We are all told, “live your life to the fullest”; we are here to do just that.
We are three siblings, with a passion for living as naturally and as sustainably as possible.
The Diary of a New Gardener [DOANG] serves as a vessel for you to follow our journey into building a more sustainable life, project our passions, alternative views and clue in our loyal readers as to what inspires us in this amazing world.
Here in the U.K., alongside the crazy year it’s been already with COVID-19, the weather seemed to join the party so unfortunately our grand plans for our garden and allotment didn’t go entirely to plan BUT we did have a wonderful array of herbs!
Herbs are very hardy and we have grown them in our garden at home for years- some a little more needy than others but either way – there is always something sprouting around (at least we have an endless supply of fresh leaf teas and flavourful food!)
Year on year, we have always said we would dry the herbs before they die off and this year we stuck to it (finally).
In our garden we have the following:
Evergreen herbs (which also double up as ornamental plants) – Bay trees, Rosemary, Thyme, Sage and Lavender.
Then we also have Coriander, Mint, Lemon balm, Chives, Basil, Parsley, Fennel, Angelica, Oregano and our new found favourite – Lemon Verbena.
We are lucky to have a shed at the end of our garden that we use to hang our fresh herbs to dry but anywhere that isn’t damp would work.
We start by gathering the plant into a bundle whilst it’s still in the ground and then use garden twine to twist around the base of the stems then just a pair of garden scissors or secateurs to chop away. Ensure that your twine is long enough to allow you to hang the bundle, hang up the herbs so they have enough air flow to dry evenly and not mould or rot.
Let nature do its thing and within a few weeks you’ll have some fab dried herbs!
Once dried, we get a glass pot or container for storing the herbs and just scrunch up the leaves (or pick them whole if you want pretty leaf tea) taking them off the stems and then store in an airtight container. They would made beautiful hanging decorations around the house or in a little vase for autumn too!
Happy drying everyone!
We have also started a Facebook / Instagram page if you’d like to follow us on there and get the frequent updates on how the allotment and garden are coming along please click on the link below:
Most purchased plants and seed packets usually contain some form of advice as to when to plant a plant or seed.
In our experience, this is based on extensive research to find the best growing conditions for that plant. Based on the findings, the advice is created for a generalised public to fit a general average environment. These guides are essentially just guides – only you will know your area and it changes every year.
If the plant is not very hardy and prone to cold, because a packet says to plant the seed in March but you know that it has been especially cold this year, you will not see the benefit from planting in March as a single frost can kill off your investment.
Plant smart and keep an eye on the weather. Alternatively, plant indoors or under cover, this will allow you to plant out in time and transplant stronger seedlings.
Sprouting those Seeds:
There are a number of ways to sprout seeds from simply following instructions and lightly planting in potting compost, sprouting on a wet paper towel in the dark to using a flood and drain system to sprout the seedlings. Different seeds like different environments to sprout. All seeds however do like some form of darkness.
If you plan to water your seed trays/pots, remember not to use too much water. The soil should not be saturated, but just lightly damp. I tend to only water my seedlings every other day or when they appear to be dry on the surface.
Do not worry about having to use a really fine spray or drip to water, just use a medium to light watering can head or alternatively I used a sports drinks bottle to easily water the pots. We do have a spray bottle that we use [up-cycled from an old hair product bottle] but there are some great amber glass and BPA free re-usable spray bottles available on the internet – here is a link to one we found on Amazon in case you are interested;
After planting, I usually keep the seeds in the dark from anywhere between 3 – 7 days until I see the first cm or so of growth. After which I move the seedlings to a sunny window to grow naturally.
When sown indoors, you should harden off your plants for a few days prior to planting out. I have a cold frame I use for this, or alternatively, I move the plants outside in the morning prior to work and once I return, I bring them back in overnight.
If you do not harden your plants, they may go into a shock mode causing them to immediately try to bolt or flower or simply wither away.
Usually I find that once a plant has at least two true leaves (these are the next ones that appear after their baby leaves) it is usually time to plant them out. Keeping them any longer and the roots will not have sufficient space to grow and it will stunt the plants growth. You can extend this period if you move the seedling to a suitable sized pot to grow on further indoors if you wish.
To transplant a seedling, it will depend on the type of plant. For plants you with to grow together in a clump, you can plant the whole tray and simply harvest the smaller plants as it grows. This works well for clumps of beetroots which I like to grow in clumps of 4 -5. As they get larger, I simply pull out the larger beets to let the smaller ones come up to size.
There are certain vegetables I would not transplant – these are mainly carrots as you may damage the taproot (i.e. the important part) when transplanting. If I did want to transplant, again I would simple plant the whole bunch at the same time – obviously removing the pot gently.
I am not sure, but it seems companion planting is a new-ish idea however it looks like it was naturally happening historically – so I have no idea if it is a new concept or not. Either way, it seems like a good idea to try for me.
There are a number of combinations you can find online that people say work well, however I have taken on the motto – if it tastes good together, it will grow good together.
For example, a popular companion plant combination is Corn and Peas. Corn provides a great support structure for the peas to grow up and peas naturally add nitrogen into the soil, assisting the corn to grow. This combo is big in the United States apparently.
There are a number of other combinations, which seem to work and I shall be trying to include these within my planting plant this year. Planting borage next to strawberries apparently makes the fruit sweeter. Planting basil next to tomatoes apparently helps and planting carrots with onions scares away carrot fly.
I am sure from my research there are combinations in which I shall never understand. However, I will keep testing these out.
If you can use a flower for something sweet, try placing it near a fruit bush. If there is a decent culinary combination like the famous Mirepoix (carrots, onions and celery) I frankly, will try to grow these three as close to each other as I can and see what happens.
Other types of companion planting is just for you to sacrifice a plant (usually a flower) for a vegetable. For instance, planting marigolds around will naturally attract pests to the bright marigolds, hopefully saving your vegetables. The same works for Nasturtiums and brassicas.
Other times, it is to release a strong fragrance to confuse pests, like planting onions near carrots or garlic near leeks.
When it comes to companions, the idea is to ensure plants will be friends and be companions. There is no point in planting a carrot next to a courgette. The carrot will be overshadowed completely or a parsnip next to a potato…they both grow down in the ground.
You have to think about each plants needs and whether there is another plant that can assist or hinder it. This is more theoretical and practical than science – but trial and error is really the way forward with this.
I will keep you informed if I come across any really strange combinations in the future!
We have also started a Facebook / Instagram page if you’d like to follow us on there and get the frequent updates on how the allotment and garden are coming along please click on the link below:
We had some beautiful leaves and flowers Hosta, Cordyline, Dhalia, Bamboo and Lily that we’re looking stunning after a morning shower so had to take some photos and wanted to share the beauty with all our wonderful followers.
So, I have a friend that has a warehouse – with lots of pallets! When I sent a photo of the 99+ pallets to Ben, he immediately said; “GET THEM ALL!”.
First task…finding a van…check
Second task…loading the van…check
Third task…transporting the pallets…check
Fourth task…emptying the pallets from the van…check…
Fifth task…transporting the pallets to the garden………..PAINFUL!!
Anyway, we managed to get 49 pallets inside a Sprinter van and we drew out a plan for the pallets and decided where they were going to go. Managed to transport 9 pallets over to the grounds for assembling.
Sixth task…taking apart the pallets…[insert crying face]
When I say that I have never come across pallets as stubborn to come apart as these…the plan was to take away one side and then the middle sections to be left with a nice panel, build into three separate large squares – not sure why, but I am sure Ben will explain…[one of his completely unnecessary ideas if you ask me – but I’m just going with the flow].
So we managed to get ONE clean pallet side, then gave up for the day…we were exhausted! We propped up the other pallets to check the sizings and see how they would look – its starting to resemble the shape of a compost bin…
Next steps is to remove the rest of the squares, level up, line and fill!
Tools used so far: Small Rotary saw to saw out the middle sections, a hammer and wrench to take away the wood blocks on each side and an electric screwdriver to join together one side.
This challenge is to still be faced…to be continued!
Go on…sing along – A WHIM A WAY…(I can hear your humming now!)
Thought we would give you an on our first little haul of broad beans/ fava beans/ pillows of goodness (whatever you’d prefer to call them)- an interesting journey through growing nevertheless.
We have these a try in the garden at home and at the allotment and WOW, was there a difference in growing and haul!!
Blackfly and aphids reigned supreme on the majority of plants, strangely only one of the back plants in the garden at home with a few soldiering through to the front plants but the poor guys at the allotment – ANNIHILATED! Sadly I’ve not yet got a photo but I will show you the state of them.
However, happy to report that WE DO have our first small crop of broad beans supplied by the garden plants that managed to escape the wrath of the blackfly and aphids. Wonderful pillowy pods encompassing the sweetest, most perfectly green pods – sweet, delicate and moreish (wishing we had more!).
A TOP TIP that I mistakenly discovered after trawling the internet for ways to remove blackfly and aphids (where the majority said to squash it scrape) was to put the garden hose on full power and BLAST the plant tips where the aphids are…gone in a second and wish I had discovered this trick sooner- I hope some of you manage to get aphid water blasting soon!
Composting can be as easy or as hard as you wish to make it. There are a number of different composting methods.
Below we will go into those we are currently exploring:
Sub-soil or trench composing:
Trench composing involves digging a trench and burying green material in your trench. Based on the tests it is taking approximately 1-2 weeks to fully compost 1-2 kgs of green household material per trench. We gave this a go and usually bury the waste up to a spade deep in a trench approximately 2 ft long and found it simply has the quickest results.
Dos and Don’ts:
Do – include a variety of green (uncooked) waste. Carrot peelings, potato peelings, cucumber ends, old tomatoes are all great additions [seasonal Halloween pumpkins are great – watch out for the seeds though – we have a few pleasant surprise pumpkins growing from our trench] or used flowers.
Don’t – include too may onions or chilli’s in an area (onions and chilli actually can cause irritation to worms if used too concentrated areas – it slows down the composting)
Do – include teabags and coffee grains, these are great sources of nitrogen for the soil. We removed the teabag casing as these are often bleached and do not compost well – messy but in my opinion worth it.
Don’t – include large lumps of potato skins or whole potatoes (unless you want a potato patch) but at the rate it composts in our wet clay area there is not much chance of these growing for me.
Do – include eggshells, raw eggshells have a small chance of introducing salmonella and other unwanted bacteria. Therefore, in our opinion, it is best to roast, boil or microwave your eggshells before crushing to remove this risk. We microwave or throw these on a baking tray when we are roasting something for at least 10 minutes before grinding these up into dust – do not breathe in too deep or sneeze in the process…it can have a very fine dust.
Don’t – include meat or cooked food. This is mainly because of the bad bacteria risk as well as the increased chance of attracting pests or foxes to dig up your compost areas…
Quickly composts material
Easy to dig a hole and throw material in
Material is covered so doesn’t attract unwanted guests [although we did have some foxes enjoy our 2 year old pumpkin…very odd].
Adds nutrients directly where you want it
Adds a lot of moisture to the area – depending what you are adding
Can cause an unpleasant smell – especially if you re-use areas
Can cause unwanted plants to grow – [yes, ooking at you pumpkin seeds and potatoes]
Risk of introducing bad bacteria from your kitchen into the area if you are not careful
Standard composting/hot composting:
For standard composting, people believe it is the easiest because most people throw anything they have onto a heap and essentially wait until it looks ready. You buy or build a compost bin and simply throw stuff on and hope it eventually turns to compost. This take a lot of time. Usually months or in some cases years.
There is usually a mix of green stuff, brown stuff, some paper and we have seen people put an old carpet on top. I have seen many compost bins sitting unused around the allotment and this is because people in my opinion do not use them correctly.
Composting should use aerobic bacteria. This means that the compost needs air and oxygen to effectively break materials down. They also need water for these little bacteria to work properly (I have never seen anyone water a compost bin except myself – apparently urine is also good for compost, although we have not gotten round to saving our urine…) and they also need the correct mixture of green and brown – usually we find a 2 green to 1 brown ratio or in nerd speak a correct Carbon to Nitrogen ratio.
The ideal ratio you need to find is the sweet spot around 1 Nitrogen (green) to 25 Carbon (brown) – but to calculate this can be fairly difficult and is usually just guess work.
By just throwing green waste and weeds on top and grass clippings into plastic bins, usually these become very compact causing the aerobic process to stop and an anaerobic process to take over. This is when you end up with a wet, smelly compost heap usually with a slimy brown or black layer or something alternatively, one which dries out and just does not change for ages into anything or stays looking like the original material.
To compost effectively, we have generally found that every time we add a bag of green materials (be it household waste, coffee/teabags or grass clippings) mix this up in thin layers with half the amount of brown material or 2 bags of green material to 1 bag of brown material.
Examples of Green material:· Household kitchen waste; i.e. Vegetable clippings, Banana peels, or any peels· Coffee/tea, grass clippings, weeds/plant materials before they have dried out.
Examples of brown materials:· Shredded leaves, Dried plant materials, Straw/sawdust, Shredded paper/cardboard.
If your compost is taking too long to start to decompose, you have not added enough nitrogen, so just add green and if it looks like it is turning black or slimy you do not have enough carbon so you need to add brown (or it is too wet – so add more brown/aerate it by turning)
Water is important. Compost needs to damp but never soaking wet. If it is a hot day, we tend to use the sprinkler head on our watering can to add some moisture – you do not need much in the English weather. In fact, we have to protect it from water aka the English rain, most of the time instead.
The smaller your material the faster the composting process as there is an increased surface area for bacteria to grow on. Adding charcoal into a compost bin is another brilliant way to add surface area. You can also add minerals and other nutrients to your compost bins should you like to like volcanic dust or some lime or manure.
To start a new compost bin, simply store up a number of green and brown materials. You do not need too much but the final minimum size of your compost bin should be approximately 1m wide and at least 1m tall any smaller and you won’t be able to store any heat in your compost and this will slow it down…basically with compost heaps, unfortunately, size matters. BUT, if you don’t have the space to build 1m compost bins a smaller wormery or tumbling composter will be just as good at providing you with some wonderful compost to use for your plants!
Here is a great tumbling composter we found online which is good for a smaller space or can be kept on a balcony [although it may take up quite a bit of room there!] – the point is, the magical internet holds many options!
You can use compost ‘starters’ to kick start the process once you’ve built your bins or alternatively, try growing Comfrey [We bought our plants from here; https://www.naturescape.co.uk/product/comfrey-9cm-pots/%5D or collecting some stinging nettles to add to your bin – again do not add any weeds with seeds on at this point.
After layering your brown and green material throwing in any charcoal, nettles/comfrey you can add any out of date beer/fizzy drinks you have laying around (yes, its time to get rid of that Guinness loitering at the back of the fridge from last winter) – the beer/fizzy drink isn’t essential but adds a little sugar/yeasty kick-start.
Then give the whole heap a really good soaking with the hose or watering can. If you can add some soil into the heap or on top, as this will aid in speeding up composting. If you are really into your composting, you may own a compost thermometer – add this now if you do.
If you live in England and it is likely to rain, cover the heap with a sheet to protect it from the weather, as you do not want it to get any wetter.
Hopefully, over the next few week or so you will see the temperature of the compost to rise. If it reaches 49 degrees Celsius (120 degrees Fahrenheit), it is time to turn your heap. If you do not own a thermometer, insert ones hand into the compost [great job!]. It should be hot in the centre and not comfortable. This is called “hot” composting. If you do not turn your compost at this point the temperature will continue to rise and start to kill your lovely bacteria, turning also helps mix your compost (try to turn the outside into the centre and the centre onto the outside or swap top and bottom of the pile) to give an even finish. Turning also adds oxygen into the mix to keep the aerobic process working and allows any water/juice pockets to disperse.
At this point, you can usually get away with turning a compost once in its cycle and if your Carbon to Nitrogen mix was good, you will have proper compost in around 4 to 5 weeks. If you see the compost slow down or the temperature rises too high, you will need to turn it again or top with some green material.
One last thing…Did you guys know that all the food waste we send to our landfills releases methane (a greenhouse gas that is 28 times stronger and more harmful than CO2 emissions) whilst decomposing? Yes, we are talking about all the fruit, veggies, grains and other food leftovers we put in our rubbish bins “thinking” they will magically disappear the minute we close the lid. Well, we have some news for you. There’s no “HOCUS POCUS” here! Everytime we throw something away, our planet takes the fall for us – obvious we know but composting is a wonderful way to turn what would only be ‘waste’ into nutrients for our soil – what are you waiting for?
Of course we want to take you on the journey with us and as the well known saying by Benjamin Franklin goes;
‘If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail’.
We thought we would share the plan we painstakingly constructed at the beginning of this year (2020).
This plan is for the allotment plot,
STAGE 1: THE SUN TRAP
Whilst we were clearing the plot we watched the sun (not literally) but we watched to see which areas stayed the longest in the sun and which areas either saw little sun or had partial shade throughout the day. This is the foundation to how we went about planning.
STAGE 2: WHAT PLANTS GROW IN SUN, PARTIAL SUN, SHADE AND (IN THE UK)
After we knew which are our “full sun” areas and which are our ‘shade’ and ‘partial shaded’ areas we started to think of planting.
We measured both the top area and the bottom, and started a list of all the vegetables, herbs and flowers we wanted to grow. Carried out extensive google searches, book reading and trips to the garden centre to figure out what would be best to plant!
It was full to the brim with information, and good intelligent content. We have been trying to consult with it regularly just to check we are doing things at the right time, e.g. Pruning, seed sowing, taking cuttings, the best time to fertilisers & compost etc.
STAGE 3: DIVIDING THE PLOTS
We then divided the plots into the following:
Top Area – Logically as we watched the day progress, it made sense to split the plot into sections, as per the below;
South Plot, sunny from early morning until early afternoon. This plot had decent exposure to the sun and was fairly far from any tree lines but closest to a fence.
Shady Plot closest to the shed, early morning sun again but the first plot to fall into shade as it sits with a large oak tree behind the shed area.
Sunny top plot, this plot sits North from plot 1 and as such is furthest away from trees and the fence. It enjoys the most sun in the Top Area.
Hazel Plot, this plot is close to an established Hazel tree, just north from the Shady Plot. As such it does enjoy some sun, but is the second plot to fall into shade.
Main Planting Area:
This main planting area was North from the “Top Area” and as the day progressed, we witnessed the shade move in from Top Plot 2, Top Plot 3, Top Plot 1 and finally Top Plot 4. By late afternoon in the main area, the majority of the plot is in the shade with the exception of the most northernly part. As such, the closest section to the top area would be described as “Sun/Partial Shade” and the furthest areas could be described as “Full Sun”.
STAGE 4: THE DECIDING FACTORS & CHOOSING THE PLANTS
After we split the areas into sections based on the sun, we could then think about splitting our plants into ones which needed full sun or could handle some shade. We chose plants which we wanted to grow and proceeded with some research into which plants grew well together [companion planting], and which ones we should be keeping apart!
This was a discussion which proceeded much longer than we expected. It was like trying to complete a jigsaw without any edges as we moved plants around and tried to keep plants away from others and thought about inter-planting others.
We sat together with our seed packets in a strange game of “Full sun/shade” kind of Top Trumps.
Thankfully, eventually we made our way through by following the simple idea. Perennial or Annual. We had found our Jigsaw edges.
Top Plot 4 was close to a hazel so we didn’t want to include any vegetables in which we were expecting to dig up any roots. It had decent exposure to the sun in its top area and partial shade was good for crops which do not do well in full sun. This became the start of the asparagus bed, strawberry bed and vegetable bed with small crops – to which, if they are exposed to too much sun, may end up bolting.
Top Plot 1 was far enough away from the tree line so any expectant root vegetables would end up in the plot and the majority of these enjoy a decent amount of sunshine.
Top Plot 3 managed to receive the most sunshine and we decided to place an archway with climbing vegetables which will join with plants [hopefully] coming up from the main area.
This left Top plot 2. Top plot 2 was in the shade the majority of the time, it only really received some morning sun, it was close to a tree so we expected the ground to be completely full of roots and that knocked out any root vegetables. As such we decided this plot was going to be used for above ground flowers, plants which attract wildlife [especially bees] and possibly some form of fruit tree/bush.
In the Top Area as it was close to the shed, we wanted to mix in the majority of our Perennial planting, for yearly interest, as well as the occasional annual salad, our herbs and flowers.
The Main Area was where we were going to plant the majority of our annuals in rows running North to South so that each area receives as much sunlight as possible. We were going to include all of our sun loving crops from corn, tomatoes, cucumber, cabbage and broccoli to pumpkin.
Knowing the size of the areas and plots allowed us to work out some estimates on the numbers of plants required in each area based on how far apart they are supposed to live and eventually we got there!
Here are out first drawings of our separated plots and we are sure that there will be further tweaks along the way.
We are no experts, hopeful and of course over-ambitious [who isn’t] – Fingers crossed!
May, here in the UK – the weather is getting warmer and sunnier, the days are getting longer and summer is definitely on route!
Today is the last day of May [can’t believe how fast this year is flying by] so, being the first year that we are able to grow a vaster amount of produce, we thought we would give you an update on our plot and garden!
It’s been an exciting but slightly hectic month of growing. As it was the first time trying to fill in three hundred square meters of land in the allotment, we have been pretty experimental [and probably quite over-ambitious] with our plan – but hey, what’s life without a little challenge now and again!
There’s been plenty to sow and grow this month – and we have been super busy. After harbouring seeds and seedlings for the past few weeks we have staged our planting out and here is a list of the goodies that we have planted;
Salad Leaves – Rocket, Cos Lettuce, Mizuna, Mustard
Weeding is a pain of any gardener but a necessity. Allowing weeds to grow in your garden or plots only reduces the nutrients that you wish to go into your plants. Although there has been a recent ‘save the weeds’ talk going on recently and we do seem to have a new found love for stinging nettle soup and shots – have any of you ever tried it? – Fully recommend as its stronger than wheatgrass!
For persistent little weeds, patience is key to beat them. You will never truly be able to 100% stop weeds in an area as there are so many external sources, which weeds arrive – wind, birds, mammals are the most common.
Disturbing or turning soil exposes dormant weed seeds in the soil and causes blooms of weeks in freshly dug areas. To combat these, simple keep digging over the area or use weed suppressant matting for a number of weeks after preparing a new bed.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, a good way to kill these weeds is to quickly pull out / top any and leave them on the soil. After turning a new area, I will hoe the area every week to knock any weed sprouting up over. These will rot down and just add the nutrients they have used back into the soil, weakening established sub-soil roots until they eventually die.
You just have to keep doing this, try to keep on top of the weeds so that none have the chance to go to seed. If they do, instead of cut and drop, remove as much as possible and submerge the cuttings in water – do not shake it around too much when removing as you will spray seed everywhere. After a few weeks in a bucket, use the liquid as a feed for your plants…unless hot composting, do not add weeds with seeds to your compost piles – unless you want more weeds, of course!