In the 16th century every good country huswife would consult her copy of Thomas Tusser’s Five Hundred Points of Good Husbandrie for advice on the work to be performed in the garden each month. So for November:
If Garden require it, now trench it ye may,
One trench not a yard from another go lay,
Which being well filled, with mucke by and by
Go cover with mould, for a season to ly.
Not great versifying, but sound advice. So as the days begin to shorten I know it’s time to put on the wellies, get out the wheel barrow and muck fork and start covering the vegetable beds with a winter blanket of seaweed and farmyard manure. Each summer my neighbour cleans out his cow shed and arrives with a trailer load of wonderfully strawy muck – about 10 tons. A few days or a week or so later (Hebridean time) this will be supplemented with about the same amount of well-rotted seaweed. This sits, ferments and decomposes until November when it’s time to begin the winter ritual of muck spreading. After six months of rotting the heaps is a little pungent and sufficiently decomposed to be forked into the barrow. This is not one of the most glamorous of the gardening chores, but the views from the muck heap are fantastic.
This is of course semi-skilled work and requires the Head Gardener to give instruction to the Under-Gardener.
“First you must not over load the barrow or you will not be able to wheel it over the tussocky grass to the gate and into the garden.
It must be precisely loaded so as not to be spilt as it is wheeled up the garden drive, across the grass, down between the fruit cages, past the polytunnel and into the vegetable area. No short cutting up the steps by the cottage!
The barrow must be correctly positioned to enable contents to be skilfully flung, with the pitch fork over the small fence that surrounds each bed, onto the soil to give an even covering. It should not be dropped all over the gravel paths!
Tuneless whistling is not permitted nor intemperate language even when the barrow tips over!”
It is simple once you have mastered the technique and built a Herculean physique.
By the spring the weather and the worms have done their work and this thick mat has broken down to a thin crumbly layer which can be raked into the soil. The object of the exercise is to add organic matter into my thin sandy soil, so I’m not too worried if most of the nutrients are leached by the rain. After three years I am beginning to see a noticeable difference in the texture and colour of the soil and the quality of the vegetables gets better and better. I am quite convinced that good soil husbandry or even huswiferie is the secret to growing good vegetables (or flowers). Seaweed also seems to have it’s own special magic (micro-nutrients) and is a reliable plant tonic when applied in liquid form.
After three years of intensive cropping we decided that the soil in the polytunnel also need something extra nourishment rather than just the routine addition of garden compost and organic granular fertilisers. So half the growing area has had a seaweed/manure dressing. This created a rather pungent atmosphere for a couple of days but this has been replaced by a nice earthy aroma. I just hope it rots down before it gets too warm and we have a giant hatching of seaweed flies!