Tag Archives: organic

Gardening with the Moon & Stars is out …

Gardening with the Moon & Stars

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Elen Sentier

behind every gifted woman there’s usually a rather talented cat …

Wye’s Women Elen’s Books Rainbow Warriors

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GWM – Sowing Root Crops

Today is a root day in the northern planting time, the last for a little while so I’m sowing turnip ‘Golden Ball’ and radish ‘Rosa’ in plugs. It’s great to get started on the new year.

I’ve just got my seed compost together. My mix is

  • 2 parts molehill-earth
  • 1 part leaf mold
  • 1/2 part sand
  • 1/2 part well-rotted manure

I sieve the lot together and keep in an old potato bag in the scullery where it’s free from frost and handy to use. I use vermiculite to cover the seeds, lets in light and has nice volcano-energy.

Before I use the compost it gets a treatment of Prep 500 to help the soil-life and mycorrhiza, stirring up the energies so it all works well together.

Will keep you posted on how they do … 🙂

Elen Sentier

behind every gifted woman there’s usually a rather talented cat …

 

Wye’s Women Elen’s Books Rainbow Warriors

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GWM – Beginnings for Spring

Another fantastic afternoon in the garden. Cleared the rubbish from the Alchemy Garden – about 5 wheelbarrow-fulls of good compost material, I’ll put that in the bin tomorrow. Also carved – I mean pruned! – all the honeysuckle, aquebia and climbing rose on the arched walk out from the french windows that borders one side of the Alchemy garden. Now I can see what I’m doing!

Lots of stuff coming up already, bulbs of course but also the beginnings of the herbaceous plants. The forget-me-nots are going great guns, tough little buggers but so lovely when you get that haze of blue in a few weeks time. Pruned the roses too. Everything seems nice and healthy.

The nettles are doing well! When and where don’t they? Lots of hand-weeding there to come but I need the soil to be a little less frozen to make it easier!

We did the 12 days stirrings of 500 from 26th Dec to 6th Jan, including all the flower garden as well as the fruit and veg. You can sense the vigour it’s given to the soil and the soil-life.

We’re in a no-no period right now so clearing up is all that should be done at present as the soil-beings are cheerfully working away and don’t want us to interfere! However,  Sunday thro to Wednesday are all root days in the Northern Planting Time so I hope to get some early seeds sown then. Will post what next week. Will do a 500 stirring again too on one of those days. I usually do one to prep the seed compost before using it, so likely Monday – have friends round on sunday but the might like to stir so wait and see. Collected mole-hills yesterday – the best seed-growing material when mixed with sand. You don’t need rich soil for seeds as the seeds have all they need within them. Potting on you need more food.

My robin-friend from yesterday came to supervise my work – she said I was doing OK (wipes sweat form brow!). it is so delightful to have a robin companioning me as I garden, very special birds – at least for me 🙂

Elen Sentier

behind every gifted woman there’s usually a rather talented cat …

Wye’s Women Elen’s Books Rainbow Warriors
My profiles: FacebookWordPressYouTubeAmazonTwitter

GWM – Biodynamic Inspection

GWM BD Inspection

Archenland, our home, is Demeter certified so every year we are inspected to make sure we are still working along sound biodynamic lines and principles. We had our annual inspection today.

Having Richard, the inspector, round is always delightful if rigorous! We know him well but that doesn’t stop him asking poking questions and making sure we actually walk our talk – which is just how it should be. The Biodynamic Association, Demeter, is always concerned that all its members actually do practice biodynamics and do it properly. They give us a set of forms to complete which ask questions about …

  • Our land
  • What we grow
  • What outside input we do – like manure, compost, rock dust, calcium, lime etc.
  • What seeds we use – they must be at least organic and preferably biodynamic
  • What animals we keep, if any
  • What our crop rotation is
  • How wildlife friendly the garden is
  • What our pest control systems are
  • What composting we do
  • And … the most important … when we have put the preps on the garden during the past year

The fundamental part of biodynamics is putting the preparations on the land and in the compost. If you don’t do this you’re not working biodynamically. The planting calendar is secondary to using the preparations. We keep records in the diary of all the stirrings we do and which beds – particularly in the case of prep 501 – we spray. It’s very useful to us as well as necessary for the inspection.

Paul also keeps detailed records of what goes on each bed, each year, in terms of  …

  • Cow manure
  • Horse manure
  • Chicken manure – quite rare for us to be able to get
  • Pig manure – currently scarcer than hen’s teeth but I would like to use it, am hopeful to have a source for 2011
  • Homemade weed and vegetable compost
  • Bokashi compost & juice
  • Worm compost & juice
  • Basalt rock dust
  • Calcified seaweed & liquid
  • Local authority green manure
  • Leaf mould
  • Cow-pat-pit preparation
  • Liquid manure
  • Comfrey juice
  • Nettle tea feed
  • Nettle tea aphid killer
  • Horsetail tea fungus treatment

It’s a long list but it’s all good stuff!

Richard-the-Inspector likes to walk round the garden too – interesting this time as it was, as he put it, a winter wonderland out there with best part of a foot of snow covering everything. He wasn’t able to see much but did scrape off some snow and note the good condition of the soil beneath, commenting on the good use of organic matter to retain soil friability even under these harsh conditions. We can still dig leeks without breaking them!

Richard is interested to hear how we’re finding using the rock dust – we’ve been doing it for nearly four years now – and pleased that we notice how the veg beds that have had it produce stronger, healthier plants than those that haven’t. It really seems to add to the good effect of the preparations. We were talking about how there is no “magic bullet” but learning to work all things into an integrated whole makes the difference.

Mind you, the one thing we would never drop is doing the preparations, on the soil, the plants and in the compost heaps.

We’ve been doing more cow-pat-pit and Mausdorfer this past couple of years, partly because I’ve been in and out of hospital so much with the joint-replacement operations. This has meant not only has Paul had more to do in the garden but less time to do it in because of looking after me. Using these multi-preps – each of them contains all 6 of the compost preps – has helped get compost made and, by using cow-pat-pit directly on the land, has improved the beds without all the hard work of digging in compost. Richard asked if that meant we weren’t bothering with compost. Oh no, we said, we’re still making it and still find using real compost makes even more difference than just using the cow-pat-pit, but you always have to adjust your life to your circumstances and do the best you can. The two multi-preps have made it possible to do more biodynamics than we would have otherwise been able to because of me.

That’s something that Richard understands – doing the best you can.

Demeter isn’t the Spanish Inquisition! They very well understand that Life happens. Part of Richard’s job is to know when the people he’s inspecting really are doing their best and went they’re skiving. I strongly suspect that the number of skivers in BD is extremely small but I would never say we are a perfect lot without any failings!

People who decide to go for biodynamics, like most organic gardeners, do it because they feel it in their hearts not for any other reasons. We do it because it makes our hearts sing … and there is no better reason in the world for doing anything.

It was a good, thorough and rigorous inspection … we passed muster 🙂

Gardening with the Moon – Snowbound

Last time I was here I began with snow … and it’s here again now. We had a brief respite for a couple of days and then back came the snow. Yesterday, midwinter’s eve, saw the snow return, today we got some more. Hardly any folk on the road, which was good and a lovely pub lunch to celebrate Midwinter’s Day.

Well … back to gardening … there’s not a lot one can do in the snow so I’m back to planning again. We got the Stormy Hall biodynamic seed catalogue yesterday so there’s been some quality time by the woodburner with a pot (or 3) of tea and the questions …

  • What do we like eating?
  • What grew well this year?

I find those two are the best way to begin planning for next season’s growing. They’re followed by …

  • Which beds can be easily covered to exclude butterflies laying their eggs on brassicas?
  • How much polytunnel/greenhouse space have we got?

Biodynamics, organic or just plain ordinary, these four questions are fairly fundamental.

I was sorting seeds back in the autumn and came to quite a lot of conclusions but those still need refining. My next job is to go back over seeds we still have left from this year, I’ll want to know the following …

  • which are likely to be viable still?
  • which varieties did we like?

So planning is about bringing lots of things together.

I plan biodynamically though, like this …

Roots Leaves Flowers Fruit
Potatoes Spinach Cauliflowers Tomatoes
Parsnips Cabbage Broccoli Cucumber
Swede Brussels sprouts Purple sprouting Peppers
Turnip Kale Green sprouting Runner beans
Onions Leeks Calendula French beans
Beetroot Lettuce Geraniums Broad beans
Carrots Rocket Sage flowers(salad) Peas
Florence fennel Parsley Lavender Courgette
Mizuna Aubergine

That’s a reasonable list for our veg patch. Now I have to sort it into classes.

Butterflies Polytunnel Quick crop Succession
Roots Onions 

Beetroot

Carrots

Leaves Cabbage 

Brussels sprouts

Lettuce 

 

Lettuce Spinnach 

Cabbage

Flowers Cauliflowers 

Broccoli

Purple sprouting

Green sprouting

Cauliflowers
Fruits Tomatoes 

Cucumber

Peppers

Courgette

Aubergine

Broad beans 

Peas

I find this sort of planning very useful. It helps me to decide which beds to put what veg in. I do use rotation but not exclusively or religiously as I find it more helpful to work as above, planting in the biodynamic groups and then within what needs which sort of conditions for optimum growth.

However you decide to do you planning do take advantage of the season and do some.

GWM – Working in the Garden

December is the time coming up to the solstice which is a time most folk celebrate. At last after each day getting darker and darker, the sun turns about and the days begin to get longer again in the temperate latitudes. Part of the celebrations usually include a feast … and that means vegetables as well as your meat (if you eat it), so we need to care for and harvest the veg we’re going to eat.

This year, in Britain, we have heavy snow and extreme cold, like minus 12, 15 or 20 in the countryside, even the towns are rarely rising above freezing during the day. This makes life very difficult for harvesting. Winter vegetables are often very good at “standing”, i.e. remaining in the ground until you want to eat them, but getting them out when the ground is frozen is a whole other matter. Things like leeks, which are stems or rather leaves which have changed their form quite a lot so they all bind together into the familiar shape we know, are mostly water, and water freezes. Tugging at a frozen leek in the frozen ground means you break off a green icicle more often than not.

Here, we don’t have too much of a problem because we have cultivated and pampered the soil with tons (literally) of organic matter over the past ten years. In consequence the ground doesn’t freeze so solid, or rather it takes longer and lower temperatures to make it do so, so we can dig our leeks still, and our beetroots, swedes, turnips, parsnips, the root veg that make such delicacies at midwinter feasts. You can’t actually do much about improving your soil in this kind of weather – although mulches will help to some extent, but you can think about how you’ll change things in the coming year.

And you can look after the veg you have.

Brussels sprouts are famous for this time of year. If you like them, then picking them correctly will help the plants do well. Start by picking the sprouts at the bottom first and working up the stem. And don’t forget to firm them in regularly, each time you pick firm in the roots with your heel. The plants must have their roots in good contact with the soil all the time, particularly in the freezing weather. If they are not then not only with the roots freeze but, if they survive that they won’t be able to get water and nutrients unless the roots touch the earth. The contact enables the transference of food and water.

The same goes for the winter cabbages and sproutings. Make sure they are securely “seated” in the ground.

As you firm you can also make sure you take out any weeds that have survived too. You do this when you pull leeks, swedes, turnips, beets – any root veg that you’re going to pull out of the ground. The pulling naturally disturbs the soil so the weeds will come too. Don’t leave them lying about but put them into the compost straight away.

In the bad weather the birds will need food too and won’t be able to get it easily as they can when it’s milder. Your crops are there, available, they will want to eat them.

I always share with the creatures who live on the land with me. It’s something we all need to re-learn to do. But I also want the veg to eat for myself, it’s part of my livelihood. Like planting a couple of spare cabbages for the butterflies to lay their eggs on, I always have some spare crops in winter for the birds. And I also feed them seeds and nuts and scraps, make fat balls and fatty crumbs from the last of the bread and the fat from my bacon and sausages. But I also want to eat those veg so I protect them from devastation from the hungry birds. Netting the cabbage family from the pigeons is a good idea. It’s simple enough to do, canes driven into the ground with old plastic bottles on their tops will hold up some simple netting. Tie the netting to the canes with the ties from freezer bags and such – recycling really works.

The polytunnel is another good place and may be enough to keep the frosts off the plants – it’s too cold for that here without heating which we don’t have so our stuff has to come into the scullery, where it doesn’t go below freezing – at least inside. Fleece is good too and can help to make a micro-climate for the plants.

If you got overwintering peas and beans in before the snows came I hope you also covered them with fleece or they won’t have made it. If you didn’t then don’t try until after the snows have gone and the soil warmed a bit.

A good mulching of manure and/or compost covered with black membrane, once you can see the soil again from under the snow, will help to warm the soil earlier than leaving it alone. You’ll be able to sow a month earlier than if you didn’t make the effort so plan for it now. Make sure you have the compost ready, and the manure, and the covering. And plan your sowings so you know which beds need to be got going first. It’s a great way to spend some of the time over the midwinter celebrations, doing some planning for the year to come.

GWM – preparing for Midwinter

Midwinter snow

Snow! Lots of it. The garden and the pond are frozen over and all the soil life is well underground. It’s not sleeping but working like crazy, like a bunch of cave-dwelling gnomes making their jewels and fine thread-work of root connections ready for the spring opening.

However, it does mean I’m not doing a massive amount out there, in fact just harvesting some of the veg like leeks and beetroots is hard because the ground is frozen. It also means that planting the rowan tree as I’d intended is not even a starter, no holes get dug without a machine! And, in any case, the plants wouldn’t survive if I transplanted them now.

That happened for the strawberries, they must stay in pots until the ground warms up again, there was no way I could plant them in the outdoor tubs – couldn’t move the soil and the plants would have died. They’re sitting, a bit forlornly, in the far end of the kitchen as this is warm enough but not overly hot, being north-facing, so I’m hoping they’ll be OK, but I am going to get another dozen as some of them were less than content with being heeled in to the pots. I’ve now transplanted all the survivors into good earth and good pots so they should be OK … but you can NEVER have too many strawberries *g*.

I brought in the last bag of potatoes to the scullery when the snow and frosts began 10 days ago. I grew potatoes in those grow-bag-thingies they’ve been advertising recently. Not a bad crop but not as many as I would have got in the ground which is actually good as I don’t eat that many spuds. We have a nice crop for the Midwinter and Sun-Return feasts though, and on to 12th Night feast. Also, the earth is now in the scullery, thawed out and useable for potting and seed-sowing.

And that’s the next job, sitting like Persephone sorting seeds. Then planning out the sowing. The polytunnel is far too cold to use! All the sowing will have to be indoors, in the propagator and on window ledges and that mean moving Paul off the kitchen table where he’s rebuilding and doing up the household computers (excellent stuff!) but I want to use it for sowing. I foresee a slight “domestic” happening here LOL.

I collect the inners of toilet rolls for sowing, they work very well as individual root-trainer plugs that can be planted directly into the ground because they will rot and disintegrate nicely around the roots without disturbing the young plant. And it’s an excellent way of recycling. I think I may have to hunt around for more containers though. The plastic tub-things you get tomatoes and mushrooms and such from the supermarket are good for this … as long as they don’t have holes in them! We ate all our tomatoes that are not in the freezer a while back so are buying some again now as I have this penchant for salad, always do coming up to Midwinter, not sure why I’m so out of season on this!

I’ll be sitting down with the seed box over the next week, making my sowing plans and getting all the stuff together to begin. I find that once the sun has returned – after the winter solstice standstill from 21-24 Dec – germination is feasible again, provided they also have warmth and moisture. The three necessities for germination … warmth, moisture and light. The seeds really do know that the light is increasing even if it still gets dark at 4pm here. How my friends further north find it with a bare four hours of daylight each day by midwinter must be hard. I love seasons and the change from dark to light to dark and back but I’m not sure I could cope with so very little light each day as they get in Scotland, let alone further north. Likely I live in the right latitude for me *g*. I must go up to Scotland for midsummer one year though, my friends up there have near 24 hours of daylight and can certainly see to read a book at 1am without any artificial light. Yes, worth experiencing.

But to get back to the seeds, germination is feasible after sun-return on 25th Dec, so I shall aim to get going then. It makes the first couple of weeks after sun-return very hectic as we always stir 500 every day for the 12 Nights to 6th Jan. That means 2 hours a day are devoted to stirring for 12 days and, on the last day, we also stir the 3 Kings prep – gold, frankincense and myrrh. More about this next time but, briefly, we do it for the 12 days as 1 day for each of the 12 months of the year. It works very well, helps the soil and roots to begin their growing change after the solstice.

I always feel so excited as we come closer to the solstice. Each day there is less and less light as we approach the shortest day then, on Midwinter’s Eve (20th Dec) we have a big feast to celebrate the beginning of the solstice. It’s also Paul’s birthday – he’s my Midwinter King  – so there’s a double celebration. You really feel the difference as the change begins and there’s the holding-of-breath as the stillness happens, then the surge as the sun appears to move forward again on the 25th Dec. It’s amazing if you can do some of this at one of the old places. I’ve been with friends to Stonehenge for the solstice and sun-return, the surge there is phenomenal, but it’s pretty good here in the garden too. The Earth knows we work with her and enjoys celebrating with us as she cycles back into the light and growth again after the dark-time of working with the soil.

Solstice and Sun-Return blessings to all.