There's lots more under each of these headings - click on a button to see.

tips from the Eynsham allotments

This page is to share the experience of the Eynsham allotment-holders; between us we know quite a lot, but most of us individually have great holes in our knowledge/experience.

Some of the information here comes from magazines we've read, but most of it comes from the Members.

If you have something - a tip you've found useful, an experience you've had, something you've read, or a question you'd like answered, contact us, and we'll put it on this page.

Click on any of these: clay soil, organic material, pH, narrow beds, illegal pesticides, green manure

Things we'd like tips on, and questions we'd like answered.

improving clay soil
Our allotments are on the notorious Oxford clay - famous for being difficult to work; it holds a lot of water, which makes it heavy to work, and easy to compact if you stand on it - and it dries out very hard. It may be easy to work for only a few days in autumn and spring - as we know to our cost !

The main answer is organic material - and on clay soils like ours, bulk is more important than nutrients. Apply in the spring to get the benefit of the nutrients - but autumn is just as good for breaking up the soil. Put on at least a bucketful (3 is better) per square metre per year. Either put it on top and let the worms pull it in, or fork it into the top 8".

where to get organic material

Garden compost is the best and cheapest - it contains more nutrients than other types. Most people build their own compost heaps, but some people use daleks (plastic containers - see picture) which are subsidised by West Oxfordshire. Compost heaps (and daleks) do attract rats though.

Farmyard manure is available locally - see notice at allotment fields. It should be well-rotted - if it's fresh, stack it for 6 months, covered with a plastic sheet to stop the rain washing away the nutrients.

Leaves break down very slowly - tie them in black plastic sacks, make a few ventilation holes, and leave them for a couple of years.

Green manure - growing plants in order to dig them in and thus enrich the soil and improve its structure. Click for more on this.

Daleks - used to make compost - see main text
Narrow beds to avoid compacting. This one uses old scaffolding planks and gravel, but some are less elaborate.
To avoid compacting the soil by standing on it, several people have divided their allotments into narrow beds with paths in between. The beds are narrow enough to be dug from either side without ever standing on the soil. But of course it does reduce the area you can cultivate.

Clay soil is supposed to be good for brassicas and potatoes, and bad for carrots, parsnips and peas.

illegal pesticides
From the end of December/03 it is illegal to use about 80 pesticides - and from March/04 it's been illegal even to have them in your shed. Fortunately not many common ones are involved.

Our pH is 6.5-7.0, which is close to neutral (7.0). The term stands for "potential Hydrogen". The scale runs from 1 (very acid) to 14 (very alkaline), with pure water (which is neutral) at 7. So below 7 is acid, and above 7 is alkaline. It's a logarithmic scale, so pH5 is 10 times more acid than pH6.

Most plants do better in alkali soils because in acid soils the major nutrients nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium are less available (in alkali soils it is minor nutrients like iron, boron and manganese that are less available). Most plants do best at a pH of around 6.5

It's possible to get your soil analysed, but since the allotment fields are likely to be pretty similar all over, you may not think it worth it.

Green manure - several members have tried growing crops especially to dig them in and thus improve soil structure and fertility. More on this.

tips wanted

what's the best way of deterring the rats - without expensive poisoning ?

how to protect newly sown broad beans from mice.