Oh yes – this is VERY welcome. Warmer and finally, drier. Our boggy, saturated ground is at last getting a breather – and so are we. It’s been such fun this week, starting to put the wintertime planning and preparation into action. I get the impression this is how lots of gardeners feel at this time of year – personally I feel like an eager puppy who’s been let off the leash!
Welcoming back Gail and John
It was wonderful on Wednesday to welcome back both Gail and John to Langdon. Gail has been gardening for us since Spring 2019 and has created and developed many areas of the garden – from magnificent formal rose beds by the lake, to cottage garden floral abundance, to wildflower-led sections where the best of the self-seeders are welcomed to flourish. She teaches me a lot, and gives me encouragement when I get overwhelmed by the scale of our project. It’s so good to have her back as Spring kicks off.
Gail planting lavendar – Nov ’20
John started mowing here towards the end of last year and it’s so lovely to have him back with us again for the new season.
John and his trusty Hayter
Three-bin compost system from 10 upcycled pallets
My proudest achievement of the past month has been making this three-bin compost system – all by myself! This feels like big deal now, but I would love to get to a point when knocking up something useful for the garden out of a few pallets we’ve got lying around was just an everyday thing for me.
The Making Of….
The pallets came from our farmer neighbour. (If you’re looking for some pallets, try a local community sharing site or Facebook group – I checked ours and quite a few people were offering them for free over the past year). I was lucky to get these particular ones – not only are they very strong and sturdy, but being the same size it made it so much easier to put together and have a nice-looking end product. They also had all the right markings very clearly stamped on them so I could be sure they are safe to use, ie not treated with toxic chemicals which could leach into the compost. (The symbols to look for are EPAL (middle pic), IPPC (the logo on the right hand pic), and HT which stands for heat treated (right pic). Avoid pallets with the letters MB which means they have been treated with Methyl-Bromide, a toxic pesticide.
Images showing EPAL and IPPC logos, and the letters HT (heat treated). All good indications that the pallets have not been treated with toxic chemicals that could leach into the compost.
Once I’d stood 7 of the panels up to make the backs and sides, I could see that I didn’t really need to do anything to them at all except drill them together at the corners. Then I took the fronts off another three pallets to make the slide up and down ‘door panels’. When I say ‘took’, I mean wrenched – not a pretty sight. There was a lot of grunting (ARRRRR!!), and it took bloody ages sometimes, but hey – it turned out to be doable, even for a weed like me. I drilled wooden bars onto the fronts and little stoppers at the backs to keep these movable front panels in place.
Compost bin 1 lined with cardboard. In this image you can also see how the slide up front panel rests in place.
Finally, as you can see in the picture above, I lined the first bin (the first one to be used) with cardboard, attached with a staple gun. This is to keep in moisture/reduce air flow, because my previous outdoor compost attempts have been too dry – so it’s just an experiment really. We’ll see if it helps.
Why 3 bins?
The idea of the 3 bins is that you can have your compost at three stages of development/use.
The Filling Bin is the one you’re filling, so it will always have a top layer of recently added, undecomposed material. Once the bin is full, move the compost into Bin 2. The process of turning it (ie material that was at the bottom ends up at the top) aerates the compost.
The Leave It Alone Bin is the maturing stage. It still has some way to go before it’s ready to use, but it’s not being added to any more. After a few months, it’s moved again, into Bin 3.
The Finished Compost Bin is the usable compost. Anytime you need some compost to use for the garden you take it from here.
Filling it up – Compost ingredients
A mix of nitrogen-rich grass and carbon-rich cardboard and woody cuttings.
Yesterday the garden had its first mow, providing loads of lovely nitrogen-rich green stuff to kick-start the first bin. I had some ripped up cardboard at the ready to mix with it, and a few woody cuttings. I’ve got an ailing chipper that I’m desperate to get working soon so that the supply of brown woody material will keep up with the influx of green that spring will bring. I also have a bucket of ash from our wood-burner at the ready and I’m adding a few handfuls of that here and there. Used sparingly, this adds a dose of extra nutrients such as carbon and potassium.
Finally yesterday evening I poked the thermometer in – only 30 degrees so far but hopefully it’ll start cooking soon – I’d love it to get really hot, in the 50+ zone. Then we’d really be making compost!
‘Browns’ – Wood ash and Cardboard
Seedlings sown on Valentine’s Day
Another exciting development of the past couple of weeks has been the start of the veggie growing season. On Valentine’s weekend I sowed spring onions, onions, cauliflower, mixed salad leaves, lettuce, dill, parsley, coriander, red bell pepper, and sweet peas. I kept them inside for the first week and a half but yesterday introduced them to a new home in the potting shed.
New shed all set up
Last weekend Brian kitted it out with a light, and an extractor fan to stop it over-heating. We’re not sure how effective the fan is going to be, so yesterday I put some white horticultural fleece over the window – hoping that will reduce the glare and full heat of the sun on the little seedlings. I’ll be keeping a close eye on my babies. And this coming weekend I’ll sow my next batch of seeds.
Experimenting with white fleece shade to protect from full glare and heat of the sun
Watering From The Well
I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that we have a well next to a gnarly old apple tree. During the heavy rain the water came up over the top and the tree became an island in a little lake. Now the water has receded again – about a foot below ground level as you can see in this not very good picture below. I had the idea to collect some water from it to water my seedlings in the shed and was totally shocked to find that the water was so crystal clear! Getting the water tested has now moved up my to do list – would be amazing if we could drink it too.
Water from the earth
Making Tree Signs
One of my winter weather projects has been making these wooden signs to go under the trees. They’re made from pine timber off cuts, and I’ve painted the common names on one side, Latin name on the back. Some have the date of planting too.
It’s been a lovely project to do and I’m really pleased with how they’ve come out. I embarked on the project partly because I wanted to name the trees, but also to practice for a bigger project – naming the 11 wooden veggie beds. I have in mind that I’ll name each bed after a tree – rowan, willow, yew etc – but I’m still thinking. Perhaps I’ll use funky fungi names instead. Watch this space.
‘Eat The Seasons’ Course
Finally, I’ve started a new monthly online course with an amazing local business, Wasted Kitchen. Last year I realised the extent to which it’s no use having a bumper crop of fruit and veg if you haven’t got lots of different recipes for using it, as well as the skills to store and preserve for the winter months. So when I saw this course advertised, I jumped at it. Each month the class focuses on the food of the season, with tips and ideas on how to prepare, cook and preserve. I learned loads at the first one last week and can proudly say that I now know what to do with a celeriac! If you’re interested, take a look here.
I think I’m finally through all my news. It’s so good to have lots to tell after the long winter. 🙂