Thursday, 15 December 2011

Using Manure For Your Deep Raised Bed

It was not so long ago when animal manures were the life and soul of the compost heap and their role in keeping the soil fertile and productive was never in question.

It is only in the last fifty years or so that manures have come to be regarded as unwanted waste products and a problem to dispose of.

The reason is that modern intensive farming methods allow large numbers of animals to be kept on an area of land that is far too small to use all the manure that is produced.

Another reason is with the introduction of artificial fertilisers it has meant that most arable farmers no longer want to manure there land in case it throws the land out of balance.

Using artificial fertilisers, everything is calculated down to the last pound of nitrogen and using farmyard manure throws that out.

To me, it is most bizarre way to go on. Animal manure is just as valuable today as it always was and the benefits to soil health, fertility and structure remain the same as it has for centuries.

As an organic gardener, I only use manures from organic farms. The reason is that non-organic farm yard manure has been spread with God know what and it can cause real harm to your crops (particular tomatoes)

Manures to avoid are those that a from intensive farms such as battery chicken houses and piggeries. These manures can smell quite bad and are very likely to be contaminated with antibotics, growth promoters, and heavy metals.

The best places to get manure from are stables and riding schools. These, by there very nature are often quite close to towns and are more then willing to get rid of there piles of manure which can become an embarrassing problem to them because they do not have land on which to spread their manure on.

If your look around your area you might be lucky enough to find some cattle farmer who may well be able to deliver a trailer of muck to your plot.

Other sources of muck could well be pigeon lofts, rabbit fanciers, and the like. Put an advertisement in your local paper and see what turns up.

Manure is such a valuable material that is worth taking time to search out a suppler, you may well be surprised at what you find.

Horse and cattle manure is the most common form of muck and they will come mixed with straw bedding material which will add bulk to your garden.

If you analysis these manures it may look rather useless in comparison with bagged fertiliser, but this is no reason to reject them. The manure is much better for your soil in the long run, because they provide that all important organic material that your soil will crave.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

What Sort Of Compost Bin To Use?

What sort of compost bin?

The compost heap can be just a heap of green material with a carpet thrown over it. However, most people do tend to do a bit more then that.

Compost containers can be bought ready made but they can be quite expensive to buy. The best of these is The New Zealand Box, which is more or less a wooded oven.

Other containers can be made up more simply and cheaply then the New Zealand Box.

The wire Mesh compost bin is just a wire container lined with carpet or cardboard. This sort of bin is easy and cheap to make. Just chicken wire in a square or circular shape.

Another very cheap and effect way to make a compost bin is: The Pallet Box Bin.
Four sides held together by wire and line with carpet or thick cardboard.

One of the all time favourites is: The Straw Bale Compost Heap.
Straw bales make an excellent insulated, though short-lived compost bin. It should last a couple of years and then the old straw can be used for the start of the next heap.

As has been said, there are some excellent compost containers on the market that are ideal for making really good compost. However, beware, there are also some that are very inefficient containers about.

These inefficient containers are made mainly by companies that are involved in businesses other the gardening. They feel that their materials can be made into a compost bin and give no thought as to weather their containers are actually any good or not.

The main drawback with many commercial containers is that there are wide gaps in the sides that will allow the compost to dry out. You can overcome this by lining the sides with cardboard or old carpet.

One of the best commercially available container is the “ compost tumbler type”.
This is a barrel-shaped container that has some sort of framework so that it can be rotated by hand.

The bin is filled with the some sort of material as a normal compost heap and left for a few days to let the composting start and then you turn the bin several times each day.

The turning action of the tumbler ensures that the composting bacteria are never short of oxygen, so they keep working at full speed.

The constantan mixing makes sure that all the material is well composted and that there are no dry edges.

This is also a very useful method to use when weed seeds or diseased material is bringing used.

You can also put in meat and houses hold scraps with out fear of drawing rats to the site.

These compost tumbles tend to heat up very well and after three to four weeks they will produce an immature compost in which the original material will be unrecognisable.

At this point the compost can be dug right into the garden or you can stacked it up under cover to mature to a finer product and then get on with the next lot in the compost tumbler.

The biggest disadvantage of this method of composting is that it is hard work. It takes a strong arm to turn the tumbler.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

How to use Shaving-based manures.

1. Be choosy. Always look before you buy. If the manure seems to be made up of dry shavings, do not use it in your deep beds but it can be used to quite good effect on the paths as a weed suppresser. This dry stuff comes form stables that are cleaned out very often. Take a look around for more suitable material.

2. Ask the stables owner if any other gardeners use their horse manure; if so try and do a deal with them to get some on a regular bases.

3. Unless the manure is obviously well rotted, -a nice dark colour, with individual shavings not particularly noticeable-do not use it immediately. Best is to heap it up under a plastic sheet and leave it for a good six months.

4. There is a way to increase the nitrogen content and that is to mix it with grass cutting while heaping it up to rot. Add water or diluted urine.

5. If you see, compost worms in the heap that is a sure sign that it is useable.

6. If in doubt, do use with caution. The best is to try it first as a surface mulch on perennial borders where it will not be dug in, adding first a dressing of hoof and horn or some other organic sources of nitrogen, if the soil is poor. It could be also used as mulch on the vegetable path. Before digging it over a large area, test a small patch and then grow mustard on it, with an untreated patch of mustard for comparison. The growth of the mustard should soon indicate any problems.

The best thing to do, in my view with any shaving based manures; is too heap it up for a year to make sure all of the wood bits have rotted down. The problem with wood chipping and shaving is that if they are dug into the soil without composting they will eat up all the nitrogen in the soil. This happens because the shavings are very high in carbon and contain very little nitrogen; if they are added to the soil without sufficient nitrogen, the microbes rob the soil of its available nitrogen so that they can get to work on the shavings.

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Monday, 21 November 2011

Compost Activators

2 Types of Compost Activators:

Compost activators are simply anything that will get the composting process started, a bit as a firelight is used to help start the fire. A compost kick-start.

They come in two kinds.

Natural activators

These are materials that the composting bacteria find easy to digest. Providing the little bugs the energy to start on the tougher material.

Natural activators tend to be very poor in make up and high in nitrogen. This is material like comfrey leaves, grass cuttings, poultry manures, dried blood, and urine.

Seaweed is the best natural compost activator because of the alginates it contains is an excellent bacterial food.

Activators from a Packet

This type of activator falls into three different types.

Soluble Nitrogen Fertilisers

This simple chemical fertiliser will give instant nitrogen. Not at all organic.

Bacterial Products

These will give a wide range of selected compost bacteria which appartly supplement and improve on those that occur naturally. A sort of kick-start to start the kick-start.

Herbal Materials

This is a mixture of herbs that help the composting process and enhance the compost.

To have any success as a gardener you must be able to understand the nature of your soil and fully realise the importance of properly making the soil ready to receive your crops.

This means paying attention to the number one priority of feeding your soil with organic material.

Your soil is the storehouse for the plant foods; therefore, no effort must be spared to work to build up your soil with the right material.

Although soils vary very largely in their make up; some are heavy, others light, some rest on clay and others on grave sub-soil all of them can be brought into fertile condition by adequate preparation and compost.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Composting for your deep raised beds:

How to make compost for your deep raised bed

What does good well-matured compost look like: dark brown crumbly, fibrous soil; this is what you goal is in making compost and all you need to do this is right there to hand. Composting is recycling at its very best.

The first step in the making of compost is to start and stop worrying that you will not get it right. Unfortunately, making compost is a subject that is often made to sound more complex then it really is. At worst, it is a pile of garden waste that is left to rot in a corner of the plot for a few years and then spread out over the ground. At best it is garden waste that is stored in well made containers, that are turned and keep moist and then spread out on the plot all within a few months.

The next thing to do is to try to gain some understanding of the composting process. It is always easer to do something well if you know why and what you are doing.

There is no magic about it and the best way to start is just to get on and do it. You first batch of compost may not be the quality that you wish for and may take you longer than you hoped but never mind. It will still be useful stuff and the next batch is likely to be better. In the end, you will find and devise a system to suit your own particular circumstances.

One thing to remember is that because composting is a natural process; nature will be on your side. The little “bugs” that make up the myriad of creatures in your compost heap will be your very own useful little workers that will know just what to do.

How many are there? Well you be surprised to learn that its has been estimated that there are around one thousand million microscopic organisms alone in each teaspoonful of compost. Those of you who are suspicious, or not too fond of creepy crawlies should be aware of this when investigating a compost heap while it is working. It is very easy to think that the heap is full of awful pests, when in fact they are simple legitimate workers.

Where do these little beast come from, well I would not worry about that; all that you have to do is start to heap up suitable materials and these compost workers will appear as if by magic.

Why? Because they are hungry and you are providing them with food in abundance and they will just come along and munch away. Breaking the organic matter down and as their numbers increase so the rate of decomposition speeds up. Because of all this activity, heat if produced, which in quite noticeable if the heap is large enough to contain it.

In a very hot heap, the oxygen that the composting microbes need may be in short supply, so, after a few days and work will slow down; so what you must do is turn the heap to introduce more air which will start it up again.

Not every compost heap will heat up, especially those that are made bit by bit. This does not mean that it will not compost; it will just take longer that is all. But if you build a heap and then started another one and then another one, after a while you will always have compost for your deep raised beds when every you need it, what very the season.

What is going on in your heap is quite simple. Having finished the more tender ingredients of the compost heap, the bugs will move on to the tougher material. The rate of work will slow down and the heap might well cool. At this stage of the game, the big boys will move in: worms, beetles, and all sorts of creepy things that you will be able to see.

By the end of the process, most of the ingredients of the compost heap will have been broken down, mixed together and made into what we call compost.

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Thursday, 10 November 2011

How to make raised deep beds

Raised deep beds.

Just how do you make your garden fertile and have control of the soil?
The answer might well in having raised deep beds because if you do it right and take the time you can have control of the soil.

As we know, the answer always lies in the soil because the basis of effective organic growing is a well cared for soil.

What we are looking for is a soil with a good structure, which is rich in plant foods and absolutely teeming with life. The way to build and maintain such a soil, whatever the original soil type, is to feed it with what are called “bulky organic materials” and to make this soil as deep as possible.
By that, I mean at least two spade depths and under that, it is vital that there is good drainage.

I remember years ago when I had to take down a Victorian glasshouse; I was truly amazed to find that the topsoil went down for a good 6 feet and under that there was three feet of clinker. A tad excessive but it was that that got me started on raised deep beds and I have never done my growing any other way.

Just what is a raised deep bed?

A structure containing soil that is above the level of the surrounding area and has a soil depth of at least 2 feet with good drainage, in which to grow crops of one kind or another.

Apparently, using a raised deep bed is a really good way to grow your vegetables.

Raised deep beds have been around for a long time and become popular again in the 70s after many years of not being so. Since then there has been a lot about them in the press, magazines, and no end of books.

The benefits of raised beds are many:

The idea behind deep raised deep beds is really quite simple. You can control and manage the area better then if it were just a patch of land.

In addition, it is much easy to improve the soil inside a deep raised deep bed rather then a whole plot.

The drainage is better in a deep raised bed.

Making a raised deep bed is very hard work and can cost a lot of money particularly if you have to replace all the soil in it but once done it is done. It is a very good winter job and by only making, one at a time can be very satisfying.

It is often said that raised deep beds give more yields of crop then otherwise; this is true to a point but with the beds you will be giving land up to paths so really it is swings and roundabouts.

With the bed, system weeds are not really a problem because the crop is generally planter closer and it is much ease to weed a raised bed then a stretch of land (Psychologically speaking)

Because of the closer spacing, it is always a good tip to watch the varieties of seeds that you use because some types are better then others when close together. This is very much a trail and error thing.

Another reason to use deep beds is that it is much easer to protect crops using cloches or fleeces then an open field.

The maintenance of a plot with raised deep beds is much easer then other methods of growing because you only deal with a small area at any one given time. The plot looks better with beds like this as well.

I find that an 11pole plot rarely takes more then 2-3 hours a week once, it is set up.

There are a few warnings about raised deep beds that you should be aware about be fore you start.

Because it is quite a bit of work to make the bed, it is worth getting it right.

What you are doing basely is digging a hole at least two to three foot deep (The width is up to you but you need to be able to reach the middle from both sides without compressing the soil) making sure that the drainage at the bottom of that hole is good and then putting the good soil back in to the hole.

The first and most important thing to remember is to know what good soil is. What you need to grow healthy crops is a soil that is a living, breathing mass. Try to see your soil as a living being, it needs to breathe, hold moisture and provide a good food supply to all the microorganisms, insects and other members of this complex community.

What you must not do is go out and buy x bags of compost and shove it in the hole. This will not sustain the plants for long.

What I do is fill the hole up with good garden compost that is at least a year old and then put the soil back on top so that I end up with a raised bed that is about a foot above the surrounding ground.
I can do this because my soil is good to start with.

What I have done in the past (because the soil I was working with was too heavy) was go out and find good soil to import into the “hole”. If you live in a town that is quite easy to do because there is always somebody digging up their garden to “slap it” and chucking out good topsoil. Put an ad in the local paper or walk the streets to find some good topsoil being thrown out.

Having made my raised deep bed; I then grow my plants paying attention to crop rotation and every time I finish a crop I add more garden compost to the top.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Raised Beds

Raised Beds.

Before you go out and make a raised bed; read this warning first

Making a raised bed can take a lot of energy and time /money before you embark on the project it good to see just what you are letting yourself in for.

I know that you have been looking for some information on the subject of raised beds and in this article I will give you the good, the bad and the ugly; so that by the end of it you will know with certainty whether to go ahead or leave it lie.

Just what is a raised bed?

A structure containing soil that is above the level of the surrounding area, in which to grow crops of one kind or another.

Apparently, using a raised bed is a really good way to grow your vegetables.

Raised beds have beeb around for a long time and become popular again in the 70s after many years of not being so. Since then there has been a lot about them in the press, magazines, and no end of books.

The benefits of raised beds are many:

The idea behind raised beds is really quite simple. You can control and manage the area better then if it were just a patch of land.

In addition, it is much easy to improve the soil inside a raised bed rather then a whole plot.

The drainage is better in a raised bed.

For people who have a back problem and those in a wheel chair, the bed can made high enough to work in with ease.

The soil will warm up quicker in the spring

It is easy to protect crops in a raised ben.

The “ugly” bit about raised beds is:

They cost money…sometimes a lot if you are making them high as you would for wheel chair access.

Being “ off the ground” so to speak they are more prone to frost.

They are not good to grow root vegetable in, because soil that is just being put on the ground without depth is not good. A rasid bed is not a deep bed after all is said a and done. Deep beds are something different altogher.

The consensus of users seems to be:

That raised beds are worth doing if you have the land, time and money, because in the long run they make your garden vegetable growing easer to manage. While it is not a miracle solution, you still have to work but it will have a tangible effect on the ease of future verterable growing.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Building a Raised Garden Bed

The Secrets of Building a Raised Garden Bed

I always find that the fall is a great time of the year to start to plan your garden for the next year. You are busy harvesting and cleaning up your ground and getting things ship shape again after a very
untidy late summer, when everything is overflowing, Maybe there are things that you have wanted to do in your garden for a long time but never had the time to get round to. One of them, perhaps making raised beds to divfnd your growing space better The thing to rember when making raised beds and that is that it is your garden and you can make them to any size that you like or need.

Making raised beds will improve the over all look of your garden as well as making the soil and beds much easer to manage. Also, raised beds are very usefull if you are on any sort of slope as the raised bed will stop erosion. As we know working on a slope can be difficult, but not so with raised beds. I know it is a lot more extra work to set up but once that is done, your garden life will be much more of a joy.

There will be quite a number of things to check out before you start to make your bed. The first one will be, just where are you going to put your new bed?You must think of the sun in particular, for most plants will need at least 6 hours of full sunshine per day, so there is a need to avoid shade. Also keep the bed well away form overhanging trees for two reasons: shade and the roots of the tree will suck all the water out of the soil.

When you have found the right position for your new bed, you must think, what will it look like? Will it fit in? If you use a professional garden design company, they will make sure that everything is just right but it will cost you an arm and a leg. Why pay out?, after all you have the whole of the winter to set this up. To get an idea of what and how to do the job; pop down to the local library and take a look in books and magazines to give you ideas for your new beds. Also, if you are that way inclined, take a look on the web. There you will found plenty of help in the way of garden design software, but once again it will cost money.

When you have an idea in you head what you want your raised to bed to look like the next thing to decide is: what you will make it out of. This can be anything. Stone, wood, bricks, breeze blocks, or metal sheeting.

There are a number of things to think about here;
Do you want the beds to all look the same?

What material do you already have to hand?

How much money are you going to spend on it?

Is there anywhere that you can pick up material for free?

All of the above need looking into but there is one important point to make and think about and that is that you will be growing food in the bed and so do not rush out and buy "sleepers" or any other treated wood because some to the treatments that are used might not be the best for your soil.

You can also buy ready made kits if you do not have the skill to do the work from scratch.

Getting your site ready to work on should be your next point. The bed should be level. A good working size for a raised bed is about four feet by eight feet. Nevertheless, this can be adapted to fit the space available in your garden. Do not be tempted to make the bed too large because this will cause your problems in the future when it comes to working on the bed. Some people advise using a laying a weed barrier fabric to help cut down on the weeds coming through but this is not a good idea because your crops like parsley, carrots will not be able to grown downwards as they should. The result of that is a failed crop and discouragement.

Now your are ready to build your bed with your chosen materials. Remember to keep it level and make sure that the materials are pegged to the ground to stop them moving and being pushed about by the soil or growing plants. To peg the bed down you could use stakes that are hammered into the ground and then the bed edges are screwed onto the stake. Make sure that the stakes are level or slightly lower then the raised bed.

Now that you have build, your bed it is time to fill it in with soil. This is a very important point and could change the whole of the outcome of the bed. The question is what sort of soil have you got? If it is noot good or clay you can change the structure of the soil by digging round down and adding good quality compost or animal manure to provide good growing soil for future crops. Both soil and compost can be bought from garden supply companies or online from garden nurseries. Many garden supply companies will deliver saving you the back breaking task of getting it home yourself.

If there is no rain in the near future then the soil should be water down and left to settle. After a while, you may find that you have to top up the level of the soil because it has sunk a bit. If you do the soil bit of the making of your bed right you will not need to dig for years to come. The whole idea of a raised bed is not to walk on it but to work from either side. The only tools that you will need will be a hoe, dipper, rake and kneeling matt. A garden sieve will also come in handy if your soil is stony.

If your grow flowers or vegetables, the same amount of garden design can go into it as any other part of your garden. Having spent money, time and effort building your raised bed you can enlarge it very simply by adding height. Many vegetables such as tomatoes and runner beans grow up canes. Garden obelisks for clematis to climb up will make the most of the space in your raised garden bed.

Your raised garden beds need not be limited to the back garden or yard for they do very well in the front or side garden as well. The main thing about the whole affair is to enjoy it .