January 26, 2013

Giant sunflowers & making compost

This week we measured how tall our Giant Russian Sunflower is... 220cm high! Impressive!
It's always nice to have a few sunflowers in the garden as they're just such a cheerful sort of flower.

The bees seem to be as impressed with it as we are, so hoping we'll have plenty of sunflower seeds to harvest in a few weeks. If the parrots don't beat us to it!

In our part of the world, the summer growing season is relatively short. The rule of thumb is that frost tender seedlings, such as tomatoes, don't go in the ground until after Melbourne Cup Day (early Nov). Which means that unless it's a good hot summer, the autumn frosts are creeping in again while a half my crop of precious tomatoes are still stubbornly green. (The solution to my woes is in the pipeline however, in the form of a poly tunnel...)

The short summer also means that January and February are the time to start getting the winter brassica's (broccoli, kale, cauliflower and cabbages) sown. So time to pull up the overgrown leeks and the coriander that's gone to seed, and top up the beds with compost.

Now compost is something that it's taken me a while to master get the hang of. For years when I was living in places with small yards, I tried making compost in bins but always ended up with a somewhat smelly and sludgy result (I now realise an excess of kitchen scraps and lack of aeration was the likely issue).

Since switching to an open bay system, things have been considerably more successful. I use what I think is known as the 'lasagna' method: adding thin 10cm layers of alternating brown (carbon-based) materials like straw, shredded paper or dry leaves, and green (nitrogen-based) materials such as kitchen scraps, lawn clippings and weeds, as well as animal manure. Different 'experts' seem to recommend different ratios of browns:greens - but I suspect it might depend somewhat on where you live, what season it is, etc. I go with something that's probably around 50:50.

Then give it a good water and cover with hessian sacks or old carpet.

In theory I'd be turning my compost pile every week or so once it starts to feel hot in the middle, and I would have perfect crumbly compost in 8 weeks. In reality I manage to turn it once or twice and so perhaps it's not as broken down and fine textured as it could be, however the plants don't seem to mind.

So with my trusty helper wielding his sturdy new shovel, the compost goes onto the no-dig beds... a bit of a rake in... and we are ready to plant!

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