April 2009

The evidence

The evidence

I accidentally conducted a test under controlled circumstances, and was amazed by the results.

Method and equipment:

I brought some nice clean looking peppermint in from the garden this morning, and left it in a jar, and the picture above shows what remained in the jar at the end of the day. One fat caterpillar, some chewed up stalks, and a big pile of poo.


  • Green loopers much prefer mint to lemon balm
  • They  can defecate twice  their own body weight in a 12 hour period.


My proper place is obviously at primary school, and not at the front of the class. But at least this is an interesting variation on measuring how much leaf a caterpillar has  devoured.

Introducing the potatoes.

Chips, precious?

Po-tay-toes! Boil 'em, mash 'em, stick 'em in a stew... Lovely big golden chips with a nice piece of fried fish.

The potatoes are here thanks to the Begetters-of-Frugilegus. They chitted them lovingly, nurtured them into sproutingness, then passed them into my care. They also donated the buckets I am growing them in knowing it would give me joy to see objects they’d rescued from someone’s rubbish redeployed.

So now I need to attempt to justify the title of this post. In reverse order:

Rocks on a Roll: I get rather excited once I’ve planted my seeds. I normally give them an hour, and then enter a routine of checking them regularly to see if they’ve grown yet. I’ve even been known to poke about in the mud in my impatience to see if anything is happening. If left to my own devices I could probably spend the whole day checking up on progress; like painting the Forth Bridge, once I’d got to one end, I’d have to go back to the first ones to see if they had broken the surface since I last looked.

Anyway, potatoes were no different. After two days with no above-ground action, I decided I’d planted rocks by mistake. Albeit wrinkly, rooty rocks. I sulked extensively, but watered the rocks anyway, and after aeons and aeons – at least another day – leaves poked out. And now the buggers are really on a roll. Each evening I add another few inches of compost to cover them over, and each evening find they’ve burst through once more. At this rate I’ll only have another couple of weeks of earthing up before my mountain can rise no more. I wonder how tall anyone has made a potato pile. Is there an optimum height?

Glugs: Definitely shoe-horning this one in. They’re very thirsty. They knock the water back. That’s it.

Sex: Each of the four buckets hosts a different variety. We have Maris Bard, Nadine, Rocket and “Sex”. Mother-of-Frugilegus had been given the task of carefully labelling the compartments of the egg-tray that the potatoes sat in while they chitted with the names of the different varieties. She cannot explain why she named the fourth pair “Sex”. Not a Freudian slip, she insists; an abbreviation perhaps? So she asked the supplier what potatoes they had that began with ‘sex’ but they denied stocking such a thing. Internet research turned up a “potato database”, but, of course, one needed to enter four letters to yield a result. Saxon is the closest I’ve found on other lists… So, I don’t know what to think. Saxon? Or is there a sex potato out there?

The wondrous spud

I marvel each day at the growth of my sprouting stones, but what’s going on above ground is nothing to what’s going to be occurring below the surface. The plant is striving to get to the light and produce leaves and flowers. My daily additions of mud to the pot frustrate these efforts, forcing more root to be produced as it fights towards the sun. But soon, our battle will be over. I’ll leave it be, and let it produce its mess of vegetation and topple all over the place..  But the real activity will be hidden from view. All that root, those poor thwarted leaves, will be multiplying and swelling into marvellous starchy globules –  each one versatile  enough to soak up gravy or scoop up aioli.  I can’t wait to dig up this treasure!

Just delivered, a tasty looking dinner...

Just delivered, a tasty looking dinner.


Yep, that's what it is.

The “in a tub” is perfect. This is the most exquisite delivery slip I’ve ever received.

In the days of a dark, gardenless flat, I just had my EMs for composting comfort. I’ve always thought of these ‘efficient microorganisms’ as industrious little pets, chomping their way through my kitchen choppings, and saving them from landfill.

Hungry mouths to feed. The EMs will eat almost anything.

Hungry mouths to feed. The EMs will eat almost anything.

The EMs are the residents of a bokashi bin, an anaerobic composting system. Food waste is added to the bucket – I’ve added everything including small meat bones, fish and dairy products – squashed down to remove air pockets, and a handful of EM-infused bran is added. Lid on tight, and no smells. Though He-who-lives-with-me turns up his nose when the lid is lifted, that is because he has so much to learn. The bran has the homely aroma of fat clean warm happy chickens, and the pickle is pickley, and what could be wrong with a bit of pickle?

He also had a tendency to whinge a bit when the EM-juice was drained – a wonderful thick brown ooze that just smells to me of potent plant-fertilising, drain-cleaning goodness, but he begs to differ. I explained we could not let the EMs get their feet wet, and we compromised with a safe-zone of at least one hour before he was due home for juice-gathering.

Bokashi bran contains all the compost crunchers. Squish down the layers to get rid of all the air pockets, add a sprinkling of bran, and lots more room for the next load.

Bokashi bran contains all the compost crunchers. Squish down the layers to get rid of all the air pockets, add a sprinkling of bran, and there's lots more room for the next load.

It was almost perfect. But once the bokashi bin is brim-full, and the pickle has been left to ferment in its airless darkness for an appropriate period of time (I used to think this was six weeks, but it seems the latest reports are saying only two), it needs somewhere to go – normally either added to a compost heap, or dug into the ground, where it quickly turns into glorious mud. Lacking either option in dark, gardenless abode, I instead embarked on three mile round trips to an accommodating compost heap, where I deposited my (oh, okay slightly stinky) heap of pickle. (I follow the two-bin system with one filling, one fermenting, but after twelve weeks both are full. Then what’s one to do?)

I’ve not weighed a full bucket, but I do know I never made it past the first bus stop. Each time, the prospect of sitting on a bus with several kilograms of six-week-old vegetable peelings, tea bags and fishheads in my lap seemed more appealing than trying to carry the buckets a single step further. Funnily enough, the empty buckets smell more than the full ones (anaerobic is very effective until it meets air…). Still, it didn’t seem to stop me taking them into the local ale-house a few times on my way home; I’m sure they’ve had worse in there.

Now, bokashi bliss nearly reigns. The EMs live outside the kitchen door, sheltered under a little overhang. I can decant brown liquor with complete freedom, and the garden awaits its pickle.

The only limitation is the space – not much bare soil, and a long-resident compost bin full, and clearly neglected. I’ve added one load, but the heap needs some work to make it healthy, and as it is sited right next to the table and chairs, I am reluctant to add more pickle to the already potent brew. My only other addition has been approximately 150 slug corpses, from a very successful beer trap.

So I find myself with surplus pickle again. Time for some new pets methinks. Bring on the worms!

From small things,  great dinners can grow…

One month into having a patch of mud to call my own! At sowing time too, but it’s been a slow start. Moving to the mud (and accompanying flat) was chaotic, and I get in trouble if I don’t go to work…

So I’ve compromised – a little less ambition with what I’ll try to plant, and a plan to finish unpacking in the winter. Some green things are now appearing and I am beginning to imagine them in Autumn’s dinners.


squash of unknown potential

This is the first squash to emerge from a packet of mixed seeds, so I don’t know which of  ten possibilities he will turn into yet.  I have a hunch he might be butternutty. But I made pictures of each seed, so in future years I expect that I will only have to glance at a squash seed to be able to tell you what it can do.

He’s not really right-leaning; it’s just a phase he went through.

In the background you may just be able to spot purple basil and padron peppers doing their thing.

Sudden growth pending

Sudden growth pending

And two chillies, a gift from the lovely Ruth upon my finally moving to a flat with outside space and natural light.  Though these little things still lean over all day in pursuit of as much sun as they can get. I wonder whether if I videoed it and then sped it up, it would look like they were gyrating their seedling hips? They’ve taken a while to get their first proper leaves, but I think they’re going to go for it now.