Archive for the ‘DIY Gardening / Home Projects’ Category

The concept of Hugelkultur (Hugel Mound Growing) can basically be described as a self-composting bed or planting area (in the case of this article, in large pots). The gardener digs a shallow trench or pit and places logs, branches, sticks, twigs, brown leaves, nitrogen rich greens and or fresh manure, then tops these materials with the dug out earth and finally a decent layer of compost.

A good Hugel with large thick logs can be self-composting for anything up to 10 years. Read previous articles on traditional Hugels here Article 1 and Article 2.

Just the other day I realised that I can re-create the Hugel system but in large plastic planter pots, this will give you the benefit of Hugelkulturs without having to strain your back doing loads of digging!

Anyone taking on an uncultivated or fallow piece of land such as a disused Allotment Plot can always Sheet / Lasagna mulch a section, cover the result with thick impermeable black plastic sheet to kill off the perennial weeds and simply place Hugel Pots on top to ensure the land is still productive. Once you need to remove the sheet after a year and start using the ground space for planting, you can simply knock over the pots and empty the goodness to build up the humus / top layer!

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Hugelkultur Mound in Planter Pots

The general rule in terms of what can be grown on the Hugel Mound in year 1, are shallow rooted crops / plants such as various lettuces. Thereafter you can grow plants that require more nutrients and moisture and then finally on year 3  you can pretty much grow anything from Tomatoes to Pumpkins.

In the terms of the Hugel in a large pot, you can start the bottom layer either with composted or semi-composted wood chips (skip them and use soil if you have Slug / Snail problems), place a decent layer of soil (especially soil you wish to amend) on top of the latter with the Branch, Sticks, Twigs and cardboard / leaves as the carbon layer.

Follow on top with vegetables, fruit scraps, cut grass or fresh manure and then go on to adding the thick layer of soil / compost for growing in

(refer to image for general idea on layers, there are no specific rules but rather guidelines to follow) such as:

  1. Wood and wood chip need Nitrogen to break down, the plants you intend to grow need nitrogen too, the wood will suck this out of the soil and this is why we add manure or nitrogen rich fresh greens like veggie scraps and grass clippings / garden prunings, therefore, try to add as much green / manure / nitrogen rich material the more wood you have – greens decompose much quicker so stuff a lot in there.
  2. Compose the larger wood at the bottom and build up with smaller pieces until you reach brown leaves and cardboard this should ensure nice air spaces between are protected from being filled in by settling materials, these air spaces are important to ensure that the process does not become anaerobic – you could even start the logs on top of a 3-5cm thick layer of fresh grass clippings although this is not imperative.
  3. Intending on using this pot every year for the same purpose and do not intend on emptying it for a few years? then this is the time that you can use much thicker logs and branches in the bottom, if you want to empty the contents regularly (every 1 – 2 seasons) then it would be more beneficial to use thinner branches and sticks instead.
  4. Shallow rooted crops are mostly recommended in the first year however, you could easily use root crops such as carrots and parsnips provided you have a deeper layer of top soil / compost, remember that carrots and parsnips need nicely sieved compost / soil to prevent roots from ”forking”
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This is kind of my own invention (The Design), I got the idea from the mirror strings you can buy from some garden centers which sell them as pigeon deterrents. The issue with the latter is that they are cheaply made (small mirrors glued to fishing line – that’s it!) and they don’t last many heavy wind sessions before you see them broken all over the ground (I have seen this happen probably around 20 times in the last 4 years).

So I decided to design my own – with the emphasis on lasting, and not really as a pest deterrent but more as a Garden Ornament. I also took some inspiration from a Permaculture book I read which had a reflection chart (depicting the reflection values of various objects from Aluminium foil to wood, rocks etc.).

Tools:

  • Timber Saw
  • Wood Glue (PVA) or Silicone Glue if preferred
  • Drill and Screws
  • 4x wood screw type vine eyes (screws with a closed loop on top)
  • Strong Fishing Line or Thin Cable / Wire
  • Wire Cutters and Pliers

Optional:

  • Some Colourful Outdoor Paint / or just wood varnish
  • brush / es
  • Sealant spray paint (if you use indoor paint instead of outdoor)

Materials:

  • Long-ish piece of Timber (square profile – about 4cm x 4cm x any length you like), you may need to use the same piece to cut the supports to hold the Charm
  • Small Mirrors, get mixed shapes if you like (known as Mosaic or Tile Mirrors)
  • Sea Shells (optional)
  • Glass Gems (also known as flat marbles) – (optional)
  • Pool Tiles (optional)

In the following diagram, you merely cut out a couple of wedges from two of the sides of the timber, these you will stick to the other two sides to create angled surfaces to place more mirrors ( we want many mirrors reflecting in various directions and angles, so please don’t be regimentalised when you are cutting – let go of the OCD for this project ! )

Jeff's Garden Solar Charm 1

Garden Solar Charm – Diagram 1

Now go ahead and glue your various mirrors onto the angled surfaces as well as on the flat areas, you can decorate the rest of the free space with Glass Gems, maybe a few flat sided crystals, sea shells and pool tiles (create patterns, you can get very small mini pool tiles which are about 1/4th the size of the standard small pool tile).

gard solar 2

Garden Solar Charm – Diagram 2

Once all is dry and happy, you can paint around the decorations and mirrors or varnish (I prefer to paint / varnish later, I didn’t want the mirrors etc. to be glued onto paint – this was a personal preferance) then go on to taping the mirrors with edging tape or electrical tape so you can spray it a few times with sealant spray – this helps to protect against environmental wear as well as an extra barrier to hold the objects on and reinforce them a bit more.

Now screw in one vine eye on each end (top and bottom) to attach your swivels to and then the wire / fishing line or cables. It is now up to you to decide where and how you will hang your new ornament in your garden, I attached it to a fence pole by cutting two timber pieces (+- 35cm long each with a 45 degree cut on one end), attached these to the pole and then screwed one vine eye subsequently on the end of each of these supports. The charm was first tied onto the top support with about 10cm of fishing gut between the vine eye and the swivel, the next was tied whilst the charm was hanging, this gave me a chance to decide on how taught I want it tied, I went for only slightly with a bit of give.

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Garden Solar Charm – Diagram 3

An that’s it! You can be as creative or simple as you like, you could even cut the timber into more than one section with an assortment of swivels so that each can rotate in different angles, at different speeds etc, the options are pretty much endless …

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Below is a list of what can be sown indoors, outdoors or in greenhouses and polytunnels during the months of March and April, this is for the UK / British Climate but can still be relevant in some other parts of the Northern Hemisphere

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During April 2017 we had a last minute frost which decimated at least 40% of my seedlings in the Polytunnel on the allotment, even though I got in there after work to shut the door and ventilation – my mistake was when I gave them a quick drink (this froze and killed them).

beetrot_header

Between Middle of March and April, most of your Spring sowings should have been started. Of-course it also depends on where exactly you live, but this is the average dateline for most of Britain.

Outside (depending on weather and soil conditions)

  • Root crops such as carrrots, parsnips, beetroot and turnips
  • Mangetout & podding peas & broad beans – probably better started indoors to avoid pests
  • The first sowings of summer salads including lettuces,radishes, cress, endive, & rocket,
  • Brassica crops for eating this summer & also through into the winter – kale, brussels sprouts, purple sprouting broccoli, summer and (early) winter cabbages,  calabrese and cauliflowers
  • Leaf Beets as well as swiss chard
  • Leeks
  • Radishes and spring onions
  • Some Green Manures are good to scatter sow now so they can be ‘chop n’ dropped’ in time for Summer plants such as Pumpkins, Squashes and Tomatoes when they need planting

Indoors

  • If you have slug or weed problems, then you may find all of the brassica crops, leeks and salads do better started in trays/modules and then planted out when they are better able to withstand them.
  • Similarly broad beans and peas may have to be started indoors if you have trouble with mice
  • Any companion / sacrificial plants such as Marigolds,

In trays or pots somewhere warm (germinator/warm airing cupboard etc).           Bear in mind that they will need somewhere warm & light to grow on

  • Tomatoes, peppers and aubergines, ideally by the end of March.
  • Celery/celeriac (again need heat to germinate)
  • Courgettes, squashes, cucumbers and melons (but not too early, or they will get too large before the weather is good enough for them to go outside)

In a greenhouse / polytunnel in the ground

  • Summer salads
  • French beans for an early crop
  • Herbs such as coriander, basil & parsley

Remember, to come back to this page easily you can just click on the ‘Monthly Sowing Calendar’ tab on the home screen.

 

 

Runner Beans are notorious for being water gluttons! An older method of water retention as well as feeding them is the bean Trench, I spent quite a while searching for a decent short video online but didn’t find anything that had the relevant correct method so I will be describing it as below (Many video’s online show only some newspaper or cardboard then it is topped with loads of rotting vegetables with Zero (0) browns such as mixed cardboard or rotting leaves in-between! Don’t follow that  at all), it creates a horrible pungent smell and attracts flies, you cannot ever expect good compost material if you only add in nitrogen / sugar rich matter and ignore the browns / Carbons to balance it all out … (rant over).

My advance apologies for not having photo’s as well, my bean trenches are actually not ”standard” as my soil is actually quite nutrient rich already, I have many other larger projects going on as well so I only dug a small 20cm wide by 10+ cm deep trench as a mini experiment. How is it you ask, that I can post a ”how to” on Bean Trench creation if this is my first experimental one? Because it really is a similar concept to Hugelkultur / Hugel Mounds which I have built or been involved in building quite a few over the last four years, the only main difference is the absence of Wood / Logs.

bean trench

Runner Bean Trench Layers – Organic Gardening

METHOD:

  1. Select your growing area and dig a trench about one spade blade depth and the width of a spade blade sideways (make notches at the base of the trench as air pockets – these help prevent an anaerobic environment [see image]),
  2. Lay a carpet of Brown Cardboard at the base of the trench and up the sides,
  3. If starting this in Autumn / Early Winter (it’s the ideal time), then drop grass clippings, vegetable and fruit peels, coffee and tea grounds / leaves, even composted and sieved woodchip in – follow the diagram image for the best sequencing of layers,
  4. Cover with your dug-out soil only when you finish filling, you can leave the trench open and fill in gradually over the Winter and merely add a very thin layer of soil every time if you prefer. However, this way may need a mesh net / wire net of some sort to prevent foxes etc from digging around.
  5. Stop filling / adding vegetable scraps etc. into the trench at least 6 weeks to 2 months before you plan on planting the Beans or in the case of a one day trench project, cover with soil  2 months before you intend to plant and ensure you poke a few breathing holes after every rainy day.
  6. In the case of creating a Bean Trench in Spring, you can still line the bottom with Cardboard and fresh grass clippings with some brown rotting leaves, then top this with 6 month to 1 year old compost from your bin/s.

During a mild winter, certain Runner Bean varieties may actually survive underground as a Herbaceous Perennial (The roots go dormant underground and re-sprout in Spring) – one such variety I have experience with is ‘Scarlet’. Thus, as I am expecting some of my Scarlets to re-sprout, I decided to grow Runners in the same spot as last year (partially due to lazyness).

I am likely to still grow a batch of Runner Beans at home or on another section of the Allotment and this is where I will most probably dig a deeper, more traditional trench.

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Strawberries do need some frost protection during Winter and the harsh weather sometimes felt in Late Autumn and Early Spring, the mulch will gradually break down so an Acid producing material is needed due to Strawberry plant requirements.

strawberries.jpg

Pine Tree needles are great for Strawberries in that they are acidic, and take a longer than broad leaf acid leaves to decompose, one much needed benefit from the mulch is also for it to ”puff” around the plant maintaining a stronger structure which keeps the frost and snow off of the crown. Another benefit is keeping the actual berries off of the ground when they are growing / forming.

Some pine trees produce short needles which are 2.5 Inches / 5cm long which are perfect yet a little harder to rake up and collect sometimes (they are able to pierce through the gaps in your garden gloves and prick your skin, it doesn’t hurt but can be quite annoying).

The rest are much longer at about 12 inches / 30cm, these are much easier to rake and collect but they will need cutting into smaller pieces to fit around the crown and base of each plant – this is easily do-able with secateurs or even scissors.
These shorter pieces will be the base cover which will also be the first to rot due to the direct ground contact, the further topping layers can be longer pieces if you have the patience to work them around the plants nicely … Or just collect branches of Yew (Taxus baccata) and other similar coniferous trees, let sit in a dry area and merely bash the branches over a tarp once the needles are brown and dry.

straw pine mulch.jpg

Pine Needle Mulched Strawberries

You should also Collect Oak tree leaves and leave them in a bag with some other composting materials for a couple months (longer in colder months) such as some grass clippings, brown cardboard and other fresh leaf clippings – will create an acidic compost which can be used as a feeding mulch before applying the pine needles (ensure the bag gets sunshine and shade, with holes poked in the bottom so worms can enter).

 

Many people use straw but forget to ensure an acidic (PH) environment, if straw is your preferred choice, then follow the step above with Oak tree leaves, then simply mulch with the leaf mold before adding the straw as a top layer, used tea bags (cut open and leaves poured out) either in your acidic compost pile / bag or directly around the plants will help too.

The Mulching options above are also useful for Blueberries and Cranberry. I highly recommend creating a acidic soil raised bed in which you could plant 2- 5 Blueberry Bushes, 4 – 6 Cranberries and the rest of the space covered with Strawberries as a general ground cover / living mulch. This bed would need a re-application every year of some kind of acidic organic matter as in the above paragraphs, other than that, the only maintenance is harvesting and perhaps some bird netting / slug & Snail control methods

I came across this festival via a pamphlet I got at the London Permaculture Festival last week and decided to help promote it, unfortunately the date of the event is just next week and is far too late for me to be able to even attampt to attend. I will now hopefully be able to book it for next year if possible …

This years event will be held between Thursday 10th to Saturday 13th of August 2017 and you can still book tickets on their website.

o g f 2017 ao g f 2017

Watching the video (3.5 mins long) this is definitely an event which is worthwhile to go to, I’m sadly going to miss the opportunity this year, it looks excellent especially for kids!

For those who are unable to watch the video or stream it for some reason, the following are some of the events and things to do at the festival based on last year’s video:

  • Archery,
  • Off Grid College,
  • Crafts and Tech area,
  • Well Being Area,
  • The Wildwood,
  • Off Grid Kids Area,
  • Live Music Barn,
  • Eco Build Demos
  • Organic Food and Drink,
  • Family Camping.

Another World Is Possible

Off Grid Festival Website (Click Here).

Other courses / talks on offer are:

New Economy – Permaculture – Eco-Build – 12v Technology (solar / wind power) – Bushcraft – Growing Food – Low-Impact Living – Land – Social Enterprise – Community Housing – Energy – Forest School – Conflict Resolution – Foraging & Wild Medicine – Yoga – Dance & Meditaion

Honestly, I’m contemplating faking a semi serious illness to get off from work now …. 🙂

Hi everyone, this is just a quick update on my Dandelion Flower Wine (I made a batch around May when the flowers were still about in abundance). Click here for the recipe.

Dandelion 1

Home Brewed Dandelion Flower Wine

I couldn’t resist and had one bottle about a month after first making the batch, the other three are now going to sit and mature – I keep reading that you should enjoy them starting around Christmas the same year onwards, I sincerely hope that I can leave one bottle to serve for a nice boiling hot day in Summer 2018 whilst next year’s batch is being bottled up and into storage!

I also have a previous post on Dandelion flower Jam, you will not regret making this at least once in your life!

The wine was quite nice, still a little strong with some fementation taking place so hopefully it will mellow down a bit in a few month’s from now, the alcohol content is surprisingly quite high.

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Dandelion flower Wine, bubbling away (2nd Week)

Keep an eye out, I will have a couple recipes for Elderflower wine and Elderberry Cordial coming up soon …