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!