25 January 2010

Chris the compost pile grouch

2004 saw the introduction of the Recycle Now home composting scheme, a subsidised drive part funded by WRAP and local authorities to get 1.6 million British households composting their green and brown waste at home.

Reasons which are either good for the environment, good for the taxpayer, or both abound; to ease the burden on Google I've dug out a few of the big ones for you.
  • The main environmental threat from biowaste is the production of methane in landfills, which accounted for some 3% of total greenhouse gas emissions in the EU-15 in 1995. The Landfill Directive 1999/31/EC obliges Member States to reduce the amount of biodegradable waste that they landfill to 35% of 1995 levels by 2016, which will significantly reduce the problem. The Commission's priority is to ensure that Member States comply with this legal requirement fully and on time. (Source: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/waste/compost/index.htm)
  • Under Waste Strategy 2000, statutory targets for recycling and composting were set for local authorities in England for 2003/04 and 2005/06. England has successfully met and exceeded its 17% target for 2003/04 and our current recycling rates for 2004/05 indicate that we are on target to meet the 25% target of household waste to be recycled or composted by 2005/06.

    As part of the review of England's Waste Strategy, the Government is proposing to increase those statutory targets to 40% by 2010, 45% by 2015 and 50% by 2020. Under the EU Landfill Directive, the UK also has to meet targets for the reduction of biodegradable municipal waste sent to landfill. (Source: http://www.defra.gov.uk/environment/waste/topics/compost/index.htm)
  • Landfill tax is charged on anything that goes to landfill, rates for 2009/2010 stand at £40/ton. (Source: http://www.defra.gov.uk/ENVIRONMENT/waste/topics/index.htm)
So, recycling is good, landfill is bad. We all know that.

But what to do if you live in a flat, the council doesn't offer you a green waste collection and your only outside space is made of metal and 30 feet up in the air?

Unsurprisingly, there's some crap for that.

Crap is perhaps a little harsh, but most composting solutions offered through the scheme or from your local garden centre involve plastic bins (made of oil, never degrade and use a good chunk of energy to produce and then recycle) which kind of takes away the warm fuzzy feeling that we all like to get whilst doing something good for the environment (come on, admit it, you love that fuzzy feeling).

The offending/enabling item in question is a bran based Bokashi setup, capable of composting fruit/veg/meat/fish/dairy waste, that includes 2 counter-top bins with taps on the bottom of them, a little scoop and a kilo of Bokashi Bran available for £25.

This setup turns all your kitchen waste into liquid compost, 18 litres per bin, of liquid compost., per month.

We now know that it is possible to compost on a balcony, but is it a good idea?

If you don't have use for 18 litres a month of liquid compost, probably not. And given that in the last 6 months of 2009 I used 7 litres of organic liquid compost between 12 lettuce, 4 spinach plants, 8 strawberry plants, a large tomato plant, 2 sweet and 2 chilli pepper plants you may struggle...unless you have a very large roof terrace, or plants with the eating habits of a heavyweight boxer.

I'm entirely sure that fellow balcony gardeners are/were composting and would love to hear your stories of success or failure.

In the mean time, you'll be able to find me sat in my trash can, grumbling over my waste kitchen scraps.

Now leave me alone and get lost!

19 January 2010

Cold weather keeps elevated agriculture on ice - best read a book!

With the remnants of last years crops still firmly frozen in their earthy tombs, I felt the best way to spend my time was re-reading a few books and given that I've not been out on the balcony making a mess, you lot get to read about what I've been reading about (lucky you!).

So here's a little bit of me writing about someone else, writing about gardening. If you like what you read (and why shouldn't you?!) then mosey on over to www.ireadiwatchediplayed.co.uk for more!

Allotted Time: Twelve Months, Two Blokes, One Shed, No Idea [Hardcover] - Robin Shelton

I picked up the hardcover edition of this book back in mid May 2009 from my local charity shop and a week later found myself purchasing bags of compost, pots, planters, seeds, drip trays, strawberry plants, bamboo canes and twine - and a few weeks after that marveling that I too could make things grow.

Robin Shelton, a diagnosed manic depressive, graduate jewelery designer, loving dad of two and some time art & design teacher - gently and entertainingly guides you through the year long journey that he and his neighbour Steve take to becoming fully fledged agriculturists. From thinking that an allotment might be a good idea after a few beers, to taking on a desolate disused plot, clearing it, planting it and eventually actually growing something on it.

This is not a how to guide, but rather a journal of one mans year on the allotment and as such features quite a lot of content on Robins relationships with his father (deceased), his two young sons, his mother (who is always right when he wants her to be!), his neighbour Steve, Charlie the Dog (wall eyed with bricks for brains) and his mental health - much more than just veg and as a result a more engaging and interesting read that any other gardening book I have read to date.

4/5 Thoroughly enjoyable for both those who enjoy being knee deep in a rich compost and their counterparts who couldn't give a fork.

9 January 2010

done and dusted (in snow)

Monday saw the Snow and Wind hitting hard, with temperatures dropping to -5.5*C and my promise of getting outside to clear up the mess left by the previous winter storm in danger of being broken.

With a positively tropical -1*C showing on the ever optimistic (45*C in the summer?) and somewhat unreliable (the needle can be moved by shaking it...)  thermometer, I donned the thermals and headed outside.

The main job for the day was to cut back anything (everything), that was dead or "sleeping". So, that would be the tomato plant, both the sweet Kuros and the Romital Hot peppers, all the lettuce and the spinach.


Several weeks back, I decided that the mint had to go, no matter how deep rooted it had become. Despite assurances from Sally (apparently being called Mrs. M makes her sound like an old woman) that fresh mint would be great for cups of peppermint tea, Twinnings tea bags proved more popular, so now it was taking up the deepest of the four planter bags and only being eaten by some small green caterpillars.

This clearly wouldn't do - after all when space is limited, there no room for bushy, green, ever expanding plants that provide no benefit to the gardener/cook - after 20 minutes of scrambling round in the dirt trying to banish every last bit of root from the planter, I was left with a Tesco carrier bag filled with lots of roots and a deep planter filled with lots of loosely packed organic compost ready for planting in the spring.

With the mint dispatched, I'm left wondering if anything else needs to go, afterall if it doesn't get eaten then why put the time, effort and love into growing it? Pepper plants and spinach, you could be next!

5 January 2010

30 foot up and 4 inches deep

Gardens across the land have suffered during the cold, wind and snow of the last few weeks and the balcony allotment here at elevated agriculture is no different.4 inches of snow on the balconyAs the Big Chill settled across the country and bit hard at the remaining crops of mint, lettuce, tomatoes and the persistently hardy Romital Hot chilli peppers, I considered stepping outside to scrape the worst of the snow off, but was deterred by the -2*C temperatures and an undying urge not to show the neighbours what by pajamas look like (blue stripes from M&S since you ask).

A week on and the snow was gone, along with the last crops of the year.withered pepper plantsThe leaves of all four pepper plants have dried out and curled in on themselves whilst the peppers themselves have shriveled like the withered fingers of a Shakespearean witch.

When shall we 4 meet again? (sorry). Pepper plants can be cut back and hibernate through the winter from what I have read, but generally it is advisable to bring them inside rather than let the elements have their wicked way.

lettuce and spinach apres skiThe lettuce and spinach went much the same way, with frost having bitten hard, leaving black burn marks on the leaves and wilted soft stems all round.tomatoes frost bitten hardAnd last but not least, the seeming irrepressible tomato plant finally curled up and died, with the final few tomatoes of the year split and oozing green seeds down the trellis.

This weekend will see the balcony cleared up, with anything that's truly dead removed, anything that can be saved cut back and all the muck, mud and other rubbish that has gathered between the drip trays, pots and the still unused Habitat concrete troughs binned.

The resident spiders will be left where they are given the benefit they offered in aphid reduction during my first 6 months of becoming an elevated agriculturist.

Roll on the Spring when I can go back to tending the plants without fear of frostbite or being blown off the edge by force 5 gales blowing in from the Siberian tundra.