Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Digging in the green manure and turning the composts.

I am going back to the routine of turning the compost in the Dalek bins every two days.  This time of year the compost breaks down very slowly because of the cold weather.  However, I still think that it is worth the effort of turning.  I slide the Dalek bins off the compost and the compost stays in position.  It’s a bit like taking the bucket off sand when making sand castles. 

I move the bin over one place and then put the compost back in the bin. 

It is easier to deal with if the compost stays in Dalek shape.  The top of the compost is put at the bottom of the Dalek bin with the fork.  I shake the compost as it is falling into the bin just to add a little more air and to break up some of the large pieces.  I use the shovel to scrape up the last of the heap and this ends up at the top of the bin.  I was given some runner bean straw just before Christmas and I added this to the compost.  When I turned this bin the runner bean tops were dry as an Albarino so I watered them with a little comfrey liquid. The comfrey liquid will help them to break down into some good nutrient rich compost. 

Although the comfrey liquid helps, the main factor in speeding up the process of decomposition seems to be the way air is introduced throughout the compost when it is turned.  Aerobic decomposition is much faster than anaerobic decay.  Turning it every two or three days does not allow the compost to exhaust the oxygen mixed into it or allow any noxious gases to build up and slow decomposition. 

I cannot detect a rise in temperature at all this time of year but the compost is still going through its changes. 

First everything turns blackish grey; next the compost begins to break up, bits of plastic, glass, stone and metal fall out of the compost, then large pieces of wood start to become soft and crumbly; after that you can’t tell what the compost was made from and it becomes more soil like.  This usually takes about a month and, when it has really broken down, it can be sieved through the bread tray.

I put a lot of weed turfs of mainly couch grass into the compost bins this time and didn’t give them a second glance, however they have been full of metal tent hooks that have fallen out of the compost as the turfs broke down.  I have about thirty hooks now. 

I put some really rough material in the bins and am always amazed when this breaks down.  The old ivy and blackcurrant stems are the thickest things I have put into the compost this time.  They are about twenty millimetres in diameter.  I am confident that they will break down and make some good compost that can be added to the vegetable plots - eventually. 

As I turn the compost I break up large pieces with the shovel and this increases its surface area and speeds up decomposition.  Several of the pumpkins started to rot because I have not been able to eat them quickly enough.  They were put in the Dalek bins whole but did not begin to rot completely until I broke them up with the shovel. 

I reckon that I will have some adequate compost by the end of February and this will be quite convenient because I can use it on the vegetable beds before sowing seeds or planting out seedlings. 

I will endeavour to turn the compost again on Friday.  It might be a lot of effort to no great gain but it keeps me fit if nothing else. 

As does digging in the green manure.  Although the ground was quite wet, it was still suitable for digging over.  As I was treading on thick, rank, green manure, it did not compact the soil very much.  I have dug over both the allium beds and have room to plant the garlic, elephant garlic and shallots.  I might do this tomorrow if it doesn’t snow. 

As I was digging in the green manure, I also added some of the well rotted farmyard manure.  With this amount of good organic matter, I doubt if I will have to add any other fertiliser. 

The apple scions have come a little earlier than I was expecting.  Really they need to be kept until the end of March before they are grafted onto the rootstock. 

This time I have the

                                Cooking apple “Bardsey”

                                Desert apple “Coeur de Boeuf”

                                Cider apple “Ellis Bitter”

                                Desert apple “Sturmer Pippin”

                                Desert apple “Christmas Pearmain”

                                Desert apple “Mosses Seedling”  

                                Desert apple “Claygate Pearmain”

                                Desert apple “Court of Wick”

                                Desert apple “Gala”

                        And desert apple “Kidd’s Orange”

Reading Abercrombe’s “Every man his own gardener” it is obvious that they thought grafting was a normal gardening activity.  However, nowadays there is some thought that apple trees should be grown on their own roots. 

Nothing much changes

In the 1700s grafting was used to increase the stock of good tasting and heavy cropping fruit.  Also it provided a tree that began fruiting earlier than those grown from a pip or cutting.  They grafted onto year old plants that were grown from pips.  The rootstock was not particularly dwarfing or disease resistant but just a convenient root stock to grow wanted varieties on. 

Now we can get a root stock that will grow less vigorously; to a lower known height and more disease free than those grown on their own roots. 

If you are growing apples as espaliers or cordons, there is a need to keep them fairly small and less vigorous so that there is less work to do when pruning. 

If you are growing apples as standard trees then I don’t see any difficulty in growing them on their own roots.  However, if you want to grow apples as espalier or cordon then a root stock seems to be the best alternative.  I will get a greater number of a greater variety of apples on my allotment growing espalier apples that ever I could growing them as standards on their own roots. 


  1. Was interesting to hear that current thinking is pointing to growing apple varieties on their own roots. I assume that helps with better desease resistance?

  2. I don't think that there is a major movement to growing fruit on their own roots but, considering it carefully, I don't see any problem if you have the room. Some fruit trees can grow very big and harvesting the fruit could be a problem. I don't think that they would be any more prone to diseases than those grown on rootstock. If you want a standard size and fairly good crops, like the commercial bods do, then grafting may be worthwhile. I graft to reduce the size of the trees in order to train them to espalier or cordon. This way I get lots of trees into a relatively small area of allotment.

  3. That makes more sense. I guess the only problem is making sure you get the apple of a type you want. Do they root them from cuttings?

  4. Although I have never attempted it, yes they seem to take cuttings and root them. My M26 rootstock I bought this year seems to be rooted cuttings. As to variety, the trees from cuttings will be the same as the tree not the rootstock. Might try cuttings this summer to see if they root.

  5. I love your Dalek compost bins. Would love to have a couple but can't seem to locate any locally in my Dallas, TX vicinity.
    Is there a secret source or is distribution limited? Thanks!
    P.S. Love your Blog. As one of those who enjoys studying and admiring other peoples gardens, I check in regularly.

    1. I am based in UK Barbee and the Dalek compost bins are quite easy to obtain. I don't know whether you can get them in the US.

  6. Is that what they're really 'officially' called? Dalek composters? (I get the Dr Who reference but was wondering if there is another model identity to help me in my search) Thanks for your reply.

  7. I think that Darlek bins have several different names in the UK. Blackwall 330 litre Black Compost Converter; Bentley Garden Compost Converter 220 Litre; Green 220 Litre Compost Converter. Maybe if you put compost converter into your search engine you might find a supplier in Texas. I'd ask my brother who lives in Huston but he is working in Warsaw, Poland at the moment.
    I have never bought one so I am surprised about how much they cost here in the UK.

  8. Oh Thanks! I found something similar on the internet: US$200+ before shipping charges added. I was surprised at the cost as well!
    I'll keep looking and try those brands you mentioned.

  9. Just so you don't think that I stole all of mine - they were all given to me by allotmenteers that did not want them any more. Such an expense to just give away.

  10. You're funny-and very generous w/ your time. Thank you.
    Most likely I'll just stick w/ the good ole' wire enclosure. Lot's cheaper that way, albeit much slower.

  11. Sounds good to me Barbee. I would be using the wooden pallets if I hadn't been given so many of the Dalek bins.