In these days of climate change with extreme heat and lack of rain, even in the UK, one has to think about how to keep plants hydrated. I went away for three weeks recently and had only just bought a lavender plants before leaving. I was worried about it dying while I was away. So I used a weed- nettles which grow well in my terrace- to make a green mulch.
The green mulch would not only save the soil from drying out but also as the nettle dried out, it would nourish the soil. It also would prevent other weeds from growing in the pot. I had first learnt about green mulch from some Cuban organic farmers who had used it during the ‘crisis’ days to grow urban food but had never used it myself.
Almost four weeks later, this is the result. The plant looks healthy and has grown well while the nettle has dried and become part of the soil. Some small weeds have grown in the pot but those will also form part of the new green mulch. This was so effortless and economical that I’m going to use it again and again.
This Christmas a lot of tinsel, wrapping paper and cards will make their way to you via many different routes. Tinsel is not recyclable (so I reuse the tinsel that I actually found 12 years ago on the street) and any wrapping paper that doesn’t stay crumpled up, is not recyclable (try crumpling a part of it and see). Each card takes about 140 kgs of CO2 to make and send- enough for two cups of tea.
One of my cards made out of the box that my Panettone came in!
For years, I have been using the same plastic Christmas tree and its decorations so it is as sustainable as I can get.
Our 12 year old Christmas tree!
I generally believe that living plants should stay living, in its natural habitat but terrariums are another thing. Especially during cold and wet days, it is quite nice to do indoor gardening!
This year, instead of buying flowers, I made a terrarium and a planted pot to decorate the Christmas table. Here is the step by step guide to both (which are slightly different to what you will find elsewhere). So first the things you need-
Activated charcoal (from an aquarium or pet shop)
Pebbles and rocks (I had some and bought some from the pet shop and washed them carefully)
Moss (I got these from the pots outside)
Different plants- I bought a fern (asplenium), a plant with colourful leaves(Fittonia Skeleton) and an orchid (Dendrobium Berry Oda)
A glass bottle (I had a leaky one which I’ve used)
packets of desiccator usually found with food
Any decorative things- I had some sea shells, sticks, and bigger rocks
Tools which included a newspaper to cover the table, a cloth to wipe, a wood spoon to tap soil and place the plants inside the bottle, secateurs, and a plastic funnel (the one I used was a leftover from an old dishwasher)
The first step was to wash the bottle thoroughly. Once it was dry, I put in the desiccators first and sprinkled some charcoal around it. Then I put in the washed pebbles, following it up with some more activated charcoal. One advantage of choosing colourful rocks was that the charcoal doesn’t look too out of place.
Instead of buying more soil, I used the ones in the pots- they were were more than enough. I put in the soil next. All my plants were quite big, so it I had to divide them up. The Fittonia was easy to do but the fern and the orchid were hard. I looked up various articles on how to do this on the internet but I’m still not sure about the orchid (which was the most expensive thing to buy!). Time will tell if these plants will survive although I’ve followed the instructions. Upon reflection, my advice will be to buy the smallest possible plants which will grow into bigger ones and are also easy to handle. On the cons of that, you will need to buy enough potting soil.
Dividing the orchid was difficult!
Planning the inside is also an art- you don’t want it to be overcrowded but to look well managed. The plants need space to grow and breathe. So I have placed the plants well apart as the orchid was pretty big.
There was enough soil and plants to make another pretty pot, so I did that using all the leftovers. This is what it looks like.
Merry Christmas and happy holidays!
And here are some ideas from Tom Dixon Studios for some fun terrariums (they don’t need many plants only a sense of humour and creativity!)
Those of you following the blog since last year will know that I created a small home composting system. This consisted very simply of putting a plastic pot inside a large planter and covering it with a double lid. Today, I went to see what it was looking like. Here it is, some compost made from kitchen waste six months ago without any additional help-
As the stuff gets composted, it gets compacted and goes down and so I added some more fresh peelings and kitchen waste into it today. I will also be using some accelerator to see if that helps to speed up the composting. As the weather has been so wet, this is not ideal but at least it seems to be working. Inside my kitchen, I have made a four part sorting system- one bin for composting, one bag for cooked food waste, one for dry rubbish and a big bag for recyclables. I tried using a normal sized rubbish bin and realised that it was taking weeks to fill up with the result that the cooked food waste thrown in was getting mouldy. I also have very little cooked food waste which is not compostable in the above manner and so this four part sorting means that I can use my peelings and tea and coffee grinds for compost, crushed egg shells for staving off slugs and also for sprinkling on the pots. The small rubbish is kept in crisp packets or similar size bags that I was going to throw away anyway. This way my kitchen also doesn’t have any mouldy stuff while I save on buying bin bags! Of course, this kind of system will only work if you have small bits of non compostable rubbish and don’t eat lots of meat, etc. Here are my carrot tops growing in my home made compost.
I have been looking into composting for those living in apartments in cities with only containers. So far there are not many options apart from communal composting and small wormeries/bokashi bins. Worms are quite delicate creatures and the thought of killing the worms has prevented me from using worm composting. Bokashi bins also need investment in terms of buying the bokashi powder and perhaps also having a wormery to go with it. So having tried the composting using plastic sheeting last year, I thought of another variation.
This consists of taking elements of composting bins and using them differently, utilising my knowledge as an architect. So I took an ordinary plastic pot and have started filling it up with kitchen waste. It is covered up to prevent flies and other vermin from reaching it. But the main thing is it is placed inside the container as shown in the photo on the right. The holes at the bottom of the plastic pot drain into the soil and therefore there is no mess. The nutrients reach where they need to. The soil around the pot keeps it insulated much as a piece of carpet or double walled construction would. At present, as you can see, the plants are loving it and I have had no problem with this. The waste keeps getting compacted automatically and I keep putting new material in. You have to be careful with the balance of dry and wet materials- I found out. Too much wet stuff like apple or pear cores is not good- I balance it out with onion skins, twigs, dry soil etc but this is much easier than using a shop bought composting bin and reuse of the many plastic pots that come free with any plant purchase. Also, so far no cleaning has been involved and no smells! This home made ‘mini composting bin’ has been working well. I hope to report later in spring to see how it all went.
I have been trying to make compost for some time. Living in an apartment, I do not have access to soil- all my plants are grown in containers. I looked at buying a composter but found not only the costs and maintenance difficult but after reading reviews, realised that not all composters work effectively. I don’t have the money to try experiments to see which composter might work.
So working on the principle of Hügelkultur, I put all my cuttings from gardening and cooking, leftover soil from pots and some shop bought compost as a ‘starter’ and wrapped it in plastic sheeting and left it for a year inside a used tyre. Today, I unrolled it. Apart from the slugs, spiders, wood lice and earthworms, I have lovely black compost! It felt warm to the touch, so it must have been composting and some weeds have taken advantage of this!
Hügelkultur is a composting process where one creates raised planting beds on top of decaying wood debris and other compostable biomass plant materials. The process helps to improve soil fertility, water retention, and soil warming, thus benefiting plants grown on or near such mounds. This idea replicates the natural process of decomposition that occurs on forest floors. I had previously used this idea in the planter itself, copying this from the Cuban urban gardeners who had to work with poor soil inside cities.
I came across this funny video about making water absorbing soil from nappies. Some thoughts-
1. You don’t need to do this for outdoor plants, only house plants, unlike what the video says. Outdoor plants get water from rain or from the soil. Adding these gels is unnecessary and might pollute if washed away.
2. But you don’t really need nappies even- many water supply companies supply such gels for free- I have mine from Thameswater (see the blue packets in the photo). Try and see if your water supply company will send them- all water suppliers are anxious to reduce water waste. I am also trying to re-use the desiccants that you get with food (as in the bottom of the photo below)- will let you know how I get on!
3. Do remember that you will need to have unused nappies lying around to do this- to simply buy nappies to do this is not the way of the canny gardener! Also, do ignore that plug for Volkswagen cars at the end!