February 2017 II: treating the soil with dynamised Horn Manure

This year, I have started to use Biodynamic Preparations on my no-dig garden. Yesterday, February 21st, I applied Horn Manure to the garden, the fruit cage and the apple trees for the first time.

A small amount of the Horn Manure preparation (which I purchase from the British Biodynamic Association) is added to a small barrel of rainwater. This is then stirred until the water reaches a vortex, before changing the direction of stirring until a vortex is created in the opposite direction. You keep on doing this for one hour, a true labour of love.

I chose to use my copper dibber from Implementations, as its length and handle size were suitable. No doubt others use other things.

To relieve the boredom during this, I decided to study the water at the change of direction and noticed three things:

  1. A lot of air bubbles are created immediately after the direction change occurs.
  2. It takes about 15 seconds for the vortex to be created in the opposite direction.
  3. Setting a timetable of 60 seconds stirring in each direction added wholesome discipline to the proceedings, as well as providing a counter to reach the hour (30 stirring pairs to complete).

I then used a small brush and a pail to flick the water over the ground and the trees. Each pail just about covered the whole area once and I repeated three times. The whole thing is a bit of an act of faith, so we shall see what happens this season as a result of my labours.

The online community suggests applying Horn Manure ‘on an overcast afternoon when the soil is damp’. I was lucky that these were exactly the conditions I found on February 21st 2017, so there are no excuses for it not doing whatever magic it is supposed to do!

February 2017 I: Building a new horse manure pile

Horse Manure is a boon to urban gardeners, provided that you can get hold of it.

There are a few caveats to this:

  1. Horse Manure mixed with straw is much superior to manure mixed with wood shavings. This is because the wood shavings take much longer to rot down and, if placed on the garden, rob the soil of useful fertility whilst breaking down.
  2. Horse Manure can cause bad problems if the horses were fed on feed contaminated with aminopyralid, which causes serious problems to growing many crops.

Having said that, I have been using manure from a local stables in Northwood for 4 years and have had few problems.

Benefits from applying horse manure, particularly to infertile ground, include:

  1. An expansion in the population of earthworms in the soil.
  2. Marked improvements in crop yields of asparagus (20lb vs 12lb on our 5m  * 1m permanent bed).
  3. Ability of rhubarb and comfrey plants to thrive on fresh manure (against most traditional lores but the test of the cake is in the eating, after all).

For me, a pile of 1m*1m*1.5-2.0m requires four trips to the stables, each trip yielding 4 full bags of London Borough of Hillingdon Green Waste receptacles. Thankfully, the stables leave a manure fork in the pile, which resides conveniently at the edge of the customers’ car park.

The ideal scenario is building a pile in August and rotting for 15 months to November, before applying to the bed in which potatoes will be grown. Last summer, however, all the manure was full of wood shavings, so this year’s pile was half constructed in November and half in February, when straw-based manure was abundant.

Three days after completing the pile, the internal temperature was 55C, less than the 70C hoped for, but still a useful temperature for composting.

To learn about how horse manure piles evolve, acquire a soil thermometer and measure the temperature daily – it is quite surprising how consistent the results are. The pile is ready for turning once the temperature drops to 30C.

February 2017: a new season of growing

2017 has been a relatively benign winter in NW London: a few weeks of cold weather, but barely any snow on the ground. A brief use of a soil thermometer over the weekend of 19/20th February showed that, at 5cm depth, soil temperature was 8-9C, depending on location.

The over-wintered garlic plants, nibbled by birds during the winter, have perked up noticeably, the first obvious growing sign of the emergence from winter.

Two other two signs that spring is on the way is the first emergence of rhubarb and the first tiny green shoots on the comfrey plants. A third is the sudden emergence of green shoots on the parsnips still in the ground.

February 2017 has seen three events take place:

  1. Building a new pile of horse manure mixed with straw.
  2. Treating the undug beds with water dynamised with Horn Manure (purchased from the Biodynamic Association’s website).
  3. Sowing and transplanting the first seeds of the year indoors, namely:
    1. Spinach, peas for shoots, salad onions and cabbage.
    2. Onions and Beetroot.
    3. Early Tomatoes.
    4. Radish and turnips.

A separate post will be written for each of these three activities.

Aims for the Vegetable Garden and other growing areas

New Manure Pile in August

Although the list below may seem very organized and planned, the truth is it has emerged over a few years of trying things out, reading about different approaches, meeting different people and doing a few experiments myself.

It may continue to evolve in the future, but for now, it is a true list.

  1. To grow up to 30 different crops, giving a yield of up to 600lb, in the vegetable garden.
  2. To grow up to 150lb of tomatoes in pots on the patio.
  3. To grow up to 250lb of fruit (predominantly apples) on 5 trees, two rows of raspberries, one redcurrant bush and blackberries found in the boundary hedge.
  4. To evaluate the efficacy of no-dig gardening.
  5. To test whether the lunar cycles and other planetary aspects affect seed germination, plant growth and harvests.
  6. To build an ecosystem of plants to feed insects throughout the year with the aim of adding value to the garden ecosystem.
  7. To investigate companion planting and the use of under-sowing in improving yields and quality as well as minimising exposure of soil to the elements.
  8. To investigate whether traditional advice on crop spacing can be condensed for a small urban environment.
  9. To develop effective storage systems for the major crops, notably potatoes, carrots, onions, shallots, apples and tomatoes.
  10. To build a bomb-proof ‘how-to’ tool kit for the novice gardener, including reliable suppliers, cost-effective equipment, methods for small-scale composting, methods for growing food and harvesting high quality seeds for future generations.

Quadgrow June 2015

The blog will provide a series of resources of my experiences and offer the chance for you to input your own experiences, feedback, suggestions and questions.

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Gardening 50 square metres in NW London using No-Dig Principles

No Dig Bed 1.5m *5m Clear Of Weeds 160414
No Dig Bed 1.5m *5m Clear Of Weeds 160414

Welcome to http://www.urban-no-dig.com, a blog showcasing a 50 square metre urban vegetable garden cultivated by Rhys Jaggar using the no-dig principle.

The blog will share insights with those interested in gardening in plots smaller than those at standard allotment sites, in particular how to grow high yield-, high quality and varied vegetable produce under such constraints.

It aims to:

  1. Provide a Forum for novice gardeners with a small space to garden to share experiences, ideas, successes and challenges.
  2. Provide a seamless link to many relevant information sources, e-commerce sites, blogs and video channels.
  3. Provide a series of rigorous, detailed protocols which work, including discussions about things which don’t work based on failure at the coal-face.
  4. Provide a series of discussion articles about gardening matters of both a practical and philosophical nature.
  5. Create a community of shared values, namely respect for each other, respect for the lessons nature can provide and a belief that nature probably already has a solution for any problem we may be experiencing.

As an organic grower committed to growing high quality organic fruit and vegetables, Rhys has been allowed to use the No-Dig logo by Charles Dowding, the UK’s leading pioneer of no-dig market gardening.


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