Tag Archives: compost

Review of 2011

Where do I start? There’s been lots going on at the Two Chances Plot this year as there was in 2010. First of all a recap of the veg growing successes and failures:

Top of the Class
My best ever carrots and parsnips this year.
And it was a cracking year for beetroot, we had barrowfuls of them.
Strawberries and raspberries – not that I saw many of them as the girls picked and ate them as soon as they were ready!

Pretty good effort
Quite a few in this category – all the brassicas, beans, spuds, mangetout, overwintered onions, leeks, tomatoes, peppers, chillies and courgettes.

Could do Better
Sweetcorn, cucumber, aubergines, squash and pumpkins.

Weatherwise it was a strange year again. A really hot, dry spring but with cold nights running through into July. When we left for our annual holiday to France in mid-June it was with some trepidation as the weather had been fantastic – why were we going abroad? Thankfully we did as it chucked it down in Salisbury for 2 weeks and continued to be damp and miserable for the main part of summer only drying up in September and October. No wonder all the veg that need a hot, dry summer did badly. Oh well there’s always next year.

Best Newcomer
…….was celeriac…..only grew a few but they were great and I’ll definitely be growing more next year. Closely followed by mangetout, not many made the steamer as they were great eaten raw.

Never again
Aubergines…..what’s the point? Maybe in 20 years once global warming really makes an impact on the South of England! That said I expect I’ll try again next year.

This year was the first for my shared plot in the next village and it was filled with onions, brassicas, beans, carrots, parsnips, beetroot, spuds, sweetcorn, squash and pumpkins. Next year the Empire expands further to half an allotment in the same village as my shared plot. Can’t wait to get stuck in! And I finally got round to building a much needed proper compost bin which will bear fruit next year.

On the show front it was the last year of entering all the vegetable classes in my local Horticultural Society village Summer Show were I won cups for most points overall veg, root veg and Top Tray. I’ll just stick to the Master Gardener and Top Tray next year with my sights firmly set on the NVS competition at the New Forest and Hampshire Show after seeing Darren pick up his first red card for long carrots. I have 30 pipes to use for my carrots and parsnips and the mix is already shredded and ready for the mixer. Bring on 2012!

So what will I be doing next year? Well more of the same really. Loads of good quality family time, cooking and eating great homegrown food. Producing loads of veg and enjoying the fresh air as much as possible. Raising the bar on my show entries and expanding to the allotment so we can have more veg on the table. The annual trip to France – same place as last year as we loved it so much – and the next leg of the Pennine Way hopefully. As always lots to do!! I hope you’ve all had a good Christmas and are looking forward to a great 2012!!!

Thanks to everyone who reads and hopefully enjoys this blog. I haven’t been online much in the last couple of months due to working longer hours – the last thing I needed was more time in front of a computer screen! But I have the whole winter to catch up with what you’ve been doing so I’ll see you soon!!

Quick Cook Composting Part 2

Regular readers will remember that I finally got round to building a proper compost heap at the end of August, using the Quick Compost method that I’d learnt during a talk by gardening expert Ray Broughton.

Well after 3 months it’s full and ready for the final layer of soil and fertiliser before I leave it to cook down over the winter. I’ve been amazed at how much material I’ve been able to cram into this four foot square space. Virtually everything from the garden and plot has gone in, I’d recommend it to anyone who hasn’t already got a compost area. By April I’m hoping to have some lovely compost to spread around the plot and allotment.

And I’ve also taken delivery of 8 75litre bags of Levington’s F2+S which will go into my carrot mix for next year’s assault on the NVS Southern Championship at the New Forest Show. Fingers crossed!

Quick Cook Composting

After first posting about this in February 2010 today I’ve finally got round to building a compost bin.

I first learnt this method from Ray Broughton in a talk he gave to our local Horticultural Society. It should produce a good compost pretty quickly after filling the bin.

The advantages of the quick cook method are:
1) Pretty much all plant material can be placed on the heap including woody material up to a diameter of 1cm – good I’ve just put the hedge trimmings in there.
2) No turning needed – no faffing around a la Monty Don on GW, this is a method for those who don’t spend all week in the garden.
3) Due to the heat generated plant pests, diseases and weeds will be killed by this method – great you can bung anything in, particularly good if there are a lot of weeds in your garden……like mine!
4) Vermin will not be attracted to this heap (I’ve had rats in my black council bin before so this will be interesting to test out).
5) Compost should be ready in 3 to 4 months – just what I’m looking for!

The heap can be built up over a period of time but for optimum efficiency it should be no longer than 3 months. Now here’s the important bit – the heap has to have a solid base of paving slabs, you don’t want nutrient loss or worm activity with this method it’s all about fungi and bacteria breaking down the plant material and creating a serious amount of heat that kills off weeds, seeds etc.

You need to construct the sides out of wood or other suitable material to contain your heap (I’ve used some old pallets), the best size is 1.5 metre by 1.5 metre. It is important that oxygen is present but you only need a relatively small amount as the material going into the heap is bulky and will trap air. So drill some small holes into the sides (I’ve put thin board over the gaps in the pallet and left a handful of holes for some air to get in). Remember this must be on a solid base, I’ve used half a dozen small paving slabs and I plan to build another bin alongside soon.

Ok once you’ve built your compost bin, start filling with plant material, you can put pretty much anything in from the garden up to 1cm diameter, including weeds, lawn clippings, and the usual kitchen peelings etc. Fill to 1/3 of the height of the bin. At this stage place two shovel loads of good quality soil over the heap and two handfuls of nitrogen fertiliser (e.g. hoof and horn). If you use organic fertiliser make sure it is ground into a fine powder (amounts quoted are for a 1.5 x 1.5m heap).

Add more material until you are up to the 2/3rds mark. Then add one shovel load of ground limestone (calcium carbonate). This is essential as it prevents the heap from becoming too acidic which is a common problem. Carry on filling and when you reach the top add soil and fertiliser in exactly the same way as you did at the 1/3rd stage. That’s it, there’s no need to cover the heap, and then it’s just a waiting game until the heap cooks down.

Happy composting! I’ll keep you informed of progress.

And finally here’s this weekend’s plot harvest:

There’s french beans (sultana with a few purple ones, purple teepee), runner beans (Stenner, Moonlight), Beetroot (Burpee’s Golden) – roasted beetroot has been a revelation for us this summer – lettuce (Little Gem) and courgette (Black Beauty).

I’ve enjoyed growing them all and will enjoy eating them even more!

Have a great Bank Holiday everyone!!

And We’re Off!

Despite my laid-back approach to growing my own veg I can be a bit impatient at this time of year and today saw the first seed sowing for the Two Chances Plot.

Into a couple of unheated propogators went Onion ‘Globo’, Peppers ‘Etiuda’, ‘F1 Denver’, ‘Anaheim’, Chilli ‘Cayenne’, Aubergine ‘F1 Bonica’ and Tomato ‘Golden Peardrop’. The propogators will sit on the south-facing bathroom windowsill over a radiator so the seeds have a reasonable amount of warmth to germinate……..fingers crossed!

I used my standard approach to seed sowing. Filling up the cells with moist multi-purpose to about 2/3rds full, then topping up with seed compost. Sow the seeds on top of the compost then cover with a vermiculite. Seeds need a nutrient poor start hence the seed compost but it’s expensive so I keep its use to a minimum and when the roots start to form there’s a layer of multi-purpose to keep the plants going until they’re ready to prick out. That’s the theory anyway, based on an excellent talk from Ray Broughton last year. Check out one of my earlier posts for more detailed info on seed sowing.

What’s that I hear you say? Yes, I know it’s too early but I’ve been itching to get something underway since the New Year and seeds are cheap and I have them in abundance so what’s the harm? I’ll sow another batch in a month’s time and what I have left over will go into the Horticultural Society Plant Sale in May. If my first batch fails there will be less for the Plant Sale I’m afraid. Come the end of March I’ll select the strongest plants to grow on through the summer.

After much heated debate on UKVG following the announcement of the peat ban due to come into force I’m trialing a new peat-free compost this year from New Horizon which was highly recommended in recent Which magazine trials. I picked up half a dozen bags at Wyevale.

Have you got any compost recommendations? And any seeds on the go yet??

Embrace the Dark Side

In previous years I’ve just grown veg, now I’m embracing the dark side and having a go at growing flowers. It’s a pretty miserable day here and I’ve been left alone to look after the girls. Rach is off at a local NCT sale helping out and trying to make some spending money for our holiday.

So in between nursery rhymes, painting, stories etc I thought I’d sow some flower seeds. I moved the operation indoors and the dining table became a temporary sowing area. I’ve recently received some seeds from Maureen which was amazing and a very kind offer. She has collected them from her garden, something which I need to learn to do this year! And put a little note on each packet to help me. There’s a whole host of them, some I’ve never heard of, so it’s exciting to learn more about them and to see their progress. Here’s the list:

Mixed Sweet Peas
Marigolds
Red Orach – hardy vegetable like spinach and deep red leaves mean it can be used as an ornamental border plant.
Mixed Dahlia’s
Sweet William – to be sown direct outside
Cenrinthe Major pururascens
Nasturtium tom thumb mixed
California Poppy ‘Golden Values’
Pumpkin Rouge Vif d’Etamps
Tomato Gardener’s Delight

I’ve sown all but the Poppies and Sweet William in a mixture of trays and pots filled 3/4 full with moist multi-purpose and topped with seed compost. After sowing I’ve covered the larger seeds with a thin layer of seed compost and the smaller ones with just a sprinkling of vermiculite. Then into the sink to soak up some water and then onto the windowsill. Job done!

Most of the seeds sown so far are up and well away with the first true leaves on the cauliflower, calabrese, onions, sunflowers and lettuce. I have some peppers and chilli seedlings coming on and waiting for the courgette and squash to germinate. I’m really pleased that all 3 cucumber seeds I’ve sown have come up as the seed I use, Dobies Carmen F1, is quite expensive at £3.75 for 6-8 seeds (although I do get 50% discount on that price ordering through my local Horticultural Society). If they survive the pack of seeds has latest me two seasons and I will manage to give one plant away each year as I only need two plants in the greenhouse to be self-sufficient in cucumbers from May-October (and we eat a lot of cucumber!). So all in all good value.

A week to go to our local Spring Show and my daffs are nearly there.

I’ve never entered, or even been to, the Spring Show before so have no idea what I’m doing other than what’s on the schedule. I was hoping to enter some of the flowers I planted as bulbs back in the Autumn. There’s a dozen daffodil classes of various sizes and types, a couple of tulip classes (no chance for me as mine are only 3″ out of the ground), flowering shrub, primula and a few other classes such as collection of spring bulb, mixed vase of cut spring flowers etc. Then there are handicraft, homecraft, photography, art, flower arranging and junior sections. We’ll see how it goes, I need to get my entry form in a couple of days beforehand so I will wait and see what I’ve got in the middle of next week.

Here’s the Plot Defender aka “Polo”, my dog, a rescue Staffie cross. He hasn’t featured on this blog before. He likes sticks and proving how destructible so called indestructible toys are (I used to have a Staffie as a kid, Grip, full pedigree name, Grip ‘The Dandy’ III – he used to chew up a car tyre in a few weeks!). Polo’s dislikes are cats and pigeons so he makes a great defender of my patch of earth.

Whilst I’ve been typing Chloe has been busy practising being the next Jackson Pollack!

I think the carrot infinitely more fascinating than the geranium

Forgive the film quote but I couldn’t resist for the title of this post. Like many people I have had no real success in growing standard carrots in my first couple of years. There were a few last year which got me 2nd prize in the local summer show but the fact that the judge couldn’t bring himself to award a first prize tells its’ own story. People round my way struggle with carrots!

I am a Finance Manager by trade; not anything to do with banking I hasten to add, and although I am not one of those that talks in ‘management speak’ one thing that has sunk in is that “if you don’t change something you will continue to get the same result”. So this year it’s all change on the carrot-front. So following my usual ‘run before you can walk’ approach I’m having a crack at growing exhibition standard long carrots! Why not I can’t do much worse than I have already.

The seeds have arrived, they are ‘Javelot’, a long carrot from Exhibition Seeds. If they get anywhere near those in the photo I’ll be well chuffed.

I’m growing the majority in a raised bed but the main effort will go into two sand-filled dustbins. These have been ‘settling’ for a couple of weeks.

An Internet trawl led me to Ted Bailey’s “Grow and show guidelines” and a recipe for the growing medium as follows: to 25 litres of John Innes number 3 compost add 16 ounces of silver sand, 8 ounces of medium vermiculite, 8 ounces of calcified seaweed and finally 4 ounces of lime. I bought the John Innes and lime from Scats, the Silver sand from Homebase and the vermiculite and seaweed from eBay. I mixed the ingredients in a wheelbarrow and then seived the lot throwing any lumps onto the plot.

First I watered each dustbin to get the sand nice and moist. Then using a long thin iron bar I made a 3″ diameter tapered hole in the sand near the outer edge of the dustbin. I then filled with the growing medium, I did this carefully by hand tamping down with my fingers to get rid of any air pockets. I then packed in as many as I could (Ted recommends 6 inches apart, mine where a bit closer together than that). I managed to get 12 holes into the first dustbin and 15 into the second as I got a bit better at it.

I then carefully watered each of the filled holes and sowed 4 or 5 seeds in each. They will be thinned to leave the strongest one and the foliage supported in some way eventually to prevent any damage. I covered in fleece to speed up germination a bit.

That’s it, all in all it took me a couple of hours to do and hopefully it’s just a case of keeping an eye on their progress and I should have some exhibition standard carrots. We’ll see!

It was a lovely afternoon, and as I wandered around the garden I found some more signs of spring.

And my one and only rhubarb crown is growing for the 2nd year.

I picked any dying leaves of the overwintered lettuce (winter density) and was pleased to see some signs of growth. I wish I’d put the plastic bottle cloches on earlier, like before the snow, as they may have been bigger by now. Still they’ve survived.

Finally I made up the two plastic cold frames I bought cheap from B&Q last year. I set them up on one of the raised beds and sowed some salad veg in them. Lettuce (Salad Bowl and Red Deer’s Tongue), Spring Onions (White Lisbon and Lilia), Radish (Mixed, Saxa and Albena) and some Wild Rocket.

All in all a satisfying afternoon. Off to the coast tomorrow for a well earned family day out.

Quick Cook Compost Method

I wanted to get this post out to you now as this may be a project you’d like to start before the main business of sowing in earnest gets underway in a few weeks time. I am hoping to start a really viable composting regime off this year. My ‘council bin’ is OK but quickly fills up and takes a good year to turn the mixture of kitchen/garden waste and cardboard into a compost that is usable for the veg plot. I need something quicker that makes compost good enough for sowing and potting on. I’m trying Ray Broughton’s method which I first heard at a free talk on growing veg that my local Horticultural Society hosted last year that around 80 people attended. So no pictures as yet, but when I get this up and running I’ll post them to let you see how I get on.

The advantages of the quick cook method are:
1) Pretty much all plant material can be placed on the heap including woody material up to a diameter of 1cm.
2) No turning needed.
3) Due to the heat generated plant pests, diseases and weeds will be killed by this method.
4) Vermin will not be attracted to this heap (I’ve had rats in my black council bin before so this will be interesting to test out).
5) Compost should be ready in 3 to 4 months – just what I’m looking for!

The heap can be built up over a period of time but for optimum efficiency it should be no longer than 3 months. Now here’s the important bit – the heap has to have a solid base of paving slabs, we don’t want nutrient loss or worm activity with this method which is what you do get with a standard black council bin-type method.

Bacteria and fungi will break down the plant material into humus which will hold onto the plant nutrients. The heap should reach temperatures of 80 degress centigrade killing off pests, weed seeds, rhizomes etc.

You need to construct the sides out of wood or other suitable material to contain your heap, the best size is 1.5 metre by 1.5 metre. It is important that oxygen is present but you only need a relatively small amount as the material going into the heap is bulky and will trap air. So drill some small holes into the sides. Remember this must be on a solid base. I am going to use old pallets and plywood offcuts for mine and construct two bins side-by-side so I can start filling the second one whilst the first ‘cooks’.

Ok once you’ve built your compost bin, start filling with plant material, you can put pretty much anything in from the garden up to 1cm diameter, including weeds, lawn clippings, and the usual kitchen peelings etc. Fill to 1/3 of the height of the bin. At this stage place two shovel loads of good quality soil over the heap and two handfuls of nitrogen fertiliser (e.g. hoof and horn). If you use organic fertiliser make sure it is ground into a fine powder (amounts quoted are for a 1.5 x 1.5m heap).

Add more material until you are up to the 2/3rds mark. Then add one shovel load of ground limestone (calcium carbonate). This is essential as it prevents the heap from becoming too acidic which is a common problem. Carry on filling and when you reach the top add soil and fertiliser in exactly the same way as you did at the 1/3rd stage. That’s it, there’s no need to cover the heap, and then it’s just a waiting game until the heap cooks down.

This method should be fast and efficient but it’s important you follow the instructions above. If you’re adding your compost directly to a clay soil use your compost before it’s completely broken down to help with aeration and drainage. Sandy soils will prefer well rotted compost containing a high proportion of humus which will help attract water and nutrients to these soils. See my earlier post on soil type, structure and pH for more info. I am hoping this will give me good enough compost for potting on my plants and save me money each year that I would normally waste on shop bought multi-purpose.

Best of luck, happy composting!