You can never have enough compost and no matter how much you think you need you will find you need more. Worse, that giant pile of organic matter that you have collected ready for next year’s compost, it will shrink to a sixth of its size. It’s also true that garden compost is the best thing you can give your garden but because we are growing vegetables the goal of satisfying our aims is further away from our reach than the more easily managed herbaceous border. This is why straight organic vegetable gardeners add organic fertiliser, such as blood fish and bone, as well as the compost or manure. The permaculture aim of producing good sized, healthy vegetables without intensively robbing fertility (or energy) from elsewhere is very, very difficult to do.
Now I mentioned herbaceous borders a moment ago, and in my back garden I have herbaceous perennial plants and an occasional mulch of home made compost and the odd sprinkle of comfrey tea has kept them healthy and green. These herbaceous perennials though are not ornamentals they are edibles. They are no way as productive as annual vegetables (not even close) but they keep producing and they quite happily shrug off slugs and snail attacks.
I have tried a fair few perennial edibles but quite a few of them have not made the cut, mostly because they don’t taste great or are very poor producers. But even though I have had failures I have had some great successes, such as welsh onions/japanese bunching onions, garlic chives, rock samphire, broad leaf sorrel, nine star perennial broccoli and taunton deane kale. Better still, the sustainable “closed loop” composting system I am using is maintaining them adequately so they can feed me and feed themselves. So, so far so good.
But I want more from the garden, I want abundance and that means annuals: tomatoes, french beans and squashes, which means more fertility is needed than I can produce. Though I have run out of compost there are still resources available on site that I haven’t used or could have used better. The front garden and side path have yet to mature as compost growing areas. The alders, which I am increasingly being impressed by for their rapid growth, were planted this spring and are romping away. Next year or the year after they will make a good addition to the compost heap. Alders are nitrogen fixers, so as well as being biomass rich they effectively feed themselves. I have also added some perennial clovers and a couple of everlasting sweet peas to the front area. When all these plants reach maturity it will be a useful boost to the compost.
There is a tree in the alley behind the end of the garden which is a nuisance and which I cut back each year and I have started to chip. This is a large dollop of biomass but difficult to compost and if added to the soil will rob the soil of all its nitrogen. It could be slowly incorporated into the compost pile or utilised in some other way, perhaps mushrooms could be used to break it up, but this would take more skill and knowledge than I have on the subject.
I also wasted a lot of comfrey by trying to brew it in the non smelly way, by not adding water and letting it decompose on its own, dripping through a hole into a container. Of course all the heat we had in july evaporated it before I could collect it and I lost a valuable boost to my plants. On the allotment however, one of the few things that did go right was my use of comfrey. I laid it in a trench with some grass and nettle clippings in spring then planted my seed potatoes on top. The harvest wasn’t too bad and it cheered me up to find a sustainable technique that worked pretty well with such a nutrient dense staple. Next year I shall weigh the comfrey, Lawrence D Hills says 1 pound of comfrey for each foot of row and I have high hopes for next year.
So as usual, I am left with the self directed instruction to try even harder to succeed next year. But it is not so bad, the forecast though difficult, is fair. I have a big pile of prunings starting to rot into compost, I am about to sow some clovers and vetches as a green manure which might (though I saw little evidence this year) improve the fertility of the soil for next year, and my skills get better each year. I am also waiting for more harvest from my winter squashes, tomatoes, pears and leeks.
Ta ta for now
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