I can't believe that a month has gone by since my last blog post. That time has flown by, and my initial reaction when I realised that another blog post was due this week was dismay, that I would have to own up to my lack of progress in the garden, but when I sat down to look at what we have been doing, I didn't feel too bad. There has been some progress here, although admittedly, not much of it is visible.....
….. apart from the addition of a huge pile of mulch on the back lawn!
A few weeks ago, some neighbourhood trees were removed to make way for cable laying. I was very sad to see the trees go. There are lots of lovely big trees in this small town – a big thank you to whoever planted them all those years ago!
However, there is always a silver lining, and although we have lost some of the trees along our road, the guys running the mulcher were quite happy to back up our driveway and dump a truckload of mulch on the back lawn. It is a very welcome acquisition, because in order to have a beautiful productive garden here, we will definitely need to put some effort into building up the soil, so we need to get a good composting system going.
It's always worth remembering why we compost.
Besides being a great way to dispose of household kitchen waste, good compost can be used as a soil conditioner, a mulch, a potting mix ingredient, and a fertiliser to feed your plants, slowly releasing nutrients to your plants over time. Adding good compost to your soil also improves clay soil, making it easier to work, and helps sandy soil hold more water. We have sandy soil here, so adding compost will help our plants to better withstand dry periods.
Where does this pile of mulch come in? For good compost, you need to have the right carbon to nitrogen ratio. To simplify things, rather than carbon/nitrogen, you could think of your compost ingredients as browns (carbon) and greens (nitrogen).
Browns are ingredients that contain a high percentage of carbon – they are therefore usually dry and brown in colour. Some examples of brown compost ingredients are dry yellow or brown leaves and grasses, tall, woody plant stalks like sunflower stalks or corn stalks, paper and wood products such as sawdust, shredded paper and chopped up twigs, wood ash, and even coffee grounds. Greens are ingredients that are high in nitrogen. Some examples of green compost ingredients are kitchen scraps, green gardening waste, lawn clippings and manure. An ideal compost pile should start with a carbon/nitrogen ratio of 30:1 C/N.
If you have too much nitrogen in your compost pile (easily done if you add a lot of green weeds, grass clippings and kitchen waste), you can end up with a “sour” compost pile, as the excess nitrogen converts to ammonia gas. If you have an overbalance of brown ingredients (this is a less common problem), your compost will lack the protein that the microbes in your compost pile need to thrive – your compost pile will decay a lot more slowly. Make sure you add layers of soil to your compost pile to kick-start its population of microbes and bacteria. Finally, your compost, which is full of living micro-organisms, worms, and insects, needs air and water to function.....your compost pile needs to be “fluffy” so air can move about. When you begin to build your compost pile, start branches, sticks and twigs, so that air can get into your compost pile, and to improve drainage. Turning your compost helps to improve airflow through your compost pile. Compost also need to have the right water content – compost should feel like a wrung-out sponge.
What does all this mean? To keep it simple, remember to add plenty of brown materials to your compost pile – we are delighted to have a huge pile of fresh tree mulch because we can add it to the compost to keep our carbon/nitrogen ratios correct.
As well as starting on our composting, we have started to work towards removing our big, dead tree. In the spirit of zero-waste, we have been taking the tree down branch by branch and making it into kindling.....but chainsaw day is coming soon – we need the space clear for tree-planting season so we can get some fruit trees in the ground.
It is mushroom season here....most days I have been coming home with a big bag of mushrooms from my morning walk with the dog. Picking field mushrooms has reminded me that I should care for our mushroom logs....it's been very dry here lately and the logs have dried out a lot – they are now soaking in a wheelbarrow and I will be moving some of the river stones to make a platform under the trees for the logs to sit on, so they are not lying directly on the ground. Then we can look forward to some more shiitakes!
Watering the pots is the main thing to be done in the garden lately – the herbs are growing well and it is nice to have some fresh herbs in the kitchen again, after twelve months of deprivation! Here is our fresh basil, along with the last of the neighbour's tomato harvest. She has shared so many tomatoes with us, that we thought she was a master tomato grower. I found out today it was their first season growing tomatoes, so it goes to show that gardening is for everyone! It has been a real treat having some home-grown tomatoes again – the flavour is indescribably better than the supermarket tomatoes and I'm determined to have good, fertile garden beds ready for the next tomato season – Orange Oxheart and Black from Tula, here I come!
The seedlings have all been pricked out. The lettuces are doing beautifully, and I am very excited about my little lavender seedlings, which have their first true leaves! The cabbage butterflies did some damage to the brassicas (I should have covered those seedlings), but the spinach and leeks are looking good.
My wonderful next door neighbour has offered me some of her stunning hyacinth bulbs!
These are the largest hyacinths I have ever seen - the flowers are nearly as big as my hand, and are the prettiest pale mauve colour.
They are popping up everywhere in her garden at the moment and they are so pretty. I'm looking forward to growing them, and am so pleased that she has plenty to spare!
What is my next project? It will have to be the front garden! By next month, all these ramshackle shrubs will be gone and I will have made some progress with my cottage garden! I promise!