I love a bit of synergy. I read a blogpost from George Young, aka Farmer George about gene editing. This phrase (it’s an excellent post: do please take a look) is particularly resonant with me:
Of course, he continues to highlight the numerous ways that nature actually has everything it needs and more to keep our planet healthy and productive, especially in response to the difficulties we have created thinking we are smarter than nature. In my small way I am hoping to contribute to nature-based solutions, and this is my latest idea for the upcoming growing season.
I have chickens; I have bees; I have a wormery. This year I am using all three to hopefully keep me in strawberries and pumpkins. Chicken manure is really “hot” and needs to be well-rotted before being used, but hungry plants like it as it is full of nitrogen. Worm compost is too concentrated for plants and needs to be mixed with a more open substrate. As a beekeeper, I have a number of wooden hive boxes which I can’t use with the bees as they have warped or broken, but I wanted to use them in the garden as the wood itself is good quality.
Bees are tremendously important in the ecosystem, however: worms are the unsung heroes. They don’t have the complex society that intrigues us, and cute fuzziness that endears us, but seriously, they transform our world. They create soil and make nutrients available to plants. The tiger worms in my wormery turn my kitchen waste in to rich compost:
I have an area which I want to have as my veg plot, so I’ve put some old bee boxes on the bed and have filled them with chicken bedding, with a football-sized dollop of worm compost in the middle. I’ve got a queen excluder over the top to allow rain through but to stop things digging around, and on a couple of them I’ve put a roof that is no longer fit for service. I stapled some clear plastic over the top of one super to protect some of my seedlings from frost. I have buried the remainder of the vermicast in my main bedding compost heap, where I am hoping the worms will get to work in the voluminous quantity of spent shavings that I use with the poultry and the rabbit and guinea pigs.
I have to have a sort-out of my hives so there will be more layers to add as I do my spring clean. I’m hoping to grow strawberries and squashes in here, and I will grow beans and peas between the boxes as hopefully the soil in this area will be nice and wormy. I cut some peasticks from the outgrown hazel and willow hedge at the apiary. Hazel is a great tree for birds and bees as the buds attract aphids and the open habit of the branches provide good cover for tits and yellowhammers, and the nuts provide food for mammals. Willow provides copious early nectar for all insects, and is a food plant for many butterflies. I am using the excess growth of both these hedge plants for my peas and beans…which incidentally are great plants for pollinators as well as the soil. Squashes have incredibly pollen-rich flowers, and the seeds are enjoyed by the chickens – those which I don’t save to plant next year, and the peelings go in to the wormery. Adding more worms to my garden creates food for blackbirds and robins, with none of the ratty and disease problems of bird food. Do you see a pattern developing?