Archive for the ‘Composting’ Category

Some of you may have heard a few people making the statement: ”I am a no dig / no till gardener” what they meant about that is that they do not follow the standard of turning or rotavating their soil every year especially in the Winter.

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Woodchip Soil Amending – year 1 and 2 onwards

No Dig gardeners do a little bit of digging, but only what is necessary such as digging a hole to place a plant in it’s final outdoor location. They Do Not however, systematically dig / till the soil every year.
One of the arguments used to justify this ficticious practice is that they are bringing up nutrients which are / have leeched deep down.
Gardeners the country over, including very experienced people on Allotments have no actual clue about the sub surface bacteria and how they are exposing these beneficial organisms to the elements and also burying them too deep which kills them off!
In permaculture we call it the Soil Food Web and it comprises the entire system from soil microbes, to fungi mycelium, the plants, moisture, decomposing matter etc…

Nature does the work for us, we just need to learn to observe and only intervene by taking advantage of the observed clues, one good example is with the Austrian Farmer Sepp Holzer, he noticed as a boy that Strawberries grow much better and produce larger / jucier fruit when stones were placed beside the plants, he also noticed how White Clover also helped (Nitrogen Fixer).

The below image describes a better understanding of exactly how the different organisms in the ‘Soil Food Web’ play their roles which interact with other organisms in the system:

soil food web

If for example, you buy a house or start a garden somewhere and you find that the soil is heavy clay, you will of course need to dig and place soil amendments (preferrably natural) in the first year on a once off occasion, thereafter only an annual surface layer of mulch is needed to feed the system with fresh compostable material, nature literlaly does the rest and after a longer period of time you will have a very healthy soil system on that particular patch of land.

So, a few bags of clean sharp sand to help break up the clay, perhaps a few bags of compost and I would say as much woodchip as can be obtained, these materials should be worked into the soil up to the depth of perhaps of one spade blade. If your woodchip is fresh, you should not grow anything in this soil for at least a year, so this year you could at least use the space to host a row of pots which will hold plants for this one season, next year you will grow directly in the ground.

Rotovating or working the soil every year destroys the food web and basically resets it everytime, in the case of using a rotovator on heavy clay, the blades actually compact the ground under the bed being prepared and pretty much can cause this layer to become a water barrier, this I have seen first hand and the plot in question was always flooded at certain times of the year … In my whole opinion, using a rotovator is only necessary in the first year of soil amandment.

If you have a perennial weed problem (weeds which die down in winter and re-sprout from sub surface root networks in spring) you can use sheet mulch (aka lasagna mulch) after your soil amendment is added and then your final layer of the woodchip or mulch layer of your choice.

I challenge any skeptics to do a control experiment where they dedicate half of their beds to a no dig with mulch method and see the difference year after year …

Just the other day I was in a desperate need of any kind of container to plant some Sunchokes (aka Jerusalem Artichokes), Comfrey Bocking 14 and ‘Czar’ Runner Beans which I was ”gifting” to some relatives overseas. I had said that the plants will need some care until a root system was established because these plants are going from a Temperate Climate into the Tropics and luckily I happened upon these ready to be thrown away bags, from a recent clothing shopping spree.

Paper bags are ususally quite strong when supplied in Malls / Shops where the customer is expected to buy heavy loads, the best part is that I intend to merely submerge the plant with it’s paper ”pot” directly into the ground such as those common compostable / biodegradeable plant pots – completely eliminating the need for plastics and giving the plant and other organisms some additional nutrients!

Method:

Step 1: Take bag and cut vertically in half, you can pull out any handles / straps and re-use those later if you like

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Re-purposing a Bench Paper Bag into Two Plant Pots – Step 1

Step 2: Once cut, lay both pieces down on their thinner Vertical Sides as in the below photo, then deicde for yourself how large (wide at the base) you need your two pots so you can follow the follding lines and cutting lines in the diagram further below …

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Re-Purposing a Bench Paper Bag into Two Plant Pots – Step 2

Step 3: In the below diagram, the following notes are key to complete this project:

The RED Line is the base Horizontal folding line,
The two Orange Lines are the side Vertical folding lines
The two Dotted Green Lines are the only cuts you will need to make

bag-pot-process
Once all folded and ready
, the final step is using a stapler to keep it together and perhaps to re-attach the handles for ease of transport and handling (Optional)

 

Another Plant which I cannot see myself ever doing without unless moving to a climate which it cannot thrive in is the Artichoke Plant ‘Cynara Cardunculus’ (there are a few varieties). My obsession with these came when I snapped a photo of one flower head which had around 9 or so bees on it alone!

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The plant has a pleasant ‘Silver Tone’ effect which covers Greys and Silvers in an ornamental bed (Perennials)

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Multiple Flower Heads ‘Cynara cardunculus’

A friend of mine says that his Grandparents in the past, used to cook  the young shoots in a type of stew / broth recipe in the South of France.
There is the famous ‘Globe Artichoke’ which is edible and the varieties I am mainly focusing on here which do not produce edible flower heads such as the latter, but are great for Bees and Pollinators.
The plants are Perennial and once established should last years, in colder Temperate regions these Herbaceous plants will die down in a cold Winter and re-sprout in Spring. I am classing the Ornamental Artichoke ‘Cynara Cardunculus’ as Semi / Beneficial with the Edible ‘Globe Artichoke’ Variety as a good Beneficial Plant (Multiple Uses / Purposes) in a Sustainable / Permaculture System (Edible parts, good Cash Crop if grown in bulk, Perennial, Medicinal uses as described below and Pollinator attractant / forage plant. Another point is the leaves produce good green waste for composting and the tall woody stems you will chop down in Winter are great biomass, can be used as canes, in Hugel Mounds / Hugelkultur etc.)

 

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Bees Love the Artichoke Plant ‘Cynara cardunculus’

The plants are used medicinally and the following is taken from WebMD:

” Artichoke is a plant. The leaf, stem, and root are used to make “extracts” which contain a high concentration of certain chemicals found in the plant. These extracts are used as medicine.

Artichoke is used to stimulate the flow of bile from the liver, and this is thought to help reduce the symptoms of heartburn and alcohol “hangover.” Artichoke is also used for high cholesterol, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), kidney problems, anemia, fluid retention (edema), arthritis, bladder infections, and liver problems.

Some people use artichoke for treating snakebites, preventing gallstones, lowering blood pressure, lowering blood sugar; to increase urine flow; and as a tonic or stimulant.

In foods, artichoke leaves and extracts are used to flavor beverages. Cynarin and chlorogenic acid, which are chemicals found in artichoke, are sometimes used as sweeteners.

Don’t confuse artichoke with Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus).

How does it work?

Artichoke has chemicals that can reduce nausea and vomiting, spasms, and intestinal gas. These chemicals have also been shown to lower cholesterol. ”

 

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‘Cynara cardunculus’ grown commercially

The plants can be propagated by root division, take an established plant in dormancy (Winter / end of Winter towards Spring), using a spade, you will merely slice into the center of the root crown and dig around this newly sliced section, taking as much of the root with you as possible with soil to transplant to a nursing bed or in its final location. A layer of mulch is always a good idea once placed as protection from frost to ensure survival of the new plant.

Growing a couple of these plants in your garden together with other local / native as well as non native Bee Friendly plants will be very helpful for our Bee friends as an important food supply, ensure you study the different flowering times so that you can ensure that you alway have a plant or two supplying them with pollen and nectar most of the year round. You can even place one plant in a semi / shaded spot and this plant will flower later on, its flowers will still be going when the other plant has already finished its flushes.

Late Summer / Early Autumn is the best time to start gathering the materials you need for your planned Hugel Bed / Mound, many Herbaceous plants which can be used in conjunction with the wood logs, branches and sticks are now ready to be chopped down and composted or used in another way. Autumn / Winter is the preferred time her in the UK to create your Hugelkultur mounds mainly due to the need for the wet season to soak the beds, the buried logs will soak up the winter rains for months until the upcoming growing season.

Two pieces of advice I can definitely lecture on about in this article to ensure a successful Hugel Project are;
1: Ensure Air Spaces inside the mound and
2: Add lots of Nitrogen rich Biomass internally to offset the nitrogen locking that the logs will create during decomposition

Air Spaces:
Although there are guaranteed to be air spaces between the logs and branches / sticks, I have found that rain and the settling down of the materials can cause these spaces to fill in, often causing or risking an anaerobic result – go explore your garden or any other garden you have access to (You may even be able to make a deal with a local gardening company – they could leave a bag of said such materials for you outside one of their customers properties so as long as you collect the bag and not leave unwanted contents at the site!) remember, you can always bargain that most companies have to pay to dump their waste at commercial specialist dumps, remind them that you are helping them reduce the need to do so, in most cases they will still have charged their customers to ”remove” the waste even though you took if off of their hands, the customer will inevitably still be charged for it being dumped.

There are many herbaceous plant species which have a hollow stem and need cutting down in Autumn, cut these stems into pieces which you will spread around and in between your logs at different levels to ensure small air cavities will remain. Cedums, Ornamental Globe Artichokes, Jerusalem Artichokes (Sunchokes), Young Bamboo (and old), some Hydrangea varieties and many more have hollow cavity stems which harden enough when dry to be used in this case.

Then there is dry hard leaf ”garden waste” which takes ages to decompose, these are leaves from shrubs and trees which are more on a glossy and hard / stiff texture than a soft / decidious and most likely in all cases, evergreen. Three options I have from the top of my head as examples are the leaves of ‘Magnolia Grandeflora’, The climber ‘Clematis Armandii’ , the Loquat ‘Eribotrya japonica’ Fruit Tree, Some Rhododendrons (look for the large leaved varieties) and Laurels. We have found that most of these leaves can take up to two years in an unturned / undisturbed compost pile to break down, they maintain their structure even when pressed down so they are perfect for maintaining air spaces / gaps internally within the Hugel Bed / Mound! Practically any glossy leaved plant / shrub / tree will do but the larger and dryer – the better!
In fact, a couple of these Tree / Shrub leaves will actualy curl up to form a cilyndrical tube shape with an internal hollow gap, when pressed these are strong and bounce back right away once released.

Nitrogen Rich Biomass:
Probably one of the best options are fresh grass clippings from your lawn mowing or that of a neighbour / friend. You can even clip your grass at your home twice a week for the last 3 or so weeks of Summer, keep these clippings aside in a breathable bag until ready to add into the Hugel Bed – if you obtain clippings over several weeks, you Will need to add additional fresh greens into the mix to compenate lost nitrogen.
Horse Manure is also a great option but I would suggest it be used more as an addition to fresh green waste rather than 100% of the nitrogen source
The not-so-popular option amongst people new to Permaculture, is human Urine, which has a good nitrogen content and is often used diluted 1 part to 10 in early season liquid feed for plants
If you plan on lets say December being your target month for getting your Hugel project started, I would advise Growing a patch of Broad or Field bean green manure from Late August / Early September – these will be ready for chopping down and adding into your bed around and amongst the logs as the fresh greens instead of grass clippings which won’t be available during that month anyway

Further Reading: Click Here for an article on the step-by-step making of a Hugelkultur Mound / Bed

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Sepp Holzer -The Rebel Farmer

 

”Pigs are blessed by nature with a plough in front and a compost spreader at the back”
– Sepp Holzer (page #109, Desert or Paradise)

I must apologise for my regular followers for not being active on this blog over the last few months, I was granted an Allotment by my council and as I received it quite late (March/ April), being close to planting season, I had a lot of work to do to get the plot into a reasonable state and hence, most of my free time has been there. I will in the future, share the design on what I did and am doing on the plot.

It’s been unfortunately, an awful summer in regards to sunshine / warm days and temperatures here in the UK, after going outside today for a mini harvest and finally harvesting my First courgette for the season! plus some runner beans, I have made a couple observations which may be something to keep in mind with these weak summers we seem to be experiencing lately these last few years…

1: Since we had a very wet start, slugs were a huge problem this year, I realised a little too late that ideally, the plant that should probably be germinated first (if you have the space to bring them on until planting out) should be your marigolds (Tagetes) as well as any other ‘Slug Magnets’ such as perhaps Pansies and Violas (both related) – give your slugs and snails a multi buffet and there is a higher chance they will leave your seedlings alone.
Ideally, and I do stress this as I have now experienced and can confirm the huge benefit of having a Pond in your garden for the purpose of Frog habitat. This is my first year with a pond both in my Allotment (Did I mention yet that I now have an allotment?) as well as at home, I noticed a huge difference in slug / snail damage due to this.
Perhaps plan to germinate a few more plants of each of the species you noticed were devastated by slugs and snails this year during next years germinating season

2: Looking at the site today, I can recommend to anyone in the UK if you haven’t done so yet, cut off any new flowers on your tomatoes and as well as the growing tips now, I cannot see any chance of new flowers producing any sizeable fruit which would ripen in time, honestly this is even a little too late to say this but I had some hopes the weather would improve, unless of course you have a good site which gets 10 or more hours of sunshine a day then you could take a risk …

3: Start preparing early for winter crops, I highly recommend growing salads, kales etc..for winter harvest or early Spring harvest – I have built my second Polytunnel with experience through trial and error from my first polytunnel (partially from scavenged poles/ bits from first tunnel and nice large planks from raiding a construction skip) I will at some point post the design for you to follow, you can now start scavenging from skips (Construction Dumpsters) for free timber, plastic PVC conduit pipes etc. if you want to build a polytunnel as a DIY project.
I do recommend building them as DIY projects as in permaculture, we try our best to reuse and repurpose / recycle whatever we can, also, most polytunnels although great in size, have a zip roll up door and these are very unreliable!! rather make a door with hinges on a design like mine.

4: This is the second year of making Comfrey Compost Tea from my one Comfrey (Bocking 14) plant, these plants get really – really huge in the second year and are a very important addition to the vegetable garden, one plant should suffice but if you have the space, go for a second if needed! My plant completely smothered my fruit bush bed (Raspberries, Loganberries, Red Currants, Strawberries and Gooseberry) I ended up having to chop the whole plant again after making the compost tea twice already, the plant practically filled my 300 ltr compost bin.
I left the plant to expand as it did because due to the weak summer, this was the only plant supplying the bees with a good reliable source of nectar – proving how invaluable perennials are in any system, not just a permaculture system…
If you are going to obtain the Bocking 14 variety (bred / selected for the traits of non self seeding and great for being a biomass source which can be chopped several times a year), be aware you will need to control the root crowns by chopping (dividing with a spade) once every year after the first summer (if in an urban garden etc)
Note: In the near future, I may include an online shop section on this site, I will most likely sell Comfrey bocking 14 Crowns so keep an eye out if you are in the UK or Europe

5: This is the first year that I started collecting leaves in summer … sound a bit weird? well, Evergreen trees actually do shed leaves, in spring / early summer, evergreens shed their older leaves once newer growth has already pre-placed it, after emptying one of my compost bins prematurely, I needed to start filling it again ASAP, every week or so I took the time to visit the same places near my workplace as well as home to fill some smaller bags with these brown leaves to counter all of the fresh greens (including all veg and fruit scraps) that goes into the average compost bin weekly during summer.
Both of my compost bins (one at home and one on the allotment) started freshly emptied in the early summer, but with collecting browns as much as possible weekly from evergreen shedding, both bins are practically half full and I do not collect grass cuttings to fill them with as most home owners do! …

6: Now is a great time to make a deal with your local tree surgeons to dump a load of woodchip for you – woodchip at this time has leaves included in the mix and this helps decomposition, have an area in your garden / site where you can bag up all of the chips and let sit for next year, be sure to moisten it and mix in a little bit of soil  / compost or manure. Newly cut woodchip will cause ‘Nitrogen Lock’ which depletes the nitrogen from your soil, hence why it’s best to bag it up and let sit for 6 months or a year before applying. If your intention is for creating /covering walkways then this will not be needed and you can practically lay it down immediately.

7: Please Please learn new things, don’t be scared to go against the norm! Don’t feel embarrassed if someone gives you advice if they haven’t been into gardening or growing food as long as you have!
With the advent of the internet, many young motivated individuals (also older ones) are amassing much knowledge from the countless hours they are and have been spending online researching. I am referring to the old guys who have had plots on my allotment site for well over 10 years now (think of how many more thousands of people there are countrywide just like them?) , although they are quite nice people and often listen to what I advise, they simply cannot follow any of it! We have one guy who’s plot gets flooded basically every year and still refuses to build raised beds despite other plot holders just a few plots away demonstrating the benefits of raised beds – he perpetually loses crops and has developed a regime of multiple seed sowing in the greenhouse at home to counter the problem …
Then there’s the guy who practically Carpet Bombs his plot every day with slug pellets (would you like some beans with that formaldehyde sir?) despite knowing about frogs, beer trapping and laying plastic sheeting down as a habitat to catch them under. He also still went out and bought a few bottles of Tamorite Fertiliser Liquid after I pointed out that there are many comfrey Bocking 14 plants on some old derelict plots where there are no tenants – And explained how to make comfrey tea to him in detail, which he showed a huge interest in. Consumerism is a cancer on these people I feel

I have been meaning to post on the Hugelkultur method for around a year now and have finally gotten to doing it! I’ve gone through all of my own personal pictures to show you my own experience installing and now after one year, my experience with the system.

Traditionally, the Hugel system is a year on year progression whereby in the first year, you are meant to only grow shallow rooting crops such as lettuces, then follow on the second year and third with larger crops until you are growing tomatoes, peppers etc.

well, I Cheated! haha, I also got away with cheating so far with some amendments.
Ok, so a Hugelkultur bed is basically large cut tree logs placed in a small dug out trench (supposed to only be a few inches deep) which are topped with smaller logs, which are then topped with branches, then sticks, twigs, leaves and finally the layer of ‘sod’ which will then have a layer of compost or soil added over it to plant in. (sod is upturned chunks of grass and roots)

The purpose of this system is for the logs and the rest of the organic matter sitting on top of the logs to slowly decompose over a long period of time (up to ten years +) which provides a good, nutrient rich soil amendment or compost bed which you can grow edible plants / crops on.

In the above images, you see the main 7 layers, I finally had the last (8th) layer which was the rest of the Top Soil, I made the planting layer much thicker than traditional Hugel Beds so in order to be able to immediately grow the main crops I go for such as Tomatoes, Pumpkins etc. The way that I cheated includes maintaining hole cavities to ensure that air is able to penetrate deep down ensuring it remains Aerobic. My Hugel Bed was dug deeper than usual as I wanted the logs to penetrate deeper to condition the heavy clay subsoil and also counter the builders rubble that I came across after digging about half a space deep!
After 10 years my garden beds will be far far more natural and organic compared with my neighbours.

All of this was done and completed before Winter was over (2015) and a final layer of semi  mulched leaves was placed on top of the bed to encourage the worms to remain closer to the surface and condition the soil before spring. NOTE: In the photo’s you see a small three foot wide hole, due to time constraints I could only make the Hugel Bed in sections at a time, the entire bed was about 4 meters long by 80cm wide (13 ft x 2 ft 7 in) once completed.

Success? YES! I grew Pumpkins, Tomatoes, Peppers, Oca Tubers, Nasturtium and Courgettes (Zucchini) on this bed with ease!, I have also discovered a new trick to maintain breathing cavities which I will update Here in the days / weeks coming, to ensure the system stays aerobic.
The Permaculture genius Sepp Holtzer is said to be the pioneer of the Hugel Method, I have read his book: Sepp Holtzer’s Permaculture, I highly recommend this book even if you are not interested in Permaculture but have an interest in growing food on any scale!

Below I have a few images found online that will help in understanding the Hugelkultur method better, I have a very small piece of land and it is not mine, so I cannot simply cut out part of the lawn and follow the general method of Hugel Beds, hence why I stuck to the actual flower beds which restricted the size and working area.


At the end of the upcoming growing season I will definitely come back with a new post updating on what crops were grown and any observations whether positive or negative regarding my Hugel System … Don’t Be Scared To Experiment !