The pigs have done their work and the proto-veg patch has been completed turned over. All the weeds and couch grass have been eaten, even the roots – this is very good news, we have been saved days of back-breaking labour trying to double dig the site over.
As you probably know if you like in the UK we have had a wet and mild Winter. Up here in the peak district on the higher ground we haven’t seen the terrible floods inflicted on the West Country for which I am grateful. But watching the pigs turn over the veg patch in the last couple of months has revealed something else I suspected… our soil is a heavy clay.
I have been reading about what this means for us and how to deal with it.
So it seem that clay soil is dense, heavy and really really good at holding water (did I mention the really wet Winter). This makes it difficult to dig, gets easily waterlogged and means crops like carrots and parsnips perform poorly. On the other hand it is also nutrient dense. One book on smallholding suggested that clay was so good at holding water that if you had clay soil you could make a pond without a pond liner and I’m tempted to try it.
So it seems that getting the pigs involved at such an early stage was absolutely the right decision, double digging it over would have been even worse than we realised at the time. But there are pools of standing water now which are worrying me and I’m seriously considering getting a bucket and bailing them out!
In terms of our immediate plans we are going to have to dig in far more manure than we first anticipated, to try and improve the drainage. We are also looking at digging some drainage ditch to see if that helps. I’ll be starting a lot more thing off in pots at this stage in the hopes that by the time I need to plant them out the soil will have dried out (at this stage the peas and beans would just rot in the ground it is so wet) and I’ll put off planting the potatoes for a week to see if that helps dry things out.
Longer term we are going to start making as much leaf mould as we can, and digging in and mulching in a serious way. Estimates say 2 inches of compost/manure/leaf mould over the whole plot every year to improve the soil’s structure. That is a LOT of compost over a 30×30 foot plot (and we may even go up to 45×45 foot as we have plenty of space.
If we want to keep having pigs then raised beds are probably out which runs the risk of the soil compacting as we walk on it. I can only hope that having pigs once a year digging it over will deal with the worse of the compaction and they in themselves won’t make it worse. All this digging over the soil isn’t great from a permaculture perspective (something I’ve been researching a lot lately) but it is a side effect of having pigs which brings so many other benefits I can’t complain.
I can’t wait to see what does well here – this is our first year of actually growing veg up here so it is very exciting. I’m hoping the peas and beans do well as they have always been total failures for us before, I think once the wetness issue has passed the nutrient dense soil will be really good for them.