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).
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.
(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:
- 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.
- 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!
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 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.
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.
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!
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’.
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!