Friday, 15 March 2019

Wiggle Wiggle Wiggle... Vermiculture

We received a  very generous Christmas present of cheeses delivered over three months.  Each delivery is made with an ice pack in a polystyrene box so that the cheeses arrive in peak condition.  The question arises: what to do with the box?  Well three well insulated stacking boxes is just the right number for a wormery! 

The bottom box needs to be watertight (to catch the "worm tea") but the the top two boxes need holes to allow the air to circulate - and the worms too.  The lid needs holes to allow the air in. So it is out with the trusty soldering iron to make those holes.

Next add worms to the middle box.  No problem as we have a plentiful supply from our maturing dalek composter.  Sure enough it is teaming with them. Along with them comes a layer of "bedding" - partially composted material.  The  worms will soon settle down in their familiar environment, although it is going to be a bit warmer in their new indoor location which they should love.

Next, some new food for them to get to work on, still in the middle box sitting on top of the bottom "reservoir" box:

The third box sits on top.  Once the worms settle into the middle box and grow out of it their food will be added to this box and the worms will move up into this chamber.  Soon after the  worms have departed for their new pasture the middle box can be removed and then emptied so that the top box becomes the new middle box.  The emptied box becomes the new top box.  The bottom box will need to be monitored and worm tea decanted from time to time too.

That's the theory.  Let's just test it out.

Now what tune could cover all the bases on this topic?

Friday, 8 March 2019

Going down??

A month ago I said I would be monitoring how quickly my worm inhabited compost bin was rotting down. So here is an update.

9th February

7th March

9th February
7th March

All credit is due to these chaps:

Brandling worms

Keen eyed readers will notice that absent mindedly I have emptied a couple of flower pots worth of spent compost into the bin.  (I was finally clearing away my tomatoes from the greenhouse)  All the same I think you will agree it is going down well.

Thursday, 7 March 2019

Avens above that ain't Wintercress

Guess who this garden visitor is?

In the Garden or in the wild there is one leaf I have been focusing on recently:

Country path

For a start I thought it was a perfect match with Wintercress (Barbarea vulgaris) but it turns out to be Wood Avens - Geum urbanum.  The confusing issue is that the winter rosette terminal leaves are rounder than the later terminal leaves which are more clearly three lobed (not unlike strawberry leaves).  Smaller opposite leaf pairs appear down the leaf stem :

Researching the internet the clincher is that a cress being a brassica has a four leaf yellow flower whereas Wood Avens  (a member of the rose family) has a five petal yellow flower and then a characteristic burr seedhead.  I don't need to wait for flowering as these burrs are all to familiar in our garden each summer.  If I needed further proof I could taste the leaves  (neutral for avens, peppery for cress) The root of Wood Avens is said to smell strongly of cloves, perhaps leading to its reputation as a remedy for both dog and snake bites.  Herb Bennet!

Here is the best summary of the features of Wood Avens I could find: wildfooduk 

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

When is a Dandelion not a Dandelion?

The dandelion (Taxaracum officinale) is one of the most successful weeds.  Surprising that ease of identification doesn't equate to ease of eradication.  The common name comes from the French "dent de lion"  lion's tooth, alluding to the characteristic leaf shape.  Ironically the French commonly call this "pis en lit" referring to the diuretic effect of the plant when eaten.  All well so far, but wait what is this:

I have hunted high and low for an ID

Turns out that there are 240 identified dandelion species in the UK and that they can hybridise freely into so called "microspecies".  Looks like this is one of them.   And here's another one:

If you have an alternative theory do let me know.  In the meantime these weeds that will be left to flower  - if only to firm up the ID.  

Below are two more overwintering rosettes that could at first glance be dandelions, but definitely are not.  I think they are both smooth sowthistle
 Smooth Sowthistle.

Smooth Sowthistle - Sonchus oleraceus

All these rosettes  - only one song:

Thursday, 28 February 2019

Winter's Last Fanfare?

Purple Sprouting Broccoli - Rudolph
 This is one of four plants in the school garden.  I am surprised that it doing so well.  Last autumn an overenthusiastic child mistook it for a weed and uprooted it.  It was quite adolescent at about 18 inches high but I decided to retrieve it from the compost heap and plant it again:  brassicas are transplanted when very young so why not give it a try.  All the same I am gobsmacked that this has done best of all out of four specimens.

Some other overwinterers are also thriving in the balmy conditions

Winter Purslane

Land Cress
 There is some less voluminous lambs lettuce in there too.

And bouncing back, after looking very bedraggled over the winter months

Leaf Beet

Saturday, 23 February 2019

Flowering in February

Here are some of the treats revealed in February.  The star has got to be witch-hazel.  But then again snowdrops are welcome

as are crocus - s

Only to be outdone by winter flowering iris - s

or the stalwart primula - e

Thank goodness for viola - s

It may not be summer - but something is happening.

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

Winter Survivors

Not the prettiest of pictures, but I must give credit to the crops which have survived the winter and are still providing food for the table.  

Top of the list has to be carrots.  

The fleece/mesh that was in place to keep off the root fly goes on to afford some protection from the weather.

Hardier than carrots but competing for sweetness are the leeks.  This is the last of them just before I lifted them to make soup yesterday.

Even more bedraggled but showing signs of recovery is spinach.  There were three rows of different varieties and I think it is the Winter Giant that has proved most robust in fighting off the persistent annual meadow grass.

Another hard nut is the Swede.  The pigeons have pecked off the leaves that the frost didn't get, but they still deliver on flavour. Kohl Rabi also deserves a mention as the big swollen stems have overwintered well.  Salsify has also shrugged off winter.

Last but not least I planted up the former strawberry patch with a mixture of brassicas in late summer and hope yet to get some spring pickings.

These are my winter survivors.