Categories
Food Growing Practice Soil Urban

Repotting

This morning I was repotting oak seedlings. These were grown from acorns I picked up on Hampstead Heath. Cosmos, and in the foreground courgette, also felt the love.

My own compost is fine for established plants and, well, filler – but you need something proper if you’re cherishing something.

So few of these courgette seedlings survived. I’m not taking any chances with them.

Categories
Ecology Growing Organic Practice Soil Urban

Compost

I don’t like to get into the whole G.A.S. thing with growing like I did around music. Of buying stuff. I have enough. Too much in fact.

Horticulture and agriculture are the same as the music business to some extent. Make no mistake, there’s no end of accessories and toys that are marketed to growers and farmers. To say nothing of the cost of land itself. But nowadays I’m a bit weary of being a consumer, and wary of being targeted as one.

Some products, however, are justifiable purchases. I couldn’t simply heap a load of rotting mulch into a corner of my roof garden. It would be exposed to the elements, stink, and be a magnet for pests. So in October 2022 I bought a Hotbin Mini so as to start my own composting. Here is the inside of the pristine bin which is starting to see a lot of wear and tear now.

It’s an ingenious system which drains leachate to a tank beneath it, is insulated by design (accentuating the thermal generation of the composting process), and it doesn’t require turning. The first thing you do is layer a bunch of sticks into the bottom.

Then you load, in layers, green and brown waste.

As I understand it green waste is: food scraps (uncooked vegetables, no meat) and garden waste (weeds are fine). Brown waste is: cardboard, paper and woodchip. This layering of the two kinds of material means that you preserve aeration. If you are just using green waste it tends to coalesce into a sludge. The technical term for this latter effect is anaerobic composting and it generates a lot of foul-smelling methane.

Your aim is to establish aerobic composting which is seen as being the way to get a superior compost. It evidently wasn’t always so, however, as I have recently been reading some sixties’ gardening books which, suggest t’other over the one.

Here’s a rather fetching full bin at the end of last year. [I don’t think those are flowers I grew actually.]

At the top of the bin there is a thermometer. I have never managed to get my heap to the heady heights of 50 degrees centigrade, but when everything is steaming away I have reached 40 degrees. A compost heap is, essentially, a bonfire…

After a straight sixty days last year, just as we were heading into winter, I pulled the plug on the process so as to download my black gold. [A note in passing: you can see the blue leachate cap here at the bottom. I emptied this liquid out and used it as a plant feed a lot last year – but I wasn’t convinced of its efficacy so this year I haven’t bothered.]

I believe that 2022’s compost broke down anaerobically a lot. Looking at it, it does appear a bit putrid. I had a few bad smells out in the garden which this year I have totally avoided.

However, I still got three large pots of excellent compost out of it. I dressed the surface with a good commercial compost to create a tilth and planted in them. Today these pots have an Ash Tree, a Dahlia, and Amaranth growing in them.

To solve the issue of the anaerobic effect I was having, I reasoned that I needed to get more aeration through the Hotbin. This March I went to a hardware store and bought a measure of plumber’s copper pipe.

This I drilled regularly-spaced holes in.

And sunk it down the middle of my new burgeoning heap.

This must have made a difference to the aeration. There are many accounts of people creating this style of chimney in compost heaps. However, the ones I have read of are created by building heaps around pipes (without holes in them) and then removing the pipe once the heap has reached its summit so as to create a natural cavity. Of course, it is highly unlikely I have pioneered a new technique.

Here is the pipe in situ. Towards the end of March I needed some more compost so I opened the bin up to see what was cooking.

To me this looked like a less noxious concoction than my previous batch. No, it doesn’t have that fine, chocolatey, crumbly, look of professional compost. However, mine is not ground up in any way or dried.

I have looked at grinders but reason that’s just another gadget that would sit on a shelf and only be used twice a year. What counts is its richness and biological liveliness – of which I have no way of measuring.

This time I needed to fill two pots to plant on Calendula seedlings that I had started indoors at the end of winter.

Again, the surface is dressed with commercial compost. Here are the Calendula seedlings, or Marigold as they are sometime called, moved onto my own compost.

This time I only emptied half the Hotbin with a view to keeping it running like a perpetual stew.

Here it is again, more recently, running at full capacity.

The Calendula is thriving off it.

Categories
Food Growing Urban

Beetroot Update

My beetroot laid out ready to plant on March 18th.

I can never get over the miraculousness of plants growing. Look how scrawny these beetroot seedlings looked just two months ago. And look at them now!

My beetroot on May 18th.

I’m well on my way to a bumper crop. Those worms can’t have done any harm.

Categories
Community Ecology Growing Practice Urban

Peter Saville’s CMYK Flower Beds

Peter Saville, the legendary designer best known for his work for Factory records, is our most-esteemed EC1 local luminary. In the past I had the opportunity to briefly meet and work with Peter at his studio on this Colorcalm DVD in 2005. He’s extremely charming and has a particularly inspired working method. At the time I took the opportunity to get a copy of “Closer” signed for my friend Mark Fisher which present I gave to Mark. I think in due course Mark went on to interview him. I see Peter around our neighborhood or down the shops from time to time, sometimes stopping to say hi to him. I don’t think he really knows who I am, which is no problem really. I hardly know who I am myself.

In 2006 it happened that our local St Luke’s Gardens were renovated. Seeing as how he was a local resident, the planners asked Saville to design something for the space. Inspired by the area’s traditional role as a centre of printmaking the idea was for beds with Cyan/Yellow/Magenta/Key (Black) plantings of flowers. Nice concept.

Fast forward eighteen years. As with these things so often the execution hasn’t kept up with the vision.

The first thing is that a slightly unsightly bird feeder has been installed in the middle of the centre “puck”.

I don’t really mind this so much, because I happen to like birds, but it’s a bit of a car crash.

Easier to address is that the planting has gone awry. I can see Magenta, Yellow, and Black here – but the Cyan definitely needed a hand. This would be so simple for Islington council to rectify but quicker to fix myself.

I ordered a small pack of Blue Cornflower seeds from the reliable Tamar Organics (Centauria cyanus should anyone accuse me of messing with the concept). This is a flower that bugs love.

These are the most remarkable seeds I have ever seen, like miniature shaving brushes.

I put a little seed compost down, because these guys wouldn’t survive just dumped into the parched flowerbed, and gave them a generous watering.

Yeah, no worries, you’re welcome.

Categories
Agriculture Ecology Growing Organic Practice Soil

Trap Crop

My Guinness traps have been very effective at snaring them but I still have to destroy slugs and snails every night. I’m out late with the torch on my phone and some repurposed kitchen tongs. Often I find these slimy critters clustered around these home-made devices where I intercept them. It’s one of the downsides of having to do this before bedtime that the activity has been threatening to permeate my dreams.

Apart from this, although I have lots of insect activity I’m really happy about, bees, wasps, hover flies, butterflies and now worms, I have had precious few pests. That’s a benefit one reaps from looking after the soil and keeping it healthy (organic compost, no pesticides, no dig) and also having a diversity of planting (which includes some weeds that I have encouraged). The less diversity the weaker the ecosystem and the greater the need for pesticides.

One of the weeds I have let grow in pots is Dock. I never gave this much thought. Although I uprooted it from some pots, for instance I ripped out a massive Dock which had sprung up where I am growing an Apple tree, in a few spots I have left it. What I could not have foreseen was how this would benefit me so dramatically.

For some reason a swarm of Aphids chose one Dock over and above any other plant in the garden to settle on. Even better, there they are being farmed by some Ants.

Farmers sometimes use what is called a Trap Crop to draw pests away from valuable ones. A classic example is how Alfalfa is planted to draw the Lygus bug away from Cotton plantations. Weeds can apparently function in the same way.

Categories
Ecology Food Growing Health Practice Wilderness

Dandelions

Last year some Dandelions sprung up in the garden and I was delighted.

Rather than just let nature take its course I thought I would cultivate them. Here are the seeds I gathered last year.

I planted them in seed trays here on the far left. Then transplanted the most successful ones into pots. It was fun doing this with a “weed”.

They bloom very early in the season. This is them at the very start of April. They open in the morning and shut in the evening in a very pronounced way that, familiar as we are with flowers in vases, one tends to forget.

Just as quickly they transform into their “clock” form. This was taken on the 15th April a mere two weeks afterwards.

Heaven in a Wild Flower

Here’s a close-up of the same head which image I’m using as an icon on my email account at the moment.

You can eat Dandelions and they are supposed to be good for you. I tried the yellow flower heads and the leaves. They taste ok but they might benefit from some vinaigrette.

One of my very earliest childhood memories was of eating Dandelion stalks. These are hollow tubes which you can split open and flatten out. Never did me any bloody harm I can tell you.

This photo, taken today on May the 5th shows how quickly the season is over. Perhaps they will flower again this year?

Again, I gathered some seeds. [David Attenborough VO:] And so the cycle repeats itself.

Rock nerds will know that Dandelion was the name of John Peel’s record label. Peel may have been aiming for the same free-wheeling, raggle-taggle vibe that characterises the plant but apparently the name came from one of his hamsters at the suggestion of his then flat-mate Marc Bolan.

Categories
Food Growing Practice Soil Urban

Melon

Last Summer I ate a particularly delicious melon I bought from the supermarket. I thought I would try my hand at growing some from its seed.

Here they are planted in soil blocks. In fact this lot totally failed to germinate. A bit casually I didn’t use seed compost. Normal compost is a bit coarser and it seemed like the seedlings couldn’t struggle their way through it. I thought this was yer typical gardener’s myth but it turned out to be true.

Undeterred I tried again with a finer compost (this time in a seed tray) and they grew very vigorously.

Supposedly melons need a warmer temperature to grow in our climate. They will do well in a green house but I don’t have one of them. The window in my room has a nice south-facing aspect. It gets a lot of sun. So I planned to grow them there. I prepped a trough on the window sill, suspending stones on strings from the frame above so they would sit under each of the three root balls. By this method I plan to train the melon’s vine around each string.

When I popped the three strongest-looking seedlings out of the tray the roots were looking healthy. As far as I know that circular one off the bottom is the tap root.

I sunk them in deep burying the stem underground. This is cool apparently. Gets them snug.

A week or so later they are really thriving. I will update you on their progress. Let’s see if we can’t grow something we can eat.

Categories
Growing Health Practice Soil

Worms

Red worms from Yorkshire.
Welcoming these new friends.
Some for the compost heap.
Some for the leeks.
Some for the carrots.
Some for the beetroot.
Categories
Growing Health Practice Therapy Wilderness

Snails

Over the past few years I have frequently agonised over what to do with snails in my tiny garden. I’ve gone as far as airlifting them to local parks.

It’s been a tremendous weight off my conscience to realise that I don’t have to tolerate them. Consequently when I discover snails, like this one in a nightly sortie, I throw them away.

I’m happy to welcome cats, birds, flies, caterpillars, wasps, weeds, and all manner of bugs. But not snails, they can fuck off.

Categories
Food Growing Urban

Rocket

I sowed Rocket last October. With the Broad Beans it was the only thing which I grew through the winter.

You can see it here in the autumn just beginning to sprout beside the Red Cabbage.

Rocket is amazingly hardy – surviving even the snow.

By last week it was a riot. But the stems had started to get quite tough and it was beginning to flower. That’s supposed to make the plant bitter to eat. Tasted fine to me. Nice and peppery.

I like this shot deep in the foliage. It gives one the sense of being its own little cosmos.

By Old Street standards I got a pretty huge crop which did about three meals.

Here is the bed tidied up, mulched with some compost, and sown with Leeks. Thought I would give them a try because my daughter has always loved them.

From farm to table. XD.