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.
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!
To our pleasant surprise, they have grown wonderfully inside our conservatory but we have transplanted some in the garden and at the allotment and we have had a much slower growth along with loosing a few fellows along the way.
Very early on – as soon as we had seedlings, I found that we had some unusual transparent tiny eggs – thousands of them! No idea what they are but every time you touch the underside of the leaves you get a very strange ‘jelly ball’ experience…we are thinking it could be ant eggs as apparently they are big fans of Okra plants but who knows! Crossing our fingers and hoping they don’t annihilate the okra once it gets bigger!
So far, they’ve been a simple grow- quick to sprout and turn into strong little seedlings. We are planning to keep a few in pots and then we have transplanted the rest in two separate areas – one in the garden and one at the allotment.
We will keep this post updated with how we get on but as it stands we are on approximate week 9 (25th May 2020) – the plants that have been kept inside in pots are doing the best and have started to get their first little flowers!
So, for my birthday (2019), my Mrs brought me a wormery – true love that is. The kit came (again thank you my amazon account) from a UK company and was very easy to put together.
I have started one tray and the worms live near the house (at the back door) for any green waste to be thrown in regularly.
To start, assemble the kit as per instructions or DIY yourself some form of box with a drainage hole at the bottom. Cover the drainage hole with some gauze and keep on the slant so any wormy juice can run off (remember to collect this). Worms do not like it too wet…and if it gets cold, they may freeze so I advise some form of lid to your worm box as well. Keeping worms is the simplest of tasks.
To start, obviously obtain/order your worms, (I believe I have a Tiger worm variety), do not spend ages finding garden earthworms. These are not composting worms as they live too deep in the soil and are generally too inefficient – just get some proper composting worms, trust me on this…they are not very expensive and once installed they will just keep going and breeding merrily.
Secondly, use some damp newspaper at the bottom and add some garden soil and compost.
My kit came with a Coir briquette, which is fabulous. Add worms and cover with around 3 inches of wet shredded paper on top. Give them a light feed (worm dust) or some minced up vegetables and crushed egg shells (we will do a post on why you should be microwaving / cooking egg shells before use soon).
Every night, for the first few days/week you need to keep coming out in the evening [and I was using my phone torch] to shine a light on the worms. They will be exploring their new home and trying to escape. Worms are photosensitive which means they do not like light so will instinctively head underground/under cover to shy away from your light.
After about a week, the worms were used to their new home and stopped trying to escape. So from now on, any vegetable ends which is not being composted can be thrown into the worm bins.
I do not own a dog, but apparently it is okay to add dogo or cat ‘presents’ into the wormery – personally, I wouldn’t if you are going to use the vermicompost on your vegetables. In addition, apparently it is okay to add small levels of meat into the wormery – again I haven’t personally as although I do not own a dog, there are lots of foxes and cats in my area whom I do not want breaking into my worms.
After a few months, you will be able to harvest some worm tea from your wormery. Just use this as you would any liquid feed by diluting it at a 20:1 ratio and add it to any plants you wish. If you have not received any tea you can ‘flush’ the system by pouring in water – but you risk drowning your worms if this does not drain well enough. If you are using a tray system, after your first tray is filled, add the second tray and feed into the second tray – theoretically worms should move up to the next tray following the food – although I find they tend to not bother much…after sometime this will allow you to harvest the first tray for the vermicompost.
If you are not using a tray system, simply only feed the worms on one side of your wormery. Again, the worms should gravitate to the food allowing you to harvest the opposite side.
To harvest, I tend to break up the vermicompost into piles and shine a light on it, the worms retreat to the bottom of the pile and I can remove the top section. Reducing the size of the pile, bit by bit, until all that is left are the worms. These I add back into the wormery – this is fairly time consuming to do but it does mean that no worms escape the wormery and I can store the vermicompost without killing any worms to dry it out. If you do not care simply, try to dry and sieve the vermicompost into bins or bags. A few worms will be lost but they replenish very fast.
You may also see a number of small yellow eggs in your vermicompost – these will hatch into new worms when you add it. I like to keep my vermicompost to dry out before I add this to the garden but there is no real need to do this – you can add the vermicompost as an addition during the growing season around plants or into the top layer when preparing beds.
We have an allotted space for some quinoa…I ordered some seeds from the lovely Derek from Elfskin Edibles [https://www.ebay.co.uk/str/elfskinsedibles]…Quinoa in the UK?
Lets see how this goes!
We have the Chesiya Mama variety and have just sown the seeds [planted in early May in the UK].
We had instruction to cover with a fine layer of vermiculite [but we don’t have any] so we have sown in straight compost. During lockdown we ran out of newspaper so we reverted to empty toilet roll tubes to start our seedlings off – who knew toilet roll tubes could be so useful!
Apparently these little guys are slow to grow at first but then race away. We have them [hopefully] scheduled to sow into their allotted spots at the end of May / beginning of June.
We have covered the little ‘pots’ with cling film to keep the soil moist and are going to be watering them with tepid water to keep the soil a little warm.
We will let you know how they go and would love to know if any one of you have grown quinoa? How did it go?
UPDATE – 14th May 2020
So, and update on the seeds for you.
7 days have passed, we have SEEDLINGS and we are very happy! Ok, so at the moment we only have 6 seedlings [out of 15] so hoping they continue getting bigger and stronger. We have been spraying them with warm water to keep the soil warm and also kept them covered.
We are now going to separate the 6 larger seedlings and keep them out of the cover and keep the 7 that still haven’t sprouted yet covered up and hope we get a few more.
Keeping them in their toilet roll ‘pots’ and will plant them out in the ground once they are big enough. Of course, we will keep you updated!
Foraging has always been an interest and its so important to sustaining a self-sufficient and sustainable life. Our ancient forests are full of secret ingredients that only a few know about.
We have been on a few foraging courses [definitely recommend everyone should give them a shot – personally feel they should be on the national curriculums!], so we have a basic knowledge of a few seasonal treasures [that are easily distinguishable] and would love to share our knowledge with you.
We are very lucky to have some wonderful woodlands near to where we live and for the past few weeks we have been blessed with new spring leaves!
Wild garlic and young hawthorn leaves have been on the menu for the past few weeks – the best leaves are the youngest leaves so the earlier they begin to sprout, the better. April has been fab and we are now sadly approaching the end of the wild garlic season – but fear not, they are still around for a few more weeks!
If you get the chance, pop out to your local woodlands [make sure you have permission to forage] and have a look for wild garlic or Hawthorn leaves. Wild garlic is really easy to spot now due to its beautiful, delicate white flowers and Hawthorn is also easily recognisable from its leaves and spiked branches!
Recipes we love with wild garlic – simple wild garlic pesto, wild garlic soup with sough dough, a simple asparagus and wild garlic salad. Its a wonderful delicate garlic flavour – also freezes really well.
It’s been a busy couple of weeks trying to get together all the seeds that we have planned out for the plots alongside germinating them all and keeping to our schedule to ensure that we don’t miss out on getting them in the ground in time.
Covid 19 has been a slight restriction in terms of tending to the plots and we have also noticed that we haven’t got all the seeds that we originally had planned for so we have made some adjustments and added some new fellows to the mix.
Alexandra [Ben’s other half] has been known as ‘Mother Seed’ the last few weeks as she has been talking and tending to the seedlings preparing them for the plots. As has Natasha and our niece Xia – every morning Xia will tend to her ‘planty, planty’s’; talking and watering them [she’s only 2 – setting up the future generations – ha!].
We have found that newspaper pots have been pretty useful and we will be able to plant the seedlings straight into the ground [or bigger pots] when they are ready to go outside.
So far we have planted; tomatoes, onions, broccoli, okra, potatoes, lettuce, beans, butternut squash, pumpkin, mustard, spinach, oca, beetroot, carrots, peas, aubergine, asparagus, strawberries and numerous herbs [that list was reeled off from memory so I may be missing some – forgive me!].
We would love to know what you have planted this year?
So, although the name of this blog is ‘The Diary of a New Gardener’, we have collectively 66 years of growing experience [a bit crazy to say, but as we started growing things at the young ages of 5,7 and 9 we all have 22 years of experience each – therefore collectively 66] but we are no professionals…we have always gardened for leisure purpose and learnt through trial and error – always valuable!
We will never stop learning, the seasons will continuously change, along with a good / bad crop. We have seen and learnt a lot but there is always a new plant to try and grow, a different climate to possibly explore [dreaming of that farm in South America]. Throughout the years of growing things, we have always tended to grow things more in the usual safer realm of tomatoes / herbs / potatoes / carrots etc.
We have tried to grow things a little more explorative i.e. moringa [didn’t even sprout], we hope that we can try and grow things that we have never grown below, given the UK climate, we are somewhat restricted, although we do have a large conservatory that we try and cultivate some more ‘exotic’ plants.
Our area in Kent where we have our garden [and now an experimental allotment] the ground has a very high percentage of clay so we have to spend time treating the soil to try and make is ‘plant friendly’ as possible. We are currently doing this at the allotment and will speak about clay in another post.
So, below we have listed the tools we continuously bring out year on year. They are staples in our shed and we have only ever replaced the occasional trowel [after getting either lost or broken] but other than that, you buy the tools once, they are with you for a lifetime [sustainable joy];
1 – Our hands – probably one of the key elements to gardening – don’t undermine the effectiveness of the hand.
2 – A spade – especially useful for turning over larger surface areas of soil [without using a rotavator]
3 – A trowl
4 – A fork
5 – Gardening gloves
6 – A wheelbarrow
7 – A rake
You really don’t need a lot of tools when you garden – unless you have acres and acres of land and require machines to assist with the graft.
We try and use out hands as much as possible- feel the earth people – its good for the skin!
We will create a near future post with a list of our recommended [and personally used] top gardening tools for you to take a look at [or look for a new spade].
We hope this list will of use – if in doubt use one of the best tools we were given – our hands – they never let us down!
Turning the soil (single dig method): As my plot was covered in browning weeds after the spraying of weed killer I decided on a labour intensive strategy (but in my mind a key one) which was to remove the largest clumps of weeds and to dig the majority of the plot. I also had a Mares Tail issue so I had to comb out the black roots as I turned.
The easiest method to dig and turn over the soil manually is to dig a trench along one side of the plot. Start by digging a trench at least a spade wide and as deep as you can or at least a spade deep.
Keep the soil you have excavated in a wheelbarrow or move it up to the opposite end [the finish line] of the area you will be digging. After which, stand facing the trench, take half a step back and dig down, turning the soil into the trench. Continue moving horizontally down the trench throwing the soil into the trench space until you have reached end. Move back a half a step and repeat the process moving yourself back along the trench the opposite way. Eventually you will reach your initial removed soil from your first trench/the finish line and the whole area would have been turned. This is single digging and the hardest part will be the initial trench dig! Double Digging: To double dig an area, it is very similar to the above process. I found the only real difference is that you need to start with a larger initial trench. After you have dug your trench, use a fork to dig down a further fork depth. Then when you are turning over, again turn your soil over and then go down another spade depth or fork depth to break up the sub-soil. This is why this process is called “double digging”. It is about as labour intensive as the usual digging method but takes a fraction longer. It is mainly used when you have a really compact sub-level. No-Dig:To implement a no-dig method into your garden/plot is a fairly simple process. You need to lay down a layer of cardboard (try to find the corrugated version – tear each sheet in half so that the corrugated sides are exposed). Then you cover the cardboard in the good stuff…compost. To plant in a “no-dig” you just make small holes in the soil and try to disturb the sub-layers as little as possible. You can also use a Lasagne method to cover your cardboard (which is cheaper than using the compost). Cover the cardboard in layers of green material, brown, minerals and compost and water well. This will naturally rot down over time and become a very good growing medium. For my plot, I have a number of different areas where I will be trying different types of Dig, double dig and no-dig methods to see the differences. Here is a list of the positives and negatives of each different method, I have experienced so far:
Single Dig: Positives
Quick (once started)
No specialised soil or equipment (other than a spade)
Low costs for immediate result
Incorporates green organic material into the soil
Disturbs soil ecosystem
Doesn’t touch the sub-soil
Doesn’t help with levelling
Leaves large clumps in clay soils which need breaking up
Double Dig: Positives
Assists with drainage into sub-soil
Aerates the soil deep to allow roots to find new minerals
Not much more effort than single digging
Incorporates green organic material into the soil
Greatly Disturbs soil ecosystem
Churns dormant weed seeds in the soil to the surface which causes a lot of weed sprouting a week later
Doesn’t help with levelling an area
Leaves large clumps in clay soils which need breaking up
No Dig (cardboard & compost)**: Positives
Keeps the soil ecosystem and doesn’t disturb
Plants grow into the new material on top and cardboard helps keep weeds down
Easiest and lowest manual labour of all methods
Quickest to set up, (if you’ve got the materials/budget)
Very large requirement for Compost/cardboard
Does not allow removal of perennial weeds with large roots like Mares Tail, so greater need to weed in the beginning to reduce these root weed strength.
Doesn’t amend existing soil (should you have drainage issues etc)
Some cardboards contain glues that you may not wish to introduce into your garden
**I have yet to try to No-dig method with layering green materials and compost, I can imagine it will have similar positives and negatives to the above.**
Whilst using both digging methods, it is a good time to include organic matter (if you have some to hand). If you are introducing more materials whilst digging, again make a larger starting trench as you will be introducing more material as you go. The top soil should form around 6 to 8 inches deep and this contains most of the organic material.
For my plot, I initially used a double dig method – left the soil for a few weeks to allow the weather to work its magic on the large clay lumps and turned about 3 times with single digging to open up the clay soil and allow oxygen into the soil. As more air is allowed into, the soil and vegetation turned in starts to compost very quickly. Before planting in spring I will likely turn the soil one more time introducing fresh compost, which will assist the plants in the growing season. This year [after the first full harvest], I may turn to using some cover crops in areas – I will write about this in the Cover Cropping later in the year.
For an area using a no-dig method, keeping on top of weeding is a priority. You can use cut and drop methods (pull the weeds gently and simply drop these on the surface). By doing this regularly you reduce the energy in any roots by constantly stopping new growth, eventually the roots should run out of energy and start to compost themselves. Another good layering of composting will assist before planting. There is no need to turn this into the soil, simply keep adding compost to the area over time.
Okay, plot acquired! The chairman suggested I leave the plot for two weeks to “let the weed killer do its work” and as it had already been one week since I was supposed to view the plot, this meant that from the following weekend, I could start investigating the soil and tidying the plot.
“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!”
The first steps I took planning the plot:
1. Positioning: Check the compass directions. Traditionally it is advised that for vegetable beds it is a good idea that you try to run (if you plant in rows) with the rows running North to South. This allows the maximum amount of shared sunlight on rows as the sun follows its East to West path.
2. Drainage: My plot is on a slope, so I dug a number of holes around the plot at top and the bottom. I filled each hole with a few buckets of water to see how long it takes them to drain. This lets you figure out the drainage of the plot. If the water remains for more than a couple of hours, the soil is waterlogged with poor drainage. Waterlogged soil is generally not great. It causes conditions like root rot and will not be ideal for growing. To improve you will have to open the soil up and possibly dig in some rocks/stones or sand (be careful with sand as this could have the adverse effect). If the hole drains too quickly (like immediately), you have too much drainage and in summer, plants will dry out very quickly. To remedy, organic matter is your friend and possibly a surface mulching will help hold in moisture.
3. What is your Soil PH: Next thing should be a simple PH and soil test. Depending on what you wish to grow, different plants do better in different PH levels. You can get a kit online for cheap – thank you Amazon! Ideally, for an all-round grower a neutral or slightly acidic soil suits most things (so around the 7PH mark is what you should be aiming for). You can add soil improvers or lime if you need raise your PH and rainwater is slightly acidic in nature. If you have a very alkaline soil, then some sulphates are a good way to raise it or regular doses of manure/watering with rain water is a good way to adjust over time.
4. Determining Soil type: There was not a real need to see what kind of soil I had…it was obviously not sandy, it was very, very much clay. To test your soil, just dig up a bit and just squish some soil in your hand, if it falls apart it is sandy, if it rolls into a ball it is clay. If it easily forms a ball it is very clay like. Changing a heavy clay soil into something nicer to grow in or a sandy soil (into one which holds water better) is pretty much the same process. Add organic matter by the barrow! I would not advise mixing in sand to clay as this could simply result in turning your clay patch into something closer resembling cement! For the amount of sand needed to clear a clay area you need a lot more sand than clay and this is not generally economically viable. I will talk about changing your soil and soil care later in the blog in more detail.
5. Observing your Sun spots or Shady traps: Next, just simply watch or take a time capture video. This will show you which areas which receive the most sunlight and which areas are shady. For me I figured about 100% of my plot received the morning sun and in summer at around noon, the southern side was in shade and only 30% of the plot had sun for the afternoon. So the North east side will be the best place to grow any sun-loving veg like cucumbers and tomatoes. The southern side will be better for plants, which appreciate a bit more shade or are sun sensitive like lettuce or garlic.
6. Plotting the area: Lastly, measure your plot. I simply took a tape measure out and measured my plot areas. My plot was around 17m long and 7m wide, it was not quite square as it was wider at the top than it was at the bottom but at least this gave me the gist to be able to estimate the number of plants we would be able to grow in each ‘growing section’.
7. Designing your space: Okay, so now I had a good idea about the directions, soil conditions, scale, drainage and light conditions. It was time to design the plot.On a simple piece of paper where 1cm = 1m I drew up a number of designs. Next was back to the research. It was time to find what I wanted to grow; looking at the soil types and number of plants to figure out what could go into each ‘growing plot’.