UPDATE ON MY SOIL EXPERIMENT

Today is another day with, for West Cork, fairly high temperatures (29.7C in shade), and we are so enjoying this lovely warm weather. For the plants this is a different matter. We have water restrictions in place which means of course that we cannot freely water our vegetables and herbs. So far I have only lost one ornamental fir growing in a tub, I guess that the reason is that I am giving most of my gray water to the vegetables and only very little to the ornamental plants.

And so today it became time to give a good update of my soil experiment. Though it is too early yet to make final conclusions, I can see how overall the plants are not growing as lush as I expected, probably due to the drought (since the 8th of May we are without substantial rain, only once did we have a shower, but not enough to really wet the soil thoroughly – only 2.5mm during May, and 8mm during June).  The soil looks to be very coarse and dry, pale in colour and hard to put a shovel in.  In places the soil has come away from the raised bed frame, a sure sign of dryness.
While both plots had a moisture content figure of over 3 during May – today’s readings were as follows:

PLOT ONE  –  FIGURES FOR TODAY THE 21ST OF JULY AT TWELVE NOON

MOISTURE CONTENT: DRY the needle stood at 1
LIGHT MEASUREMENT: 2000
PH: 8
TEMPERATURE OF THE SOIL: 21C
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PLOT TWO FIGURES

MOISTURE CONTENT: VERY DRY the needle did not reach 1
LIGHT MEASUREMENT: 2000
PH: 8
TEMPERATURE: 19C
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When I compare the light on both plots with the May figures there are quite a few changes due of course to the normal changing season but also due to the very warm & dry summer. Light in both plots seem to have increased from 1000 to 2000 measured in full sun. PH of soil has gone up a few degrees in both plots and is now 8 which is too alkaline. Moisture of course has gone down from 3 to 1 and even less than 1 in plot two. Soil temperature has increased from 13C in plot two to 19C today, and in plot 1 it has increased from 15C to 21C.

Overall the bean plants did not do so well, they look fairly poorly and did not grow lush, there are, however, some beans ready to be harvested in both plots, and there are more flowers showing.

One of the observations I have made is that the bean plants which I sowed inside early in spring – and then planted out, did not do as well as the beans I sowed straight in the garden at a later date – these plants became very robust and grew fast – they will have a later harvest as they are only at the flowering stage. I will take that into consideration for next years sowing.

In both plots all the spinach plants, which looked very healthy to start with, bolted immediately and I have had no produce from them at all.  But in plot 1 where I sowed the radish early I had about 150gr of edible produce.  The radish in plot 2 have not matured yet due to a later date of sowing.

As regards weeds, plot 1 has had many, partly probably because of the compost I used from the garden bin where perhaps seeds were not destroyed during the composting stage, for example, I have seen tomato plants starting to grow in between the beans plants. I also made the mistake of accidentally spilling some of my spare heir-loom double poppy seeds among the bean plants, and once I realised and saw the plants I could not bear to pull them up, so right now the bean plants growing side by side with the flowering poppies. Good for attracting insects to pollinate the bean flowers anyway.

Plot 2 has had no weeds growing to speak of, the leaf mould here has done a good job keeping the weeds down. I find that the bean plants here have not taken as well as the ones in plot 1.

Both plots have had some slug damage in the past week, but due again to the drought there has been very little slug activity in the garden.

Some photos of what is going on in the experimental plots, and also in the extra plot where I sowed the bean plants straight into the garden soil,  (the ball is there to chase the cats away).   I notice from the flower that one of those bean plants is actually a different bean (a runner bean).

I must say also that the moist/light/ph measuring tool I use is a simple one that I bought in a garden centre.  I doubt if it is very scientific, and having checked the Internet on moisture of soil measuring tools I fear that I am only playing at this.  But on the other hand it does tell me a little of what is going on in my soil and that for the moment is good enough.  I do know that my soil is lacking in potassium and in nitrogen and I mean to address that organically – but I have not found out how I should go about it, apart from using banana peels and growing leguminous plants on my soil both of which I am doing.

I think any attempt however small at understand more about our soil is worthwhile, and I love what I am doing right now.  I intend to see my soil increase in fertility, and also I intend to get a much better understanding on how it all works together.

SUMMER IS UPON US

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I saw a heart in the sky the other day, and I would like to wish all my friends and followers love and kindness in their lives.

Lots is happening in the garden of course at this time of the year, wonderful things;  strawberries ripen, some are eaten by the birds who then give us their beautiful singing in return.  Basil mint is about the nicest scented mint I ever smelled, I am glad to have been given a pot of it.  The empty beehive on the little roof in our next door neighbour’s garden has of today received a swarm of bees.  We have to find out yet what type they are, they came buzzing around my head quite aggressively while we were drinking tea outside, so I wonder.  The comfrey flowers got destroyed by a week of wind and rain and it is now all manure on some of the raised beds.  There are but few flowers left in the garden at present but more are on the way to blooming.

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I think that there is something so nice about seeing clean linnen blowing in the wind outside, the will be so fresh when I take them in.

But more importantly here is an small update of my experiment in plot 1 and plot 2.

In Plot 1 the beans are finally growing better, they are well established and are climbing up the poles.  The spinach on the other hand are bolting, though they are growing leaves too.  There is a lot of wild plants growing in between the beans beside the spinach, the beans, and the radish (for the experiment).  I have found double poppies and also borage plants which I want to keep so I am not touching them at the moment.  In Plot 2, and there is a huge difference, there is nothing growing from under the leaf mould.  I am still giving this plot seaweed fertilizer every week.  I have sown radish there also.  The bean plants are doing ok but they are only 42cm high whereas the ones in plot 1 are already 82cm high.  So there is a marked difference between the two plots already.  In plot 2 also I have found a few flowers on the beans.  When not raining I give both plots water.  I have also noticed that now that the leaves on the trees in the canopy above my two plots are throwing a huge amount of shadow – I think that this is interfering with the growth of my plants.

And here  in the following photos are some of the other vegetables growing such as asparagus, onion, marrow, rhubarb, chard, kale, leeks, orka, several different types of herbs, and finally runner beans and broad beans.  If they all do well we will not be stuck for vegetables next winter.

This beautiful Cinnabar moth was on the leaves of the lemon balm.

CINNABAR MOTH - TYRIA JACOBAEAE

I was given this lovely window hanger by my daughter, I like it very much.  White and blue (in this case the sky) are some of my favourite colours.

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And so ends my present story of my garden.  I’m in the garden everyday, planting out young vegetables and tending to seedlings.  I love it very much.  The birds are singing, blackbirds have nests quite close by and are feeding their young.  I find that the closeness to the earth and the soil is what gives me solace and is what keeps me very happy indeed.  I can only say one thing about it….

IT IS PURE MAGIC!

AN UPDATE ON MY GROWING EXPERIMENT

I already notice quite some difference even though the plants have barely been able to establish themselves and have been fighting lots of slugs despite my efforts at keeping them checked.   Plot one (compost from organic waste) is way ahead of plot two (leaf mould & organic seaweed fertilizer).  The young plants in plot one already look much healthier than those in plot two, but of course there are variables, like plot two is getting the evening sun while plot one is getting sun most of the day.  Both are overshadowed by now with tree canopy’s.  Weather has been very warm with no rain in the last fortnight.  Terrible trouble with slugs despite going out every night and picking them off, even now resorted to using organic slug pellets.  Cats have also done damage by uprooting young plants and messing soil, hence the covering of my two control plots.  I’ve lost some bean plants but have sowed more of them.

Top left is a bean plant of plot two, underneath a bean plant of plot one – big difference so far.  On right are the spinach seedlings and beneath on left the radish seedlings all of which are part of the experiment and are ready to plant out.

And besides the ongoing experiment I have quite a few other young plants ready to be planted out, such as leaf beet, kale, marrow, marigolds, borage to name but a few.

The broad beans which I planted out a month ago are now in flower, I did have trouble with some black mould or fly on them, someone called it Chocolate Spot. I sprayed it with a combination of tea tree oil and a natural soap, I also nipped out the affected parts and it seems to have solved the problem.  Today I can see young beans appearing on the plants already.

Some of my variety of herbs growing good, two different types of thyme, two different types of oregano, lemon balm, rosemary, lavender, and more to be added.

Garden is absolutely full of insects especially bumblebees and bees.  The cat is the culprit that does damage, but she is rather beautiful!  The two comfrey plants are flowering and have grown enormously, the variety of bumblebees visiting these plants is fantastic!

And finally some good reading.  I started ‘The Butterfly Isles’ a while ago, it is a slow read but delightful and so informative – learning such a lot about butterflies habitats in Britain.  The other one I’m reading is great too, ‘Earth Matters’ is all about the soil and the importance of it and how soil underlies civilization, it contains so much good information and is told  in an interesting way – enjoying this, it’s written by Richard Bardgett and published by Oxford University Press.

Some weeks ago after I finished my course about the soil (with FutureLearn).  Then just recently  I started another online course this time with Coursera.  Its run by the University of Tel Aviv and it is all about plant physiology, quite deep and intense but also very interesting.  I’m sure happy to be able to avail of these on-line courses, they are a great discipline and education.  I am extremely busy and hardly find the time to write a blog post, but I hope all my friends and followers have enjoyed my update.

An interesting facebook site of GROWOBSERVATORY

https://www.facebook.com/GROWObservatory/?fref=mentions

GREEN-VEINED WHITE – Pieris napi

Today while gardening a lovely butterfly came to check out some dark pink Oxalis flowers, it was a warm and sunny day here in West Cork, and because the two previous days we experienced soft Irish rain the garden was fresh and beautiful. The colours and the green shades were easy on the eye. And since we have quite a few wild flowers in bloom, we are visited by a good variety of visitors from the insect world. But today it was the butterflies that took away first price.  Yes, since I started reading the book “The Butterfly Isles: A Summer in Search of Our Emperors and Admirals” by Patrick Barkham, my interest in butterflies has intensified. Patrick Barkham first went butterfly spotting as a child with his father in Norfolk. His book documents his search for different butterflies found in the British islands. It is a slow read but quite interesting, I am hooked.
I think that the butterfly in my photos is a Green-veined White (Pieris Napi).

Biodiversity Ireland is holding a Butterfly Bash this week and we are sending records of all the butterflies we see into https://records.biodiversityireland.ie/start-recording

Lovely to have seen this striking butterfly today and I will be on the look out for more. I hope you enjoy them too.

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“WE ARE ALL BUTTERFLIES. EARTH IS OUR CHRYSALIS.” LeeAnn Taylor

FEED THE SOIL NOT THE PLANTS

For the past three weeks we have both been working in the garden.  I am told that it was an extraordinary wet spring and we have had a fair bit of rain since we came home too.  We lost one of our trees, a pine tree that stood at the back of the garden where water is inclined to collect.  Ian has found that the roots were totally rotten so no wonder that the storm caught and tumbled the tree.

And the garden was totally overgrown as would be expected, Ian soon had the little bit of grass in the middle of the raised beds strimmed. and the grass that was invading the path cut away.  While I started with the beds, some of which were full of Ranunculaceae with very tough roots systems.  The whole garden was also covered in Three Cornered Leeks with their lovely white flowers as usual.   One of the days I had some help from two of my small grand children and we sure had a day of fun, and yet we achieved a lot.

To our delight we found all sorts of vegetables that had survived the long winter rains and storms.  And then out of the blue I received an email from FutureLearn (https://www.futurelearn.com/)  to remind me that a course I had registered for had started, and this has been occupying my time totally these past few weeks.                             The course is called – Citizen Science: Living Soils, Growing Food – and is run by the University of Dundee, Scotland.  It is immensely interesting and I have been enjoying every single minute of it, and learnt such a lot.  I had decided even last year that it is my soil that I should be putting time and effort into, and educate myself about what it needs, and running tests to see what it may be lacking, and what to do about it.  Anyway, all this the course taught me and more.  I also learnt about the C3 and C4 food types and how the increase in CO2 is affecting the nutrients of our vegetables and fruits, and the relationship between nutrient depletion in our soils, and less nutritious foods.  Something I knew very little about, and found interesting.

Anyway, together with Grow Observatory (https://growobservatory.org/) students were invited to take part in a communal worldwide experiment. (This was for certain areas but not my area in Ireland) so I did not take part in it.  However, the Citizen Science was also running an experiment as well as inviting us to ask our own question and in that case run our own experiment, and so I asked myself the question: What will give a better crop? If I use compost from the garden compost bin to improve both the fertility and the texture of my clay soil? Or if I use a combination of leaf mould and organic seaweed liquid?  The course took us right through all the factors that are important to carry out our tests with hypothesis, controls, variables, data taking, analysis, and so on.  My experiment is set up, my bean plants have been sown and test kits arrived by post, I’m all set up for this experiment.

The two beds are totally ready for the experiment.  One is treated with compost from the bin and the other is treated with leaf mould, and later in the experiment I wil be adding the organic seaweed fertilizer to the latter.  Hedges have been cut real low to allow maximum light reaching the beds.  A rain gauge is in place in both the beds to measure precipitation.  And I am testing the actual consistency of the soil, though I know that it is mostly clay, has quite a bit of stones in it, and as I’ve already found out not enough organic matter.  Half the beds will be planted and the other halves will be controls.  Spinach is the other crop and radish also.  It is going to take up time but will be lovely to eat all the produce and enjoy taking all the measurements and learn a lot about my soil.

Not sure where all this is going to take me but I am sure enjoying it all.

I came across this lovely quote from one of the books by Jan Shellenberger. that’s also where I took my post title from:  I quote:

“Our most important job as vegetable gardeners is to feed and sustain soil life, often called the soil food web, beginning with the microbes. If we do this, our plants will thrive, we’ll grow nutritious, healthy food, and our soil conditions will get better each year. This is what is meant by the adage ”Feed the soil not the plants.”

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And the view from our back garden, the minute the hedge gets clipped – I know I need to work on it a bit more – behind that rocky hill lies the sea.

MIDSUMMER

. “Life, now, was unfolding before me, constantly and visibly, like the flowers of summer that drop fanlike petals on eternal soil.”  Roman Payne

DISCOVERIES IN A NEGLECTED GARDEN

A longwinded journey brought us from Gozo back to Ireland, via visits to family in Henham, Hertford, and Cambridge which was, of course, much enjoyed as was the mild spring weather and all the beauty of the English countryside this time of the year, but more about that in another blog.
So we arrived home here in West Cork greeted by my daughter and lovely grandchildren, that was a beautiful moment. Next day and after unpacking all our suitcases I went for a leisurely walk around our garden. Neglected as it was, it has not become totally overgrown yet and I was able to find many treasured wild plants and even vegetables among the grasses and on the beds. So I enjoyed myself with these discoveries, taking note of what I will be cooking in the next few days, and which wild plants I’ll be using, and also taking photos.

I found a little plant that is new to my garden, it grows wild around here in West Cork on walls, but here it came to grow in an old flowerpot, maybe birds dropped its seeds.  It is the little Ivy-leaved Toadflax.

Cymbalaria muralis - Ivy-leaved toadflax
Cymbalaria muralis – ivy-leaved toadflax
Forget-me-nots in flower
Myosotis arvensis – Forget-me-not

And a left over from last year, the lovely blue Forget-me-not I found blooming.

As far as herbs go, West Cork, because of its mild climate is good for growing these.  I found the Melissa doing just fine, the Oregano coming up, the Rosemary and Lavender doing really well.  So maybe it is time to add a few more herbs during this summer.

I was pleasantly surprised by the numerous Borage plants coming up all over the garden, even in the cracks of the concrete path.  The bees will be very happy about this.  The Chives are ready for cutting, and Nettles ready for the soup!  And I nearly forgot all the three corned wild Garlic which are just everywhere, so delicious in salads and mixed in an omelet.

Three cornered wild leeks
Three cornered wild Garlic

Delighted to have found a Mullein plant, this is also a medicinal plant of which I sowed a few last year.  And of all things I found a young silver Birch, well I know it was there as I put it in a pot to share with someone after it came growing in the garden, a baby of our large Birch.  The only damage during the winter was to our small greenhouses, wear and tear you could say.  I also found that the massive seedpods of my Evening Primrose plants had survived all the storms, these plants should be coming up soon by themselves I think.

Salad leaves are ready to eat.  Bay leaf tree is growing well and full of very green leaves which will be uses in soups nice and fresh.  I also found several broad bean plants in flower and all, Ian will be very happy about that, his favourite vegetable.  Leek plants which I planted out toward the end of last summer and just before we left are growing.  And finally, but not really finally as there is no saying what else I might find, the bed with the berries is absolutely full of flower buds, it promises to be a good summer for soft fruits.  The water barrel shows that here has been no shortage of rain!

I am totally happy with what I found, it is lovely to come back to my garden, and looking at the evidence, the garden has benefited from being left to itself for a while, there might be something in Permaculture after all.  It feels like nature is now growing what it likes to grow, and the soil in my garden is showing me what will thrive best.

I am taking note!

END OF THE YEAR

On these last days of 2016, it is good for me to have a look at how my container garden experiment went, what the results are, the successes and also the failures. For a start I have found that my vegetables did not grow as quickly as I had expected. Some I grew from seeds and they are still not that large, one of them is the Lemon Balm, I was hoping to use its leaves for tea but dare not touch them yet as the plant would be gone very fast. Patience is the order of the day! The Mediterranean Basil grew quite well but is still to small to actually cut. I did buy some young plants though, the minute we arrived early in October, and they grew enormous, the tomatoes are much higher than myself, the lettuce are almost bolting and we are eating from them regularly. If I ever grow tomatoes again in containers I will not make the mistake to grow the type I bought, no I will grow a small variety, these large tomatoes may never get big enough and ripen at the rate they are growing. I only just bought them some bananas and made a mixture with coffee grinds and banana skin to give them some potassium and other nutrients. I also have one pepper plant that is doing very well, the peppers are small yet but growing. The sage and the rosemary are doing very well too outside on the balcony.

My thoughts about the whole project are that it is a learning curve, and I made some mistakes, I also did not really know what to expect climate wise, and the soil I bought did not seem to be of such good quality – all things that one would have to look out for. I used all sort of containers, though for the more robust plants I bought proper planters.

The whole project did not cost me much at all and it was very worthwhile. There is of course, still the problem of finalising the whole project before we eventually leave the flat. I will have to get rid of all the soil, of any left over plants, the tomato plants for example, some thought will have to go into that. Luckily there is a lady who does a pop-up charity shop at weekends and who sells plants, I will bring my herbs to her, also all the little succulents which I have picked up from the streets, rooted and are now thriving.

As the year ends I am happy that I did try to grow some food here, even when we are living in a first floor flat. It has taught me that it is not as simple as all that, it takes planning and dedication, and informing oneself about the climate where one is staying.

When all is said and done, the greenery around me in the conservatory, where I usually sit to do my lace, has given me much pleasure, it is just so nice to have some living plants around you all the time.

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AN UPDATE ON MY TERRACE GARDEN

The tomato plants are doing very well, and so are the lettuce though I think that it is a bit too hot for them, we shall see what comes.
The seedlings are starting to really come up, at the moment they are only as far as the cotyledons but they look healthy and it is exciting to see them grow.
The temperature is still reaching near the 30C but it feels much hotter, it is nice though that now and then there is a little breeze which brings relieve.
I have taken to picking up bits of succulent plants on the roads, this is good because I can propagate them and it is a joy to see them do well. It is fun too to discover yet another orphan lying in the dusty street of Victoria, bringing it home and giving it a new lease of life.  I am really enjoying all this.

My little corner in the conservatory, it will expand as plants will grow.

Every conceivable container is used as we cannot spend to much money on buying plant pots, and anyway its good to re-cycle isn’t it.

These are all succulents that I found on the street and brought home.

Some of my seedlings coming up, some more containers that are going to be put to use.

Here are two more succulents and their flowers, pretty and interesting.