Posts Tagged ‘compost’

BRINGING ON SOME EARLY RHUBARB – 4th wk in January 2013

If I had rhubarb crowns in the ground  in a south facing part of the garden, I would select a rhubarb crown now and cover it with a black bucket or purpose made ‘rhubarb forcer’ to speed up the growth of some pink early stems.

Alas, my south facing garden is already full, so the rhubarb got planted in the north front garden under the rowan trees, not a very sunny spot. Nontheless, the new green leaves are now sprouting, in spite of the cold. Day length is increasing and life is returning to the garden. However, forcing the rhubarb does put a strain on the plant. In effect, the plant is tricked in to thinking it has been buried deep in the soil as the upturned bucket creates a 24/7  period of  darkness. The rhubarb plant reacts by growing faster as it attempts to reach the surface to grow above ground with the arrival of spring. The resulting harvest of pale pink and sweet tasting stems are likely to be the first homegrown fruit of the year. Once a rhubarb plant has been forced, it is as well to leave it for 3 or 4 years before forcing the same plant again, so it gets a few years of normal growth to recover.

Jane Moore, Head Gardener and 'Kitchen Garden' writer, showing me 3 old rhubarb forcers growing dessert ingredients at Bath Priory Hotel, England.

Jane Moore, Head Gardener and ‘Kitchen Garden’ writer, showing me 3 old rhubarb forcers growing dessert ingredients at Bath Priory Hotel, England.

The ‘rhubarb forcer’ can be an attractive piece of Victorian – looking garden kit, reminding kitchen gardeners of the realities of food growing in these parts before oil based transport made year round imports a normal part of life. The rhubarb forcer in the 19th century was often earthed up with farmyard manure both to fertilise the rhubarb bed and to insulate the tender rhubarb plant from the harsh early spring weather still holding back growth in the garden.

Whether you impatiently force your rhubarb now or wait for natural growth to occur, now is a good time to cover the soil around the rhubarb plants with compost or well rotted manure.



As the allotments here in Balbriggan, on the Dublin – Meath border start to take shape, I and many locals are curious to see other allotments wherever we go. With the new edition of ‘Trevor’s Kitchen Garden’ now in British bookshops, a little promotional trip to Bath seemed like a good excuse to see a beautiful part of England and meet some local kitchen gardeners there.

Walking around Bath (in the rain!) this historic spa town’s architecture in any weather is impressive. What was even more impressive is the central location of the allotments. The equivalent location in Dublin would be like having allotments in Merrion Square or in Stephen’s Green. Within yards of park benches were all shapes and sizes of compost tumblers, cones and more handmade compost containers. Cabbages, chard, leeks and parsnips were ready for harvest. I imagined them as steaming ingredients in a hot-pot to warm the cockles beside a roaring fireplace in the nearby Marlborough Tavern.

If the place looked this good on a rainy Monday morning in January

Bath's city centre allotments, a sign of a trusting, friendly community, looking after its health and helping to make the future sustainable.

Bath’s city centre allotments, a sign of a trusting, friendly community, looking after its health and helping to make the future sustainable.

, imagine how stunning it would look when the runner beans are in flower, the sunflowers are reaching for the sky and the first outdoor early potatoes are being dug in June. I’ll be back … to see how ‘Trevor’s Kitchen Garden’ is selling there … of course!



At Balbriggan Fish & Farmers' Market, Joe O'Brien, the local Green rep meeting local shoppers for a coffee

At Balbriggan Fish & Farmers’ Market, Joe O’Brien, the North Fingal Green Party rep meeting local shoppers for coffee & a chat.

The idea occurred to me at the last Christmas themed Fish and Farmers’ Market in Balbriggan for 2012, that decorating wreathes and houses with ivy makes sense because it grows so prolifically in Ireland. Holly grows here of course too, but it is not nearly as common as ivy. With the amount of spare ivy growing in my little garden alone, I have used lengths of ivy to decorate at home and in church. The pulpit in St. George’s Church, Balbriggan, now looks like it is taking root!

Down the road in George’s Square, at the Fish and Farmers’ Market, the discussion turned to wreathes, made by Zee in Sonairte for sale at the market in aid of this popular ecology centre near Laytown train station. The wreathes consisted of vegetation which grows in and around the organic walled garden which includes some holly – lucky Sonairte. Anyway I am sticking with the ubiquitous ivy as green decoration and after the Feast of the Epiphany on Jan 6th, the bits of withering ivy can end up in the compost and return to the natural order of death and re-birth. Nollaig shona / Happy Christmas!


Discussing the design and functions of the organic garden with Minister for Agriculture Mr. Tress Bucyanayandi MP, the Governor of the Masaka region in white robes, and  CEDF Founder and Consul, Ms Sylvia Katete Gavigan.

Discussing the design and functions of the organic garden with Minister for Agriculture Mr. Tress Bucyanayandi MP, the Governor of the Masaka region in white robes, and CEDF Founder and Consul, Ms Sylvia Katete Gavigan.

It was great to be asked to lead a team of volunteers to build an organic kitchen garden with the southern Ugandan community at Lwannunda near Masaka.  This area of equatorial Africa has a year round temperature in the high twenties celcius. Composting takes place much faster there, about 28 days compared to atleast 6 months for me in Ireland. The copious sunshine also ensures growth of plants is more lush and vigorous than in northern Europe. The downside is two-fold. First organic matter in the soil needs to be replenished more often to balance this quicker decomposition of organic matter in that heat. Secondly, each 3 month period of wet season, is followed by 3 dry months, eg December to February when children in southern Uganda have their summer (and Christmas)  holidays! This necessates a good system of irrigation and mulching the soil.

This garden building and horticultural training week was part of the Irish charity, Children’s Educational Development Fund’s  ‘Build Together Week’ from 25th November to 2nd December, led by Sylvia Katete Gavigan, CEDF Founder and Honorary Consul, along with Frank Duffy, Irish CEDF Manager and neighbour in Balbriggan. Half the team of volunteers, mainly from Ireland, painted a newly built school, under the leadership of experienced builder Mr. Colum Doyle. The other half tackled a two – thirds acre field beside a piggery to create a proper organic kitchen garden, from which the local comunity could grow food to eat or sell as produce to generate much needed income as well as develop healthier eating habits.

The garden has been planted with mango, strawberries, orange, spinach, aubergine, tomatoes, parsley, coriandar, lavendar, tithonia, comfrey, courgettes cabbage etc.  Beans and peas will be sown later in December in Uganda. The 3-bay composting system will be fed with pig manure and all the vegatative waste from nearby banana trees initially. At the seating area there is now an aromatic rose garden and herb patch. Last Saturday, the Ugandan Minister for Agriculture drove a long way on rough roads to honour the community by cutting  the ribbon to officially open this exciting new food growing project. He also ceremonially threw a bag of kitchen scraps, paper and tea bags etc, on the compost heap, and then spoke to the crowd about the need to farm, not mine, the soil. ‘Put back the lost organic matter after harvesting the produce’, said the Misister. This message applies in Ireland too. Let us all sustainably farm, (not mine,)  the soil.


Drawing a graph at my talk in the Organic Centre to show how human population growth has relied more and more on fossil fuels (since 1909). To feed humanity in a post oil world, town and country folk must grow more food.

A long standing invitation to speak at the annual Garden Party in the Organic Centre, Rossinver, Co. Leitrim, led to a very enjoyable visit there this week. Last Sunday, in fact. A programme of workshops was both entertaining and informative. The legendary Hans Wieland gave tips on growing a year round supply of salad leaves. For good health, he suggests a salad starter before a meal to help the body prepare for digesting the substantial food to follow in the main course.

Big supporter of the Organic Centre, local TV chef, Neven Maguire undertook a full cookery demonstration in a packed barn. Neven is a master of multi-tasking, as he can talk and cook at the same time … not a common male trait, speaking personally! His famous family was there too, much to the delight of the crowd, Amelda and the twins, Conor and Lucia. The sun shone.

Before Ingrid did her composting demo and Gaby Wieland did the herb workshop, I was asked to do a gardening presentation in the context of future food security. In effect the presentation was a blatant plug for the book ‘Trevor’s Kitchen Garden’ which is almost sold out – must print more! However, as proceeds from the book sales are going to help SEED (Sustainable Earth Education Development) network, of which the Organic Centre and Sonairte etc are members, the audience was very generous in relieving me of a box of books. Must get on to to see how many copies are still in stock.


The tomato, beans, courgette and potato plants are flowering. Some of the peas and beans are already fruiting as are the blackcurrants, raspberries, strawberries and apples. As the flowers turn to fruit, a regular comfrey liquid feed will add potassium, an important element at the fruiting stage of a plant.

The comfrey patch in the front garden is cut back to the ground two or three times during spring and summer before is goes dormant for the winter. It has a fast growth rate. If you don’t let it flower, it will produce even more leaves. I am happy to allow comfrey flower as the bees love the small purple blossoms.

I have a couple of water butts at the base of drainpipes to collect rainwater, but the comfrey liquid feed making barrel is in a corner beside the comfrey patch. This is now packed with the last month’s harvest of comfrey leaves which are stewing away in water. In the next few days, I will siphon of the liquid feed into empty screw top plastic milk containers. Sealed containers are best as there is a slight ‘pong’ from the feed when it is agitated, but this disappears quickly in the soil.

A  large watering can of water topped up with a litre of feed is dilute enough to apply around the plants which are beginning to set flowers and fruit. A weekly liquid feed keeps the tomatoes, beans, peas etc fruiting well, although a bit more sunshine would be appreciated! If I have surplus comfrey leaves, they are used as a mulch to suppress weeds and deter slugs or simply added to the compost mix.

The analysis of comfrey is impressive. 1. Comfrey can produce 2kg to 3kg of leaves per plant per season. 2. The leaves and stems contain an NPK ratio of 1.8: 0.5: 5.3 – significantly better than seaweed or compost. 3. Comfrey contains a similare level of nitrogen to farmyard manure and twice as much potash. 4. Comfrey has a carbon to nitrigen ration of 9.1, which makes it a perfect balance for producing great compost.

If you know somebody (like me!) with a comfrey bed, it is easy to start your own comfrey bed with on offset of root and shoot cut from a parent plant. Otherwise try www.organiccatalogue.comto get a mailorder of small comfrey plants, variety Bocking 14. This is the best strain of comfrey for a garden. It is a sterile cultivar that will not seed. Prolific seeding can be a problem with wild varieties.

Comfrey (variety Bocking 14) growing adjacent to the liquid feed making barrel, complet with tap for siphoning off the ‘comfrey tea’.

‘Making earthy good looking, sweet smelling compost is easy, once you know how – 2nd week of May 2012

Compost rejuvenates the soil in the garden every six months.

The oldest occupation in the world is not what you might think, it is (as far as I am concerned), composting! Before humans fashioned forks, moulded plastic composters, or constructed wooden, brick or straw compost containers, Nature has recruited myriads of micro-organisms to turn un-used food, fallen leaves, seaweed etc in to friable soil-like compost. Worms then mix this with the existing soil, returning nutrients to the roots of new plants, which later die, get composted, and the cycle goes on.

In my garden, I allow one year for converting vegetable waste in to friable soil-like compost. During the first 6 months the vegetable waste is collected from the kitchen and stored and partially composted in a plastic compost tumbler. Turning the tumbler helps aerate the mixture preventing any bad odours. Before the next 6 months, that tumbler mixture is transferred to the brick compost maker, a 1 cubic metre box. This mixture is interlayered with hedge clippings and coarser garden waste. This compost box is closed off and opened in 6 months time, when the mixture will have become proper compost, ready for digging in around the garden

I hope you enjoy this short video which Lorcan and I made the other day. The benefits of composting are many but include, (1). tidying the garden, (2). getting some good exercise (3). improving soil structure and (4). making food for healthy plants. Two things I forgot to mention in the video (a) place on old piece of carpet or even cardboard on top of the compost mix before replacing the lid to keep off rain. This ensures the composting making bugs are happier in this dry, dark and warmer environment. (b) Some people (discreetly) add a high nitrogen activator to the compost mix in liquid or in powdered form. The composting bugs tend to like it as it speeds up their work. They won ‘t really mind if you buy it in powdered form in the garden centre or otherwise!