Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Dubdug rising - a new project

A few weeks ago I was contacted by a fellow Master Composter to see if I was willing to help out a friend with her allotment.
This friend has been experiencing back problems for the past couple of years and as a consequence, she has lost control of her plot, and needs some help to get it back in order.
I agreed to meet up with her to take a look and initially I was shocked at how overgrown the allotment is.
When I looked a bit closer though, I could see that under the bindweed, there is the bones of a really great allotment plot. My friend had experimented with straw bale cultivation, and I find that really exciting. The bales that are currently there need replacing, but they give a really interesting dynamic to the allotment.

My approach will be to break down the plot into task sized chunks. It is all too easy to look at the whole thing (the 'big picture') and to feel overwhelmed, so just tackling a single area at a time is something that works well for me. I started with the strawberry bed, it was so overgrown that you couldn't even see the globe artichokes over the bindweed that was strangling them.
I've now moved on to the area around the straw bales covering the ground with thick layers of cardboard. I really want to try to get the plot under control using 'no dig' methods. I want to help to create a plot that is as back friendly as possible.

My friend had also used some amazing large industrial sink type things to create really interesting planters. She'd planted them up with a range of mints. I've now weeded round them (they were full of docks) and planted an empty one up with some winter lettuce and an old rosemary plant I found feeling very sorry for itself in a pot.
So, I'm facing a new challenge whilst also managing my own garden, my daughter's garden and doing the final year of my OU degree. Oh yes, and I work full time in a demanding job....Work/life balance hey?

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Green waste collection

Along with most Local Authorities, the County Council in Suffolk is having to make some difficult decisions about funding. One of the outcomes of the recent budget setting was to cease a subsidy for green waste collections. Whilst my own Borough council has taken the decision to continue to provide this service free of charge, some of the other second tier councils have felt that they need to introduce a charge, and one was charging already.
This decision along with the visit to the green waste processing plant when doing my Master Composter training has focused my thoughts on this subject. On one hand it can be argued that the collection of green waste by Local Authorities makes it easy for people not to have to think about home composting, and on the other that this service means that people who would otherwise have put green waste in their household waste bin are now involved in composting, albeit on an industrial scale.
There is variation between councils as to what can be put in the brown/green bin. Where my daughter lives all food waste and garden waste can be disposed of in the brown bin. This is because the plant where the waste is processed uses extremely high temperatures to help the composting process. My council will collect garden waste and raw vegetable waste and clean natural animal bedding, but cooked food and bread can not be included.
Over the past year or so I have been increasingly aware of the food that we waste. I never used to give it much thought, because nearly everything went into the compost bin, but I now think that if we do not start with the first R: Reduce, and put all our energies into the second two: Reuse and Recycle, then we are missing out on addressing the key issue of our over-consumption. I do think that the ready ability of green waste collection to collect some or all of our food waste could appease our conciences without making us think about why we are generating the waste in the first place. Home composting could be said to increase our awareness by keeping the recycling of our waste extremely close to home - in our own back yards in most cases.
One of the shocking things about the visit to the municipal green waste collection depot was just what ends up in the brown/green bins - most significantly a huge amount of plastic. The team at the plant do their best to pull most of this out, but inevitably some finishes up in the end product, and is effectively shredded down so  much that it becomes invisible. It would certainly make me think again about buying any of the soil improver to use anywhere where I was going to grow anything that would be eaten.
So the question I have been asking myself is "should I stop using my brown bin?" and instead home compost 100% of the green waste  that we produce. As a household of vegetarians with a mainly dairy free diet, I must admit that I have never had any problems home composting our cooked food waste as well as any peelings etc. However, our garden is modest in size and it is the woody prunings that I would find the most challengeing to manage in my home composting system.

This morning I pruned back an extremely overgrown and thorny rose bush and a beech hedge that had not been pruned for the last two or three years. Whilst I keep the chunky stems back to use for stakes, and some of the sturdier bits to use as pea sticks, some of the whippy growth I put in the brown bin. If I'd had a garden shredder to hand, I would have shredded a large proportion of this, and would have then used it as a mulch or added it to the compost bin. This, I think is the main advantage of the large scale collection and composting  that Council collections enable. Where we do not have the capacity to Reduce and Reuse, and we cannot Recycle the bulkier waste at home, then our Local Authorities have a role in helping us to still avoid landfill or driving to a local waste site. In Suffolk all household waste that is collected is now incinerated to rpoduce energy, but apparently the inclusion of food and green waste impairs the efficiency of the operation.
My thorny and woody prunings in the brown bin

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Master Composter

One of the things that I have done during my time off from blogging is to qualify as a Master Composter. Where I live in Suffolk, this is a joint venture between Garden Organic and the County Council.
I had to do a very enjoyable two day course, and then have to commit a minimum of 30 hours to promoting the benefits of home composting in the County. So far I have done some 1-1 sessions with friends and staffed stalls at County Council HQ, the Suffolk Show and Folk East festival.
I have decided to use this blog to also publish some reviews of different home composting systems based on my own experience of using them at home and with other projects.
I stress the fact that my reports will be from my own experience, and anecdotes provided by other people - it may well be that you would have a totally different experience of the same equipment.

Basically organic matter will, over time, break down to form what we would all recognise as compost. If you were just to pile organic waste in a corner it would eventually form compost. However most of us use a recepticle of some kind to help us with this process, if only to keep things neat.
 In my reasonable small urban garden I used to have two wooden bins and when these eventually rotted away, I replaced them after much research, with the Earth Maker plastic compost system.

The idea is that it is a three part system and that you move the organic matter through at different stages. This works well in theory, but the bin itself is rather fiddly to use. Between stages one and twowhere there is a slot in the picture above, there should be a pull-out section which seperates the two areas. What I found is that it is impossible to get this back in once you have any amount ofmatter in the bin. I have now removed this, so the rotting matter drops through into the second section as I fill the top area.

It is then even more awkward to move the partially rotted compost down to the bottom section. You have to remove the front cover and use the tool provided to push through the hole shown above which is about the width of a fairly small arm. Because of the height of this hole I have to almost lie flat on the ground to do this (as I don't bend very easily).
However, despite the challenges that there are with this bin it does seem to work extremely well, and the end result is genuinely some of the best compost I have made.  It is fine and crumbly and very soil like. This may partially be down to my improved knowledge about getting the 'mix' right, but I do think that the bin system may also play a part.
End-stage compost
The bin seems really healthy and the red compost worms have no trouble finding their way into the top section to start their work. It is not rodent proof, but you could try putting some narrow guage wire on the bottom if this were an issue. Personally, I don't mind providing a home for a few mice and they keep the compost well aerated. One of my cats will also indulge in a spot of occasional population control. I will provide some tips on dealing with rodents in compost bins in later postings as this does seem to be one of the most frequently asked questions when we are doing stalls.
In conclusion, my experience is that the Earth Maker provides good results, but needs some re-design to make it more user-friendly. It is useful in a small space, but is not the cheapest option available.


I've been absent from this blog for a long time and there have been some changes over those couple of years. Due to being far too busy at work, ill health, caring responsibilities and then an unexpected inheritance of a second garden, I sadly had to give up the allotment last year. It was a really hard decision, but I knew that it was the right thing to do. Time (or lack of it) was always going to be my enemy.
We spent the autumn last year clearing and renovating the property that came with the inherited garden, and so now is the time to start the work on clearing and bringing into productivity, a beautiful yet much neglected space.
So Dubdug is now about a new project with a few challenges and surprises thrown in.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Lasagna composting

Along with most people, 2012 was a real wash out for my garden and allotment. Apart from a great garlic crop (which we are still getting through) and good autumn fruiting raspberries, everything else was either washed out or munched to oblivion by slugs and snails.
After the long and cold winter that we've just had, I am really looking forward to the coming growing year with a renewed enthusiasm. My greenhouse is full of seedling trays, to such an extent that I'm having to come up with creative ways of finding more space in there.
Last autumn we gave away some bikes to a couple of friends, who in return offered to make me some new raised beds at the allotment. This was done a couple of weeks ago. They're great and double height to minimise the amount of bending that I have to do.
I've always had the aim of getting to a 'no dig' system at the allotment which is what I have at home, but the pernicious weed problem has so far prevented this. We have a significant amount of mares' tail and bindweed as well as the other usual suspects (couch grass and dock). However, I was inspired by a talk given by Alys Fowler that I attended this week to give lasagna composting a go in my new beds. She used in it her back garden and effectively has eradicated mares' tail from her growing areas. This method involves gradually building up in layers and letting nature take care of developing a healthy balanced soil over time.
I've done a bit of research on the web and from a few, mainly American, sites have I think got an idea of how to do it. What I have realised after starting today is that this method takes a remarkable amount of material and I can tell that I will need to reserve my green waste over the next few weeks for this alone, rather than putting it out on the compost heap.
The bed that I've started on is 8' x 4' and is 12" deep, sitting on top of an existing 6" raised bed. I started off my trampling over the existing green growth in the bed, and then added a layer of newspaper (4-5 sheets thick) which I watered well.
I then added a layer of partially decomposed leaf mould
then some green waste
then another layer of wet paper and finally some well rotted compost and manure.
As you can see, I have got about half way up the bed so am anticipating that I am going to have to repeat all the layers again plus keep topping up as it settles.
I am hoping that I will be able to grow courgettes and squash in there this year and have a bed that is ready for full use by next spring.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Bite sized chunks

I woke up this morning in a weird mood. This doesn't happen to me very often thankfully, but when the  black dog does start to descend on me, I have to take my self off and do something - usually involving dirt and plants. So this morning I went down to the allotment at about 7.30am. At first I was filled with panic, it was so overgrown. All I could see was a jungle of weeds (and our allotment plot is a who's who of pernicious weeds), and what few crops that were remaining had been attacked by slugs and snails. I know that when I get that 'this is too much to cope with feeling' I need to take it a bit at a time and not look beyond the bit that I am working on, so I started harvesting and digging up the last of the broad beans and starting my counter attack from there.
It got me thinking about what a useful approach this can be in other situations that feel overwhelming because there seems to be so much to do. It's a tactic I should use more at work. There are times when my 'to do' lists become the problem rather than the solution, if like the allotment this morning, I look at the whole thing rather than taking each bit at a time.
So I got some digging done, harvested my paltry potato crop and started planning in my head for next year. This year's rain and slug and snail problem has literally washed out all my aspirations. However just as I was leaving today, I looked at my autumn fruiting raspberry canes - which are flourishing with hundreds of fruits coming on. My default positivity was restored and I went home to cook a masterly veggie breakfast.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Where there is disorder..

Thank you to Nigel for giving up a few hours yesterday to help me get on top of the allotment, which had been rapidly spiralling into oblivion under couch grass. This had been caused by a combination of adverse weather, health and the great growing conditions for weeds.
Now, a few metres of strummer wire and pulled muscles later, I feel back on top of things.

A smile of thanks for Nigel because I know that there are many things that he would rather have been doing yesterday.

Good use being made of all the old 'Advisernet' CDs we found when we moved office a couple of weeks ago. The pigeons had been at my peas.

The autumn planted garlic, onions and shallots are doing well.

The wet, muddy and aching look - what a style guru I am!

Sunday, 29 January 2012

'Twas a cold & frosty morn

I got to the allotment today for the first time in many weeks - having been held back by firstly a trapped nerve in my arm, and then a chest infection.
It was a beautiful crisp and clear morning and luckily the allotment had not suffered too much for my absence. Yes, I've got some weeding to catch up on, but the autumn planted garlic and onions are coming up well. The kale has done really well, and doesn't seem to have objected to the recent neglect, so I'm looking forward to some of that for tonight's meal.

I'm itching to get going again now. I have seed potatoes to chit and seeds to organise, and some to start planting over the next few weeks.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Catching up

The last year has been really madly busy and, cliched as it is, I just do not know where the time has gone. I will attempt a quick summary:

  • Callie & Alfie have been living back in Ipswich for a year now which is wonderful. They are only five minutes away so we usually meet up at weekends.
  • Work is monstrously busy - more work, effectively less pay. A familiar tale I am sure.
  • We managed to get away twice this year, firstly to Salthouse, Norfolk at Easter, and then a surprisingly great summer holiday in Lincolnshire. Miles & miles of sand and no one around.
  • Allotment had a productive year but suffered from the low priority it got in my time management. I am resolving to improve this next year. I have already planted onions, shallots and garlic and have over wintering peas and broad beans to put in next weekend.
  • The animals are all well & healthy although Timmy is charging around scared by fireworks as I write this.
  • I got a distinction in my first OU module which I was incredibly happy about. It has given me impetus to carry on my studies.
  • We had a weekend in London with our good friends Sarah & Ken. We went to the V&A and Kew gardens and topped it all off seeing Lou Reed at Hammersmith Apollo. A lovely weekend of culture (and wine).
  • All my projects have also been a little side lined by everything else, but I managed to complete a really fab knitted snood and my 2011 chutney (extremely spicy carrot) has been going down a treat. I am struggling to keep up with all the demand, but am keeping on top of it due to a seemingly never ending carrot glut.
I have just had a week off work and spent it in Walberswick where I was helping Nigel's Aunt to deal with some of his late Uncle's possessions. Whilst I was kept very busy during the day, it was fantastic to have the chance to walk the dog along the beach every morning. It has reinforced our plans to move to the coast one day - having been born only about 50m from the sea, I always feel like I have come home when I am on the beach.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Badest blogger

I have probably been the world's worst blogger over the last few months so now resolve to update this poor neglected blog over the weekend.
My excuses are the usual - life, the universe and everything getting in the way and demanding of my priorities.
Luckily my allotment is nowhere near as neglected and I'll give an update on my promised blog post.
See you tomorrow!