Groundings 3 – Bob Bin

This year I bought a third black dalek compost bin.  You see, a girl can’t have too many compost bins.  This one I have christened Bob, because he’s for horse manure.  I’ve been making my own compost for years, but things don’t grow spectacularly and I think it is because I need to improve soil fertility.  So earlier this year we stuck a notice on Facebook asking for well rotted manure.  An obliging horse owner replied and said he had bags of the stuff.  Fifteen bags.  I had a lovely afternoon spreading manure on the beds to celebrate passing my PhD viva.  Only it was still a little bit – well, smelly.  I’m sure the plants didn’t mind too much (I can’t say the same for the neighbours) but ideally it would be a bit better rotted.  So I looked up how to compost horse manure, and found this detailed article.  In essence (lots of essence) you layer up horse manure with carbon rich material such as leaves and paper.

I was getting behind on my admin, so this gave me a reason to get lots of shredding done.  I was destroying old financial papers.  Making compost with them is a satisfying redefinition of ‘value’.  My neighbours gave me sacks of shredded leaves.  Mr Horse Owner donated ten more bags of the brown stuff.  Everyone was delighted to be giving me what is otherwise a ‘problem’ for them to dispose of.  And then Bob the Bin arrived.  My stage was set.

Manure compost bin

Manure compost bin

I lay sheets of thick cardboard at ground level, then alternated layers of manure, leaves, and shredded paper.  The above article says to turn the heap often, so I’m due to get out there this week, give it all a good mix up, and see how its doing.  The idea is to keep it hot.  When it stops getting hot, it is done.  So there’s a job to keep me warm this winter.

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Groundings 2 – Leaf mould

I’ve been trying to make leaf mould for years.  I used to shove the leaves into black plastic sacks and punch holes in the bags.   A year or two later, I opened the bag hopefully, and found … leaves.  Only one of my leaf bags actually turned into leaf mould.  This was disappointing, because the one thing that we have literally bags of is leaves.

Leafy lawn

Leafy lawn

Our garden sits beneath a retaining wall, and on top of that are mature trees:

Mature beech trees above back garden

Mature beech trees above back garden

So we have a plentiful soil improvement resource right on our back doorstep.  Where the leaves fall on the beds, I let them be.  Perfect mulch, nature’s own way.  Where they fall on the ‘path’ at the back, they are also allowed to stay.  They break down slowly, providing a walking surface over the winter, just like a woodland path.  The leaves on the lawn and on the paving get swept into piles and then sucked and munched with the leaf vacuum.  Sweeping first means the vacuuming takes no time, and uses less electricity.  Munched leaves break down much more easily, especially as our leaves are mostly beech which breaks down very slowly.

The leaf mould breakthrough came when we made a proper bin (in the middle-front of the top picture).  It is ridiculously simple – just some wire mesh in a circle, held up by garden canes and fastened with wire.  We built this bin a year or two ago, and this year we dug out three good-sized compost bags of lovely crumbly leaf mould.  (I never throw away a compost bag.  You would not believe how many compost bags I have.)   Having emptied the bin, I started filling it again.

Leaf mould makes a great peat substitute for homemade compost, which I’ve been making for the first time this year.  I’ll write about this some other time.  I’ll also write about my other use for leaves in my third (yes, third) black dalek compost bin.  My brilliant neighbours also deposit bags of their leaves over the fence for me, and I am taking it as a personal challenge to use all the leaves from both gardens.  Leaf no waste.

Let’s Go Make Some Quiet — Humane Gardener

Quote

This is a timely plea for us to consider our noise pollution, and the beauty and importance of the natural soundscape – via Humane Gardener.


From bluebirds to caterpillars, all creatures are vulnerable to the harmful effects of noise pollution. Here’s why—and how—to turn down the volume. Sitting on her porch in the desert one afternoon while recovering from surgery, Christine Hass closed her eyes. The operation to fix her detached retina had been difficult, and she sought respite from…

via Let’s Go Make Some Quiet — Humane Gardener

Groundings 1 – growing the soil

This year I have been going to ground.  I have been paying attention to soil.  I ask for a lot from my garden, and I can’t keep taking, taking, taking.  I have to give back.  So this year’s focus has been compost.  Over the year, I’ve developed a closed system – using everything in the immediate vicinity that I can use to bulk up and nourish the soil.  This requires space.  Below is my composting area, near the back of the house in a North-facing space where there is little light.  It is not a productive growing area.  It’s handy to access because it is right in front of the back door where we exit from the kitchen.

Compost area

Compost area

I have two ‘dalek’ bins from the council.  We use the one nearest to the back door as our current bin to empty kitchen scraps and to collect garden ‘waste’.  The second bin (by the fence) is my ‘turning’ bin.  This is where the compost breaks down.  Every couple of months, I empty the contents of the turning bin into one of the big green bags on the floor.  The bin is then empty, ready for me to turn the compost into from our current bin.  Wearing a big pair of red rubber workmans’ gloves, I lift the whole bin off the heap out of the way and scoop the pile of contents with my hands into the turning bin.  This is more gentle on the worms than using a spade or fork.  I can break up clumps and crush eggshells with my hands.  It is messy and slimy, wiggly and wonderful.  If it gets a bit too wet, I add shredded paper.  If it is too dry, I add a layer of grass clippings.  I can’t get enough of grass clippings.  The black bin liner which is shoved through the fence is for my neighbours.  They happily donate their grass clippings, which I find dumped over our fence in the bin liner.  I empty it and give them the liner back.  They love this, because it saves them a trip to the tip.  I love it, because it gives me nutritious biomass and compost activator for my heaps.  The soil loves it too.  Everybody is happy.

Kale – Pentland Brigg

Despite the current unseasonably mild weather in the UK, we have had our first frosts.  And that means it is time to harvest the kale.  This year, I’ve tried Pentland Brigg which is a short-lived perennial kale.  I got the seed from Pennard Plants, and germination was excellent.  I grew seedlings to a good size in the new greenhouse before planting out.  They were generally trouble-free.

pentland brigg seedling good shrunk

Pentland Brigg kale seedling

The plants grew well, and have become quite substantial specimens.  They are attractive, with curly edges to the leaves once they get going.

Pentland Brigg kale

Pentland Brigg kale

Mine definitely prefer good light.  The picture above is from the front garden, where they’ve done well.  They are somewhat smaller at the back, where light is more limited.  They are managing to grow though, so are an option for a shadier space.

I’ve found that the younger leaves are more tender and tasty (no surprises there) and the plants soon put on new growth.  And yes, it is absolutely true that kale is sweeter after the first frosts.  This is a lovely tasting kale, delicious stir-fried with garlic.  I hope it isn’t too short-lived a perennial, as it is certainly earning its place in my garden.

Sunshine bloggers

I was touched to be mentioned in SkyeEnt’s Sunshine Blogs post .  SkyeEnt writes a fascinating blog about land that she manages on Skye in Northern Scotland, taking a forest gardening permaculture approach.  She has recently been visiting other permaculture forest gardens, and generously shares her experiences of these.

The Sunshine Bloggers award is a way of recognising the contributions of other bloggers, and involves answering questions that the nominator poses.  For health reasons (a whole other story which I write about here), I can’t spend very long at a time reading or writing.  So I simply want to say thank you to SkyeEnt for the nomination, and in the spirit of the award, to mention a couple of other blogs that I enjoy reading, namely:

Helen at Growing out of Chaos

Nancy at Humane Gardener

Anni at  Annis Perennial Veggies

There are many others, but these (as well as SkyeEnt’s blog mentioned above) are probably my most frequently visited.  You’ve quite likely seen them yourself already, but if not, take a look and see what you think.

Autumn un-tidy

A few musings as promised on the lack of Autumn ‘tidying’ (following Anni’s post).  In theory, I should be chopping down all these seed heads …

A corner of my front border

A corner of my front border

But looking at these more closely, I observe tiny cave-like dwellings in the marjoram …

pot marjoram seed heads

pot marjoram seed heads

And lurking inside those untidy purple toadflax seedheads are nutritious black seeds, which could be a perfect snack for something on a cold day …

toadflax seeds

toadflax seeds

Where I deadheaded them earlier this year, there are hollow stems – whole tower blocks where insects could be curling up ready for the winter …

hollow toadflax stems

hollow toadflax stems

The ‘lambs lettuce’ path below is full of bits of grass, self sown cranesbill, and strawberry plants that walked out of their pots …

lambs lettuce path

lambs lettuce path

I once tried to tidy up under this hedge, pulling up the grass and intending to put bark mulch underneath.  I hadn’t got very far before I noticed a movement.  On closer inspection, I saw a tiny newt which had been taking full advantage of the warm cover that the ‘mess’ of dried grass provided.  I picked it up to check that I hadn’t injured it, feeling pretty rotten that I’d disturbed it.  It sat, blinking, on my hand. I gave up the idea of tidying, and tucked the little creature back under the hedge. 

One permaculture principle is to ‘use edges and value the marginal‘:

“don’t think you are on the right track just because its a well-beaten path” 

My untidy path is not a well-beaten one, but this edgy ‘mess’ will be a haven for wildlife through the winter.  I can still step on it to get at the lambs lettuce for winter salads.  I’ll just need to give any lurking residents a bit of warning first.