July 2020 | Soil Life

July 2020 | Soil Life

Big picture” this month is my Geranium x oxanium ‘Wargrave Pink’.  I have two areas of this easy to care for and all round excellent plant that fills the low-down areas of my garden with colour and keeps the weeds at bay although it is the only Geranium I currently have.   This is an old cultivar, from around 1850, and is a real garden stalwart.  I only realised just how useful it is when a couple of weeks ago, talking with a neighbour who said “That is just what I need something at that level” and I promised him a piece to start off in his garden.  That made me wonder about other cultivars I might get and I found the RHS have an excellent list of pictures and suppliers of 1585 Geraniums and Pelargoniums that come in a range of whites, pinks, reds and purples.  I had no idea the range was that extensive and I am making the Geranium my –

Plant of the Month

I am going to get more.  See below for an exhaustive list from the RHS.


Later in July:  Since writing the above I have indeed replenished my stock with my almost namesake Geranium ‘Rozanne’ so adding what will eventually be clumps of purplish-blue flowers to my garden at lower levels.


Soil life

I am quite a happy gardener this month – pleased with how the no-dig experiment is progressing and now focusing on the all-important soil life.  Regular readers will know that I have converted two of four allotment vegetable beds to the cover with cardboard and a top layer of soil method.  I would have done them all but you need really enormous amounts of compost so the other two beds are in abeyance for now while I forge on making compost of  everything organic I can lay my hands on.  My intention is to create two further no-dig cardboard-covered beds next season and then the whole vegetable plot will be no-dig.

This year has seen a lot of scorching weather and I have had the challenge of a very dry layer of cardboard under the soil layer.  I started later than I wanted i.e. in early spring rather than last autumn since events made that impossible at the time.  Consequently the cardboard and soil beds didn’t get rained on over the winter and those months of soaking and drying, freezing and defrosting would have been ideal.  But, about two weeks ago we finally had the long-awaited 24-hour non-stop deluge and the allotment plot, and the garden too, got a decent soaking.  I mention this because I am thrilled to find that now at the plot the soaked cardboard has become a magnet for lots of little red worms.  These apparently are surface worms that deal with topsoil, the big fat wrigglers deal with drainage deeper down in the soil.  I see few worms of any type (bad sign) so seeing any is a big bonus but it also reminds me I need to spend some time improving the life of my soil and aim to increase the number of worms.

www.sciencedaily.com  has plenty of information on this subject and describes soil life as

“a collective term for all the organisms living with the soil.  In a balanced soil plants grow in an active and vibrant environment.  Without the activities of soil organisms, dead matter would accumulate and litter the soil surface, and there would be no food for plants.”

There are three types of worms apparently and all will probably be familiar to gardeners. The small matchstick-size red-bodied worm breaks down surface litter and provides a good food source for native birds, a small to medium size worm of grey, pink or dark green colour will mix soil and support growing by making nutrients available to plants while the large, pencil-sized worm with a red or black head are the deep burrowers. These “drainage worms” can form channels of as much as 2 metres which helps with water infiltration and deep plant rooting.

The use of chemicals in food growing became the thing to do during the war when feeding the nation became critical and was really an emergency solution that stuck around. Chemical use has diminished a lot during recent years with attitudes to healthy eating and the influence of the organic movement but people can still be found who don’t feel what goes into the soil is an issue of concern.  In some cultures they call it dirt as opposed to soil – sounds a bit at odds with the concept of soil life.

In this view of my plot the centre left bed comprises the four vegetable beds. The section on the far right starts with the soft fruit and behind that the fruit trees.
In this view of my plot the centre left bed comprises the four vegetable beds. The section on the far right starts with the soft fruit and behind that the fruit trees.

The contents of my compost heap at the allotment are mostly dead plants, weeds, (always, always, always dry them first), and the occasional small bag of kitchen waste – the majority of which goes into my garden compost.  Manure should accompany this but isn’t much of a possibility in south-east London.  Compost alone will add organic matter and many nutrients but apparently needs to be balanced and legume cover crops are recommended to provide this.

I chose Winter Field Beans and a Winter Mix.  I chose a nursery offering a telephone number to order and then I read on to find that Covid-19 arrangements had changed everything and I needed to contact them by email – the email address was mumbled and given out at a speed that made me wonder if they usually dealt with the hyperactive.  Why do so many people do this – are they determined to drive business away?  I found the email address by other means and so I set about doing my order and when I sent it got the message back  “an order has already been sent wait for 15 minutes”.  What on earth does that mean?  You can’t ring them and if you do you mustn’t leave messages and, you are warned, if you have query about your order and you get in touch about it you will make the backlog worse.  So, now I just wait a couple of weeks to see what, if anything, happens.  Have I ordered or not?  Who knows?

When I first had my allotment and was keen to experiment I did try cover crops before and I think I found a stumbling block when digging it in.  There is now a lot more advice on the internet about this so if you are interested in these organic practices research on the internet should throw up everything you need.  But first buy your seeds . . .


Reverse shot of my plot.
Reverse shot of my plot.

Symphytum tea

I am keen to try things out again now that I have more time so when a neighbouring plotholder started talking recently about nourishing the soil with Symphytum Tea I was all ears.  I have made this stinky delicacy before –

Image of a large bottle of soaked leaves ready to decant into a smaller one. A very smelly but nutritious concoction for plants.
Symphytum “tea” ready to decant and add when watering. Best not done in public!

(imagine silage in a small bottle!!!) and I have always had a bed of Comfrey (Symphytum) on the plot.  So I did as she suggested and crammed as many leaves as I could into a family-sized water bottle and added some water.  It takes about a month and in a few days time it will be ready and needs to be decanted into a separate bottle.

The mucky leaves can be used as a plant mulch and apparently work miracles on climbing beans.  I am now so well Covid-19 trained that anything that means avoiding shopping is great news and I was doubly delighted with the efficiency of a plant that gives a feed that can be added when watering and gives mulch as well.  A bit of research revealed that Comfrey has been used medicinally over the centuries, as animal feed and is even fit for human consumption but please do your research carefully if you want to try that.

NB Later in the month, after writing the above, I have now watered with added Symphytum Tea twice and have seen great results – e.g. my Cavolo Nero plants were showing patchy yellowing of the leaves and a failure to thrive – one application corrected this and they doubled in size in three of four days.  Symphytum Tea is a winner.

Well July has come in with a mixed bag of weather.  I was pleased that the extreme heat had gone because I find it impossible to work in the garden when it is that hot but am not thrilled about working in gale force winds either.   We can wonder what the rest of the month has in store for us.  Enjoy your gardening anyway – I shall.  Bye for now.

Composite picture of early year plants and flowers



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