Category Archives: Square metre beds

Winter lettuce

Over the years I have tried many ways of keeping veg going in the winter. It was hard at the old site as it was in a frost pocket. Between 2003 and 2013 the temperature dropped to at least -10C every year with one year it was -17C.

Looking though photographs I found some images of winter lettuce from 2010. I trialled three different varieties, Ayr, Valdor and Winter Density, all sown on 23 September, so I am thinking it is not too late to try some in the new garden, maybe with fewer weeds this time!

They will need protection,  last time I made some ‘solar pods’ as described in the book “Solar Gardening: Growing Vegetables Year-round the American Intensive Way” (1994.)
It is available here at Google Books.

The ‘pods’ are for raised beds with the ends made of marine plywood and covered in twin wall polycarbonate sheet. I will make smaller versions this time, enough to cover half a bed, one metre square.

Full size solar pods in snow.

 

Biochar

I found this book in last week in Oxford last week, Blackwells Broad Street branch.  it just jumped off the shelf. I have known about biochar for some years but not used it in the garden. With the new plot and talk about sequestering CO2 and making better use of nutrients it could not have come at a better time.

What I like about the book is that there is some history, the use of biochar goes back to 450 BCE – 950 BCE. The soils from that era are still black, it lasts locking up atmospheric CO2 for centuries. There is a section about how it works and very useful practical information about making biochar in either in a burn pit or a TLUD: top lit up-draft gasifier.

Making a TLUD from a couple of steel barrels look relatively straight forward so that is what I will do.

It fits in nicely with the yearly timetable as I am just about to start preparing the soil for the winter. I will post some pics of the TLUD build progress soon.

Grow food in your garden – fight climate change

There is nothing like sitting down to a meal with veg that you have grown. It might be only one or two items but it tastes better and feels good when you know it is from your garden.

Now is a good time to start thinking about growing food next season. You don’t need an allotment or a large garden, start small and see how it goes. See this page

We need more allotments – now!

Here is a bit of very radical action, well not that radical; the government must make more land available for the  “90,000 people on waiting lists to get their own patch of land to grow vegetables.” In short more allotments! Not that difficult, would not cost billions and would help in all sorts of ways. See this link for more information

The British countryside is being killed by herbicides and insecticides – can anything save it?

“From orchids and moths to hedgehogs and toads, our wildflowers and wildlife are dying out. Making the meadows safe again is a huge challenge – but there are glimmers of hope”

The Guardian – 31 May 2018

Gloomy prospect … meadow flowers in Upper Teesdale. Photograph: Kevin Rushby/The Guardian

What has been obvious this year is the lack of insect strike on the windscreen of cars! Some say that it is a good thing, but it emphasises the huge decline in insect numbers and should sound alarm bells. The link to insecticides is obvious yet there is no response from government.

Pesticides are now sold in supermarkets alongside cleaning products. A sign of how normalised they have become. This was evident in a local branch of Tesco where pesticides were shelved next to food!

In the garden it is lawns that get the full treatment. In Spring each year there are endless TV adverts show ways to blast weeds with the latest product. For a pesticde free lawn, see this site

With climate change happening now there will be a huge impact on food supplies. Keep a small area of unsprayed grass but use the rest to grow food!

Things you can do:

  • Make a pledge to become a pesticide free household, especially if you have young children.
  • Think seriously about growing some food. Start with one metre square raised beds, all the information you need it here.
  • Become more informed about pesticides in food and how to avoid them.
  • Check out the Pesticide Action Network for more information.

 

 

Reinventing the (gardening) wheel?

For many years we have argued that we need to grow more food at home. Now Grow it yourself, or GIY, has suddenly become popular partly because of a looming no deal Brexit and fears about food security.

There are many other benefits associated with gardening including exercise, improved mental health, zero food miles and having fresh food readily available. It also reconnects people where the land.  For us it is also about growing sustainably with no pesticides or chemical fertilisers.

A research group – the Food Research Collaboration  have recently published a paper: ” Brexit and Grow it Yourself, a golden opportunity for sustainable farming”. Not sure about the farming bit but I get what they mean.

It is good to see the role of GIY being recognised but it will need more than an academic paper to get things moving. There is a chronic lack of allotment space in the UK and with ever more land going to feed the insatiable appetite for housing it will not be easy to find space to grow food.

While we agree on the need for more allotments we would argue that the typical allotment plot is far from sustainable. There are often high inputs of the same agrochemicals and chemical fertilisers used in farming. A few years back at an event in a south midlands town to encourage more food growing the local allotment society stall consisted of a table full of the chemicals they  used!

Carrots, 64 per Sq.M

The way forward is to use intensive sustainable, organic growing on small plots, something we have been promoting for years.  See this trial from 2009  Quick and easy square metre beds

A lot can be grown in a small space with relatively little effort. Our new garden has a growing area of 15 square metres. We estimate that it will produce 90-120kg of food per year based on previous trials.

Many gardening skills have been lost and there would need to be a programme of short courses, demonstrations and mentoring of new gardeners. Time is short with Brexit on the horizon and the effects of a warming planet already evident. We need to act now to get things moving!

Organic outperforms conventional agriculture

Just to show that all the misguided hype about how we need huge inputs of fertiliser, pesticides and GM is just that, hype from the vested interest of the huge agrochemical companies that make a profit out of fear.

And organic gardening probably outperforms conventional food gardening. See this link to out own trials.

From: “Kiss the Ground: How the Food You Eat Can Reverse Climate Change, Heal Your Body & Ultimately Save Our World” 2018, Kindle edition, p.138.

Making new compost bins

There are compost bins on the plot we have taken over. They are made form a few old pallets just wired together and are a bit rough and ready. I have to confess, I made them a few years back to help out. There is good, usable compost in the bottom of each section but the heaps never got hot enough to kill weed seeds.

NZ bins at the old Ryton Organic Gardens compost display area

As soon as the beds are sorted the whole lot is coming out to be replaced by a 3 bin New Zealand bin. Again, it will be made pallet wood with a removable front, a waterproof lid and sides without gaps or holes.

There is often confusion about having slatted sides which allow air into the bins which is thought to be necessary for composting to happen.  What it does is keep the bin cool which slows down the process or or stops it working. More importantly it prevents the heap reaching a higher enough temperature to kill weed seeds.

Often the advice is to use treated timber as it last longer. There are several reason why you should NOT do that. Compost bins rely on bacteria to break down organic matter and they do not want to be in contact with anything that might kill them. Also, chemical wood treatments can leach into the compost contaminating your veg plot.

The last big compost bins I built were made from recycled scaffold planks which lasted at least 10 years. There were four, one cubic metre bays and it was possible to make 12 cubic metres of compost a year! The new garden is much smaller and we will probably be making 1 cubic metre.

A good set of plans are available here but as mentioned above I would not make the sides or back slatted. I will also have a closer fitting lid.

Photos of the progress will be posted so please come back soon.

$4.7M to Study Storing Greenhouse Gases in Soil

Muir Institute Leads UC Project to Find Shovel-Ready Solutions for Carbon Sequestration

Huge amounts of carbon dioxide are stored in soil and more could be added. Yet again the main problem will be extremely powerful business interests, namely the agrochemical companies and massive food producing and processing companies.

What is amazing about all this is that it can be done today without the need for new technology or massive new machines to be built. All that needs to happen is for farmers and growers to change the way they use soil. Not only does this help to take CO2 out of the atmosphere and store it in soil it reduces the chemical leaching into rivers and streams. See this article about extreme levels of pollution in Europe.

There are several books claiming that we sequester enough CO2 to make a huge difference to climate change:

According to Dr. Rattan Lal of Ohio State University, a pioneer in the study of “biosequestration” (using plants and microbes to sequester carbon dioxide), humans have put some 500 gigatons (billion tons) of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere since the birth of agriculture some ten thousand years ago. But most of that CO2 was emitted during the relatively recent advent of modern agriculture. Through plowing the land, which releases tremendous quantities of CO2, deforestation, urbanization, and land-use change we have effectively taken a massive quantity of carbon that used to be stored in the ground and released it into the atmosphere.

Tickell, Josh. Kiss the Ground (p. 18). Atria/Enliven Books. Kindle Edition.

Also see: “Growing a Revolution: Bringing Our Soil Back to Life”, David R. Montgomery – 21 Sep 2018.

Small scale commercial growers and gardeners can help by changing the way they manage their soil. Switching to no-dig beds is the best way to start. In 2010 I started a trial garden on farmland that had not been cultivated for around 30 years. No digging was involved and it worked.

The other part of the process is the application of organic matter, compost and yet more compost! Next is not leaving the soil bare particularly in winter when heavy rain causes compaction and washes out nutrients.