“February can swing from one extreme to the other” writes Alan Buckingham in his excellent book “Allotment month by month“.
Grey, heavily overcast days with persistent rain, sleet, or snow can make winter feel never-ending. Then a sudden spell of bright, sunny days, with clear air and a bracingly cold wind, can signal that the season is turning. Whatever the conditions, there is a limit to how much you can usefully do on the allotment.
“Provided the ground is not frozen or too wet to work,” he continues, “complete your winter digging, improving the structure and composition of your soil by incorporating as much rotten-down manure and compost as you can”.
There’s also a nod to the no dig community continuing:
Either dig it in as you go or leave it on the surface for it to be gradually drawn underground by earthworms
Alan’s ‘dig in or leave on top’ advice is a recommended task from the November chapter after crops have been harvested and beds and paths cleared of remaining plants and weeds into the compost bin.
Autumnal mulching after summer harvests with partially or well rotted manure has been my preferred option because of the abundance of organic material at that time of year.
Fallen leaves, horse manure from field and stable as well as wood chippings from local tree surgeons on Facebook for paths will significantly improve the structure and integrity of your soil.
There’s also a time factor involved here too.
The final no dig bed on the old plot gets wider towards the bottom due to the odd shape of the plot. Like the other beds this one is made of pure horse manure from the field. pic.twitter.com/FzUtIihAKE— allotmentbloke (@allotmentbloke1) February 9, 2021
Is February a good time to mulch?
I was keen to create this new no dig bed in early February with 90% finished compost to allow time for the earthworms and their friends to get stuck into the business of improving the soil ready for planting in late March/early April with first early potatoes.
I also had time to mulch existing beds with a light topping of partially rotted horse manure from piles weeks, sometimes months old straight from the field.
Better results are achieved by mulching with partially rotted field manure before Christmas to allow more time for the mini beasts to go to work and leave you with a superb no dig bed ready for Spring planting and sowing.
Continue to spread well-rotted compost on bare soil, and rake or fork over surface manure and compost that was spread earlier, knocking any lumps open
I love this advice because when touring the plots in early February I noticed lumps in some of the existing beds that needed breaking up with a rake, a process that will benefit from sub zero temperatures in February as the mulch freezes and thaws.
The lumpiness can be attributed to the compost requiring a longer period of curing but being short on time and with spring just around the corner, it was better to spread it in early February to extend the bed and make room for more space for planting.
The importance of making your own compost
Clearly having access to well rotted compost can takeaway the headache of trying to time when beds need mulching for soil improvement but we may not all have access to well rotted compost.
Yet plentiful well rotted compost is the foundation of a no dig system of gardening and creating a system of making it throughout the season will ensure your results from the garden will be the envy of your friends and neighbours.
When soil life is ‘undisturbed’ and allowed to get busy with organic matter on the surface, an undug area has plenty of nutrients at a greater depth, without them having to be put there by digging, because the soil inhabitants are continually moving them around and incorporating them more efficiently than we ever canCharles Dowding’s Veg Journal
Make successful composting part of your allotment gardening routine by
- collecting organic chemical free material throughout the year
- turning your bins regularly
- ensuring a good mix of greens (weeds, grass clippings, manure and plant stems) and browns (cardboard minus the staples and sellotape, fallen leaves, straw and newspaper)
- Covering your compost to prevent saturation
Pallet bins, dalek composters or large piles – compost can be made in a variety of ways to suit the landscape of your plot so that it is as convenient and simple for you as possible.
The best way to spend February as an allotmenteer
Gardening of any kind including no dig gardening for me at least is about experimentation and it’s associated failures.
If you can accept that failure is inevitable then the fear of actually trying things out to see what works for you can disappear and you can begin to enjoy your life as gardener to the fullest.
That may sound like hippy gardener B.S. but February can be a reflective month and Charles reminds us all of how much can be realistically achieved at this time of year:
February is a quiet time in the garden and the weather will often dictate how much can be done outside
Frozen unworkable ground and sub zero temperatures during the day are not uncommon during February in a zone 8 climate.
With Spring not too far away and your seeds already on order and your beds mulched, there can be little to do except make comfort food washed down with hot drinks and read about all things organic no dig allotment gardening.