure, be it sandy soil or clay. Left to their own devices leaves will break down over a period of a couple of years, however, by heaping them in a bin (and adding some ‘household activator’ in the form a bit of wee) you can accelerate the breakdown to around a year so it is ready for the following autumn. This method was said to be pioneered by Dr Peggy Ellis of the HDRA, hence they are known to some as a ‘Peggy Pile’.
This is a good time to repair your lawn and the best way is to level it. Do so by riddling soil into the hollows so just the tip of the grass beneath shows. The grass will grow through the top dressing and then the process can be repeated until the hollow is levelled.