Composting Conversations

The secret to good gardening is good soil and the secret to good soil is compost. 

I have been making compost for as long as I can remember, saving kitchen scraps, transforming garden waste and recycling material that many people throw in the bin.  We all inherit family habits.  Some good, some bad …. Composting is a habit handed to me by my mother and grandmother, a habit for which I am thankful and a family tradition I am intent on handing onto the next generation. I am already educating my grandchildren on the wonders of worms.

The chooks smorgasbord, my little helpers, Henny and Penny, are always about when I am moving the compost heap, scratching and searching for worms, insects and garden spiders.
A smorgasbord for my little helpers, Henny and Penny, they are always busy beside me when I am moving the compost heap, scratching and searching for worms, insects and garden spiders.

Compost is the natural end product of a well-managed organic process. When properly balanced, waste material will break down to a sweet earthy mix that you can spread across your garden beds. It will reinvigorate tired soil and reward you with a healthy garden that is filled with wonderful fruits, vegetables, flowers and foliage. Compost that is well managed will be filled with micro-organisms that brings balance your soil.

At Arundel I make three different types of compost and each requires a different approach.

 1:  The Worm Farm – needing little space and offering liquid food and castings

2:  Cool Compost Bins – requires patience, time and a little tending

3:  Hot Compost Heaps – the fastest method and excellent for bulk production

My coming blogs will focus on each process and the collection and recycling of various domestic waste products. Hopefully it will help you decide the method that is best for your garden. By using all three methods I get the best from my waste and maximize my compost output, but these techniques are not the only ones available. What is important is to respond to your own situation.

Factors that will determine the system that is right for you will be how much space you have, materials available and how much waste your household produces, or can find. You will need to experiment and discover the method, or mix of systems that works for you.

Worms massing on a zucchini feeding frenzy. Oversized zucchini were cut in half and placed flesh side down in the worm farm. Within 10 days the worms were digesting the pithy flesh and within 3 weeks all that was left was a papery skin.
A worm feeding frenzy inside the worm farm.  Oversized zucchini were cut in half and placed flesh side down.  I was amazed, within 10 days worms were digesting the flesh and within 3 weeks only a papery skin was left .

A word of encouragement; even though I have been making compost for a long time I have had failures – a sludgy worm farm, stinky cold compost, strange dry areas next to wet areas inside bins and hot heaps that have turned cold. Each time things go ‘wrong’ they can be turned around and with a few simple steps compost can be brought back to life.

To help everyone along the ‘Composting Road’ I will include ‘Compost Remedies’,  you will learn some fixes from my failures.

My next post will focus on making and managing a worm farm.

 

 

Companion Planting with Garlic

VOLA… My garlic has sprouted!!!

Proof that a combination of warm soil and mild autumn days promotes a spurt of growth before the winter cold sets in.  If you haven’t planted any garlic yet there is still time, you have till the end of May, but the sooner the better.

The first garlic sprout shooting up through the damp earth
The first garlic sprout shooting up through the damp earth

The first variety to sprout was the soft neck ‘Winchelsea Organic’ (sourced from last years crop, I am yet to identify the variety). To my great surprise it was less than a week when I noticed the first green shoot. By week two a row of green spears was sitting upright in the planting bed.

In just a week the shoots are growing leaves and forming rows
In just a week the shoots are growing leaves and forming rows

 

The hard neck variety ‘Ail de Pays du Ger’ has taken a little longer. I began to wonder if they were going to be successful and poked about to see what was happening. I was relieved to find the cloves looked fine and were showing signs of growth. Just last weekend I spotted the first spear and now they are also popping up. Neat rows of plants will soon line both beds.

Yesterday I took advantage of a beautiful autumn afternoon and also planted a row of radish and radicchio between the garlic rows. The purpose of this is to make the most of the space and maximize what I get from the bed. The garlic will take 4 to 6 months while the smaller winter ‘greens’ will be quick. They are also a reminder to water the crop – especially when plants are young.  Dry cold weather is a certain danger for young plants.  Gardeners often lose a crop because of ‘winter drought’.

 

Seed mixed and ready to take out to the garden.  A white bowl helps to manage the seed outside
Seed mixed and ready to take out to the garden. A white bowl helps to manage the seed outside

 

Radish grows very quickly and I anticipate picking some by the end of May, maybe sooner. The radicchio is slower, about the same speed as lettuce, 10 to 12 weeks. I will be picking these through winter and early spring. Both species need to be sown at a depth of 4mm, so make a perfect pair to grow together. The radish seed is largish and easy to see and feel, while the radicchio seed is very fine. By mixing them together it makes an easy task of sowing the seed.

 

Radish seed is very granular, while the radicchio is fine and feathery
Radish seed is very granular, while the radicchio is fine and feathery

 

Before I started I removed a small scatter of grassy weeds, then carefully ‘combed’ down the middle of each row of garlic with my favourite single tine hoe, all the time being careful not to disturb the garlic cloves. This wonderful tool can be dragged along to create a furrow, finding and breaking clods and providing a loose bed for the new seeds to germinate and set roots. I broke up clods with my hand then sprinkled the seeds evenly along the row. First I do a light sprinkle along the whole row, then repeat the light sowing a second and third time. This way I am sure that seed will be evenly dispersed.

The new furrow formed between rows of garlic. Note that seed is divided into two lots for the two separate garlic beds.
The new furrow has been formed between rows of garlic. Note that seed is divided into two lots for the two separate garlic beds.  The gaps in the garlic are where there is a ‘miss’, I will fill this now with an extra clove.

 

After I have spread the seed I then take some of the soil from an adjoining area and lightly sprinkle with crumbly earth to cover the seed. Remember 4 mm is the recommended depth. This is not very much soil, it is very easy to sow seed to deeply. If you sow seed deeply nothing will appear, the seed will not be stimulated by the light and will just rot in the ground. I suspect sowing seed deeply is a regular cause of failure and disappointment.

 

Be careful not to sow  seed to deeply.  Cover seed with a fine tilth and gently firm with the back of your hand.
Be careful not to sow seed to deeply. Cover seed with a fine tilth and gently firm with the back of your hand.

 

The final job is to firm the row, I do this with the back of my hand, gently pressing the soil along the sowing line.

Very few seeds like compacted soil, most prefer a fine tilth.   This allows new shoots to grow upward and break the surface and roots to penetrate down and anchor the new young plant. Take care not to compact the soil too much when you firm the seed down.

The next step is a quick light sprinkle to moisten the fine soil and new seeds. It is important not to flood the crumbled soil, everything is so fine it will easily wash away. During autumn seeds will need to be dampened with a light sprinkle every 3 to 4 days. This is something that depends on the weather and you will have to judge this timing yourself.

The same technique is used to sow lettuce and a variety of greens. Mixing granule like radish seed with feathery lettuce seed is a great way to quickly ‘mark’ the sowing line. This technique also helps to break the surface soil that can sometimes become ‘biscuity’ and stop germination.

In the meantime enjoy the mild autumn days. The light in the leaves and the colour in the garden is wonderful.

 

Autumn colour on a perfect autumn day.
Autumn colour on a perfect autumn day.

 

Happy Gardening

Helena and Frankie