Hello again and welcome to February. The soil building focus continues. So far I have not managed as much winter gardening work as I would have hoped because of the incessant rain, it isn’t good to stamp about on wet soil because it gets compacted. It is wise to think about soil as a living thing – which it is.
On the few dry days I have pruned two fruit trees and redistributed soil piles made of upside-down turves, and as the weather warms up (?) I shall start spreading the enormous box of recently bought chicken manure pellets around both existing plants and the spaces to be sown into. There should be enough for both allotment plot and the garden. The next step after that will be to mulch with compost over the pellets to give everything a good start to the growing season. I wonder if it will ever stop raining!
Yes it did stop raining. It snowed.
Taking a walk is now popular – either in socially distanced pairs who have, by dint of the space, rather loud conversations or alone, striding out purposefully at a good pace. This new pastime has reintroduced people to their own communities and they are taking an interest in what there is around them as have I. Since I can offer no images of garden or allotment this month I have taken a few on my walks.
Add shredded paper to soil?
First of all avoid adding shiny and glossily illustrated paper.
Current wisdom seems to be that you can add shredded paper directly to the soil BUT only in tiny quantities say, 2.5cm shredded paper to a depth of soil of 30cm.
However, you can add as much shredded paper as you wish to the compost heap where it can rot down and mingle first. It will add little in the way of nutrients but it will give all-important texture. The heap will need turning and your shredded paper will form part of the Brown additions so will need to be balanced by Greens. Confused? Read on for quick recap on Greens and Browns.
Greens and Browns
There has been so much rain in recent weeks that the compost heap is pretty sodden – indeed a portion of the allotment site is under water. Recently I detected a faint whiff of kitchen waste in the heap and any smell is unusual. Not a problem – it indicates an inbalance of Greens (which includes kitchen waste) and Browns and what I must do is now add more of the latter. There was an inbalance in that the heap was far too wet. I added cardboard, dry leaves and the shredded paper ready and next year it might be wise to consider a cover of some sort for the heap.
Greens (nitrogen/protein rich), some examples – fresh grass clippings, kitchen waste, tea bags.
Browns (carbon), some examples – dry leaves, dried grasses, dead plant clippings, hay, straw, shredded paper, cardboard.
A balance needs to be kept of these two types and the internet abounds now with authoritative sounding instructions for getting the balance absolutely right. However, people in general, especially us urban gardeners, will be supplying their compost heaps with only some of the materials listed above, those they can get their hands on. Personally I have no access whatsoever to straw, but other composters may well have straw pet bedding. When I increased the dry, brown ingredients to the heap the smell of the kitchen scraps immediately disappeared.
I would avoid adding sticks to the heap, they’ll take years to disintegrate! In the growing season I always dry the weeds I pull first in the sun before adding them (and their seeds) to the heap. Any hefty roots of perennial weeds go into old compost bags, tied at the top, and left to rot down separately after which they will be added to the heap.
Don’t worry too much about dire warnings of compost heaps overheating. The general domestic or allotment heap is usually quite small (you’d be amazed how plant materials break down to almost nothing) and the high temperatures will only be a problem in very extensive heaps. Don’t worry until you see steam rising from your heap and then add water!
In my garden all my compost is in bins. At the allotment it is just a more or less defined space.
Leeks and onions update
In last month’s post I referred to sowing leeks and onions early and did so in mid-January.
Last year I stopped using onion sets and took up advice I had read on using onion seeds instead. That made a huge difference.
If you look at onion and leek seed packets both give advice for sowing indoors in January/February. These are both cold weather veggies and to give them a long growing season this would seem to be a good way to go to get them to a good size. Watch this space.
In previous posts I talked about sowing seeds of Lavender called L’Avance Purple said to have the darkest purple flower available. I know the winter is not yet over but I have been remarkably successful with this sowing so far. Often by this tine of year some plants are faltering and dying in potting compost turned into a compacted and airless mud – thank you Perlite and grit.
I am surprised how the plants are already sporting buds. Clearly they don’t think it has been as cold a winter as I do. Bye until next time and happy gardening from Rosanna.