In addition to the late planting of our West Swindon beds with garlic, onions and broad beans, we decided to construct a hotbed. Hotbeds were used regularly in Victorian times to provide the kitchen with vegetables that would normally be out of season. It relies on a large base of fresh manure which is laid thickly into some type of container. Horse manure is thought to be the best option and heat is generated by the decomposition of the manure by bacteria. This is an exothermic process, meaning it produces heat – up to 80 degrees celcius – and can be used to raise the temperature of both air and soil. Ideally it would be created in a large cold frame in one’s vegetable garden, tended by one’s staff.
Dedicated staff and vegetable gardens are a bit thin on the ground in this area of West Swindon, so instead we have done our best to create a small test bed in the corner of the large planter in Woollaton Close. An obliging horse provided the raw materials which Justin freshly couriered to site. The area was dug out, cardboard was placed at the bottom of the pit and the manure/straw (approximately 50/50) was added. It was compacted slightly to distribute the heat more evenly. We then added our soil on top. The bed was covered with a lid made by the lovely students of the Level 1 Landbase Course at Cirencester College. It will now be left for a few days to attain an even temperature.
Assuming our bed heats up and temperatures are ambient, we will plant some lettuce and spring cabbage seeds. The heat should last for an approximate two month period. We could be harvesting salad for Christmas dinner – thus providing homegrown greens and maybe offering an alternative to the much maligned sprout…..? Or not. Whatever the outcome, we will let you know.
Thank you, as always, to the West Swindon gardenerati – Justin, Gavin, Sam, Anita and Jamey.