The road to Ben Nevis Nov 2009

The road to Ben Nevis Nov 2009
The road to Ben Nevis Nov 2009

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Monday, 22 May 2017

Composting Woodchip - it works!

 One of the old guard of UK organic farmers maintains his credential for the soil association by bringing on to the farm 'nothing but woodchip and certified organic seeds'.

Of course woodchip from trees grown elsewhere implies a gap in the sustainability profile, but the trees are from local domestic gardens and they are said to cover the needs for potting compost which would otherwise be another import to the farm.

This story came to me as I was cutting back some trees and hedges, so I thought I would give it a try! I was told the pile of tree chippings was turned every 3 or 4 months. And that after two years good compost was made.

So after just over two years you can see the result. It works!

The compost heap
 The picture of the compost heap in fact shows 3 ages of composting - the nearest are chippings from the last 6 months or so, while the middle of the heap has chips around 1 year old. The far end it the original pile that is 2+ years on the making.

After 2 years the insect life seems to have moved on
The oldest compost is strangely devoid of insects. While the more recent stuff is quite lively. Indeed watching a infra-red recording of it at night it seems to be in constant motion.

Sieve to make a fine potting compost or use as-is for mulching
What you see here can be sieved to make a fine-ish potting compost or used as-is in planting out as ground conditioning.

Incidentally mulching with uncomposted woodchip is likely to take valuable nitrogen away from plants it is protecting.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Plant Quiz! What is it?

I used to be keen on Chiltern Seeds bargain offers. They sell several types of 'anonymous mix' which provides a single packet of a thousand or more seeds such as perennials or annuals. Then they sell a 'non-anonymous mix' which provides 5 or 10 packets of their choosing.

One of the latter, I think gave me a packet of potent seeds which I planted more than a year ago. In autumn this bed showed a crowd of healthy looking plants which zoomed up in spring to provide this spectacular show.

Of course, they're overcrowded despite some thinning out, but what are they? I've been through my records of seeds bought and I cannot find any name which googles to reveal something like this.

What is it? Taken in April

Now in the second half of May the flowers are almost finished, leaving this light green sprays of stems which, I guess, will eventually by covered with seeds.

What is it? taken in late May
It was always a thrill when these seeds arrived - particularly the non-anonymous packets. White packets with a Latin name typed on the front gave no clue about what might eventually appear from a successful germination.

These often included some strange plant indeed -  a 'blue sausage' plant from China was one which sticks in my mind, and rare cyclamens from Palestine. Sometimes there would be several packets of tree seeds - from Scandinavia, the Alps, or Australia. Sometimes germination would require repeated sessions of refrigeration to simulate winter time. Sometimes there'd be several packets of seeds of familiar or unfamiliar local wild flowers which would germinate quite easily.

They counsel waiting at least two years before giving up on a seed. I found by then my label had fallen off or faded and become invisible. Many trays and modules by the second year were germinating local weeds. One tray was strangely full of beech tree seedlings, handily just when I needed to replace a hedge - but none of the packets I had bought had been labelled 'beech'.

After several years my thrill is tempered by a weariness. A packet has so many seeds in it and some of the more exotic ones need special care. Very quickly I found I had a job of unmanageable proportions keeping hundred of plants and their different requirement clear and separated in my mind.

Much easier to buy just one or two packets and concentrate on those, and then bulk buy the rest ready growing from a garden centre.

Thursday, 6 April 2017

'Tis the season of the Nettle! Time for Nettle Bread

One of the first herbs to appear in the spring is the common stinging nettle. Foragers everywhere start on nettle soup. But if you leave it many weeks those temping bright greens turn grey-ish and dusty, agressive looking and stinging.

This year I managed to investigate before the moment had gone - not with soup but bread.

Gather the nettles wearing gloves. Take the tender tops. They don't weigh much - the bag above has about 600gms.
Rinse in cold water and drain. Pick over discarding any tough stems.

I steamed for a minute or two to remove the sting - like spinach the volume reduces a lot. Use as little water as possible - the leaves contain quite a bit - and you want this essence to go into the bread.


Squeeze the liquid out from the leaves and conserve - I had rather too much here for my needs. Cut
the leaves reasonable small so that the nettles disperse easily when making the dough.

Make the dough. I used a ratio of around 600 grams of leaves (as picked) with one kilo of flour.

I used a sourdough starter to make a levain, but that is not essential at all. It is worth noting that the quantity of water in my levain reduced the amount of nettle liquor I could use. The levain accounted for 450gm flour and 350gm liquid from the recipe quantities below and was allowed to develop overnight at room temperature with the starter.

Total recipe quantities:-

600gm tender nettle tops 
500gm whole strong wheatflour
500 gm white strong wheatflour
650gm liquid (including nettle liquor)
12gm fresh yeast
18gm salt

The dough is a surprising green colour with a slightly grassy smell. It developed over about 2 hours at 80 deg F before shaping into 2 tins. Here the loaves were given two hours rising time before baking  at around 220 deg C for 40 mins.

You might expect some structural problems with such a large quantity of green stuff in the loaf but the crumb is fine and even and it eats well as bread or toasted.

The verdict? A dramatic looking loaf providing a good accompanyment to soups, and to jazz up the breadbasket at the dinner table. On taste? Not so dramatic considering all those extra nutrients - I shan't be in a hurry to make nettle soup. For a seasonal taste consider also a fresh herb bread - see here satuday-bread-with-greens.