Coriander seedlings growing on the balcony
I’m not very good at waiting. I know patience is hailed as a key trait for gardeners, but I like to get a move on and do things. Which is why I’ve been hard at work in the garden before we have even planned it.
Some of this is very necessary. That bindweed needed to come up, and quickly before it got any bigger (it was already running across the lawn and tripping up unsuspecting visitors. And once I had uprooted the couch grass, it started to become obvious what sort of garden we would be working with.
So I’m scribbling away on graph paper, and pulling tape measures out all over the garden at present. But to convince myself that I am in fact achieving something, I’ve started a few other projects as well.
‘Red Salad Bowl’ Lettuce grown as a cut and come again salad on the balcony
The balcony at the top of our fire escape will house most of our sun-seeking veg next year: tomatoes, peppers and herbs. But for the time being I’ve sown cut and come again salad leaves into a number of containers. I sowed ‘Red Salad Bowl’ Lettuce as a cut-and-come-again (CCA) salad leaf – which means I have planted it more intensively, and am harvesting the coppery leaves as soon as they reach 3-4inches. I also sowed a mixed salad leaf seed mixture that I received with my copy of Gardens Illustrated around a very small lavender in a pot. This includes Red Russian Kale, Rocket, Mizuna, Chervil and Tatsoi. This second CCA sowing has a far stronger flavour than the lettuce. We’re managing to harvest a cereal bowl worth of leaves every evening for supper.
The trick with CCA is to sow the next batch of leaves as soon as the first has germinated. This means that no matter how much you pick, you’ll always have more emerging, which gives each plant the chance to grow back more leaves.
Windfall apples, grass clipping and carboard are chucked into the heap on top of horse manure.
The second task has been assembling a compost heap. This has become rather addictive. I’m working on a very limited budget, and as exciting as the big plastic compost bins look, they are simply too expensive. So I visited my local Wickes and asked them if I could take home four disused pallettes that I espied lying next to a skip in the car park. Once at home, I nailed these together, and hinged the fourth pallette on to make a door. The 1x1m heap cost me £3 (the cost of the hinges).
Next, filling the heap. This is when gardeners need to beware of becoming fixated with gathering as much organic matter as possible. Turf lifted from the top of the garden, weeds (excluding bindweed and its white roots, dandelions, and any plants which had set seed), kitchen waste and grass clippings were not enough, it transpired.
So it was only a matter of time really before you found me in the field of a local riding stables, shovelling horse manure from their muck heap into two large boxes. My excitement when I discovered hundreds of brandling worms wriggling about in the muck knew no bounds.
And this weekend, I gathered up two large buckets full of windfall apples which had fallen from a neighbouring tree into the drive. It has all been chucked onto the heap, along with old cardboard, had a bucket of water chucked over it, and tucked up snugly underneath old carpet to keep it warm. And slowly, we’re starting to make our mark on the Garden from Scratch.
Insulate your compost heap with old carpet and some blocks of wood on top. This will keep the compost snug and warm (which will encourage it to cook even quicker) and will stop the rain washing all the nutrients away.