Sustainable compost, cabbages and onions

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Sustainable compost, cabbages and onions

Sorry I have not been posting like I should have been, the broadband gave up the ghost and I just haven’t had the energy. As you would expect in July the garden is coming on in leaps and bounds and much like a conventional veggie gardener I am clearing the old to make way for a new crop going into autumn and winter. I found out last year just how useful the mild weather of autumn can be, especially without the dryness of summer. After finding it impossible to germinate seeds directly last summer I found it easy in the autumn, but to take advantage of the good summer weather in the backyard I am sowing in modules and transplanting. Very often I don’t sow, I take cuttings from some vegetables as if they were flowering herbaceous perennials and my garden was a cottage garden, and this works with brassicas even such fussy ones as cabbage

My cabbage experiment was a success. Last summer I cropped my cabbages by cutting the heads off then let the plants resprout. Very often four mini cabbages will spring from the cut. I pinched these off and plonked them in compost. After 20+ days the cuttings put on roots and langoured over winter in their pots waiting for spring this year when they went in the ground to be harvested now. Some of them bolted (put up flower stalks) but I pinched these off and the darlings didn’t need any further persuading and started to form heads. The ones I pinched however formed two or more heads and thus not as big as the single headed cabbage should be. The only thing that let me down is my poor gardening skills. Unfortunately I’m still on that crazy idea that sustainable vegetable gardening doesn’t need any fertiliser or manure which meant of course my cabbages were small. If I had made much more compost it would not have been a problem, but I didn’t.

The garden fertility question I think has been answered. In my back garden I have sustained a reasonable level of plant fertility without importing manures or fertilisers. This is by composting everything that comes near the property except human excrement and using urine to boost the compost with nutrients, particularly nitrogen. A lot of the mass of the compost comes from the hedges which I maintain only really for this purpose. I am attempting to nutrient cycle. The hedges are a pain, hiding slugs, reducing the light and especially reducing the space I could be using for, say training apple cordons up a fence. Still I am convinced we can garden our own little spaces sustainably by growing our own compost so these sacrifices are worth it (I think).

The allotment is a disaster – again – I just haven’t been there to water. My emergency digging and manuring has shown results though and my emergency leeks are looking good. The idea of an allotment without inputs is laughable, certainly not without further development and even then I don’t think without any manure inputs. The nitrogen fixing hedges and bushes are developing but not as quickly as I would like and this is probably because of poor soil which I should have manured. You live and learn. Once these become fully developed they will provide a large amount of green and brown to go on the compost heap.

The potatoes are doing alright, but not wonderfully, with my calvanistic sustainability puritanism again interfering with yields. I am following the Lawrence D Hills method of laying comfrey in a trench before planting my seed potatoes. I also bunged in some grass and nettles. The plants were certainly healthy and green I’ll give the technique that, but judging by the yield per plant I need to add more or try a different technique. Or maybe it was the watering again.

As you know from previous posts my potato onions and shallots were a failure but it isn’t all doom and gloom. Other alliums have surprised me. The Long Red Florence did put up flowers in their second year which should have spelled the end as a useful veg. After pinching off the shoots, however, the plants kept on growing and after a couple of months pushed the shoot out as if it was one “shallot” in a nest of shallots. They are a nice size, about an inch and a half in diameter, a nice colour and taste nice. This onion is on my list of possibles so I have sown a batch of seed and I am now planting out.

The real winner in the back garden though is the welsh or japanese bunching onion (the same thing Allium fistulosum). This onion is bulky tasty and grows back over and over again (year after year) if you cut it just above the ground. Normally I just eat the shanks but now, in the summer, the hollow leaves don’t have the gel in them that puts me off, so I eat the whole thing. I have sowed a whole load more to go in the garden, this one is a real winner.

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