Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Summer harvest - and SPECIAL OFFER

The extension to the potager had a problem - a blackbird that kept uprooting all the plants! Now solved - the raised bed is now backed with flower pots which will be shortly filled with spring flowering bulbs. The herb patch has been augmented with herbs that will self-seed, thus extending the intended natural look. (Note the spring greens and autumn lettuce in the raised potager bed - just one corner of it shows.
I've spent the last few days in our garden harvesting and preserving produce, taking stock of tasks that I really should do this autumn, and planning additions and changes to the various mini-plots within our acre. Not all will be achieved, I know, but one thing I must do immediately is to take advantage of a very special Dobies' offer. Whether you want to stock up on flower seeds, order winter bedding plants or splash out on some gardening accessories, then make sure to claim your 10% discount by using the code DOBBANK11 at the basket stage. But HURRY, you only have until mid-day tomorrow  (Wednesday 31st), and the offer only applies to orders placed online.

Victoria plums from the orchard I planted in 1970
Next task is to do something with all the plums: the Victorias and Warwickshire Droopers have excelled themselves this year; so much so that a branch has snapped on one tree which must be attended to, to avoid disease. The damsons, too, have produced more than we really need - and everyone else has a surplus, so we'll be delving into the recipes we have been compiling for 40 years: ideal for Christmas gifts and those Christmas bazaars that every community seems to hold these days for fund-raising. 

Borlotto beans have been left to dry on the vine, ready to shell and keep for winter-warming soups and stews. They look so cheerful, I can never resist growing them for the colour alone. Next year, maybe, I think I must plan my potager on colour and not just taste. Plant a rainbow; which these days, with so many varieties available, is perfectly possible. I've just planted out the veg plants that arrived as plug plants a while back – winter and spring greens - and interspersed these with lettuce that will keep us in salads for quite a while yet.

The 'Heritage' coop and run awaiting my new hens - the cockerel and hen shown here were borrowed from my grandson as the coop looked a bit empty without any inhabitamts.
And such excitement: tomorrow my new hens arrive - to replace the ones that were killed by the neighbour's marauding dog. I have a new coop all ready for them, obtained from Heritage & Sons,  who deliver all over the UK and is really easy to keep clean. It's very eco-friendly as it is made from recycled plastic materials sourced from farms. The chickens (point-of-lay pullets) are coming from my favourite supplier, Cyril Bason of Craven Arms in Shropshire. I had hoped to be able to replace with an identical breed (Bason White), but no stock was available so I'm taking Rhode Rocks which will lay good brown eggs. It will be so good to put our kitchen scraps to good use; and for winter greenery, I'll sow perpetual spinach in spare ground.

Weeds or a feast for wild birds?
Teasels were once used commercially;
let them self-seed; bees and goldfinches
love them.  Remove those
you don't want.
Last but not least, I have determined not to be too zealous in my end-of-summer tidying. As writer Frank Ronan says, "Don't be too neat - enjoy the garden's blowsiness before it disappears." So leave some overgrowth for hibernating ladybirds, and seedheads for finches and other winter visitors.
In our September newsletter (coming shortly), we will be focussing on the handyman in the garden - and blogging live on the 'edible gardens' from the RHS Malvern Autumn Show
24th & 25th September.

Friday, 26 August 2011

Wormeries and Bokashi Bins

potato peelings and chopped outer leaves of cabbage are perfect for worms
What do you do with surplus vegetable matter once the compost heap is full to overflowing, and with meat scraps when your chickens have had their fill? Start a wormery with the veg and running-to-seed lettuce, peelings etc, and pickle meat, fish scraps and cooked veg (plate scrapings or left-overs) in a bokashi bin. The resulting compost mixtures produced by both will greatly benefit the garden, as a soil-enricher, and are perfect when growing plants in pots. And wormeries and bokashi bins do not consume much space - unless of course you go in for them in a big way.

Setting up my wormery - the first layer (please note, this is a different model to the one supplied by Dobies).
Let's first look at wormeries and how they work. Worms are scavengers, chewing and digesting vegetable matter, composting it inside themselves, converting waste into usable 'compost' and a rich liquid feed. You can make your own but it is far easier to purchase a system - either a cheaper single bin or the deluxe (and much easier to use) tiered version. Having used both, go for the latter if at all possible, with either three or four tiers.

Adding the worms - feed them well and they soon multiply.
Whichever system you choose, each kit comes complete with all you need to start, including tiger (brandling) worms. These are the little red ones you'll find at the bottom of any compost heap. Add soft leafy material, tea leaves, eggshells, torn up cardboard-cores from toilet rolls but nothing woody and no meat, fat, fish or dairy products.

All set and ready to go. The worms gradually chomp through the vegetable waste. I keep my wormery in an open outhouse; the worms survived last winter's extreme cold (-9 degrees C for weeks on end) as I covered the bins with an old blanket at night.

My bokashi bins have proved a blessing in disguise.
And so to the Bokashi system of 'digesting' waste from the kitchen, cooked and uncooked. I am in no way a scientific gardener, but the concept behind bokashi (efficient microbes) seemed so simple and just what I needed when I was chicken-less a couple of years back. What the chickens had previously cleared up, now went into the bin, each layer interspersed with bokashi. Effectively, this pickled the food waste - no smell, no flies, no resorting to landfill.

This may look as if nothing has happened, but it has! Perfect in the runner bean trench, too.
Two bins are better than one, for you need to allow some time for the pickling process to take place, and even then I was surprised by the result - it doesn't compost at all. I buried my first results at the bottom of large plant pots in which I grew courgettes, and this last year as the lower layer when starting my four raised beds. Plants thrived, and I would not be without them now, even though I have chickens again.

Bizarre as it might seem, snail droppings can be used to enrich potting composts - I'd rather put them to good use than have them seeking out my young plants. Thrushes (and my ducks) used to keep is snail-free, but ducks are a thing of the past and thrushes are sadly in decline.
Next, I'm going to try a 'snailery' - not to eat! - but another way of producing compost. Is anyone interested in joining me online to report progress? Maybe through Dobies Facebook? Indeed, maybe we should do that with our wormeries and bokashi bins.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Gardening Book Recommendations

Work in progress - adding perennials and herbs to the potager
There's something about August and - for those with children - the school holiday period, that has one thinking of changed directions. Such a good time to learn something different, or catch up on those books piled in the bookshelf that you hoped to read when you had a spare moment. Spare moments rarely come for gardeners; there's always more to be done outside. I've just spent the morning expanding the potager; adding more herbs and planting some of the perennial plugs bought earlier that will attract welcome insects throughout the autumn and next spring and summer.

As for book recommendations; here's an eclectic mix - not perhaps usually to be found on a gardener's bookshelf, but worthy of checking, depending on your interests.

'A-Z of Flower Portraits' by Billy Showell (published 2010 by Search Press) is an illustrated guide to painting 40 watercolour flower portraits, in a traditional botanical style, but with a contemporary feel. Perfect for anyone who would like to illustrate a garden journal, Billy offers extensive advice on materials and equipment, useful step-by-step techniques; and, for each chosen flower, a colour palette so you can follow her skilled tutorials.

'Gourds + Fiber' might at first appear to be just a bit of fun, but is a highly imaginative book for the 'crafty' gardener who would like to discover how to turn gourds into decorative objects by embellishing them with basketry, weaving, stitching, macrame and more. Written by Ginger Summit and Jim Widess and just published by Lark Crafts, you'll soon be planning what gourds to sow and grow next year. An age-old craft in cultures around the world, the authors lead you step-by-step through numerous techniques.

Here's one that your children can enjoy with you: 'Don't throw it, Grow it!' is a light-hearted guide to growing 68 windowsill plants from kitchen scraps - kitchen experiments in the wonders of botany. Written by Deborah Peterson and published by Storey, it will introduce you some fascinating techniques and snippets of information; you'll soon be wanting to experiment with far more than watching feathery leaves emerge from a carrot-top on a saucer.

'The Historic Gardens of Wales' has fascinated me ever since I discovered it in a bookshop in Carmarthen. Perfect for lovers of history, it will introduce you to the parks and gardens significant in the history of Wales, from Roman and medieval beginnings to the Edwardian era and beyond. First published in 1982 by CADW: Welsh Historic Monuments (HMSO), it contains numerous reproductions of contemporary maps and also includes a list of locations regularly open to the public. Don't go on holiday without a copy.

'Growing Older' is sub-titled a Chronicle of Death, Life and Vegetables - one of those books that you wonder why you bought but find you cannot put down. Author and farmer, Joan Dye Gussow (now in her eighties) writes with humour in this memoir of life after the death of her husband; she continued to grow her year-round diet even under changed circumstances; scattered throughout are urgent suggestions about what growing older on a changing planet will call on all of us to do: learn self-reliance. Published 2011 by Chelsea Green.

BUYING BOOKS: you will find that by clicking on any book title link within this blog - sidebars or within posts - it will take you to Amazon where you can discover more about the book, or buy it at reduced prices. (More book reviews can always be found on our Editor's Book Blog.)