Soil testing

We have never tested the soil here ever since we moved in. I think that it is fair to say that our success with growing vegetables has been “variable”. Some, although not all of it, maybe due to the quality of the soil. It is time to do some tests!!

Jo found a kit online that contains enough chemicals for up to 40 individual tests. Given that we are growing vegetables in a number of different locations on the property, it makes sense to do a number of tests in different locations.

The tests are easy to do once you get the hang of it. There are four separate tests: PH, Phosporous (P), Potassium (K), and Nitrogen (N).

For the PKN tests, the results all follow the same categorisation:

4 = Surplus

3 = Sufficient

2 = Adequate

1 = Deficient

0 = Depleted

So we tested four different locations where we are growing vegetables. The results are shown below

TestLeft Veg PatchRight Veg patchPolytunnelGreenhouse
PH5.05.255.56.5
PP3P3P3P3
KK2K0K0K0
NN0N0N0N0

With the exception of the greenhouse, all of the soil is a little bit acidic and can do with being raised. Ideally, the PH should be between 6 and 7. All of the samples, including the veg patch where we have been growing peas and beans, is indicating that it is low in Nitrogen.

I am not sure how accurate these test kits are. Having read the reviews for various test kits on Amazon, the feedback on these kits seems to be “mixed”.

This particular kit seems to be available under a number of different brands, but it is the same kit inside. They all retail for around £25. How accurate are they? Mmmm. Not sure.
Using the test kit on the samples from the vegetable patches
This bed had broad beans and peas in it until very recently. This is the left hand bed in the vegetable patch.

Runner beans

I have always liked runner beans ever since my dad used to grow them in the garden when we were kids. Jo’s not very keen.

I thought we would have a go with two varieties this year – Galaxy and Scarlet Emperor.

They were both propagated in pots for a week and then put in the greenhouse before they were planted out this week.

In hindsight, we are a bit late getting this going but let’s see what happens.

Galaxy on the left, Scarlet Emperor on the right. These have been in the ground for around 3 days.

Carrots

We had a bit of spare space for some carrots. In fact, we had two spare spaces, so I have sewed a couple of rows of carrots in both locations. Just to be able to compare how they fare!

Jo has been trying to grow these in the new greenhouse. However, I suspect that it is too hot in there for carrots! Let see how they do in outside in the vegetable patch.

Three guesses where we got these from?? Not sure that they are the best variety for us, but they were free!

Potatoes – one set up, another set down

I spotted some seed potatoes to harvest at Christmas time. But we didn’t have enough space in the current vegetable. However, one of the previous sets of potatoes really seems to be struggling and I decided to clean one row of these to make way for a new planting of Christmas potatoes.

So the poorly performing potatoes were the Second Earlies – Nadine. The main crop – Golden Wonder – are doing really well. However, just because we have a lot of greenery doesn’t mean that we have a lot of potatoes. But we will have to see. I decided to sacrifice one row of Nadine to make way for a row of Maris Piper.

Having decided that the Nadine potatoes weren’t doing very well, the 5 or 6 plants that I dug up produced quite a few potatoes – all small, but in good condition.

Space for a row of Christmas potatoes. The beetroots are in the bottom right coner.
Not too bad for just 5-6 plants given that there wasn’t a lot of greenery on the surface!
From the local garden centre – should be ready well in time for Christmas

Potatoes

The two sets of potatoes seem to be doing well and I reckon the first crop (Golden Wonder) should be ready by Mid August – if the estimate of 16 weeks is anything to go by! They have been in the ground for 10 weeks now. I couldn’t really have planted them any earlier because of the frost. There’s lots of green growth above ground, but I wonder how much growth there is underground!

The other set (Nadine) seem to be quite a bit behind the first crop. This is a bit surprising as both were planted at the same time and they should take the same about of time to mature.

In hindsight, I think the potatoes plants were probably planted too close together. Re-reading the guidance – they should be 12 inches apart and 30 inches between the rows. Next year I think it should be one variety in this plot with three rows of better spaced plants.

The space to the right in the photo is occupied by some beetroot plants (variety: Bolthardy). I sowed them originally in pots in the greenhouse and put them into this spare space above a week ago. some of the plants looked a bit sorry for themselves when first transplanted, but it looks like all but two will survive.

Adding an external sensor to the WS1

We wanted to measure the soil temperature in the greenhouse, so we ordered an external sensor for the Ubibot WS1 that we have just bought. It wasn’t expensive – £16 from Amazon. We thought that soil temperature might be just as important to the plants in the green as the air temperature.

The sensor arrived next day and it simply plugs into the micro USB port on the side of the WS1. What did surprise me, however, was that the WS1 measures the temperature of the external probe AS WELL AS the temperature from the WS1 itself. In other words, it is measuring two different temperatures. This obvious as soon as you look at the Ubibot dashboard.

WS1 external temperature probe
External probe available for the WS1 on Amazon

This makes the WS1 and an external probe a really cost effective solution. If you didn’t want to measure soil temperature, you could measure the temperature outside the greenhouse as well as inside the greenhouse. This was something that I was already considering. And all from one sensor!

Ubibot dashboard
Temperatures from the WS1 itself (top left) and from the attached external probe (bottom right)

New outdoor WiFi access point

Looks like I was a little optimistic about the WiFi in the house reaching the greenhouse! Although my iPhone was showing 1 bar on the house WiFi, the Ubibot sensor could only hold onto the signal for about an hour or so. Clearly, the WiFi from the house was at it’s limit. Time to invest in an outdoor WiFi access point!

I updated our internal WiFi access points (we have 3) in the house last year to TP-Link EAP225. There are three of them in different parts of the house. These were installed about a year ago and we have been pleased with the performance. See here. However, they do need to be rebooted every 2-3 months. After this period, they don’t appear to be able to hold a connection for any significant period of time. I have the latest firmware installed on them, but this hasn’t fixed the problem. Rebooting them does the trick! Maybe a future update will fix this issue.

I decided to use the outdoor version of the new WiFi access points that we are using inside the house. The first unit arrived quickly from Amazon. Unfortunately, it was DOA and had to be returned – the green light on the POE injector went out every time that the EAP was plugged in. Not good. I tried different cables. I even tried different POE injectors. Same result. Like a flat tyre that I put on three different wheels. It was still flat!

The replacement unit arrived next day.

I think longer term the right place to install this unit is actually in the greenhouse itself. This will keep it out of the worst of the weather and I have a conduit installed to the greenhouse. It should be straightforward to run an Ethernet cable out to the unit and power it using POE. But for now, I am just going to install it temporarily to see how well it performs.

New Greenhouse

We installed a new Robinson’s greenhouse a few weeks ago. It is a 14ft x 8ft Robinson Rushmoor greenhouse. This one is aluminimum and powder coated to a pastel green (I think they call it “sage”!). It matches the window frames on the house. It was ordered last November and it arrived at the end of February. It replaces the polytunnel that we set up when we first moved in.

Working out where to site the greenhouse was reasonably straightforward since we didn’t have many options. And none of them were particularly flat. We had to take down an old dry stone wall (to the right in the picture below) and the new greenhouse will now form part of the field boundary. To get things relatively level, we dug some foundations and then brought up some blockwork on the one sided (to the left in the picture below). Then the small dwarf wall was built on top of the blockwork.

The dwarf wall could have been single or double skin (i.e. one or two rows of bricks). We opted for a double width wall. Having seen the price of bricks, I wish we had opted for the single skinned version! All the groundwork took is 3 weeks to complete. Just in time for the fitter to work his magic on the greenhouse. It took a professional fitter 2.5 full days to install this greenhouse – I hate to think how long it would have taken me to do it!

The end result looks fab!!

Digging the foundations for the greenhouse. The soil from the trenches is piled up in the middle as much as possible.
Concrete laid. All three tonnes of it! We have used blocks to create “steps” in the concrete
Once the blockwork is up, we can sort out the soil in the inside. The dwarf wall is going to sit on top of the blockwork and the blockwork is going to be covered with “feather boarding”.
Outside skin of bricks in place and the returns for the doorway done!
Dwarf wall now complete. Two rows of bricks with a set of “soldiers” on top. These are engineering bricks with no holes or frog is this will allow the greenhouse to be fixed directly to the bricks. 4 tonnes of soil put inside the greenhouse to bring the floor level up to the bottom of the dwarf wall internally.
Frame installed, no glass.
Glass and fancy finials added!

The polytunnel has gone!

I installed the polytunnel in April/May 2013. It was definitely starting to show signs of it’s age. To be fair, the plastic covering is designed to be replaced every 5 years, so we have done well that I lasted 8 years. The raised beds had also started to rot away. These were the original ones that had come from Tommy Topsoil.

Recently we had been using the polytunnel to house the chickens. They had to be kept indoors due to the outbreak of bird flu in the UK.

The space left by the polytunnel is now being used as a vegetable patch!

No more polytunnel, just a new vegetable patch!
No more polytunnel, but a new vegetable patch! It is already planted with two types of potatoes!