‘Wife, into thy garden’

muck heap by the sea

In the 16th century every good country huswife  would consult her copy of Thomas Tusser’s Five Hundred Points of Good Husbandrie  for advice on the work to be performed in the garden each month. So for November:

If Garden require it, now trench it ye may,
One trench not a yard from another go lay,
Which being well filled, with mucke by and by
Go cover with mould, for a season to ly.

muck in the polytunnel
Muck/seaweed on the vegetable beds

Not great versifying, but sound advice. So as the days begin to shorten I know it’s time to put on the wellies, get out the wheel barrow and muck fork and start covering the vegetable beds with a winter blanket of seaweed and farmyard manure. Each summer my neighbour cleans out his cow shed and arrives with a trailer load of wonderfully strawy muck – about 10 tons. A few days or a week or so later (Hebridean time) this will be supplemented with about the same amount of well-rotted seaweed. This sits, ferments and decomposes until November when it’s time to begin the winter ritual of muck spreading. After six months of rotting the heaps is a little pungent and sufficiently decomposed to be forked into the barrow. This is not one of the most glamorous of the gardening chores, but the views from the muck heap are fantastic.

This is of course semi-skilled work and requires the Head Gardener to give instruction to the Under-Gardener.
“First you must not over load the barrow or you will not be able to wheel it over the tussocky grass to the gate and into the garden.
It must be precisely loaded so as not to be spilt as it is wheeled up the garden drive, across the grass, down between the fruit cages, past the polytunnel and into the vegetable area. No short cutting up the steps by the cottage!
The barrow must be correctly positioned to enable contents to be skilfully flung, with the pitch fork over the small fence that surrounds each bed, onto the soil to give an even covering. It should not be dropped all over the gravel paths!
Tuneless whistling is not permitted nor intemperate language even when the barrow tips over!”
It is simple once you have mastered the technique and built a Herculean physique.

By the spring the weather and the worms have done their work and this thick mat has broken down to a thin crumbly layer which can be raked into the soil. The object of the exercise is to add organic matter into my thin sandy soil, so I’m not too worried if most of the nutrients are leached by the rain. After three years I am beginning to see a noticeable difference in the texture and colour of the soil and the quality of the vegetables gets better and better. I am quite convinced that good soil husbandry or even huswiferie is the secret to growing good vegetables (or flowers). Seaweed also seems to have it’s own special magic (micro-nutrients) and is a reliable plant tonic when applied in liquid form.

After three years of intensive cropping we decided that the soil in the polytunnel also need something extra nourishment rather than just the routine addition of garden compost and organic granular fertilisers. So half the growing area has had a seaweed/manure dressing. This created a rather pungent atmosphere for a couple of days but this has been replaced by a nice earthy aroma. I just hope it rots down before it gets too warm and we have a giant hatching of seaweed flies!

12 thoughts on “‘Wife, into thy garden’

  1. Spectacular views and it’s great to have such a good source of muck. Your garden would certainly benefit from that mix.
    I wonder if a two-wheeled wheelbarrow would work where you are. I use one and save a lot of extra work picking up spilled loads.

    • Thank you Shirley i must have a look at the 2-wheeled version – it may cure the intemperate outbursts but I don’t think there is a cure for tuneless whistling!

  2. Good to see manure on the agenda – second delivery of pig manure due here tomorrow. Neighbour is delighted to have somewhere to offload it, no doubt. So you are going to have even more magnificent veg. in your keder house next year? Hard to believe you could improve…

    • I do hope that you delivery is not too fresh! I’ll stick to seaweed. I have to work on my standards otherwise you would have nothing to aspire too! Although I admit your tomatoes are usually better than mine and you’re way ahead on the strawberries!

  3. Wow!! Such hard work to still be doing at the end of the season!! Good for you! (Or are you feeling guilty for going on that lovely shopping trip, dressed to the nines?? Just kidding.)
    Sounds as if you have this gardening chore down to a fine art. I look fwd to hearing how you compare next year’s crops to this year’s. I love your blog! Very interesting and creative.

    • Mmm, I’ve been rumbled – too much conviviality on the grand tour so I’m having to work off the excesses!

  4. Isn’t the application of organic fertiliser a highly skilled job which should only be attempted by a head gardener ?

    • The Head Garner believes that he has a duty to pass his skills on to his apprentice and that the only way to learn is to do it and keep doing it until it’s perfect. I’m obviously a slow learner because no matter what the job I’m the one with the shovel!

  5. It’s December now, Chris, so leave your muck and get on with whatever Thomas Tusser has got lined up next! ps we are selling a 2 wheeled wheelbarrow as it is too wide for our paths and tight corners….. you wanna buy it?

    • Can you deliver?

      • The boot is on the other foot actually, as we were selling it as ‘collect only’….

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