This is an old wartime garden bed, it saw active duty for three years and when our trip through history was over, it was exhausted. This bed was the first bed that we ever grew in, though you wouldn't recognise it from that first small plot which contained potatoes, beans and peas. We have a fondness for this part of the garden but it has always been the more difficult of the beds on our hillside. On a slope, this bed has always been flinty at the top and deep and wet at the bottom. This meant it was great for growing parsnips in the deep part and lettuce did well in the top part. It is a bed of two halves, our wartime miscellaneous bed, but this bed was drained by all that sowing and at the end of the wartime garden we decided to cover it up and leave it fallow. We added manure, dampened down and covered in black plastic, this is before we really embraced red clover as a green manure and the soil would have benefited more from this. Instead the bed has been left alone for over a year, bar a failed attempt to plant pumpkins through the plastic which became the home of weeds. You can see them popping through in the photo below.
We have decided to bring the bed back into use and even though we manured it, we have a load of well rotted compost waiting for the new planting. This bed will be given over to outdoor tomatoes, which in this summer (cool and wet) may struggle but we are also planting in courgette rugosa friulana (zucchini) found in the Veneto region of Italy, ugly as sin but supposedly the best tasting courgette around. We're also hedging our bets and at the bottom of the bed we are bringing in a good wartime stalwart, the Table Dainty marrow, Eleanour Sinclair Rohde raved about them in her 1943 book Uncommon Vegetables and Fruits. How to Grow and How to Cook. This still remains one of our favourite books after the wartime garden, and captures and era, and tone, in gardening long gone. Rohde gardened through her staff, and it often comes across in the book, where she tells her man to get planting. 'Man' see exasperated gardener.
So, we have our compost, we have our 'men' and we peel back the black plastic to find, well you can see below.
A matted blanket of grass that tried to grow and died. The ground is compacted, and this is a downside of black plastic on a hill, the rainwater gets trapped and becomes great for slugs and snails but terrible for soil aeration. This can be seen when we start to fork over the bed, the dead grass is brittle, it is almost like decayed straw but there is no sign of worm life. Now, compare this with our red clover beds in the cottage garden, then there is a marked difference. The cottage garden bed sowed with red clover as a green manure after a brassica crop was awash with worms when we checked beneath the soil level. The soil was friable, full of life but the bed we are faced with runs from dust to a bog garden. Lifeless.
This means that we bring in barrow after barrow of compost, which won't do the bed any harm because it will bring in bacteria, worms and micro-organisms that will pep this soil up. We bring in around quarter of a ton of compost, that's around ten full barrows and it all goes in to the ground and is forked over. A good dusting of blood, fish and bone, and a fallow bed is now ready to grow in again. And that black plastic? Well it's being used to cover over wood instead rather than soil. Our advice, don't use it, use red clover.