Into the garden…April in West Wales

Making compost
Compost corner. Making great compost.

Its early April, and here in West Wales it’s a good time to get into the garden, do some basic maintenance, sow some seeds, and plan for the season ahead. All through last summer and in to the autumn, I added vegetable waste to my compost pile, then tucked it up in a brown corrugated cardboard cocoon, topped with an old carpet, and left it to do its thing.  Yesterday I removed the carpet, incorporated the corrugated cardboard, now well rotted, and took off the top layers of semi rotted material, turning them into a second heap ( seen to the right with a mossy carpet covering!)  The remaining compost is well rotted down, sweet smelling, fine and a rich brown colour.  There is quite a lot of it, and I have already top dressed the beds in the greenhouse, adding about 4inches all over.  I have also used a deep layer in two upended plastic dustbins with the bottoms cut off, in which I have planted Lady Balfour First early potatoes.  ( one just seen in left of photo) I have plans to grow pumpkin, squash and courgette, and have planted these in individual pots in the greenhouse. I will pot them on into garden compost when they are big enough.  There is plenty to top dress other hungry plants as and when needed.

What to compost?

I use a mixture of nitrogenous materials and carbon….which effectively means, Greens and Browns. For my purposes, Greens include any leafy material, chopped up vegetable stalks, chopped up garden prunings, outer leaves of veg that you cannot eat, vegetable peelings, pulp from juicing, anything fruit or vegetable, grass cuttings ( no grass in my own garden, but occasionally from neighbours), foraged seaweed………Browns include dried autumn leaves and dried perennials that have been left to stand during the winter, egg cartons, egg shells, shredded paper, corrugated cardboard, toilet roll card rolls…….mix it up occasionally with a garden fork. You can also add in horse manure or chicken manure and you can use urine as an activator.

When to compost.

All of the time. I now have one heap ready for use and have already started a new heap with the semi rotted top of the old one.

 

 

The water butt
The water butt. Conserving water for use in the garden

Water conservation.

Wales is renowned for its rainfall! However, even in a Welsh summer you can run short of water. My water is metered, so why not use the stuff that falls from the sky….collect it in a water butt as it runs off a sloping roof ( this is outside my greenhouse). Collect it in buckets strategically placed around the garden.  Rainwater is Much better for your plants than  the chemically treated tap water.

Powered by worms.

The compost heap comprises decomposing vegetable waste. A lot of the work of transforming your vegetable waste into sweet smelling plant nutritious compost is carried out by worms.  Composting worms eat and excrete. What goes in one end comes out the other end ten times richer! Look after your composting worms!

The worm farm.

Preview…..In the picture above, you can see the lid of my latest worm farm. I started one last year and used the “worm tea”  that collects in the bottom chamber, as a general plant food for everything in my garden. This amazing liquid is used 1 part to 10 parts water. It is totally organic, and as powerful as seaweed fertiliser.

There will be more to come on the worm farm…..setting up, feeding the worms, collecting the run off, collecting the worm casts.

As the weather warms up a bit, it’s time for some planting. Here is my greenhouse, with 3 inch pots planted with single seeds. I have planted pumpkin, courgette and squash. I have also planted some flower seeds, pot marigold, and cornflower.  The two hanging baskets are a bit of an experiment, as I was given a couple of paper petunia discs, that you just place on top of your compost and cover lightly….I will give them a go! In this picture you can also see some of my remaining over winter kale. Despite the poor light levels in the winter, it is worth planting a couple of rows of kale in October to see through to the spring. It is leggy, but really tender and delicious! It’s great to have something this fresh! Outside, I have planted onion sets, variety Snowball. Last year I gave onions a miss, but the year before had quite a decent crop!

Seed planting in pots
Planting vegetable seeds in the greenhouse
Planting kale
Kale plants, early sewing outdoors

Outside, a few little pots of kale to grow on into the summer. Kale can be planted just about any time of the year, and withstands frosts and poor weather.

Jobs for this week:-

Divide and repot houseplants.  Mulch beds with bark chippings. Empty pots of spent bulbs. Clear any brambles. Plan plantings in empty raised beds. Start beans in pots. Make second worm farm.

Harvest some rhubarb, kale, fresh herbs. Make and enjoy crumble, savoury pasta or omelette!

Later in the week…..more on the worm farm.

1 kilo of tiger worms have arrived through the post and are looking healthy and well after their journey in a breathable hessian bag, with their bedding, in a cardboard box.

DIY wormfarm
DIY wormfarm, vermiculture project

Making a worm farm is not difficult! I have used two large plastic pots. The bottom one acts as a sump and collects the “worm tea”,  which is essentially worm wee. This fluid is highly nutritious to all of your plants, flowers and vegetables, and should be diluted 10 parts water to 1 part worm tea. I drilled some holes about 1/3 down, all around, to keep a good airflow going.  Inside I have placed a smaller upturned flower pot, or a brick can be used. To keep the top container above any collected liquid. For a more sophisticated set up, you can add a tap to the bottom container, and elevate it on bricks. However I just take the top off the bottom and pour the liquid off!

The top container has more holes drilled around and its base is drilled all over to allow the liquid to drain down. The base is covered in an old fine mesh sack, which stops the worms falling through the holes.  Worm bedding is placed at the base of the top container. I have used moistened coir, or you can use compost. I have put in about 3 inches. On top of this I have put shredded egg cartons and cardboard, also moistened. This gives the worms somewhere to initially live and retreat to.

Tiger worms
1 kilo tiger worms

Today The worms arrived through the post, and their new home was ready for them to go right in.  It takes them a few hours to orientate themselves, so it is best to cover them over and leave them alone for a while. Compost worms like these do not like to be in the light, so it is wise to keep them covered except when feeding them.

Cover the worms in cardboard or hessian.
Worm farm, keep the worms damp and happy and keep the light out!

I am using some brown cardboard. You can also use hessian sacking or newspaper. Whatever you use should be kept damp.

Food stuff for composting worms
Feeding the tiger worms

Compost worms will gradually devour your kitchen scraps and turn them into worm castings, which are like very fine seed compost, and into worm tea, that you can use to feed your plants.

Worms will eat most fruit and vegetables, although citrus and peppers are too acidic for them, and should be avoided. Past experience has told me that worms really enjoy banana skins, coffee grounds, tea bags and rotting pineapple.  For the new worms, I have given them a few shredded kale leaves, some banana skin a rotten apple and a rotten pomegranate salvaged from the old,compost heap!

Maintenance.

Worms need a sheltered place and must be covered over to stay safe and in the dark. Your worm farm must have good airflow. Your wormfarm should be kept just damp but not wet. Check the sump regularly. Worm tea can be stored in plastic bottles for later use. Do not allow the liquid to build up and enter the top container or your worms will drown.

Eventually, all the food that you give your worms will be converted into castings and fill the top container.  You can tip this out on to a plastic sheet, cover one end with damp newspaper and the worms will all retreat to the damp newspaper end to hide away. You can then transfer this bit of compost and all the worms safely back into the container and start all over  again!  What you are left with is a quantity of wonderful castings to be used for planting seeds, conditioning your soil….etc.etc.

More on the worms in the future.

Planting celery in April.

I haven’t grown these from seed, but bought a strip at the local garden centre last week. Last season I had some success with celery in a raised bed, and we used it all season for juicing. We still had celery standing and usable at the end of September.  This year I am experimenting with planting in raised troughs, which I have 1/3 filled with polystyrene packaging,  to save on weight and quantity of compost. I am using organic compost with just a small handful of organic chicken dung pellets added.

Planting celery in April
Celery plants in a trough
Plastic bottle cloches
Celery under cloches

The night can still be pretty cold here in West Wales, so I have put each little celery plant under a plastic bottle cloche for protection.

New sowings  today in the greenhouse…..purple basil and garlic chives. I have planted these thinly across a simple cellular tray under a plastic lid.  My greenhouse is an unheated, polycarbonate structure, so I use fleece protection at night over anything tender.  I have always found basil to be quite tricky…but if it germinates, I thought of planting it in the greenhouse rather than in pots.