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MAY mud

May 20, 2010

Well it’s very warm today, positively balmy in fact but, despite hints at summer, I’m feeling a little sad because the last of my runner beans, which were doing so well, died last night.  The final victim of an ongoing snail attack that has seen my plants picked off one by one.  Interesting that snails behave like this, not embarking upon an all out assault with mass casualties all at once, but instead a slow killing off.  Oh well.  I have planted more seeds and am hopeful these ones will make it.

On a happier note, I have masses of flowers on the strawberry plants in the hanging basket.  My tickets for Wimbledon arrived yesterday (my flatmate and I got lucky in the ballot this year), so perhaps we will be able to take a picnic of home grown strawbs with us to the tennis.  Crop wise, it’s all about salad at the moment.  I’ve been enjoying eating strong tasting leaves from my garlic plants, as well as much mint, chervil, rocket and parsley.  I have this lovely mystery leaf growing in one of my salad boxes.  I’ve no idea what it is but it has a tart and tangy taste that studs the eater’s eyes with tears.

This year I’m trying to grow root vegetables.  I have carrots in a deep container that I think perhaps used to be a waste paper bin and potatoes growing in a lined hessian sack.  Both are thriving and I’m really pleased.  I’m especially excited about the potatoes and loving the ongoing process of topping them up with soil only for them to burst out again.  As well as thinking regularly and often about juicy strawberries fresh from my basket, I’m also solidly daydreaming about my own perfect potato salad.  Elsewhere on the roof (and also my bedroom), the toms and squashes are doing well, as is my single sugar pea.

With all of this growing has come a deep love of getting soily and, more recently, a keen interest in compost.  I’ve been committed to all things organic and peat free from the off, but have always bought compost rather than made my own.  This is out of necessity more than anything, as space in my roof garden is seriously limited.  It’s not practical to compost up there.  However, I do recycle all my food and green waste because, lucky me, my local council collect it from my doorstep.  But where does it go?  What happens after I clip shut the lid of my brown box and leave it out for collection?

One of my amazing friends, whose love of soil is far deeper than mine, managed to get us golden tickets for a tour of a north London compost making factory.  It sits on the edge of the River Lee beyond Walthamstow, a vast industrial sprawl of a place, but one that isn’t too far a cycle from home.  We arrive, admittedly a little late after getting a tiny bit lost, and embark upon a tour around the site, clad in high vis vests and day-glo orange hard hats.  Lorries from all over north London head here, full to the brim with food and garden waste.  They tip their organic loads into a warehouse where it passes through a shredder and is screened for things that won’t rot, like plastic and metal.

It’s then piled into large metal sheds where it naturally gets hot and steamy, reaching temperatures of 60 degrees Celsius.  The piles of compost dance with flies, are pecked over by birds and give off great curling clouds of steam.  Air is blown through the soil, powered with energy made in the onsite incinerator, which burns waste that was destined for landfill.  It is moved into different sheds, allowing for the compost to get mixed and further screened.  A gradual rotting process that would take about a year in your garden, takes about 12 weeks here.  I was expecting the place to stink but actually it isn’t that bad.

The London Waste Eco Park says it receives 35,000 tonnes of organic waste each year from the seven north London boroughs it serves, resulting in 12,000 tonnes of compost.  The compost is made available to community growing projects as well as to farms and parks.  Local people can buy bags of it and often councils will arrange for residents to get their hands on it for free.  It’s made from our waste after all.   I’m definitely going to be keeping my eye out for free compost offers from now on.  Find out more at

When I haven’t been off on soily adventures, roof gardening or daydreaming about strawberries and potatoes this month, I’ve been making a short animated film about growing your own lunch for Wildlife Watch UK.  It’s aimed at kids and is a little bit shaky, but hopefully enjoyable!  You can watch it  in the player below.  It’s a sort of humble homage in paper to the bean and the bee, which might inspire kids to dig.

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