Animals, Composting, Gardening, Zoe

 

Compost Bins

Composting is a huge trend in the gardening community and it has become a household norm to have a compost bin alongside your general waste and recycling bins. Although the thought of composting may seem cumbersome, there are a tonne of fantastic benefits of making your own compost.

Monty Don has shared his pearls of wisdom regarding the best way to compost, and if Monty is doing it, then it’s safe to say we should probably be doing it too!

What are the benefits of composting?

Composting at home has a heap of benefits including:

  • It helps cut CO2 emissions that are harmful to the environment.
  • It encourages natural wildlife such as small insects which then help to feed birds and hedgehogs.
  • By making your own compost you get to save money by not buying the expensive brands!
  • Turning your compost heap once monthly provides excellent exercise for you no matter what age or ability you are.

No matter the size of your home and garden there is an easy way for you to start composting. Head over to Recycle Now for specific tips on the space you have available. 

How does it help the environment?

Rubbish ordinarily sent to a landfill omits harmful greenhouse gases because there is a lack of air getting to the waste. This in turn creates methane which can damage the Earth’s atmosphere.  However, if you compost at home the oxygen will help the waste decompose aerobically which significantly reduces the methane produced, which is great news for the environment.

By composting at home you also save the petrol used to transport compost rubbish sent to landfill each week!

Landfill

How is the compost produced better?

The compost you can produce at home will help improve your soil structure and also help fight plant disease. Home produced compost contains ingredients your plant love such as: potassium, nitrogen and phosphorus which will make your plants look glorious all year round.

Won’t having a compost heap attract pests?

A well looked after compost bin should not attract any pests such as rats and flies unless it has not been properly secured. One way to help prevent these unwelcome guests is to make sure the moisture levels do not get too high, and you could also keep chicken wire at the base of the bin which can help obstruct an entrance for small mammals.

A compost bin will however host smaller creatures such as slugs and worms – but do not panic! These creatures will help decompose the waste in your compost bin, and they should love their home so much that they do not feel tempted to stray to other areas in your garden.

Slug

Won’t having a compost heap promote weeds?

There is a fear that homemade compost will introduce weeds into your garden. This will only happen if your compost bin does not produce enough heat to kill the weed seeds, so be sure to monitor the temperature of your compost heap with a thermometer – don’t let it drop below 43 degrees Celsius.

What time of year can I compost?

You can compost all year round!

Have we convinced you yet? Head over to our specialist range of compost bins to find the perfect one for you and your garden, and keep your eyes peeled for our next blog on How To Create The Perfect Compost!

Zoe at PrimroseZoë works in the Marketing team at Primrose, and is passionate about all things social media.

After travelling across Europe and Asia, Zoë is intrigued by different cultures and learning more about the world around her. If she’s not jet setting, Zoë loves nothing more than curling up with a good book and a large glass of red wine!

She is an amateur gardener but keen to learn more and get stuck in!

See all of Zoë’s posts.

Allotment, Composting, Gardening, Grow Your Own, Infographics, Jorge, Planting

Crop rotation is essential for any gardener who wishes to grow their own food as it greatly increases one’s vegetable yields. All it involves is rotating what you grow between plots as to maintain nutrient levels. The most common way to do this is by rotating four families of crops that complement each other. By waiting four years before growing vegetables from the same family in a particular plot, one can partly restore the soil’s nitrogen content, and avoid the buildup of disease/pests. The most simple way to do this is to use four equal-sized raised beds and rotate clockwise.

Crop rotation has long been practiced and even features in the Old Testament. After the advent of farming, farmers came to realise that growing the same crops year-on-year would exhaust the soil, so it became common to leave fields to fallow once every two years. By the Middle Ages a three-field system was developed, whereby legumes such as beans, lentils and peas were introduced and grown after nitrogen-hungry cereals.

The introduction was of great importance as the legumes can both thrive in nitrogen-depleted soil and restore the quantity of nitrogen for future use by cereals. Legumes are unique in that they form symbiotic relationships with nitrogen-fixing bacteria, exchanging carbohydrates for nitrogen. The bacteria acts to improve the soil as once it dies the nitrogen eventually becomes mineralised, available for use by bacteria, fungi and plants.

Charles “Turnip” Townshend introduced four field rotation to England.

From the 18th and 19th century, more advanced forms of crop rotation substantially increased agricultural output, partly enabling the growth of cities and the Industrial Revolution. Originating from Holland, came four-field rotation that was introduced to England in the 18th century by Charles Townshend. Townshend divided his fields into four different types with a different type of crop grown in each. The system allowed farmers to keep all the fields in use, and utilised clover, another legume, to improve the soil’s nitrogen content. Also grown was turnips that along with clover was used as a source of fodder. More nutritious than grass, the fodder produced healthier livestock, and richer manure that could be plowed back into the soil. By growing animal feed every year, livestock no longer needed to be slaughtered over winter, increasing their quantity and quality.

The benefits of crop rotation has been confirmed with multiple modern scientific studies. One recent study from the John Innes Centre found that growing peas and oats in soil that previously grew wheat significantly increased the diversity of microbes, which help plants acquire nutrients, regulate growth, and protect from pests and disease. Another from 2012 found that “grain yields, mass of harvested products, and profit in more diverse systems were similar to, or greater than, those in the conventional system, despite reductions of agrichemical inputs”. And finally, a study from 2009 found that organic sources of nitrogen (i.e. legumes) remained in the soil for longer than inorganic sources, reducing the pollution of water sources from run-off.

So, what plants should I grow in my beds? Presuming you are to practice four-bed rotation we recommend that of the six main vegetable families: potato (Solanaceae), pea (Fabaceae or legumes), cabbage (Brassicaceae), carrot (Umbelliferae), beet (Chenopodiaceae) and onions (Liliaceae), you grow them all separately with the exception of onions, carrots and beet that can be all grown together. By rotating between different families, you can avoid build up of disease/pests that tend to attack specific plant families, and grow a variety of different crops. In general, it is best that peas (Fabaceae or legumes) follow the nitrogen depleting potatoes (Solanaceae). This will help you maintain healthy soil. Simply plan out what you wish to grow.

Jorge at PrimroseJorge works in the Primrose marketing team. He is an avid reader, although struggles to stick to one topic!

His ideal afternoon would involve a long walk, before settling down for scones.

Jorge is a journeyman gardener with experience in growing crops.

See all of Jorge’s posts.

Composting, Gardening, Jorge, Plants

mycorrhizal fungi
A mycorrhizal fungus as viewed under the microscope. Picture credit: Dr. David Midgley (2007) licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5.

Mycorrhizal fungi rootgrow has become a common feature of garden centres of late, and has been advertised as a product that can greatly boost your plant’s health. But does it really work? And when should I apply it?  Before delving into such questions, it would be worthwhile to explain what are mycorrhizas.

What are Mycorrhizae?

The etymology of Mycorrhiza comes from the Greek mykos “fungus” and riza “root”. And this is precisely what mycorrhizae is, a symbiotic relationship between fungi and plants. It occurs in nearly all plant life on land and is thus suspected of being one of the key factors that allowed plants to colonise the land.

The relationship is symbiotic as the fungi and plant provide one another with nutrients that each are maladapted to garner independently. It has its origin in the fact each are different types of organisms, with fungi being heterotrophic and plants autotrophic. Heterotrophs, such as humans, absorb their nutrients from organic sources, but can’t produce energy from inorganic sources. Autotrophs, on the other hand, can produce energy from inorganic sources such as sunlight. Plants do this through the process of photosynthesis that produces carbohydrates. As autotrophs, plants also find it difficult to absorb essential nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus.

endomycorrhizae
Mycorrhizal fungi located inside a flax root’s cortical cells as viewed under the microscope.

And this is where the fungi come in. The fungi that can easily absorb such nutrients interacts with the plant’s root system, which the plant willingly allows, providing such nutrients in return for the carbohydrates that itself cannot produce.  It does this through expanding its roots’ surface area that can absorb nutrients and water. They also provide the additional benefit of increasing a plant’s resistance to pathogens, preventing root disease.

As a side-note, the mycorrhizas were once divided into broad groupings, the ecto (outside) and endo (inside) varieties, with the former (usually) coating the root cells and the latter intermeshing into the plant root cells; although today they have been divided into new sub-categories or superseded with new typings. The endo varieties are difficult to spot, while the ecto varieties presence may be hinted at with the appearance of toadstools, or coated, oddly-branched roots.

The Leccinum aurantiacum – an ecto variety of mycorrhizal fungus. Picture Credit: Tomas Čekanavičius (2006)  licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5.

Do I Need to use Mycorrhizal Rootgrow?

It is suspected that neither fungi nor plants could survive in many situations without such a relationship. Mycorrhizas is fairly ubiquitous throughout the soil, and can infect a wide range of plants, so it is highly probable that suitable plants will become infected in their lifetime. There may be some exceptions to this, such as heavily cultivated soil and isolated rocky outcrops, but more on this later.

Scientifically, there is little evidence supporting the use of mycorrhiza rootgrow. The British Standards Institution, which produce technical standards on an array of products, does not recommend using the rootgrow for planting trees as a matter of routine. At Texas A & M University, a team grew plants in soils with and without mycorrhizas and found that the infected plants grew slightly better at the planting-out stage, although any advantage disappeared completely after two seasons in the ground. This was because all the plants ended up infected with mycorrhizas anyway. Finally, a test by Which? Magazine found that the potting compost brand that contained mycorrhizas performed poorly, although such an outcome may be down to other factors.

So are mycorrhizas products any good at all? In all probability mycorrhizas products will be unlikely to confer any long term benefits to your plants, unless you have good reason to suspect that your soil is deficient in mycorrhizas. (It is important to check that your plant can benefit from mycorrhizas in the first place.)

Heavy use of phosphorus in agriculture reduces the incidence of mycorrhiza in the soil. The element is also used to ignite matches.

As already stated, heavily cultivated ground may reduce the occurrence of mycorrhizas. This is because fungicide is naturally destructive to fungi, although, interestingly, it is phosphorus-rich soil that is especially detrimental to mycorrhizas. Mycorrhizas usually function to gather this rare resource for plants, but an abundance of it, usually created by fertiliser, actually suppresses it. Why this is the case is unclear, although it can be in a sense expected, as messing with the ecosystem can have untold effects. Sadly, in this case using mycorrhizas rootgrow is unlikely to have any effect, as if the soil is not conducive to mycorrhizas, the best option will be to stop using phosphorus rich fertilizers, and wait for the mycorrhizas to return naturally.

There may be reason to use mycorrhizas in some cases, perhaps for isolated plants, and plants that are indoors (although such cases are unlikely to be common).

Jorge at PrimroseJorge works in the Primrose marketing team. He is an avid reader, although struggles to stick to one topic!

His ideal afternoon would involve a long walk, before settling down for scones.

Jorge is a journeyman gardener with experience in growing crops.

See all of Jorge’s posts.

Composting, Garden Tools, Gardening, How To, Plants, Weeding, Zoe

There are mixed opinions about whether you should bother to sterilise your compost. Some gardeners choose not to, which is fine, but we believe there are many benefits to this very simple process:

  1. It kills off harmful bacteriaSome may argue that in turn you will be killing useful bacteria but this is not the case. The only way you will kill of beneficial bacteria is by baking your soil at a temperature that is too high; we talk about this in more detail later. Professional nurseries sterilise their compost, and there’s no reason you shouldn’t either.
  2. It’s proven to keep away pests such as thrips that are particularly annoying when using compost in your home and sterilisation can prevent such unwanted house guests.
  3. Prevention is the solution. Prevent disease in your compost before the problems arise, rather than skipping past the sterilisation stage and then making the situation a lot worse later on.
  4. Sterilised soil ensures that your plant will be happy and healthy, and this means the best optimal growth.
  5. Better safe than sorry. The methods outlined in this blog are super easy to do, and will make sure your compost is definitely safe for your plants. So why wouldn’t you want to give it a go?

    Making Compost

    Outlined here are three easy methods to sterilise your compost from your home:

     

    Oven

    Using your oven at home you can sterilise your compost easily; be warned that baking compost can create a smelly odour, so you may wish to open your windows whilst doing this.

    • Firstly, you need to use moist soil, do not over water the soil however you only want a slight dampness.
    • Use an oven safe tray and fill it with your soil until it is around 10 cm (4 inches) deep.
    • Cover the tray loosely with foil.
    • Put your tray in the middle of a pre-heated oven that’s around 80° For a more accurate result use a thermometer in the centre of the tray and bake between 80-90°c
    • Do not exceed the temperatures stated above, at temperatures above 90°c is when the good bacteria is killed and toxins are produced.
    • Bake for 30 minutes before taking out, make sure to take the foil off and leave it to cool for a while before handling the soil.

     

    Microwave

    The easiest and quickest way to sterilise your compost is with your microwave. We suggest using an old microwave in your garden shed or greenhouse to prevent bringing compost into your home, and this way you can get on with other gardening jobs whilst it’s baking.

    • As before you will need moist soil, but not too wet that it is slushy.
    • Find a microwave safe container and fill this with your soil.
    • Do not use foil in the microwave, instead cover with cling film with holes for the steam to escape or a plastic lid with air holes.
    • For every two pounds of soil will need 90 seconds in the microwave.
    • After it’s pinged, leave the soil to cool before handling.

     

Alternative method:

  • Place two pounds of moist soil in a polypropylene bag
  • Leave the bag slightly open for ventilation
  • Zap in the microwave for 2-2 ½ minutes on full power before removing and cooling

 

Pressure Cooker

  • Start by pouring a few cups of water into the cooker
  • Next add your pans of soil, be careful not to add more than 4 inches, and pop it on the top rack.
  • Make sure to cover these with foil to help insulate the soil.
  • Close the lid for your cooker but make sure you leave the steam valve

For every ten pounds of soil, leave it to steam for 15-20 minutes.

Voila! You now have sterilised soil that will be sure to sprout stunning plants in no time! If you prefer shop bought compost, read our Primrose Guide to Compost for further advice and information.

Sterilised Compost

Zoe at PrimroseZoë works in the Marketing team at Primrose, and is passionate about all things social media.

After travelling across Europe and Asia, Zoë is intrigued by different cultures and learning more about the world around her. If she’s not jet setting, Zoë loves nothing more than curling up with a good book and a large glass of red wine!

She is an amateur gardener but keen to learn more and get stuck in!

See all of Zoë’s posts.

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