Wormery

Most gardeners are aware that decent compost and a bit of fertilizer always goes down well in the garden. I’ve been toying with the idea of getting a compost bin, but to be honest, with other things going on in the garden, it hasn’t been at the top of the ‘to do’ list.

Wandering around town in the week, I spotted something in one of the charity shops that really did pique my interest. A wormery. For a bargain price. With no further ado (and not a clue what I was actually going to do with the thing) I snapped it up and whisked it off home.

I’d heard about wormerys, and how they could be an alternative to a compost bin. I did know that the worms eat waste and convert it into a liquid fertiliser that apparently is great for the garden. Other than that, I was a tad clueless. On arriving home, I consulted my old friend Google (he knows EVERYTHING) and spent a pleasurable afternoon researching my new addition to the garden.

The first thing I found out is that you can’t use common old garden earthworms – you need special composting worms. These were found easily enough on a popular auction site, and should be arriving in the post at any time soon. In preparation for their arrival I whizzed out to set up their new home.

According to the advice on the web, worms are pretty undemanding, just needing a sheltered spot (not too hot in the summer; not too cold through winter), to be kept moist, and fed carefully.

With this in mind, I sited it in a lovely sheltered part of the garden which is luckily also quite close to the house which will be handy for me to nip out and feed them.

The wormery consists of a section at the bottom which collects the liquid fertiliser, followed by three compartments that sit on top of this. The theory is that you start the worms off in the first compartment, gradually utilising the ones above as it starts to fill up. The worms should move up during time, and the bottom compartments should then be full of compost to use on the garden.

Being second hand, my wormery came complete with a layer of compost in one compartment, which should provide an ideal substance for their bedding. On top of this went a little kitchen waste – apparently you feed sparingly until they’re established – a sprinkling of water, and the whole thing is now ready for its new inhabitants. They appear to be unfussy creatures, and should happily eat any kitchen scraps apart from onions, citrus peel or meat and fish. Once it’s up and running, they will also benefit from some ripped up cardboard.

It’s all rather exciting to think that a bunch of old worms will soon be chomping through our peelings and leftovers, creating compost and fertilizer in the process.

Nature at its best.

Wormery

Wormery

Advertisements

Putting the beds to bed

With the nights drawing in, the weather getting chillier, and the simple fact that I’m a bit of a fair-weather gardener, I’ve started to wind down the garden for winter.

The onion sets have already thrown up some green shoots, and I’ll plant garlic next month – so these should be well established by spring.

All that’s left growing in the beds now are leeks and celery, which I’ll harvest for as long as I can. I’ve tidied up the other areas, and I’ll cover any bare patches of soil up until spring. Last year I planted green manure to grow through the cold months. This should have protected the soil, stopped all the nutrients being washed away, and provided me with some lovely nitrogen-rich plants to dig in once spring arrived. Slight problem with that idea: the manure germinated and grew, I let the chickens out, and they promptly scoffed the lot. So this year I’m covering the bare soil up.

Chicken having a scratch in the vegetable patch

Chicken having a scratch in the vegetable patch

Onto each bed has gone a good layer of comfrey, a generous helping of hen house scrapings and the contents of the compost bins.  I’ve then put strips of old carpet on the very top. I’m hoping that the organic stuff will rot down and nourish the soil ready for next year’s crops. Not only that, but the carpet should help warm the soil up earlier, giving me a head start. Well… that’s the plan…

The last of the chillies and tomatoes have been ripening in the greenhouse, and the benches are looking decidedly bare now. I’ve used the space to sow some trays of broad beans and early peas in there, and will plant them out as soon as winter is over. You can sow the seeds straight into the garden to grow through winter, but last year most of mine got whipped out and eaten by mice: hopefully being under cover will offer a bit more protection.

Earthed up leeks

Earthed up leeks

Having said that, the broad beans I cut down earlier in the year have actually sprouted again, and the jury is out regarding their fate. Some gardeners have informed me that these plants are never likely to be top croppers. Others say they will be better as they will be more established. I’ve decided to leave them alone and see what happens: if all fails I have my reserves growing in the greenhouse.

The last job of the year will be to dig up, trim the foliage, and store the runner bean plants in a cool dark place – apparently they should regrow next year.

So with the garden tidied and some of next year’s crops taken care of, there’s nothing left to do but hang up my trusty trowel and retreat to the warmth of the house.

From there, I can keep a gentle eye on the garden, with a glass of something yummy, whilst flicking through the seed catalogue for next year’s goodies.

My perfect idea of winter gardening…

This one appeared in The Hinckley Times on 31 October 2013

Comfrey

Leafing through my gardening book earlier in the year, I came across a plant that would seem to be every gardener’s dream come true.

It’s not edible, or strikingly beautiful, but it contains nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus (or in layman’s terms, nutrients that plants LOVE).

The secret is all in the roots. Apparently they go really deep, and mine up a load of good stuff from way down in the soil, which is then stored in the leaves.

You can then do a number of things with comfrey leaves:

  1. Lay them on the soil around plants: they will gradually rot down and release food into the soil
  2. Chuck some in the compost bin: a two or three inch layer will give the bin a quick blast of energy
  3. Dangle some in your water butt: it turns the water into a miracle juice that’s a quick pick me up for tomatoes, cucumbers and beans.

Comfrey

I was sold! I imagined the day when the compost bin was a veritable furnace of energy, the tomatoes were tripping on nitrogen intake, and I’d have a never-ending supply of comfrey tea in the water butt. Added to that, the little flowers would attract bees and insects – I’d be a fool not to!

My book said to look for a variety called Bocking 14, as this one apparently won’t seed itself all over the place and you shouldn’t have to spend the rest of your living days digging it up.  A quick rootle round on the t’interweb turned up a supplier, and the plants arrived shortly after.

The blurb said to put it in a spot where it wouldn’t be moved about, and it was advisable to wear gloves when handling… at this point I did wonder if I was purely introducing a posh nettle to the garden.

A location was swiftly found, and the plants went in a spot at the back of the veg plot. They’d be nicely out of the way of any ‘brush past’ incidents, and they could stay there forever to mature into fine old specimens.

After the plants had established themselves and started to grow with gusto, I decided to make some of that there comfrey tea. Donning my gloves, I pulled a load of the larger, lower leaves off and with a piece of garden netting, made a giant teabag to hang in the water butt.

After a couple of weeks, it was beginning to work its magic. The water was coming out a greeny colour, and everything I’ve watered with it seems to be romping along. The only downside is that it smells like a wrestler’s armpit. There’s a certain breathing whilst watering knack to be deployed, but that’s a small price to pay for miracle juice.

Comfrey tea and a scone anyone?

Comfrey

Over protective

Today, it’s to my shame to admit, but I actually got a tad over protective over a tomato plant. If the situation hadn’t been quickly deflected, it could have turned out to be a full-on domestic… and no-one wants one of those on a Bank Holiday!

Let me explain…

Knowing that we were in for some rain any time soon, I shot off into the garden to sort a few jobs out. The rockery was looking decidedly overgrown, and more like a shrub border, so I whipped out all the big plants, and replaced them with some dainty little numbers that we picked up yesterday.

I then collected and planted out some strawberry runners my friend had going spare. It’ll be cream teas for everyone very shortly, I can tell you…

Next up was a border to weed and two trays of Penstomen to plant. The bottom brassica border was in dire need of a weed, so that got a quick whiz over with the hoe.

The lawn then got mowed as it was looking decidedly desperate. Whilst tipping the lawn clippings in the compost bin, I discovered that one was rather full, with compost at the bottom of it. I lifted the top off the bin and repositioned it a short distance away, then proceeded to transfer the top of the pile into the bin, leaving the compost behind. That was soon into the wheelbarrow and over the potatoes. By this time, it’s fair to say, I had a bit of a sweat on.

It was just at this point that OH wandered down the garden, popped his head into the greenhouse, and came out proudly waving about half a tomato plant that he’d decided to snip off.

“What… is … THAT?” I hissed?

“It’s OK, it was growing in the ‘v’ bit,” he replied

“It’s got a bloody truss of flowers on it!” I shot back, near hysterical

He took offence to this, saying, “You wonder why I don’t get involved in the garden…”

“You can get involved all you like… I’ve been out here for ages, titting about, and you saunter down here and start chopping stuff off!”, to which he retreated back into the house.

On closer inspection, the chopped off bit was, indeed from the ‘v’ bit, so I sort of apologised, and we’re back on an even keel now.

Did I react too harshly? Has ‘Irreconcilable differences over the veg plot’ ever been cited in divorce proceedings? I wonder…

The art of the compost bin

There’s a definite food chain order in our house. Us – dog – chickens, and anything in between goes in the compost bin. Apparently you shouldn’t add potato peelings – rogue plants pop up all over the place, and definitely no meat, as it attracts rats. The last thing I want to encounter when I open the lid is Roland and all his mates taking advantage all that free grub and under floor heating.

It’s amazing that you can put a whole year’s worth of kitchen and garden waste in there, and it transforms into lovely crumbly compost. Well, that’s the theory. Mine never quite resembles the stuff off the telly, but each year it does get a little bit nearer.

When I first got my bins, I chucked everything in with gay abandon, and the end results were blocks of congealed rubbish. That was OK at the time though – a quick blast with the rotavator soon chopped it all up.

I then went to an event where a woman was demonstrating the art of the compost bin, and I asked her the secret was to getting some of the good stuff.

“What do you put in?” she asked,

I ventured, “Oh, the usual… grass clippings, garden cuttings, peelings and anything that comes out of the chicken coop when I muck them out”.

“Hmmm…. Seems like you are missing the browns”, she replied.

The browns…. What are these mysterious ‘browns’? She then explained that the bin should be filled in layers, with a layer of browns every now and again. Browns, I discovered, were cardboard items. Apparently this layer traps the heat and blasts all the stuff underneath.

I followed this advice, and my compost was still not as top notch as the Titch-meister’s, but was definitely heading in the right direction.

Idly flicking through a gardening book, I discovered the elixir of first class compost was, in fact, urine. Yes, urine, wee, call it what you like, contains some ingredient that helps the whole process along.

Easier said than done. Whilst I get on well with my neighbours, I’m sure the last thing they want to see when they look out of their window is me trying to …ahem…. add to the compost bin. And practically, I’m pretty certain I’d fall in. Turn to Plan B. From my knowledge of the male species, they love to go anywhere BUT in the toilet. With three boys in the house, I would soon be bottling the stuff! I briefed them on their mission, and even provided an old watering can outside the back door. One week later the can was empty. Dry as a bone. Obviously they weren’t quite so fired up about this idea as I was.

I’ve had to resort layering up as before, and adding a bit of plain old water every now and then if the pile looks dry.

This appeared in the Hinckley Times on 24 may 2012