Tag Archives: vegetables

GWM August 2011

It’s still very dry. The farmers around here are using sprinklers. Yes, I know the weather forecast whinges on about the “awful rain”, not proper summer weather – where do most people think food comes from? What do they think their bodies and food is mostly made of/ do they not realise that we are 70% water? Probably not … no wonder the Earth is in such a mess if we know absolutely nothing about our own makeup!

We need the rain. Climate change has made huge differences to how crops grow, how our garden crops grow, the flowers we can grow, everything. Shropshire – north of me here in Hereford – now has a commercial olive orchard! Yikes! Do you realise what this means for the previously indigenous plants? Most people have been on holiday to France and Greece and Spain nowadays, places where olives are indigenous as they are not here in Britain. What sort of climates do those places have? Hot and dry. That’s why you go there on holiday, to bake your skin into cancer. Now think of all the British plants … apples for instance such as Hereford is famous for. They need rain to be good. Climate change has changed all that. You don’t think we can change it back, do you? We’ve had that, messed it up, it will only get worse. We now have to learn how to live with what we’ve done.

Biodynamics does help. No, it does not cure global warming! However, along with good organic practice, it does help the soil and the plants to adapt to global warming. Some of our native plants – and all the insects and animals that depend on them – will disappear; go extinct because of what we’ve done. Really makes you feel good, that thought, doesn’t it? But more will survive, changed but alive, with the aid of biodynamics. Our garden here at Archenland is a proof of that.

As I said at the beginning, the farmers around here are using sprinklers to keep their crops growing. My watering regime is not as intense as theirs although I grow most of my own vegetables. Vegetables, food crops, need a lot of water; a) it’s the major part of their make-up; b) they need it because we take them out of the ground, grow most of them as annual plants, so they draw up the food and moisture from the soil but do not die and do not put it back in the soil at the end of the season because we eat them!

You know that I use the biodynamic preps. These help to reduce the need for watering. The main one that does this is Prep 500, Horn Manure. By aiding the soil fauna and flora it helps the soil adapt to hold more moisture. I help it further by composting every darn thing I can and adding this back to the soil. As I said, vegetable and crop growing takes food and water from the soil which harvesting the crops does not give back. So one of the major parts of our gardening work here is to make compost; another is to find, collect and compost organic cow, horse, chicken and pig manure. We are pretty fortunate, able to get the stuff. The farmers need it too, for the same reasons we do, so we cannot take too much; fortunately there are several farms and horse-keepers we can ask for the stuff.

Composted weeds and kitchen waste + composted animal manure are a great help to the soil, and the roots of the plants. They provide nutrients (food) and help with water retention; they also help the mycorrhiza to grow and function well. These incredible fungi help the sugar and water exchange of all plants. For instance, in soils with a basic pH plant roots on their own may be incapable of taking up phosphate ions that are demineralized. The mycelium of the mycorrhizal fungus can access these phosphorus sources and make them available to the plants they colonize. Both Prep 500 and the compost preps aid the growth and colonisation of the mycorrhiza in your garden with; they in their turn help plants cope and adapt to the unsuitable conditions we have created with global warming.

You can use the compost preps very easily by using the Mausdorfer preparation; see my previous article on composting with Cool Heaps – the little and often method most gardeners have to use. This is much easier than working with the 6 preparations individually; to do that you need a really big heap of compost that’s ready all at the same time – we gardeners rarely have that! You can use the Mausdorfer in your Bokashi and your wormery too as I say in the article.

Using Prep 500 directly onto your soil, preferably about once every couple of months between September and the end of March for the northern hemisphere – the other way around for the southern hemisphere, i.e. from March to the end of September – will enable your soil and all the soil-life to adapt and work with the new climate conditions.

Using biodynamically prepared compost will do the same.

Doing both will make a difference. Like me, you won’t need to water so much in order to keep the plants growing and producing food for you; and producing beauty; and the nectar and seeds that feed the insects and birds and so maintain the cycles of life.

We’ve been working the land here since June 2000. At first the soil was in poor condition; we worked hard, lots of compost, lots of manure, lots of spraying with Prep 500. The land improved dramatically, our farming and gardening neighbours noticed; some even asked what we were doing and began doing it themselves. It’s got better each year … as the global warming effects have increased. I’m hoping that the watering regime will get even less; it certainly has gone down over the years although this early summer was very bad indeed with no rain for months just at the time the plants need it to put on growth.

If you are just beginning with biodynamics it’s OK to start with Prep 500 right now. I know I said between March and September, and it’s only August, but if you’re beginning you just get on with it. The land will thank you so go for it so don’t get hung up in rules and regulations! You have to adapt your thinking too as well as your gardening techniques, rules and regs are guidelines not set in stone; the sun will still rise tomorrow even if you go against perceived wisdom! Your garden is your best adviser along with your own instincts. We’re not much encouraged to use our instincts nowadays, it doesn’t make money for the experts if we don’t rely on what they say, buy their books and their expensive products! You do know the definition of an expert ??? An “ex” is a has-been, a “spurt” is a drip under pressure … says it all really!

Do go for it, get spraying with the 500, get some Mausdorfer (or cow-pat-pit) and get it onto your land, into your compost heap. Don’t chuck all that good compostable material and remember that newspapers and egg-boxes and such are vital to the heap too – see this composting article for some easy good advice, and keep adding Mausdorfer or cow-pat-pit to it. Get as much of your waste stuff in heaps to go back and feed yourself, rather than ruin the Earth further by going into land-fill.

We really can help the Earth cope with the damage we’ve done 🙂

GWM – Burgeoning garden

Yesterday I had my first strawberries! They were delicious although they’d only had one 501 spraying. We worked hard on remaking the beds, dug the soil right out and added a lot more composted cow manure as well as rock dust. I also added quite a bit of the soil I made from the lawn edgings; that had all been done with 500 several times over the winter while it was standing in its tump. The work was all well worth it for that totally orgasmic taste of the first fruits yesterday, no sugar, no cream, just strawberry.

It’s looking like a good year for them anyway. All the little wild ones are doing a treat in the bed down the side of the lawn; they’re all over the path in the veg garden on the other side too! Massive weeding required … sigh! And the semi wild jobs that seeded themselves under the sleeper at the top of the polytunnel bed are fruiting well too. I don’t know what they are but they’re bigger than the wild ones but not the same as the cultivated ones (Albion) that I have in the beds-proper. I’ll have to get up and do some 501 spraying on them on the 16th, 17th and 18th – good fruit days in the southern planting time so just right.

I’ll have to do the gooseberries again too, they’re just about ready to harvest, I had a couple as I was passing the bush the other day. I’m just hoping they’ll last that long and I’m not sure they will so I’m going to get up tomorrow, Wed and Thu and do a 501 on them then. Yes, I know, it’s northern planting time but I’ll have two out of the three right … morning and fruit day … it’ll just be the planting time that’s out, and I feel very strongly that the gooseberries will be too far gone to pick if I leave them for another nine days. The mornings are gorgeous right now anyway, the birdsong begins from just before four o’clock, I’m awake enjoying it, so getting up to stir is an extra joy. There’s something about that stillness before dawn, the scent of the ground and the sweetness of the roses and the mock orange, a warm cup of tea between the fingers. Then the first trill, often the Robin, or else the blackbird or the thrush; then the stillness after while all the birds and creatures listen to the silence; then he trills again. By the third trill they all join in. It’s magnificent. Yes, I’ll be up to stir tomorrow.

I must go round the garden today to check who else needs a fruit spraying and mark them down for either tomorrow or next week. Or both … there was a big shout in my mind’s ear then, ‘Hey! Why not both?’ Well, if the garden says she needs it, I’m game, she knows better than me what she wants.

I’ve still got to mark out who needs what though. Some plants, like the tomatoes, haven’t quite set fruit yet so I shan’t do them. They’re not in the right state for it yet, you can feel it when you sense into the plants; to me they sort of wriggle and go ‘Noooo!’ at me. But the apples have set fruit and the damsons, and the hawthorn.

Elder flowers

The elder is just on the turn. I made elderflower cordial last week on the Flower days, 24-25-26 of May. It turned out very well indeed, I put down 10 bottles to store. There is more elder still coming in the garden, I might even make some more, everyone loves it and I’ve given a couple of bottles away already. There’ll be enough left to go to berries for the birds (and for me for the berry cordial), and the bees have been harvesting it like mad too.

Had a good Root conversation with a friend just recently; her Mum grows potatoes and one lot are going too much to leaf which means too much nitrogen amongst other things so the spuds are not putting their energy into making lots of new spuds but into looking gorgeous and green and blousy above the ground. She needs to turn that around. What I’ve done before is to use 501 on a Root day in the Afternoon. Yay, all upside-down to “what the books say” but think what you want to do. The energy is all going upwards and into the leaves; you want to draw it back down again into the roots. And it’s the plant-forming energy, the stuff that 501 works with, not the root-forming and soil-working energy that 500 works with.

I’ve done this before with other plants – getting foxgloves to flower a month late so they looked good at the RHS show in 2006 was the first big time we tried it. It worked a treat; we had a mass of foxgloves looking right at their best in early July, bang on time for the show. We did it again the following year with verbascums. The concept was that the plants would naturally put all their energy into their flowers for June, to line up with getting themselves pollinated by the bees and setting seed in good time for self-sowing in the autumn, lying up in the soil over the winter, then burgeoning forth in the spring with new plants. The 501 on root days in the afternoon asked them to put the energy back down into their roots, which also strengthened them for the hot baking weather we had in both the Julys. When it got near the time we wanted them to flower we gave them 501 on a flower day in both the southern and northern planting times. This sparked them into pushing the energy back upwards again and getting the flowers going. They did look a treat and got us a medal!

We’ll see how it works with my friend’s Mum’s spuds. I’ll be up there (Scotland) in August and look forward to eating some of them.

Elen Sentier

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

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GWM: Hard frosts & Spring

Lilac tree in May ... wait for it 🙂

More hard frost this morning, beautiful. We need to keep feeding the birds as they get into mating and laying. the Buzzards are out, calling high over the stubble fields, rousing the spirit with their eerie cry. Despite the frosts the leaf-buds have burst on the lilac tree! Spring is definitely here 🙂 I’m so looking forward to when the tree flowers … and scents up the whole garden.

I’ve managed to turn quite a bit of earth that needed it in the beds, so the frosts are working on that soil, it will be good and crumbly in another week or ten days. It’s just so good to have my hands in the soil again – tha bad back from over-gardening at the beginning of Feb was a “show stopper” for all the wrong reasons :-(. I’ve done a lot of weeding in the past few days and things are coming together, looking like a garden again.

I need to get black membrane on the veg beds to warm them up. these frosts aren’t helping that at all but the bright sun on the black with absorb the heat and transmit it into the soil. As lots of veg are growing away well in pots indoors I’ll need the beds in a couple of weeks. One polytunnel is up, over a bed, so that is warming up nicely inside. I must get the other one up soon …

Jo and Roy are coming to help get the greenhouse glazed at last. It’s taken a year! Various folk have said they’d help but it’s all been wishful thinking so far and so frustrating to have the frame of the damn thing but not be able to use it! they’re both such fun and so helpful. Jo’s a great garden designer and I hope to get over there in a couple of weeks to get some pix of her place over by Goodrich Castle. She’s done wonders with it and now the trees have gone in the whole shape of the place is coming together … watch this space …

Onward and upward, as they say, a gardener’s work is never done … but that’s at least half the fun :-).

GWM – March 2011

Catkins on my twisted hazel

 

Spring is just about to spring! We’re just coming into this month’s Northern Planting Time (NPT), that happens on Saturday 12th March with the Moon reflecting the earth-sign of Taurus the Bull.

Vegetable Garden

This is a good time to get sowing if you haven’t already, especially root crops like turnips, swedes, parsnips, early carrots and to get those spuds you’ve been chitting into the ground. You’ll need to cover the spud-bed with fleece in most areas unless you live far enough south to be past your last frost date. It’s worth it though, to get the spuds started, especially the first earlies, so you have some to harvest along with the first peas and broad beans for a lovely warm salad.

Forsythia

I already have swedes and turnips coming in pots on the window-ledge but I’m going to get some early carrots started in boxes in the polytunnel. A fairly deep box is fine for them, especially if you choose an early variety like Amsterdam Forcing or Nantes 2. The Nantes – my favourite carrot – grow to about 16cm so your box needs to be a good 20+cm deep. I usually use one about 25cm deep. If you use a cardboard box then this can be dug into the ground once it’s warm enough and will rot down around the growing carrots so there’s no need to disturb them and cause deformed growth or flagging. This is a good trick to use with lots of veg.

  • Do remember though that you can sow anything on a root day – all plants have roots, need roots in order to grow, so they will get the benefit of root-day sowing.
  • You go on to cultivate – transplant, weed, hoe, generally care for – on the day relevant to the veg; e.g. fruit-day for peas, beans, tomatoes, peppers; leaf-day for cabbages, celery, leeks, lettuces; flower-day for broccoli, cauliflower, purple and green sprouting.
  • And, of course, you spray each with 501 on their relevant day too.

New Bed …

I found I really need yet another veg bed – who doesn’t? There was a piece of border along by the path in front of the house which was absolutely full of couch grass and buttercups suffocating the lovely plants I want like hardy geraniums, a blue aquilegia, lungworts and a pretty miniature rose. As soon as I could get out at the end of January I dug the whole lot out, potted up the plants I want and put the rest on the compost heap. I gave the whole lot a spray of 500 and covered it up with black membrane to warm it up and keep the weeds down.

I think I want to put the early broad beans in here so it’s now time to get a trench dug, bung in a good layer of bokashi and any other compost I have to spare and maybe a bit of manure. A layer of earth goes on top of the plant-food-layer, it’s no good putting seeds o

r plant roots straight onto hot compost! After a day or two I’ll sow the broad beans into the trench and put a row of pea-sticks to either side of each row – this has two purposes; to hold the plants upright when they get tall enough and to keep the kitties off! Nothing like a good hedge of pea-sticks to keep venturesome kitties at bay :-).

I’ll probably succession-plant this bed when the beans have gone with some autumn cabbages. If there’s a gap between those two I’ll fill it with some lettuces.

Flower Garden

Hellebore in the new bed

I’m also having a heave-ho in the flower garden too. Of course, there’s lots of weeding to be done now the plants are coming up and I can tell the difference between what I want and nettles, creeping buttercup and other weeds … definitely plants in the wrong place :-).

I had a go at that this afternoon and discovered that the heavy work I did last year had been effective, there were a lot less horrors than I’d feared. The worst problem was wretched purple loosestrife! This stuff, while lovely in a wild setting, seeds like it’s going out of fashion and always where you don’t want the darn things! And, just to make things worse, it has a creeping root-system of good thick stuff, belt and braces, seeds and rhizomes, just to make sure its genes get spread all over the garden. I was wondering whether to pot the things up and sell them at next month’s Farmers’ Market but I suspect my fellow gardeners are well aware of the problems and wouldn’t want them.

Purple Loosestrife

Purple Loosestrife is a problem-plant too, an in-comer from North America. It can choke our waterways and won’t do your pond too much good unless you’re willing to drastically cut it back every year and pull the roots out too.

I managed to get just about all I could see out but I know there will be some roots left so it’s a case of being vigilant and getting in there to dig them out as soon as I see them. Ho hum … a gardener’s work is never done :-).

The flower beds benefitted greatly from the cold and the snow. Last year’s vegetation disappeared and clearing has been very easy. The new growth is coming through nicely despite it still being cold with hard frosts some recent nights I’ve not pulled too much off the herbaceous perennials so it still mulches them, keeps the frost from damaging, killing, the lovely spring growth. This is something to remember – if you clear up too much and too quickly then you can seriously damage your plants! Nature knows, this is why there’s lots of “untidy” litter around in nature, it has the purpose of guarding the new growth from the frosts that are likely to go in until May in this garden.

Daffy Down Dillies

It does feel like everything is bubbling in the earth, the sprouting growth bursting out of the pot, the earth-cauldron, shortly to froth into blossom. I love this season :-).

Elen Sentier

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

Wye’s Women Twin Taverns Elen’s Books Rainbow Warriors

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GWM – Not doing it by the book :-)

February is hard on gardeners and the garden. It can be freezing or it can be warm and sunny – I’ve got a sunburn in the February sunshine a few years back. This year we’ve got wind … so far. Lots of wind, 80mph at times, knocking the electricity out, blowing down the chimney and generally sounding just like the wind in Hans Anderson’s wonderful story, “The Wind’s Tale”.

One thing that is no good at all is to sow seeds, or plant out plug plants, into cold, wet soil with a harsh wind and little sunshine. Sowing is definitely for indoors, or the polytunnel, or greenhouse, or under cloches. I’m doing all of those. I’ve got turnips, early lettuces and cabbages Premier and Derby Day. I’m just about to sow tomatoes, aubergines, sweet pepper Jumbo, Feltham First peas and broad beans Aquadulce. They’ll start life in the propagator with bottom heat to encourage them.

I’m going outside the box here, biodynamically. For various cat-reasons sowing didn’t happen on the fruit days during the last northern planting time. To stay strictly in the rules I would have to wait 4 whole weeks for the next fruit planting time with all three factors right. Three factors? They are …

  • Northern Planting Time
  • Afternoon
  • Fruit Day

These three things mean the Earth is “breathing in” … i.e. the energy is being pulled down from the stars into the soil – that’s the NPT, northern planting time. Afternoon – that’s also when the Earth is breathing in, energising the soil with the star energy the Moon collects. And fruit day – that’s when the Moon is collecting and focusing the energy from one of the “fire” constellations, Aries (Ram), Leo (Lion) and Sagittarius (Archer).

Well, I’m not going to be able to get all three lined up, but I can get two of them together. As I said, if I wait for the next NPT it’ll be too long away so I’m going to go for it on the next Fruit Days, Wed & Thu the 9th and 10th of Feb. If I wait I won’t be able to sow until Fri 18th, over a week later. And a week is a long time in gardening, many seeds will have sprouted in that time.

Sowing the tomatoes, aubergines, peppers, peas and beans this coming Wednesday and Thursday I’ll have two out of the three lined up … I’ll be sowing on Fruit Days and in the afternoon. That way, the energy will be pulling down into the soil (afternoon) and the Moon will be focusing energy from the fire constellation Aries (Fruit days). Two out of three is a lot better than nothing. Planting in good time, not waiting another week, is good too. I’ll then cultivate the seedlings on fruit days in the NPT to help them establish good roots which will work fine.

Biodynamics is a process that helps plants do their very best. It is NOT a religion where you will be blasted to hell if you don’t do it exactly by the book! Do take that to heart, don’t be put off doing it just because you can’t always be perfect. Honestly, good enough is fine, is very good. Always just try to do your best and know that plants want to grow, even in the most adverse conditions they’ll have a go. A friend of mine had to keep her lovely hosta stacked between a couple of concrete blocks for 2+ years … and she lives in snow-stricken Scotland! It’s fine, it grows its leaves beautifully and flowers like mad. That’s an extreme example but it really does goes to show that plants want to grow and will give it their best shot all the time. Biodynamics helps them.

So go for it with your biodynamics even if sometimes you can’t do it perzactly right every time. I do … and it works.

Elen Sentier

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

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Biodynamic Course

I’m running a biodynamic course over 6 Saturdays in 2011 – Working with the Moon & Stars

1.      16 April – Using the Calendar. This first Saturday gets you going with understanding the basics of biodynamic gardening, what it is, what it does and how to work it.

2.      21 May – Prep 500. Using the horn manure preparation. We make the preparation today, bring a jam jar with lid and you can take some home for your garden

3.      18 June – Prep 501. Using the horn silica preparation

4.      23 July – Cow-Pat-Pit. Making and using this starter preparation

5.      1 October – Horn Stuffing. Making horn manure, preparation 500

6.      12 November – Composting. Using the compost preparations
Cost: £45/day or £250 if you book all 6 days together

Venue: Archenland – details of how to get here sent when you book

Time: 1030-1600

Lunch: bring a dish to share with everyone

Contact us to reserve a place for the series – get going with biodynamics, it’s organics with Oomph !!!

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Elen Sentier & Jennie Russell-Smith

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Compost in the early winter

Paul beginning the leaf mould process

Paul is composting like there’s no tomorrow! And doing leaf mould. At present it’s just about getting the heaps together. We’re using Mausdorfer to each layer for now, when the heaps are big enough we’ll put the preps in and leave them to cook until March/April.

Again, we’re a bit behind – due to my shoulder op, Paul’s got to do all the other work until Midwinter as I’m not even allowed to push a mop around the kitchen floor. However, we’ll get there and we know we can rely on the preps to speed the compost along.

With leaf mould, if you run the lawnmower over them, chop them up and, at the same time, add a bit of grass in with them, the leaves go a hell of a lot faster. If you then add cow-pat-pit or Mausdorfer, then the compost preps, the whole thing can be ready by next autumn which is pretty good for leaves. As we’re putting both starters and preps on the leaf mould this year we wonder if it might even be ready before then – we’ll keep you posted here.

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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