March 9, 2012

The Life of Soil & The Death of Paper

The pressure is on to propagate enough seedlings to plant out later in the spring for a good harvest in the summer and autumn months.

We are still bound to our little flat in town due to the bureaucracy of terminating the contract and taking over ownership of the farm (and for the practicalities of the school run without a car).

So we have to find a creative solution for propagation in the flat that is also well out of reach of small fingers.

The flat itself has big, tall windows. The window sills are rather too easy to reach. So - using wire and wooden planks – we create shelves suspended from the curtain rail hooks. They hang about a third of the way down from the top of the window. Not even a gymnastic school child could reach them now!

Here they receive ample light from the windows and maximum warmth from the radiators directly below. Perfect for seedlings.

A typical soil on horticultural land will have between 2% and 5% organic matter (humus). The rest is made up of minerals (sand, silt or clay [or a combination of the three]). Sand facilitates drainage whereas clay retains moisture. This is because grains of sand are far larger than grains of clay – the larger the grain the more easily water slips through the grain mass. If your soil has too much sand, then the fertility is easily washed out.

You can avoid this by expanding the humus content. Methods include adding compost, mulching (with leaves, uprooted weeds, straw or hay) and sowing green manure such as clover, to be later ploughed back into the earth.

To prepare the soil for our seedlings, we mix a small amount of sand with some earth retrieved from a mound round the back of the farm. This is then mixed with a generous amount of peat-free organic matter (commercial compost, as our wormery still needs time to do its’ magic) and placed about two inches deep into a seed tray. The soil is now ready to receive the seeds.

It is now just a waiting game…

This is proving to be a very trying time for us. We are longing so much to simply get stuck into all the work that needs to be done on the farm, yet we are bound to wait, to drip feed our input according to school times, public transport and occasionally a borrowed car, to wait until all the relevant paperwork has finally been fulfilled.

Most evenings are spent talking over short term goals and tasks to be completed, researching methods and techniques - for both managing the land and renovating the buildings - as well as trying to articulate our business plan clearly on paper.

The German authorities love paperwork, to the point where a stamp is needed to confirm the authority of the person mandated to sign a particular document. When original documents have been issued in England, the process is pricey and protracted.

The transition from paper to a living and breathing reality of daily life on our own farm, is one that we can hardly bear to wait for.

Weekly column 'A Taste of Earth' published @

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