Monthly Archives: July 2014

A good time to order green manures

Green manures are plants that are grown specifically to improve and fertilise the soil.  Every August when I think about sowing them… oops, I don’t have the seeds to hand!  I have to confess I’ve simply not been organised enough to use green manures much in the past, though lately my beds have mostly been full of crops in the autumn and winter or mulched, so I don’t usually leave a bed bare over winter these days.

Anyway, this year I’m determined to do as much as I can to improve my soil.   I ordered Phacelia and Winter Tares seeds from Tamar Organics on Friday, and they arrived on Saturday – wow, impressive service!  Now when gaps appear in my beds after crops have been harvested, I will be ready to sow a green manure if I don’t have another crop ready to go in.  I will also aim to leave a bed or two deliberately fallow with a covering of a green manure.  (Incidentally don’t dig in your green manure, just cut the plants down before they go to seed, and leave the tops on the beds as a mulch).

Green manure seeds

Rainwater storage in IBC bulk containers

What an amazing amount of rain here in Stroud today and last night!  Judging from the depth of rainwater collected in various containers, it was at least 2 inches.  I’m not complaining – just what the allotment and particularly the potatoes were needing.

I’ve been setting up a LOT of rainwater storage in my garden, with old re-used industrial containers called IBCs (stands for International Bulk Container).    These tanks hold 1000 litres each (over 250 gallons, or about 5 normal garden water butts’ worth).   You can buy them on ebay – the tanks are usually around £50 each but the delivery can be costly depending on how far away they are.  I was lucky (sort of, see below)  with my 3, they were £30 each from Bristol and only £25 total for delivery.    I was also lucky with the timing.  I only got the second one set up yesterday evening, and now it is full!  I collected 1400 litres of water in the last 24 hours from the house roof, and could have collected more if the third tank had been in place sooner.   The aim of all this rainwater is mainly for watering the polytunnel and the outside plants in pots and trays that I’m raising to sell.    This is all new – I only moved into my house last Autumn and only got the polytunnel  finished at the end of May, which is why I’ve only just set up my rainwater storage tanks in July.

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(The IBCs will later have light-proof covers made from bamboo matting or hessian or wood, to prevent  growth of algae and breakdown of the plastic due to sunlight.)

Nerdy IBC details

Two vital things I’ve learned about IBCs from buying these ones:

  1. IBC Outlets come in 2 sizes – 60mm is normal, 100mm is rare.  Mine all have 100mm outlets which made it much more expensive to buy the fittings to attach garden taps and hoses.  If I’d bought tanks with 60mm outlets I could have bought screw-on IBC adapters with garden taps for a fiver each on ebay.  The only place I could get 100mm adapters and taps was Smiths of the Forest of Dean at more like £25 each.
  2. Avoid containers that have been used for glue etc!    I’d only asked the seller to confirm that the tanks hadn’t contained anything toxic, but I should have been more thorough.  Mine had contained PVA glue which hadn’t been washed out very well and had set in places – YUK.  So avoid IBCs which have had anything in them which is either poisonous or which sets if not properly washed out!

 

Update 7 years on (May 2021)

A reader contacted me a few days ago with the following questions about the IBCS:

“Have you found the IBCs to be a good, long term option?
I currently have green plastic water butts and they weather pretty well; don’t become brittle and are generally pretty sturdy.
The plastic of the IBCs looks like it might become brittle over time.Do you ever clean them out and is it a complicated process?Have you found that the weight of the tank when full is too heavy for the earth it sits on?”

So I thought that now would be a good time to post an update to this article, saying how the IBC containers have worked out as part of a garden rainwater storage system for the last 7 years.  Here’s my reply to Amy’s questions:

“Yes, I’ve found the IBCs to work very well long term, and I would recommend them as a solution. I have three in my garden. They all stand on concrete or paving stones, and are raised up on bricks or concrete blocks. I wouldn’t put them straight onto the soil or grass – I agree that you’d need to spread the load (full, they each weigh one tonne). On the other hand, if you do put them on bricks or blocks straight on the soil, and they sink a bit, it’s not a big job to do it again, so you could just try it and hope for the best. But on balance, if they’re going onto soil, I’d suggest paving stones under the concrete blocks or bricks.

Rainwater storage in an IBC container, boxed in with feather edge boards
IBC 1 – this is linked to the polytunnel by a permanent hose pipe, where it connects to about 60 feet of porous rubber irrigation pipes in the polytunel borders. These are all left permanently connected, and the flow just from gravity (a head of about 10 feet) provides enough irrigation to keep the plants healthy in the height of summer, even though an IBC full of water lasts about a month.  The polytunnel is 15 feet long by 12 feet wide.  After about  4 years the porous pipes weren’t working – blocked up by debris or bacteria perhaps, so I replaced them.  The porous pipe is about £35 for 20m from firsttunnels.co.uk, and looks like it’s made of recycled rubber crumb from old car tyres.


They are all boxed in with featheredge fencing boards to protect the plastic against degradation by UV, and they look very neat. (Tip: fix 3×2 timber to the frame with garden wire, then screw the featheredge boards to the 3×2). Two have a roof over the top, and the third just has some landscaping fabric on top held down by wood scraps, to keep the UV off the top. I’ve never cleaned them out, but I do have a system of improvised filters to reduce the amount of moss and grit going into them. Stage 1 of the filter is some folded metal 1cm mesh, and stage 2 is a nylon sieve. These filters need cleaning out every couple of months, but it only takes a few seconds.

rainwater storage tank with filtration system made from 10mm mesh and a metal sieve
Filtration system made from 10mm mesh and a metal sieve


If the IBCs do get too much sediment in them, you could probably clear it by opening the big lever-operated outlet taps – the powerful gush of water would clear most of it I think.

When finding IBCs, another desirable feature, probably not mentioned in the original blog post, is that some have metal bases, and some have wooden bases – metal bases are preferable I think, to avoid rot in the long term (that’s why I built a proper roof over 2 of mine, to keep them dry).”

Garden rainwater storage in IBC tanks, boxed in and with a roof over the top.
These two IBCs had wooden bases, so I built a roof over the top to keep them dry. I’m sure they would last for several years without the roof, but I always like to design things to last decades rather than years.

 


The tanks all have overflow pipes fitted on the side, close to the top, using standard plastic domestic sink waste pipe.  For completeness,  I will add a photo of those in due course.

 

‘Grow Your Own’ car sticker

Slightly surprising that I’d ever write a post about car stickers… just goes to show how unpredictable life is. I bought the very apt sticker below from a lovely couple who have just moved to Stroud. They had a stall in the church hall at the Shambles market last week, selling stickers they’ve designed themselves. Many of their stickers are mice and mouse holes, to stick to your skirting board – unconventional, even for Stroud. In the slogan dept, apart from ‘Grow Your Own’, they also have the rather tempting ‘Read More Books’, and assorted cycling messages. I wish them every success.  [Note added later – they also paint great murals – see their website at lola-murals.co.uk ]

A dose of salts (for magnesium deficiency in tomatoes)

A few days ago I noticed the bottom leaves of my polytunnel tomatoes turning yellow. I was pretty sure this was a sign of a nutrient deficiency so I looked it up, and found I had the classic signs of magnesium deficiency in tomatoes – yellow leaves with green ribs. My tunnel is in my new garden, on the old veg patch, which has light soil which seems to have had a lot of ash added to it. Too much potash in the soil maybe (which according to the books can contribute to magnesium deficiency). I’ve not had this problem with my tomatoes before, maybe because of better soil and feeding with comfrey liquid in the past, but I’ve run out of that. Epsom salts are apparently the standard remedy, and are allowed in organic growing where there is a specific need for them. Having now given my tomatoes ‘a dose of salts’, I’ll let you know in a week or so how they look! Long term I hope to improve the soil so that this doesn’t happen again.

To market, to market…

A few weeks ago I joined the Country Market stall which operates at the Shambles market on friday mornings. So today I was up at 5.30 to pick and pack my spare produce and select some plants for sale. It feels good being involved at the Country Market stall – it’s a national cooperative to sell local produce, and it used to be called the WI Market. My dear-departed Mum helped to run her local WI market in Lincolnshire, so joining this one seems a bit like continuing a family tradition! The Stroud Country Market now opens on Saturdays too, but I’m told that Friday is still the main day for plants and produce. Either day you have to be there early to snap up the best bargains – lots of customers are there at 8am when the stall opens. It’s easily the best place in Stroud to buy veg plants, flowers and perennials, not to mention the baking, seasonal local fruit, eggs and so on – great quality at reasonable prices, with almost no food or plant miles.

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Sweet smell of sawn leylandii

One of the best smells in the garden – leylandii trees being transformed from monstrous eyesores into something useful – firewood. For this sort of garden job an electric chainsaw is ideal – much quieter than a petrol saw, more suited to garden and town use. And it doesn’t mask the smell of the sawn leylandii, which really is nice… the only good thing about this particular variety of tree!

Strawberries as tasty ground cover

I grow strawberry plants under and around my soft fruit bushes to suppress weeds. The shallow-rooted strawberry plants don’t affect the bushes, have plenty of fruit themselves, and look pretty when they are in flower. This sort of idea is quite permacultural – add a tree layer of dwarf apples and you’ve got a mini ‘forest garden’.

Lovely leek flowers

I always like to leave some unharvested spare leeks to flower and go to seed. Such lovely other-worldly flowers… Just as good as their cousins the ornamental alliums, they are a great favourite with bees, a good source of saved seeds to plant next spring, and sometimes a forest of baby leek plants grow all by themselves, leaving me only to transplant them!