Hot composting

On PDC course in February we had also some practical activities and one of them was preparing the compost. We have learnt hot composting technique, which takes a lot shorter period to produce the compost than regular composting, also known as cold composting. I was told in Portugal it would take about 20 days to have the compost ready. It depends on the outside temperature and humidity. If the weather is dry you can water the compost to speed up the process but if it is very wet there is not much you can do.

How to make a hot compost?

You will need some manure, straw and fresh green organic matter. And you will need a lot of it. It is the same than with sheet mulching, you always need more material than it seems, so get ready.

The order in which you put layers is this:

1. Brown layer – Manure

2. Yellow layer – Straw

3.  Green layer – Fresh organic matter 

Before you start, wet well the soil. Start putting the layers in a circle with diameter of 1,5 m. Try to make a cylindrical pile, because it is much more efficient than the pyramidal one. Try to reach 1 m of height. The manure layer should a lot thinner than the other two.

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When you finish you cover the compost with plastic and only leave it for 5 days. The compost should warm up to about 55°, if it is a lot more the material will just burn and the compost volume will reduce significantly. If the compost reached 55° you turn it around. Try to put the outside part of the compost into the middle. The part from the middle, that has been breaking down rapidly, goes now to the outside. And now turn compost every two days till you reach the PERFECT dark COMPOST!

If you are really into composting, like me, have a look at these two websites. You will find all the theory and practical tips you need:

Hot compost in 18 days

No turn, self aerated hot composting method

Seed exchange

I’ve already started to seed plants I want to have this season in the garden, but I still don’t have all the seeds gathered. Better than buying them is to swap the seeds you have too much for the ones that you need.
Seed exchange in Covilhã

This Saturday we will have “Troca de sementes”, seed exchange in Covilha and the participants will bring some seeds they don’t need for this season and exchange them with others. If there is no event like this where you live, you can exchange seeds with your friends, family and neighbours.

Troca de sementes in Covilha

St. Valentine has the keys to roots

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St. Valentine has the key to roots

St. Valentine has the key to roots

In Slovenian folk tradition, St. Valentine was the first harbinger of spring. There is the proverb that says, “Saint Valentine has the keys to roots.”

14th February is traditionally the day when plants start to grow and when the first work in the fields and in the vineyards begins. It is the day when the nature starts to wake in spring.

Sheet mulching in 6 steps

In November I did some sheet mulching on one of the beds of my garden. The mulching procedure was inspired by the book Gaia’s garden.

The material used for the mulching:

  • organic matter
  • cow manure
  • cartoon
  • straw

Step 1: Cut all the vegetation and leave all the organic matter on the ground. In my case the bed there was nothing covering the soil, so I put some fern on the ground.

Step 2: Add cow manure. You could use any kind of manure or the compost, just make sure you spread it well and that the layer is not too thick.

Step 3: Add a layer of cardboard without any tape or staples and afterwards wet it abundantly or, even better, soak it in the water before.

Step 4: Add another layer of cow manure.

Step 5: Add straw. I divided the bales into several plies and then put two layers of them on the bed. Once the straw is on the bed water abundantly.

Step 6: On the top put another layer of organic matter; I put the mixture of fresh and dry fern. Even better option is to put extra layer of compost first and then some dry organic matter like straw or wood shavings.

I recommend you to…

+ Gather enough material for the area you want to mulch. It is preferable to mulch a smaller area with thick layer than the other way round.

+ Pick the organic material without seeds. You can see on the last photo from January that there is already some wheat growing, which is good only in case you want to grow wheat in your garden.

+ The best timing to do the mulching is in autumn so the material is decomposing throughout the winter and the mulch is ready for seeding till spring.

Interesting links:

– Website of the author of Gaia’s garden: http://www.patternliteracy.com

I am becoming a big farmer.

Big farmer

A true story. In the second month of my work in the community garden my cultivation area has doubled. Since my first piece of land has been already full but I really wished to have some peas at my garden, I have decided to take advantage of unused space of the community garden and started to work on a new plot in October. 

Peas everywhere

Before seeding peas

Before seeding peas

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the middle of October it was already a bit late to seed peas, but I did it anyway. One of the reasons for this is that my goal is not to eat fresh peas in December, but to have some plants from a legume family which enrich the soil with nitrogen. This happens through the nitrogen fixation process, which is described well on Wikipedia:

They contain symbiotic bacteria called Rhizobia within nodules in their root systems, producing nitrogen compounds that help the plant to grow and compete with other plants. When the plant dies, the fixed nitrogen is released, making it available to other plants and this helps to fertilize the soil.

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The second reason to seed peas in October is simply curiosity. I just wanted to experiment how the peas will grow in this season and how much they will grow. In order to have more diverse experiment I covered two parts of the plot with fern and left one without.

Peas and white clover

Peas and white clover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Together with peas I have also seeded white clover which also belongs to the legume family among peas. Peas were seeded in lines and white clover all over the plot to cover the soil. In eight days first plants sprouted up.

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When the peas grew 10 cm high I put some sticks as a support to climb. I only put sticks in one part of the plot to see how the ones without any support will grow. According to the old ladies that sold me the seeds at the market this variety of peas doesn’t need any support to grow. We will see!

Little peas learning to climb

Little peas learning to climb

Interesting links:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nitrogen_fixation

Starting the garden

My new garden!

I’m having a new garden again! This is the third garden in my gardening career but it is the first one in Portugal. I’ve been a member of the community garden for two weeks and in this period I’ve already made some works on my plot. Here goes the photo of a piece of land which is available for my gardening experiments.

Empty plot

I was lucky that I didn’t get an empty plot. I could start to harvest New Zealand Spinach right away. You don’t know this plant? Neither did I. It’s a perennial kind of spinach which has a bit rougher leaves than the usual one. I suggest eating just leaves and not the stem.

Plants

New Zealand spinach, green pepper and taro.

There is also a tiny green pepper beside the spinach and taro. Yap, I have taro as well and I still have no idea about this plant. The only thing I know is that it’s a tuber native to South India and Southeast Asia and it needs a lot of water.

Plan - September

This the current plan of my garden, which will probably be changing with the time.

Covering the plot

Covering the plot

Covering the soil was the first thing to do when starting the garden. In my case I covered my new beds with fern, mostly because it is one of the rare plants with abundant green leaves at the moment. The calendar autumn has officially started but here there is no sign of rain and the sun is still beating down. When having a garden there is one important thing to remember: the soil in the garden should NEVER be exposed. If you have an empty bed it is convenient to cover it with mulch and it’s even better if you grow some green manure crops.

New shape of the garden

The garden started getting the shape. I have planted first vegetables and protected them from the sun. At the local market in Covilhã I have bought some cabbage and two varieties of lettuce. This was actually all I could get there. I planted cabbage and lettuce together as they are good companions and right for interplanting.

Lettuce

The low growing salad provides a kind of mulch around the cabbage and protects the soil from evaporation. Besides, this combination protects the cabbage from different plagues. I still have a lot of space between the plants and I will have to fill it up in the future.

Herbs in the garden

This week we have visited the market in Fundão and our shopping was quite successful.  I planted some herbs between the cabbages. In the middle of the bed there is Thymus serpyllum, much extended species of thyme, with common names wild thyme, creeping thyme, or materina dušica in Slovenian. In Portuguese it’s named serpão and it is the queen of the herbs according to a lady at the market.

Lemon thyme

On every edge of the bed I’ve put the Lemon thyme. In ecological garden it is always convenient to have a lot of aromatic plants which chase the plagues away with their intensive smell.

Onion is planted

In a very special corner there is the onion growing, because it has many bad companions in the garden. The legumes and cabbage are two big groups that are better off without onion. In my case I hope the lettuce and herbs will serve as a barrier and soften a little the possible negative interaction between the cabbage and the onion.

Some useful links:

http://www.harvesttotable.com/2009/03/how_to_grow_new_zealand_spinac

http://www.harvesttotable.com/2010/03/taro/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thymus_serpyllum