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Wellington Fields Allotments - Hixon.


Plough Field Allotments at Amerton

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Alan J Hartley



Our Homemade Compost.

It is probably true to say that all Allotments encourage Plot Holders to use Compost Heaps, but it was decided a long time ago to have Communal ones on our site. As some of you may have noticed recently, John Martin, our friendly Farmer/Site Owner, has dug out and turned our large, partly sunken, Compost Bins. When we first established the Bins they were much smaller and made from Wooden Pallets, as people often do, then we progressed, and the other year John constructed much larger Bins that seem to be working very well. They usually get emptied about once a year, and sometimes twice, generating huge quantities of Compost. In the past the Compost was just stored on the corner of the Car Park which made a mess, but now of course we have a purpose built storage area. (Link To Compost Storage Area) This comfortably holds a whole Bin Full of Compost, but when John came to turn out the Bins the other day, the Storage area still had quite a quantity of Compost in. People had started to use it on their Plots, but most people needed to clear their Plots of weeds before they could make use of it. With the Bin Full of fresh weeds and needing to be emptied it was a bit of a “Catch 22,” situation. However, John, carefully, with his Digger, levelled out the Mature Heap that was already in the Storage Area and then piled the fresh heap on top.
Fortunately, when we built the Storage Area it was built with over capacity, so it all went in. There is however, now, an enormous pile in the Bay ready for use and a nice big, empty Bin that can be filled up with weeds. One or two Committee Members thought that we should just discard one Bin Full of Soil to make room for all of the fresh weeds, but I was determined that we would use it. People used to take their weeds off the site originally and I always believed that we were losing Top Soil along with the Weeds. From the amount of compost that gets generated we must have been losing several tons of soil each year. Since we have started recycling our Weed waste we have always been able to use the compost before the next lot has been turned out and I think this time will not really be any different. One problem for people has always been that to make full use of the compost, it needs to be available over winter, when their Beds are empty. Well this year it is. At times Plot Holders have almost been fighting over the Compost in the past and there wasn’t always enough to go round, but this time there is a lot more to go round than there has ever been!

A few Plot Holders are still reluctant to use our own Compost though and prefer to buy expensive bags of Commercial Potting compost to top up their beds. That is fine if they want to go to the expense, but unnecessary in my opinion. They believe that our Compost is full of Weed Seeds as it has been generated from everybody’s waste. This is probably true, but there are several points that I would make to counter this. Firstly, the viability of many seeds is easily destroyed by heat and you might be surprised at how much heat builds up in a large heap of weeds like ours, from the bacterial composting action. At times when I have been walking on, and levelling out the fresh Heap, I could feel the heat through my Boots. Indeed one day I dug down a bit further than I usually do and found a layer of white Ash from the heat of burnt rubbish! The temperature needed to create Ash would surely kill any Weed Seeds. Secondly, with lots of fresh green material constantly being tipped onto the heap it gets very wet at times. Too much wet around Seeds will also spoil their viability. Thirdly, many Annual weeds need light to germinate as can be seen from the Fields of Poppies that come up when a Field is ploughed for the first time after being left to grass for decades. Fourthly, being honest, there are so many weeds producing seeds around the site, on the paths, in the Hedgerows and in the surrounding land, that if you left a clean and weed free Plot for more than a few weeks, it would soon weed up. Finally, if a carpet of seeds do germinate on your plot, the best way to deal with them is to pick a dry sunny day and simply Hoe them off. It is a quick job and very effective if done when the weeds are young.
The old saying is “One years seeds, Five years Weeds,” so I think that however careful you are to eradicate weeds you will always get some come up with seeds blowing around the site. You just have to stay on top of them.

One problem that we do have is with the non Compostible material that gets put into the Compost Bin. This is generally Plastic, although some people put in Woody Material as well. Woody material like Raspberry Canes and Black Currant prunings or even Cabbage Stalks, will compost if they have been meticulously chopped up into small pieces, but most people can’t be bothered to do that, so we ask that they are put into John’s Tractor Bucket by the side of the Storage Area instead. We also ask that you take any Diseased material home with you and put it in your Council Bin and not the Compost Heap. This would include Potato Haulms and old Tomato Plants as they can both spread Blight. Furthermore we would ask that NO DISCARDED VEGETABLES are thrown into the compost Bin as they will encourage Rats. There is no problem with how much you put into the Bucket as John is happy to empty it regularly. Stones and Bricks can also go into the Bucket, but we ask that you take home any and all Plastic, whether it is old Pots and Trays, Plastic Netting or Ground Cover Membrane. However, there is a Green Plastic Dustbin the other side of the Storage Area that you can use if you must. I will empty it from time to time. (Hopefully, if Pots and Trays are not broken, they can be recycled. I seem to have been nominated to collect these and store them in my shed, to be used in our Spring Plant Sales)

We have found in the past that where people have their own Compost Bins they readily use the Compost they produce, but they question the quality of ours. If we can keep unsuitable material out of the Bin, the quality can be maintained and when using our Compost, if you do find anything that you don’t want then please feel free to put in the Green Bin, Johns Tractor Bucket, or even back into the Bin full of fresh Weeds, whichever is most appropriate. Some plot Holders don’t like the “Bits,” that are in the Compost and have tried to riddle the Soil that they have used, but found that it was very hard work to produce a quantity. I think that in the end they decided that all they really needed to do was carefully pick through it and remove the bigger, more unpleasant bits. Homemade Compost is normally full of Fibrous “bits,” and if you sieve them all out you are losing some of the benefit because it is the fibre that loosens up the soil, breaks up Clay, improves moisture retention in Sandy Soil and helps the soil to retain Minerals. Indeed, many of the new, commercially produced, “Recycled,” Composts are made using fibrous material like ground Bark or Coir. Incidentally, there is usually a large Shovel available that can be used to dig out the Compost and there are 2 Wheelbarrows that you can borrow to get it back to your plot.

Every time you pull out Weeds and often when you harvest certain Vegetables from your Plot, there is every likelihood that you are removing a little soil with them no matter how careful you are. Over time this will cause the Soil level in your Beds to sink. This will happen on an ordinary Plot as well as in Raised Beds, so our own Compost that is entirely FREE is ideal to top up the Soil level. Of course if like many other Plot Holders, you are installing Raised Beds for the first time, the Compost will be a great way to fill them up at no cost, just a little effort.

Of course it must not be forgotten that the Compost is made from Composted Weeds, so it is also full of lots of Minerals from the broken down vegetation as well as some Fibre. Whilst it may not be as rich as Horse Manure it still gives a gentle feed and as such can be used quite happily as a thick Mulch at this time of year. Put down now, the Worms will work on it over Winter and it will do your Plot a power of good ready in time for the Spring planting. You can always cover the soil up to suppress any weeds while it is empty, or you can sow Green Manure that can easily be dug in, in the Spring, to give your Plot even more of a Boost.

So please help yourselves to as much Compost as you want, because when the Compost is gone there will be some more in about 6 Months, or so!


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