November I: compost and over-wintering….

So, on the last day of autumn, one year of gardening finishes and the new one begins. In a no-dig garden, that new year begins with laying compost on bare ground.

The garden still has the following crops to harvest:

1) Cavalo Nero Kale, Leaf Chicory and Endive;

2) Autumn King Carrots and Parsnips;

3) Winter radish and Mulatka beetroot;

In addition, spinach, spring cabbage and chard are being over-wintered.

After a year of intensive composting, 5cm of compost/horse manure has been laid down to date on 24sqm of cleared ground in the main beds, plus 6sqm of asparagus and boundary beds, as well as surrounding the pear tree. Green manure was sown on 7.5sqm.

Around one cubic metre of compost remains to cover remaining 13.5sqm of main beds, 5sqm of raspberries and 1.5sqm of other beds in the fruit cage.

In addition, autumn has been the season of leaf collecting for two purposes:

1) Starting a new leaf mould generation process –  280 litres have been packed into eight 35l pots:

2) A major last cut of autumn grass has been mixed with leaves/twigs to fill a one cubic metre builders’ bag:

All that remains to do is:

1): build a new horse manure/straw pile;

2): Treat the garden with biodynamic horn manure;

and pre-Christmas work is complete.

September III: the compost season so far

Back in the spring, I talked about how I needed to generate about 2 cubic metres of compost to prepare the garden for the 2018 season.

How am I doing in early September?

Not too bad, as it turns out.

I created a pile of horse manure and straw by February 2017, which now looks like this:

This is around 0.5 cubic metres and will be used for potatoes in 2018.

I made two full heaps in my wire cages in early April using grass, horse manure, straw, cardboard and leaves plus twigs. These were combined at the end of April into the larger cage and used to top up daleks which were receiving kitchen waste and harvested haulms through to the end of June. A third heap was created during May and June in the emptied cage.

At the beginning of August, both cages, having been regularly turned, were progressing well and were combined in a one cubic metre builders bag to store/mature until the autumn. The feature image shows that compost, it being another half a cubic metre.

The four 220 liter daleks with over-wintered compost were spread on the garden between early March and the end of June 2017, providing the garden with its first proper compost feed of 4-5cm depth.

These four daleks were then regularly filled through spring and early summer with kitchen waste, tree prunings, grass cuttings, cardboard and partially matured compost from the heaps created in March. All were full by the end of July and by late August, two were combined to free up one for ongoing kitchen waste etc.

These four, when mature, should give a third half a cubic metre, bringing the total up to 1.5 cubic metres.

In the meantime, the two cages have been filled again with potato haulms, tomato haulms, grass, spent flowers, tree prunings etc, as well as the spent compost from tomatoes and potatoes grown in pots.

As I have now got a fresh supply of horse manure and straw from the stables, these will be combined with the caged material to provide material for another 0.5-1.0 cubic metres of compost by the end of November.

It just shows how much compost you can make from your own back garden!

Finally, I am well on the way to creating my own leaf litter compost, starting with four 35 litre pots stuffed full of wet leaves in November 2016, combined into one pot in April 2017 and now only about half a pot full:

This will be tested in spring 2018 as a seed compost.

So overall, I think I am showing you can be nearly self sufficient when it comes to compost for the garden.

2018s challenge will be creating enough in addition for all the tomatoes, potatoes and carrots grown in pots and bags…..

April I: Comfrey Strain Bocking 14 as an organic green manure

Comfrey is a plant recommended by many organic gardeners. Why is this?

1. It grows rapidly and its leaves can be harvested 4 or 5 times a season for many years.

2. The composition of its leaves are reckoned to be almost perfect in terms of minerals for feeding plants.

3. Its leaves can be rotted to produce a concentrated tea, suitable for feeding many plants (notably beans, tomatoes and potatoes).

4. It acts as an excellent compost accelerator and enriches the quality of compost at the same time.

5. Planting potatoes wrapped in comfrey leaves can enhance crop yields.

6. Combining comfrey, grass cuttings and manure can make a perfect hilling up mixture for potatoes.

7. The deep rooting of the plants brings buried nutrients to the surface, as the remaining leaves in autumn are left to die back, creating surface compost.

 

Lawrence Hills of the Henry Doubleday Association pioneered research into uses of comfrey, identifying Bocking Strain 14 as an optimal strain. It is a sterile strain, which means it does not spread and invade other areas of your garden. It is also very vigorous, giving large yields each season.

If you wish to establish some comfrey, it is a good idea to do this in early to mid summer and not make any harvests until the following spring. Planting your maincrop potatoes when the first harvest of comfrey is ready is a natural way of timing potato planting to natural cycles.

For a fascinating read about Hills’ research on comfrey, read:

‘Comfrey: Past, present and future’, Lawrence D Hills (1976) ISBN 9780571110070

March VIII: an audit of compost requirements…

Everyone is agreed that compost is good for your vegetable garden. Where people differ is in:

1. What they consider good raw materials for making compost.

2. How much compost you need to add per square metre of vegetable garden.

3. Whether it should be applied as a surface mulch or added at a deeper level.

As I use the no-dig method, I apply all my compost as a surface mulch.

With my 50sqm of growing space, my requirements are:

a. 5 cubic metres if I wish to apply a uniform 10cm covering to all beds;

b. 2 cubic metres if I wish to apply a uniform 4cm covering to all beds;

c. 55 pails, if I wish to apply 1 pail per square yard as was suggested in a 1940s publication of a prize winning gardener (of course, it might be helpful to define the volume of a pail, as no doubt different suppliers sell them in different sizes).

On a more pragmatic level, there is the issue of how much compost you can actually generate, rather than how much you would like to apply.

I have two ancient wire cages, which can realistically each be filled to contain about 0.5 cubic metres.

I also have four 0.22 cubic metre ‘daleks’, which can be used to finish compost in an environment protected from rain.

Given the fact that waste materials reduce in volume considerably, you need considerably more starting material than your final target volume of compost.

My approach is as follows:

1. I build a dedicated horse manure pile aimed at producing 0.2-0.4 cubic metres of compost to be applied in late November to the bed growing potatoes the following year.

2. I fill two wire cages in late March/early April when the first cut of grass produces a lot of green waste. I secure cardboard waste from garden centres and straw-based manure to act as brown waste. There is usually also some residue from previous piles which can act as a filler. I apply a few handfuls of volcanic rock dust as I build the layers.

These piles are usually ready to be combined at the summer solstice, at which point they are used as additives to the daleks each time sufficient kitchen waste is present  in those bins. During April, May and June, grass cuttings can be left to dry to become brown waste to add to daleks along with comfrey leaves, which accelerate composting beautifully.

As a result, careful management of the bins allows two rounds of composting a year in each dalek, which means around 1 cubic metre of high quality compost is generated from the daleks. I use this to treat the other 3 beds used in the four year rotation, although reality means that it is not all applied in November, rather when it becomes available/when new crops are being transplanted.

A third pile is built in a wire cage around the solstice and a fourth around the end of September. These also serve as ‘fuel’ for the daleks as well as lower grade compost for some of the boundary beds which are cultivated less intensively.

As I grow tomatoes in pots, I also end up with around 0.5 cubic metres of spent tomato compost, which is used where appropriate as compost.

 

In a perfect world, I would apply 5-7cm of compost uniformly across all beds. In the real world, I apply 4-5cm to my best growing areas and whatever else remains to the rest.

 

One thing is certain, if you compost all your garden materials rather than giving it each week to the council, you will be surprised how much compost you make yourself.