MAY/ JUNE 2012

Hello Fellow Allotmenteers, Gardeners, Friends & Subscribers - wherever you are!

imagePLEASE ACCEPT MY APOLOGIES IF YOU RECEIVE TWO COPIES OF OUR NEWS-LETTER - that'll be because your e-mail address is probably registered with both our Aeron Vale Allotment Society & Gardeners Chat-Shed web-sites. Consequently  it will have been automatically added to both data-bases. No harm done - just delete the second one to arrive!

Whilst you, our Gardeners Chat-Shed friends, may be members of your own gardening clubs and allotment groups you can still share in what we have to offer here by way of gardening tips, news, information and gossip from our "grow your own" fraternity.

There's something for everyone in our News-letter! If you're not particularly interested in the local gossip from our allotment society just scroll on down to something else more general.


IN GENERAL

It'll be passed the summer solstice by the time you receive this latest news-letter. That means we're heading back to shorter daylight hours

How depressing a thought is that? But don't panic too much, think of it this way. Each day after the solstice (June 21st) is equivalent to a day before the solstice. So the days will shorten very gradually at the rate of just under 2 minutes per day on average, until we get to the winter solstice in December. Brrr - let's move on!

The word 'Solstice' derives from the Latin term meaning 'sun stood still', as in the winter and summer solstice the sun appears to rise and set in practically the same place. However, for us gardeners it has other major implications!

Effect of Daylight Length on Plant Growth

Day length is critical to the growth and lifecycle of a lot of plants. Many plants use the length of the day to judge when to flower or set seed. Different varieties of plants will react to day length in different ways. That is why our onions are geared towards a 14 hour period, whereas varieties more suitable for the tropics use 10 hours as a trigger. At the equator day length is uniform around 12 hours. Circadian cycles/ rhythms play a part in this, but I won't go down that road just now!

Basic to a plant’s growth is daylight. Like a solar power processor, a plant uses the energy from sunlight to power its growth. Contrary to popular terminology that's based on old beliefs, plants don't get food via their roots - just nutrients and water, in fact all their food energy is produced by photosynthesis, i.e. light - ALL natural light on Earth comes from the Sun. that's why plants will die if you cover them with a black plastic sheet - regardless of whether their roots are well established, healthy and in good soil! Blocking out light starves them of food & they eventually die.

Temperature, nutrient levels in the soil and water are all important - but without sunlight plants will not grow. The more sunlight, the more energy is available for the plant to power that growth.

Day length is particularly important to show growers who artificially push vegetables to maturity for a show rather than when they would naturally be ready.

There are also lurking problems - very often after the solstice, (for obvious reasons).

Bolting is triggered either by cold spells or by the changes in day length through the seasons. Although bolting is only seen on crops approaching maturity, it is initiated much earlier. Annual crops will flower naturally in the first year, whereas biennials do not usually flower until the second. In annual crops, bolting occurs before they are ready to gather and, in biennials, when an over-wintering organ (carrot roots for example) flowers before the winter.

  • Annual crops: Annual crops sensitive to photoperiod (how many hours of daylight received) include lettuce, some radish cultivars and spinach. They are long-day plants, which initiate flowers when day length increases. It is a natural progression for spring-sown annuals to run to seed as summer progresses, but this can happen prematurely under the influence of stress or day-length  

  • Biennial crops: Some biennial crops (which grow in the first year, flower in the second) such as onions, leeks, carrot and beetroot can initiate flowers in the first year. This is due to unsettled weather conditions early in the season and usually occurs after a prolonged cold spell, often during the propagation phase. Cold nights, hot days and late frosts may also contribute to premature initiation of flowering.

Sowing times

  • With cold-sensitive plants, sowings can be delayed until temperatures are more stable. E.g. strategy is advisable for endive and Swiss chard.

  • Alternatively, for early crops of vegetables such as onions, beetroot and kohl rabi, plants can be raised in modules in a greenhouse and planted out when temperatures are warmer, or they can be directly sown under cloches or horticultural fleece to provide additional warmth.

  • Spring cabbages, which are always quick to bolt in spring, should be sown around 20 July (one week earlier in the north and one week later in the south). Although such crops will still run to seed in spring, they will bolt later than crops sown earlier, while later-sown crops may be too small to survive winter.  

  • Successional sowings will also help to achieve a constant harvestable supply if the season is changeable.

  • To prevent bolting in Chinese cabbage and other oriental brassicas, these crops should be sown from July onwards.  

  • Vegetables such as radicchio, florence fennel, and oriental greens bolt when the nights become warm  on average above 10-13°C (50-55°F).


Are You All MESHED Up?

I mean that in the nicest possible way!

It's the annual "defence strategy to fight against aerial attack" time again! I'm talking "poor brassicas" and the barrage of attacks they have to endure. Cabbage root fly, cabbage white butterfly & the arch villain the rat on wings - Mr Pigeon (Wood & Domestic) to name but a few. Not only brassicas but the old Umbelliferae get clobbered as well (the carrots, parsnips, celery & parsley etc. family to us common folk). With them it's mostly the dreaded "fly" that brings woe.

Much trash has been spoken in the past - sad to say mostly by organic gardeners unfortunately - when it comes to pest control. "Carrot root fly only flies up to eighteen inches above the ground" they say - nonsense! It may be a poor flier and does not fly at great altitudes BUT I've seen carrot root fly get at plants in barrels - well above eighteen inches. "Companion sowing will stop carrot root fly" they say - nonsense. Sowing your carrots next to your onions may slightly confuse them, but not for long. You start thinning your carrots and they'll home in - onions or no onions!

All of these low level defences may help a little, but do they work 100% NO they don't. So don't get carried away or disappointed. However there IS an environmentally friendly solution (unless you want to argue about the process of making nylon & the energy it uses up). Folks, there's only one sure-fire way to protect your crops properly and that's to set-up a physical barrier between your crops and the predators. The ONLY truly effective protection is netting and/or fleece cover.

On this front there's good news. Enviromesh has for a long time had a bit of a monopoly when it comes to the fine mesh market, consequently it's been a bit heavy on the old pocket. However we now have an ally in the form of Veggiemesh. Same stuff at a fraction of the price! That MUST be good news. Now there's better news for you subscribers to our news-letter. You can order it on-line from Garden Naturally and get 10% discount by quoting the codes shown below.

 


If you would like to order any of the above by post then you can download the pricelist as a PDF form, which you can print, fill in and send off by standard post.

To download the form click on the PDF download icon opposite.

 

 


OTHER ALLOTMENT NEWS & ROUND-UPs

4,000 people 'still waiting for allotments

The number of people in Wales waiting for an allotment has not reduced for two years, says the National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners.

Allan Rees MBE, chairman of the organisation, said 4,000 people were still waiting to have an allotment.

Monday sees the start of National Allotment Week.

In June, First Minister Carwyn Jones set out plans to ensure minimum standard for the amount of land Welsh councils should devote to allotments.

The National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners, which has 5,000 members in Wales, argues there needs to be more emphasis on providing allotments.

Councils have a statutory duty to provide allotments under the provisions of the Small Holdings and Allotments Act 1908.

A Welsh Government spokesperson said: "We are very aware of the increase in demand for allotment plots over recent years and know that in many parts of Wales demand is not met by supply and that there are vast differences in waiting times for plots.

"That is why, to support local communities in becoming more sustainable and healthy, we have announced that we will be using the Environment Bill to legislate on the amount of land to be used for allotments and to ensure a minimum standard across Wales."

The Rural Development Plan for Wales, helps organisations, including farmers' markets and city farms to set up new schemes and manage groups of volunteers.

More than 600 community garden/allotment projects had been undertaken by the Tidy Towns project since April 2011 using additional funding from the Welsh Government.

Lets hope they keep it up!


Julie Morgan AM Calls for Welsh Government Allotment  Site

A Welsh assembly member has called for a vacant plot of land next to the Senedd to be turned into an allotment site for members and staff.

Julie Morgan said a large empty site at the side of the building would be ideal for growing food.

Cardiff North AM Mrs Morgan asked whether the assembly's authorities had thought about developing the site.

She said she was already growing tomatoes on her office window sill in Cardiff Bay.

Speaking during questions in the Senedd, she asked whether the all-party assembly commission, which runs the estate, had considered negotiating with the owners of the land around the Senedd "in order to develop food growing projects involving staff and assembly members?"

It could be done in partnership with other organisations, including the URDD youth movement she said.

"I'm already growing tomatoes on the windowsill in my room, as I know are other members, and I know the commission wants to encourage this kind of activity," she said.

The vacant site, which faces out into Cardiff Bay, is the size of several tennis courts and is one of the few areas to have remained empty since the area was redeveloped in the 1990s.

Commission member Peter Black commended Mrs Morgan for growing tomatoes and said he hoped they would be offered around the chamber at some future date.

However, he added that the issue with regard to the plot of land was "one of resource".

He said: "There is a plot of land adjacent to the Senedd but it is not owned by the assembly, and I think we would have to take a judgement as to whether we would want our staff actually out there tending to the vegetables as opposed to delivering the service which members have come to expect of them.

"If the member doesn't mind, I will take that under advisement and discuss that further rather than give any positive response at this time."

Mrs Morgan's husband, former First Minister Rhodri, is a grow-your-own enthusiast.

When he stood down in 2009 he said he hoped retirement would allow him more time to spend in his allotment.

Isn't it funny how politicians like Peter Black & many Councillors up and down the country show support for the "Grow your Own" movement, but when they're expected to DO something about it then the old NIMBY attitude raises it's head and the excuses start flowing - typical!


National Botanic Garden of Wales Logs All Of Our Plant DNA Barcodes

Some of you will recall that I reported in one of our new-letters back last year that work was on-going to complete a project to put all of the plants & conifers found in our country on a DNA data-base.

The work is completed - Wales has become the first country in the world to DNA barcode all its flowering plants!

This scientific breakthrough opens up huge potential for the future of plant conservation and human health.

The work to make Wales No 1 in the world was carried out at the National Botanic Garden in collaboration with Amgueddfa Cymru-National Museum Wales and project partners from various universities.

The Barcode Wales project, led by the National Botanic Garden’s Head of Conservation and Research Dr Natasha de Vere, has created a reference database of DNA barcodes based on the 1143 native flowering plants and conifers of Wales, assembling over 5700 DNA barcodes.

Plants can now be identified from pollen grains, fragments of seed or roots, wood, dung, stomach contents or environmental samples collected from the air, soil or water.

Dr de Vere explained the importance of the project: “Wales is now in the unique position of being able to identify plant species from materials which in the past would have been incredibly difficult or impossible. Through the Barcode Wales project, we have created a powerful platform for a broad range of research from biodiversity conservation to human health”.

Dr Tim Rich said: “We have taken DNA samples from thousands of specimens in the National Museum’s collections. This technique opens up a whole new set of uses for our collections.”

DNA barcodes are short sequences of DNA which are unique to each species and can be used to identify plant species from tiny fragments of plant material. They have a whole range of applications from conserving rare species to developing new drugs.

The Welsh flora DNA barcodes are freely available on the Barcode of Life Database (BOLD) for use by researchers throughout the world. The creation of this DNA barcode library is reported in the journal PLoS ONE.


The Key To MRSA Eradication may Lie With Our Honey-bees.

PhD student Jenny Hawkins is working on a joint project between the Welsh National Botanic Garden and the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences at Cardiff University to DNA barcode honey.

She has collected honey from across the UK and is testing its ability to kill hospital acquired infections such as MRSA. She will then DNA barcode the honey to find out what plants bees visited to make it.

Ms Hawkins said: "By DNA barcoding the honey, we are looking for links between honey with good medicinal properties and particular plant species.

"If we find it, we might be able to make a super honey by allowing bees to forage on plants that provide high antibacterial properties."

She said: "Wales is now in the unique position of being able to identify plant species from materials which in the past would have been incredibly difficult or impossible.

"Through the Barcode Wales project, we have created a powerful platform for a broad range of research from biodiversity conservation to human health."

DNA barcoding may be able to help in the crisis facing pollinating insects such as bees, according to Dr de Vere.

She is working with PhD student Andrew Lucas from the Swansea Ecology Research Team (SERT) at Swansea University to investigate the role hoverflies play in pollination.

Research will find out where hoverflies go by DNA barcoding the pollen carried on their bodies.

It will tell researchers "how hoverflies move through the landscape and the importance of habitat quality," said Mr Lucas.

Partners in the Barcode Wales project include the National Museum Wales and Aberystwyth and Glamorgan universities, as well as the Botanical Society of the British Isles, and High Performance Computing (HPC) Wales.

 


WELSH "SUMMER-TIME " WEATHER?!image

As our local members well know, and our members from further afield may have heard on the UK-wide news, we've had our fair share of rain here in west Wales over the last few weeks. A few thousand of us were evacuated and many had to be rescued - some by helicopter air-lift. Fortunately for us (Aeron Vale Allotment Society members in Aberaeron), the worst of the flooding occurred a little further up the coast - to the north of the county of Ceredigion, that is from the town of Aberystwyth up.

That did NOT stop my plot getting drowned three times in the last fortnight! The latest episode occurring on the longest day!

image

It really is a depressing sight to go down the lottie & find most of it under water. Three times in as many weeks I've been confronted with that scene.

Obviously the core culprit is the unusual amount of rain we've had, but the key problem is inadequate storm rain management by Ceredigion County Council.

The water runs off the slope of a nearby farm, runs along a road, where the gullies can't cope; it then runs down the road of the estate behind us and straight on to our allotment site. Because my plot is at the lowest point it gathers there in a lake.

We were actually in the final stages of sorting this problem out with the council. BUT, last October the lunatics took over the asylum - at that point all negotiations stopped and the current management committee of the old Aberaeron Allotment Association (not to be confused with the new Aeron Vale Allotment Society) seem at a loss what to do next. Not surprising when you consider that the current Chair can lose one of his boots by taking one, instead of two home with him after changing his footwear. The type of thing that might happen to an under five in primary school!

Here's a slide-show of the devastation on my plot on the 21st of June.

 

Just "hover" your curser over the photo to stop the slide-show

Global Warming 

It's certainly having an effect on us at this time (click on the above "Global Warming" heading - if you have a real interest in the subject).


Before I go further, I feel I should qualify my following comments below by making it clear to the readers of this news-letter's that I personally am a devout organic grower, and for many years I've been an advocate of clean, fresh & healthy home-grown food. I recycle and compost all of our family's household waste - including materials for construction and repair on my plot. I'm passionate about the heath and safety of the food I grow. I don't use ANY chemical insecticides, herbicides or inorganic fertilisers. I'm also VERY passionate about cleaning up our act when it comes to pollution, wild-life welfare and the way we commercially produce our food. I am NOT however a hippy, a new age traveller or tree-hugging weirdo, with little scientific knowledge and even less common sense, who goes around trying to look like a native North American!  I believe the Earth's climate IS changing but that it's a natural cyclic phenomenon with global warming and greenhouse gas levels fluctuating as I believe they always have. Man DOES contribute heavily but I am TOTALLY unconvinced by the apocalyptical predictions and theories of the climate change activists, that generally believe man is solely responsible for these changes.


I'm still not convinced that it's all of man's fault.

Sure we contribute an amount - most creatures (and plants - especially when they decay) do, in varying degrees. In the overall BIG picture of things, our contribution is a gnat's wee in the ocean. In fact the combined Methane output from all the  herbivores (cows & other grass-munchers etc. to you and me) of the earth is probably just as big a contributor to the so-called "greenhouse effect".

Actually it's a little arrogant & conceited of us - as humans - to take the accolade for what is nature's natural cycle of things. A bit like some tree-hugging allotmenteers who leave weeds & sprouting broccoli plants to flower - to help the world's eco-systems to recover and to encourage bees! A huge contribution that, when you look at the vegetation that's on the earth! So one flowering broccoli and a clump of nettles is going to do the trick? Yeah - right! HARDLY - even if every human on earth did it. Man is conceited enough to think like that though, we have difficulty with proportionality.

Do these people actually sit down and think hard about how big the south American rain-forests alone really are? Now I wonder what proportion of that mass of vegetation a clump of nettles or 3 broccoli plants in flower actually represents? Even if you multiplied that clump by 7 billion - the current population of the earth. No more so is this fuzzy logic coming to the fore than with the argument against the use of peat in gardens. Suffice to say that I don't think I'm the only one cursing "non peat based composts" when my seedlings fail to appear! Now that I've got started on that one see the heading IS OUR USE OF PEAT DESERVING OF THE SCORN IT ATTRACTS? Below.

In only the last 1000 years  we've gone from ice age to a balmy warm period for a few hundred years during the middle ages. It's often called The Medieval Warm Period (MWP)/ Medieval Climate Optimum, or Medieval Climatic Anomaly which was a time of warm climate in the North Atlantic region, it lasted from about AD 950 to 1250. It was followed by a cooler period in the North Atlantic termed the Little Ice Age. So after going back to a mini ice age things are now warming up again . What we are experiencing is the cyclic nature of Mother Earth's climate, that's CONSTANTLY changing, but with such minuscule life spans and the past inability to monitor over a prolonged period (we've only been doing it for a few DECADES), WE run away with the apocryphal notion that we have destroyed our earth! Loony tunes I conclude!. These phenomena were in existence when man's only contribution to C02 emission was smoke from his tiny camp fire and flatulence from eating too much woolly mammoth meat & brassicas like sprouts - as a so called "hunter-gatherer".

Right I've stepped off my soap box now - back to the news-letter!

 


ODD SPRING - "ODDER" GERMINATION RATES!

What a month May was! I've lived, worked and slept the lottie for the whole month! NOT because I really wanted to be THAT engrossed and obsessive, but simply because we've had such a rubbish spring I've had to pile March, April & May work into 4 weeks! It's gone from winter to summer (March) back to winter (snow in April) & then FINALLY a cold windy "summer" in May - who the hell cancelled our spring? The worst bit in May was that scorching wind again. I really get annoyed at that sting in the tail. Just as you're ready to harden things off they turn brown and shrivel up in the sun and chilly wind. It doesn't help being located by the sea - those scorchers blow in straight off the Atlantic and across Ceredigion Bay then straight across my allotment! Added to the natural problems is the fact that I'm only running on three cylinders because of my general health these days, so the work gets done at a much slower rate than in the past. Even though I'm working a lot slower, I get a lot more tired, so I've not had time to do anything meaningful - apart from my allotment for the whole month!

This year has been a total disaster, not just for me, but a lot of the other allotment growers on our site that have experienced the same problems. Seeds refusing to germinate, others dying off after germinating, some growing weakly - just not a very good season I fear! Add to that 3 record level June floods over a fortnight and it's quite a recipe for disaster!

As a rule - peas are usually grown by little children in school, with simple success. Me - a supposed veteran vegetable gardener with nearly 40 years experience nearly gave up on them this year! First the mouse (now deceased) dispatched four trays full, with 20 peas in each tray. Only ONE pea got away, it's now quietly growing on it's own by the fence that should be holding up around a hundred of it's brothers & sisters. The next batch just rotted in the compost on the poly-tunnel staging, as did the third batch! I'm now in the humiliating position of having to make do with other's left overs! Although by now I have put rows in directly into the soil - fingers crossed! Many of the melon, pumpkin, courgette and cucumber seeds have done the same - just rotted in their pots before germinating.

IS OUR USE OF PEAT DESERVING OF THE SCORN IT ATTRACTS?

LEVINGTON ALERT!

I've used Levington compost for years, it was a family run business that you could rely on. Good products and usually fair prices. It was named after a pretty little village in Suffolk. But from now on Mr Levington has off-loaded his last bag on to me! He can stuff his compost where the sun doesn't shine!

I should elaborate on that, in fact it's NOT Mr Levington's fault - he & his family, after many years of establishing & running the company no longer own it. It was taken over by THE SCOTTS COMPANY (UK) LIMITED a "sell muck and make big profits" company from the US (echoes of the Cadbury/ Kraft takeover smell here? Apparently Kraft now use milk from Poland - not UK farmers' milk - for their "Cadbury's" chocolate and it's so dirty it blocks the filters in their factory!) Anyway that's another story!

In February of 2011 Israel Chemicals Ltd. (ICL) took over The Scott Company's FERTILISERS division.  ICL has quite a reputation itself! It seems Scotts (makers of Miracle Gro) still supply the compost under the banner of Everris. And it gets more complex by the minute. The top and bottom of it is - when you buy Levington's today, it's NOT the guaranteed product it used to be in the past.

 This "non-peat" rubbish has appeared since the big debate about organic/ inorganic material from the anti peat use brigade came to the fore. I notice the Levington bags say the content holds 25% more water and has a tick next to "Low Peat" content, it also says "organic non-peat" material added to it. What exactly is that supposed to mean?

Since then I've purchased more bags of compost  - first from Aldi (in desperation) and then from Brondesbury Park Garden Centre, in Aberteifi (Cardigan). Surprise, surprise both offerings are peat based & fantastic stuff. It puts the Levington trash that I bought to shame. I say "trash" because a pattern is emerging here. Nearly all the other gardeners that have had bad germination results on our allotment site have used exactly the same compost. It was on offer at our local Farmers Co-operative Country Store (210 Litres for £11.99). Jack's Magic is approximately 1.5p/ litre more - but worth every farthing of the extra!

I have now settled for Westland's "Jack's Magic" supplied by one of our web-site sponsors - CJ Industries (Brondesbury Park Garden Centre, Aberteifi). This fantastic "old fashioned" peat based stuff that Neil sells is top drawer - it behaves and feels like a proper peat compost should, it has no ADDED NASTIES that may contain anything that's compostable - including plant growth inhibitors, weed-killers on grass clippings, herbicides sprayed on plants that are then thrown in the council's "green" bags and anything else including pathogens that find their way to a composting plant. Amazingly, it's this very rubbish produced from "green waste" that the Tree Hugging ignoramuses hoot on about as being "organic" and planet saving! In reality peat - a natural, clean and totally organic product is being demonised in favour of stuff that is sometimes lethal to our plants and probably isn't good for us either. Have you wondered why it says "Gloves should be worn when handling the contents" on the bags of non peat (alternative) composts? My advice is stay well clear of ANYTHING that is sold as "Peat Free" or "Low Peat" content. Use what was created naturally for the job and IS efficiently renewable when harvested sensibly. See the heading "Peat and the Environment in Scandinavia" below.

A simple Rule of thumb: "IF MAN MADE IT DON'T EAT IT!" (or anything that grows in it!)

So whilst we're on this fascinating subject I've done some more research and I've documented my findings below. You'll be GOB-SMACKED (as my Scouser wife would say!). It also makes you blush a bit as you realise how gullible we - the general public - really are. In fact we're almost as gullible as our politicians! Most of them have gone from posh school, to posh college and then the House of Commons, without spending 5 minutes out in the real world getting life experiences and cultivating a bit of common sense! Easy meat for any unscrupulous lobbyist!

READ ON . . . .

Gardening Which? magazine have brought out a critical report on peat free potting compost. Each year they trial 20 plus bags of compost and peat compost always come out best. Not surprising, as peat is an ideal growing medium for most plants.

In line with UK government advice, many "good" horticultural supply companies run a reduced peat-use policy for their nursery stock production - because they have to be seen to be politically correct in the running of their business. Following extensive trials, it now appears that about 40% peat is currently used as a planting medium.

Peat: what is so good about it?

  • It has a low pH ideal for Ericaceous plants. Indeed most of the world's Ericaceous plants have evolved to grow on and in peat.

  • Peat's high water and air holding capacities which mean that it can retain and subsequently provide moisture and air to the roots of plants.

  • It holds added nutrients available for plant growth as required.

  • It is an easy material to handle.

  • It is normally free of pathogens.

  • It is the best component available for commercial container production and propagation.

  • it is freely available with vast reserves all over Scotland, Ireland and Northern Europe.

The Peat Debate: how on earth did we get there?

I believes that the environmental pressure on reduction of peat use by the horticultural industry is valid in protecting lowland UK peat bogs as few such habitats still exist. The campaign, began in the 1908s by David Bellamy, was successful in protecting many remaining lowland peat habitats. David Bellamy has been asked about the way the peat debate has evolved. He is frankly appalled at the current attempts to ban peat use and completely opposes this.

Somehow, the worthwhile protection of these lowland peat bogs has lead, almost completely without justification, to a national campaign casting peat use as 'sinful' or morally wrong. There are several arguments put forward to justify the enforced reduction in use of peat but most of these are dubious at best and often factually inaccurate.

1. The main claim levelled is that peat is a 'non-renewable' like oil. This is simply not true. If carefully harvested from live peat bogs, peat is a fully renewable resource. Anyone can see this for themselves in countries such as Sweden. Here peat is grown and harvested rather like tree plantations. Scientists have estimated that the annual growth in peat far exceeds the amount that is extracted each year, so it is in essence a completely renewable resource.

2. It is claimed is that the world is somehow running short of peat. The area from Norway to Siberia is, rather simply put, the world's largest peat bog. A fraction of 1% of the reserves have probably been extracted. On a global scale peat-land is not rare nor threatened, the earth is known to generate around 600 million cubic metres per year but only a maximum 200 million cubic metres is extracted each year. So unlike coal or oil, the amount is increasing year on year. Most of the land where the peat is, has little or no alternative use. Compared to farming, fishing, golf courses, or any other major land-use, peat production which is carefully managed, is a sound, sustainable and 'green' activity. Looking at Scotland for example, around 50% of the land is peat covered.

3. The threat to rare ecosystems, such as UK. lowland peat-land habitats. In the UK peat-land is not threatened, peat producers have already agreed not to seek or to extract from areas with a conservation value. Peat Extraction for Horticulture is NOT the main cause of damage to the UK peat lands. In fact, since 1960 only just over 500 hectares have been introduced for peat production whereas 95,000 hectares have been lost to forestry. The peat-lands of Great Britain cover an area of some 17 500 km2, most in north and west. Scotland has c. 68%, England 23% and Wales 9%. There are about 1 700 km2 of peat-land in Northern Ireland, mostly located in the western half of the province.

In Great Britain, commercialised peat extraction takes place on only some 5 400 ha (equivalent to about 0.3% of total peat-land). Almost all peat industry output is for the horticultural market; there is however still quite extensive (but unquantified) use of peat as a domestic fuel in the rural parts of Scotland and Northern Ireland.

4. Carbon Sink. Peat bogs soak up carbon dioxide. So does farmland. It is claimed that if we harvest peat this CO2 will be lost. But in fact this is not the case. Peat lands used for extracting peat can be quite easily restored. Draining the peat bogs can be reversed. The Department of the Environment, Peat Producers Association and many other conservation bodies are all working together to restore the peat lands back to nature. The carbon sink impact of peat extraction is negligible if the land is correctly managed. This is simply a matter of legislation. 'Temporal studies of peat-lands reveal that they may act as CO2 sinks in some years and sources in others, depending on climate. Emissions of CH4 and N2O are similarly variable in space and time.'  From 'peat-lands and Climate change'. Every time a farmer ploughs a field CO2 is lost into the atmosphere. But we don't seem to be advocating the banning of ploughing.

The UK's Unilateral Approach

No other European Country has taken the steps that the UK Government are advocating. There is clearly no perceived problem in the rest of Europe using peat for horticulture. I have contacted nursery associations in Holland, France, Germany, Scandinavia and Italy and all are perfectly free to use peat in horticulture. This means that UK producers are going to be unfairly penalised if Dutch and German growers are allowed to carry on using peat in their container production. U.K. Governments dont appear to be proposing the banning of importation of plants grown in peat, which is the only fair way to proceed if they wont allow UK producers to grow in peat.

So how come the UK alone has a fully fledged anti-peat lobby which has chosen to use all sorts of rather underhand propaganda to further its aims. Very few of its arguments stand up to scrutiny. It might come as a surprise to learn that horticulture accounts for only about 2% of peat use. Most peat is burned for fuel. World-wide it may be that as little as 0.1% of the world's peat is being used in horticulture. But UK environmentalists are unfairly pinning everything onto horticulture.

Is the Proposed Peat ban legal Under EC law?

To find out a letter was sent to Ian Hudghton MEP  (the MEP with responsibility for EC Trade). He contacted the European Commission. A reply was received from Antoni Tajani, President of the European Commission.

In the letter Mr Tajani states: ‘In general, the Commission supports national measures aiming at environmental protection. . . .  However national measures restricting the use of a given product could constitute an obstacle to intra-EU trade. In order to avoid such obstacles, directive 98/34/EC2 establishes a control mechanism by which member states planning to adopt  technical regulations are obliged to notify them at the draft stage to the Commission, which informs other member states and stakeholders. This allows the Commission, the other member states and economic operators to analyse the planned legislation and its compatibility with EC law. So far the Commission has not received formal notification of any such proposal from the UK authorities.’

So for the time being, it seems that the UK Government maybe in contravention of EC trade legislation.

5 Deliberate or Ignorant Misinformation.

The anti peat use lobby seems happy to publish information which is simply not accurate it is then copied, or miscopied by garden writers perpetuating the false information. For example Joe Hashman's otherwise useful book Pocket Guide to the Edible Garden states:

'During the latter part of the 20th century 94% of British peat lands were destroyed by the horticulture industry.'  His source for this is a Friends of the Earth claim that ‘less than six per cent of Britain's original lowland raised peat bog habitat remains in a near natural condition’.

The Friends of the Earth statistics refer to lowland peat bogs only. Most peat in the UK is in highland peat bogs. And most of the lowland peat bogs were destroyed by draining them for farmland and forestry and not for horticulture. Joe Hashman has apologised for this error. But it won't stop this information being spread around.

The Best way Forward for peat use in horticulture

Despite some rather foolish targets for the reduction of peat use in horticulture, only about 4% of UK retail sales are for peat alternatives. Peat-based multi-purpose compost sales have remained pretty static.

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has changed the classification of peat from a 'fossil fuel' to a 'renewable biomass resource' in recognition that peat can indeed by harvested and cultivated sustainably.

I personally believe that sustainable peat production for horticulture is fully justifiable and the anti-peat lobby are guilty of exaggeration and misinformation. Particularly in propagation, there is no substitute for  peat. And many of the alternatives, such as coir, are have very unsound environmental credentials: this is 3rd world organic matter which should be used by local farmers, not shipped expensively round the world, in order to assuage middle class guilt. Dont fall for it, it really is not sound 'green' sense.

Are peat free composts any good? 

The dilemma for the gardener is that peat based composts are significantly better than peat free composts for sowing seeds and potting on young plants. Time after time trials reveal this to be true.

Which reported that composts with at least 50% peat were far better than peat free composts in 2010. Which compost trials

Beechgrove Garden trials in 2010 growing potatoes in containers found poor results with peat free composts compared to composts containing at least 50% peat. (Search the fact-sheets on their website for the results) Beechgrove Garden

The RHS trials published in January 2011 showed the poor results germinating seedlings and potting on young plants most peat alternatives, including loam, wood fibre and coir particularly for plants with very small seeds.

Peat free composts tend to be inconsistent, unstable and often require the addition of extra food and trace elements and many gardeners have complained to me of the poor results with peat free composts. Coir, often used as a replacement for peat is shipped from Sri Lanka which cannot be good for the environment!

Jumping on the bandwagon

The RHS, National Trust and other influential organisations, as well as TV presenters such as Monty Don should have a little more courage than simply to jump on this spurious bandwagon: instead they should appraise themselves of the facts and have the courage to portray both sides of the argument. Rather than condemn peat they should explain the facts and defend the sustainable and sensible use of peat. At the moment the only reduction in peat seems to be in sales of bags marked 'peat'. If the bag says 'multipurpose compost' or 'ericaceous compost' it sells as well as ever. What do such bags contain? At least 90% peat of course. Many well informed gardeners and writers such as Peter Seabrook and the best selling author Dr Hessayon (author of the 'Expert' series) take a pragmatic view. Dr Hessayon writes: 'don't use peat as for overall soil improvement- it is not efficient and garden compost and manure will do a much better job. However moss peat has a role to play in planting and seed composts where there are no substitutes of equal merit' (The Bedside Book of the Garden)

Peat and the Environment in Scandinavia

Swedish peat-lands and Swedish peat constitute a natural resource that renews itself through steady and relentless plant growth. The peat industry's extraction of peat, 4-5 million cubic meters per year, is barely a quarter of a year's growth. Between one and two thousandth of the peat-covered ground is made use of for the present. Additionally, thanks to the fact that new drainage has practically stopped in agriculture and forestry operations, it is now highly likely that the total area of peat grounds is also increasing in size.

Supervision

Before a peat extraction operation can be approved in Sweden, the county administration or alternatively the environmental protection agency, perform a careful examination of the site. This is done to evaluate the proposed operation's impact on the area with regards to public benefit as well as the environmental effects. The operations that are finally approved will have been judged suitable and not in conflict with legitimate preservation interests. In addition, extensive rules apply to the activities.

Svenska Torvproducentföreningen Torsgatan 12, 111 23 Stockholm, Tel 08-441 70 73, Fax 08-441 70 89

See website for further information on Scandinavian peat. http://www.peatsociety.org/index.php?id=280

From the CHA website:

Peter Seabrook has attacked the RHS for its latest edict, a ban on the use of peat at its shows. He writes 'Who is it wandering the corridors at Vincent Square that sees fit to act as our universal conscience'. He discusses the poverty in Lithuania where peat is one of the few natural resources, and a renewable resource. Seabrook also attacked Kew and the National Trust 'whose money-wasting exercise marketing peat-free compost was a scandal' (Hort Week 6th Jan). Commenting on the sale of peat-free plants, Follyfield Nurseries’ joint owner Fred Chapman said ‘Not just bodies like the National Trust but sheds and supermarkets are pushing these plants as a sales gimmick’ (Hort Week 20th Jan). Alan Shaw, of the Growing Media Association, said that he welcomed initiatives from large organisations like the National Trust and RSPB that help to expand the UK gardening market. He wrote: ‘The fact that they are peat free is in reality of lesser importance. Most manufacturers of growing media have offered peat free options for some time now and peat free plants can fill a valid niche market’. ‘The trend in the mass market, however, is towards gradual peat reduction’ (Grower 20th Jan). An increasing number of growers are disputing the criticalness of the peat shortage (Hort Week 27th Jan).

Are peat reduction targets of 90% achievable or desireable?

The Government’s Peat Working Group initiated the search for suitable materials and this was recognised by re-naming the group in 2005 as the Horticultural Growing Media Forum (HGMF), whose focus was on delivering the peat reduction targets. Some parts of the industry have made significant progress, with the three large national retailers all achieving 50% peat replacement in their bagged product ranges. Partial dilution is becoming the norm for previously all-peat products and several manufacturers have now invested in wood fibre production plants and/or green composting facilities. Unfortunately in the UK, even with the HGMF in place, conflicts of interests, technical problems, increasing costs, reluctance and apathy have all contributed to slow progress towards achieving the 90% target for 2010.

Mires and Peat, Volume 3 (2008), Article 08, http://www.mires-and-peat.net/, ISSN 1819-754X

Experts pour scorn on Defra peat research for failing to reach meaningful conclusion   by Matthew Appleby   Horticulture Week   30 July 2010

Growing-media experts have questioned Defra's latest peat research on the carbon footprint of growing media. The report, from University of Warwick HRI scientist Dr Rob Lillywhite, dismisses greenhouse gas emissions as a reason for reducing peat use, preferring the existing drivers of non-renewability and potential as a carbon sink.  It states: "In terms of total greenhouse gas emissions, the life cycle assessment approach supports the use of UK and Irish peat, and coir as growing media material. "However, if the carbon neutrality of short-term materials and potential sequestration is taken into account, then the opposite is true and compost, timber products and coir are the preferred materials. These opposing conclusions suggest that further policy work is required." It concludes: "The major driver for reduced peat use should remain its 'non-renewability' and potential for long-term carbon storage rather than its emissions of greenhouse gases." The report highlights difficulties in assessing greenhouse gas emissions of organic materials because of a lack of data and confusion over whether to use weight or volume reporting units. It uses weight, which gives peat a poorer rating. The industry uses volume.  Growing Media Association (GMA) manager Tim Briercliffe said: "The GMA was included in the steering group for this project but expressed its concerns about the methodology and assumptions made throughout the process. The project was overambitious and set out to collate published information that unfortunately never really existed. "The report acknowledges that frankly the project was unable to reach meaningful conclusions and the GMA would urge readers to approach it with caution. This work set out to understand important questions that the industry had raised. Unfortunately, we do not believe that this report enlightens the debate." Former GMA chair Jamie Robinson added: "Like so much of the CO2 debate, there are a lot of questions on the methodology used and the conclusions are ambiguous - you can basically choose your outcome. I don't think that it takes the peat reduction debate any further forward." But Vital Earth managing director Steve Harper said: "I think you need to take offsetting into consideration. Ultimately, if peat is undisturbed it is a carbon sink. If dug, it creates a footprint. If you can divert green and food waste from landfill, you reduce its impact on the planet (by not creating methane) and reduce waste and create a truly sustainable product."

A Defra representative said: "The research indicates that alternatives to peat are likely to have similar or lower greenhouse gas emissions associated with their production compared to peat - although the report does not consider specific products on the market, which are usually a blend of different materials. "We are considering the development of a future policy to further reduce the horticultural use of peat. All evidence, including this newly published research, will feed into the development of the policy."  - The final report is available from www.defra.gov.uk

Comparing C02 emissions for peat to other growing media

UK peat greenhouse gas emissions (CO2)

Extraction & harvest 36kg

Processing 24kg

Transport 42-123kg

End of life 543kg

Carbon storage -136kg

Total 509-590kg

 

Now compare that figure with these:

 

Total CO2 emissions from other growing media

Green compost 12-93kg

Coir 113-350kg

Bark -82-5kg

Wood fibre -56-145kg

Perlite 736-817kg

Vermiculite 772-853kg

DEFRA PUBLICATION  Consultation findings June 2011

This includes the following milestones:

  • a progressive phase-out target of 2015 for government and the public sector on direct procurement of peat in new contracts for plants;

  • a voluntary phase-out target of 2020 for amateur gardeners; and

  • ·       a final voluntary phase-out target of 2030 for professional growers of fruit, vegetables and plants;

  • we will establish a Task Force bringing together representatives from across the supply chain with a clear remit to advise on how best to overcome the barriers to reducing peat use, exploring all the available measures to achieve this goal;

  • building on the advice of the Task Force, we will review progress towards these targets before the end of this spending period and consider the potential for alternative policy measures if necessary.

The taskforce will be chaired by Dr. Alan Knight OBE and will include representatives from retailers, growing media manufacturers, growers and environmental organisations.  It will have a clear remit to foster a partnership approach focussing on identifying and addressing supply chain issues, exploring all available measures to deliver our ambition and determining the criteria against which the policy will be reviewed.  Peat is cheap, readily available and of consistent quality, and any alternative has to compete with these factors.  The taskforce will produce a comprehensive and detailed roadmap to address barriers in relation to both the supply and demand of peat alternatives, with the aim of reforming once and for all a supply chain focussed around peat.  


SOIL FERTILISERS

see also

LIME & Soil pH

How to use Fertilisers

As we're on the subject of sowing, growing and success in doing so (from a peat based compost point of view!) I think it would be a good idea to tie the previous article in to the use of fertilisers.

Ideally, in the early part of the year, we should all take a sample of each of our growing beds (or rotation areas)and analyse it. Based on the results of this analysis you can then decide which fertilisers or alkaline/ acid balancing compound to apply before planting. The idea is - to begin with - to ensure that each crop has an adequate, but not excessive supply of the three major plant foods . Also each plant should be growing in a soil that is pH friendly for it.

If you have a proper crop rotation plan, then the nutrient levels should more or less balance out over a full crop rotation period (minimum - three years).

In nearly all cases, I personally use a balanced organic fertiliser such as  fish, blood and bone. The exception would be if any bed already has a very high level of one of the plant foods, in which case I might choose fertilisers which do not contain this food because an excess of a particular element, does more harm than good.

Nitrogen is rarely in excess because it is easily leached out of the soil by winter rain. To replenish it then pelleted chicken manure is the answer - in fact nothing misses a little treat of chicken poo - but a word of warning - it is potent. So it should never come into direct physical contact with plants (it can easily scorch them - especially when wet). Rake it into the soil or just sprinkle it a little way from the plants (suffice to say I don't mean half a mile away). Now with the depletion of Nitrogen either of the other two )potash/ phosphate) could build up. If potash is in excess, the answer is probably fish meal.

If phosphate is in excess, however, the solution is usually a combination of two straight fertilisers, like sulphate of ammonia and sulphate of potash. I should add that I am not totally organic, but always prefer organic fertilisers if there is a choice. The only other time I use synthetic fertiliser is for my flowers and hanging baskets. I don't eat flowers and the soil they get grown in for temporary short term use.

Fertilisers for particular crops should be applied once the crop is growing, usually in liquid form, or easily soluble crystals.

Onions and leeks are given high nitrogen fertiliser during the growing stage, que Chicken Poo!, In the case of onions, one with a higher potash content later on to ripen the bulbs - liquid comfrey leaf fertiliser is perfect for them.

Leafy crops such as cabbages need high nitrogen feeds all along their growth cycle. yes that's right - chicken poo!

I said earlier that root crops require phosphate. I have never found, however, that they need extra doses while growing. There is enough in the ground to begin with, I do not feed these crops much, but if I do, a general organic fertiliser is adequate.

I hope you understand the use of fertilisers a bit more after reading this article. By the way, do not be worried if you have not got facilities for soil testing, there's usually someone close by who can help out. If you are keen, you can send it away for analysis to one of the firms you see advertised on-line or in gardening magazines. If you don't want to go to this trouble and expense, you can't go far wrong with a base dressing of  fish, blood and bone (or Growmore or if you are not fussy about using synthetic fertilisers) and then follow the other steps which I have described.

Did You Know?

1. Growmore, probably the most popular synthetic compound fertiliser, was first formulated as part of the "Dig For Victory" campaign in the Second World War - hence its full name "National Growmore".

In 2012 - unlike in the forties - I would hope that we gardeners are a bit more enlightened about the disadvantages of using inorganic fertilisers over a long term, as the soil eventually becomes impoverished, and there are serious health issues raised from our intake of chemicals through the food we eat. Synthetic, inorganic fertilisers are basically a quick fix - something that was obviously needed during the Dig for Victory campaign. Long term they have a negative impact.

2. Wilted comfrey leaves are an excellent source of organic potash. Use them around soft fruit or when planting potatoes. Or add them to the compost heap at any time. Cultivated strains are available but don't despise the wild plant which grows beside ditches on many allotment sites.

Some questions you may be asking:

  •  What are organic compounds?

  • How does using synthetic FERTILISER affect food production and the environment?

  • Is it true that chemical FERTILISERS can really be harmful to the body?

  • What is organic FERTILISER and how does it differ from the non organic?

  • Is organic FERTILISER better and safer to use on crops?

  • What is soil pH?

  • How do I know if I need FERTILISER or lime?

  • What effect does using lime have on my soil and my crops?

Here is a basic outline that should answer the above questions for you.

ORGANIC FERTILISERS

Basically, inorganic FERTILISERS are made from synthetic, manufactured chemicals, and organic FERTILISERS are made from naturally occurring organic material. However, this is a bit of an over-simplification, and sometimes the line between organic and inorganic FERTILISER can get a bit blurry. For example, naturally occurring minerals such as limestone, saltpetre, and mine rock phosphate, although technically inorganic (they come from rocks, after all), have been used as FERTILISERS for centuries and are just as safe as organic FERTILISERS.

Organic FERTILISERS are generally created as other organic material that rots and decays. As plant and animal matter rots, the organic material breaks down into its component water and minerals. The resulting biomass is very high in nutrient quality.

The very simple example of organic composition is compost. Compost is from organic wastes of natural living things such as animal manure, plants, leaves and fruit and vegetable waste. Many gardeners  and and allotmenteers prefer to use animal manure, aside from different plants and leaves, as FERTILISERS for longer period of time because of its proven nutrient contents.

INORGANIC CHEMICAL FERTILISERS

Many inorganic FERTILISERS contain synthesized chemicals that do not occur naturally in nature, and thus can become harmful. The introduction of such chemicals, if used extensively over time, can throw off the local environment and ecosystem.

Chemicals used as FERTILISERS will extensively affect everything and everyone. This happens because when it rains and the chemicals are washing into the soil. As the rainwater flows through the varied bodies of water, more and more living things in and out of the water are affected. The chemicals will also reach the groundwater, which is where drinking water comes from.

The worst thing about the synthetic FERTILISERS is the extent of chemicals on the crops and produces. When produce is grown with synthetic FERTILISERS, the produce will contain the chemicals in its flesh and once it is consumed by people, the chemicals can then enter and harm their bodies. Eating synthetically grown produces over a period of time can cause major health issues.

WHAT MAKES ORGANIC FERTILISER BETTER?

When organic FERTILISERS are introduced and used by growers into the local environment the materials are naturally occurring plant and animal matter and they do not have the negative affect on the environment found with inorganic FERTILISERS.

When it comes to crop growth, organic FERTILISERS are good in encouraging growth. It take more organic FERTILISER to do the job of a lesser amount of inorganic, however with organic FERTILISER the soil absorbs the nutrients and essential substances more slowly thereby turning out rich crops that are far better than the crops from gardens that use synthetic FERTILISERS. As the soil continuously becomes enriched from the use of organic FERTILISERS, the growth cycle of crops yielded increases every harvest season.

According to a 32- year study performed in Sweden, the best thing about organic FERTILISER is that it increased the yield rate of crops by 15%. The inorganic FERTILISER only produced a 50% yield rate compared to the organic producing a phenomenal 65% yield rate.

It is hoped that the above has answered some of your questions about organic FERTILISERS, and it’s uses in organic gardening.

Below explains how the soil pH and the use of lime are also intricate parts of the successful "growing" picture

SOIL pH EXPLAINED

The pH (not PH) scale is used to measure the acidity or alkalinity of an aqueous solution and is determined by the hydrogen ion content (H+). This scale was invented by a Danish scientist called Sorenson in 1909. The letters pH stand for “Power of Hydrogen” and is a measure of the molar concentration of hydrogen ions in the solution and as such is a measure of acidity (that's just for the chemistry anoraks!)

For us non-chemists and gardeners the scale generally runs from 4.00, which is highly acid in soil terms, through 7.00 which is neutral to 8.00 which is alkaline.

To put this in perspective. The pH scale ranges from 0, which is strongly acid, to 14 which is strongly alkaline, the scale point 7 being neutral. Examples of solutions with differing pH values include car battery acid (pH 1), lemon juice (pH 2), beer (pH 4), natural rain (pH 5-6), milk (pH 6), washing-up liquid (pH 7), seawater (pH 8), milk of magnesia (pH 10) and ammonia (pH 12). The pH scale is logarithmic rather than linear, and so there is a ten fold increase in acidity with each pH unit, so, e.g. rainfall with pH 5 is ten times more acidic than pH 6, rainfall with pH 4 is 100 times more acidic than pH 6 and rainfall with pH 3 is 1000 times more acidic than pH 6.

To LOWER soil acidity we need to RAISE the pH value and vice versa

Keeping it simple, if your soil is too acid then nutrients will not be available to the plants even if they are present. To LOWER soil acidity we need to RAISE the pH value  and vice versa.

Different plants require different levels of acidity – hence we have ericaceous composts for acid loving plants. Most vegetables thrive when the soil is slightly acid i.e. a pH level between 6.5 and 7, Potatoes tend to prefer a lower pH, more acid soil (they are classified as "lime haters"), and Brassicas prefer a slightly alkaline soil, pH of 7.0 or even slightly higher. That's why it is suggested to lime in the autumn after potatoes and to follow with Brassicas who like the high ph. Legumes (peas beans etc.) should be grown in between in a good crop rotation schedule.

Measuring Soil Acidity (pH level)

You can buy various types of soil pH test kits. Often you mix a soil sample with water then compare a colour change to a chart (see our video tutorial on soil testing), however this is rather tedious as you need to take more than a couple of samples. Cheap electronic testers are now available (often for as little as £5.00), which is much easier. You simply switch the pH meter on and insert two prongs into the earth you're testing and then wait approximately 1 minute for the reading to settle, which you then read on a scale of 4 - 8 on the meter's face (depending on your instrument).

Whichever kit you use, it will come with instructions and will give you a reading. Never make a judgement on the basis of just one test. You may have hit a spot particularly high or low pH. Take samples or test from a number of spots and work out an average reading (add up the results and divide by the number of tests done) this will give you a much better general view of your soil’s acidity level.

The acidity of the soil has a huge effect on fertility because the acidity of soil controls how available nutrients are to your crops.

Clay soils are also harder to work the more acid they are for some complicated chemical reason.

Different soil types will behave differently so one vital tool for the serious gardener is a tester for acidity levels. You can also judge the acidity of the soil by the types of weeds that grow and their behaviour.

Sorrel, creeping buttercup, nettle, dock and mare’s tail are all signs your soil is becoming or is too acid. Reducing soil acidity will help deter some weeds – they were designed for acid soils unlike our edible garden crops that prefer something a little more alkaline.

Changing the acidity level of the soil

To raise the pH and lower acidity or "sweeten" the soil, we add lime. To lower pH and increase acidity you can add sulphate of ammonia or urea which are high nitrogen FERTILISERS.

From this you can see that adding manure will also lower pH and make the soil more acidic.

It’s counter to what you expect, but adding loads of manure year after year will actually reduce soil fertility by making it too acidic so the plants cannot access the nutrients. They become locked up. So we need to balance that with the use of lime

Do you need to lime and how much to lime?

LIME

If the soil is not of a chalky nature it will tend to become acidic as the Calcium is leached out. When it becomes acidic (sour) with too low a pH level it will require lime to increase the pH level to make it more alkaline (sweet).

Never Mix Lime and FERTILISER

Mixing acid and alkaline chemicals produces unpleasant reactions e.g. bi-carbonate of soda and fizzy drinks or urine in a  toilet with bleach in it - you will have noticed there is an unpleasant reaction. Just the same, if you mix your lime and FERTILISER. They will at best cancel each other out in an undesirable reaction in the soil. So never lime in the same year as you fertilize.

Different Soils

Clay soils tend to become acid more quickly than sandy soils and the amount of organic matter has an effect as well. Clay soils can also be slow to react to the addition of lime.

Types of Lime

Agricultural Lime or Garden Lime

Agricultural Lime or Garden Lime is made from pulverized limestone or chalk. As well as raising the pH it will provide calcium for the crops and trace nutrients. Some recent experiments are indicating our soils may well benefit from the addition of rock dust, adding trace nutrients to the soil.

Dolomite Lime

Dolomite lime is similar to garden lime but contains a higher percentage of magnesium.

Quicklime and Slaked Lime

Quicklime is produced by burning rock limestone in kilns. It is highly caustic and cannot be applied directly to the soil. Quicklime reacts with water to produce slaked, or hydrated, lime, thus quicklime is spread around the land in heaps to absorb rain and form slaked lime, which is then spread on the soil. Their use is prohibited by the organic standards and while fast acting, the effect is short lived in comparison to garden lime.

Recommended Amounts of Lime to Use

Below is a rough guide to how much lime to use to achieve the desired pH level of your growing medium (soil). The amounts needed are also dependant on which predominant soil type you have in your garden or allotment plot. Ideally you should test the pH of the soil before adding lime and then take a second reading in the same locations after the lime has had sufficient time to act (approximately a month or two - depending on the weather and the amount of rainfall after the application).

 

pH of soil

Sandy Soil

Grams/sq Metre

Loamy Soil

Grams/sq Metre

Clay Soil

Grams/sq Metre

4.5

190

285

400

5.0

155

235

330

5.5

130

190

260

6.0

118

155

215

 


imageDID YOU KNOW?

Lots of plants are used as dyes. You can colour cloth with stewed onion skin, tea bags or walnut juice – try it! One of the oldest blue dyes comes from a plant called Woad that has been used since Neolithic times – that's over 6000 years ago - even before my Ol' Man was born!

"Not a lot of people know that!"


That's Un-BEE-lievable!

Like me, you've probably wondered at some time how  bees and other insects hold on to flowers on a windy day? Scientists believe they have found the answer.

Researchers have known for some time that bees prefer petals with conical cells, which are found in the majority of flowers from roses to petunias. However, the reason for the preference has remained largely a mystery, until now.

The team from Cambridge and Bristol Universities recreated a 'shaking platform' to mimic the way flowers move in the wind, using both conical-celled flowers and strains with flat cells. They found that the more they shook the platform, the more bees opted for the conical-celled petals.

It's thought the bees use the gaps between the cells as footholds in blustery conditions, locking their claws into them in a similar way to Velcro fabric fasteners, and helping them hold on to the flowers.

'Nobody knew what these cells were for, and now we have a good answer that works for pretty much all flowers,' said report author Dr Beverley Glover. 'It's too easy to look at flowers from a human perspective, but when you put yourself into the bee's shoes you find hidden features of flowers can be crucial to foraging success.'


That's it for another issue. If you would like to write something for our news-letter then all contributions are gratefully accepted.

If you have any friends or gardening acquaintances who you think would like our news-letter and would benefit from it then by all means point them towards our news-letter archive on the web-site where they can also subscribe on-line to receive the publication by e-mail.

 

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Until the next time - keep busy, keep hoeing those weeds, but have fun & ENJOY on your plot or in your garden!

 

Best Wishes,

G

Gwilym.

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