December 21

18 day compost – December’s attempt

This post is part of my trial to build an 18 day compost heap each month of the year to see what happens – I wasn’t sure that it would work during the winter as the videos I had seen were made in Australia and other much hotter countries than the UK.  You can see November’s results here.

The issue in winter is gathering enough green material to make the heap  big enough and I didn’t manage that last month. So, I am no longer making the heaps on the beds where I want to spread the compost but on a spare bit of land I was going to turn into another bed but haven’t done so yet.  This gives me more space to turn the heap and to build bigger.

 

6th December 2020

I can see why it is suggested that you have all your manure, brown and green materials and water at hand when you build the pile. I must have walked 10,000 steps getting everything in place as I built the heap; a lesson for January!  I did mark out the size of the heap with pallets this time but realised after I had lugged them around that I could just use 4 poles pushed into the earth next time.  Anyway, as I built the heap I also found that I didn’t have enough green material and so needed to cut down a bed of phacelia that I had sown at the beginning of October.  I had originally planned for this to flower in the spring and then cut it down because it was sown on a bed that had had strawberries for about 5 years and the bed needs a serious bit of work on the soil. I also managed to find a few comfrey leaves to add to the pile to kick start the process and I wetted the materials a LOT more than last time.

The pile is as big as I can make it and it is still not a cubic meter.  The limiting factors at this time of the year are green materials and if I am to make a pile in January, I am going to have to go out on a scavenge. I spotted some younger nettles and weeds on the way into the plots yesterday so will harvest them over the next few days to start my January pile.

 

 

 

 

10th December 2020

The heap had sunk quite a bit and was about 8.5°C which is no where near hot enough. Everything still looks the same and was damp enough so it was turned and covered for another two days.

12th December

I forgot to take my camera with me but really the compost didn’t look any different to the previous turn. What was different, however, was the temperature. The heap had reached a high of 12.5°C, an increase of 4°C.  The next turn will probably need more water and I may add more green material and manure to see if I can get a greater heat. It will mean adding another 2 days to the making.

14th December

The temperature has gone up 0.5°C to 13°C so at this rate it will take me another 70 days to reach 50°C!  The materials still look the same and I am now half way through the 6 turns. I have decided not to do anything to this pile but to just leave it. I know I need to add more green material and manure which means that thirds of green, brown and manure are not the right proportions for this climate at this time of year.  Is it thirds by volume, which is what I do, or by weight? The manure is obviously heavier than the other two materials.  I will experiment a bit with the January pile and add a LOT more green material. I am the mad, scavenging woman out around the town picking nettles and dandelion leaves so that I am ready! Oh, and there were two worms in the pile.

16th December

I think I might go as far as to say that the temperature is now up to 17°C, up 4°C on yesterday.  It all still looks the same although a little more brown and I have removed the thick stalks and whole beetroot. Those were just wishful thinking!

I have been out and collected the nettles and weeds outside the allotment gates and there is quite a lot. If the January pile doesn’t get quite hot with all of these nettles, I don’t know what will.

19th December

The weather was so bad on the 18th – 30mm of rain throughout the day – that I couldn’t/didn’t want to go down to the allotment so the turn of the pile was 1 day later.  You can no longer identify the phacelia but the weeds which were not ripped up are still visible as is all the brown stuff although all are much more mixed up now.  The pile is wet enough because the tarpaulin is woven and quite a bit of rain from yesterday go through.

The temperature is down half a degree to 16.5°C so I am wondering if peak temperature has been reached or whether the lack of turning yesterday has slowed the process down.  There were three worms in the pile. These are worms from the ground and they are only really in the lowest layer but every little helps!

21st December

 

 

 

 

 

 

The temperature is going down now – 14.5°C  today so unless I add some more green to the pile it will not get any hotter. For the final turn, I moved the heap to a dalek bin, or as we call them at home rat bins, that is on the bed where I want to use the resulting compost eventually.  I will leave it in here a couple of months, still taking its temperature every week or so just to see what happens.  The bin is full to the lid and the compost is quite wet – probably as wet as it should be because I could squeeze out a drop of water but it is wetter than I would normally allow compost to get. Maybe that will stop the rats taking up residence in it over the next month!  It also smelt a bit which tends to suggest it is a bit anaerobic which is not helpful.

So, what am I going to do differently with January’s pile?

  • Make it at least a cubic metre, all packed down. No airy-fairy trying to make it look like a cubic metre when it isn’t!
  • Chop everything up quite small. This is not the sort of compost making that will rot down large roots, whole beetroot and Spanish radish. This needs premium materials in premium sizes which means I will need to take the leaves home and run them through the lawnmower to chop them up and add a little grass.
  • If it doesn’t show signs of getting anywhere near the heat needed, I will add more green and manure and a couple of turns.

Happy Christmas to you all.

December 19

Six on Saturday – 19/12/20

Six on Saturday is new idea to me but a friend pointed me in the direction of The Propagator blog and suggested I join in. It was after a whinge about blogger’s block, so here are my first six:

The seeds on the golden rod are full and ready to blow away . This is a plant that self-seeds all around my allotment and it is either chop the seed heads down or spend time in the spring weeding. Laziness now means weeding in the spring – as usual.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am trying to make hot compost and failing miserably because I just won’t make it exactly as it says on the tin. This is December’s pile and I have not built it big enough or put enough green material in it to achieve the heat. January’s attempt will remedy this rather pathetic temperature.  They do say it takes 10,000 hours to become a master at something. I have a little way to go with the compost.

 

 

The fennel in the polytunnel is ready to provide a crisp aniseed flavour to the winter salads over the next few months. It is one of the few vegetables I have managed to grow throughout the year. Spring’s fennel is on the other side of the tunnel and still quite small.

 

 

 

The catkins are already out on the hazels, dangling in the sunshine and these have survived the massive coppicing that we did at the start of the month.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This massive beetroot is still lying around and I was right that it wouldn’t make good eating because not even the slugs and snails have started on it. I didn’t aim for massive beetroot, I just wanted to save some seed and this grew.

 

 

 

 

 

 

And finally, lambs lettuce as a filler for my salads. I actually managed to plant these early enough for them to grow to a reasonable size before it got too cold.

 

What are your six for Saturday?

December 14

Different ways to make compost

I have become obsessed with compost this winter. I think it is because I don’t dig, just put compost on top of the beds each year. I garden on sand so the normal 3-5cm placed on top of the bed is not usually enough to last a year and so I go for 5-7cm+ and I never have enough!

By the end of the year on beds where I have added less it looks like nothing, zero, nada has been used.

I make compost in three ways and use each slightly differently: cold compost, hot compost and worm compost.

The cold compost is the way I usually make compost – I just fill up my compost bays and wait a year or slightly less to use it.  I didn’t realise that this way of making compost was also called the Lazy Method but having just started to make hot compost, I can see why it is called that.

This video from Huw Richards explains exactly how I make it apart from the jumping up and down on it.

The advantages of this method for me are that it involves less work, I don’t turn it at all and I put all the couch grass and roots and bindweed in it and they do not cause a problem. I also put all my tomato and potato plants in blight or not as blight is an air borne disease not soil borne.  The disadvantages are that my heaps do not get hot enough to kill all the weed seed and so, I get weeds germinating when I spread the compost. The answer would be to remove all the weeds before they start to flower and every year I try but fail at some point.

Charles Dowding also makes compost in this way but turns his twice. Once into the next compost bin and once when he moves it and stores it ready for the winter-time spreading.

Then there is hot composting which I am trialing at the moment.  I make this and use it on specific beds because I don’t have any other compost left and only have to wait 18 days to make and use it this way – in theory. It’s not turning out like that at this time of year but it might also be that I haven’t refined what I need to do well enough. This video by Richard Perkins shows the Berkeley process really well and having watched it, I can see where I have gone wrong!

The advantages of this type of compost are that it is quick and weed seeds are killed. The disadvantages are that it is a lot of work turning the pile every two days, especially when the pile is not in the back garden. The other disadvantage is that I am struggling to get enough green stuff at this time of year (winter) and in summer I may struggle with the brown stuff.

The final type of compost I make is worm compost or vermicompost. I make this at home where I have two specially made bins.  This video by Geoff Lawton shows how to make worm compost on a large scale and I would like to try this on the allotments if I can find an old bath.

The advantages of this method of composting are that you get the two products – a liquid feed and compost or really a fertiliser that you can use on plants that need it or things like tomatoes, cucumbers and aubergines. The disadvantages are the scale of manufacture – my two bins don’t produce anywhere near this amount and the worms do need insulating during winter as they stop working/die if it is too cold.

You can try worm composting on a very small scale with a worm tower. I might give this a go near to a plum tree which I have recently had to move and put in soil which does not look to have had much added to it in the way of compost in the last few years.

How do you make compost and can you make enough?

December 25

Harvest Monday 25th Dec 2017

The last Harvest Monday of the year. The next one will be the 1st of January 2018.

I recently moved over to a ‘no dig’ approach to allotmenteering and it has lead to some amazing vegetables, some of which I have harvested for our Christmas dinner.

First off are the parsnips.  I generally have dreadful troubles with germination and this year was no different. However, an allotment neighbour had sown his and they had all germinated in the early warm weather we had this year.  True to form, it took me 3 goes to get some germination. These are Countess and I will grow them again next year. They are enormous. In fact, I could sow some each month so that I have more of them but not all this size!

Another vegetable that was large this year for me was celariac and again I put this down to no-dig gardening.  Where the slugs nibbled, the woodlice moved in so I need to prevent that next year but these are definitely the biggest celariac I have grown over the last few years.

It wouldn’t be Christmas day if we didn’t have sprouts! I love them and so don’t need chestnuts or pancetta with them, although that would be tasty. And leeks in cheese sauce.  Plus there is spinach and some early white sprouting broccoli.

 

Christmas and Boxing day sorted!

The potatoes, which are not pictured here, are Sarpo Mira which I tried for the first time this year and will grow again next year.  They didn’t need watering and only showed slight signs of blight at the end of September.

What did you pick for your Christmas meal?

Merry Christmas every one.

December 11

Harvest Monday 11th December 2017

Over on the excellent blog Our Happy Acres every Monday, bloggers get together and share what they have harvested that day. I thought I might join every fortnight. After all, there are only so many interesting ways you can photograph leeks!

In the polytunnel, I  have a couple of cabbages for over the Christmas holiday. We particularly like these with sauerkraut, raw beetroot, mackerel and horseradish sauce. Sounds disgusting, tastes lovely.

The peppers are sweet peppers and are a chocolate colour. I found these last few lingering on the plant. I did think I would try and save this plant and keep it going over winter by cutting it back quite hard but it is very cold this week and it may not survive.

 

 

These veg are what I think of as typical winter veg.  The parsnips are really quite big and too my annoyance I snapped one off as I was digging it up. There are three different types of kale, curly leaved, Tuscan and one other with red midribs which I am not sure about. They are all great in soups or casseroles.

 

 

And finally there are the herbs and spinach again from the polytunnel.  The flat-leaved parsley grows all winter here and with 5 plants, I have enough to see me through until late spring.  There is also some lemon grass in here which I grew from seed. I use it in a raw carrot, ginger and lemon salad which is one of those fresh dishes that you sometimes crave during winter.  The spinach is just a small handful now and will sit there until spring when it starts growing again.

 

What have you been harvesting this week?

December 9

Recipes with winter squash #1

We grew a lot of winter squash this year. I do love them but I also need

variety otherwise it will be a long winter.  My favourite meal is a lamb and squash tagine. You can find the recipe below.

Lamb and Squash Tagine

300g diced lamb

1 onion

1 red pepper

2 cloves of garlic

lump of ginger chopped up small

2tsp turmeric, paprika, cumin

1tsp ground coriander

chilli

50g dried apricots

500ml stock

200g (we use more!) of squash

juice of half a lemon

Put everything in a pot apart from the squash and put it in the oven for 1hr at 150C. Then put the squash in and lemon juice and cook for another hour.

We like this served on cauliflower and broccoli. Not the trendy grated cauliflower and broccoli, but florets.

There are lots of squash recipes here: http://www.thegardenofeating.org/2015/11/winter-squash-recipes.html

 

December 3

Covering it all up

This is the month where I start to cover the beds that are empty and wonder how much more compost I need to make next year.

I have a mix of 2yr old manure and compost that I have made myself over this year and I am trying to remember what I put on each bed last year so that I can alternate: compost one year, manure the next. I don’t think this is necessary but I think each has its own type of goodness and the plants might benefit from a range rather than one thing.

The parsnips are ready so we have started to eat them. They are enormous – perhaps a little too big – so I think I need to sow them a bit later next year. I think May should be early/late enough. Perhaps I should sow some in April, some in May and some in June. I definitely need better notes than I kept last year about when I sowed things.

I sowed some broad beans in the greenhouse on the 10th of November and planted them out on the 4th of December. They are tiny in comparison with many other plots but should catch up. I also planted about 12 in the polytunnel which is not enough so need to sow more.

Today, I harvested parsnips, kale, leeks, sprouts, radicchio (not sure if I have spelt that right!) and parsley. I have a few peppers left on a plant in the polytunnel which I will need to pick soon or they will rot.

One of the things I will be doing this month is searching for other vegetable/gardening blogs to read and learn from.  So far I have found

Our Plot at Green Lane Allotments

Sharpen Your Spades 

What are your favourite vegetable growing blogs?