Monday, 12 January 2015

2015 is the 'year of the Horse'

Horsetail alert: volunteers liming the beds
Happy New Year!

After a cold but sunny December (no snow for the Christmas holidays for us in Cambridge) we are preparing to grow this year's crops. Empty Common Community Garden is on a piece of land that was abandoned because of dampness and a very healthy horsetail population. The City Council have put in some drainage which will hopefully help. Bearing this in mind, here's what we are/will be doing this year:
  • Liming the soil to raise the pH a bit. Horsetail does better in lower pH soils.
  • Taking off the sporing heads as they emerge in spring. We then drown them in water for several weeks before dumping the sludge on a piece of waste land. We do not add them to the compost just in case the spores are still alive, besides the sporing heads are small so not a lot of organic matter is lost.
  • Mulching the land with cardboard and then woodchips or council green waste compost and when the horsetail emerges hoeing it. Just mulching doesn’t work,  in fact it makes the problem worse because horsetail likes the damp conditions created by mulching, it grows straight through the cardboard and finds there is no competition so takes off. Horsetail isn’t good at competing with tall plants.
  • Cutting plants at ground level and drowning these for several weeks. We then water the beds with the water used for drowning, add the sludge to the compost and so return it to the soil. This is to add the nutrients that the horsetail has accumulated back to the soil for other plants. Often some plants compete better than others because they are better at accumulating minerals. Horsetail is good at accumulating silicone from deep down and competes well against other plants in low silicon soils. Adding it to the surface makes it available to other plants, improving their competitive ability.
  • Next spring we may try planting lots of marigolds in a bed as an experiment as they are said to be good at deterring horsetail.
  • We are keeping a patch of silver leaf that arrived by itself and seems to have inhibited horsetail growth. It will be interesting to see what happens.
  • We are not attempting to dig out the horsetail roots as they are super long - spreading wide and deep. They also have nodes on their roots that are activated to produce lots of root growth when a root is broken.
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