Chop and Drop

Not just for us no-dig fans perhaps!

-Huw Richards explains ….

“I want to explore in more detail about the role that the permaculture gardening technique of chop and drop can play in a no-dig garden.
In this video, I share why chop and drop works, and provide context and examples to back this up. I honestly think that chop and drop is one of the most useful techniques available for improving soil health and fertility in our raised beds in the vegetable garden.
And the best thing is that unlike waiting for compost to break down, you can do chop and drop whenever suits you!”

What to do with autumn leaves.

leaves

What do with leaves?

We have, what appears at the moment, to have an endless supply of fallen leaves. These should not be wasted. So what can we do? Below are some suggestions.

Create Compost

Leaves are a great source of brown, high-carbon material for the compost pile. Simply alternate layers of shredded leaves with the regular green materialsyou add to your compost pile, such as vegetable and fruit scraps, weeds, grass clippings, and plants that you pull out in your autumn allotment cleanup. Let all of that sit over the winter. Aerate or turn the pile as needed, and by planting time in the spring, you’ll have finished compost.

If you cant make compost at the moment then store some leaves for use in the summer to mix with your grass cuttings and green material.

Make Leaf Mold

Leaf mold is a wonderful soil amendment that is made from nothing more than autumn leaves with a layer of garden soil or finished compost. Layer the leaves and compost and let the pile sit for about a year. And when it’s finished, you have the perfect amendment for vegetable and flower gardens as well as a fantastic addition to potting soil.

Use as Free Mulch
If you can shred the leaves, they can be used as an organic mulch in flower beds and vegetable gardens, around trees and shrubs, and in containers. Simply apply a 2- to 3-inch layer of shredded leaves to the beds, keeping the mulch from directly touching the stems and trunks of the plants. The mulch retains moisture in the soil, helps to maintain a consistent soil temperature, and limits weed seed germination. As a bonus, the leaves add nutrients to the soil as they break down.

Using them just as they are is also a great way to add nutrients to your soil, reduce evaporation and suppress weeds. Over-winter your plot with a 2″-3″ layer and your soil will be ready for planting in the spring.

More tips for making Leaf Mold.

Check out the RHS website with more help and advice on leaf mold.

Aminopyralid

The Aminopyralid sometimes found in compost can be devastating for your crops. It is from a selective weedkiller used on grasses so may be in lawn weedkiller. It can get into compost via the hay fed to horses.

I have read somewhere that it can take up to two years for it to disappear from your soil.

As much care as possible is taken to ensure that organic material delivered to Humber Allotments is free from such chemicals.

This article by Stephanie Hafferty and this video by Charles Dowding explain the problem.

Who wants some free compost ?


Answer – everyone !

Here is how, using Woodchips supplied by Urban Surgeons to Humber Avenue Community Allotments.

To compost wood chips fast, you should ensure the chips are as small as possible, check the carbon-nitrogen ratio of your compost heap is correct, and turn the heap often. Wood chips are carbon-rich, so you might need to up the nitrogen content by adding grass clippings, fruit and vegetable scraps, or even leftover coffee grounds to your compost pile.

Let’s take a look at these tips in a bit more detail:

Required Tools:

– A fork

– A wood chipper (optional)

Things Needed?

– Lawn clippings

– Coffee grounds

– Fertilizer

Steps to make wood chips compost faster

1: Make your wood chips smaller.

Just as large branches of wood break down slower than smaller branches, larger wood chips decompose slower than smaller ones. If your wood chips are taking too long to break down, they are likely too big; chopping them down to a smaller size means they will decompose much faster. 

If you don’t want to pay a tree surgeon and can’t buy, borrow, or rent a wood chipper from one, we recommend checking out the rest of the tips. However, if your wood chips are too large, they will still be slow to compost even if you do everything else right.

2: Get the Nitrogen Ratio Right

If you’re looking to throw the wood chips onto your compost pile, the best way to get them to decompose faster is to introduce the right amount of nitrogen-rich material to get the heap hot. You can throw on a ready-made fertiliser or composting agent which will add nitrogen sources, but we like to do things the old-fashioned way around here. So you’re looking to add organic and natural sources that are full of nitrogen content. 

Organic ‘green’ materials such as lawn clippings, coffee grounds, vegetable and fruit scraps, fresh flowers, and leaves should be on top of your list. They’re bursting with the ingredients you need to get those microbes kickstarted and begin composting wood chips. 

Don’t forget, though, that you shouldn’t overdo the nitrogen source. You might think that because you have a whole pile of wood chips, you should add a whole pile of nitrogen material and get the process done faster, but it doesn’t work that way! Overdoing the nitrogen will mean your optimum bacteria levels will get right out of balance, and you’ll end up with a stinky mess that’s less compost, more swamp. Keep the nitrogen ratio at only 20 percent of your pile; the other 80% should be your wood chips, cardboard, tree bark, and other carbon-rich materials. Getting this ratio right will ensure you have an efficient compost pile.

3: Turn Your Compost Pile More Often.

Once the hot compost has done its work in a certain area of the pile, the decomposition process will slow down if you don’t keep the microbes happy with more work. To do this, you need to turn the pile. The benefits are many: you put oxygen into every layer of the pile (which boosts decomposition), you improve drainage, and you spread the active microbes throughout the pile, allowing them to work on more wood chips.

You should be turning once every three weeks or so in the summer, but less often in the winter, because you don’t want to let too much heat escape. Depending on the pile’s height and size, you might want to invest in a compost turning tool or aerator – but a fork will normally do the job just fine.

4: Add Nitrogen-Rich Ingredients

The composting process is a delicate one that needs a whole pile of ingredients, finely balanced for optimum effect. But there are ways to up the speed of composting wood chips if time is of the essence. 

Fertilizer, as mentioned earlier, can be a great way to top up your nitrogen levels. This is especially important if you’re composting in the wintertime when everything slows down. You’re unlikely to have much in the way of grass clippings or green branches from plants if you’re not tending to the garden as much. 

Commercial fertilizer is also an important source of ammonium sulfate, which adds nitrogen but at the same time works to lower the soil pH of your compost. If the soil pH is too high, it’s too alkaline, so balance it out by shifting it to a slightly more acidic place on the pH scale. 

Another kind of compound using ammonia is ammonium nitrate. It’s a rapid way of introducing nitrogen into compost piles, so again if you need to compost wood chips fast, then you might want to think of kickstarting the decomposition process. 

Another thing you could try is to add some animal manure, for example, horse manure. Sounds gross, but horses feed on huge amounts of grass and other organic matter every day, and as a result, their gut microbes are a perfect source of nitrogen. Your local stables will be only too happy to have you take some off their hands!

How Do You Make Compost out of Wood Chips?

If you already have a compost pile, adding wood chips is the same as introducing any other high-carbon material, including wood, branches, bark, dead leaves, or cardboard. Treat the compost pile as you always have, and you’ll be fine.

But if you’re looking to turn a wood chip pile into a compost pile, or you don’t otherwise have a compost pile in your garden, it’s a great way to get into the composting game. To make your wood chip compost pile, you’ll first need to put a layer of wood chips on some bare earth. Then add some organic materials such as grass, kitchen waste (organic food waste), and other nitrogen-rich materials.

Then, more wood chips. Maybe on top of this, add some manure before another layer of wood chips. As you can see, you’re layering the pile, but you’re not adding too much nitrogen. Depending on the size of your compost pile, you might need more or fewer layers, but keeping that 4:1 carbon to nitrogen balance is key.

Don’t forget to turn the pile! Wood chips have a great advantage in that the shape of a wood chip allows for plenty of oxygen, but you still need to actively get the microbes working all over the pile for the composting process to work properly.

How To Use Your Finished Wood Chip Compost

Now you’ve got a good amount of high quality, wood chip compost, use this around your garden. Even if your compost pile hasn’t fully broken down all of the wood chips, if its otherwise finished compost, you can still use it.

Wood chip compost can still help with water drainage, preventing pests, weed growth and the effects of frost on and around your plants. Whatever you decide to do with your wood chips, you’re recycling organic material, which is always important!

Soil Health


An article by Charles Dowding. Posted here with his permission.

Serotonin

Light levels are falling and we need contact with healthy soil.
This study of beneficial bacteria explains how soil’s Mycobacterium vaccae enables production of serotonin in our brains – the good mood hormone.
I am happy when there is some soil on the root vegetables I eat.

◦ Soil brings health
◦ Health is a positive state, considerably more than ‘absence of disease’
◦ Healthy gut microbes are vital for well-being, and no dig soil contains a lot of them.

I want more people to have access to healthy soil #nodigforlife
We are organising the campaign and feel free to email Nicola at admin@charlesdowding.co.uk for details, or to share your ideas.

Community Gardens 

We asked Flo Garvey to tell us all about the Sarratt Community Garden in West Hertfordshire: she is the founder and main organiser. Flo said,
“I would encourage anyone to start or help with a community garden, no matter how big or small the plot may be! Be prepared to work very hard, be patient, be flexible, be welcoming, take set-backs in your stride, form partnerships, and it will give you back so much more than you put in”.
Flo shares excellent advice which we shall include in a ‘get your community growing’ guide, once it is all finalised. To start with here is the video where Flo shows you the garden
Do follow her channel

Microbes

I have been working with Eddie Bailey, a geologist who is looking at many soils through microscopes (@touchstonesoil on Twitter), and he has been learning about the soil food web with Professor Elaine Ingham. In Homeacres no dig soil, Eddie is finding unusually high numbers of diatoms, which are unicellular algae and silica rich. “Living diatoms make up a significant portion of the Earth’s  biomass: they generate 20 to 50 percent of oxygen produced on the planet each year” (Wikipedia).

Below are x 400 photos of Homeacres no dig bed on the left, dig bed on the right, see my Trials page for more info. 

No dig on the left has a diatom in the middle at a 45 degree angle, and aggregates of soil particles, from healthy amounts of mycelial glue (glomalin) plus soil being undisturbed.

The dig soil on right shows little aggregation, and Eddie found very few diatoms or amoeba in its soil sample.