Category Archives: Composting

Julia has worms!

It’s 30 minutes to midnight and Julia has worms. That, I think, is enough to provide me with my required 250 words.

I would have more time but by the time I’d read a few comments and checked in on a few blogs I realised I had 32 minutes to post. The missing two minutes were spent explaining to Julia that the title was going to bring her loyal fans flocking to the post. I have no illusions. After thirty years of marriage I realise that the majority of people who speak to me, or read the blog, are more interested in her than they are in me. It’s probably because she likes people, speaks to them and positively encourages them to talk about themselves. I don’t. lockdown for me has been one of the best times of my life – I’ve been paid to stay at home and eat bacon sandwiches and I haven’t had to be nice to anyone. The only way I’m ever going to become a “people person” is if cannibalism becomes socially acceptable.

Wormery in a wheelie bin

Wormery in a wheelie bin

The worms in question are all safely contained in a wormery made from a wheelie bin and donated to her by a local group who make wormeries to give away. I’m not sure why, but it’s a useful thing to have, both for gardening and for teaching about ecology. The woman who delivered them has some experience of the farm where we used to run our group, and the two of them spent a happy half hour comparing views.

She also told Julia that the worms like avocado skins as they curl up inside them. The mind of a worm is a mystery to me.

That’s 280 words. I have hit target and will now add a link, and post. The photos will be loaded later. I may get them on before midnight but I have to download them from email, which can take time when an idiot is doing the downloading.

Worms at Mencap Garden, Wilford, Nottingham

Worms at Mencap Garden, Wilford, Nottingham

 

Summary

In the past week I have, again, fallen behind with my reading.

This is true of WordPress, where I have once again not found time to keep up with everyone. It has also been true of my book reading. Over the last few weeks I’ve noticed that I haven’t actually picked a book up, which is unusual. I did read part of a crime novel this week, but that was because I had three medical appointments and needed something to fill the waiting time.

I have been doing a bit on the net, and have read a couple of gardening magazines but that has been it. I also read part of a Daily Mail a neighbour lent me, but that proved to be a miserable experience.

Ebay, as you can probably tell from my recent ramblings, has been taking up too much of my time. I’ll cover that at length in a later post.

Medically speaking, everything seems to be going well. I’m not going to say too much as you never know what’s around the corner.

So, that just leaves the dustbins. Our bin day is Friday. This Friday is was the recycling and garden waste bins. I picked Julia up from work and we went for a coffee. When we returned home they were still on the pavement and the garden waste bin had a sticker on top.

It seems that the bin had not been emptied because it contained either bricks, breeze blocks, rubble, rope, trellis, treated timber, animal waste, plant pots, soil, wood chipboard, bagged garden waste, bagged domestic waste or food waste.

This seemed strange because when I looked at it I couldn’t see any of that. This is only the second time we’ve put the garden waste bin out this year, and it was only about 25% full and there wasn’t much for the heinous contraband to hide behind.

That’s why I ended up with the Daily Mail. It seems that local councils are taking a hard line on such things, even to the point of fitting up to seven cameras on a bin lorry. I won’t talk about litter, poor school standards or any other council issue, because all that is important is that they issue their quota of stickers.

I know that recycling is important, and needs to be monitored, but I think this is a bit over the top. I will be discussing it with them next week.

This isn’t just an idle threat, I really will get on with this one.

I’m fairly sure that they have opened the bin, looked at the hedge clippings and mouldy plums and decided that the plums are food waste.  In fact, with them coming straight off the tree they are garden waste. I would probably just have composted them, but Julia took them off and she tends to get rid of them so the mould doesn’t cause further problems. She’s more professional than I am.

I can see why they wouldn’t want food waste in there, but if a few mouldy plums are a problem where do you draw the line? Will yellowing cabbage leaves, ground elder and nettle tops all be seen as contraband? You can eat them so I would suggest they should be. What about rhubarb leaves? They are poisonous, but they are also waste from food. And tomatoes with blight?

The world has gone mad.

Of course, there’s a little voice at the back of my head suggesting that if we had better schools in Nottingham council employees might be bright enough to work out that mouldy plums are garden waste.

I probably won’t mention that in my email.

 

Monday Miscellany, posted on Tuesday

We had a strange day at the farm yesterday. With nobody in we managed to force our firstborn into action and shifted quite a lot of work. This was despite frequent visits from a variety of people. I wasn’t allowed to talk to them because I’m considered a trifle direct when people stop me working, so I was able to brew mint tea, make the nettle soup for today, restructure the herb bed and plant the new beans after the problematic start to the “Bean Trial”. More of that later.

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Mint Tea

 

Sorry if the tenses seem a little strange in that paragraph, it was originally written yesterday but will be posted today, which was tomorrow when I wrote.

Julia spent half the day explaining what we were doing, what the statues were, what was happening on Open Farm Sunday and how to enter the Scarecrow Competition. She’s very good with people.

I’m good with tools of destruction, a talent which came to the fore when we got home. The laburnum tree, which had been leaning at an increasing angle over the last few months (coinciding with the time erection of next door’s new fence, though I am pointing no fingers here) had finally given up its struggle with gravity.

They don’t look like much but I can assure you there’s a lot of wood in a laburnum, particularly when you’re  using a pair of loppers and a pruning saw. The worst is over now ad I’ll be able to get on with pruning the plum, which is why I’d originally gone into the back garden.

I’ll miss it because laburnums have featured in my life since I was about 6 and we moved to a house with one in the garden, but it’s an ill wind that blows no good and I have plans now that we have a new patch of unshaded patio. Think “heated greenhouse”.

As for the “Bean Trial”,  it hasn’t worked out well. You may recall that we filled half a bed with compostable material and left the other half plain. I then added an “X” shaped frame and planted two Firestorm beans at the base of each cane. The half of the bed that was prepared with organic material definitely showed better germination and growth, but then nearly all the shoots disappeared. On digging holes to plant replacements I found many more beans which had germinated then been eaten.

We’ve also done a Health and Safety trial with the ends of the canes. The Mark I – Coke bottle and gaffer tape is big and clumsy and tends to fall off. The Mark II – plastic protector was too small for the cane so became a Mark III using a slit and gaffer tape. The unmodified protector still works for most canes and at 12 for £1 is a good investment. Better than a poke in the eye, as they say.

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Mark I

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Mark III

 

So, organic material is good, slugs are bad and beans that are two years past the date on the packet will still grow well. Hopefully the new plants will survive and we can start to measure the crop we get from the two sides.

However, nothing is certain in life so we will just have to see.

Spring at last!

I have to say I’m feeling a lot better after a couple of nice warm days. The soil feels better too, We’ve had the soil turned over for us and started spreading compost and there’s hope for the future. Strange how it only takes a few days to turn things round. After a couple of false starts we’ve even got the community allotment project off the ground.

That’s what I wrote on Saturday, but didn’t have time to continue. By Monday morning we’d had a cold snap, a cloudburst and I’d watched the jackdaws pulling up the newly-planted community onion sets. Now I like jackdaws, but I’m also fond of onions, and I do like cropping what I plant. It was a bit of a moral dilemma, which I resolved by taking the Josie Wales view – “Jackdaws gotta eat, same as worms.”

Anyway – to Monday. I love the smell of meetings in the morning, which is good because that’s what we had. I walked away with a page of notes, which was a bit like the curate’s egg – good in parts. The headline news is that we will be getting some help with the gardening, both in terms of labour and plants. We’ve struggled over the years and though the display gets better every year, much of it depends on one of the neighbours who gives us surplus plants.

Part of the help featured a small digger, which broke up the ground for the second keyhole bed. It was a mixed blessing as it also carved a trench for a water pipe (hooray!) by digging up our newly rotovated bed (boooo!). Still, we will have water, and the bed has benefitted from some extra digging I suppose.

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We’ve also filled some tyres and planted potatoes, using a lot of compost. I’m sad to use it (do I sound like a compost miser here?) but quite proud that we’ve managed to produce so much in the last year. It’s a bit variable and included quite a lot of plastic despite all the care we took, but a lot of it is black and friable just like proper compost. The bits that aren’t so good are still good enough to throw on the ground and the bits that aren’t good enough to throw on the ground are already in another bin waiting for a second chance.

Just in case you think I’m a bit dull talkig about compost look at this club. I found it while I was looking for Be Nice to Nettles week. I’m getting a bit worried that I can’t find details for this year.

 

Keyhole Garden

After six months of discussion (the “we should build a keyhole garden” phase) and three more of procrastination (one of my better developed skills) we eventually entered the final phase of pre-building – the “do a few hours and then stop” phase. We’ve had a circle of bricks and roughly chopped earth waiting for us for a bout a month now, but with trees and lambs and such we haven’t had time to get on with it.

At the weekend we decided we needed to start work again. There’s frost forecast for next weekend, and that’s just what we need to break up some of the lumpier bits. If that isn’t enough there’s a whole list of other reasosn to get on with it – planting time coming up, the need to focus and the upcoming “Kenya Day” we’re having.

You will search in vail for any Kenyan National Holiday on 9th May, we just seem to have chosen 9th May as a convenient day. I’m not sure what is being organised because I’m trying to avoid adding to my workload, but it’s pretty certainly going to involve a reduction in the goat population round here. What? You didn’t think we were rearing goats for fun did you? Farmers, as we always tell the kids coming round, don’t keep pets.

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From the top left – The Start,. The next phase with drainage layer, keyhole and wood chippings applied and the compost cage in place. The compost cage lined with straw. My hard working staff starting to put soil on the layer of well-rotted pig manure. Close up of hard working staff, who by that time were starting to abuse the photographer and talk of tea. Final shot – most of the soil is in place – probably six to eight barrow loads for me and Julia to apply tomorrow and then we just have to let it settle for a while.

The theory is that you put compost in the central cage and water it, thus getting best value out of the water and the nutrients. Some beds are much more like raised beds but the bricks we had earmarked for the job ended up in a path so we’re having to make do with a lower wall. Despite this we will be getting an increase in surface area because of the slope. There are all sorts of keyhole beds, as you can see if you follow this link.

Time to talk toilets

We spend a lot of time here talking about toilets. and the correct way to use them. In fact, with three school groups in this week, each divided into two groups, we’ve talked about toilets three times and demonstrated six. They are plastic toilets at the centre, which always make it seem a bit like camping; they are variously known as separator, waterless or composting toilets.

The first two are true, as they do separate liquid from solids and they do not use water. I think that sums it up – it can be difficult to get the point across without dumbing down to nursery level, or making it sound like a Latin lesson. They don’t let me do it as my vocabulary tends to slip…

Composting? Not really. The liquids are piped away and used when we fill a barrel and the solids are removed in biodegradable bags on a regular basis and composted on a separate site. The products are composted but the toilet doesn’t actually do the composting.

The trouble we have is that we are in a village, and a village that isn’t 100% sure that they want us here. Adding to this uncertainty by adding piles of humanure to the landscape would be a step too far. I’m committed to using humanure after reading an eBook about it but I have to keep reminding myself that the author was living in an isolated house in the American woods.

The truth is that the humanure isn’t theonly important part of the process. We live on a small, densely populated island and lack space to store water: we can’t keep using drinking water to dispose of our waste. I can’t find figures for the UK but in USA toilet flushing accounts for 27% of water use. I have no reason to think we would be much different in our water wasting habits, particularly in view of the car washing habits of my neighbours, and when you think what people in Africa go through to get clean water this just seems wrong.

 

Compost short cut

I used 10 eggs for the Honey and Treacle tart on Saturday. While I was cooking the tarts I dried the egg shells too. That way you can store them and deal with them later without them smelling. I learnt that the hard way one summer.

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After that all you need to do is crush them with a rolling pin and you can throw them in the compost, use them as a barrier to stop slugs or put them in the wormery.

Book Review – Composting Inside and Out

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Composting inside and out – Stephanie Davis

Betterway Home Books 2011 Published at $16.99 but we bought it for £3.99 from a garden centre.

This is a book about composting, rather than a book about the theory and technicalities of composting.

All you need to do is to throw some vegetable waste in a pile. That’s it. no carbon/nitrogen balance, no bin, just a pile of vegetable scraps. It’s simple advice and it’s right – better to have an imperfect compost heap no heap at all.

We currently bury thousands of tonnes of waste. We use lorries to transport it and we allow it to rot and produce greenhouse gases. It’s not efficient. It’s not good for the planet. And it’s a waste of a useful resource. Far better to keep it at home and use it to improve our garden soil. No garden? Use it in containers, or even give it away to someone who can use it.

As you would expect from someone who calls herself the Urban Worm Girl there’s quite a lot on worms. There is also plenty of information on other composting systems. Much of it is American, and for once that’s an advantage. Living in a country with some very cold parts (cold enough to freeze compost) she has a lot of information about keeping worms indoors. Yes, indoors. I always thought it made sense to keep them warm in the winter.

It’s 188 pages with pictures and plenty of space so it’s not a difficult read and it’s well worth it for the information.

Now all I need to do is have a word with my wife about bringing the worms in…

 

Compost and Mondays

It’s always nice when a plan comes together, and for that reason alone this Monday was a good day. I’m not really sure why I’m prejudiced against the day – we tend to work through the weekend anyway so it isn’t as if it’s actually the start of our week. It’s probably a hangover from my school days, when Sunday evening was such a poignant time. It seems like I spent all my Sunday evenings thinking back to our Sunday seaside trip and dreading a return to the village school where the spirit of Wackford Squeers lived on well into the 1960s.

In truth I actually liked some of the schools I went to and didn’t go to the coast too often so I’m really only thinking of an eighteen month period when I was eight-years old, but it seems to have ruined Mondays for me for life. Fortunately it’s just a mild dislike – if I had an irrational fear of Mondays I would have to learn to spell lunaediesophobia just to describe how I felt.

Anyway, back to the real subject. Having access to a large amount of greenery and several cardboard boxes it seemed a good time to dig the bean trench we’d been threatening for two years. There are various sorts of bean trench, ranging from ones filled with good compost to those filled with cardboard and newspaper. The benefit of the first sort are obvious, the benefit of the second sort is that it keeps moisture under the beans. We’ve gone for the third type, also known as a composting trench, where you fill it with waste and let it rot down over winter. The idea is that it will not only rot down to produce compost, but will heat the soil (according to one blog I read). I’m not convinced about the soil heating bit – I think you will need a lot more in the trench to produce heat, but let’s see.

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That’s cardboard, cape gooseberry and various garden clippings in the trench. We ended up with a lot more by the time we’d finished and had to stamp it down. Now we just wait and see.

As for the rest of the compost – the three bay pallet bin is nearly full (as you can see from the picture above), the plastic and wooden bins and rotating drums are full and the pigs are producing plenty of raw materials. Despite this I just know that when we come to spreading time we will be disappointed when we see how little it actually covers. There are several rules of composting:

(1) It always contains plastic, no matter how careful you are

(2) It never looks as good as it does on Gardeners’ World

(3) It never goes far enough

 

Worm community hit by hurricane!

Looks like I might have been a bit hasty in my assessment of the hurricane damage. This morning I found the lid of the wormery had blown off. I only check them every few days as they don’t need a lot of looking after. They are in a sheltered place and it didn’t occur to me that anything could have happened, but it looks like a swirling gust had got under the lid.

Fortunately there was a good layer of damp paper on top of them to keep things dark and they don’t seem to have been inconvenienced too much. Things seemed a bit wet so I suspect they have been rained on but I have arranged some more paper to help them dry out. I’ll add some bread crumbs tonight to help them along.

It looks like they have been breeding well as there are hundreds of small worms on the surface. However, I will check this out just to be sure they aren’t something horrible.It would be just my luck to be boasting about the fecundity of my worms just as they were being eaten by parasites. I’ve kept various livestock over the years and worms, though they don’t need daily attention, are still proving hard to get the hang of. No matter what the books tell me about them being easy I just can’t bring myself to believe it.

On the farm the guinea fowl are refusing to cooperate and move back to the vegetable garden. They are well and truly back with the rest of the poultry and refusing to move from the food. Can’t say I blame them. Even with a coat of waterproof feathers the weather is pretty bad at the moment. (Please note that I could have done the foul/fowl weather joke there but I chose not to. I am better than that.)

There is still a bit of jostling going on with the group of guinea fowl that live with the chickens full time but they seem to be settling down. Even when the weather improves I have a feeling that the poultry field will be a regular stop on the farm circuit for the free range group – bugs are fine but you can’t beat a hopper full of grain.