Composting walk at RECG – write-up

A couple of weeks ago, I arranged with for one of Changeworks’ master composters to visit the Royal Edinburgh Community Garden. Am very grateful to Kathleen at Changeworks for sorting this out, and to Alexey for giving up an afternoon to talk about compost.

It was a drizzly day and only a couple of people were at the garden, so Sean was able to give us a tour of the gardens and reflect on the composting opportunities (or lack thereof) at various sites.

Here’s some notes from the day:

  • I had originally thought that the large amounts of green waste at the North of the site might be used for creating a hot composting project to obtain a yield. Even though there’s a lot of green waste, it turns out to be low quality and of mixed provenance, so the general feeling was that it’s not worth using at the moment. It’s better to work with smaller amounts of high quality, known provenance material which is easier to work with, should make a better compost and reduce the risk of contamination.
  • There is a new volunteer — Andy — who’s starting on site. He has over 20 years experience of working with compost and wormeries, so should be able to give good advice.
  • There’s lots of comfrey around, so there’s scope for making comfrey liquor
  • The nettles in the orchard will be managed this year, and areas will be cut to provide different sward heights. There’s not been a decision what to do with the cut nettles yet. Leaving them to recycle where they lie is an option, so we’d have to suggest a better alternative if we want to use them.
  • There’s an earth pile by the top field that has both comfrey and nettle growing profusely out of it; I may take bets on which plant will out-compete the other
  • Sean has a small electric chipper, but a petrol one would be needed for any major chipping project
  • Sean was interested in the hot composting and I have a compost thermometer as part of my numeracy work at the Grassmarket Community Project – I’m going to think about a numeracy and composting module

One of the highlights of the day was walking down into the orchard through a light drizzle and seeing the apple trees covered in lichen. Resplendent, even! There’s a lot of lichen on the trees for a city site, and the moisture in the air made the lichens a vibrant green.

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top 10 weeds

Before I start my 5 minute hate, the good news: the first flowers on the strawberries are out and everything I’ve planted this year is coming along fine. But today, I saw my first potato leaf and that’s sent me off on one…

In the 3 years I’ve had this allotment I’ve not planted potatoes. I think they take up loads of space and are relatively cheap in the shops, so I’ve been concentrating on growing soft fruit and vegetables that are expensive, or don’t travel, or we didn’t get enough of in our organic veg box. So every year I’ve had potatoes springing up around the plot (and even managed to get a fair haul of potatoes) but I don’t want them! Half of them that I dig up are pink fir apple and these knobbly things have bits that break off readily.

Not sure that I can put the plants in any order of weediness. The first three are the most problematic.

  • grass
  • horsetail
  • potatoes
  • brambles – they scare me with their habit of rooting wherever they touch the ground
  • comfrey – if it just stayed in a nice patch I’d be happy, but the roots have strayed all over the plot. When I’m digging up the errant plants, I dread the crunch of roots breaking
  • nettles
  • creeping buttercup
  • sticky william (galium aparine and its many common names from plantlives.com)
  • raspberries – shallow roots have gone all over the West end of the plot.
  • dandelion

Such a lot of weeding…

…for the beans and onions. On the way into the allotment on Sunday, I noticed the alpine strawberries had flowers out, so checked the summer-fruiting ones. Removed the mulch and weeded the bed, and found that all 10 plants are still going (some more than others). Mulched around them with chopped up comfrey and grass. The plot’s looking neater.

Turf houses

Must be something in the air … A low impact woodland home in Wales plus an article on building it, and this week’s Big Issue Scotland headlines a £4000 straw and turf house in Dumfries. Wayne Hemingway’s opinion piece is a little po-faced. He’s right that duplicating the £4000 house will not solve a housing crisis, however he fails to laud the recycling and community aspects of the build.

In allotment news: planted the remaining 21 beans. The first lot didn’t look like they’d germinated, and I wonder whether I planted them too deep. Rhubarb stalks starting to unfurl on all three crowns.

Dug up the comfrey that was growing near my blackcurrants; almost a bucketful of roots. I’ve come to recognise the brittle tearing sound of comfrey roots, and the ensuing search for slivers of root that have broken off in case they regenerate. Am waiting for the horsetails to spring up soon, and then I’ll know Spring is really here.

The chives have growing again in my garden — didn’t spot these down the allotment.

Update

That’s the second Sunday in a row I’ve been down to the allotment. Yes, I know that isn’t a lot :( Once again I’ve been in trouble with the Allotment Officer, and he’s trying to get me to move to a half plot. But I’ve put a lot of effort into the current plot and planted winter onions, so I’m damned if I’m going to move…

With the clocks going back, the daughter was awake at a ridiculously early time so I got down the allotment not long after 9am GMT. The low Autumn sun doesn’t burn the dew off very quickly, and the plot was looking quite blasted. A couple of hours of tidying up made me feel better, though. Added lots of material to the new compost bin: nettles from the path to the North of the plot; comfrey from around the blackcurrants; and a few stray raspberry canes.

Last year’s leafmould supply has now run out, so three of my beds don’t have a mulch on. There may be some cardboard under the stairs, but that might make the plot unsightly. It might also act as a slug hideout, like the mulch around the courgettes.

two frogs and a newt

  • saw two species of frog and a newt
  • some pods actually arriving on the beans
  • definitive proof that standard shears are way better than hand-shears — I’ve done more grass cutting on the path
  • noticed that someones been chucking rose cuttings into my plot
  • perhaps that’s why the jerusalem artichoke got knocked over
  • made inroads to the old compost bins and hacked back the omfrey. Will need to make some fence if I remove the whole of that structure
  • lots of stuff could be burnt … and I saw how to make a firepit at 60 South Clerk Street
  • a bit of weeding .. isn’t there always?

2 hours this morning. Felt dejected at first because all the plants I’ve tried this year have got problems: beans all eaten, courgettes with mildew, spinach bolted, etc. Also the weeds and grasses are all grown up. But when I got stuck in to pulling up fireweed I perked up. Comfrey cut back and put on the compost heap.

Brought a small punnet of raspberries back. Will head out later today (after the Tour) and pick up rhubarb. Would have liked to make jam today, but I need to buy enough jars/waxed paper circles/etc.