On the 6th of November I created a compost heap and followed the Berkeley method of hot composting as I was sceptical that it could be made in that time in November in the UK. Well I was partially right and partially wrong!
These pictures show you how the compost looks now and I can’t deny that it looks a lot like compost that is ready to use. There are a few elements that look like they originally did and I removed those as I spread the mound over the bed. I made it on the bed I am using it on to save barrowing ‘stuff’ around and because I would have to find space if I didn’t. However, the heap did not heat up anywhere near the necessary temperature so I would say that means that the weed seed in it is still viable and will grow when the conditions are right. I will come back and update this post when I know how that goes.
I can think of two reasons why the heap didn’t heat up.
It wasn’t big enough. It needs to be at least a meter cubed and mine wasn’t.
It needed more moisture. I watered it several times but could not get a single drop of water out when I squeezed it.
Oh – there’s a third! It might have needed a bit more green in it. Green is in short supply at this time of year and brown is in the summer. You just can’t win.
To prevent the weed seeds germinating, I have covered the bed in woven black plastic that I keep for just such an issue. (No need for a picture of this. You can all imagine it!) For some reason, an overwinter cover seems to inhibit weed germination once the plastic is removed.
So, I will gather all the stuff together for another heap. I have a cleared bed I can make it on and try to remedy these three problems. I wanted to make a heap each month but it might take me a little longer than a week to get enough green. I am going out on a nettle hunt over the next few days to see what I can find and I probably do have some weeds somewhere! I could also cut the lawn on a dry day.
One other thing I will do differently in the next heap is to think about what I include. When I looked again at Geoff Lawton’s video it did all seem to be leafy material, both green and brown, rather than twigs, large clumps of grass etc. I can put those things into my cold heaps where they will rot down. I will document more clearly what goes into my next heap and by the end of 2021 I should have got to grips with hot composting.
In the spring I built a hugelkultur bed because I had plenty of time on my hands, the tip was closed and I had a lot of wood and prunings. I thought now would be a good time to review how it has worked and whether it was worth all of that digging. The short answer is ‘Yes!’ but below is the longer answer.
Strawberries on the west-facing side of the hugel
I built it in March and then didn’t take many photos of it during the summer so I am afraid I can’t show what happened. The long side of the bed faces west as I read that it should be placed facing the prevailing wind to shelter what lies behind it. I planted strawberry offshoots from the allotment on the west side – Guarigette – half way down the slope and then lettuce seedlings below them on both the west and east facing sides. The west facing lettuce bolted before those on the east-facing side and so for a longer harvest of lettuce the east side is the place. On the east side I also planted spare coriander seedlings but they just bolted and seeded. However, the seedlings are doing well now and showing no signs of bolting and so for the first time ever, I have a fairly decent crop of coriander. I didn’t know October/November were the best times here for this plant. It is definitely not what it says on the seed packet.
Beetroot on the north-facing end
On the short end which faces north, I planted 6 beetroot towards the bottom of the slope because I wanted some plants for seed. I have left them because they won’t flower until next year but they are massive. I wrote about them in this post. The mulch that you can see behind the beetroot is Strulch which I had left over from using on my big flower bed so that I don’t have to go ferreting around to weed quite so often. It has worked a treat. I have only had to pull out 22 weeds from the mound and have had far more in the vegetable beds.
The biggest success has been the fact that it was a very warm and dry spring and early summer here and from March to now, I have only had to water it twice whereas during the dry spells I had to water the vegetable beds once a week. It is just as well it hasn’t needed much watering because it is not easy to water – it just runs straight off it if you are not careful. The second time I watered, I created little bowls behind the strawberry plants and watered into those so that it didn’t run straight off. It is for this watering reduction alone that I will build more of these beds both at home and on the allotment. What I do need to get better at is which plants to put on which side of the mound to maximise its different elements.
Have you built one of these and if so, what do you plant in it?
Oh it has been wet here in the south of the UK and that means I haven’t been able to get out and ‘do stuff’. I haven’t even really wanted to go down to the allotment so the harvest this week is from the garden.
I started growing vegetables in the garden this spring when I decided in the autumn that now would be a good time to start saving my own seed. I didn’t want to grow the plants on the allotments because the chance of cross-pollination is very high. So, I have grown some veg at home.
On Thursday I picked the very last of my tomatoes and removed the plants. Surprisingly, these have semi-ripened so a few days on the window sill should see them completely ripe and ready to eat. The tomatoes from left to right are Black Russian, Rosella, Costoluto, Sungold and Shimmer. All are delicious and I will grow them again next year.
The lambs lettuce is grown outside and has reached a good size. It is Vit and I am going to leave a few plants to set seed to see if it is possible to save seed from it.
The really strange harvest this week is my mahooooosive beetroot. I built a hugelkultur bed in the spring and planted 6 beetroot at the short end of the bed and left them to grow until next year when they will flower and I can collect the seed. It was a sunny day and so I cut the grass but caught one of the beetroot on the lawn mower which pulled it out of the soil. They have very small roots which don’t seem to cling to the soil much. Anyway, this beetroot is a whopper.
It weighs just over 3.5 kgs and I do not know what to do with it. I am not sure it will make great eating so I think I will have to chop it up and put it on the compost heap. I don’t want seed that makes enormous beetroot as I prefer my beetroot to be tennis ball sized. The only thing we can say is that Boltardy beetroot really do not bolt.
In my next post I will be reviewing the hugelkultur bed and planning my next steps.
I have linked this post to the Happy Acres blog where Dave hosts a Harvest Monday series every week. It is a fascinating place to find out about what other people are growing.
I love a trial and so my big trial for the next 12 months is about making compost in 18 days and whether it can be done here in the UK. It is called the Berkeley Method, developed in California and explained here by Geoff Lawton in Australia.
Now, both of these places are warmer in general than here in November so I am not sure that it will only be 18 days before I have compost. I think it will take longer but I would like to give it a go so I am going to make a heap each month to see what happens. I will also make a cold heap and turn it out in March to use just to compare the two because the 18 day, hot compost is a lot more work.
I don’t really have the space to make more compost heaps so I have decided to make them on the beds and then turn them out and use them where they have been made. That way I cut down on the amount of barrowing around that I need to do.
The materials I have used are cow manure, carbon to nitrogen ration 20:1, grass clippings 25:1, shredded raspberry and blackberry canes 400:1, chopped up leaves 150:1 and weeds 25:1. These are approximate ratios and I wouldn’t normally bother with this but it just shows that I need to add more of the green stuff to try and get nearer to a 30:1 ration. I have layered them and guessed that I have about the right volume. In the middle I have put an activator of comfrey leaves, about 2 litres because it is November and may be slower to get going. I am interested in the idea that we are not aiming for a drop in size of the heap but really to get the carbon to lock up the nitrogen to be released for organisms in the soil when it is finally spread.
I will be back in 18 days with the results.
The compost heap built and covered on the 6th of November.
As I come towards the end of my no-dig year I realise that I am a convert. So many of the vegetables and fruit did better than I have grown for some time.
What I have learnt about compost/manure
Only use well-rotted manure. Mine was too fresh and sat in lumps that slugs and snails could hide in.
Seaweed works well and plants love it but it works even better with some compost on top.
It is a struggle to make enough. I have two allotments and probably only make enough for one plot.
Leaf mold is good on the sandy soil. It works even better with a topping of compost.
The squash have been fantastic. Only one of my Crown Prince squash plants survived but it provided five squash. Usually I have one plant, one squash although I did see that Charles Dowding managed six off his plants so still a little way to go.
Sarpo Mira potatoes were fantastic and I will definitely grow some of these next year. Thank you to John for sharing his surplus plants. I only had four seed potatoes but the crop will probably last us all winter.
The leeks are enormous!
The kale is big and healthy and I actually managed some red cabbages this year.
Flat leaf parsley is hard to keep up with and my lemon grass is doing really well in the polytunnel.
Things that didn’t work so well
These things are not because I used no-dig rather than the weather or my lack of knowledge.
My onion sets had rot but my seed-sown onions didn’t. Next year I will grow all my onions and shallots from seed. I planted the onion sets in lumpy manure and the slugs and snails dined on them.
The Celariac are much, much bigger than previous years but the wood lice have taken up residence in them. The compost was well-rotted so I will just have to try again.
My garlic was thrown by the cold spell in spring and thought it was winter again. This year I have planted half outside and half in the polytunnel. We shall see what the difference is.
I need to keep the grass a bit lower and remove the grass hanging over the edge of beds. Slugs and snails hide there!
There is not too much to do now at the allotment other than keep picking and making sure everything is held down. Bags of leaves come in very handy and make all that hard work worthwhile.
Having not been down to the plot for a week or two, we then realised that the shed roof was leaking really badly. It is too cold to reroof so we are just wrapping it up to prevent the ingress of rain and will then do it properly in the summer, along with treating the wood.
The leeks are a real treat. We bought them in France as small leeks and kept them going until we got back home. Our neighbour in France told us that we were too late to plant the leeks in June but they are some of the biggest I have grown. I put it down to the no dig method of feeding the soil, but who knows. Tomorrow we are going to try leek and butter bean soup with parsley. Sounds delicious.
I have finally got round to sowing broad beans so now I must clear the polytunnel. I have also sown some peas into root trainers in the hope that the mice don’t come in and eat them when I plant them out. It’s all go here!