Tag Archive: compost

One way of pruning lavender

One way of pruning lavender


Choose plants that will perform reliably with minimal pruning. Keep any pruning you do mas simple as possible. For instance, don’t bother following traditional pruning methods for hybrid tea and floribunda roses, just cut all the stems down to 30cm (12 inches) high using shears, secateurs or even a hedge trimmer. prepare prunings for the compost heap quickly by using a shredder or spread them on the lawn and chop them up with a rotary mower witha grass ,box or use a garden vacuum tthat mulches too.

Further information:

How to prune your plants- Gardeners’ World

Pruning Tips and Techniques

Source: ‘Short Cuts to Great Gardens’ (Reader’s Digest 1999)

Old School Gardener


compost binFrom BBC Gardener’s World: As the growing season gets underway, so does the green waste that can be composted. So why not make DIY bin, using an old pallet?

Make a compost bin to achieve the satisfaction of turning kitchen and garden waste, into rich, crumbly compost. This will make your plants and crops thrive – so keep them, and your local landfill site, happy. Find the link here.

Old School Gardener

black-gold-sifted-compostGuest article by Master Composter, Jill Wragg

The days are getting longer and it won’t be long before we are hard at work in our gardens again – time for a bit of planning and preparation…

The key to a good garden lies in the soil.

Providing the right soil conditions will produce good looking, healthy plants, resistant to pests & disease – and you can improve the structure & fertility of almost any soil by adding organic matter in the form of compost.

There are all sorts of myths and misconceptions about composting – many people think of a stinking, slimy heap covered in flies, or a pile of dried up old plants, which harbours rats and other pests. But compost is nature’s way of recycling; breaking down and reusing the organic materials for the plants we eat, or use for shelter and pleasure.

So, how do you make this wonderful compost stuff?

• find a suitable container, purpose built or out of scrap wood, old carpet or chicken wire and newspaper,
• place it on the soil or grass in a warm spot
• then fill it over time with a balanced mixture (about 50/50) of ‘greens’ and ‘browns’

A healthy compost bin needs nitrogen, carbon and oxygen. The ‘greens’ provide the nitrogen, and the ‘browns’ provide the carbon, and create spaces & air pockets in the bin for oxygen.

compostGarden waste is not the only thing that you can put in your compost bin.

At least 30% of most people’s household bin could be composted – helping to reduce the impact of global warming by cutting the amount of methane gas produced at landfill sites.

The ‘browns’ can include: egg boxes & toilet/kitchen roll tubes (not crushed, but left whole to provide space for oxygen), cereal boxes, corrugated cardboard packaging, newspaper, straw & hay, bedding from vegetarian pets, vacuum bag contents, tissues, paper towels & napkins, old natural fibre clothes (cut up your old woolly jumpers and cotton T shirts), feathers, egg shells, wood & paper ashes as well as your garden prunings, twigs, hedge clippings, pine needles and cones.

Your ‘greens’ can be: tea bags, grass cuttings, vegetable peelings, old flowers, fruit scraps, nettles, coffee grounds & filter paper, rhubarb leaves, annual weeds, pond algae & seaweed, spent bedding plants, comfrey leaves.

wpID233imgID316Then just leave it…

… for thousands of bacteria, fungi, insects and worms to make it their home, and turn it into rich crumbly compost – absolutely FREE! If you want to speed things up add a nitrogen rich ingredient such as farmyard manure (chicken / horse) or even human urine!

For more information see ‘handy hints and essential advice’ at www.homecomposting.org.uk

Current agricultural practices can be extremely damaging to soil, leading to erosion and exhaustion of valuable nutrients. We are all dependent on soil for our food. The United Nations estimates that a third of the world’s topsoil has already been degraded, and that if things don’t improve we may only have 60 years of healthy usable soil left! To raise awareness of the issues, 2015 has been declared ‘International Year of Soils’.

Do your bit for soil – start composting today!

Old School Gardener

Copy of John with manureHere’s another extract from a book I bought in a charity shop in the summer…..

Taint’s Law:

The compost bin guaranteed to quickly rot waste will:

1. Rot or disintegrate before the compost is mature.

2. Overflow on the first day of use.

3. Harbour the largest hornets’ nest in Christendom.

Law of Chance is a Fine Thing:

It is possible to leave a plant or shrub unwatered and unfed with no effect on its growth or flavour or flowers whatsoever. No gardener will believe you.

Dung Roamin’:

Some people think manure makes plants grow. It does. The plants are trying to escape the smell.


From : ‘Mrs. Murphy’s Laws of Gardening’ – Faith Hines (Temple House books, 1992)

Old School Gardener



compost bin‘Of composts shall the Muse descend to sing,

Nor soil her heavenly plumes? The sacred Muse

Nought sordid deems, but what is base; nought fair

Unless true Virtue stamp it with her seal.

Then, planter, wouldst thou double thine estate;

Never, ah never, be asham’d to tread

Thy dung heaps, where the refuse of thy mills,

With all the ashes, all thy coppers yield,

With weeds, mould, dung, and stale, a compost form,

Of force to fertilise the poorest soil.’

James Grainger 1721-66

Bob Flowerdew- Compost King

Bob Flowerdew- Compost King

Think of compost as a must have rather than a waste product. This was the key message in organic grower and gardening celebrity, Bob Flowerdew’s talk to Norfolk Master Composters last night.

In a lively session peppered with amusing anecdotes and startling ‘factoids’, Bob enthused the audience with his knowledge of how plants respond to home-made compost and all the other DIY concoctions he uses in his own garden in South Norfolk. Including improving the flavour of home grown food, he said.

He isn’t one for feeding his open ground plants with anything much more than his home made compost, but swears by a combination of ‘teas’ to keep his container grown specimens in top condition – diluted liquid feeds of Comfrey, Borage, Stinging Nettles and compost all feature in a cycle of feeding during the growing season. And he reckons that apart from benefitting the overall strength and productivity of his pot plantings, they help to prevent diseases and pests by coating the leaves.

How compost tea as a plant feed makes a difference - Basil seedlings
How compost tea as a plant feed makes a difference – Basil seedlings

Bob’s basic thesis is that all plants expect compost- left to nature animal droppings and decaying organic material would provide them with all that they need to survive (along with sun, water and CO2 of course). By making our own compost and adding this to the ‘designed’ planting that is a garden, we are mimicking nature. And apart from the nutrients this rich mix can give, it also contains millions of micro organisms that are constantly in search of food and will themselves help to keep bacterial and fungal infections down- naturally.

Lovely stuff- and it makes such a difference to plant strength, health and productivity
Lovely stuff- and it makes such a difference to plant strength, health and productivity

And encouraging wildlife into our gardens not only for the role many can play in removing harmful pests, but in the droppings they leave on the ground (and maybe less usefully, our cars) is also a way of boosting the natural ingredients that plants need to thrive as well as survive. He is also a big fan of snails (but not slugs). Grazing in the main on algae, these critters get an overly negative press, he reckons. Their droppings are another fantastic addition to soils (like worm casts), and maybe we should even ‘farm’ them in a mini ‘Snailcatraz’ just to provide this material!

Bob also estimates that a Blue Tit can deposit 6lbs of droppings in a season- just one of his mind-boggling figures.

Snail Farming?
Snail Farming?

He is a great advocate of putting pretty much anything organic into his own compost heap (which he visits and cossets every day)- old clothing (cotton,wool and other natural fibres only of course), citrus peel (despite recommendations from some authorities to keep this out), wood and even ferrous metals- all will rot down in time he says, and add a wealth of nutrients back to your soil.

His zeal for the home-made stuff is matched by his dislike of pretty much any commercially manufactured composts. Most seed composts are not much good he says and likewise potting composts lack the oomph that can be had from your own material. And some commercial composts that use municipal – processed organic waste should be carefully inspected, he says, as he’s worried about what can get through the filtering processes. He cites an example of a lump of concrete in a bag he’d bought and is worried about small batteries that might leak mercury. Based on trials of his own versus the commercial compost rivals, his own seems to win every time.

I was particularly struck by his tip about how he sows and grows in pots using a layering of his own compost in the bottom 75% of a pot, topping off with a seed compost, in which he sows his seed- the plant, once germinated, is then able to seek out the richer mix of nutrients lower down. Commercial seed composts are generally low in nutrients as if they were richer this might prevent the germination of smaller seeds. Home-made (but sieved) compost can be used to sow and grow the larger, more robust seeds like melons, cucumbers and so on.

Bob is a self-confessed ‘compostaholic’, seeking out anything that can be added to his heap.

Along with human and animal hair and fur- and the contents of the vacuum cleaner bag – he sings the praises of bird feathers as a powerful source of nitrogen and therefore a wonderful activator in a compost heap (along with his own urine of course). And after several experiments he’s found that it’s OK to add bones to the heap as these too will rot down- but only if they’re ‘green’ and not cooked. The latter tend to splinter and will not easily rot down.

He also now looks on weeding as an exercise in gathering compost material – certainly a positive spin to what many see as an onerous task!

Pretty much any food scraps can be added to a compost heap
Pretty much any food scraps can be added to a compost heap

Again, perhaps controversially, he says putting food scraps, including meat and fish, on the heap is OK. These are often advised against because of the risk of attracting rats.

‘It’s likely that there is a rat somewhere within 15 feet of where we are sitting now’

he said last night, indicating that they are already around in the nooks and crannies of buildings as well as in the open. So, we don’t need to attract them , he says, as they are already there! But he does urge putting out poisoned bait alongside compost heaps that contain such material as a precaution.

The meeting also heard from David Hawkyard, County Coordinator of Master Composter, about the continued funding of the Norfolk Master Composter scheme for at least another year and plans to raise its profile to encourage more Norfolk households to compost at home. A wonderful ‘Compost Bin’ Cake – complete with very realistic apple cores and smiling worms – rounded off an enjoyable and thought- provoking evening.

NOTE TO SELF- get out and turn the compost heap!

Norfolk Master Composters won a Green Apple Award
Norfolk Master Composters won a Green Apple Award

Useful links:

Norfolk Master Composter Facebook Page

Garden Organic composting advice

Old School Gardener

bare_root_bundlesAs we roll on towards Christmas, you might be lucky to receive a present of some bare rooted shrubs like George Wellbeloved from the Scottish highlands:

‘I’ve been given a birthday present of some shrubs but the ground is frozen in the garden and I’m not sure what to do with them. Can you advise me?’

A belated Happy Birthday George, what a great idea for a present! Most shrubs and climbers, and especially deciduous ones sent out by mail order, are despatched with bare roots, not in containers. If they dry out they will die, so when they arrive, and there is not soil at all on the roots, stand them in a bucket fo water for a day or two in a cool, frost-free place until the soil is in a fit sate to plant them. Alternatively, store them for longer periods with their roots in damp compost – this can be ‘spent’ (old) rather than new if you have some (from emptying out summer flowering hanging baskets or other containers, for example).

If the plants arrive with some soil, on the roots, probably wrapped in netting, these are best watered carefully with a can fitted with a fine rose and then stored in moist compost. As soon as possible after arrival, dig  a trench in a vacant bed of soil, lay in their roots, and replace the earth. ‘Healed in’ like this the shrubs will stay in good condition for many weeks until the planting site is frost-free, fully prepared and in good condition.

When planting shrubs there are two schools of thought. The traditional method is to mix a good supply of well-rotted manure with loosened soil from the bottom of the planting hole, but if you can’t get hold of this, try using your own compost, or spent growing bags (you might be able to get hold of these from commercial tomato growers). Spent mushroom compost is also a possibility, as it usually contains some manure, but as it also contains chalk it should not be used for lime hating plants. Lastly, you can use shop-bought composts or bulky organic materials, though the latter can be pricey. Add a few handfuls of bone meal to the material you use to encourage root development.

The alternative method is to raise the fertility level of the soil around the planting site so that the plant’s roots are encouraged to spread out and so lead to more vigourous growth as the roots are encouraged to seek out nutrients more than if all the goodness is concentrated in the planting hole. Of course for ‘belt and braces’ job you can do both, or use your judgement about whether and how much  fertility needs to be added to the site of the planting. Increasing fertility in the space surrounding the planting hole may be impractical where there are already plants in this area or where you’re planting into a lawn. Here’s a useful guide to planting bare rooted trees.

You can also consider adding Mycorrhizal fungi in the planting hole. These are now widely available in Garden Centres and online. As the RHS says:

‘Mycorrhizas are beneficial fungi growing in association with plant roots, and exist by taking sugars from plants ‘in exchange’ for moisture and nutrients gathered from the soil by the fungal strands. The mycorrhizas greatly increase the absorptive area of a plant, acting as extensions to the root system.

Phosphorus is often in very short supply in natural soils. When phosphorus is present in insoluble forms it would require a vast root system for a plant to meet its phosphorus requirements unaided. It is therefore thought that mycorrhizas are crucial in gathering this element in uncultivated soils. Phosphorus-rich fertilisers are widely used in cultivated ground and not only reduce the need for this activity but are thought to actually suppress the mycorrhizas. For this reason it is best not to use phosphorous rich fertilisers in conjunction with mycorrhizal fungi.

Neither fungi nor plants could survive in many uncultivated situations without this mutually beneficial arrangement. Mycorrhizas also seem to confer protection against root diseases.’

Root tips showing mycorrhizal fungi (the white coating)
Root tips showing mycorrhizal fungi (the white coating)

Further information:

A Guide to planting bare root trees, shrubs and perennials- Toby Buckland

Mycorrhiza- Wikipedia

Old School Gardener

Ten Facts About Earthworms

Ten facts about earthworms

An enjoyable read! Click on the link above.

Old School Gardener

Gold for Norfolk Master Composters

Adding home made compost or other organic matter to your soil will improve its structure and nutrient levels

‘Getting their hands dirty – and encouraging others to do the same – has paid off handsomely for Norfolk’s Master Composters who have won a national golden Green Apple Award for helping to stop thousands of tonnes of waste from being landfilled in Norfolk….’

Daniel Greenwood

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