Rethinking the bokashi

For almost three years, I’ve been using a bokashi bin to ferment all manner of food waste for use as fertiliser in the garden. There is no doubt under normal circumstances that the contents of the bin become excellent compost after a couple of months in the ground.

Whether or not they have provided a specific benefit to the hugel beds, it is difficult to say, but about once every four months I’ve been building one and topping off the wood with bokashi solids. I had been concerned in case rats got wind of them but until this latest bed we were fine.

I keep covering the hole that the rat makes at the side of the bed. Every day, I check and the hole is back with more of the hugel bed contents on the surface. At least I’m not losing all my goodness to its dietary requirements!

Now, I think that it will still be safe to empty the bokashi into the ground in the spring and summer. However, I’m running out of ground which doesn’t have perennials planted in it and/or hasn’t become a hugel bed. And if the ground isn’t a good repository in winter, the compost heap is even less so.

So, it looks like the best thing to do is cut back on the amount of food waste going in the bokashi bin. If I divert food scraps which are okay to go directly in the compost bin (e.g. uncooked leaves and peelings), the bokashi will take much longer to fill up. In turn, hopefully, this means the bokashi bin which is currently full won’t need to be emptied for some time to come. (I have two bins, so that I can keep production going.)

And in the meantime, I hope the resident rat finds a new home, nowhere is my garden, once it has eaten the delectable titbits it has found in the hugel bed. I really don’t want to have to put poison down.

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The novelty of working at three degrees

It was so cold today, the secateurs were like ice cubes in my hands. Likewise, it was not comfortable holding the spade. However, I was pleased to get a few small jobs out of the way in the garden this morning.

Over the summer, the apple tree had grown closer to the shed, which meant stooping to get to the bins, which I keep out of view behind it. Not ideal, but then cutting off branches with new buds forming was also less than ideal. Still, pruning does mean I will get more branches and more buds in the future.

It’s still too early to say if the rat has moved to pastures new but I decided to spread out the compost I put down over the latest hugel bed. On Monday, it had seemed quite thick but now it’s more like a thick sprinkling. At least it will feed the soil somewhat, especially important after losing the bokashi solids inside the bed to hungry vermin.

One thing is for certain, fennel will be on the menu for me next year. It has already started to regrow after being cut down in the autumn. And I could still have nasturtiums if I wanted… They are starting to look quite bedraggled but last night’s snow showers and winds didn’t kill them off.

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A rat in the hugel bed

Two years ago around Christmastime, a rat decided to dig a tunnel into the compost bin. I therefore moved the bin and the rat disappeared. This year, there were again the telltale signs of a rat digging into the bin, so I’ve moved it and hope I can now forget about the bin for a few months. (Moving the bin also means that the rhubarb, which been underneath, now won’t be at risk of being forced. It has, on the other hand, been fed with a thick layer of compost.)

However, there has also been rat activity in the latest hugel bed. It seems that the bokashi solids have been discovered, as I not only found a couple of holes in the bed but a stray banana skin, which had been pulled out from under the soil.

I covered the holes pictured above with bricks, aiming to see if a new hole would appear, which by next morning it had. There was no doubt then that I needed to try to dissuade the rat from using the contents of the bed for meals.

So, I stuffed the holes with straw and covered the bed with cardboard – good to have reduced the stock of that behind the piano. Then I emptied the finishing-off compost bin onto the cardboard.

At the moment, I’ve only covered half the cardboard with a thick layer of compost. The idea is that this might smoother the smell where the rat has been getting in better than a thinner layer over the whole area. I imagine this will do little to prevent further activity but you just never know, do you?

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One row up!

Yesterday, I mentioned the puzzle of the nasturtiums withstanding snow. Now, I notice another phenomenon which intrigues me, although I think the answer to this may be more straightforward.

Whilst doing a morning inspection of the back garden, I was delighted to see the first set of broad beans coming up. I therefore crushed up some eggshells and scatters them round the seedlings to keep the slugs and snails off.

However, only one row of the beans is peeping through the ground. On the other side of the hugel bed there is nothing to be seen. So, it seems that the side that has germinated gets more light (more sunshine), which perhaps at this time of year is even more significant than it would be in, say, June.

In any case, at least there is a bit more light in the garden this winter. I had heard that my neighbours were going to cut down their conifers, which all but block the sunshine in the winter. This they did not do – but the trees have been trimmed around the edges, which I am pleased to see has had a positive effect on light levels.

At the same time, I’m glad the birds have still got a home nearby. It would be a shame to see fewer blackbirds and pigeons because they couldn’t roost there anymore. I never knew they would bring me such joy!

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Undeterred by snow

By a miracle of nature, even though the temperatures are above freezing, there has been a light dusting of snow for the last 12 hours or so. There has also been a warning of black ice on the school playground.

However, the nasturtiums seem unaware that lower down is on the cool side. It’s great to see them still and I can’t help but marvel at their resilience.

At the same time, I am puzzled that they soldier on when the hugel beds without vegetation on them (in fact any bare soil) is clearly cool enough to enable snow to remain. I’m therefore wondering if plants increase the air and/or soil temperature in their vicinity – at least in winter. It certainly can’t be decomposition in the hugel beds themselves with these being covered in a dressing of snow.

The following post doesn’t answer all my questions but explains some of what is puzzling me: http://www.canna-uk.com/root_zone_temperature_and_plant_health

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The stake

If like me you are into medieval history, the title for this post could be somewhat ambiguous. There is certainly a wooden post involved. However, it has quite a different use in my 21st century back garden.

My dad had a number of tree stakes he no longer needed but which my youngest apple tree could benefit from. Well, I think the Ribston Pippin only needed the one but it definitely did need better support.

Thanks to ‘Skyeent’, I read up on how to plant apple trees on the RHS website. According to them, the stake needs to be on the side of the tree where it would be battered by the prevailing wind. This makes it more likely that the tree will establish a strong rootball. The stake also needs to be away from the trunk to stop it rubbing and therefore damaging the tree.

I guess the original stake needs to come out, although it is handy for protecting the tree in another way. I’ve used a pair of tights to hold the stake to tree and these currently only touch the two stakes, thus reducing the problem of rubbing.

Anyway, putting the new stake in meant pulling back the cardboard and plastic round the tree. These had been put down to kill off annual weeds to reduce competition for the Ribston Pippin. I was pleased to see that moisture was still getting inside, which means I don’t need to worry about watering just now.

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Leaves gone, branches gone

On Monday morning, the crab apple tree had four leaves at the very top. The wind got up and by lunch time, I could have given the tree a prune, except that I did the job this morning instead.

The Orleans Reinette, on the other hand, was still very much in leaf – green leaf – on Monday. Now, it is somewhat less covered, though it was delightful to see some late autumnal colour (at last!). A dose of sunshine was also a bonus.

I’ve actually been looking at the culinary apple tree over the past few months, watching it grow in ways that need to change. So, much as I would like the yellow leaves to remain, I’m itching to sort out branches that are in my way or creating clutter. It’s never easy to be where you want in the garden, is it?

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