Moving Compost

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We’ve actually got around to ‘turning’ a compost heap over.

That is quite and achievement here. We often fill compost heaps so high that we can’t possibly turn them over without creating a collapse similar if Everest gave way.

But we did it, in two hours in the rain. We kind of had to do it because, well, I needed more space for the onions and garlic. I’ve planted somewhere around 250 onions… we were given quite a few but it was good seeing as the cats have already dug some up…

But yes – back to composting – why do we ‘turn’ compost over? Why do we compost in the first place? Why not chuck it in one of those bins?

For shame.

Right, compost: organic matter that has been decomposed and recycled as fertiliser and soil amendment. Compost is the KEY ingredient to organic farming. Despite the slug pellets, that is what we aim to do.

Have you ever read The Running Hare by John Lewis-Stemple? Do, its great.

You make your compost out of basically anything in the garden – that can be cut grass, leaves, old plants, some people choose not to include their weeds but I do because I like dumping them somewhere and feeling like I am recycling. You can also put your food waste in it. This might attract rodents, of course, but what about your tea bags, banana peels, veg scrapings? Those are all really good to rot down and so not worth giving to the bin man. You can put cardboard and paper on too – covering the heap with cardboard is a good way of helping it to rot down.

But why should I compost?

  1. Saves money – do you know how expensive compost is?
  2. Saves resources and reduces negative impacts on the environment by avoiding chemical fertilisers.
  3. Improves soil – it feeds it with a diversity of nutrients, improves soil drainage and increases soil stability.

Compost takes time. It can look messy. But it is so worth it for a gardner. It is an investment.

So, if you don’t know already, ‘turning over’ the compost bed is aerating it. It gives it a flush of oxygen that encourages the bacteria breaking it down not to remain sluggish. It therefore speeds up the process, sometimes by weeks.

To aerate your compost, fork or shovel the compost into a newly set up enclosure next door to it. It is that simple. If your pile isn’t as big as a mountain.

Leaf mould = homemade gold dust

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Earlier this year, we raked up some of our leaves and squashed them thickly into large bags, leaving them under a hedge. We looked at them last week and they had rotted down into leaf mulch.

Now, there are plenty of nutritious ways to feed your gardens, and of course you can buy most of them. But doesn’t making your own sound so much better? You never know what goes into the compost you are buying, but if you make your own it saves money and will be a hundred percent naturally made by you!

Back to nutritious feeding: leaf mulch is what Monty Don called ‘gold dust’. And here is why he is right:

Organic mulch improves soil fertility as it decomposes, reducing the need for fertilizers.  Mulches maintain soil moisture by reducing evaporation so less irrigation is needed from you. It inhibits weed germination and growth, reducing the need for herbicides.  It buffers soil temperatures keeping soils warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer. Mulching leaves simply recycles a natural resource.

This is the time of year for making your next supply. We use large bags that were once used for animal foods, similar to compost bags one can buy from the garden centre, but slightly tougher.

Word of caution: avoid “volcano mulching”, when mulch is piled against the base of a tree, it holds moisture, encouraging rot in the trunk.

Forget the leaf blower and bonfire, grab your rake and a large bag and get to storing some of that nutritious leaf mulch for your veg patch!

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Books: Gardening

Some gardening books I recommend:

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‘Grow your own Eat your own’ and ‘Bob Flowerdew’s Organic Bible’, both by Bob Flowerdew

Grow Your Own, Eat Your Own’ – Bob Flowerdew: Offers advice on harvesting, storing and cooking your homegrown produce throughout the year. He discusses how to grow for your particular kitchen needs, coping with gluts and storing and preserving: drying, jams and jellies, syrups and squashes, salting, brining, fruit cheeses and butters, pickles, chutneys, sauces and ketchups, soaking and sprouting… His recipe includes handy tips of growing techniques, adopting an organic approach to gardening, includes recipes (fruity up and down pancake, cinnamon baked pears, plum sorbet, artichoke pate, stuffed courgette flowers, pickled beetroot…) and adds a little extra page on keeping poultry and bees, underlining the wonderful relationship between keeping an organic garden and livestock.

‘Bob Flowerdew’s Organic Bible’: Gardening organically and how to ‘work with nature’ rather than to fight against it. A good book for organic gardening completely, not just for growing produce. Discusses making own liquid feeds and compost too.

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‘Salad Leaves for All Seasons’ by Charles Dowdling and ‘Gardner Cook’ by Christopher Lloyd

‘Salad Leaves for All Seasons’ – Charles Dowdling: Dowdling first started growing vegetables commercially in 1982 when he set up his first green box scheme, eventually selling about 200 salad bags per week. This book highlights the different salad leaves one can grow, growing hardy varieties outdoors during the winter, growing easy-peasy micro leaves and dealing with the abundant pests salad leaves attract. He is quite keen on planting and the relationship with the moon cycle. He also includes lists of what is best to plant per month, breaking down the extensive list and narrowing the sometimes overwhelming options one can have for planting, making it easier. There are also some recipes for all seasons included from his wife, Susie (e.g. June: Somerset Spelt Risotto with Sugar Peas and Pea Shoots, September: Dark Red Lettuce with Cucumber, Cashew Nuts and Pumpkin Seeds, January/February: Winter Salad with Lettuce, Winter Purslane, Apple and Cheddar …). He also divides the salad leaves into sections and discusses the different varieties and when best to plant them. For example, for lettuce, he writes about how to grow it, when to grow it, growing it outdoors/ in a container, problems, harvesting, watering, types of lettuce (hearting, loose leaf etc.), colours of lettuce (dark lettuce has a slightly bitter flavour, slower to grow than light green and less attractive to slugs, apparently) and then he discusses varieties (e.g. Loose Leaf, he recommends, ‘Lollo Rosso’, ‘Aruba’, ‘Rubens Red’ and plenty more). It is a very useful, detailed book for anyone who wants to be self-sufficient in growing green leaves for themselves or others.

‘Gardener Cook’ – Christopher Lloyd: Lloyd depicts how to grow the best varieties of fruits, vegetables, salads and herbs and how to use them in cooking, including recipes. It is divided into the following sections: Fruit Trees, Soft Fruit, Root Vegetables, Green Vegetables, Salads, Herbs. He writes information on the produce he grew at Dixter and a little history he has with the particular food item, before offering some recipes (Apple Charlotte, Spinach Flan, Potato Salad with Wine and Anchovies, Beetroot Baked with Cream and Parmesan Cheese, Rhubarb and Banana Pie, Leek and Mushroom Tart…). Included lovely photographs, too. As Lloyd writes in the blurb, ‘Growing one’s own food is tremendously rewarding… We have always grown fruit and vegetables in the garden… What could be more natural than to use them effectively in the kitchen?’

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‘RHS Encyclopaedia of Gardening’ and ‘RHS Vegetable & Fruit Gardening’

‘The RHS: Vegetable and Fruit Gardening’: A large book packed with information about growing all types of vegetables and fruit. Discusses types of plants briefly in A-Z order among other advice, such as crop rotation.

‘The RHS Encyclopaedia of Gardening’: Largest saved for last – this is a whopper of a book. It has everything technical you need to know about gardening and is a good one to refer to.