mindful gardening

IMG_20200414_105241456_HDR
sunflower seedlings 8 days old

I know that even the word mindfulness can be a real turn-off switch for people. But all it actually means is being present to the world around us and the world inside of us. That is it. Sounds easy.

Yet, if I try to do it on a cushion (ie sit still & meditate) my brain explodes and my body rebels with every itch, ache & pain, and it feels like a punishment.  But if I step outside into a garden, within minutes it is the natural state I slip into, feeling part of the flow of life.

IMG-20200416-WA0004 (1)
first ladybird of 2020 spotted 8th April

The world around us is a scary place right now.  Surely I can’t be the only one that has developed a physical trauma response to the BBC ‘Breaking News’ sound effects. That adrenaline/cortisol ride is exhausting. And actually entirely useless. There is only so much our brains can tolerate at once before we exhibit the symptoms of stress, anxiety and trauma; numbing down, fuzzy brain, distractification, emotional overwhelm. Feeling useless and helpless. Paralysis by analysis.

Perhaps we are getting to the stage in our lock-down of recognising that we can control our anxiety and stress levels through becoming more mindful of how much information we choose to take in. I am choosing to stay informed with the bare minimum coronavirus updates and then actively pulling my focus elsewhere.

IMG_20200413_182634784
Acer leaves started to open 12th April

Instead I turn to nature to bring me back to the here and now. Back to the present where actually, for today, everything is ok. Back to the moment where focusing on the joy of observing and participating in the incredible pace of the Spring Spectacular unfolding  is keeping me sane, and connected, and grounded, and relaxed. Although missing  my family and friends, I’m also aware that in cultivating a closer, more intimate connection to the trees, plants, birds &  wee beasties, even the slugs & snails, all around me, I feel alive and awake and safe and at home within the family of things.

IMG_20200413_182819297_HDR
A Rowan, a gift from a dear friend, uncurled its first leaves this year on 10th April

Our bodies are fixed in the present, but our space & time travelling minds can wander wherever they like. When I’m stressed, my mind tends to travel to some really scary, dark places; dredging up regrets from the past and projecting fears and anxieties onto the future; there is so much uncertainty and I cannot control any of it. But right here, in the present, I am breathing and I am alive. I can feel the earth beneath my feet and enjoy the spaciousness of being outside and the infinite space above my head. As Kabat-Zinn says, ” As long as you are still breathing there is more right with you than wrong with you”.

IMG_20200413_182742583_HDR
Pear buds yesteday, perhaps today is the day they will open

Back in the day I turned to gardening when I was in desperate need of relief and healing from stress, anxiety, depression and trauma. It worked and it works. I am so grateful to have such a deep grounding and faith in the restorative power of nature connection through my own lived experiences, and to be able to share this through my work in therapeutic gardening. Trying to share this approach through writing is a whole new world…

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honourably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

by Rumi.

 

Slugs

nice sunset
Slugs are so depressing, but last night’s sunset was not

Before I write anything else, I have to admit my grudging admiration for these walking stomachs, gastropods translates as ‘belly-feet’. I’m a total foodie and I empathise with their endless appetite. They also leave a Hansel & Gretel silver slime trail so they can find their way home too, by moonlight through your veg plot, which is actually rather romantic.  Hands down, the best stunt I’ve seen a slug perform as yet was half-abseiling and half bungee jumping on a rope of it’s own slime from the roof of a poly-tunnel down onto a defenceless courgette plant below. This is what we are up against; nocturnal ninja high-jinx.

The ones in my garden are not even particularly nocturnal anymore either, so bold in their dominion. Slugs have been winning the battle in my garden the last few years. Snails too. Over my years of gardening, I have shifted from a stance of Buddhist-ish nonviolence  (think the worm scene in “Seven Years in Tibet”) to outright bloody war and vicious vendetta. Battles lost and vaguely won have included physical barriers,  biological warfare & manual removal.

Physical Barriers:

Installing copper coils around raised beds: the idea is that slugs do not like to pass over the copper as it gives them an electric shock. Especially if it is a double ring. Quite possibly the most ludicrous waste of time, effort and money I’ve every squandered in a garden. I may as well have walked around wearing a tin-foil hat. Some people still swear by it despite the evidence . Perhaps our Scottish slugs simply did not receive the memo. Less #thuglife, more #sluglife.

Slug castles:  creative upcycling from kitchen to garden, cut up plastic bottles to create a plastic collar around vulnerable young plants (slugs don’t like to slither over the sharp bit). It also creates a focused topical watering opportunity by delivering water directly to the roots of the plants. Slug castles work when plants are young, but they do need checked regularly and, when the plants outgrow the collars it can be a bit hard to get them off (if needed elsewhere). It is also helpful if you know people who drink big bottles of fizzy water or juice, although the slimmer tonic bottles work just as well at a push…I put slug castles around all my brassicas and courgettes, otherwise there is literally nothing left. I push them in a couple of inches to keep them from blowing from the wind, and to detract burrowing slugs.

Biological warfare:

Beer traps: the idea is that slugs will get drunk, fall in and die happy. I personally have the karma of creating a lot of alcoholic gastropods who subsequently got the late night munchies and ate even more of my veg. Complete waste of time & beer. And the smell is disgusting.

Organic slug pellets: These are now illegal so it is a mute point. But they were effective until it rained. An expensive approach, and not one that could be used comfortably if you had a pond (frogs) . Or birds. Or cats/dogs. Or visitors of the 4 footed variety to your garden (ie everyone). Best avoided.

Nematodes: This is part of a wider industry known as IPM: Integrated Pest Management, which includes lady bird farms installed in commercial market garden poly-tunnels down to these microscopic parasite you cannot see. You  mix up a packet of these invisible warriors in water in a watering can and liberally  water around the garden beds. The slugs eat the parasite, which then eats them from the inside out. Essentially torture. It only works if you do it regularly. Best to to do early in the season around early April, then once every 6 weeks or so. I’ve not ordered any as yet as deliveries are delayed and they have a very short shelf-life. It is also quite an expensive approach at around £15 to treat 40m squared growing area each application. Works best on wet soil, so if you are going to use them and its dry, give your beds a really, really, really good soaking first. It is very effective though. Nematodes don’t effect snails.

Manual removal:

By far the most depressing, and distressing, but ultimately most effective, is taking the walk of shame through the garden at dusk each evening to manually remove them. In the past I’ve  thrown them in a lidded bucket full of green leaves and transported them to a new home far away. I’ve also thrown them in  bucket of salty water which was as vile and disgusting as it sounds, besides what do you do with the bucket full of salted slime? On occasion I’ve also cut one in two. But that broke me.

By FAR the best way to manage slugs (without constantly feeling like a psychopathic murderer and truly awful human) is simply to eradicate as much of their habitat as absolutely humanly possible, but without eradicating the habitat of many other garden creatures!

Think about where slugs like to hide; if you have raised beds they hide around the edges of the wood, and under the wood at the bottom of the beds. If you have paths with landscape fabric, they will also hide (and multiply) at the edges here. Under old pots, under watering cans, in and around the compost bin. In a pile of old bits & bobs, under that tarp you meant to move last week. under, in and around the water butt, under the wheelie bin, the lid of the wheelie bin. Or, in other words, in any little crevice of untidiness, dampness & darkness. When I am doing my rounds, these are the places I look to first before the actual plants.

Slugs also love every single type of mulch I use in the garden, with the exception of compost. They love the wood-chip I had on paths and then, once partially broken down, used in lasagne beds. They love cardboard and paper and grass cuttings and comfrey cuttings; they love anything they can get their slimy mouths into. Anything that is in a process of decay is their territory.

And that is why I am dismantling ALL of my beautiful raised timber edged beds and getting the wood out of the garden (and into the garage for now). And that is why I am removing the white gravel paths and lifting the landscape fabric and leaving bare soil paths with a sprinkling of compost on top. And that is why I am finally becoming a tidy gardener. If I knew then, what I know now, I would never have shovelled 3 tonnes of gravel onto the paths or built endless raised beds. Don’t get me wrong, raised beds are absolutely brilliant if you have mobility issues of any kind, or if you are starting from contaminated soil, or extremely heavy clay soil (my garden), but otherwise they are just a breeding and hiding ground for slugs &  snails and best avoided.

So, during this time of lockdown I have been busily undoing all the infrastructure of the last decade in the veg plot part of the garden…and I am busily clearing, tidying and organising my garden to have as few hidey places as possible. Except for the big bit of board that I’ll lay down to attract the buggers then harvest them at dusk into the slug bucket. And if anyone asks me on my daily walk, why I am walking with a bucket, I can entertain them with eccentricity.

Like anything in a garden though, the whole slug dramarama is a process that teaches patience and ecology. Like all of the creatures in nature’s interconnected but broken web, the only reason that the slugs are so out of whack is because their natural predators (garden birds, hedge-hogs, frogs) are under such threat in our mono-blocked monopoly. The more we recreate habitat for them via bird feeding/bird boxes, hedge-hog box and garden pond, the more balance we can bring back in our own wee patch. And play our part in reweaving the web.

Although, I’d also just really love ducks & chickens….which eat the slugs…

First shoots

IMG_20200412_172844987_HDR
elegant Garlic shoots
IMG_20200413_104310543_HDR
Sunflowers unfurling

 

Is there anything more joyful than the first new shoots of the year?!

The garlic was finally planted very late around 4 weeks ago (I usually plant late Feb/early March…) and, in the last 5 days, has started to announce it’s existence. The sunflowers were sown on the 8th of April and, on Easter Sunday I woke up to find the first had popped their little heads up with such force they have disrupted the soil…such is the power of germination!

So, what is it that suddenly triggers Spring growth? It seems like every seed, tree, shrub, flower, weed and, even potatoes in your kitchen cupboard, have simultaneously all received the same memo at the same time: WAKE UP!

It’s all about favourable conditions….the quality and quantity of daylight, the temperature in the soil, the temperature in the air, and the artificial growing conditions we create for seedlings when we grow under cover in greenhouses, polytunnels and windowsills.

Everything is working in our favour now; the sap is rising, the momentum for growth is here and suddenly everything becomes easier, both in the garden and our lives. It is hard not to spring out of bed in the mornings when the sun is shining, even if we are living through such crazy, uncertain times. So take refuge in nature and the certainty of Spring and embrace this potential for new life.

The Guardian published a great wee article yesterday on growing without soils, seeds or space 

On your marks, get set…sow!!!!

 

So, we have decided to grow some of our own food this year, we have started kitchen/office composting to divert waste into nutrients for our garden, we have maybe made a few lasagne beds and are raring to go…but how to choose what to sow and what to grow and when do we sow seeds?

  1. Make a list of what fruit and veg you like to eat. There is nay, nada, niente point growing radishes if you and your household don’t like them. They may be one of the quickest and easiest veg to grow in Scotland, but if you don’t like them, they are taking up valuable space that could be used for something else.
  2.  If your list has anything that usually comes from the supermarket with a lot of airmiles on it, looks like it was made under a tropical sun, then cross it off. Sorry, but sadly that includes mangoes, pineapple, avocado and bananas

Your list  now probably has a mixture of fruit, veg, herbs, salad and maybe even some edible flowers on it. In general, the most traditional crops that grow well in Scotland are also the easiest to grow. Below are all crops that are easy to grow for beginners:

Fruit:

  • Berries: strawberries, raspberries, gooseberries, blackcurrants, redcurrants, whitecurrants, blueberries. You can buy berry bushes at Aldi & Lidl now, you can also order online at most garden centres. Berries freeze really well and are a brilliant investment. Raspberries can be a bit of a beast and spread and take over….personally that is fine by me as I love them. You can grow all berries in pots for at least the first if not two years!
  • Fruit trees: the four steadfast stalwarts for Scotland are apples, pear, plum, cherry. For most, you will need a pair on order to get cross-pollination. If your neighbours have fruit trees you can probably get away with only one . If you have a very sunny and sheltered spot or a greenhouse or polytunnel you could also try peach and fig. You can buy ‘patio trees’ also sometimes called ‘step overs’ which are fruit trees grafted onto semi-dwarf or dwarf rootstock that are fine in pots;  they do not grow very large, but still produce fruit. Again you can order from garden centres, online nurseries or pick up cheapies at local shops. You can also train fruit trees into espalier and cordons which I’ll talk about in another blogpost.
  • Rhubarb: love it or hate it, it is the most easy fruit to grow, and a rhubarb plant lives at least 20 odd years. Freezes really well. There’s nothing more smug and scrummy that eating porridge in the dead of winter adorned with home grown berries and rhubarb from the freezer.
  • Root veg: potato, beetroot, turnip, parsnip, celeriac., radish, kohl rabi. Carrots only if you have sandy soil (East coast of Scotland!) or, are up for the challenge of trying to develop a sandy soil.
  • Brassicas: kale, cabbage, broccoli,  cauliflower, brussel sprouts. In general they are easy to grow but take AGES to grow and tale up a LOT of space. If you have a small space or are growing in pots only, I wouldn’t bother except for kale, the queen of crops. But, if you do have a big garden then there is nothing nicer than picking your own PSB: purple sprouting broccoli….Please note, all brassicas require netting  from pigeons who love to snack vociferously on them.
  • Alliums: The onion family includes leeks, onions, spring onions, garlic, chives, shallots. You can order onion sets (baby onions) online and if you buy a supermarket chive plant you can grow it outside once the weather has warmed up.
  • Peas & Beans: broad beans, runner beans, mange tout, garden peas, sweet peas…..every kind of pea and bean is easy to grow and are super delicious. Peas do not keep well once picked unless you freeze them within minutes of picking as the sugar turns to starch and they lose their yum-factor. Best eaten off the pod, or picked just before you need them. They take up space if you let them…
    Leaves: chard, kale (queen of crops) salad, rocket, pea shoots, mizuna, mibuna, pak choi, spinach, collard greens are all leafy greens that are quick, easy and delicious. They can be sown everywhere in pots in the ground and sown continuously through the season so that you can cut and they will come again. Unless you have a lot of space I would avoid growing too many lettuces that have a heart, and focus on the cut and come again leaves instead.
    Herbs: mint (a bully beast best left in pots unless you want it to spread absolutely everywhere) wild garlic (ditto as for mint) rosemary, fennel, thyme, sage, oregano & curry plant are all perennial (ever year) herbs that will grow well with benign neglect. Parsley, basil & coriander need a bit more tlc, parsley needs a cloche (mini greenhouse) on it through the winter or it will die off. Basil and coriander grow MUCH better indoors in pots. I just grow on kitchen windowsills for ease whilst cooking.

We can sow seeds most of the growing seasons except in the really dark months, but during Spring we tend to sow a LOT of the crops we will be eating in the months to come.

In late March through to mid-April we can sow:

Sow inside:  spinach, lettuce, peas for shoots,  salad onion, cabbage, calabrese, kohlrabi, cauliflower, turnips, radish, bulb fennel, parsley, coriander, dill. lettuce, spinach, peas, , salad onion, early brassicas, parsley, coriander, dill, parsnips, leeks, leaf beetSow Sow/plant Outside:  potatoes, broad beans, onion, garlic, peas, Boltardy beetroot, celery & celeriac

How to sow seeds : rule of thumb is to bury seeds 2-3 times the size of the seed. big seeds deeper, tiny seeds on the surface.

  • write a seed label with the type and variety of seed and the date. Truly cannot emphasise this enough. You WILL forget what you have sown. You can use proper seed sticks, lolly pop sticks, cut up yoghurt pots, or whatever else system you want. But do label and date the seeds.
  • fill a seed tray or pots (or toilet rolls, yoghurt pots etc etc) with multi-purpose peat-free compost or specialised seed compost. Notice that the seed tray and pots have lips where the tray/pot changes. This is your first fill level.
  • Use another seed tray or a bit of cardboard to get the surface nice and flat and firm (but not squished).
  • sow either in drill (straight lines-see pic above) or broadcast (random but evenly spread pattern see pic above).
  • sprinkle a layer of compost up to the very top of the seed tray to put the seeds to bed
  • water well. If you are using a watering can, turn the rose (the bit the water comes out) UP. this will lessen the flow and allow you to water without disturbing the soil. If you are improvising, a plastic milk container with holes made in the lid makes a good home-made watering can.
  • place seed trays as close to the window as you can and turn each day for an even growth.
  • better to water thoroughly rather than little but often.

 

The edge of things…

To see a World in a Grain of Sand

And a Heaven in a Wild Flower 

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand 

And Eternity in an hour

From William Blake, Augeries of Innocence

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Out for my social distancing stroll today I was feeling a bit claustrophobic and in need of some spaciousness both inside and outside of my head. For those of us used to wandering and travelling through many physical landscapes each day or each week, this present and sudden lock-down into footsteps and locality might give rise to a real frustration and struggle. I truly cannot imagine being stuck in a flat in an urbanscape so I hope if you are, you can enjoy this blog vicariously until such time. 

I know I am privileged; I live on the very edge of where suburbia meets countryside and Spring is bursting into life all around. I am lucky to live near the Museum of Rural Life, which mimics a 1950’s farm landscape, and has lots of little country lanes adjacent to the fields with verges and old hedge-lines to enjoy. https://www.nms.ac.uk/rural

So, in this post, I have skipped out of my garden and along the country roads to give big views of these tiny  and scrumptious plantscapes that lie all around us if we just open our eyes and look. No matter where we live, I would encourage all of us to spend time to really notice the beauty of ecological colonisation going on in all the cracks and crevices, along the edges, in the margins, in the neglected places and spaces that surround us and are usually invisible. Nature abhors a vacuum and she will move in to the most inhospitable niches given half a chance. I hope you enjoy the little slide show and can feel the spaciousness they contain.

On the edge of things is where we find the most diversity; it is where different systems meet. In human ecology in urban geography that cultural diversity might be noticing the way that artists, musicians and queer community  group into post-industrial spaces with cheaper rent and start transforming the streets and bringing new life. How that rich humanscape morphs into gentrification further down the road is also a form of succession.

The same thing happens on the verges,edges and margins of plantlife. Walk past any building site, or any disturbed land, and the same  plants will be seen; nettles, docks, thistles, followed by birch, ash, buddleia (the butterfly tree). Or along railways lines the swaying pinks of rosebay willow herb. These usual suspects are the colonising plants which ‘garden’ the soils year by year, creating habitat around them. The dock which pushes and pushes it’s tap root down deep into the earth pulling up nutrients to become available on the surface. The nettle which throws out lots of seeds and foilage which composts into new soil and new plants year by year, building the soils for the plants needing richer soils to move in. These pave the way for the shrubs and trees that follow. Everything in nature ‘gardens’; animals which leave their manure for improving the soil, birds  sowing accidental seeds from the air, bees and other pollinating insects that spend their lives drunk on nectar whilst moving pollen around from plant to plant…

In Scotland, and in the UK, everything is always trying to move (back) towards it’s climax culture; which is deciduous woodland in the Lowlands and pine forest in the Highands. Every part of nature is helping to move and hurry the land back along to reach  this stable ecosystem. And as gardeners we can either go to war with nature and try and tame this endless forward movement with our destructive and habitual control freakery, or instead we can work with and harness this energy. As a #lazygardener and also lifelong environmentalist, I always  choose to work with and for nature.

In the garden the edge, where path meets bed, is where the most weeds will move in.  Instead of wasting time endlessly weeding and hoeing these edges,, why don’t we just grow more dense plants there, keeping the weeds out whilst maximising this natural thirst for biodiversity to thrive there?

 

Lazy gardening: Making a lasagne bed

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

One of the quickest, easiest, cheapest and low human-energy ways of increasing growing area in the garden, is to use a permaculture method called a lasagne bed. Exactly similar to the culinary equivalent, although perhaps not as immediately tasty, the garden lasagne bed is layered up of different ingredients to make a fast new bed. Ingredients are: cardboard, compost, soil. That’s it. If you don’t have compost no problem, you can make your own in situ compost using whatever plant and kitchen material you have to hand. But if you are using fresh stuff, chop it us as small as you can so that it breaks down faster. If it is plant material then same rules apply-the smaller the better.  Please note, the garden centres are closed but you can order online for delivery or click & collect.

Where to position:

You can position a lasagne bed on top of grass you wish to convert to bed space, or even on a weedy bed that you just cannot get on top of; wherever you want to make it really, although I wouldn’t suggest making one on top of hardstanding or slabs. In my garden I had an area which has been covered with a landscape fabric and woodchip for a few years, which I’ve decided to turn into additional growing area during this crisis. This means I have skipped a step as the grass underneath has already died back. It also means that I can use the broken-down woodchip as the main ingredient for the new bed.

How to make a lasagne bed:

Collect as much cardboard sheets as you can. I know it is harder at present to womble around for materials but, whilst the supermarkets are open, they often have free boxes for the taking. Given the current restrictions you probably want to incorporate cardboard collection into your shopping trip. Fortunately I had some in the garage stashed from last autumn from a neighbour used to my upcycling ways.

Arrange the cardboard on top of the ground, overlapping it at least 10 cm (blocks out the light and kills weeds/grass), into whatever shape of bed you would like. When I was younger I had star, heart, spiral and all manner of prettily shaped beds, but they were a nightmare to weed. These days I go with what is easiest; a rectangular bed no more than 1m-1.2m wide and whatever length you like, with access paths at both sides. That way you never have to walk on the soil to do any weeding, planting or harvesting.

Once you are happy with the shape, dump your compost layer on top, a minimum of around 10cm, but the thicker the better. Then add another cardboard layer followed by a thin layer of soil. If you are reading this from anywhere but Scotland, then it would be a good idea to soak the cardboard at each of the layers, but if you are in Scotland, it really isn’t necessary, given we are blessed with such a damp climate.

Then plant up as you like! If you did a second layer of cardboard then you can make a little hole in the cardboard and plant through it. In my example above I didn’t need a second layer and I also didn’t have enough cardboard.  I’ll show the planted up bed in the next blogpost, I’ve not completely made up my mind, but I think it will be a new strawberry patch!

How it works:

The cardboard suppresses the weeds and, alongside the compost layer, blocks the light out long enough for any new plants to grow from the earth layer. The compost continues to break down between the layers of cardboard whilst also providing a source of nutrients for the plants above. The soil layer is the blanket on top, holding everything in place, especially the new plants establishing. If you make a bed now, by the autumn it will look no different to the other beds in your garden. #lazygardening.

A variation on this theme is to move your compost bin around the garden to wherever you wish to make a new bed. When you are ready to spread your compost, leave the last 10cm layer on the earth and just add a soil layer: ta-dah, a new bed potentially every 3 months.

All things compost…

Rooh Star’s Compost Song

Before reading further, why not click the link and listen to environmental songstress Rooh Star’s lovely compost song, A very practical ear-worm that kids and big kids will love. Kind thanks to Rooh for allowing me to link her song for free! You can listen/buy her album Rhythm is Life  here

Gardeners say, the best time to plant a tree was ten years ago, the second best time is now. It is true for trees and also  true for composting and, once you know how to make it, it will seem entirely absurd not to make it everyday, forever.  Compost is magical stuff and can be a base alchemy in our daily lives, transforming our previously squandered waste into black gold  for the garden. Bold claim I know, but composting is an extremely practical mindfulness practice to help us shift our everyday thinking from  linear to cyclical thinking, which is the true meaning of alchemy really; there is no landfill big enough.

So, what is compost and how do we make it? Grab a pen and a bit of paper and write down everything you buy for home and work in a week.  Given coronavirus and the challenges of shopping right now, this exercise can double as your online shopping list #StayHome. Then think of where all that stuff goes; some of it we eat and the waste has a very particular way of being processed by our bodies, and the rest we can choose what to do with. We can either recycle into the various recycle bins (paper, cardboard and food waste) and landfill bin, and lose those nutrients (that we spent our hard earned cash on!), or we can compost them and keep the nutrients onsite. We  can choose to make beneficial cycles between our homes and our gardens and break the linear waste stream.

There are a whole heap of types of composting but for this blog post I’m talking about plain old garden composting, also called cold composting;  which looks like that plastic dalek in the corner of the garden, that pallet style in the corner, or just the old heap in the corner. It is called cold composting because we add to it little and often and so it takes a while to ‘cook’.

Plastic & metals asides, everything on your shopping list can be split up into Green Stuff and Brown Stuff. The trick to composting is to get a decent 50:50 mix between the two, so please remember to keep all those bits of junk mail, carboard and scrap papers handy. And now you are working from home, all that waste paper from pressing the wrong button on the printer before correcting those indecent typos will come in handy too…

Green stuff is the easy name for compost ingredients that are high in Nitrogen: from the kitchen that means fruit and veg peelings and cut flowers, from the garden this means fresh grass cuttings & weeds (but drown in a bucket of water first for at least a few weeks to kill the buggers!) .

Brown stuff is the easy name for compost ingredients high in Carbon: from your kitchen that could be used teabags, egg shells, paper & cardboard from packaging. From the rest of your house or home office that could be hair from your brush, straw from hamster cage, newspapers and magazines. All print material from Europe uses vegetable dyes so they are safe. If it’s a fancy mag from elsewhere, I’d probably not compost. There may also be brown stuff in your garden, small twigs, dried grass cuttings, dried leaves…

In our house there are two of us, one veggie and one meat-eater. In general we produce 2-3 cubic tonnes of compost per year, and this is enough to feed all the veg beds in the garden with a thick layer of mulch.

In an ideal world we would have a super neat compost heap with a layer of brown stuff then green stuff and so on and so forth. In reality we throw on a mixture as and when. The smaller the bits added, the quicker it cooks. So if you have a cardboard box, remember to rip it into bits first, same for broccoli stalks (except chop them up and eat, they are delish). This is whey it’s good practice (if you want compost quickly) to turn your compost regularly too. It is a fantastic green gym work out, but, especially in the colder months, please be careful with your fork vigour as there may be hibernating amphibians in there too (sad voice of experience…). Mobility wise, don’t worry if you cant turn your compost. I rarely turn mine, and in tomorrow’s blog post I’ll show you why #lasagnebeds.

Problem solving: 

Too dry? Pour a bucket of water, add more green stuff
Too wet? Put on a cover, add more brown stuff
Too smelly? Add more brown stuff
Vermin? Check there are NO cooked foods being put on by mistake.

And that is it really. Don’t add any cooked anything to cold compost as it will attract vermin. I wouldn’t add any kind of domestic animal waste either. Human pee is a great ‘activator’.

In terms of location, often compost heaps are placed in the least attractive/shadiest part of the garden. Actually they are the engine-room of your garden and will work better if situate somewhere that gets sun and heat, also always better to put on grass or soil rather than hard-standing so our worm friends can move in quicker. Mine (see pics below) are very basic but they do the job. I have a kitchen waste one that I built as a demo for my nephews visiting from Japan the other summer, which (to my eyes anyways) looks quite neat, and which sits in a sunny spot near the back door. The other is a larger Stig of the Dump basic pallet composter that sits in a semi-shade position at the back of the veg plot which I use for mostly garden produced waste (the more you grow, the more you compost…).

As you can see, both are absolutely full and over-flowing, they have been on the ‘to do’ list for ages. Tomorrow I will demonstrate how to make a new lasagne bed using compost, cardboard and a top layer of soil. Instant bed creation #lazygardening, hoorah.

Thanks for reading and happy composting!

 

 

 

#coronacultivation

Actually, it’s 24th March 2020 and I just reclaimed an old blog started Autumn equinox ten years ago…!

bootsSo, here we are in the middle of the most extraordinary global pandemic. Yesterday the PM locked down the country. Only key workers to go to work outside of the house. Only food, pharmacy, post office, banks and hardware stores open. Everything else has gone online, or closed it’s doors for now. The good news is that we can still go out to get food and medicine and  to exercise. Thankfully we can still garden….we can still grow food, herbs, fruit, flowers whilst cultivating peace of mind.

Today I started the pretty big task of removing  the timber from my raised beds  and the gravel from the paths in order to double the food production capacity of my veg plot. This garden has always an accidental garden; quite literally! I first started it (at my mum’s house) back in 2011 shortly after the Japanese Tsunami. My sister and her family (2 young children) lived in Yokohama at the time and fled back to Scotland indefinitely to get away from the radiation and uncertaintly. I made a small veg garden for them to enjoy whilst they stayed with our mum.  The kids loved the freedom to again play safely outside alongside bliss of picking their own strawberries warmed by the sun, eating peapods off the plants, digging for tatties, chasing the frogs and a loving, active grandma in residence.

Time moved on, they moved back to Japan and I kept the garden going, just growing tatties and veg for my wee mum.  More time passed, and when my mum got older and needed support, I moved in to provide this. Since then I gave up my allotment plot and made one in the garden instead. Always easier to walk food footsteps than cycle or drive food miles.

I reckon it will take a couple of hours hard graft a day for the next few weeks  to prepare this new growing area for this latest ‘accident’. But time is what we have. Besides, in Scotland the risk of frost is until early May so I wont be planting anything much out until then really anyways. I will get the onions and garlic in ASAP though (actually the garlic is super late, late) and next month the maincrop tatties.

Today’s task was to dig over my ‘quarantine’ bed that is utterly riddled with bindweed…I certainly don’t want to let that spread to all the other beds, that are currently separated with paths! Asides from a practice in patience and perspiration,  bindweed root can be used for fevers ( I’ve not though) and also for drying out to make twine! I might try drying it for twine…as long as it doesn’t go anywhere near my beds.