When I started out on the allotments, the blue-brown clay lay just below a spit’s depth on plot 5 but now the topsoil is down to two spits depth and the quality of the topsoil is much better. Mind you, I’ve added tonnes of municipal compost, my own compost, green manure and animal manure over the years. Not to mention regular liming. With clay soils lime is particularly important as it improves flocculation. That’s a word I love! It just means that the fine particles join together to make larger ones, opening up the soil
I reckon the main beds on plot 29 are now a good 18 inches higher than when I took them on with all the added organic matter. When I dug over the main bed recently, I realised the topsoil is now two feet deep.
I read somewhere that the market gardeners of Paris used to rent their plots and they added so much manure and compost that the beds ended up 6 feet deeper than when they started. So I’ve a ways to go to equal their achievements in the 19th Century.
Most important is that the structure allows beneficial and symbiotic bacteria and fungi to thrive, which enables the crop’s roots to absorb more nutrients and especially the micro-nutrients that are as vital to plant health as vitamins are to us.
Even weeds have their uses. I know a lot of growers don’t like to compost weeds, fearing they’re just planting more weed seeds to grow and trouble them over the years to come. Yet weeds steal nutrients from the soil and by composting them you return those nutrients to your soil.
Of course some seeds will remain in the compost, unless you manage the art of hot composting to kill them, but so what? There are always weed seeds floating around in the air, waiting to settle on your plot anyway. Weeds are just part of growing and what your hoe is for.
As well as comfrey tea, you can make a pretty good liquid fertiliser from nettles. As you know, digging out an established patch of nettles is a devil of a job. You can, of course, spray with glyphosate and kill them off but taking cut after cut from them and adding the cuttings to a barrel of water will make nettle tea. Eventually the nettles will weaken and die so you can then dig over, incorporating the roots which will improve the soil.
Anyway, when I leave these plots to pursue plots and pastures new, I’m sure the new tenant will moan about me as I did the previous and wonder if I knew one end of a spade from the other. They’ll not appreciate what they’ve got as I do until they’ve added a few pints of sweat to the soil.