Ground warming Using Polythene / Plastic – Methods and Preparation for Your Vegetable Plot, Allotment & Garden

Plants on an allotment.

Allotment PreparationWinters in the UK can be bitterly cold and do a lot of damage to your allotment or garden. There are ways to protect your plants through the cold months that include frost fleece, greenhouses and mulching. However today we will be concentrating on the preparation of soil for planting a new crop of vegetables or plants. As the winter turns into spring you will want to plant as early as possible to make the most of your garden; one way to speed this up is to make sure the ground is at its best quality to receive seeds.

You will want to commence the warming process in the late weeks of winter/early weeks of spring. The idea is to heat the ground, which coincidentally is very good at retaining warmth, so you are able to get your crop off to an early start. Polythene sheeting is the most effective product for the job; gardeners often use clear or black. Clear poly placed over soil allows the sun’s rays to pass through and trap the heat that they cause, not dissimilar to a greenhouse. Black can be used because it absorbs the most light and therefore becomes hot. Both types of plastic are suitable and have been proven to be effective.

Polythene for ground warmingYou will need to cover the entire area of soil in polythene, making sure any heat cannot escape. When purchasing I recommend plastic that is at least .25mm thick (250mu/1000g) as it will hold in more heat and is strong enough to give a good resistance against ripping. Pegging the plastic down with groundsheet pegs or any other steel pegs and burying the edges, covering them in earth, will certainly do the trick; however gardeners do often use bricks or large stones as an economical alternative. Leave for a few weeks and it will help prevent the ground from freezing and increase the temperature ready for the spring.

Once you believe the ground is ready to plant in then you can remove the poly and hoe the earth. I recommend removing any signs of weeds or growth to give your crop the best chance. You can of course apply weed control or mulch at this stage before planting to reduce the amount of future maintenance. Do not use polythene as weed suppressant, I does not allow drainage and causes water to pool in your garden causing all sorts of trouble. Many gardeners are different and many ground treatments are used to nourish the soil; depending on your crop you may wish to look at options.

How to Clear a Large Overgrown Area; Weeds, Treestumps, Common Pests.

Overgrown AreaAllotments, fields and gardens can easily become overrun with weeds, trees, grass and much more. Clearing these pieces of land can be tricky and without a guide to the steps required, it can seem like an endless job. Here are a few methods and guidelines to show how to go about getting rid of various pests.

Tree StumpTree Stumps – These can be a real nuisance; taking up space, they can restrict you from planting in certain areas and are in danger of becoming diseased. You will need a liquid tree stump killer – there are plenty on the market, some stronger than others. Apply it to the freshly cut top surface and follow the instructions on the packet. This is best used over the winter period. Cover the stump after application to protect it from rain and bad weather and leave it to work.

Strimmer In UseBrambles, Hedges and Other Wooded Weeds – You have two options with these. The first is to scythe or use a strimmer to clear the bulk of them and then apply a heavy duty weedkiller to what is left (often the tree stump killers will double up as a heavy duty weed killer). Remember to apply to freshly cut surfaces for it to be most effective. The second option is to strim the area and then pull up the roots by hand. You will probably end up using a combination of all these methods.

Large Areas of Grass and Perennials – If you are short on time then the easiest method is to start by mowing or strimming the area in question; clear as much as you can by hand. You then have two options, the first is to apply a liquid weedkiller to the area (two or more applications may be necessary), or you can cover the area in a geotextile membrane. The membrane will block out all light, killing everything underneath. Please make sure the geotextile you lay down allows water to pass through, this will keep the soil rich underneath and also help to prevent any flooding. The benefit of the fabric is that you can leave it down and plant, lay turf or have gravel on top.

Final Steps – To make sure the job is completed properly, after the all the previous steps have been taken, turn the ground over and enrich it with some compost. This will give you a blank canvas to work with and mean that you can replenish the soil with anything it needs. Before planting check that you have the right crops or flowers for your soil type.

Recovering Your Allotment From Floods; What To Do

AllotmentsIt’s no secret that Britain has seen a lot of rain recently. In fact some parts of the UK have just experienced their wettest January since records began, and allotments nationwide are waterlogged or completely submerged. It’s almost a blessing in disguise that the wet weather occurred when it did. Very few gardeners have crops in the ground at this time of year, and most are simply maintaining and preparing for the rapidly approaching growing season. So firstly let’s all count our blessings. The summer floods in 2012 hit at the height of the growing season, causing incredibly severe damage and financial loss for many gardeners.

Firstly if your allotment was flooded and you had edible crops in the ground close to harvest, then dispose of them immediately. A great deal of flood water would have contained sewage and the possibility of contamination, and it’s better to be safe than sorry. Fruit and vegetables that are eaten raw should be avoided for at least 6 months. This will give the plant enough time to recover and for any contaminants to break down naturally. Root vegetables such as carrots and parsnips, and edible fruit from trees above the flood water should be safe to eat in just a few weeks, but make sure you boil any root vegetables thoroughly before consumption. Any plants that are left should be covered with garden fleece as they will quickly perish in waterlogged soil during the last remaining frosts. The frost fleece will create a microclimate underneath which will raise the ground temperature enough to allow your plants and their roots to survive.

Any debris that’s been left on your plot now that the waters have receded must be cleared away, either with your household rubbish or through a waste disposal site run by your local council. Then dig everything over, and leave it to dry out. Planting anything at this stage will likely be a waste of time as seeds will tend to rot before they have a chance to germinate, and the torrential rain will have flushed away any nutrients in the soil leaving it relatively infertile. With intermittent rain forecast for the next few weeks this may take some time, so sow seeds in trays at home until the soil is dry enough to be worked. If you’re short on space, then you may have to buy juvenile plants from garden centres in mid spring ready for planting. Once the soil has dried out sufficiently it’s worth digging in some fertiliser and mulch. However avoid doing this early as you risk polluting water courses.

It’s highly unlikely that any allotments will experience lasting flood damage, and most will be ready to plant in just a few days once the risk of flooding has passed. Most of the work to be done now is preventative, and work to protect your plot should we experience any more prolonged periods of severe weather. Before you start planting for this years growing season, invest in a good quality mulch fabric. Many gardeners use polythene for weed control which works well, but if you’re in an area prone to flooding you could prevent excess rain water from draining away by using a waterproof plastic sheet. Landscape fabric will prolong the life of your mulch, whilst efficiently preventing any unwanted vegetation. This type of garden ground cover is ideal for raised beds, however if you plant in rows then a heavier duty 100gsm fabric will be far more convenient as it will be able to withstand the stress of people walking between plants.

Luckily the best way of promoting good drainage is the reason you have an allotment in the first place. Plants are very effective at removing and using excess rain water, in fact an average baking potato needs 10” of water over its entire surface area to promote a healthy crop. So it’s important to make sure your plants stay healthy with regular maintenance and pest control. Remove any dead leaves and debris once a week at least, and make sure you invest in a good quality pesticide. Just make sure it’s safe to use on edible crops. I’d also recommend a close weave insect netting to prevent damage from flying insects. A mesh size of around 0.5mm will form an effective barrier against aphids and root flies, whilst also preventing intrusion from larger animals like birds and rabbits. You’ll find that most polyethylene netting is light enough to lie directly on most plants, or you could use a crop cage. It’s also worth burying the edge to ensure you have formed an impenetrable barrier.

Plants aside it’s just as important to protect equipment, pesticides and fertilizers from excessive rain. If you have a shed on your plot, then ensure it’s watertight with the aid of a heavy duty tarpaulin if necessary. If your shed has an electricity supply then make sure it’s turned off before periods of heavy rain, and have it extensively checked by a qualified electrician before switching it back on.