DIY Composter, Windbreaker and Recycling

February is a very important time to get things ready before March-sowing begins. The weather is unpredictable and can be rarely favourable, so you have to try and take advantage when it is – we tried 😄

The first thing we wanted to add was a wind breaker on the east fence (this time last year, we put one on the west fence and it has worked beautifully well: protecting us, the young fruit trees, and all the vegetables from some violent gale force winds). Before doing so, it took us some time to remove any unwanted perennials from near the fence – and, boy, did they have some powerful and resilient root systems. We then trimmed the neighbour’s hedge back, where it was poking through, to prevent it from making holes in the wind breaker (and to hopefully train it to grow a little more away from from the fence to try and avoid too much future damage). Also, on this east side, we’re planning to remove the concrete slabs, which used to serve as a path there, in order to increase the amount of land and space available. For now, the slabs will be stored somewhere temporarily until another use can be found for them. In the land and space that will be freed up as a result, we’re going to distribute some organic matter and plant some annual plants/flowers to bring the microorganisms back to life 🙂

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Pruning the apple trees was next, which left us with a lot of branches and twigs. Agnieszka’s Dad 🙂 chopped the small ones for us, and we cut the bigger ones. In the end, we had a lot of wood to give back to the Earth:

  1. Small twigs are being placed around the edges of two perennial areas, and between different crops, as markers, as we start sowing and planting outdoors.
  2. The bigger branches we dug into the soil on the western edge of the garden beds.
  3. We stuck small twigs into the raised strawberry beds to prevent cats from using them as their toilet 😉
  4. The smallest and thinnest twigs that were left over were used to cover the cardboard on the path between the beds

4448ECEC-72C3-4B5C-9876-9F68B96A49D0All this wood will help maintain moisture-levels in the soil during drier days, as well as starting slowly to decompose – feeding the soil and its microorganisms.

The third and most urgent job was turning five pallets that had been kindly donated to us into a working composter. When we have more pallets available to us, it will become the first chamber of a three-chamber-composter. In his younger days, Geoff was a carpenter and joiner, so it seemed like revision for a mini-test for him. I mainly followed his instructions and tried not to destroy anything or hurt anyone 😁 The final result exceeded our expectations 😁 We can’t wait for more pallets and more ventures into the DiY that accompanies it 😁

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The container we bought last year has been emptied of the partially decomposed content which we have been adding to since October 2019. Now, it has been moved into the new composter, the process of transferring providing some beneficial aeration, where it can rest and undergo further decomposition. 

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The green store-bought composter can now serve as a first chamber (the one topped up and added to on a regular basis): and our latest homemade creation is now a  second ‘resting’ chamber.

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To finish off, we have a couple of photos showing the spot where we distributed our home-made compost in October 2019.  As you can see from the most recent picture: the texture hasn’t changed, no weeds have grown since, even the colour hasn’t changed – and it’s ever so soft and not at all compact. We’re definitely hooked on making a lot more compost 😊

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So, here we are: more or less prepared for March, with the garden beds mulched and ready to welcome Spring vegetation, hoping to make a lot of good soil/compost, and begin another wonderful season 😃

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Compost, Mulching, and Preparing the Garden for Spring #3

Organic Matter

As January has come to an end, so has our composting and mulching of the garden beds. We’ve managed to empty the compost pit of most its solid organic matter, and used it in combination with cardboard to cover them. These beds can now absorb all the goodies from both the brown and the green matter, simultaneously being protected from exposure, severe temperatures, and too dry or too wet periods. On top of this, any unwanted perennials or weeds will have to make a lot more effort to grow in Spring or Summer, which is another thing we want: win-win 🤞

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  1. We’ve developed a routine collecting cardboard from supermarkets whenever we get access to a car. This happens on average four times a month, and allows us to collect a significant amount of brown matter.
  2. Here – 25 January 2020 – we harvested celeriac planted 02 May 2019 which we happily shared with our neighbours 😊 We immediately covered the soil with cardboard.
  3. We then extracted whatever was left of the solid organic matter from the pit.
  4. And, in the final stage, distributed it evenly.

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As mentioned in a previous post, in March the cardboard should be nicely decomposing and the layer of organic matter on top quite dry, making it possible for us to break up the bigger pieces, remove any debris, and remove and return anything that still needs breaking down to a compost heap. By April, it will resemble the soil it will become: a new layer of soft soil ready for sowing and planting. Today we had a sneak-peek under a mulch layer and, much to our surprise, we saw busy earthworms already ‘having a good time’ 😁

Avoiding digging or ploughing, and keeping the earth undisturbed, well-fed, protected, and mulched, makes for a much healthier ecosystem for both the plants and the organisms and microbes within. Healthy undisturbed soil provides enough food for all those small creatures, which, in exchange, break down the organic matter, making more healthy and healthier soil for the plants that we want to grow. It is a cyclical process – and one of the most basic, beautiful, and essential cooperations on our planet. 

If we look after the soil, it will look after us. 👍🌍

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This year, we’re aiming to improve our soil-making by building a two-compartment compost container out of pallets. From this, we hope to be able to cover most, if not all, of the garden beds with fresh home-made soil before next Winter. In the meantime, we’ve been making sure that the container we’re presently using is busy receiving green matter, brown matter, and pig manure.

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  1. Green matter (plant-based waste) and brown matter (paper, egg-boxes, and egg shells).
  2. Pig manure and straw.
  3. More brown matter (mainly cardboard and paper). It eliminates smells and helps absorb excess liquid from any soggy organic waste that comes next. 
  4. Pallets donated by our neighbours, waiting to be converted into the new composter. As part of an offer made to all local residents, the black plastic container was provided at no cost by our local council to promote a more eco-friendly use of household organic waste in the region. It has certainly found a good home here 😊

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Before closing today’s post, we’d like to share with you the joy and pleasure of harvesting vegetables in Winter. We sowed these carrots 25 April 2019. Today, 02 February 2020, they are still crispy, sweet – and very tasty. We haven’t had to buy any carrots since late Summer last year. So yes, a winter garden is something we’re going to be looking into even more this year 👍👩‍🌾💚👨‍🌾

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Compost, Mulching, and Preparing the Garden for Spring #2

Green Matter and Brown Matter

At the moment we keep compost in two places: a (420L) compost container and a compost pit.

The container provides enough drainage so that last year it was possible for us to experiment on producing moist (not soggy) fertile soil. During the minimum 6-8 months it’s resting, it is turned over two or three times. We then cover the beds, preferably before Winter, using it as both compost and mulch. In Spring, without any digging, we can plant vegetables directly in it, using a small dibber.

Compost in the form of freshly made fertile soil is already a properly balanced mixture of green and brown matter. Green matter is only plant-based waste and coffee dregs. Brown matter is egg shells, cardboard, paper, straw, sawdust (untreated wood), and manure – also called by some “an activator” (more information about how we did it last year and why will appear in a separate post). 

The pit is a place where, in a more traditional Polish rural household, people would put their scraps and other organic waste. In the end, although well rotten, due to relatively poor drainage, the organic matter unfortunately remains rather wet and is therefore smelly. Access to the compost is also quite difficult as most of it remains deep in the pit.

However, making use of resources already available to us before introducing any bigger changes or potential improvements somehow seems a natural thing to do. So, although soggy, smelly, and difficult to retrieve, the compost is a very good source of nitrogen – produced by green matter (mainly grass clippings and fresh leaves) breaking down – and we are more than happy to use it in the garden; any excess liquid is then used to feed the fruit trees and bushes.

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Over the course of the last two weeks, we’ve cleared one of the two long vegetable beds, which we then covered with cardboard (brown matter) collected from local shops and markets. The (green matter) compost from the pit has now rotted well enough, so we put a 5cm layer on top of the cardboard. Last year we placed the compost directly onto the soil and it worked pretty well.

As we’ve gained more experience, we know that the soil and earth-worms absolutely love the addition of brown matter, so it only made sense to add it to the beds. The green-matter-plus-brown-matter combo brings many benefits to the garden:

  • adding new layers of soil
  • feeding the soil
  • protecting the soil and the life in it from too much exposure
  • reducing weeds
  • retaining moisture
  • providing drainage
  • and more

Around March, that once soggy, green matter will be much drier. We’ll then break down and reduce the bigger, harder pieces and remove anything that still needs further composting. By then, the cardboard will have started decomposing nicely. After that, the bed will be ready for direct planting – without any prior digging. We will add some dry pig manure at some point, and as the plants are growing we’ll feed them with our home-made nettle slurry.

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Compost, Mulching, and Preparing the Garden for Spring #1

Sunday 05 January 2020

Last Winter only seems like yesterday: coming back to Poland after two years of bicycle-touring, taking over my parents’ garden and beginning our 2019 No-Dig Gardening Project. Here we are again, one year later, with a bit more knowledge and experience – more than ready to start gardening once again.

It’s 05 January 2020 and the weather has been ideal to spend some time outdoors. Geoff’s been fixing tools, and I’ve been mulching the beds (laying well-rotted, green, organic matter on cardboard (brown matter)).

The soil we managed to produce as part of the 2019 Gardening Project only covered about a fifth of the beds, so the rest of them will have to be covered as described above. We will, however, try and produce more soil this year – now we know how to approach the matter 😉 

As you can see in the photos, despite it being Winter, the garden is still producing some vegetables: cavolo nero, kale, beetroots, carrots, spinach, rucola, celeriac, parsnip, parsley, and garlic (some of them covered with fleece).

The process is: as we pull and eat them, the patches of soil left will immediately be covered with the cardboard-and-organic-matter combo, so no beds remain bare. Feeding and protecting the soil also leads to fewer weeds later on.

These are some of the principles behind No Dig Gardening and Permaculture.

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