Monday, December 29, 2008

obsession with poo continues...

A great weight on any gardener's mind is compost and manure. Last year at the community gardens we were fortunate enough to have a great big pile of poo delivered. This year I am not so lucky.

London soil is dreadful. Clay-based, leached out, used as all the cats' outside litter box. Hundreds of years of builders' and tenants' rubble. Pollution from the air. Plain horrible. So it needs a bit of TLC.

I have always kept a compost bin in the back, recycling appropriate kitchen and garden waste. One year I supplemented that with pelleted chicken manure (good but expensive and stinky). What I really need is a big load of good quality top soil or manure but with the only access to the garden being through the whole house this is not going to happen in a hurry. So I am stuck with reasonable amounts of compost.

And then, cleaning out the critters' cage, it struck me that I was sitting on a gold mine - or, indeed, poo mine. Guinea pig manure to be precise. They are herbivores...they poo a lot...their litter is compostable. Hurrah!

But I wondered how good guinea pig manure would be and if I should invest in getting other organic fertilisers. There are, unfortunately, no charts about the nutritional composition of guinea pig poo, however, I found some information about rabbit manure (close enough, I reckon). Surprisingly, it seems to be really high in nitrogen, even higher than chicken manure. Also, good values of P and K. Obviously that will drop as it is mixed with litter.

So, in the compost bin it goes and I look forward to better soil. I <3 guinea pigs.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

a fresh start

Christmas Day 2008 and I have been back in London UK for 3 weeks. It is the middle of winter, mild and surprisingly dry. After the fun of community gardening in Portland, I am keen to start up again here, however, the Hackney Allotment Society has closed its waiting list due to huge demand (in any case, it would have been years before actually getting a plot...). The Olympic site has devoured some other established allotments, shrinking the available space even more. Capital Growth is still in its infancy and seems to be addressed to growing food in your own space (like my back garden).

Therefore, my idea is to start expanding the growing space in my own backyard. I have grown some beans and raspberries, even some tomatoes, before but now I am serious. I started today with a survey of what is the base stock, what could be moved and what will plain not work.

First off, I have my remote outside thermometer back!

It's great to see how warm it is and it also has a minimum and maximum temperature per day facility (handy to know after the fact how cold it got during the night - also note that it's in Celsius which I can actually understand).

Next it's the area just outside the kitchen door, currently full of ivy and fuchsias. It's quite a shaded areas and I also really like the fuchsias where they are, so I think this will remain as it is, with the possibility of trying to fill in a few herbs in any gaps.

To the back on the left, just after the deck, is a large border. In the foreground you can see a sedum, behind it is a dwarf pear tree. The creeping Californian lilac (Ceanothus) has crept out of its bounds a bit. Lovely flowers though. After that comes a weird assortment of "stuff". Dogwood and a lilac tree in the back which don't do any harm. God knows what is at the front. I think I can spot some Bear's Breeches but this area seems have high potential to be redeveloped by shifting items closer together and getting some growing space.

Adjoining this area further along the side of the garden is my Tree of Mistaken Identity. It was supposed to be a Damson "Merriweather" but it turned out to be a Greengage. Still, a fruit tree is a fruit tree so it'll stay. It seems to have struggled along for a few years now, I don't know if it'll ever grow into something impressive. The little knee-high bay tree that I planted some years ago (in fact, probably around the same time as the greengage) has grown into an 8-foot monster. I like it but there is only so much bay a household needs.

And it takes up prime growing space. I may have to investigate if I can propagate it somehow and move it somewhere else. Ok, it may not look like much growing space but that is what I need to extend considerably.

On the right side of the garden, there are quite a number of flowering shrubs. Mexican orange blossom makes do with being underneath a neighbour's Leylandii (the pox on it!) and is lovely whatever the season. Behind is another Californian Lilac, which looks like it's attempting to leave where it is anyway. Behind that a few other bedraggled-looking things, although it may be because it is winter time. Still, another potential area for modification.

Another area on the right is occupied by a cordyline which seems to be enjoying itself. I note that the tenants have already extended this border to grow stuff so I will follow suit.

Lastly, we have the area at the back of the garden, raised and containing an assortment of self-seeded foxglove, cyclamen and more ivy.

Bags of space to grow vegetables, you may think. Well, think again because right above it is this culprit:

A neighbour's sycamore tree. The Bane of my Life. Ok, it is tall and impressive but also cuts off all water when it has leaves. I would have to invest in some serious irrigation to make anything underneath grow.

So that's it. Over the coming weeks I may attempt to actually do something about the state of affairs...