Monday, 13 January 2014

Waste as Resources

I have been spending a lot of time over the past couple of months working on getting a few workshops together. My aims for this year is to team up with other self reliance enthusiasts in the area and begin delivering workshops and courses. So far I have managed to create two one day courses, and putting together a couple of half day workshops. This has been a lot more work than I was hoping. But it's been a good experience. It's been some time since I was last in London and, judging from reports, things seem to been going well there. 
Here in Norfolk it's been wet, wet, wet. We've had a few frosty nights but generally it's been quite mild (for January). When I am not on the computer typing up workshops and courses I have bee focussing on getting the second half of our allotment prepared for the growing season. I decided on a slightly different approach when preparing this half of the site. Because of the wet weather I thought it would be ill advised to dig the plot. I remember reading that digging clay soils when wet may cause heavy compaction in the long run. So I decided to sheet mulch the site. 
Pile of rotting wood chippings
During my time exploring the surrounding villages I came across a pile of wood chippings which was ideal for mulching. The first layer of mulch I laid down was a few layers of newspaper. Normally I would use cardboard as the first layer but I was slightly concerned with compacting the soil, that's also the reason why I decided not to remove the vegetation before mulching. I am hoping that the voids created by the weeds would prevent further compaction. As always I identified the plants present on the site and there were no troublesome perennials that won't be taken care of by mulching. I also noticed that worms like wet newspaper, so I am hoping that the layer of newspaper will encourage the worms to come up to the surface and help break down the mulch layer. 
Mycelium on wood chippings 
Once the newspaper was down I added a small layer of wood chippings. I was careful to only add the more decomposed of the wood chippings. I also made sure to add some of the mycelium that was growing within the wood chip heap busily breaking down the organic matter. It's well known that too much wood chipping in the soil will actually take nutrients away from plants growing in the surrounding. I am hoping to avoid this by using well rotted wood chipping jammed packed with fungi and letting it sit for at least a month before planting. The next step was to pile on as much organic matter as I could bear.
Heap of bulky organic material
Our allotment is situated in the village churchyard. Much of the grass clippings, fallen leaves and tree and hedge purnnings from within the church grounds are collected up and dumped at the bottom of the grounds, out of site. I collected some bulky material consisting of small twigs, fibrous stem, and decaying roots and added a layer on top of the layer wood chippings. The thinking behind this layer is to help with aeration and prevent compaction on the soil underneath.
Pile of fine fluffy organic material
On top of that I added a layer of fine fluffy material consisting of grass clippings, fallen leaves and shredded plants all of with have been decaying in a heap for years. Some of the material closer to the bottom of the pile was already well composted humus. That's four layers of mulch so far.    
Roadside straw pile
The final layer I added was a generous layer of soiled straw. I found a heap of the stuff just sitting on the side of the road. As I mentioned in previous posts, we live in horse country and residence have a hard time getting rid of their spoilt straw. Some sell the manure but no one wants spoilt straw so they dump it wherever they can. The heap I found was ideal because it was dumped and was left sitting for some time and therefore had already started to decompose. It just goes to show, if you have imagination, think positively and keep your eyes open you can find and use anything to your advantage. One mans' waste is another mans' resource.
So we've now got three new growing beds at the allotment. I've also begun digging a small pond and building a storage bin for compost and manure. I've also begun laying the paths using cardboard and wood chippings. It's all coming together quite nicely and I am very excited to starting adding plants to the site. We've already sown peas in pots in the green house, have planted out garlic and later on this month I'll be sowing some onions seeds and seeing how they do with the early start.

The allotment so far

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