Balmy spring weather and new raised beds

The last two or three weeks have seen some really beautiful warm weather here in Cumbria with the plants starting to romp away.

Young plants and seedling in the greenhouse have used the unseasonal  balmy days to put on a spurt of growth.  All of our blight resistant tomato seedlings are

Young salad leaves

Tender and tasty young salad leaves

looking healthy and we have been able to harvest a selection of lovely fresh salad leaves.

Temperatures have been plummeting at night, so vigilance is required to avoid young plants being nipped by spring frosts.

New raised bed

We have been completing a new raised bed project and a couple of tonnes of topsoil arrived on Friday.  Lost count of how many barrow loads we moved but we certainly felt it the next day!

Construction of this bed was needed for two reasons; firstly because we have acidic clay soil and secondly to keep our food crops out of doggy pee reach.

Salad crops will be the mainstay, so once barrowed into place, the soil needed to be raked to remove the stones and tested to find out it’s pH level and nutrient content.

This type of preparation my initially seem fiddly and can be the step which a number of novice gardener’s feel is unnecessary, preferring to just get their plants in and growing.

However, omit the science part and all your labour can be in vain as plants struggle to grow and even die in soil to which they are unsuited.  Getting to know your soil well can save much heartache and expense.

We use a simple, inexpensive soil test kit which consists of four colour coded test tubes complete with matching capsules of activating powder and it has never let us down yet.

Soil testing

Soil testing is vital if your plants are to thrive

Acidic or alkaline?

First and most importantly, we needed to test the pH of the soil to see if it was acidic or alkaline.  Plants like blueberry and cranberries will only fruit well in acidic soil, whilst brassicas such as cabbage, cauliflower and sprouts need an alkaline soil.

Once mixed, according to the instructions on the package, our green test tube proved quite quickly that our new soil (as requested) is pH neutral to slightly alkaline (between pH 7 and 8)  which should be fine for most salad crops.  This differs greatly from the rest of the garden soil which is naturally acidic (about pH 5).

The tests for nutrients proved to be a little disappointing, with nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potash (K) all showing as deficient.  However, once we knew what was lacking, it was relatively easy to add these nutrients in the form of organic fertilisers and soil improvers.

In basic terms, leafy vegetables need plenty of nitrogen whilst shrubs and trees will require phosphorous and fruiting and flowering plants will need greater levels of potash.

All nutrients are generally required in various quantities which will differ throughout the growing season of the plant.

Soil consistency is also important and luckily this is a good loamy soil which holds in a clump when squashed in the palm of a hand but breaks down easily when crumbled.  This means that it should retain moisture quite well without becoming too wet and soggy.

Now to get on with the planting!

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