Being Greener

As people who garden and grow some of our own fruit & vegetables, we also try to be “greener” whenever we can. Whilst that involves using less plastic whenever possible, from a gardening perspective its mainly about water harvesting and conservation and composting, returning goodness to the soil to try and keep its fertility high and its structure good.

Water harvesting is simple to achieve. We collect rainwater from our house and greenhouse roofs and we have a bucket by the back door where we collect vegetable washing water and other relatively clean water which we use to water our plants. We would like to go further and collect the output from our baths & showers and reuse that to flush the toilets but that would involve additional piping, pumps and a belief that its worth it.

Conserving water in the garden is really a matter of watering plants properly, only when they need it and making sure that the water you give the plant is used by the plant. More plants are killed by overwatering than underwatering. Its obvious when a plant needs to be watered (it starts to wilt) but when a plant is overwatered it “just doesn’t do well” and there’s a tendency to water even more.

Making sure your plants use the water you give them means:

  • putting plant pots in trays so the water doesn’t just run away;
  • watering in the morning or evening when the water won’t evaporate immediately;
  • watering the roots and not the leaves.

Composting is no more difficult as it needs space. In our garden we have: a “cold compost” system (about six square metres); a leaf basket (about four square metres); two “Dalek Composters; and Bokashi Composting buckets. We also have a garden waste collection from the council that we use to deal with the stuff that won’t (or shouldn’t be) composted.

Bokashi Composting is the strangest part of the system. If you want a really good description of Bokashi Composting, I suggest you go to Bokashi Living. They give a really good description of what it is and how it works (they also sell Bokashi kits in Canada and the USA but that doesn’t help us. If you want to buy kits and bran in the UK, we bought ours from Evengreener but there are other places. Bokashi doesn’t compost, it uses bran innoculated with microbes to prepare waste that would otherwise go to landfill (cooked food, meat, fish, etc.) to be composted. At the end of the process you have a bucket of stuff which can be buried directly or (as we do) added to the compost heap for further composting.

The “Dalek” composters are standard garden composters which we fill with compostable kitchen waste, garden waste, paper and other brown compostables and the Bokashi output. We have two, one to fill and one to let compost. We use these because they are more vermin proof than open compost heap so in the 6 to 12 months that they take to fill and compost the kitchen vegetable waste we’re unlikely to attract unwanted visitors.

The final part of the system is the Cold Compost heap. By Cold Compost, we mean just a (fairly controlled) pile of garden waste. We have three piles, one to fill, one to compost down and one to empty. Hopefully they match in time so that when the “to fill” one is full, the “to empty” one has been used up. When this happens we turn the compost heaps, “composting” into “use” and “fill” to “compost”. This turning helps the composting process and gives you a chance to find unexpected items (the occasional teaspoon, knife, plastic bags, etc.) and to move the composted “Dalek” into the “fill” compost heap so that the kitchen waste gets another opportunity to break down.

To the side of this system are the leaf baskets. A leaf basket is a square of chicken wire big enough to take the leaves that fall into your garden. Leaves don’t compost in the same way as green waste. They rot down by fungal action. So, mixing them into the compost doesn’t do any good. You just end up with leaves in your compost. We have two leaf baskets, one to fill and one to decompose. Different leaves take different lengths of time to decompose (oak for example takes two years). Again, one hopes that by having two piles when the leaves fall in the autumn, you’ll have a space to collect them.

Finally we have the garden waste collection. There are always things you don’t want in your compost. In our case its sticks and oxalis. Our oak tree sheds a lot of sticks during the year and these don’t rot down as quickly as the leaves or compost. We used to burn them, adding them to the bonfire at Guy Fawkes. However, we’ve decided that we’d rather not have a bonfire (more houses are being built around us) so we get rid of the sticks in the garden waste. Perennial weeds also don’t want to be composted unless you have a Hot Compost heap. To kill perennial weed seeds, you need a temperature of around 50C which really needs a special kit.

I think what this shows is that you don’t have to be brilliant to be greener, just a little thoughtful.

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