Tag Archives: garden

guy’s newsletter: worms, organics & eccentrics

As we enter Organic September, it is rewarding and a little reassuring to find that Charles Darwin and I are not alone in our obsession with earthworms. There is Emma Sherlock from the Natural History Museum (endearingly bonkers) who travels the globe looking for new species, Rachel Lovell (mildly eccentric on a good day) who with Emma’s expertise has organised Riverford’s Big Worm Dig citizen science project, and the many of you who have rummaged in your gardens for our survey. It has been great to see children swiftly overcome their squirmishness and to witness their enthusiasm for finding and identifying worms while getting a bit muddy in the process. If that’s got you interested, visit the Big Worm Dig website to get your survey pack as there’s still plenty of time to get involved. Indeed, worms are much easier to search for in damp soil, so autumn is a good time.

So why are we making so much fuss about these dumb, arguably dull (sorry Emma) workhorses of the underworld? Without their burying of organic matter, and constant mixing, aeration and drainage of the soil beneath us, life on this planet would be very hard for other species. This is especially so for farmers and even more so for organic farmers. In the absence of chemical fertilisers we need an active soil which recycles nutrients efficiently; worms are the first stage of this process and a great indicator of the general health of the soil.

Yet, as with bees, we are slaughtering our allies with toxic agrochemicals and brutish farming techniques. Organic farming, with its absence of pesticides and scorching fertilisers, alongside better management of organic matter (worm food) is probably better, but it pains me to think of the carnage caused by a plough or rotavator when we prepare a seedbed. Sadly, as with so many aspects of ecology, worms would be better off if we just went away. Maybe one day we will be smart enough to grow our food without such brutal interventions, but should I somehow find myself living the life of a worm, I’d chose an organic field any day.

Guy Watson

Penny’s gardening blog: get crafty with vegetable tie-die

Dying using veg and fruit is easy, fun and will educate your kids about the different uses plants have.

You can try beetroot, onion skins, blackberries, redcurrants, plums, to name but a few plus all sorts of spices like turmeric and saffron and different tree barks and roots.  Follow this link for much more information on what to use and how to do it. http://pioneerthinking.com/crafts/natural-dyes.

I decided to have a go last weekend and took some photos to show you my results. It does take some preparation and don’t expect really strong colours. Have a read and start collecting your dye materials.

Equipment, you will need:

  •  saucepans
  •  colanders or sieves
  • rubber gloves
  •  salt
  • vinegar
  • 100 percent cotton material
  • your chosen dye materials  (I managed to procure some red and yellow onion skins, some beetroot, red cabbage leaves, and a mixture of blackcurrants, plums and cherries).

I made a dye solution by boiling the dye materials, using twice as much water as dye material, for about an hour. I stained each one and set aside. 

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I prepared some cloth by boiling in a fixative solution:

  • Use half a cup of salt to eight cups of water for berries. 
  • Use four cups of water to one cup of vinegar for plant material.

Make enough solution to cover your cloth. And simmer for an hour, then rinse.

Place the dye solution in the pan with the wet cloth and simmer gently, stirring here and there until the cloth has reached a good colour. Rinse and dry out of direct sunlight. 

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I borrowed my friends kids and had a go at tie dying some old shirts they had, using the dyes we had made.  Our results seemed initially good, the colour faded quite quickly but it was fun anyway. The colours will fade in sunlight, and with washing, which should be done separately from other clothes.

 This method of tie dying using marbles or stones is quite effective.

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Place a marble or coin onto the material, pinch it and twist the material around it. Secure it in place with an elastic band. Be sure to secure the band very tightly for good results.

Livy using marbles and rubber bands:Image

Luke using a stick to spiral the t shirt:

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Tie up as tightly as possible using rubber bands and string.   We added several colours but of course you can’t boil these in, so using one colour is probably a better idea when using natural dyes. 

 

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 My Jackson Pollock design! 

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Our results!

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guy’s newsletter: nobody likes me, everybody hates me, I think I’ll go eat worms

As a soulful four-year-old, I spent a lot of time stomping behind the plough collecting the, “big fat squidgy ones” left wriggling on the inverted furrows. I probably should have been at playgroup developing social skills, but when my mum did send me I stole the tricycle and was found trying to ride home.

Worms might have been an eccentric interest for a pre-schooler, but I was in good company; Darwin studied earthworms for 40 years and sold more books on them in his lifetime than he did on natural selection. He reckoned just about all fertile soil had at some point passed through the gut of an earthworm. Interest has waned a little since 1881 but we are hoping to change that from this summer. Earthworms are vital to soil aeration, drainage and nutrient recycling and are also a very good visible indicator of the health of the wider soil community, including microscopic fungi and bacteria. Why should you care? Without healthy, active soils we would have little food and very little wildlife. What is good for earthworms is good for us and the planet.

Earthworms like moist, well-drained soils with plenty of organic matter. They hate synthetic fertilisers, most pesticides, excessive cultivation, compaction and extremes of temperature. Not surprisingly, you don’t find many in intensively farmed arable fields. Organic farming is better but we still need to develop methods less reliant on the plough to avoid disturbing our humble friends.

Despite their importance, very little is known about the UK earthworm population. To remedy this we’ve created an adult and kid-friendly survey with the help of Emma Sherlock, our semi-tame and highly enthusiastic boffin from the Natural History Museum. Yes, we want you digging and identifying. Visit www.riverford.co.uk/bigwormdig to get your booklet, and perhaps win a family holiday. I don’t recommend eating any worms you might find however.

Guy Watson

In Penny’s gardening blog – how to make use of those fallen autumn leaves

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Autumn

The leaves this autumn are spectacular. I don’t know about any of you, but I have a tendency to get a bit down towards the end of September. The nights drawing in, everything coming to an end in the garden and the thought of a long, cold, damp winter fills me with dread, gloom and doom.

But once the leaves have turned I force myself out of my sorry state of mind and there is nothing more cheery than a good walk in the local woods. I am lucky enough to live close to Hembury Woods, which skirt the River Dart and is full of many ancient trees. It is predominantly a western oak woodland with a wet alder wood in the valley. There are plenty of silver birch, beech, holly and hazel. The colours alone are so uplifting that the experience of walking amongst these trees really gets me into the spirit of autumn and winter, hot fires and chestnuts, big scarves, thick socks, woolly hats and all those sorts of things.

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Leaf Mould

My point is there are lots of leaves falling off the trees at this time of year. Raking them up is a good idea and why not make some leaf mould which makes a great soil conditioner when left to rot over the winter and ready for the summer.

You don’t want to put leaves onto your compost heap as they are slow to rot down. If you have space, make a separate heap for leaves alone or otherwise a put them in a black plastic sack with holes punched in the bottom.

Some folk rake all the leaves onto the lawn first and then mow them up, which chops them up a bit. You can mix them with some lawn cuttings too to help speed up the rotting process a little. Either way is fine.

Put the leaves in heavy duty black bags. Once filled, pierce the bottom of the sacks and put them in a corner out of the way and by next summer you should have some good leaf mould. This is a great low nutrient soil conditioner and can be spread onto your flower or vegetable beds or added to pots and tubs. It will improve the structure of your soil.

Next gardening blog

I am going to give you tips on putting your gardens to bed for the winter and what you can do in your kitchen gardens to prepare for next year. I will also make suggestions on things to plant now for a spring display.