Renewing the nursery with green manure

It might seem a bit late to be putting in a spring green manure, but better late than never, right?

Sas figured out what seed we would need and how much, and I ordered it, and we were hoping it would arrive before all the lovely rain, but alas I was a bit late getting the order in, and we missed the boat.

The rain came and went, and the weather  seems to have settled into being consistently hot and dry now, but our soil desperately needs some love and attention, so we decided to go ahead and plant it anyway and rely on irrigation rather than rainfall to make sure it grows.

Here’s what’s in the green manure mix:

  • buckwheat
  • mung bean
  • French white millet
  • kidney bean

To make the seed easier to spread, Sas put it all in a bucket that was half full of clean sand…

and gave it a really good mix…

before spreading it. The area had previously been dug up with the rotary hoe and raked, and then Sas used the back of the rake to make a series of ridges down the rows to catch the seed as she distributed it. This method makes it a bit easier to lightly rake the soil back over the seed.

So, why a green manure? The nursery has three separate patches on the farm, and because of the nature of how a nursery works, each patch can stay in production for up to three years. But also, each year we need somewhere to plant seed and cuttings to grow new rootstocks.

To stop the soil becoming more and more depleted, we need to put some organic matter back into it, because the only input we routinely use is a bit of compost.

Unlike the orchard where ground cover is encouraged, the nursery is kept free of weeds to reduce competition for the baby trees, so it’s really important to keep the soil fertile by adding extra organic matter.

A green manure is the perfect way to do it—even if mid-summer is not the perfect time! Our seed mix included mung beans to add nitrogen to the soil and build organic matter, buckwheat for fast growing bulk and phosphorus accumulation,  French millet because it’s a fast-growing grass that combines well with legumes, and kidney bean because it’s another nitrogen fixing legume.

Luckily we have the benefit of an irrigation system already in place, so we’ll use a bit of water to get the seeds up and established, before we turn them back into the soil to work their magic in autumn, ready for planting next winter.

Keep your worms happy in a heatwave

Do you have a worm farm?

Worms are wonderful workers and are the best (and cheapest) way to produce quantities of fabulous organic fertiliser for your trees, but like all workers, they’ll give you their best if they have excellent working conditions.

Throughout summer, but particularly in a heat wave, it’s really important to give them some extra care and attention. Climate change means that summer conditions are likely to become more extreme (and in fact we’ve already noticed this happening here on the farm), so here’s our top 4 tips for keeping your worms happy in a heat wave:

  1. Keep your worm farm as cool as possible. Worms don’t like extremes of temperature – either heat or cold. It’s also best if you can put your worm farm somewhere where the temperature stays relatively constant and doesn’t fluctuate too much – a cellar is ideal, but a garage or even laundry (depending on size of farm) is also good.
  2. Make sure the worm farm is not in direct sun, as worms also don’t like direct light.
  3. Cover the top layer of your worm farm with something to help keep the moisture in and the hot dry air out. Newspaper, cardboard, old carpet or underfelt (woollen) can all be given a good soak and then placed directly on the surface of your worm farm – it’ll make a huge difference. (Just be careful with old underfelt as sometimes it had been treated with insecticide.)
  4. Keep your worm farm moist. This is probably the main reason worm farms fail. There should always be a bit of moisture dripping out of the bottom, or if you grab a handful you should be able to wring a couple of drips out.

If you follow these tips there’s no reason why your worms won’t happily keep devouring your kitchen scraps and other organic waste right through the hottest weather.

Have a look at Give Worms a Warm Welcome to find out more about how to reap incredible benefits from these powerhouse workers in your garden.

Control your weeds…or not?

We love weeds! Weeds, or understorey plants as we prefer to call them, provide lots of environmental benefits – they shade the ground, provide habitat and food for the bees and soil microbes that are so important for fertility for our trees, and take carbon out of the air and pump it into the soil. And that’s just the beginning of the list of wonderful things about them!

However, there’s also a downside to having weeds under your fruit trees. They use water and nutrients, and they provide habitat and ‘ladders’ into the trees for earwigs and garden weevils. And some weeds are definitely preferable to others, so it pays to make sure you’ve got the right ones. Like most things in gardening and farming, deciding what to do is usually a matter of weighing up the pros and cons.

We reckon the pros of weeds by far outweigh the cons, but to get maximum benefit from them we like to not let them get too long, and try not to let them go to seed. This means they stay active in terms of pumping carbon into the soil, it reduces the amount of water they use, and it’s much more pleasant to work around the trees, but it also means that one of our big jobs in spring and summer is keeping up with the slashing!

We don’t like to to cut the grass too short, and that helps the plants stay in their growing phase too. On a home garden scale, it’s probably easier to use a whipper snipper…

It's important to whipper snip around any trees that will be taped
It’s important to whipper snip around any trees that will be taped

…or best of all, use some animals to eat the grass, and then you get the extra benefit of them turning all that lovely juicy grass into lovely juicy natural fertiliser!

Read more about how to create Natural Fertility for Fruit Trees (within your budget!)