Monday, 2 March 2015

Lazy Watering

It is said that the laziest people take the most pains.  At least this is one of the sayings that my mother used to say when I was a child, however its total absence from common use in my adult life makes me wonder.  I am lazy in the way that will cause me to go to great trouble to solve a minor problem.  It is very appropriate to my current garden project.
Last years’ planting was not an unmitigated disaster, but to call a glittering success would be an outright lie.  I think the details of that deserve more details elsewhere, but the upshot is that something needs to change if my planting is to be worthwhile.
I first came upon the idea of self watering plant pots in an article in the permaculture magazine by vertical veg, who in turn got the idea from rooftop gardens project in Montreal.  This was a few years back, I was instantly taken with the idea and resolved to make one some day. 

The need to get my plants out of the penetrating wind that passes through the garden meant that the best option would probably be containers on the patio and I’m not sure I can be bothered with all that watering.  So a self watering system called.
Conceptually a self watering system is quite simple.  Two containers are place one above the other, the bottom one contains water and the top one contains soil and plants.  between them you have some sort of wick to allow the water into the soil without drowning it.  If you are going for a genuinely self watering system then you need the water level to be self maintaining.
The example that appeared in the Permaculture magazine used lengths of pipe with holes drilled to make hollow legs that are filled with soil and water allowing it to wick up into the main soil container.  Holes have to be cut into the base of the soil container to allow contact between the soil in the container and soil in the water.  These should total 5 -15% of the area of the container base.  Smaller holes also have to be drilled in the base of the soil container to avoid waterlogging.  The bottom of the legs has to be blocked.

My first attempt was a simple two bucket system with no self levelling for the water.

Cut 3 lengths pipe of 6-8" long.  As a stand alone pot the absolute length of the pipes is not too important, but they do need to be approximately the same.

Drill a load of holes in the pipes.  I think I used a 5mm drill to make ~24 holes per pipe.  You also need to make sure there are some holes in the right place to cable tie it all together.

Drill a load of holes in the base of the soil bucket to allow drainage and air flow.

Cut holes in the base of the soil bucket for the legs.

Connect the pipes to the bucket with cable ties

It would be a good idea to connect something to the open end of the pipe to stop soil going everywhere.  I used plastic from a milk bottle, but I would not recommend it.

New additions

It is a truth universally acknowledged that if I access to a glass house I will fill it with plants.  Strange and wonderful plants!  I have wrung out of ebay some its most exciting seeds, and many of them have even grown!

Liqurice and I have history.  I have heard that it is hard to get liqurice to germinate.  This is not the problem I have.  My problem is keeping it alive.  It rots off rather easily, even when you think you are past that danger.  I have had several attempts at growing it, but this year has been more successful than usual.  It germinted and kept going without suddenly dying.  Now that winter is upon us it has died back and I wait with bated breath to see if it will come back in the spring.

Carolina Allspice (calyanthus floridus) 
Another of the plants I became aware of through the book 'A Taste of the Unexpected'.  Parts of it can be used as a spice.  It sounds quite interesting but to be honest I only bought the seeds because I was buying some other seeds and saw it was available.  I was more interested in those seeds, but no progress was made.  These have got going quite well, and look a bit like the plant from little shop of horrors.
"Feed me Seymore!"

Tea Tree (Melaleuca alternifolia)
Imagine the finest hair you can think of.  Then imagine that hair chopped into lengths of 1-2mm.  If the hair that you were thinking of was a sort of chestnut brown, then you pretty much have a description of tea tree seeds.  As you might imagine they are a bit tricky to handle and there is not a lot of stored oomph in a little seed like that.  So they are slow to germinate and quick to dry out.
This has to be one of the most challenging plants that I have managed to grow from seed.  Mainly because everything gets going faster, including moss and green stuff on the compost.

Manuka Tea Tree
The manuka seed is visually identical to tea tree, with all of its associated fun.  I bought the seeds later in the season and only a couple seeds made it to the seed leaf stage.  Then over winter the dog tried to eat the pot.  We will just have to see what is still going when the growing season starts again.

For completeness I also grew tea.  The real one.  As in a nice cuppa.  The seeds could not be more different from tea tree.  About the size of a small hazel nut.  The recieved wisdom was that it is quite difficult to grow, but not so far.  There was conflicting information about whether to crack shell off of the nut or not, so I tried both and both germinated easily enough.

Sea Buckthorn
I was faced with a choice when buying these seeds.  A small pack from a reputable source, or a large pack of wild collected seed.  I went for the large pack and planted half of them.  It seems they all germinated.  A few took a turn for the worse in a little mould incident, but it still looks like there will be quite a few to plant out this year.

I was given the rather lovely silkie bantams.  Sometimes we even get some eggs.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Harvest 2014

This year has not been a runaway success, but it has been a very good year for the Chilean Guava.  I don't know what volume of fruit there was, as there was not exactly a harvest more of a persistent grazing and in the end the dog discovered the plant as a source of nibbles.

I have my main plant in a large pot, which I moved out of the wind before it flowered and put on a patio in full sun.  I put the pot in a bucket with a lot of water as I wasto be running to stand still and the plant seemed happy.  In the autumn it was covered in berries ~1cm diameter that tasted great.  Most were picked and eaten straight away, until the dog discovered them.

Yacon and Oca cropped, but not heavily.  possibly due to the wind chill.

Pepper tree; purchased ~1ft tall at end of 2012.  Tripled in height in 2013 in a courtyard in Southampton.  No much growth in 2014 on a Hillside in Somerset.  No fruit as yet.

Blue Honesuckle; 5 berries.  Quite tasty. Plant constantly looks like it is about to die.

Wasabi; challenging to keep alive.  I have had trouble with slugs before, but nothing compares to they way they attack wasabi.  various other critters go for it too.

Cape Gooseberry; did quite well in the conservatory.  Probably 1 litre of fruit.
Two cape gooseberry and a soya bean
A bigger  Soya bean and two bigger cape gooseberrys

Tomatillo: no success.

Soya beans; grew up well. produced just enough beans for small handful of edumame then all died.  These were grown from seeds that were supposed to be suited to the UK, but I have read that soya is not able to nitrogen fix in UK soil unless the correct bacteria is added.  Possibly the source of the problem.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Let there be light!

Have you ever wondered what to do with plastic bottles other than sending them off for recycling? Have you ever wanted a way to spread a little light around outside, but found that your tea lights keep blowing out?  The solution may be at hand!  With just a little bit of cutting, a bit of string and a tea light, an ordinary plastic bottle can be transformed into a storm lantern that will brighten any rainy British barbeque.
First drink what ever was in the bottle and it is probably worth rinsing and drying it too.  Then using a thin sharp knife such as a craft knife cut two or three holes in the base of the.  These will let the air into the bottle for the candle to burn.  They don’t want be too big otherwise they might let the wind in.  1cm in diameter seems to be about right. 

Then cut a door into the side of the bottle by cutting three sides of a rectangle and leaving the fourth side attached.  This will be your means of access, so make sure it is close enough to the bottom and large enough that you can put a tea light in and light it while it is sat on the bottom. 

Now all that remains is to attach some string round the neck of the bottle.  Get a length of string of at least 20cm and tie a slipknot at one end.  Tie the other end to the loop of the slipknot, then tighten the slipknot around the neck of the bottle.

Now you should have a bottle with loop of string at the top, some holes at the bottom, a flappy door in the side and no lid. Not much so far, but hang it up and put a tea light in it and you have storm lantern that is surprisingly resilient to wind.  In fact I had one hanging up in the my rather windy garden in the Somerset hills and the candle survived until the wind hit it with a gust sufficient to send wax sloshing round the inside of the bottle, which put the candle out.  Anything less than that should be fine.
At this point you might be thinking ‘the bottle is going to melt’, well surprisingly it doesn’t.  Now I should put a caveat it here that this design is based on experience rather than careful calculation, so can’t offer any kind of guarantee that it is not possible to melt or burn the bottle, but I have used them many times and had no problems.  As a precaution I would suggest that you do not use these lanterns indoors, but if you have a need for storm lanterns indoors there are some other issues that you should attend to.

As tea lights have a metal base they do tend to cast their light up and out, leaving quite a shadow underneath.  To counter this you could try sticking tissue paper over the bottle to scatter the light.  I haven’t tried this yet so I can’t vouch for its effectiveness.