Ecology Food Growing Organic Practice Urban

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.

Growing Urban

JADAM Slug Control

[Please note – do not follow my instructions here – refer to JADAM’s own recipe on page 346 of the Second Edition of JADAM Organic Farming.]

The spring is a big time for slugs and snails. I found this out to my cost last year. This year I noticed earlier and decided to bring the ruckus sooner. I don’t own ducks (pace Mollison) and therefore need to be the predator myself.

Youngsang Cho is a man after my own heart. Undergoing four NDEs and living with “the realization that my death was always near” Cho, a brilliant chemist, decided to share rather than claim exclusive rights to his knowledge. He writes, “I could have gained enormous wealth through patents, but I gave up for the greater good.” This decision was influenced by his passion for both Jesus Christ and Karl Marx. Cho describes having an apocalyptic vision of a capitalist society and thus embarked “on a long journey to liberate agricultural technology from monopoly capital, by following the spiritual ideals of two great teachers.” He is a bonafide genius.

I’ve been studying Cho’s JADAM Organic Farming Technology and decided to make the assault on the Phylum Mollusca the first part of my investigation into it. Credit must also go to Garden Like A Viking for his adaptation of Cho’s recipe which includes adding garlic.

First blend two cloves of garlic with a jam jar of water.

Let the resulting garlic juice sit for half an hour.

Make JADAM wetting agent. This is a soap. Its application means that there’s no surface tension on what you spray. An application coats leaves evenly.

As tempting as it was to make this JWA myself – it simply wasn’t economical to buy huge catering buckets, a paint-stirrer, gallons of purified water, rapeseed oil, and source Potassium Hydroxide.

If I had a market garden, maybe! But not for my tiny roof garden. So, I bought this wetting agent off Dr Forest on eBay. I needed roughly a cap full of this.

And this is Sodium Hydroxide. Of which I needed only a teaspoon. Now for the contentious part… Mine is not a truly organic garden. I have, for instance, purchased compost which wasn’t organic. It would also be entirely pointless to get it certified. However, I have generally abided by the spirit of organic growing. Up to this point, a few years in, I haven’t used any chemical fertiliser, herbicide, or pesticide.

JADAM is, they claim, made entirely with chemicals which are USDA Organic approved. That’s to say they are supposed to be approved under American Organic regulations.

In the JADAM Organic Farming book one can find tables from the USDA which specify that these two chemicals are “Inerts of Minimal Concern.” Summarising the documents below, you’re only prohibited from using NaOH and KOH to peel fruit and vegetables. KOH you can even use to peel peaches.

JADAM also have on their website a document written to them which clarifies that these chemicals abide by USDA Organic regulations:

However, neither Potassium Hydroxide nor Sodium Hydroxide are chemicals approved by the UK’s Soil Association. Furthermore, it might need to be pointed out that these USDA Organic regulations are the same ones which allow Hydroponic growing and Concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) to be certified as organic.

Gotta be straight with you, I don’t think this is what Sir Albert and Lady Eve had in mind. There are also rumblings from American farmers which one can read in the comments box:

Did this stop me? In fact, no. Because I detest snails and slugs, because Potassium Hydroxide is just an ingredient of soap which decays in the process of its manufacture, and Sodium Hydroxide breaks down relatively quickly into salts which are, broadly-speaking, positive amendments to the soil. I don’t need to worry about losing my organic certification, because I’m not certified. JADAM is fascinating and I was very curious to try.

All these ingredients: the garlic, water, JWA, and Caustic Soda I mixed up into roughly 2 litres of juice.

And in the dead of night (because you can’t spray this stuff during the day) I sprayed my plants. This is me spraying the Yarrow I got from Anthroposophy HQ, Emerson College at Forest Row. For some reason the slugs love the Yarrow. Rudolf Steiner will be turning in his grave – preferring, probably, that I would incinerate a single slug and dilute and spray its ashes everywhere. I may yet try that…

I followed this process on the 26th and 27th of March and sprayed for two nights in what has been peak slug era. What did alarm me was that on the first night, being a little gung ho, I got the spray on my hands. I think I was carried away with all the hype of how harmless this stuff was. I ended up getting it on my arms and face.

It was not only very irritating but also slightly painful. Here’s a post by the Okanagan Okanogan blog which goes into a heavy-critique of JADAM and the effects of NaOH. Not deterred I took more precautions the second night, was like really careful, and still managed to get some small amount vapour in one of my eyes. This was sore and, because it was in my eye, also a bit worrying. If I sprayed again, which to be honest is unlikely, I would wear goggles, not just glasses. Even the odour of the garlic has lingered somewhat unpleasantly…

The following night, the 28th of March I found the slugs and snails still very busy. Was their activity less than it would otherwise have been? It’s impossible to tell, but to be honest I was disappointed. I think if one was trying to subdue slugs and snails on a 3 acre market garden this might be an excellent solution – but I don’t think it was appropriate to my situation.

Henceforth I am going to return to my tried-and-tested technique of going out after 10pm, picking the tiny fuckers off with tongs and dumping them in very strong brine. This being my own unpatented method and one most suitable to my twenty square metres.

This, however, is not the end of my JADAM experiments. There are a further two more to come.

Food Growing Urban

Winter Spinach Harvest

My spinach did so well over the winter.

Ecology Growing Soil

Tiger Worms from Yorkshire

Reinforcements arrived.

Food Growing Organic Practice Urban

March 2024

I mentioned a couple of posts ago that there was nowt going on. But now the building work is [really finally] over and I’ve finished the first draft of the book. Simultaneously, suddenly, spring is upon us. It’s unlikely that we will see another frost until the end of the year.

I’ve planted the first batch of seeds. Compost here is all Carbon Gold (Biochar All-purpose outside and Biochar Seed Compost indoors). All seeds not my own, or sourced elsewhere, are from Tamar Organics.

From Top left to bottom right: Beetroot, Sunflowers (two varieties), Allium (that I found drying in the green house beside the Caddys’ caravan in Findhorn), Rosemary (the herb favoured most highly by Juliette de Ba├»racli Levy), Calendula, and Chamomile.

The Sunflowers are a departure for me. I was always on the fence with them in the past but in the course of writing “The Garden” I’ve become keen on them. They, of course, also produce a crop. The Sunflower was Helen Nearing’s favourite plant.

From left to right: Yarrow (from Emerson College), Dandelion (cultivated from volunteer), Buddleja (cultivated from volunteer), Horse Chestnut (found in the street), Thyme, Rosemary, Apple (from Sam’s Biology tutor), Oregano, Dandelion (cultivated from volunteer), Borage (from last year’s seeds), Calendula (from last year’s seeds), Cosmos (from last year’s seeds).

From back to front: Buckwheat (from last year’s seeds), Nigella (from last year’s seeds), Clover.

Back to front: Echinacea (these need repotting), Limnanthes x2 (from last year’s seeds).

From left to right: Apple, Amaranth (from last year’s seeds), Ash (A volunteer), Yacon (tubers from the plant I got from Ann Sears), my old Dogwood, Mint (last years seedling which I cut back and mulched and which have bounced back), and Rocket (a bit like a weed it seems).

The Spinach and Leeks have really thrived over the winter in the raised bed. I need to actually harvest both soon.

From Left to right: Nasturtiums (from Findhorn), Lavender, Honeysuckle, and the green manures (this is basically my home made compost sown with clover, alfalfa etc. into which I’m going to plant seedlings once they are ready). Nasturtiums are really underrated as a food crop. The leaves and the seeds (very peppery) are delicious.

And here are the Black Cat and the Grey Cat with the broad beans planted in December. They are so happy to be out on the roof garden again after a really beastly winter coping with dust and rubble indoors. This tiny landscape fills me with joy and anticipation. So lovely to have seeds there from my journey.

Community Ecology Growing Wilderness

Geodesic Dome Patent Drawings

Every communard’s favourite. The template for many a green house. Look! You can inspect Buckminster Fuller‘s patent application for the Geodesic Dome!

Agriculture Growing


It’s been very quiet chez Sick Veg and the reason is… it’s the winter.

Nothing much is growing apart from my spinach (see top photo). It’s one of those relatively rare vegetables that keeps going – even if its growth slows right down.

The way that winter suspends everything is one major reason why farmers across Europe have taken the opportunity to protest. Yes, they are infuriated about losing their subsidies, but any other time of the year they wouldn’t have the time to blockade roads.

It’s also the reason that, although there’s not much going on on this blog, I’ve been busy. I’ve taken the seasonal opportunity to interview a lot of people for my forthcoming book. They wouldn’t have the time to talk to me any other time of the year.

Simultaneously, on top of my day job as an animator, we’ve been doing the house up. That’s meant five months of scaffolding, rubble, and paint fumes. A painfully expensive, time-consuming nightmare which has been a necessity. Thankfully that’s now over.

While I finish the book it will probably remain quiet here. But come the spring I will again have the opportunity, and material, to update more often.

Growing Soil Urban


In my heart I wasn’t sure if these would sprout having been planted so late in the year. So exciting to see them springing to life in this deadest of all times. Merry Christmas everyone!

Food Growing Organic Practice Soil Urban

Broad Beans 2023

I first planted Broad Beans on December 4th 2021. See the photos from 2021 below. This will then be third year I have planted them in the same pot.

No dig aficionados will be interested to know that at no point have I thrown away the soil in this container. I have merely cut the plants away at their base, leaving the roots in the soil, and refreshed the pot by means of growing (another) legume like the Buckwheat I cut down in the autumn, and dressed the surface with compost.

As far as I know this is pretty extreme. When people talk about No Dig, they are applying the method to a bed in the ground, not to containers. I’m not even certain whether it is supposed to work in pots. It seems logical, however, that the roots of older plants will decompose into the soil, and that the actions of worms (of which there are few in here) will create some aeration. However, I’m almost certain that I would get better growth if I composted the remaining soil after harvest and started again with a whole fresh round of compost. Even if I dug it up and mixed in some compost – No Dig heresy. So, it’s an experiment.

What I can vouch for is that using 2021’s Super Aquadulce beans as a seed stock, planting my own beans as seeds, created smaller and less productive plants. Of course, 2022’s smaller crop might equally have been to do with this No Dig “in container” method I have been experimenting with? This year, I reasoned, it was a good idea to buy in fresh bean stock from Tamar Organics by which approach I will be able to eliminate what caused the smaller growth. Science innit.

Also I have reflected that, with the amount of care one lavishes on a plant through the year, getting a mediocre crop is dispiriting. I know some people are militant about only using their own seed, a logic that they extend to disparage the use of F1 seeds, but as far as I’m concerned it’s cool. I mean, none of us is an island! As fun as it is to grow from one’s seed (and I have a bumper crop of seeds to sow in Spring 2024) total self-sufficiency as position is overrated.

As far as F1 seeds go, this is where I’m squarely with the Wizards. Of course GMOs are heresy, lunacy, but we should use whatever breeding techniques we can to make great crops; to make organic work. In actual fact these Super Aquadulce beans aren’t F1s. But some F1s, even if I can’t use their seed, that’s gotta be cool. This year I bought some Spinach, “Tundra F1,” which I look forward to growing again.

I was delighted with the latest batch of compost out of my hot bin.

Ooo-arrr. Look at that there compost (Here dressing my Mint pot).

And here it is laid out as a sheet mulch, spread like thick like butter, on my broad bean box.

The box sited. Here it gets a lovely long day of light as the sun sweeps from east to west.

Here are the beans. Sown squarely. Next year I will try the Biointensive method of sowing in triangular formation. It does make sense.

As Henry Thoreau said, “What shall I learn of beans or beans of me?”