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food waste

Green

OBEO – A Solution to our Kitchen Food Waste?

June 18, 2015
OBEO - A Solution to our Kitchen Food Waste?

Photo credit: weareobeo.com

How often do you find a new product on the market that really excites you?

It’s been a while since I came across something small, simple and affordable that instantly made life easier in the kitchen, but it happened a couple of weeks ago and I’m keen to share news of it with you.

I stumbled across OBEO® in the huge marquee at Bloom in the Park recently and along with many other shoppers, was offered a couple of trial boxes to try out at home. Having now composted both boxes I can’t wait to get my hands on more.

Since we began composting I’ve tried several different types of buckets, bins and bags to collect the kitchen food waste, before tipping them onto the compost heap. Some have been more successful than others but all have been a bit fiddly or a bit slimy or smelly and most have attracted flies. This generally results in someone, on occasion, not bothering to flip the lid, but instead firing the coffee grinds, orange peel or tea bags into the refuse bin and not into the compost.

Until now.

OBEO - A Solution to our Kitchen Food Waste?The OBEO®, a small Irish business’ solution to our kitchen food waste problem,  is essentially a water-resistant brown bag enclosed in cardboard which can be closed in between use then when full of food waste, fired in its entirety into the brown bin or onto the compost heap.

There are diagrams on the back of the bag indicating what should or shouldn’t be put into it if it’s going into a brown bin – handy if you’re new to separating food waste, and a foldable cardboard handle that tucks the box closed when not in use.

And it works!

OBEO - A Solution to our Kitchen Food Waste?Due to careful shopping (we menu plan and write a weekly list, a necessity when the closest shop is an 8 mile round trip) and feeding animals, we don’t have very much food waste so it took around five days for us to fill our OBEO® with grinds and scraps.

During that time there were no flies or bad smells, and it didn’t look out-of-place on the countertop where it was at its most useful. Once full, unlike our current composting pedal bin, the box was folded shut and walked straight out to the compost, instead of spilling out on to the floor which seems to happen in our kitchen more than I like to admit.

As soon as I’d used my second bag I was onto OBEO®’s website looking for replacements. They run a handy, online shop for bulk buying (great for business’ who are trying to green up but struggling with the food segregation waste or anyone overseas) and after a tweet to @weareobeo, I was told that many Dunnes Stores and SuperValu stock smaller quantities for us regular shoppers, offering them at an RRP of €3.85 for a pack of 5, which OBEO® suggest is two weeks worth of bags.

I’m really impressed with this simple yet innovative product. If you haven’t come across their answer to food waste recycling, take a look at the OBEO® website for more information and tips on reducing food waste in general.

If you haven’t started composting, it’s something I’d recommend for everyone as apart from offering the opportunity for FREE soil conditioner, just thinking about food waste in general could save you over €1,000 a year – enough for a summer break! Here’s a handy downloadable PDF that explains how to compost that can help to get you started.

Have you found a way of saving food waste that eliminates smells and untidiness or might OBEO® be the answer to your dreams too?

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Green

Foodcloud targets 50,000 signatures in pledge to reduce Ireland’s food waste

March 18, 2014

I’ve written several blog posts in the past about our need to reduce food waste and it’s a topic that often comes up in community gardens too. My experience is that when we begin to grow our own food we become much more aware of all our food waste – if we’ve taken the time to grow and care for a plant, we’re much more likely to want to eat it than throw it away!

Pictured at the launch of the Foodcloud Fest are founders Iseult Ward and Aoibheann OBrien with food expert Spohie Morris

Pictured at the launch of the Foodcloud Fest are founders Iseult Ward and Aoibheann OBrien with food expert Spohie Morris

I was therefore delighted to see a press release in my inbox about a new campaign from Foodcloud, a new community-based social enterprise that brings food businesses and charities together using an innovative App they’ve created. The App matches those with too much food with those who have too little and if you’re involved in those sectors, simply by registering at Foodcloud, you can start to make a difference.

Iseult Ward, one of the founders of Foodcloud explains the concept here:

There were a few figures in that clip that shocked me, not least that Ireland is the fifth worst country in Europe regarding its food waste. How can that be when there are so few of us??? The good news is that if people sign up and take the pledge, that figure could drop dramatically. Foodcloud estimates that if 50,000 people in Ireland reduce food waste by 1 kilogram per week, just over €1m will be saved, the equivalent of over 5.7 million meals.

Foodcloud Feast

Photo Credit: Foodcloud.ie

To help to raise awareness of the pledge, Foodcloud will host a Feast on Wednesday, 2nd April at Smock Alley Theatre in Temple Bar, Dublin.

Ticket holders will be treated to a lavish, three course banquet of fresh, quality Irish ingredients that are ignored or forgotten by supermarkets, restaurants and the modern food system, prepared by Chef Sophie Morris. The Foodcloud Feast will bring together policy-makers, chefs, retailers and foodies, to discuss how the food waste challenge can be tackled, as well as identify the opportunities it provides for the food sector.

If you’d like to take part in the event, tickets for The Foodcloud Feast are available through www.tickets.ie at €37 per person which includes a 3 course meal with wine or beer and lively debate, in the atmospheric surroundings of the Smock Alley Theatre.

If you can’t make it to the feast and/or are involved in the food or charity sectors and think you can help one another, then head over to FoodCloud and sign up today or if you know anyone who might benefit, please forward this post on to them and help to spread the word.

As Foodcloud are hoping to show, if we work together we really can create a more positive future!

Vegetable Garden

How to Grow Your Own Food on a Balcony Garden

January 23, 2021

How to Grow Your Own Food on a Balcony Garden

How to Grow Your Own Food on a Balcony Garden

If 2020 taught us anything, it was that getting outside into gardens or walking in parks and spending time immersed in nature was good for us. Seeds became almost impossible to buy as online suppliers of fruit, herbs and vegetables opened and shut their websites to cater for demand. Garden centres were busy providing online and postal services, cars gathered outside garden and forestry walks as their owners took the time to get some exercise. Gardening photos were shared across all social media channels beguiling us with their vibrancy and enthusiasts prowess.

That was all well and good for those of us who’ve been trying to encourage everyone to grow their own food or get outside for years, or who have some space to potter around. What about the folk who were stuck in apartments with tiny balconies, unable to get out and share in all the fun? It must have been very difficult to sit back and watch our enthusiasm as spring turned into summer, watching our gardens blossom from bare soil to an oasis of colour and calm.

The good news is that a balcony does not have to limit your growing experiences. With food supply chains expected to falter due to new import regulations this year might be the one to have a go at growing food, even if it’s just a few tubs of salad leaves.

In no particular order, for the next few minutes I’ll be sharing some considerations you might like to take into account if you’re wondering how to grow your own food on a balcony garden this year.

Flowers & Vegetables growing on a balcony

Photo Credit: Samantha Murray

Wind

Wind direction is a factor in any garden, but especially important on balconies. The wind can damage, break or blow over plants and planters and provide a ‘wind chill’ element that can freeze them half to death. Moisture can be whipped from plants leaves and compost may dry out quicker than you can sneeze.

If you have glass surrounding your balcony, it will benefit by stopping the wind in its tracks, while providing some additional warmth, acting like the side of a greenhouse. If not, you might like to consider adding a clear screen, securing your planters, choosing plants wisely, and adding a mulch on top of the compost to prevent drying.

Weight

Safety is always a priority in the garden and balconies are no exception. Ensure your balcony is capable of taking the weight of plants and planters. Think how heavy a bag of compost is then multiply it by the amount of containers you’re planning for your balcony. The weight of water will add even more of a load, especially if the containers become waterlogged.

Pallet Garden in GoresbridgeBalconies are covered under the Building Regulations but the boom years saw some shoddy workmanship. If you’re unsure, check with the owner or management company. In the meantime there are steps you can take to reduce the weight.

  • Choose light weight containers.
  • Mix potting compost with perlite as per the instructions on the bag. Perlite is a type of volcanic rock that should be available in all garden centres.
  • If using large containers, don’t fill them up completely with soil. Crush some aluminium cans or food grade plastic and place in the bottom third of the container, before covering with a piece of weed proof membrane and topping up with compost. The fabric will allow water to filter through, while protecting the growing medium from the recycled materials.
  • Some multi purpose composts, which are ideal for for container growing, weigh more than others. Shop around and look for peat free or sustainably sourced peat where possible. Enrich Soil Solutions have a great range of products if you’re struggling to find something suitable.
  • Use the walls. Put up some vertical planters to take some weight off the balcony floor.

Fruit and Vegetables that Grow in ShadeShade & Sun

Choosing the sunniest spot to grow your fruit and vegetables is a mantra you’ll often hear but if you’re in a flat or apartment, you might not have a choice. If you are north facing with limited sunlight, there are still some vegetables you can grow. A more detailed article can be found here. South facing and you’ll have to consider shading to protect plants from being over exposed.

Choosing Containers

Balconies provide an opportunity to have a bit of fun with containers, either using upcycled household items or colourful pots from garden centres. You can find a more detailed post about container gardening here. A few tips worth considering include:

  • Use the largest container possible or you will have to water more often.
  • Unglazed Terracotta can get frost damaged.
  • Plastic pots can dry out as they heat up so consider irrigation.
  • If using upcycled materials, consider the following:

“Plastic that is safe to grow food in/with should have recycling numbers 1, 2, 4 and 5 on the bottom. Plastic with a 3 has PVC in it. In time chemicals leach out contaminating soil, which in turn contaminates the food. Styrofoam is made of plastic number 6 and has cancerous effects, Number 7 contains bisphenol A which is harmful to the behavioral growth of children.”

  • You can grow pretty much any plant in a container if the container is large enough and you have ensured there is suitable drainage. As mentioned, the main considerations are the direction your balcony faces and how exposed it is. Tender plants such as basil may not survive windy conditions and thyme really dislikes it too.
  • Variegated herbs can be slower growing, so good for containers.
  • Perennials should ideally be replanted in fresh compost each year which is a good time to check the roots for pests
  • If buying plants, choose dwarf varieties, varieties that are expensive or unusual to buy, herbs, or fruit that can be trained vertically to save space.

Watering

By its very nature, container gardening requires more watering than planting into soil or raised beds and windy conditions can add to the drying effects.

To save you popping out there twice a day with a watering can during the growing season, consider investing in a drip feed irrigation system, or stand plants on capillary matting. Look out for containers that have built in water reservoirs or stand pots in trays to catch excess water.

Lockdown Videos

During the first COVID lockdown in 2020, Samantha Murray shared some videos and photo updates onto the Community Gardens Ireland Facebook Page from her Dublin balcony and has kindly given me permission to use them here. She was an inspiration to many. Take a look at one of Sam’s videos below that she published in April. You can find more on the Facebook page, including tips on some of the more unusual containers she used to start off seeds such as avocado shells.

For more garden hacks on using recycled kitchen waste to save you some money and the recycling centres from the additional waste, take a look at the Greenside Up YouTube channel here.

If you’ve figured out the best or unusual ways to grow your own food on a balcony garden and have any further tips or observations, please leave them in the comments. With more people growing their own food than ever, we’d love to hear your tips and help the communities of people growing food everywhere, no matter what their size or experience.

Green

Food Security – Eight Things You Can Do Help

October 15, 2013
Image courtesy: www.fao.org

Image courtesy: www.fao.org

Wednesday, 16th October – World Food Day 2013

World this day and World that day seem to be appearing in my news stream a lot recently and as a result I was wondering who makes them up. Who decides for instance that World Egg Day will take place on the second Friday of October or that World Toilet Day might happen on the 19th November? As it happens, various people are responsible but in the case of World Food Day, an international event taking place on 16th October, it was from the Food & Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, (FAO).

Just the phrase World Food Day resulted in my blogging antenna honing in. One of the topics that came up with some gardeners over the summer was that of Food Security. Several didn’t understand the term immediately and I had to explain it in more detail, but then I guess it’s a phrase that doesn’t comes up in general conversation too often.

It should.

The World Health Organisation defines Food Security as

WHO.jpgToday there are several nations that can’t offer their populations the security of a daily feed, with millions of humans chronically undernourished worldwide. The challenge for those of us in the developed world as the global population grows is whether we can continue to feed our own and at the same time address the issues surrounding those that can’t. Continue Reading…

Food & Drink

Chickpeas and Temples

November 29, 2015

chickpea curry recipe

Temples

Many of us enjoy cozying up with a cup of tea and watching our favourite cookery programmes but does our new-found knowledge fall by the wayside as we become caught up in our day-to-day lives, or do we put even a fraction of what we learn into practice?

At the moment Mr G and I are really enjoying Rick Stein’s beautiful India series where he visits homes of the ancient Moguls, glorious temples and roadside street vendors and then sizzles spices in a stainless steel pan in his lakeside kitchen, while we watch on salivating.

We immerse ourselves in the colour, wonder, richness and poverty of this enticing country and dream about visiting one day, though perhaps it will always stay a destination on our list, who knows. In the meantime we enjoy the cinematography and escapism during the hour-long episode each week and think about retirement…

The Golden Temple in Amritsar

Chickpeas and Temples

Golden Temple in Amritzar. Photo credit below.

The regions Rick visit seem to be split between meat-eating and vegetarian, but one practice that appears to be universal, is where Sikh gurdwaras (places of worship) encourage chefs and volunteers to cook vegetarian meals for people in need of a hot meal in langars (kitchens).

Apparently all the gurdwaras provide free food, but the Golden Temple in Amritsar, Sikh’s most holiest shrine, feeds up to 100,000 people a day, is open to every one of all religions, creeds and castes, and is paid for by worldwide donations.

Using ginormous cooking pots, they produce hundreds of thousands of meals free, every day, which is a lesson in humility some of us could learn. This idea was initiated over 500 years ago by Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh religion and as can be seen, is still practiced today. If you missed Rick Stein’s series where he visits the Golden Temple, photos and the scale of the operation at the Golden Temple can be found on the Aljazeera website here.  A DVD of the India series is also available from Rick’s website.

Watching so many people having nutritious meals handed to them is a poignant reminder of how precious food is, yet according to figures from Stop Food Waste, a third of it is thrown away here in Ireland every year. This is an outrageous waste, an embarrassment and a travesty.

Chickpea curry recipe & glorious temples

Chickpeas

Recently, a group of us were given a series of homework tasks at a Master Composting course we’ve been attending; one of which was to take an inventory of our cupboards as part of our food waste awareness.

One cupboard I’ve wanted to tackle for a while, the only mouse proof cupboard we have in our old farmhouse, is the one where we store our baking products. Stuffed full of glass jars, containers and packets, it seemed like a great time of year to empty it, rediscover what was in there, and maybe conjure up a few meals at a time when we need to cut our weekly shop on the run up to Christmas.

Apart from all the various packets of sugar, flour, lentils and spices, I found two jars of baking powder, three tubs of black treacle, two bags of ground almonds, no muscovado sugar but three bags of chickpeas left over from my vegan sister’s visit. I can’t begin to explain how enlightening this simple project was. Apart from unearthing several potential meals in that cupboard, I now know exactly what ingredients to buy for my Christmas baking, without fear of duplicating any more.

As for those chickpeas? No better excuse for trying out one of Mr Stein’s recipes from his Indian cookbook – a simple yet very tasty chickpea curry, which having made it, we can definitely recommend.

Next on our chickpea cooking list will be the Chickpea Wellington that my sister bakes for her vegetarian family at Christmas.

Recipe for Chickpea Curry ∼ Chana Masala

Cooking time: 35 minutes once the chickpeas have been soaked and pre-cooked.

Serves 4-6 people

Ingredients:

Chickpea Curry Recipe250g dried chickpeas, soaked overnight in cold water
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
5 cloves garlic, crushed
5 cm ginger, finely grated
2 fresh green chillies, chopped
2 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp Kashmiri chilli powder (we used 1 tsp generic chilli powder)
½ tsp ground tumeric
300g vine tomatoes, skins removed after soaking in hot water, then chopped
2 tsp salt
1 tsp Garam masala
1 tbsp lemon juice
300ml water or liquor from the chickpeas
Handful of fresh, chopped coriander leaves

Method

Bring a saucepan of water to boil then add the drained chickpeas to it, cooking for approximately an hour or until the chickpeas are soft and still hold their shape.

Reserving some of their cooking liquor, drain the chickpeas and set aside (don’t reserve the liquid if using tinned chickpeas).

Heat the vegetable oil in a pan, add the onions and fry until softened and brown then add the garlic, chilli pepper and chopped ginger. Mix together then add all the spices except for the Garam masala. Finally add the chopped tomatoes, the drained chickpeas, salt and chickpea liquor or water. Simmer for twenty minutes then stir in the Garam masala, squeeze the lemon juice over the mixture then finally scatter the coriander over the top.

Serve with a fluffy basmati rice or chapatis.

Will you take the challenge and take an inventory of your cupboards? Let me know how you get on if you do.

Photo credit: Golden Temple Sunrise via photopin (license)

Green

Compost – How each household could save up to €1,000 a year

January 9, 2012

Composting: How it can save you moneyIf you’re not already composting, the start of a new year is a good time to start afresh and plan to do so.

Last year I attended a very interesting seminar at the chambers given by Nuala on behalf of theStop Food Waste Campaign which, apart from giving us a free source of organic matter, explained why composting is so important. The campaign is a great initiative primarily aimed at reducing the amount of waste that goes into landfill each year, and encouraging us to think more carefully about how we shop, cook and eat.

Their website is a mine of information and well worth a look but a couple of points that were highlighted include:

  • The average person throws out the equivalent of three grown men of waste each year, 30% of which is made up of food and 7% of garden and landscaping materials.
  • One third of food that Irish households buy is wasted – the equivalent of a third of our groceries being stolen out of our shopping trolleys.
  • The average household could save up to €1,000 a year by avoiding this waste by composting.

From our own perspective I’m so glad we have chickens and dogs for the cooked food leftovers. We also keep our waste to a minimum by writing weekly shopping lists and compost as much as we can, just using a few old pallets to make a couple of containers to contain it. Those practices combined with recycling, means that our family of five produces on average one black bin bag of refuse destined for the landfill every two weeks.

Nuala highlighted a few different composting systems and I was particularly interested in the ones for smaller gardens, as I’m often asked about them.

One was a Bokashi which seems like a really handy way of composting if you don’t have a big garden but use an allotment. Wormeries are another great alternative to compost bins and heaps, especially if you don’t currently compost because you’re worried about vermin. It’s worth keeping an eye on the catalogues or in your garden centres as different products become available, such as this Earthmaker Aerobic Composter where research has shown that it will make twice as much compost as traditional bins over the same period.

If you have a few minutes, do take a couple of minutes to check out the Stop Food Waste website above.

For anybody who isn’t already composting and doesn’t have the Brown bin option for their ‘green’ waste, it was suggested that they get a small bucket with a lid and throw all their food waste into it for a week or two to see how much is thrown away.

Would you be willing to give that challenge a go?

If you’d like to know more about composting, there’s a free downloadable pdf file available in the Gardening Information and Jobs link above, giving full details on how to compost.

Vegetable Garden

A Beginner’s Guide to Organic Matter

March 1, 2020

Beginners Guide to Soil

A Beginner’s Guide to Organic Matter

When I started growing food in the earth as opposed to container gardening, one of my first conundrums was how to treat the soil. I  remember gazing around, thinking that if I’m taking plants out, surely I must have to put something back in. But I didn’t know how much or what. Everything I read pointed to adding fertilisers, (chicken pellets, blood, fish and bone etc.,) but they fed the plants: add this for extra nitrogen for your cabbages or that for potassium for your tomatoes. What about the soil? I knew that worms were great, but what should I be adding to keep them happy? Alongside that, magazines were talking about organic matter, manure, soil conditioners and compost as if I knew what they were talking about. I didn’t.

Hoping to learn more about soil was a primary reason that I enrolled as a mature student to study horticulture.  As it transpired, soil science was the module I had to work the hardest to get to grips with given its ions, cations and anions. Chemistry was a  subject I’d barely looked at 30 plus years ago, never mind one I’d be tested on in middle age. I almost quit on the first day.

Thanks to technology, we’re learning more than ever about the complex world that lives below our feet. We’re finding that it’s the millions of microbes, fungi, nematodes and their associations within the soil that are so beneficial, how they communicate, live and get along with one another. Feed the soil and the soil will feed the plants. As a result, no dig and no till methods of soil care are becoming popular as they cause the least upheaval to this microscopic world. Matthew Wallenstein, associate professor and director of the Innovation Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Colorado State University, wrote a piece for The Conversation about feeding the microbes which is worth a look at.

If, like me, you’ve ever wondered what the common terms are in relation to organic matter (OM), you might find the following guide helpful. In no particular order and with links and tips to some interesting videos and slideshows I’ll be looking at:

  • Organic matter
  • Soil conditioners or improvers
  • Compost
  • Garden compost
  • Well rotted manure
  • Leaf mould
  • Green manure and cover crops
  • Humus
  • Mulch
  • Top soil, sub soil and soil horizons
  • and a brief foray into soil structure and texture.

I hope this helps to dispel some of the confusion. Adding well-rotted organic matter to soil is a more holistic and sustainable approach to gardening and one of the underlying principles of ‘organic’ growing methods.

Soil most definitely matters! https://t.co/UcbFBEn3y8

Organic Matter

One of the simplest definitions for OM is that it’s something that was once alive. Organic matter is derived from a living thing. Whether that’s us, farmyard manure, twigs or leaves, over time the materials will rot down to become organic matter. When gardeners talk about adding organic matter, they can mean anything from garden compost, animal manures and leaf mould, to the remains of plants that have been planted as cover crops (green manures), as well as some soil conditioners.

OM adds nutrients to the soil that will feed the plants, and organic materials that will feed the soil microorganisms. It’s great for soil structure. No matter what soil you have, clay, loam, peat or sand, organic matter helps to break it up, increase drainage or improve porosity, allows oxygen to move around and plant roots to find water and nutrients. Organic matter also prevents the erosion of top soil, protecting it from the elements.

Soil Conditioners or Improvers

Soil conditioners or improvers can be made from organic material that is added to the soil to improve plant growth and soil health such as organic matter above, or fertilisers. Examples include compost, manure, coir, green manures and peat. Soil conditioners can also include inorganic minerals such as clay, sand, lime or silt and some can adjust the soil pH.

Just like ourselves who need proteins, carbs and vitamins to keep our bodies functioning healthily, several nutrients are necessary for plants to grow and fight off pests and diseases. The major elements they need in various quantities depending upon the plant include Nitrogen (N), Phosphorous (P), Potash(K), Sulphur (S), Calcium (Ca) and Magnesium (Mg) and the trace or minor elements essential for plant growth but in much smaller quantities include Baron (B), Manganese (Mn), Molybdenum (Mo), Copper (Cu), Zinc (Zn), Iron (Fe), Chlorine (Cl) and Nickel (Ni).

Seaweed is one example of a soil improver that contains all of these elements in abundance. It can be dug in or added as a mulch. Stephen Alexander from Teagasc lists in detail the nutrients required for all common vegetables in his publication A Guide to Vegetable Growing.

Organic growers apply regular applications of organic matter, toping up with organic fertilisers to feed the soil when necessary.

You can find a more detailed explanation about the differences in this slide share from Dr Radhey Shyam below:

Soil conditioners and amendments from Mahtab Rashid

Compost

Compost is a synthetic manure that can be made from various amounts of decomposing organic matter, fertilisers and soil. Usually sold in bags, some composts contain top soil, most contain peat, despite the knowledge that the later is not a sustainable source of organic matter. Peat bogs take hundreds of years to create and are fantastic carbon sinks. Its extraction releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, a major greenhouse gas.

If you’re planning to garden under strict organic guidelines, avoid using store bought compost unless it carries a symbol to say that it’s organically certified. Some manufacturers are misguiding shoppers by printing ‘organic compost’ on their bags. It may have been derived from an organic base, but unless certified, compost is not ‘organic’ as we think of it and you’re wasting money buying organic seeds to plant into it. Research your source carefully.

Garden Compost

Composting your own waste materials is a great way of creating organic matter that will add nutrients to your soil and help with soil structure. If you’re planning to start composting this year, or you’d like some tips on how to do it better, head over to Stop Food Waste for more information. The image in the top photo is of our own home made garden compost made from uncooked kitchen scraps, coffee grounds, grass clippings, animal bedding, twigs and garden waste. It took over a year to make but felt great to be making our own and the soil benefits immensely from its addition.

Biology of Composting

Well-Rotted Manure

Is what it says on the tin. Manure primarily derived from herbivores: cattle, horse and poultry that’s been left to rot until it no longer smells or resembles it’s original form. Do not use manure from meat eaters (dogs etc) as it can contain harmful bacteria. It takes three months to a year or more for manure to rot down sufficiently for garden use depending upon the type and heat of the pile. If the manure is too fresh when you add it, it can harm the roots and microorganisms within the soil. Be careful where you source the manure from too. The chemical aminopyralid hit the headlines in recent years when it was found that residues could pass through animals in sufficient quantities to cause damage to many crops.

Take a look at the Greenside Up IGTV channel for a short video clip about adding animal manure to a vegetable bed.

Composting toilets are gaining in popularity but it’s advised not to use the waste on edible plants. More information can be found here.

Beginners Guide to Organic Matter

Courtesy: Stop Food Waste

Leaf Mould

Leaf mould is made by collecting leaves in the autumn, placing them in a container separate from the normal garden compost (they take longer to rot down), and patiently waiting. Different leaves can provide more nutrition or less and some take longer than others to deteriorate (anything from one to three years), but leaves are a great soil conditioner and you can make your own potting compost with them as a base. The RHS have a handy guide to leaf mould here.

A Beginner's Guide to Organic Matter

Phacelia in flower

Green Manure and Cover Crops

Cover crops or green manures are plants that have been grown specifically to protect the soil by covering it (nature tends not to leave soil bare) between crops. Usually before they flower, green manures are cut and dug in to the soil which helps with soil structure and provides food for bacteria, worms and microorganisms. They can also be cut and left on the top of the soil to act as a mulch. Cover crops are a great way of adding organic matter to soil if you don’t have ready access to compost or manures. A PDF containing some of the more popular green manures can be found here. Green manures include plants like Alfalfa, Phacelia, field beans and Hungarian grazing rye. Seeds can be brought online or from garden centres.

Humus

Humus is more than the organic matter that’s added to soil, humus includes decaying insects, animals, microbial bodies and fungus. It’s a dark organic material that builds up over time. Think of the soil beneath leaf litter in a forest to envisage humus. It’s rich, dark and earthy. It can occur naturally or is the result of a well managed compost pile.

Soil HorizonsTop Soil, Sub Soil or Soil Horizons

Soil is divided into layers known as horizons. These include: O – organic matter, A – topsoil, mostly minerals with organic matter incorporated, E – eluviated, missing in some soils, B – subsoil, where the minerals that have leached down from the higher horizons settle, C – parent material from which the soil developed, R – bedrock such as granite, limestone or sandstone that forms the parent material for some soils. If you stick a spade into the soil and dig down, you can see the different colours and textures of the horizons.

The importance of soil

It takes around 100 years to creat 2.5cm of topsoil and the majority of the world’s food is grown in this horizon. In 2015, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations published a technical summary of the World’s Soil Resources. They summarised that ” the overwhelming conclusion from the regional assessments is that the majority of the world’s soil resources are in only fair, poor or very poor condition. The most significant threats to soil function at the global scale are soil erosion, loss of SOC [soil organic carbon] and nutrient imbalance. The current outlook is for this situation to worsen unless concerted actions are taken by individuals, the private sector, governments and international organizations”. Using sustainable soil management techniques which includes adding organic matter to soil will help to reverse this trend.

Mulch

This is a layer of organic or inorganic material that sits on the top of the soil. Made from straw, compost, wood chips, dried leaves or pine needles, mulch can also be an aggregate such as pebbles, slate or stones.  Mulching adjusts the temperate of soil, insulating the ground against cold or heat, helps with moisture retention, and the spread of plant disease can be reduced by its application. More information about garden mulches can be found in this archive guest post from Jerry Day.

Soil Structure

Soil structure refers to the architecture of the soil, or the arrangement of all the particles (clay, sand, silt etc) within it. In heavily compacted soil there will be little drainage or oxygen available to plants and soil biodiversity. A more detailed explanation of the A, B, C’s of soil structure can be found in this Teagasc guide.

Soil Texture

Fun experiment to determine your soil textureSoil texture is the type of soil you have, sand, clay, peat etc. Knowing your soil texture can help you to determine what plants to grow. An example is carrots that prefer a looser, sandier soil if they’re to develop the long roots of say, an Autumn King variety. If you’re gardening in a clay soil, choose shorter or round varieties of carrot seed such as the Chantenay. Work with your soil where possible rather than fighting against it. I’ve shared a simple experiment to learn your soil texture in an archive post here.

How much Organic Matter Should I Add?

Now we’ve established what the definititons are, how much organic matter should you add? Unfortunatrely that’s a million dollar question as it depends on what gardening method you’re following and what soil you have. As a rule of thumb I use two parts top soil to one part organic matter when creating raised beds. No Dig guru Charles Dowding recommends a layer of around 15cm or 6″ of well rotted organic matter mulched on top of the soil to create a new No Dig bed. An early organic, Gardeners World presenter Geoff Hamilton used to recommend a bucket full per square yard. I aim to add around 10kg per square metre in our clay soil.

For a closer look below the soil surface, here’s a lovely short video ‘The Living Soil Beneath Our Feet’ from the California Academy of Sciences. We need to stop treating soil like dirt and look after it. Our lives may depend upon it.

If you really dig your soil or would like more information on regenerative agriculture, some great resources that include videos, podcast and peer reviewed papers can be found:

 

Company Values

June 21, 2019

What Does the Green in Greenside Up Mean?

Tenacity:

  • As someone who began writing letters to MP’s back in the early 1980’s asking them to intervene with extensive whaling, rainforest burning and the elimination of ozone layer destructive CFC’s, Dee Sewell has long been concerned about the environment we live in. She is still actively working to make a difference.

Passion & Honesty:

  • Since she began Greenside Up in 2009, Dee has been actively promoting gardening using organic principles and positively encourages biodiversity. She has continued her own education journey, striving to learn as much as she can within the timeframe she has, to enable her to share her new found knowledge with others.

Service Matters:

  • Without compromising on customer service, all course notes are initially offered by email and in the event that they are printed, paper is sourced from sustainable forests or recycled.

Education Matters:

  • As well as growing food, customers are encouraged and advised how to reduce their landfill, to stop food waste by composting and recycling, to learn about beneficial insects, biodiversity, companion planting, water conservation, the impact of using peat. They are informed about genetically modified organisms and the threats that climate change present to us all.

Community Development:

  • Dee strongly believes that building strong communities can help us to overcome the many issues that we will face as our climate changes. All of her work underpins the major community development goals of encouraging voluntary work, providing training and education for social, recreational, cultural, work and personal development, as well as encouraging active engagement in decision making in local communities.

Empathy:

  • Dee is an empathetic educator and it’s one of the reasons she enjoys working in the social and therapeutic side of horticulture.

 

Company values