30 October 2015

My gardening technique veers between ‘that should work’ and thorough research. ‘That should work’ has about a 50% success rate. Thorough research probably has a lower rate, because I can never quite find the exact answer to my question, and I end up reverting to ‘that should work’. Take these broad beans. They’ve grown well and we’ve had a decent crop, but now they’ve come to their end. We’ve stripped off the remaining beans and the stalks are wilting. Some are black and rubbery. I remember reading somewhere that you should leave broad bean roots in the ground as they fix nitrogen, so I drag out all our gardening books. Some of them say nothing about broad beans after you’ve harvested, but the rest seem to reach a consensus that you should dig the roots and stalks into the ground. None of them say the thing I remember, about leaving the roots in the ground to rot.

So I go out to the broad bean patch and chop down the stalks, which I then chop into smaller pieces. Some of them don’t chop easily, because the stalks are limp and just bend under the blade instead of cutting. Then I contemplate digging. Do I just dig them in, so that there are long bits of stalk through the soil? Or am I meant to be chopping them into finer pieces as I dig, so they’re integrated into the soil? I try chipping them in with the hoe, but that doesn’t work – same problem with the bendy stalks not wanting to be cut. At least the hoe helps me cover my bets by chopping through some of the roots. I then try digging with the fork, turning the soil over the stalks and roots, but it looks too chunky. Given that the books all recommend following broad bean crops with leafy greens, how are the leafy green seeds – which are tiny – going to manage in ground that is hillocked with partially-chopped broad bean roots and stalks?

I think about the term ‘no dig garden’.

I place a thick layer of mulch over the whole bed and water it in. Maybe the microbes will do the work for me. Maybe I’ll come back to this bed in a week’s time and find a beautifully even bed of tilth in which lettuce seeds will germinate and thrive, sucking up their extra nitrogen and expressing it in gorgeously ruffled fabulously flavoured leaves. That should work.