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Green, Vegetable Garden

International Compost Awareness Week

May 6, 2012

International Compost Awareness Week begins today!

(source unknown)

I only became aware of this on the ICAW Facebook page yesterday when I read that:

“across the United States U.K., Australia, and Canada, composting advocates will be encouraging everyone to use Compost! Those who believe in the Compost Message will be planning events in their community to promote the value of compost. All types of composting events — from “do it yourself” composting in your backyard to large-scale community-wide composting — can be promoted during the week.”

International Compost Awareness Week

Lovely bins courtesy of

We may be a little late to get into the action this year but we could all do our bit by starting a compost heap or encouraging friends and neighbours to begin building one if they’re not currently doing so.

Local council environmental offices can point you in the direction of subsidised compost bins and are always delighted to help groups or communities with talks on composting, or you can make your own out of pallets. I wrote a post about The Stop Food Waste Campaign a while back where we were told we could save up to €1,000 a year by composting our kitchen scraps and not sending them off to the overfull landfill sites.

Compost: From this ……………………………………….to this

Home composting is one of the easiest and cheapest way of providing organic matter to your gardens – you can add anything from uncooked food, hair, newspaper and cardboard to grass clippings, wood ash and non meat-eating animal bedding (hamsters, rabbits etc). The trick is to get the mix right, just like baking a cake. Layering “browns” or carbon ingredients such as straw, newspaper etc with “greens” or nitrogen ingredients like grass, plant matter and vegetable scraps. I wont go on about the detail now however. Over on the articles page on the website there’s a free downloadable pdf HERE explaining the best way to compost.

So what do you reckon – are you composting yet or as it’s International Compost Awareness Week will this be the year you start?


Vegetable Garden

How to Make Comfrey and Stinging Nettle Fertilizers

April 30, 2012
How to make comfrey or nettle fertiliser

Comfrey Plant


Used for centuries before chemical fertilizers became popular, homemade comfrey or nettle ‘teas’ are easy, quick-release fertilizers that you can easily make at home and will save you money as you avoid buying artificially created variations.

When to use fertilizers

If you keep the soil fertile by adding lots of bulky organic matter (well-rotted manure, compost, leaf-mold) you shouldn’t have to worry about adding additional fertilizers too much.  However, there are certain circumstances when it’s helpful:

  • To raise nutrient levels in a poor or new soil.
  • To get higher yields from hungry crops such as potatoes, cabbages & squashes.
  • In containers where the nutrients in compost are used up quickly.
  • Top dressings of fertilizer can be added once the plants have established.
  • As an instant plant ‘pick-me-up’ sprayed on as foliar feeds.

Comfrey ‘Tea’

Rich in potash (potassium or K – great for flowering), comfrey also contains high levels of Nitrogen (N) for leaves (N3:P0:K10).  The variety Bocking 14 is the best one to plant in a garden as it’s less invasive. Comfrey can be difficult to get hold of in Ireland and is usually obtained by asking fellow gardeners, though you may find it in local markets (I’ve been reliably informed there’s a market stall in Kilkenny Farmers Market that often sells it). The Organic Centre sometimes stock root cuttings and in the UK it’s available online from The Organic Gardening Catalogue.

Wilted comfrey leaves can be placed around plants as a mulch or used as a liner in potato and tomato trenches – make a trench, add the leaves, cover with a sprinkling of compost then plant on tip of them. They can also be added to compost heaps (but only in small batches as they can go slimy). Be careful not to add any roots or flower heads or you may have comfrey popping up where you don’t want it.

A rich comfrey brew is made by packing leaves into an old dustbin, about half way up, then placing a board on top, weighed down and a lid added. A hole can be drilled in the bottom of the bin and a jar placed under to catch the drips or a tap added. The resulting liquid should be diluted 10 – 20 times with water before use.  Avoid getting it on your skin. Alternatively infuse around 3kg of fresh comfrey leaves with 45 litres of water and leave to stand for a month. This tea can be added undiluted to containers or plants for a pick me up.

How to make comfrey or nettle fertiliserStinging Nettle ‘Tea’

Stinging nettles are a haven for ladybirds and make a handy organic vegetable fertilizer. They are lower in potassium than comfrey but much easier to come by and contain an average N2:P0:K5 but with high trace elements. Young stinging nettle leaves are cut in the spring (wearing a thick pair of gloves!) and made the same way as comfrey tea. A quick method is to add 1kg of nettles to 20 litres of water.  Use the liquid undiluted when it starts to smell, usually a couple of weeks.

Alternatively, organic gardening guru Joy Larkcom recommends wrapping some nettles up in a sheet of muslin or old net curtain, then tying and hanging them in your water-butt.  Change the bag often as the leaves break down so that the feed doesn’t become too strong.

Have you used homemade fertilizers in your garden? How did you find them?


Vegetable Garden

Pea and bean crops – do they contain enough nitrogen to benefit anything else?

April 4, 2011

Pea and bean crops - do they contain enough nitrogen to benefit anything else?I just thought I’d share this fabulous photo taken by one of the Goresbridge Community Gardeners, who captured a picture of nitrogen nodules on a field bean I took along to show the group last week.

Over the winter months I’ve been growing field beans in one of my veggie beds as a green manure. Green Manures are used as a means of adding organic matter back into the soil, and are particularly handy for people who’re growing veg and don’t have a ready supply of organic matter (compost or manure).

As members of the legume (pea and bean) family, they’re able to make their own nitrogen and are known as nitrogen fixers.  Legumes store it in little nodules (as can be seen here) and once the nodules have separated from the plant or the plant decomposes, the nitrogen is released and is available to other plants.  Plants from other vegetable families get their nitrogen from the soil, usually from plant debris (or from fertilisers).

Green manures from the legume family are therefore great to grow before anything from the brassica family (cabbages etc) as the big leafy green crops will relish the additional nitrogen and are unable to make it themselves.

*It might surprise many gardeners who are familiar with crop rotation that botanists now believe that the root nodules accumulate half of the total nitrogen and that it only becomes available to other plants when the nodules are removed from the plant.  This only happens when the plant is severely stressed from shade or drought or when the root dies.

Also, when the plant is young about 40% of the nitrogen is in the roots with the rest in the foliage and stems. Once the plant has flowered the reserves of nitrogen in the roots drop to 3-6% with 8-10% in the leaves and stems. The remaining 70-90% is stored in the seeds and seed pods.

What this means for most of us hobby gardeners is that the roots of the pea and bean crops that we have allowed to flower and fruit for the cooking pot are unlikely to be of any nutritional benefit to the veg following them in our crop rotations as is currently believed…. green manures are the key.

* Source Chris Beardshaw – How Does Your Garden Grow