Mulching and planting my no dig polytunnel

I love tomatoes, aubergines, cucumbers, peppers and chillis – having a polytunnel gives me the opportunity to grow these in abundance. Last Monday morning (23rd May) the polytunnel looked like this:

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so I brought the laundry in and cleared the last of the winter lettuce, moved most of the pots outside and removed any emerging bindweed which creeps in from the right hand side. Having base rails was the best solution for the space I have in my back garden, it meant that I was able to have an additional 2 feet or more width to the tunnel, but the disadvantage of base rails over digging the polythene in is that the latter method also acts as a barrier to creeping weeds.

At the back are tomato and tomatillo plants waiting to be planted.  Beside the rear door is a grapevine, in front are some overwintered garlic – on the left is elephant garlic. In the middle of the tunnel you can see two Grenoble Red lettuces which I am growing in order to save their seed, to the right are Rocket new potatoes. I left the self sown night scented stock because the scent it so gorgeous – here I had just begun sprinkling rock dust.

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Remaining in the tunnel are some young plants in module trays which are remaining here until ready to plant. I grow a lot of beans because I’m also supplying some clients. These are climbing and dwarf French beans, runners, borlotti and Czar.

There were two compost heaps ready to mulch the tunnel: one plastic ‘dalek’ type with year old compost and a larger heap made from pallets and old wood. This heap had 3 year old compost on the bottom, two year old on top. Neither heap have ever been turned. The compost is beautifully rich, dark and crumbly. The ‘dalek’ composter simply pulls up, revealing a neat pile of compost. It also revealed some unwanted inhabitants, the ants were very alarmed!

Charles came to help with the mulching. The polytunnel wasn’t mulched last year so I thought I would give the soil extra treats – powdered seaweed meal and rock dust – to add minerals and zing to the soil. It looks a bit strange at first, as if I have spread concrete dust! Here Charles had added the first wheelbarrow load of ‘dalek’ compost.

_MG_8485Strangely, no matter how careful I think I am being with my composting, I always find unwelcome bits of plastic in the resulting compost. So we had two buckets when loading the wheelbarrows – one for anything that needs to continue composting such as sticks (these go in one of the current heaps) and another for rubbish – and checked the compost thoroughly before using it. We spread a good two inches of compost on the wider middle bed and the two narrower side beds, using my copper rake.

There was enough compost left to do the parts which we couldn’t mulch because they had pots on them. I was amazed that one big and one small heap could produce enough compost to cover all of the beds in here. This makes me feel confident that I can produce enough at home for the spring mulch next year – one of my plans for the garden is to try to make it as closed-loop and self sufficient as possible.

The mulched polytunnel!

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I planted most of the tomatoes. I grow them up strings (made from baler twine) put under the tomato when I plant it and attached to more baler twine stretched across the crop bars – the same string that I hang my washing from. Most of these tomatoes are not tied up yet because I want to replace the top twine with fresh string.

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Then we celebrated by sharing a cider.

Over the week I have continued planting the tomatoes, cucumbers, tomatillo, some aubergines and cape gooseberries. There are still more aubergines, sweet and chilli peppers, melons, basil, other herbs and edible flowers to plant tomorrow and Thursday. The garlic here is a bit thin, I think because I planted it amongst the cabbage plants and it has got too dry – a lesson learned there. Some annual weeds are popping up, so I’ll hoe those tomorrow morning too. It’s good to hoe off weeds before they get too big, or even before you even see them. Charles was told this old gardeners’  saying: “If you hoe when you have no weeds, you’ll have no weeds.”

Here is the polytunnel this evening, a view from each door.

And inside the tunnel…

I’ve harvested the potatoes too, looking forward to some of these for tea.

Rocket first early potatoes
Rocket first early potatoes

 

 

 

 

Riverside Community Garden, Cardiff

I enjoy having the opportunity of visiting urban community gardens, especially as we live in a very small town surrounded by countryside. There are two allotment sites here and a community orchard (planted by Charles, myself and some friends) but not much that combines community and growing. Most people in Bruton have some sort of garden, there are a lot of local growers and farms, so I think there is less need in the countryside.

How to make tooth powder

I first came across the idea of using a powdered clay based toothpowder when I met a woman selling it at the Offgrid Festival three or four years ago.  Until then, I had been using a  fluoride free toothpaste from the local whole food shop (no artificial sweeteners, SLS etc) which was fine – however trying this was a revelation! It made my teeth feel really clean and felt so much healthier and pleasanter in my mouth than toothpaste. I love making things for myself rather than buying them where possible (I had to buy the ingredients but you know what I mean…), it lasts a long time, is cheap to make and can easily be stored in old jam jars, so doesn’t require any fancy storage or equipment.

When the powder ran out, I bought Bentonite clay from  Earthfare in Glastonbury in order to make my own using just three ingredients – Bentonite clay, sea salt and bicarbonate of soda. This toothpowder keeps my teeth clean, helps to remove toxins and also can help (according to what I have read) remineralise my teeth. It is also very cheap and easy to make.

Bentonite clay naturally detoxes and can help eliminate toxins, it is also full of minerals which are beneficial for gums and teeth.

Bicarbonate of Soda, which gently whitens and polishes teeth, is an ingredient found in many commercial brands of toothpaste too.

Sea salt is also rich in minerals, removes tartar, whitens teeth and is beneficial for oral hygiene. I make a sea salt mouth wash sometimes, a teaspoon dissolved in warm water, a technique recommended by my dentist.

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You need:

1 tablespoon of sea salt, finely ground (mine is pink because I used Himalayan sea salt)

4 tablespoons Bentonite clay

4 tablespoons bicarbonate of soda

A glass jar

Put everything in the glass jar.



Shake it to mix well!


And there you are – a jar of toothpowder. If you like, you could add some finely ground dried mint for flavour but I like it just like this. I keep a small jar of this in my bathroom cabinet, refilling it from the larger jar when needed. This helps to keep the powder dry and fresh.

To use, just dip your toothbrush in the powder and brush and rinse as normal.

Please read the disclaimer!!

Front Garden Project

My favourite part of the front garden has three raised beds made four years ago, from timber treated with organic oils from Osmo, because I have grown so much food there. This part of the garden was a weed-infested rockery when I moved here. A few years ago I removed the rockery plants and mulched it, hoping to grow veg but hit two main problems – the soil is very shallow and on top of builders’ rubble (from an extension in the 1970s, it is quite a bit higher than my neighbours’ gardens for this reason) and the most enthusiastic bindweed I have ever experienced, which appears to have roots deep into the centre of the earth!

Wooden sided raised beds are a good solution here as they increase the soil level by 8 inches. I originally filled them with a mixture of well rotted manure and municipal waste compost and now top them up with an inch or so of well rotted compost every year. The paths are mulched with sawdust, a free waste product from a local carpenter.

spreading the compost in 2015
spreading the compost in 2015

Next to these beds is a smaller one made with wooden offcuts where I planted a beautiful little cherry tree and opposite, another growing space  has different enthusiastic weeds:  enchanter’s nightshade and ground ivy. Here I grow teasels for the goldfinches – they self seed like crazy but the seedlings are very recognisable and easy to remove. For me, is worth growing a few plants for the pleasure of watching the feeding finches all winter.

Our pond is old and was overgrown and leaking 14 years ago when we moved here – it still leaks and can be very low in the summer. This doesn’t deter the frogs who return every spring around Valentine’s to lay their frogspawn. They are back a week earlier this year.

Although I don’t want it to be too pristine, the paved area needs a good weeding, particularly around the pond. I hope to encourage more interesting plants in the cracks. I have struggled with keeping on top of the weeds here due to lack of time mostly as I was working part of almost every weekend for the past 3 years. The weeds seem to grow like triffids in my front garden the moment my back is turned, so it is quite a challenge!

The plans for the front garden include:

  • mulch along the hedge with light excluding plastic mulch for a year, to try to get rid of the enchanter’s nightshade
  • make a wildlife area along the front on the garden, next to the pavement
  • grow more up the walls
  • grow some more pond plants (I have bought seeds for this)
  • grow food in pots to make more use of the paved area
  • weed!!
  • sort out the side of the house to make more effective storage and hopefully grow things too
  • see if I can install a water butt so I don’t have to lug watering cans from the back garden
  • paint the shabby bits down the side of the house

I think there is plenty of scope here to make an even more productive growing space which looks colorful and welcoming.

Homemade fertility – Comfrey

Here in Somerset and across much of England comfrey grows wild, providing an important source of food for bees feeding from the clusters of droopy flowers and other wildlife including moth caterpillars and ladybirds. The large hairy leaves can be spread as a mulch, added to the compost heap (make sure there are no seeds otherwise it will invade everywhere), dried for winter use and made into an excellent plant food. Comfrey is a key element in making more of fertility for the garden at home.

 

Comfrey roots which reach deep into the soil, it is rich in minerals and healing properties – one of it’s traditional names is ‘knit-bone’. I make comfrey oil from the root and shall blog the recipe when I make it soon.


Comfrey is incredibly invasive, it is best to grow Bocking 14 at home. At my allotment I have a battle every year with invading comfrey planted by a previous allotment neighbour, right on the edge of my plot. Every few weeks during the summer and autumn I have to remove it to stop it spreading. There is plenty of useful comfrey along the top of my plot and in the hedgerow there. At home, I have some Bocking 14 and also the dreaded invasive sort, planted when I first moved here and thought it was the less invasive sort. Most of it has gone but some persists.

The plants growing in my garden and allotment receive an annual mulch of an inch or two of well rotted compost, either homemade or manure, which provides them with enough food for the year and they don’t need any addition liquid feeds. I use comfrey in the compost heap and to make a potent feed for plants growing in pots and will be exploring ways of using it more widely as I try to make most of the fertility needed at home in the back garden.

As well as comfrey, nettle and dandelion leaves are good additions to this potion – make sure there are no seeds though!

The usual method of soaking comfrey leaves in a bucket of water for 2 or 3 weeks works well but the resulting liquid is notoriously smelly. You simply put leaves in a bucket, cover with water and put a lid on, wait for 2 weeks, strain and use.

 

Another way using no water makes an intensely powerful brew but without the smell and is very easy.

You will need one or more containers with holes at the bottom – plant pots are good – and a bucket.

Stuff the pots with comfrey leaves (plus nettles etc if you are using them).

Put a brick in the bottom of the bucket for drainage and stability. Add your first pot and squish the leaves down.

Add the other pot/s.

Store somewhere dry and safe. I usually put a lid on top of the uppermost pot.

After several weeks, the leaves will have rotted to produce a dark liquid. Store in a sealed bottle or use immediately. Dilute in a watering can 1 part comfrey liquid to 20 parts water.

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(These photos were take a couple of years ago at Charles Dowding’s garden, Homeacres, for an article I was writing for Permaculture Magazine)