Over the past few weeks, I’ve begun transplanting seedlings that I sowed indoors in March and April into the school raised beds as well as starting to sow directly outside. Once the snow had melted, I began by covering up all the beds with a dark weed barrier material which would stop any weeds from sprouting and help accelerate the warming of the soil in readiness for growing. Before I did that I took a peek under the sheets of newspaper that I had laid over the soil way back in the autumn. Although it hadn’t broken down significantly during the winter, it was soggy and beginning to decompose since the snow had thawed. What was also noticeable was just how many worms there were, all lying under it! These little creatures would be vital in turning this ordinary paper into goodness for the soil.
Caught on camera yesterday in between radish and salads
I monitored the soil temperature by periodically taking the temperature of the soil using a soil themometer and returned a few weeks later to add some compost to the soil. There is always a tendency for soil in raised beds to sink, so each year it needs to be topped up so that it keeps its structure and nutrient content. Nutrients lost through leaching and uptake by hungry plants need to be replaced so there’s enough for the new plants coming in. Homemade compost is great if you can make it, but unless you have a warm composter, things here in this climate take a long time. There are other ways to add organic matter to your soil, however this time I just opted for adding a layer of shop bought compost on top of the newspaper.
Trying not to disturb the soil too much, I poked the soil with a trowel making holes through the newspaper layer underneath so that the roots of new young seedlings would be able to penetrate through deeply. I wet the soil before leaving it covered for another couple of weeks.
Raised beds do have the advantage of warming up more quickly than the ground and covering the soil with a dark impermeable material means it will speed up this process even further so you can sow even earlier. Each seed requires a different temperature at which it will germinate but just watch out for any late frosts.
One of the earliest crops you can sow (at 4 degrees C) is lettuce and when I visited again the soil temperature was high enough so they were the first seeds to go in. By the time I had dodged the rain to visit the school garden again about a week later, the little seedlings had started to emerge.
Next, I transplanted some of the hardened-off seedlings – kale, beetroot and peas. Here is the green and red kale, just planted, with the rows of lettuce seedlings to their right.
The peas were planted alongside supports made out of dried twigs.
I sowed rows of carrots in between the rows of the transplanted beetroot and then sowed chives all around them. Chives are a great companion plant for carrots deterring carrot fly and repelling other pests like aphids. Plus they produce lovely flowers that are attractive and edible. I covered all the young transplanted seedlings with a light fleece, just as light protection in the transition period.
For the climbing beans I constructed a wigwam using 2 metre bamboo canes and finally I sowed a ring of Calendula flower seeds around the wigwam.
So far, all good.
Until…one week of wind, rain and single digit temperatures…..
Returning for another visit, everything looked fine except for the beans which looked battered, with many of its leaves torn, brown and floppy.
A sure sign of exposure to wind chill, which was not surprising considering their location and the sudden transition into autumnal weather! As a makeshift emergency measure I wrapped the wigwam with a layer of light fleece in lieu of another protective barrier.
To protect individual plants from sudden dips in weather a good solution is to make a home-made cloche. Cut the bottom off a large clear plastic container and place it over the plant for intervals of harsh weather. Next season, I think I will try adapting this idea for the beans. The Frugal Family have another innovative example of how to do it.
This unsheltered site is far from ideal for these beans. Light wind alone reduces the bean yield by 20-30% so they need all the help they can get if they’re to be grown outside here, especially in the early stages of their development.