With the warmth and and fragrance of summer herbs and roses well behind us, this week has been filled with more autumnal aromas, and not all of them pleasant!
It was time to give our fishpond a thorough clean out, following a summer of very poor water quality. We knew there were fish in there somewhere, we just couldn’t see them!
Having used the pump to empty the water to as low a level as we dared without having to remove the fish, it was time to reach for the waders and roll up our sleeves. First problem, will I be able to see over the top of the waders!
Not the most flattering of outfits but let’s hope they are watertight.
And in I go.
At times like this it is hard to remember the delightful scents of summer or imagine the sparkling jewel like flowers of the water lilies. People often say to me how lucky I am to have a job like mine!
And this is what we dredged out.
With Carol’s help we managed to remove a proportion of the thick sludge that had accumulated over the years at the base of the pond. A large population of goldfish and an overhanging D’Arcy Spice apple tree results in the build up of a large amount of decaying organic matter which was contributing to the poor water quality. Our intention was not to remove all the sediment, which is full of insect life and nutrients providing food for the fish. We just wanted to restore a healthy balance for fish and plants alike, whilst also improving the appearance for our visitors. The smelly sludge was emptied into the moats so none of the insect life was lost. Now we just need to return the repotted water lillies, fill the pond up to its normal level and see if it has all made a difference. In the spring we intend to add some extra oxygenating plants, introduce some water snails and treat the pond regularly with a dose of barley straw extract to limit the growth of algae and maintain a healthy ecosystem with everything in equilibrium.
Pond cleaning was not the only smelly job we tackled this week. On Tuesday we all went home smelling of kippers after an all-day bonfire up at the fire site.
It was hard work as the waste pile had become very large over the summer but by the end of the day about a third of it had gone and there was a huge pile of wood ash which we can add to the compost heap in small amounts or dig into the vegetable garden. Wood ash has the benefit of raising the soil Ph, so is good for brassicas which benefit from an alkaline soil, and it has high levels of potassium which is good for promoting better fruiting.
I thought I might be in for another smelly experience this week when I visited the compost loo at Runwell allotments, an option we are considering for our community garden and community Shed area. This time I was pleasantly surprised to find no unpleasant smells and was rather impressed with the practical installation they have there, on a site with no mains services.
Lynda Payne, parish councillor for Runwell, kindly showed us their facility and explained how it all worked and how they had secured funding from the National Lottery.
They have had their loo for over two years and are delighted with it. No smell, no maintenance so far and what a difference it has made to all the allotmenteers who no longer have to cross their legs or dash home when nature calls!
It seems like a great option for us at Cressing if we can get the necessary permissions and raise the funds. At the moment the only option for community gardeners and Shedders who are caught short is to take the long trek on foot to the main public toilets or use the allotment taxi – Carol’s bike!
This week has seen the first frosts of the winter which is a lovely sight on those crops that can withstand it like this parsley (Petroselinum crispum).
On a bright, sunny morning with a blue sky and a slight mist hanging in the air it was a beautiful sight first thing in the morning up at the vegetable plot.
It is well worth leaving some plants standing through the winter months, especially if they have valuable seed heads like these sunflowers which the blue tits and great tits have been feasting on for their rich, energy giving oils.
The cold weather is also a good time to make sure there are plenty of places for the insects to hibernate over winter. An insect box like this is ideal, but also leaving piles of twigs and sticks in the corners of the garden and leaving some leaf litter under hedges will all provide valuable cover for wildlife facing the rigours of the colder weather.
Whilst we and many creatures feel like hiding away and keeping warm as the weather turns colder, there are some advantages to the gardener of the onset of the first frosts: and one of them is the sweetening of certain vegetables like parsnips and brussels sprouts.
Plants produce sugars through photosynthesis, which are usually stored in the plant as starches but in response to cold temperatures, some plants break down some of their energy stores into “free” sugars, such as glucose and fructose, and stash them in their cells to guard against frost damage. Sugar dissolved in a cell makes it less susceptible to freezing in the same way that salting roads reduces ice. Clever stuff. And we benefit because the vegetables taste sweeter.
Despite the gradual slide into winter it is still a good time to lift and divide perennials so long as the soil is still workable. Mary did a fantastic job in the Cullen garden on Thursday splitting and replanting hardy Geranium macrorrhizum and Osteospermum jucundum in the central island bed. These plants have proved to be very good ground cover, reliable and healthy and relatively untroubled by our resident population of rabbits! We are gradually getting a good idea of what plants are rabbit proof in our conditions. Peony, Hellebore, Catmint, Hydrangea, Bergenia, Agapanthus, Red hot poker and several grasses seem pretty resistant and we will go on looking for more. Ground cover is really useful where rabbits are concerned as they prefer uncovered, loose soil where it is easy for them to dig. We intend to make it as inconvenient for them as we can!
Thanks to Mike, we now have a lovely, efficient composting process going on and have been using the products to mulch our beds this week. Chopping or shredding the material as it is added to the pile is a great way to speed the whole thing up, in addition to it being a good workout and warm up at the start of a chilly day.