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  1. We all know the nutritional benefits of watering a diluted comfrey or nettle ‘tea’ on our precious crop plants, but I’ve always thought there must be a less stinky way of preparing it than the usual ‘open air’ method: piling shredded leaves and stalks into a bin or bucket, adding water and a weight and leaving behind the shed for a few weeks - you wouldn’t want to put it where you often go as the stench of rotting leaves is stomach-churningly horrendous!

    Browsing my latest copy of Kitchen Garden magazine (August 2011) I was therefore pleased to find that someone somewhere has come up with a space-saving solution to this rather pongy problem: the fertiliser tube.

    And so, giving all credit to KG, here’s how you do it!

    • Take a piece of drainpipe about 4’ in length and attach it to the side of the shed or a wall.  Make sure you can easily reach the top of the pipe; the other end needs to be well off the floor so you can get a bucket or watering can underneath it.
    • Seal the base of the tube with an end stopper (available from builders’ merchants) in the flat end of which you will have drilled a smallish hole.
    • Place the collecting receptacle (bucket, can etc) underneath the hole in the end of the pipe.
    • Take an old bottle that will easily fit into the pipe and fill with water or sand. 
    • Tie a long piece of string to the neck of the bottle.
    • Cut some comfrey or nettle leaves and stuff them into the pipe, ramming down with a long cane.
    • Drop the bottle into the top of the pipe, keeping a good hold on the end of the string.  The bottle acts as a weight and presses the leaves down.
    • In a week or two, a thick brown liquid will ooze out of the hole in the end stopper and into the bucket or can beneath. 
    • This can be diluted with water at the rate of 15:1 and used to feed your fruit and veg.

    As soon as I get a chance (probably a week or two into the summer holidays), I’m going to make my own for the plot, especially as I have a plentiful supply of comfrey (5 plants) and lots of nettles too.

  2. If your garden soil is poorly-drained, compacted, heavy, or takes a long time to warm up in spring, consider a raised bed - the ideal environment for growing crops.

    Buy a kit or make your own.  Kits are available from garden centres, via mail-order or from DIY shops in wood, metal or recycled plastic.  Typical prices are between £15 - £100 so it is advisable to shop around.

    raised bed

    To make your own, choose a size and shape where you can reach all parts without having to step on the soil, then use lengths of tanalised wood from a DIY supplier or sleepers to form the sides. 
    Use ground stakes, screwed in, and placed regularly along the sides and in the corners to prevent sideways movement.  
    Fill with a mixture of soil, compost, soil improver and grit to assist drainage.  Allow for some settling (you may need to come back later and top it up) and for watering with a ‘lip’ of an inch or so all round.

    Alternatively, use pallet extensions filled in with compost and soil as a temporary raised bed.

    Finally, plant up and enjoy!

     

    Benefits of raised beds include:

    •  Basic weed and pest control are easy
    •  Excess water drains away quickly
    •  They can be built up with sides as tall or as short as required.
    •  Frames for covers – polythene, netting, fleece etc – are easy to make and remove
    •  Soil warms up quickly in spring, allowing planting earlier than usual
    •  The soil doesn’t compact as easily as in open ground because there is no need to walk on it.  Therefore water, air and nutrients are more accessible to plant roots.