The last few days has seen a massive leaf drop here so that means it is time to make leaf mould. Collecting leaves and making that wonderful soil conditioner for next year really does mark the changing seasons.
The common advice is to use a container made from chicken wire strung around four wooden poles which are knocked into the ground. Like some many other pieces of received gardening wisdom it is not the best way. The problem is that the leaves at the edges dry out which really slows down the fungal rotting process.
Over the years I tried several different methods and found the easiest and cheapest was to use builder’s big bags, or bulk bags, that are used to deliver sand and gravel. The advantages are that they are free and stop the wind from drying out the contents.
Do not cover the top; let the rain keep the leaves wet. This is different to making ‘normal’ compost because leaf mould is a fungal process which needs to be wet.
There is no need to use any of the magic additives on the market or to add anything other than leaves. You can shred them if you wish, and that certainly speeds up the rotting process, but just plain old leaves in a big bag are all you need.
There is also a lot of discussion about how long it takes for the leaves to rot down. Some say 2-3 years but I usually get usable leaf mould in 12-18 months. It does depend on the leaves as some rot faster than others.
Now is also a good time to use leaf mould on the garden. Spread a thick layer over beds to stop winter rain compacting the soil. Do not worry if the leaves are not totally rotted as worms will help incorporation and rotting will continue so by next spring you will have a bed of wonderful soil ready for sowing carrots and other crops.
It is amazing how urban myths start. Take the recent news items saying that growing your own food is more expensive than buying it. It seems to have come from several sources, The RHS, Gardening Which and every tabloid newspaper.
A little research highlights the possible source as Gardening Which when they slammed the costs of carrot plug plants from Gardening Direct. Evidently they were being sold for £1.09 each. Now carrots at £1.09 each is expensive and totally unnecessary but to take that single example and then say that growing your own is expensive is typical of the lazy sensationalist media we have in the UK.
Let’s get one thing straight, growing your own food should always be much cheaper than buying it. If it is not then you are doing something wrong.
I don’t doubt that newcomers might think that growing from seed is time consuming and difficult. It is neither of these but is certainly cheap. A packet of seed should cost about £1 and should give enough seed for ~ 700 plants. (Kings seeds Amsterdam forcing)
Many people have problems with carrots usually for two reasons: the seeds are planted far too deep and/or the seeds are not kept damp. The general rule of thumb for planting depth is not deeper than twice the distance across the widest part of the seed. For carrots that is very little!
With heavy soil it is often not easy to produce a soil fine enough for carrots so I take out a shallow drill (very mini trench) and fill it with good quality organic, peat free seed compost and water well. I then sprinkle a thin layer of seeds on top and cover with a very fine layer of sifted compost. The compost also helps keep the seeds moist, they must not be allowed to dry out.
That is it really, they take a time to germinate and will need thinning but there is nothing much else to do except harvest the best and cheapest carrots you have ever had!
To see a chemical free way to guard against carrot root fly see this page
I have now dried and stored the onions from the square metre bed. The end result was 68 onions weighing 8.6 kg (18.92 pounds.) Last year I predicted that it would be possible to get 10 kg (22 pounds) of onions from a single square metre bed and the results show it is possible.
Both the carrots and runner beans (pole beans) are still producing well with impressive harvests.
The onion bed has been sown with Claytonia (Corn Salad or Miner’s lettuce) in 9 stations. The lettuce bed has 9 Hispi pointed cabbage plants that are doing well.
Overall impressive results which proves that a significant amounts of food can be grown in such a small area.
The trial has now produced the first harvests and the results are very good. The nine enormous lettuces (Webbs Wonderful) were lifted and replaced by cabbage. The 68 onions (Centurian) are drying and will be weighed when they go into store. Meanwhile there is a continuous harvest of runner beans and the carrots are ready to lift.
As the beds are cleared new crops will be planted to either over winter of provide some late season veg.
There is a streaming video of the first results below or you can watch a higher quality version by going direct to YouTube.