Soil enrichment training, day 1

Transition Edinburgh South has arranged some sessions of Soil Enrichment Training, delivered by Sam Jess of Greenway. The first one, on Thursday, was an introduction to why hot composting can make usable compost in a fraction of the time that standard garden composting can. Sam’s got a great understanding of the composting process and gave us some context for the urgency of the task: to build soil fertility and get growing good food.

Group at Soil Enrichment Training, discussion round an outdoors table

Group at Soil Enrichment Training

3 hours introduction to composting. Is that a lot? When I told my colleagues that I had the opportunity to go to 45 hours of compost training, they thought they’d misheard 4 or 5 hours. Heh! I can confidently say that all if all 45 hours are as rich as the first 3, then I’ll have a serious body of knowledge to assimilate by the end of the course.

Notes from the course

Notes from the course

Some notes from the course: aerobic, thermophilic composting; water and oxygen can be limiting factors; turn compost every 3-4 days; build a compost food web in 9 days, and that food web will continue when the rough compost is applied to a garden. Alternatively, the rough compost can then go into vermiculture and be refined.

One of the handouts was an image of the soil food web, found on USDA soil biology primer. Here’s the image:

The soil food web

Just to add some compost resources:

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.

Phoenix centre garden cleanup

Had a very productive morning in the playgroup garden, assisted by Stephen and Gavin. Perhaps assisted is the wrong word for it: they did the graft and I faffed around with habitat piles, rakes and compost heaps. All the nettles are now gone and there’s a decent view from the kitchen window, so I think there’s more scope for the kids to get outside during the playgroup sessions.

View from the kitchen before the cleanup

View from the kitchen before the cleanup

View from the kitchen, after the morning's work

View from the kitchen, after the morning's work

Plenty much vegetation outside the window

Plenty much vegetation outside the window

much clearer view of the window after our efforts

much clearer view of the window after our efforts

A respectably-sized compost heap

A respectably-sized compost heap

For the record, it took three of us 2 hours to

  • prune the trees outside the kitchen
  • pull the ivy off the kitchen wall
  • cut back all the weeds around the edge of the garden
  • attempted to discourage people climbing over the fence by piling prunings across an ad hoc path
  • found a Peppa Pig football and 2 tennis balls
  • built a compost heap

Master composter training

Last night I went to the first training session of the Changeworks master composters. It’s a nice organisation to volunteer for and I loved the confessional ice-breaker: I’m Alex and I’m a home composter…. Some really interesting people & stories in the group…

After the Yes/No game, I feel quite confident in my ability to compost, so now I’ve just got to put the hours in… first thing: the Shandon Food event on Tue 3 Feb. Next: second training session on Sunday 8 Feb. Then the world’s my … err … aerobic decomposer!

Creating, maintaining, transforming

I felt the need to get to the plot because it’s a time of renewal and change in the Celtic calendar. At this time of year one has to make the most of the weather, and it turned into a gloriously warm and sunny day. I just went down to propagate some blackcurrants but then spent 3 hours getting stuff done: built new compost bins, propagated 4 blackcurrants and 2 elder, and dug up the remaining redcurrant bush.

new compost bins in the sunlight

new compost bins in the sunlight

elder, blckcurrants and strawberries. the bed has been weeded!

elder, blackcurrants and strawberries. the bed has been weeded!

a view of the allotment with the remaining redcurrant

a view of the allotment with the remaining redcurrant

Had a friend round for dinner last night who pointed out that this was like the Hindu trinity: Brahma the creator, Vishnu the maintainer and Shiva the destroyer or transformer. I certainly transformed the redcurrant as I took the secateurs to it and put it into the habitat pile behind the red shed, and I’m becoming less squeamish about uprooting plants because I know that the minibeasts and fungi will find the remains attractive.

The other friend who was round for dinner suggested I could rip up the vicious rose in the centre of the plot if it was getting out of hand. That is probably going a step too far, but I will prune it back hard.

My fourth compost bin…

I have 2 down the allotment, and now a second one at home:

Keep the momentum going…

My mum brought us a kitchen compost caddy last time she came round. It’s way bigger than the previous thing we used so I’ve put it on the floor by the kitchen entrance, up close to the baby gate and in plain sight for the daughter.

She’s obviously watched me ripping up cardboard and did her annoying point-and-squeak when I was tearing up some stuff yesterday. So I tore off a strip and made a wee tear in the long side and gave it to her. She’s not the quickest at tearing the stuff up, but she got so excited… me too. I’m so chuffed she’s copying my good behaviour.

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.