Jenny Mollison: Sodden soil calls for patience – and a plan

Manure will help restore nutrients which may have leached from the soil

Manure will help restore nutrients which may have leached from the soil

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Caring for the soil is an absolute pre-requisite for successful cultivation and it is going to be more important than ever this year. We’ve come through some exceptionally wet weather and some unfortunate allotment sites have been under water.

East Lothian is one of the driest parts of Scotland but we’ve had some torrential rain. Being 20 metres above the river, we’ve escaped flooding. Other sites have not been so fortunate. I’ve seen distressing photos of floating sheds at Perth Working Men’s Garden Association on Moncrieffe Island in the Tay. My friend Alison, whose plot at Bridgehaugh, Stirling, was flooded, told me her hut stayed in place as it was cemented down. When we spoke about the damage, she was most concerned that her heap of manure hadn’t been washed away.

Apart from tidying up, there’s nothing to be done until the soil dries out. This may take weeks. It’s better to keep off squelchy waterlogged soil. The old adage that you don’t walk on soil if it is going to stick to your boots is worth remembering. Soil is made up of crumbs and the spaces in between provide essential aeration and drainage. This structure will have suffered and I don’t want to make it worse. In sandy soil, vital nutrients will have been washed away. Those who garden on clay soils may find it develops hard and impenetrable lumps.

What’s to be done to repair the damage? I’m keen to add plenty of bulky organic manure to the bare areas. Our annual site delivery of mushroom compost is expected shortly. Animal manure is great but it’s a question of what one can easily get hold of inexpensively. The days are long gone when one could follow the cart horse with a bucket and shovel. I’m glad some of my plot has green manures growing. Field beans have survived well and their network of roots will have gone some way to preventing soil being washed away.

Looking ahead, if spring is long and cold, things will take a while to recover from all the wet. I’m not known for patience but I’ll hold back from starting off too many seeds indoors.

The danger is that seeds started off at home will have to languish on windowsills for too long before planting out and suffer as a consequence. Better by far to mark time keeping an eye on the long range weather forecasts.

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