Sunday, 30 December 2012


I planted some onion sets in the tub that had cucumbers growing in it earlier in the year. The onion sets are doing well but I had forgotten about the daffodils that were already established in the tub and which are now also doing well :-( I'l leave the tub alone and see what happens.

Onions vs Daffodils

I suspect that the onion sets will lose.

Mmmmmmm comfrey

Comfrey roots

"Mmmmmmm comfrey" to quote Allan Shepherd from his "The Little Book of Compost"(1)

"... picture me at my desk with a glazed look in my eye and a cascade of dribble sliding over my chin towards QWERTY. Comfrey to Allan the composter is donut with double caramel topping to Homer the fridge raider. This is a mouth-watering treat of a plant. It's easy to grow, perfect to compost and great to turn into a liquid feed"

The beauty of this - let's be honest - rather ugly plant is that it sucks up nutrients hidden deep in the ground and accumulates them in their leaves. These can be composted or turned into a liquid feed for other plants in the garden. There is more information on comfrey in Allan Shepherd's book and at Comfrey describes the comfrey in water method for making liquid feed, which has the disadvantage of smelling "like an open sewer when finished". Allan Shepherd favours the less smelly, dry, holed bucket approach one version of which is shown in this YouTube video at

A big disadvantage of comfrey as a plant in the garden is that the original, wild version is invasive. If you don't want to spend time pulling up plants that keep popping up where you don't want them you need a variety called Bocking 14.  I discovered that one of my permaculture friends on Facebook had some in her garden but if you are not so lucky the Organic Gardening Catalogue at is one source in the UK that stocks it.

The comfrey roots from my friend are now overwintering in pots surrounded by leaf mulch. I shall be working on a holed bucket for the fertiliser generation in the spring.

(1) The Little Book of Compost: Recipes for a healthy garden and happy planet  Allan Shepherd. Collins (5 Nov 2007). ISBN-13: 978-0-00-726727-9

Logs and leaves

This autumn I was busy pruning back some of the bushes at the bottom of the garden and hacking back some of the branches on the overhanging sycamores. I've kept many of the small branches and larger twigs for pea sticks and supporting canes for the coming year but what to do with the thicker branches? I decided to stack them up against the back fence while I thought about it and the initial log pile was somewhat modest.

Logs and branches

It then occurred to me that they could serve a useful purpose over the winter as a hibernaculum, so I carried on adding logs and branches and then some of the fallen sycamore leaves that usually cover the garden at this time of year. It now looks quite impressive.


Am I am going to do anything else with it next year? Possibly. As I was finishing the log and leaf pile I came across an article on building a Hugekultur bed (How to Build Irrigation-Free Raised Beds with Hugelkultur Hugelkultur beds can be as large or as small as you want (How to Build Hugelkultur Irrigation-Free Raised Bed Gardens (Video) This looks as though it could be the perfect solution to the problem of disposing of the wood and to making a small problem area of my garden suitable for planting.

Construction is planned for late spring. In the meantime any wild life that would like to use the log and leaf pile as a snug, hideaway over winter are more than welcome. Perhaps I should put up a sign: Winter hidey-holes available -  rent free!

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Runner bean success - permaculture (possible) fail

This year I've been looking at how we can use our garden more effectively using permaculture principles and experimenting with vegetable plantings. We have an ancient shed, apparently built around the 1940s, and in front of one part of it is a raised bed in which we grow herbs. I wondered if we could grow runner beans against the side of the shed with the help of canes and some netting. Apart from slugs and snails nibbling away at two of the plants it was a great success.

September 23rd, 2012: Runner beans - success!

But there was a slight problem. In order to pick the beans I had to trample on the bed to get to them. Permaculture fail, I'm afraid.

Runner beans

I then remembered that the ground immediately in front of  the beans was already trampled on by the local cats who use it as a thoroughfare. So perhaps that is a "path", albeit a very narrow one, I can use to harvest my crop. Maybe not such a permaculture fail as I first thought.



Sunday, 23 September 2012

The ramsons have arrived

The ramson bulbs (wild garlic) have arrived. I ordered the from the the Wildflower Shop ( and they arrived in excellent condition. Now to brave the rain and plant them out!


Sunday, 29 July 2012

Showers and slugs coming our way?

With rain forecast to return this week the slugs and snails will probably come out of hiding and start chomping again. It's been relatively quiet on the mollusc front with minimum damage to my vegetables and even the marigolds offered up as a sacrifice are starting to bloom. I sow marigolds in pots over the spring and summer so that I always have some that I can immediately deploy to any area of my vegetable plot that is under attack. The effect on the marigolds is usually devastating - see below!

Sacrificial marigolds

Another approach is to use a garlic wash. I have not tried this yet so cannot vouch for its efficacy but many people say that it does deter snails, slugs and some other insect pests.

A recipe that is doing the rounds again is one that was mentioned on Gardeners' World and has been repeated many times elsewhere. I originally found it on the Bowden hostas site at There are two other versions of the wash, one of which includes hot peppers, at "Get Rid of Pests with Garlic"

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Pollen to go, please

Hoverfly with Cranesbill pollenAs well as vegetables and cultivated flowers I have many wild flowers growing in my garden. I am always taking photos and inevitably some of them turn out to be rubbish! The above is a heavily cropped image from one of my reject photos. The camera was focussed on something else but as I was about to delete the image I spotted the hoverfly loaded with pollen on a cranesbill flower. A friend has suggested that the hoverfly is probably Platycheirus albimanus. As insects are not my strong point I am open to alternative suggestions.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Rain, rain and more rain!

Garden Harvest - potatoes and peas

After a good start to the gardening year we have had nothing but rain, rain and yet more rain here in Caversham. Despite that - or maybe because of it - parts of the vegetable garden are flourishing. Potatoes and peas are doing well as are the herbs and lettuces, but there is only so much salad and lettuce soup I can eat and I am running out of ideas for consuming the abundant greenery!

Tomatoes are slow this year as are the cucumbers. I made the mistake of planting out my cucumber seedlings too early and they were quickly battered to the ground by heavy rainfall. The second batch seem to be doing well now but it will be a late crop this year, if any at all. Surprisingly, the aubergines seem to be surviving and the chilli peppers are racing ahead.

Monsoon conditions of course bring out the slugs and snails but I haven't noticed any appreciable difference in the damage caused compared with previous, drier years. I did spray part of of my vegetable plot with Nemaslug as an experiment, but there doesn't seem to be any difference between the two areas in terms of plant destruction, which has been minimal. It could be that the slugs from the untreated area moved into the treated ground once the nematodes had done their stuff and died or the nematodes infiltrated the unsprayed ground. I also use a number of barrier methods which possibly helped (see 20 Ways to control slugs in the permaculture garden or on the allotment | Permaculture Magazine or maybe the slug and snail predators have been out in force banqueting on the blighters! Whatever the reason, I certainly have not seen the scale of devastation reported in the Transition Culture blog (The Four Slugs of the Apocalypse I'd be interested in hearing what other UK gardeners are experiencing re mollusc infestations.

As an aside, if you have a particular interest in slugs and snails (apart from wanting them off the face of the planet altogether) the Field Studies Council has a number of identification guides including Land snails in the British Isles (2nd edition) - FSC : and the much older (1983)  A field guide to the slugs of the British Isles