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.

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
  • raspberries – shallow roots have gone all over the West end of the plot.
  • dandelion


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.

Mostly weeding and mulching

Been to the allotment twice today. Got there at noon and has a mooch around, planted a second row of spinach, attended to the French beans, and got a barrowful of leafmould, but it was too hot and I had forgotten to bring any water. So at 1pm I headed home, had some lunch and headed out to Redhall walled garden, met A+J at the Water of Leith visitor centre and then pottered around the allotment again, mainly to plant a tiny lavender that I bought from Redhall.
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Sounds like a sneeze but tastes good: I have been cooking cream of nettle and potato soup. It’s extreme cooking where one has to clear up fastidiously, and I’m minded not to go barefoot when cooking with nettles again. Wore gardening gloves at the allotment to put them into a bag; wore marigolds in the kitchen when preparing them.

Chopped the potatoes into large chunks and started to sautée them in olive oil; chopped garlic and caraway seeds and put to one side. On opening the bag of nettles there was a fresh smell, like cut grass, with an astringent immediacy. Handled them very carefully, removed the leaves from the stalks which were quite tough (it is quite late in the year for culinary nettles), and washed them. Then chopped handfuls into strips. Once all were cut, I popped the garlic and seeds into the pan, stirred for a few seconds and threw in the nettles. Cleaned up carefully, and took the gloves off.

Sautéed them for a few minutes. Was very reminiscent of spinach, and looks like a dahl sag with them would work OK. Then poured in stock and left to simmer until the potatoes softened. Liquidised and then poured in the cream.

Perhaps I put too many caraway seeds in because I could only notice a faint vegetable taste when I started eating the soup. After some spoonfuls I could pick up an aftertaste, metallic and minty, but not much. Will see how I get on.

The Scot’s Herbal by Tess Darwin (ISBN 1873644604) has a couple of pages on nettles. Apparently they have laxative and diuretic properties so I’d better make this second bowl my last. They’re certainly fibrous but no more so than kale. She notes that they’re usually picked when 15-25cm high, and that repeated cutting keeps the plants in a juvenile state for much of the summer. She recounts an 1898 recipe from Islay to take a large apronful of nettles, two handfuls of meal, two gallons of water and a piece of salt beef or braxty.