Archive for April, 2009

Growing our own strawberries

Our strawberries today

Our strawberries today

Now we’ve decided to get our hands dirty – even without a garden – there’s no stopping us ūüôā When we got our Potato Kit we also grabbed some herbs and strawberries. They’re a token effort, but are keeping our spirits up while we try to get a garden of our own. This evening I got back in from work to find my wife and daughter adding gravel to the pot to keep the strawberries off the soil – seems like this is becoming a family hobby – fantastic.

Now we just have to keep them alive until we get some berries!

Just after planting, two weeks ago

Just after planting, two weeks ago

Home grown Spinach

We’ve been enjoying a taste of our future the last two nights – delicious home grown Spinach. It’s one of the great grow-your-own cliches that home-grown food tastes immeasurably¬†better than anything store-bought. Now this didn’t come from our garden – it was generously donated from my Mother’s allotment, so we can’t put the fantastic taste down to a warm, worthy glow from our own harvesting. And the taste was fantastic.

I’m not usually that bothered by Spinach, can take it or leave it, but last night I was onto thirds before we ran out, and I’d have kept going if there was more. So now I’m really looking forward to our own home-grown veges!

The recipes? Last night we had it rinsed, wilted, and served with butter and pepper. Tonight we had the rest with chicken in a cheese sauce.

Yum. Bring on our first harvest!

Finally getting our hands dirty – growing our own potatoes

OK, so we don’t have a house yet, so no garden yet, but the gorgeous weather has got our green fingers itching. So we’re taking the “portable garden” route, and using containers so that we can start playing (& learning!). We’re not taking this incredibly seriously so we’ve just started at our local garden centre with a Potato Growing Kit, some strawberries and herbs.¬†

The kit cost £7, and had three plastic bags and nine seed potatoes that were already starting to sprout! Compost (peat-free) was another £12, so our total spend was almost £20.  There were three varieties in the kit РDuke of York, Maris Peer, and Carlingford Рwith three seed potatoes for each. We planted them pretty-much according to the instructions on the kit, but with a bit of our own creativity. One variety went into each bag, about a third full of compost. The kit then suggested filling the bags up to the top with the remaining compost, but we went for the quicker gratification that came from covering the potatoes with a couple of inches, and then planning to earth-up the stems as they grow.

After a couple of weeks we’ve now got leaves coming up from every seed potato! We’re all excited – it’s not a bad success rate so far so it’ll be interesting to see what sort of yield we end up getting – if any!

The other great part of this is how excited our eldest is about them. She’s only three, but she’s really enjoyed planting them, and now shows off¬†the shoots to¬†every vistor we have.

Photos of our efforts below . . . 

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Growing Dwarf Bananas in the UK

musa-super-dwarfNo, I’m not joking. We used to grow bananas, in our Brisbane garden, and had a fair bit of success. Those plants were about 4m high though – and the climate was sub-tropical!

Imagine my surprise then when I saw that one of Monty Don’s favourite fruits to grow is a banana! Admittedly a dwarf banana, but even so – growing bananas in Britain! I had expected those to be one of the items that would become unavailable, or an expensive luxury, in a post-peak-oil world but it turns out we might be able to grow them in a conservatory or greenhouse in our back garden. The variety Monty recommended was a Dwarf Cavendish, which gets to 6-7ft before fruiting, with leaves 2ft long and 6″ wide. It’s a lot smaller than our Lady Finger bananas in Brisbane, but still pretty big for a greenhouse or polytunnel.¬†

There is an even smaller version avalable though – the¬†Musa Cavendish Super Dwarf Banana. These fruit when they are only 4ft tall – and look like a much better candidate for a greenhouse or polytunnel, as long as you can keep them above 3¬įc. Might make it onto my planting list if I have the space!


Choosing a wormery to compost our kitchen scraps

wastebuster-maxiPutting out the rubbish is always one of those contentious jobs in our house. It’s never really been clear whose job it is (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it) so the bin gets more and more packed full of decomposing leftovers until emptying is incredibly unpleasant and smelly.

But no more! In our new house we’re going to compost everything that we can, with the ultimate aim of never needing a plastic rubbish bag again. Anything squishy should be being composted. End of story. Once our Aquaponics system is up and running I want to have a Black Soldier Fly composting system which will take everything – including meat, fish, eggs, dairy – and which will also provide larvae to feed to our fish. I’m never one to depend on just one solution or species though, so we’re also going to try out a wormery first. This should get us started, but can’t take all the trickier waste.

Inspired by Compost Awareness Week, I found a whole heap of great links on¬†, so here’s what I now know about wormeries:

  • They use different worms to those you’ll usually find in the ground
  • You can feed the worms to fish ūüôā
  • Don’t trust the legs on them – a full wormery can be pretty heavy
  • You’re better off with one that is wider rather than deeper – gets more air to the compost
  • Worms eat loads (up to their body weight¬†each day)¬†
  • They breed fast, but won’t over populate
  • They don’t need daily attention – they’ll survive a good holiday as long as you feed them properly

You can make your own wormery, and buy the worms separately, but when getting started the best thing to do seems to be to buy a complete kit. There are lots of these available, and a quick look seems to suggest that the¬†Wormcity EcoWormery¬†is the best buy – for ¬†¬£40. I’ll add it to my shopping list!

Wormery Suppliers

Compost Awareness Week

go_logo50Now this seems like another joke post . . . but it isn’t there really is a Compost Awareness Week. It’s being run by the fantastic bunch over at Garden Organic, who really seem to be at the forefront of all the issues surrounding getting people in Britain growing sustainably. as one of their initiatives they’ve setup a website dedicated to encouraging home composting ( and are busy assembling a national network of Master Composters to help out those of us who never have much luck! This year I think we’ll try out a wormery, and when I get my Aquaponics system up and running I want to try a Black Soldier Fly composting system, which will compost pretty much anything (including meat scraps) and will then produce larvae that can be fed to the fish in the Aquaponics system.

Anyway, don’t miss it ūüôā – Compost Awareness Week is¬†Sunday 3 ‚Äď Saturday 9 May 2009. ¬†Keep an eye on¬†¬†for details of local events.

Mushroom Kits or Mushroom Compost?

fungiblock1I’ve been doing a bit of research and have been coming to the conclusion that growing mushrooms is pretty hard work and that it seems that the Mushroom kits are generally not worth trying. Most people seem to have had no luck at all with the standard button-mushroom kits bought from supermarkets, and the only really positive story was about a Shiitake mushroom kit from Ardna Mushrooms, who really seem to know their stuff. The simplest way to get one of their kits is from West Highland Crafts, and there is a great motivational video from Gardeners’ World showing how to grow Shiitake and Oyster mushrooms with kits and dowels – makes it look very easy. Even so I’m thinking mushrooms might be a second-year project rather than an initial, easy dalliance.

The only consistent way people seem to get crops of button mushrooms seems to be from spent mushroom compost – so I’m wondering whether it’s possible to get spent mushroom compost (containing the mushroom mycellium), and “top-it-up” with new, home-made, mushroom compost to reinvigorate it. Seems to be the cheap-and cheerful way to mess about before getting serious and buying “Growing Gourmet and Medicinal Mushrooms” by Paul Stamets, over at Fungi Perfecti.

There was a great description on how to make your own Mushroom Compost over at, even simpler than my previous post on Mushroom Compost:

The perfect ‘substrate’ on which to grow mushrooms is well rotted horse manure. Either purchase ready, pre-packaged manure or if you can obtain fresh manure simply add 20% wet straw and leave outside in a heap, the centre of the heap should become hot within hours. Turn it over weeky and keep moist but not wet. When the heap has rotted sufficiently it will no longer be hot in the middle. When it has been composted and become dark brown with little or no smell it is ready to use. You will need approx 5kg of well rotted manure for one packet of mushroom spawn. Mix the spawn into the well rotted manure and place in a sturdy plastic bag or crate, firming it down well. Then mix equal quantities of sieved garden soil (from just below the surface) with ordinary multipurpose compost and use it to cover the manure and spawn mix witha a 2.5cm layer known as ‘casing’.

Keep the bag or crate in an airy garage, shed, greenhouse, cold frame or cellar at a temperature of approx 15 – 20C. Ensure the earth layer or ‘casing’ remains moist but not wet. The first mushrooms should begin to appear in 20 -30 days, often in flushes 8 to 10 days apart, until the substrate is exhausted. To harvest your mushrooms grasp the base of the stem and rock them free from the compost, avoid pulling as this damages the mycelium for further crops. Button mushrooms are at their best when the caps just begin to open.