Water, water, everywhere…

When I want to water my allotment I take a stroll to the adjacent river (not far, to be fair).  This isn’t much of a problem as usually I don’t like to water too much; I’d rather encourage the roots to go deeper.  Of course, sometimes you have to water (thirsty crops, young seedlings, transplanted plants, etc).

Without a tap and no shed to collect water from, I’ve been thinking of knocking something together which will allow me to harvest rainwater.

After a consultation period with many top designers, I am proud to reveal the plans for the new Compostarium-Water-Harvest-o-Matic  Mk. I

The Compostarium as it is at the moment

The Compost bins as they are at the moment.  Pretty uninspiring, huh?

Currently I have a pretty standard pallet-bin double compost bin.  I am hoping to build something on top of them which will allow me to harvest rainwater for use later on.

Something wonderful.

Something like THIS!

The new and improved Compostarium! Note: This is an artist's impresssion, not a photograph.

The new and improved Compostarium!  With a sloped, corrugated roof and a length of guttering, I hope to be able to fill a water butt to give me some reserves for the summer.  

Of course, whether my limited construction skills will allow me to put something together may impact upon the quality of the finished product.  There are also a couple of concerns, from my first thoughts.

Firstly, what about wind? It will have to be pretty sturdy as are quite an exposed site and I don’t want it taking off and nobbling someone’s veg on an adjacent plot.

Also, money.  I’m not tight, but I don’t really want to spend anything on this.  As I say, the river is only a stone’s-throw away and that was OK last year.  It isn’t worth sinking much money into, so this will all depend upon bargain-hunting, Freecycle and skip-dipping.

I will have a word in my father’s shell (a recently-retired joiner); he will possibly have some of the materials knocking about in his garage, and will have the expertise to tell me I’m either being stupid, or of a better way to build the damn thing.

Updates will follow, I’m sure…


Thrifty garden lights

Nothing says summer like seeing all of the wonderful garden items in the shops. Everywhere you look there are novelty planters, tiki candles, citronella buckets, solar lights, you name it. Whilst all these things look lovely, the cost can mount up. Also, in most cases, disappointingly, most will only last one season.

I’m a real sucker for tea light holders. Every year I line the fence with little glass votive holders, and every year they get smashed. This year I’ve decided to trying something a little more cost effective. All you need is an empty tin, a hammer, a nail, and some twine.

First of all you need to save your tins from the recycling. See, it’s thrifty AND good for the environment. Wash them thoroughly, removing all the sticky residue. Then fill them with water and freeze them. Seem strange? All will become clear.

Once the water is frozen, you can make your design. You can do it free hand, or mark it out, but make sure you can’t see the marks after you’ve finished.

Now for the fun bit. Take a hammer and large nail, and hammer out your design. If you do this without freezing your tin you will completely flatten it, which is not great. Once you’ve finished, hammer a hole in either side at the top so you can hang it. Leave it to defrost, pop in a candle and Ta Dah! One tea light holder that cost absolutely nothing!

Beware, this can become addictive!

Small note. Please be careful when you hammer nails into things!

Comfrey is awesome. Here’s why:

I love comfrey.

You may have heard talk of comfrey, comfrey tea or soup, ‘Bocking 14’ or something similar before but wondered what it is and why people bang on about it like it’s some sort of miracle plant.  Well, in a way it is, and here’s why:

Comfrey is one of the most amazing natural fertilisers available to the home-grower!

Comfrey can be grown in any neglected corner of your allotment or kitchen garden, and indeed should be grown where you can.

There are a few primary reasons – the leaves can either be used as a beneficial mulch, compost activator or, most useful, to make a great liquid feed known as ‘tea.’   There are other centuries-old uses, such as a treatment in cut or skin abrasions, or as fodder for your animals on the plot, but we’ll focus on the more ‘direct’ uses.

Leaves taken from the comfrey plant can be used as as a great mulch or fast-acting compost activator; there is no ‘nitrogen robbing’ as the leaves break down and they give a nice boost to the growth of your veggies.  They can also be used to line bean or potato trenches before you sow your runners or previous spuds.

Comfrey – the best friend of many a gardener.

Most peoples’ favourite use of comfrey leaves is to make an evil smelling broth known as comfrey tea.  The simplest method is as follows; take a container of water and sink into it a good amount of comfrey leaves.  That’s it.  You can tether these into a bag if you like for easy removal (so they don’t block up any water-butt taps or watering can roses), or do what I do and trap them at the bottom under a bit of chicken wire and a brick.  After a efw weeks the water will go a greeny-blacky-frothy-manky colour and will smell disgusting.  Your plants will love it; dilute it into a watering can and water (directly to the roots if you can, using buried bottles or a similar method).

Some people prefer to make comfrey concentrate using a comfrey press (such as the one detailed here) – this is simply the juice from the breaking down leaves, with no added water.  This can be collected, stored and when used it must be heavily diluted.

In terms of its N-P-K ratio, which is a common measure of the content of a fertiliser, taking into account the relative quantities of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K), comfrey tea compares very favourably to commercially produced, non-organic liquid tomato feeds.

Comfrey: An invasive weed vs. sterile Bocking 14

Comfrey, it’s true, is widespread in British woodland, roadsides, hedgerows and the like.  It spreads like wildfire and once it’s established, the roots are very difficult to remove.  A new plant will happily grow from a scrap of root left behind, should you attempt to dig some out.

This can make it easy, you may think, for you to take cuttings of the roots yourself and transplant them into your allotment or garden; but beware! Wild (or common) comfrey sets seed liberally and will spread over your plot given half a chance.  This is where the Bocking 14 cultivar comes into its own.

Bocking 14.  Such a lovely, poetic name.

Bocking 14 is a sterile variety of comfrey; it will set seed but the seeds it does drop haven’t a chance of taking root in your plot.  Marvellous for the home-grower as their comfrey patch can sit undisturbed, flowering away (the bees love it), and you won’t have to worry about cutting off the flower stalks to save nearby crops.

For this reason, Bocking 14 can only be propagated by dividing established plants, or more commonly, by acquiring root cuttings.  As I mentioned above, comfrey is a tough little sod and given time it will re-grow from almost any fragment of root left in the soil.  This makes getting your hands on some Bocking 14 easy enough, as a few segments of root and a bit of patience will be all you need to establish a hugely-beneficial comfrey patch on your allotment.  Root segments are freely available on the internet (auction sites or from friendly gardeners willing to help out), or plants can be bought from garden centres or suppliers.  Make sure you’re getting Bocking 14, though, as some centres happily sell potted-up wild comfrey.

So, there you have it: comfrey is awesome.  Everyone growing their own fruit and vegetables should make space for some and reap the benefits.

Reduce, re-use, recycle

We’re very keen on recycling in this house. Left overs are frozen or made into a new meal the next day. Peelings and dodgy fruit and veg are taken to the compost, old plastic cartons and bottles are used in the garden. Anyway, you get the idea. Recycling is only way to be eco friendly, and of course, it’s free! This means a whole world of crafting opportunities are open to us for just pennies. You don’t have to only apply this to your weekly rubbish, I’m always on the look out for things that can be transformed with a little tlc. You see, everything is dual purpose. Honestly. You never know what will be useful.

The most expensive thing you will ever have is a child. I don’t like to think about the cost. However, they grow out of things so quickly, it’s a real waste to buy everything new. Whilst I spend an awful lot of time in charity shops and at car boots, it just doesn’t beat something being free. Below are some of the things that I’ve made for free for my daughter.

The building blocks were made on a whim when I decided to cut the legs off my jeans one day to make shorts. Two sides are denim, two sides are some left over felt from Christmas, one side is an old top, and the other an old pillow case. All free. Inside are blocks of upholstery foam. If you buy the irregular shapes then they cost next to nothing. I made them over a year ago and she still plays with them. Not bad for something that cost practically nothing!

Her summer dress really did cost nothing. It’s a bit of old seventies curtain my mum was getting rid of. All I needed to do was crochet around the top with some yarn from my stash. Ta dah, one free summer dress!

Crafting can cost a lot of money, and sometimes it’s tempting to get rid and buy new. However, nothing beats the satisfaction of making something yourself, especially when it’s free!

“Why has my head gone numb!?”

It is now April, the clocks have gone forward (SUMMER IS ON THE WAY), but it’s really rather cold out.  I’m sure no one needs reminding of that, but it’s really hampering getting out and making some progress on the plot.  Brrrr.

I’m starting to feel like Richard E. Grant in Withnail & I (sadly not demanding the finest wines available to humanity, but just getting irate at the perpetual cold).

Weather - End of March, 2013

The weather at the end of March (BBC).  Good grief.

Still, there is quite a bit to be done despite the unseasonably miserable weather.   I have made dozens (scores? hundreds?) of paper pots from salvaged paper from work – into these have gone:

>  Parsnips (Gladiator, White Gem),

>  Beetroot (Boltardy),

>  Broad beans (The Sutton),

>  Turnips (Snowball).

These will all be moved out into their final positions as the weather improves and as-and-when they get their second set of leaves.  They are currently spending their days on the patio hardening off and their nights in the shed sulking.

Also started off in modules and trays are lots more leeks (Musselburgh, Bleu de Solais), spring onions (White Lisbon, sown in clumps) and some salad leaves (Lambs’ Lettuce, Red Salad Bowl).  Onion sets (Setton) and Shallots (Golden Gourmet) are patiently waiting to be planted out; meanwhile they are sending out roots into module trays in the shed.  I’ll leave these until they have a decent root ball to avoid too much disturbance; then they can go out also.

Other tasks on the allotment have included adding a cardboard mulch between my first-year strawberry plants, which will later be topped with grass clippings to make it look less like a dumping ground.


Banana boxes, flatpacked and applied as an artificial mulch.  Ugly but functional.  Yes, there are strawberries in the gaps, if they ever take off.

Useful is beautiful, though, right? They will hopefully do a job of keeping the weeds at bay and can sit there and rot down in their own good time.

I’ve also gone a little bit Bob The Builder and salvaged some pallets to turn into gangplanks.  I’ve always known that I shouldn’t walk on prepared soil, but somehow I manage to trudge across without thinking occasionally.  These will hopefully stop me wrecking the ground I intend to grow in.

Gang planks

Avast, ye! Walking the plank…

The forecast looks a little better after this weekend and towards the end of next week (DOUBLE FIGURES during the day, and hovering just above 0ºC at night.  Maybe I’ll get to put out some of my fledgling crops then.

Fingers crossed.

Pretty pretty butterflies

I’m not really sure how to describe this! All I know is that it is very pretty sitting on your coffee table, and it’s the perfect example of how to mix your crafts.

The main body is knitted in the round, which gives a nice even material. This is edged with crochet because, well, it looks pretty. Added to this is a lovely butterflies embroidery that I did by hand. See, pretty isn’t it? But I would say that!