Tuesday 2 September 2014

So what is the "maggot"?

The "maggot" was invented in the 2007 growing season on our allotment plot in Leeds. The previous summer, a row of raspberry plants reached the end of its working life. We were faced with a ten yard by one yard* area of couch grass, dandelions and old raspberry canes. Allotment associations have rules about weeds. Not having a great deal of time to spend weeding this strip, we covered it in heavy-duty black polythene and used it as a dump compost heap for grass clippings and other compostables. It was left for the requisite two seasons, with the addition of further layers of compostables, and then we lifted the polythene. Underneath, the annual weeds were gone, and the couch roots readily pulled out of the moist earth. We piled the decayed compost onto this surface and put the black polythene back to stop the weeds from taking hold again before we had worked out what to do with this new piece of ground.

The name "the maggot" came about from the shape formed by the wheelbarrow-loads of grass trimings and weeds, which created a series of mounds like a big green caterpillar. When Tim felt the heat radiating out of the long black cushion-like area that resulted, it seemed an ideal place to grow squashes and pumpkins. The black covering would keep the roots warm and retain moisture, the decaying vegetation would generate heat and nutrients, the living foliage would disguise the black polythene. We cut holes in the polythene, parted the compost to reach the soil surface, dug some pelleted chicken manure into the ground, added some general purpose compost, planted just four plants (Acorn squash, Crown Prince, Red Kuri, butternut Harrier...).
The pumpkins loved it. They grew phenomenally, and covered the black polythene completely. We quickly learned that we needed to mark the planting holes with canes, so that we could tell where to direct water and feed, so well hidden they were by leaves. The crop was excellent. We repeated the exercise the following year, in the same place, with equal success.

In France, the maggot system is used for all our cucurbitaceae - courgettes, cucumbers and melons as well as squashes and pumpkins. Every year it hs been refined slightly.In 2011 we replaced 2/3rds of the black polythene with tarpaulins (bâches), cutting the planting holes with a soldering iron to seal the edges. Last year we bought a third, which has two holes in for the pumpkins. Now there is a drip watering system, and we have retired the marker canes.
However, next year the canes will go back, to mark the plants for feeding, but we can't see the holes. We can't find them in the foliage!
A jetwash-type dispenser attaches to the ordinary hose for the feeds.

The maggot 2014 showing planting windows and scientific method of holding it down.

We use the maggot as a way of breaking in new land. We cycle our plantings through a series of five sets of beds. The 2014 maggot completes the cycle. Next year it moves to bed Number Two and will, hopefully, start to really condition the soil by adding all that composted vegetation to the soil for the start of 2016.
The pale green bâche in the background covers a stock of dry grass clippings that should have gone onto the maggot before the plants got too large. Unfortunately, the plants grew so quickly this year, we missed the opportunity, so it will be added to next year's "maggot".Or used to put around plants that need protection over the winter, then added to the compost cycle.

19/5/2014 Maggot ready for planting, the potato beds (site of 2013 maggot), leeks and onions (maggot 2012).
The planting windows are filled with a mixture of soil (originally molehills), fumier (bagged horse/cattle manure) and multipurpose compost, with added pelleted chicken manure and hoof and horn (corne broyée). The ground underneath is loosened with a fork so the roots can penetrate more easily. We raise our young plants in propagators in the guest room. They are moved into pots in a cold frame, and we plant them after the Ice Saints indicate the last frost is past.

25/07/2014 Growing strongly
Near row: from left, melons, Crown Prince, Sweet Dumpling (patidou), Red Kuri (potimarron), butternuts Harrier and Hunter, cucumber La Diva. Far row: Golden Nugget, courgette Rond de Nice, two plants each courgettes Précoce Maraichère and Ice Ball, Yellow Crookneck squash, cucumber Marketmore, another Yellow Crookneck.

25/7/2014 view from the Melon Patch showing the drip watering system
The dry grass is to lift the growing fruit away from the tarpaulin, which can collect rainwater in puddles.

30/08/2014 a breaking wave of vegetation - Sweet Dumpling heading to take over the melon patch
By the end of August the tarpaulins are completely covered and the vines are heading over the grass. The plants on the side near the wheelbarrow have put on so much greenery that we suspect there may be organic remains underneath dating back to the dairying days of our land. We may find out more next year when it comes to potato planting season.

The maggot, with Bezuard farm in the background

A hint of fruits to come:

Crown Prince

Red Kuri

Another Red Kuri, with a Butternut behind it

Sweet Dumpling / Patidou

* when Burley Model Allotments were established in 1958 on a site that was designated originally for allotments in 1892, a standard plot was 10 yards wide by 30 yards deep, an area, my dad used to say, of "one perch". A square perch is actually 30 ¼ square yards. No doubt the plot size is now 9.144 metres by 27.432 metres. No amount of metrication will make the plots any bigger or smaller.

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