Community Practice Soil Spirituality Urban

Miles’s Lane

I noticed this chap’s grave on my periodic visit to Bunhill Fields to say hello to William Blake and the other nonconformists. This being 2024 you can look up a performance of Shrubsole’s music. May he rest in peace.

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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.

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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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.

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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.

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.

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Tiger Worms from Yorkshire

Reinforcements arrived.

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!

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Green Manure

“Green manures… on Old Street?!” I hear you say. “In Central London?! Why sir, you are a mad fellow indeed! A mad chap for sure!”

In this pursuit of soil regeneration in my container pots I thought this was worth experimenting with. Green manures are, by definition, NOT No Dig. The idea with them is that you grow these leguminous nitrogen-fixing plants, and then, when they are fully-grown, cut them down and dig them into the surface of the soil. By just digging down a few inches I aim to come to a sensible compromise.

According to the packets these should have all been sown at the end of summer after I had harvested my vegetables, flowers, and herbs. Really they are used by farmers after cutting down a whole field of wheat or barley, to give the soil a rest, a bump of nitrogen and some decaying organic matter. The really smart farmers, in my view, grow a legume which will double as a crop – the best example would be something like a Peanut (which doesn’t grow well in my climate as far as I am aware) or, better (because I love to eat and do so daily), Buckwheat.

My Broad Beans are at the back under this mesh with which I am protecting these beds from the Black Cat who clambers all over any empty pots. In the foreground are six pots full of these clovers and alfalfa (a crop itself I guess).

Let’s see whether anything grows or whether the seeds rot before it’s time for them to sprout…

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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?”