Growing Practice Urban

Thinning Out

Be strong-minded. Sow thinly.

Leonard Wickenden

As a grower, as in so many areas of life, I am very much still learning. My biggest newb error this year has been to sow seed too densely. It’s very embarrassing. In mitigation, I haven’t made this error universally across my growing, only with these plants.

The problem is that all the seed for these plants is my own. And I have so FUCKING VERY much of it. Plants create incredible amounts of seed, it only stays viable for a certain amount of time, and it seems rude to waste. And so like a total idjut I have sperlunked too much of it into these pots. As a result, were I not to intervene, things are going to go from bad to worse. These would all choke themselves to death,

I’ve made a crude attempt to thin them out. Yanking seedlings out by the roots (badly disrupting their neighbours) and either repotting the remains, or putting more soil underneath them in their exiting pots. It looks like a total car crash right now. The limanthes, butchered. I’m hoping most will recover… I’m optimistic. But what else can you do?

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Broad Bean Harvest 2024

The broad beans that I planted in December were ready to be picked. They hadn’t formed nearly as big a bush as last year.

The harvest wasn’t bad, but was not as impressive as before.

These stems went onto the compost heap.

I think this shows the limits of the viability of applying No Dig principles to containers. There’s not enough nutrients OR biology to support more growth.

And I’d taken measures. Rotating the crops, and after all beans are a legume, after the first round of them I’ve had buckwheat and nigella before this crop. I’ve also applied leaf mould. And chanted my mantra over them too, innit.

Digging it out, I WAS surprised to see that the trough was not root bound.

But equally it was rooty enough…

The box itself, given to me by my dear-departed father-in-law, was in need of some repairs. This was another reason to crack into it.

Sieving the soil produced these nuggety chunks of clay. So hard they felt almost like gravel. Sorry, but in no way could these be an optimal growing environment…


But it wasn’t all barren! There was a lot of insect life. No doubt from the poor guys who lost their homes in my demolishment. Aah, they’ll be OK! I will look after them. It’s mainly wood lice, but there’s other stuff happening. Wait for the cat’s miaow at the end.

But check out these nitrogen nodules on the broad bean plant’s roots. This has been the first time I have seen this with my own eyes. Very impressive.

I mixed the sieved soil from the wooden trough with a mixture of Lakeland Gold compost and some Carbon Gold fertiliser pellets. Heaven knows if that will work?

This new soil went into a shelter I’ve built for the next crop, buckwheat and a few others in pots.

The beans themselves were delicious.

I shared them, steamed and then dressed with olive oil and salt, with Mrs Ingram.

Ecology Growing Urban

Spontaneous Fungal Eruption

The woodchip mulch I used on this Bay bush suddenly sprouted these mushrooms one morning. That was at once to be expected and a surprise. They had all disappeared by the end of the day.

Growing Soil Urban

Terminating Green Manures

“Terminating” – that’s actually the correct technical term here. These clovers were planted last December and now are mostly (but not all) terminated to make way for my sunflowers.

They did an amazing job looking after two large pots of my compost – stopping them getting leached by the winter rains and preventing weeds growing on them.

I didn’t see any nitrogen nodules on their roots. If I had waited for them to flower, that would have been evident, I expect. Still, the biomass itself is great and goes straight into the compost heap.

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Fooling around with 20m2 on a roof terrace in the centre of London, there are distinct limitations to one what can achieve in a garden. I could, as the genius Mark Ridsdill Smith does, grow a lot more vegetables. However, my own view is that whatever vegetables I grow to eat – and this year it’s been spinach, leeks, rocket, red cabbage, yacon, potatoes, runner beans, broad beans, beetroot, and tomatoes – is only ever going to be a token, for giggles…

For whatever reason, after growing cavalo nero, lettuces, and spinach erbette, I’ve cooled on growing leaves. I’ll grow spinach again over the winter but, although they are touted as the best things to grow in the city (because they are fast to grow and expensive to buy), I find leaves somehow boring.

Equally I find most ornamentals, often highly cultivated plants you couldn’t imagine happening in nature, almost products of a laboratory, a very tedious thing to grow. The flowers I’m growing, borage, phacelia, limanthes, marigolds, sunflowers, dandelions, nasturtiums are found at vegetable-growing seed suppliers as varieties that are good for insect life. Even my most ornamental flowers honeysuckle, poppies, zinnias, dahlias, (this last especially a concession to Mrs Ingram who loves them – they are beautiful…) are renowned for being attractive to pollinators.

What works very well among these select vegetables, trees, and carefully-chosen flowers, are herbs. Ever since I came across Juliette de Ba├»racli Levy and went on Kirsten Hartvig’s amazing country ramble at Forest Row I’ve been enchanted by them and their awesome potential. In the city they really work well, they don’t take up masses of space, the bugs love them, and they are fascinating. Currently, I am growing nothing particularly far out.

I believe that what one grows in the city should fundamentally address our urban alienation from nature. That selection should be geared to making us connect with the process of growing, with the seasons, with the cycle of life and death, and our cosmic alignment. In the city, we can’t pretend that we’re living wholly natural lives, but at least we can use growing to keep in touch with those things; like a diver underwater has an oxygen tank.

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In the past I have never liked Sunflowers. I always felt there was something ungainly about them. That they were such a popular flower, I think also brought out my snobbishness. What is a music critic but a snob?

However, on my journey writing “The Garden” I came across them repeatedly. More than any other plant they are emblematic of the hippie movement. In practical terms, not only do they attract wildlife, they also create a crop with their seeds. They are not a boring ornamental.

For instance, this is Helen Nearing’s walled garden at The Good Life Center in Maine. I wish I had a better photo of the Sunflower itself, a volunteer which the center’s residents let grow because it was Helen’s favourite plant. You can see it in the distance against the back wall on the left.

Therefore, this year I decided to grow them myself. On the left in the seed tray are the classic Giant Yellow variety; on the right with the darker stalks are Velvet Queens.

When the seedlings got root bound, I graduated the larger ones to pots.

Here are the largest and most promising seven plants.

Then I started hardening them up outdoors on the roof garden where we get a lot of sun.

These too needed planting up quite quickly. Lorra growing power in Sunflowers which can reach up to 30 feet tall.

I planted the biggest three into my own compost in large pots which I had been protecting through the winter with clover. This will be their final destination. I’m excited to see how they will get on through the Summer.

Food Growing Urban

April Raised Bed Update

Half the Spinach was already harvested but I wanted to flip these beds to Beetroot.

I was very proud of these Leeks but they took FOREVER to grow.


Very nice crop of Spinach. Did well through the Winter.

Rocket was surprisingly excellent. I’ve a bad habit of leaving it too long. It then gets woody, “lignin”, but this was delicious.

After everything had been harvested.


Mulched with this stuff which I bought by accident but subsequently got great value out of.

Out come the Beetroot seedlings from under the grow-lights. Less far along than I was with the soil blocks last year.

Looking very cheerful in their new home. Gotta love Beetroot.

Planting my other seedlings from indoors. Chamomile. Calendula. Red Cabbage. Rosemary. For the first time, I sieved my potting compost. I’m going to do this every time from now onwards.

Pretty alarming all this huge debris. Great compost though – and this stuff is nice mulch for my bigger plants.

Here are the seedlings in their makeshift tent.

Washing Spinach.

Rocket and Spinach ready to eat.

Leeks steaming on the stove.

Growing Practice Soil Urban

JADAM Sulphur

[Once again – please don’t follow my inexact instructions – instead refer to the JMS recipe on page 284 of the Second Edition of JADAM Organic Farming.]

This is my final JADAM post for the time being. Beyond JADAM’s pesticide and JADAM Microorganism Solution the third preparation which has appealed to me is JADAM Sulphur. or JS for short. JS claims to be “Effective against black spot, pear rust, powdery mildew, downy mildew, etc.” That’s to say as an “organic” herbicide treating fungal problems.

I don’t get much of this but what I do get I don’t like. Naturally I am doing what I can to make sure the soil health is as good as I can make it in containers, and that always needs to be one’s first step, but I need a little more help with these plants.

Here for instance is something which starts to affect my tiny apple tree’s leaves in spring, and by the summer has devoured the entire plant.

And here is a problem which affects the Acers in the back yard.

As you can see from Youngsang Cho’s video on YouTube the process of making JADAM Sulphur for oneself is a little bit fiddly and dangerous, but not prohibitively so.

It’s actually remarkable that one can perform the necessary chemistry at all. In the JADAM Organic Farming book Cho elaborates, “After nearly 100 experiments, I found the method to completely liquefy sulfur. I have still not forgotten the joy I felt that time. My small kitchen was my lab, it was around 3 a.m. that I knew I finally made it.” After further tweaks which meant that you didn’t need steel containers (the temperature gets very high) and the process could be done in plastic ones instead of immediately patenting his method Cho disclosed the knowledge.

However, in no circumstances will I need the 100 litres of concentrated JS that the recipe produces. Not even a fraction of that. To spray the plants I wanted I needed only 1 ml. That would be different if I had a market garden to deal with. So again, I used the JADAM concoction made by Dr Forest.

For one litre of solution (and this was 75cl) you need 10 ml of JWA.

I added to that 1 ml of Liquid Sulphur.

And sprayed it on my Japanese Maple and Amelanchier.

On another Japanese Maple and my Apple tree.

Maybe that will mean they stand a better chance this year? I feel optimistic! I took greater precautions this time when spraying. Wore rubber gloves and goggles. But I neglected to wear a face mask which was stupid. Even at this tiny concentration the Sulphur’s fumes are very strong. Today, the following day, one can still smell it. Last night there were absolutely no slugs whatsoever in the garden. That is uncanny. So perhaps they don’t like the smell either. That would be a bonus.

One final reflection. I thought that using JWA, the wetting agent, was supposed to mean that one doesn’t get droplets like these when one sprays. That’s evidently not working for here.

All told I have enjoyed following these three processes. However, I am neither totally convinced as to their efficacy, nor particularly enthusiastic about spraying chemicals like these in my garden. How these plants sprayed with JS fare in the coming months will be something of a litmus test for me.

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My Trees

I’ve been meaning to write a post about my trees for a while. Growing trees from their seeds takes a certain amount of care and patience.

I was worried about the health of these two Horse chestnut trees. I was sure they’d succumbed to fungus and died. But they’ve come back looking very strong this spring about which I’m delighted. I’d potted them up and put them in my own compost. These were grown from two conkers I found in the street around the corner in the autumn of 2023.

It’s troubling when young deciduous trees lose their leaves in the winter. You think they have come a cropper. This Oak I found as an acorn on Hampstead Heath. I think it’s going to do well this year. I gave its siblings to friends in Wales.

Since I rather optimistically planted a pip in a friend’s back garden in the early seventies when I must have been, ooh, six years old, growing an apple tree from a pip has been an cherished ambition. This was from an organic apple from the supermarket. I currently have a few more pips I’m hoping will sprout – one a particularly delicious variety I got from a farmer’s market, the other from the apple tree by the Caddy’s caravan in Findhorn. I read recently in Mark Ridsdill Smith’s excellent “Vertical Veg” book that apple trees do well in containers on roof gardens – so have redoubled my efforts. It’s all about tree crops, people.

Finally, this Ash tree, a volunteer which I have nurtured has really thrived from what was just a tiny weed. Very proud of it!

Ecology Growing Practice Soil Urban

JADAM Microorganism Solution

[Once again – please don’t follow my inexact instructions – instead refer to the JMS recipe on page 167 of the Second Edition of JADAM Organic Farming.]

Although the JADAM techniques contain an arsenal of homemade, cheap-to-make, organic pesticides and herbicides possibly the most important JADAM concoction is what is known as JMS, JADAM Microorganism Solution. This might be the easiest of all their recipes to make at home.

You start by finding leaf mold in unspoilt, nearby countryside, at the foot of the largest tree you can find.

You clear away the top leaves which have not decomposed and take some handfuls of the leaf mould beneath. We are all better educated about the importance of the healthy microbiome in our bodies; that natural balance of bacteria in our guts. This leaf mould from the woodland floor has about the best-balanced microbial profile that you could imagine. You’ve heard about fecal microbial transplantation? Well this is the same thing.

Cho, adopting the classical model of Eastern Philosophy, asks his students to not think about good-vs-bad microbes, “this dualistic thought of dividing good and bad is actually unscientific.” Damn straight.

Gather up a bagful of the valuable leaf mould – then, if you are anything like me, furtively cover your tracks!

At home chop up a couple of potatoes.

Boil them and mash them up, skins and all…

This is the resulting gloop to which I added sea salt. Sea salt, and indeed sea water, is a recurring motif within JADAM. The logic being that, in a weak solution, it represents an ideal mineral profile. What was once on the land flowed thence.

You then need a bucket full of either rainwater, or tap water which has been allowed to “de-gas” for 24 hours. You don’t want the chlorine wiping out all those lovely microorganisms.

You add the leaf mould and the potato gloop into a finely meshed bag.

The bag rests, brewing, like a tea bag for 3 days.

You keep a lid on the container so as to prevent animals and bugs getting at it.

This is how it looked after the first 24 hours. A bubbling fermentation builds up.

Here is a close-up after 24 hours. This needs more time. In a warmer climate, like that in South Korea where JADAM comes from, the bubbling is much more intense and you build up something like a thick scum on the surface. In cooler climes like mine it looks more subdued like this.

And this was after 48 hours. I know now that for the UK, at this time of year (even though it’s in the relative warmth of my study), that this is pretty excellent. In fact, I should have used the JMS at this stage. However, thinking I was going to get a scummy froth eventually, I hung around for another day.

This is after 72 hours – well maybe more like 60 hours – and to be honest it looks like I got to it too late. It’s useful to see I suppose… The bubbles have subsidised and a lot of the vitality has ebbed away. It’s still useful as a liquid fertiliser, what’s known as tea by horticulturalists.

Schlep the bucket into your garden.

Decant it as a concentrate into watering cans, and add roughly 20 parts water to 1 of the tea.

And sprinkle it over your plants. In this case my spinach.

It’s a very interesting process. Because I’ve been following No Dig principles in some containers (notably in my raised bed), it must surely help to add some biology back into the soil in this manner.

What I also did was sprinkle the leaf mould on the surface of a number of pots. That’s maybe a simpler thing to do. However, the advantage of the solution is that gets right into the roots.

One more final JADAM experiment to come shortly.