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Moriati's Composting method.
An ingenious and efficient method of compost making at the right price: FREE
Lots of useful info of use to beginner and expert alike.
Here is the challenge. Slightly worse than most in that it has had a mature willow tree blow down in a storm with the crown lying accross the site and has remained there for a few years resulting in a tangled mass of brambles with difficult access.
The best way to deal with a situation like this is to get someone else to do it, but in the end it is a matter of thick gloves, sharp secateurs and patience.
Use a rake to lift up the grass and reveal the locations of the bramble crowns. cut the briars several inches above ground level and place them in piles on the cleared spaces. Long briers should be cut smaller for safer handling. This is a horrid job and great care is required to prevent injury.
Although this initial clearance can be daunting on a site such as this, remember it only needs doing once provided the plot is kept well cultivated. Don't be tempted to use a power strimmer in an overgrown situation such as this. They are expensive, difficult to use, and if a bramble gets caught in the drum the brier could get dragged accross your body at high speed causing serious injury.
Work from one edge and proceed into the plot. Locate the boundaries and clear any overgrown pathways. Try to get into the habit of using the pathway wherever possible and avoid any unneccessary standing on the ground to be cultivated. This will be hard enough to dig without treading it firmer.
Now the big question: What shall I do with the big piles of nasty brambles?
The best method of disposal of this kind of material is the bonfire, but before rushing for the lighter or matches it is important to check the rules. Some districts allow fires, others forbid them, and they can be the cause of major rows. Some allotments have skips provided, others permit this kind of waste to be placed in a neat pile near the entrance for clearance by contractors. Every site has its own system and newcomers must find out the lay of the land. It is not enough to read the agreement. Talk to as many plotholders as possible to find out the best methods to use.
In my particular case, given that a huge area behind and to the right of my plot is covered with the fallen tree, it was agreed that I could add my brambles to those already there. My brambles simply got lost in the huge tangle that was there already, and other plotholders were curious as to how it was all disposed of so quickly without leaving the tell-tale pile of ashes.
Whenever you clear a newly aquired plot, it is important to check carefully as you progress to see what useful plants have been abandoned by the previous occupants. If you find anything that you do not recognise, ask for advice before chopping it out.
So far, this plot has revealed a row of 4 sturdy grapevines, several large clumps of comfrey, an apple tree, several hazel trees and 2 large trees that look like plum or damson. However, just because they are there does not mean they have to stay. Always assess the usefulness of any findings to yourself. If it is of no use to you, chop it out.
The grapevines will be given an opportunity to prove their worth. They had to be cut back severely to regain control of the area, but should grow back and produce a few bunches of grapes this year. Time will tell.
The apple tree is somewhat the worse for having large trees fall on top of it and will be removed. Its position also wastes a lot of useful space and is unlikely to be productive. There is no room for sentimentality on an allotment, and anything that is unlikely to give any return has to be cleared away. One wigwam of runner beans on the site of the apple tree will produce a surplus big enough to trade for a years supply of apples.
The comfrey crowns (not shown here) will need to be relocated as their current position is not suited to my needs. Comfrey is a medicinal herb and a vital ingredient in any organic growing eco-system, its long tap-roots bringing up nutrients from depths unreached by most plants.
Several small hazel trees will be removed but two larger specimens at the end of the plot in a row with the 2 plum or damson trees will be allowed to remain for this year at least. I know the rats with good PR will eat all the nuts before they are ripe, but the bushes do have amenity value screening the wasteland from sight. Hazels can also be coppiced to produce on-site bean poles.
As it is nearly the end of March, I need to progress with cultivation and do not really have the time to dig out decent sized trees, or to finish cutting away the fallen tree at the rear of the plot. If I get a useful crop of plums or damsons, both of which I can eat until the cows come home, the trees will stay otherwise it will be chop chop next autumn.