Thursday, 1 May 2014

Sunshine, pests and natural fertilizer

Busy time of year this is. It's coming to the end of spring and the spring showers are doing their magic. It's been a few weeks without rain and many of the plants have been showing their discomfort in the heat of the midday sun. Luckily nature has a remedy for such occasions. Mulch and cover crops. Despite over three weeks without rain, most of the undisturbed land remains lush with growth and just below the soil surface there is moisture. In contrast, the land that's been tilled mercilessly over the last two months has been kept bare and as a result has completely dried out in the sun. Very little to no signs of life can be seen there. But the dry spell has come to an end. Last night we were treated to a small shower and it has not really stopped raining since this morning.The majority of the plants in our garden have perked up with the much welcomed injection of heavenly growth. I have no doubt that it would be all systems go for the weed now. 
I've been having some problems down at the allotment. The garlics are all doing well, the potatoes are all up and looking healthy, and all of the comfrey root cutting I planted have taken. So what's the problem? There is a rodent terrorising the allotment. It's proven very difficult to grow anything from seed down at the allotment. I haven't been able to identify it yet but it looks like a mouse with very small ears and like burrowing. I thought it might be a type of shrew, but it does not have a pointed snout. It has eaten every one of the runner bean seeds I've planted and has been borrowing below the peas and damaging their root system in the process. So far the only real damage it's caused is eating the runner bean seeds. So I might be a little late on the runner bean front this season. We've also had some problems at the home garden. We have been visited regularly by a small wild rabbit. It likes dandelions and evening primrose and the occasion kale. It hasn't caused any major problems yet but I am considering setting some traps before it invites it's friends to the feast of fresh greens over the summer. 
Another pest that arrived in the home garden are aphids. There is an infestation on the mint which I planted in a large pot. The green aphids have infested the plant and have formed colonies on the new growth of the plant. I am planing to make up a natural remedy which I have used in the past and has been successful. First I remove as much as I can by hand, by simply rubbing the infected area with my thumb and forefinger, then I mix up a solution of 1lt of water, 2 or 3 crushed garlic and a dash of vinegar. I let that sit overnight and then add it to a spray bottle and treat the plant every week or so. It is important to note that it is best to stop treatment for at least two week before harvest. But only if you mind your herbs tasting of garlic. 
It hasn't been all dull and gloom though. As I mentioned before. The garlic, comfrey, and peas are all growing well at the allotment, some of the onions have made it through and seem to be winning the war against the slugs. Back in the home garden I have been sowing seeds regularly and I have just planted out the first set of tomatoes in the greenhouse and will be planting out more next week. This year I am trying tomatoes outdoors as well as in the greenhouse and I saved some scotch bonnet chilli seeds from some shop bought chilli and I'll be trying to keep at least one as a perennial plant. I am very excited about this possibility. I shall keep you updated on the progress.
The land has been generous enough to present us with lots of gifts and one gift that I have been happy to receive recently has been courtesy of the local moles. I have been collecting mole hills and using the soil in my potting mixes, and filling up the raised beds. There seems to be an endless supply of mole hills and the soil, I find, excellent for earthing up potatoes when mixed with a little compost.
Something else I am very excited about is making my own natural fertilizer.I am a big believer in feeding the organisms that live in the soil. I think that if I supply to the soil food web and keep the organisms healthy and thriving in turn they will feed the plants for me. And I am convince that they know how to look after plants better than I do since they've been doing it so well for so long. I read that plants prefer a slow release of nutrients over a long period rather than short bursts of high levels of nutrients. I know that some plants are great at storing high levels of nutrients in their leaves and so I have been gathering nettles, yarrow, comfrey and wild parsley from the area around where I live and adding them to a large container. I slightly crush the combination of leaves and then add rain water till all the leaves are submerged. I leave this to sit for about two weeks (stirring twice a day), then remove all the remaining leaf mass, leaving only liquid in the container (I sometimes pass the mixture through a Hessian sac to get more of the bits out). Then I get a old sock and fill it with fresh manure. I then tie the open end of the sock to a stick which I lie across the top of the container. This allows the manure filled sock to dangle down into the container without touching the bottom. I then fill the container all the way to the top with rain water and leave that to sit. The manure acts as a food source for beneficial bacteria allowing them to multiple and thrive in the liquid. The most important thing in order to get this right is to add oxygen/air to the mix as offer as possible. I have seen some people use a small electric pump, however I use a metal tube which I blow into every time I walk pass the container (which is very often, five time a day easy). Be warned, the mixture really stinks. I use the mixture by adding it to a watering can and watering the garden with it. The mix I use is 1 part fertilizer to 10 part water. I have been using this technique for three years and have not had any complains from my plants yet.
One last thing I wanted to share here is propagating herbs. I was given a sage plant recently and I wanted to create more plants from it. The technique I used in the past for propagating herbs was to take softwood cuttings. This worked fine but it required a lot of monitoring. The technique I am using with this new sage plant is a technique called layering. It's simply taking a piece of the 'mother' plant and burying it in a small pot of compost without separating it from the plant. This means that I don't have to worry to much about the pot drying out or not or getting too wet as the 'child' plant is still being kept alive by the 'mother'. I would leave this like this for a few weeks and see if it takes root then I'll report back to you.