Sunday, October 18, 2009

Setting up the wormery for Kingsley St. John's

A few weeks ago Wiggly Wigglers offered some freebies to organisations who might be able to make use of them and the children's school, Kingsley St. John's, was lucky enough to get offered a re-furbished can-o-worms and value pack.

I've been trying to get the school composting in some way shape and form for a while now so I went along to their eco-club to help set it up.

As you can see from the photo's the children were absolutely fascinated with the whole process of both composting their food waste and having the worms do it for them.

So while the coir block was soaking for the bedding I took them through adding the legs and fitting the tap while explaining why there was a sump and what the tap was for etc.  More than one knew why you collect the liquid and how good it is for fertilising plants but they were really fascinated when it came to adding the bedding and the worms themselves.

Everybody got to hold some worms as I pointed out the adults, babies and even a few cocoons (that hold between 1 and 20 baby worms).

I then explained about the trays and how we should feed food waste (preferably wrapped in a sheet or two of newspaper to stop the fruit flies), add lots of shredded paper for extra carbon and soaking up excess moisture as well as giving them the much needed dark that they work so well in.

So the school now has a wormery and they have a rota system for emptying the liquid, diluting it with water and applying it to their raised beds.

I'll be visiting regualrly to keep an eye on things and explain what is happening as the bin becomes more mature and eventually needs the bottom tray emptying.

Next, to try and persuade them to use Bokashi for their cooked kitchen waste...

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Knee op - bandage off

Bandage offFurther to my five days of struggling in the heat (well struggling generally actually) should be over so I settled down to remove the bandage from my knee.

As you can see it is still very swollen compared with the left one. I also notice they had managed to cut me while shaving my leg and there was plenty of iodine around (that had scared me when I first saw my foot because I thought jaundice must have set in - the nurse had a right old chuckle when I hit the panic button to ask her about it). Plus, there is a very helpful arrow so that the Consultant knows where do to his thing. The iodine has come off but the arrow is being quite stubborn but it's now covered by the tubigrip I have to wear during the day - at least that gives me some movement, and feels cooler.

I also removed the dressings to see the puncture wounds and it's amazing how small they are. They also bleed when you look at them too long so I quickly replaced the old dressings with new and tried not to think about it.

It's five days since the op and I seem to be having more pain as the days go on, which is not how I envisaged things at all. I can take small doses of about 10 minutes before pain sets in and I have to move, whether that be lying down, sitting down or standing/walking. It means I'm having to snatch sleep when I can because I'm not making it through the night - even the tennis isn't numbing me enough to sleep longer than 10 minutes or so. The drugs help a little for the really sharp pains but don't help at all with the throbbing and aching. Beer is needed I think, but that interferes with the drugs so I'm not sure just yet.

Plus, now the bandage is off I have no excuses for not doing the few physio exercises that I couldn't do before because of the padding. Six times a day I am supposed to put my self through the torture. At least now the bandage is off the ice pack will make a difference - I don't see anybody until next week and figure a bit of pain now will be better than a lot of pain then if I've not been doing them right ...

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Knee op

After having pain in my knees after exercise for about 3 years now and putting it down to age I went to see somebody just after Christmas. There followed just under 3 months of physio twice a week which helped the knee that had the least pain but played absolute havoc with the other.

I tried all sorts of things to align the knee caps and even resorted to my "monkey feet"
Vibram Fivefingers shoes
which use barefoot technology to help you strengthen your feet, ankles, legs and hips etc - but the problems with the right knee just wouldn't go away so the Consultant booked me in for an arthroscopy so he could take a look around and tidy up any messy cartilage, as well as treat the under-side of the knee cap that had some pretty extensive Chondromalacia patellae. He showed me the pictures of normal cartilage (white and smooth as ivory) and mine, which was grey and rough like the rocks of volcanic larvae you sometimes find on the beach.

The result is bandage from just under my knee to just under my bum that has to remain on for 5 days! A normal arthroscopy would mean I could remove the bandage after a few days apparently but because of the extensive work mine has to stay on longer to help keep the swelling down.

Knee operation

The pain yesterday was unbearable and I needed crutches to get about, but today I am able to shuffle around the house without and have managed the stairs in both directions. However the bandage has suddenly gone very tight so I think I may have over done and it has swelled up a bit - it's hard to tell when covered by so much padding!

Anyway, now off to attempt the torture, sorry, rehabilitation exercises that I need to do ...

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Trip to Paris

The Eiffel Tower, May 2009Having thought my wife hated Paris I got a real surprise for my 40th birthday when she presented me with a 2 day trip. Apparently, some seven years ago I had told her I had never been and would love to go so she started saving and lying at every opportunity, telling me what an over priced dive it is and how I'd hate it, not least because a cup of tea is about £5 (she knows how to wound me). Being such a "fan" of cities (dirty horrible places) I fell for it hook line and sinker.

Anyway, this made the present a real shock and in the week before setting off I found it very hard to get round the fact that she didn't hate it at all and was, if anything, more excited about the trip than I was (and I was really looking forward to it so that made her fairly excited).

So, on Tuesday morning we all (kids as well) set off to Manchester airport and caught an Air France flight to the "city of love". The flight was good (by good I mean I didn't scream or stop breathing once). The landing was a little hairy, but only by my standards - nobody else even realised it had landed!

It was a little disappointing to get there and realise we had left behind a glorious sunny day and arrived in a downpour. The day got no better as most of the Metro was on strike for the day and it took 3 hours to get to the hotel. It appears to be something the French do regularly and this time they were striking to complain about the fact there hadn't been a strike for over a week. Actually it was something to do with the economy, and when the price of a cup of tea was nearer £7 I think I see what they mean :)

Novotel Hotel from Eiffel TowerWe eventually got to the hotel which was a plush 4-star jobby and outwardly very nice (by outwardly I mean the inside finishes: from the outside it truly was ugly and I realised why it wasn't shown on the web site - it is the one made of red Lego in the picture).

It was nice enough though and the staff were amazingly helpful and friendly. And boy did they put up with a lot - there was a Japanese bloke giving them hell every time I walked past the desk and a multitude of Americans stepped in whenever he stopped to draw breath. Little things let the hotel down though, like the fact the computers were made by Apple and crashed a lot (actually that bit was amusing, as was the French keyboard) and that the swimming pool was shut for refurbishment. The travel agency could and should have told us about that before taking all my wife's money and upsetting the children. All this made me live up to my "Victor Meldrew" persona so the rest of the family made fun of me a lot, so I calmed myself down with a beer, purposely not looking at how much said beer was costing, or the fact it was Heineken.

Notre Dame, May 2009View from Notre Dame, May 2009As it turned out we were probably far too knackered for swimming after all the walking we did; after dropping off our bags we went to Notre Dame and then a boat ride down the Seine, getting off at the Eiffel Tower and walking back to the hotel.

That evenings meal was taken at the hotel and the food was nice, but nowhere near nice enough to cost £85 for the four of us - I thought I was going to need oxygen to get over paying that one and I paid by credit card because I couldn't bring myself to pay in cash.

The next day we walked to the Eiffel tower and got the lift to the second floor, which has amazing views (see the pictures). We then queued for about an hour to get the lift to the very top, which wasn't nearly as amazing as I thought it should be but well worth it all the same. My legs did have a strange jelly like feel to them and my peripheral vision was a bit blurry if I turned too quick so I'm guessing there was a touch of vertigo kicking in :) We used the steps down from the second floor and that in itself was amazing because you had time to appreciate the views and what an intricate (and extremely sturdy) structure it is.

The Louvre, May 2009Once we got down from that we did the double-decker train of the RER and then the Metro to Sacre Coeur, a place surrounded by shops (never a favourite of mine unless they sell CD's, books or electronic stuff). Another good view and probably our cheapest meal (a mere £35 for the four of us - a pricey burger, but I was getting used to the cost by now and was no longer having to pretend that Euros aren't real money). After a quick run round Sacre Coeur and seeing the artists square we headed off to the Louvre where Tamsyn and Zoe feigned complete disinterest so they could go off shopping. Christopher and I loved it, right up until the point where we got lost and I thought my feet were about to fall off from all the walking. What an amazing place though! Even the miserable Mona Lisa woman was fairly awe-inspiring - not because it's a good picture (it's actually very ordinary and dull) but because of the history and how famous it was. I was quite shocked at how awed I was by it to be honest, though that was eclipsed by some of the other pieces of art and history on display. Christopher and I decided we could spend at least another four days there but we'd need a GPS to find our way around or out.

As it was we managed to get out by accident and we crawled back to the hotel for a meal and in time to see Manchester United get bounced out of the final, something that truly made Christopher's day.

The flight back was again very easy and I even managed to keep my eyes open for the landing. Things are truly looking up in the flying department I think (I can say that now I'm back on land with little prospect of flying again for ages).

Pictures of the trip can be seen at and more will be added when I get round to uploading some of the children's pictures.

The main thing that did strike me was just how like London it all was - except for the cigarettes everywhere (amazing how quick we got used to not being enveloped in smoke over here while they continue to smoke like tyre fires over there). I also wondered briefly whether it would be cheaper for a Parisian to fly over here and eat out every night than eat out over there but it was quickly pointed out that they would probably rather die than eat British food, which made me chuckle a little.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Using Bokashi to grow vegetables in pots

For the last few years I have grown a few vegetables in pots and last year I used Bokashi in the base and was astonished with the results. I had cherry tomatoes continually from mid-July to November and my dwarf beans were also superb.

People often wonder what to do with Bokashi once it has had it's 2 weeks fermenting and the majority either add it to their worm bins or just dump it in a compost bin/heap. By using it to layer the bottom of a large pot that you then plant some veg in means it works right where you need it.

I've just potted on this years cherry tomatoes. I started with a layer of normal potting compost in the bottom, though there's probably no reason you couldn't just start with the Bokashi.

Compost Layer 1

I then added about 3 inches of Bokashi, before filling to about 3/4's full with organic peat free grow bag compost.

Bokashi Layer 1 Top layer compost

The idea here is that by leaving a quarter of the pot empty you can top-dress with either vermicompost, compost from your bin/heap or even just more grow bag. The joy of vermicompost and compost is it will act as a mulch during the hotter days. Vermicompost has the added benefit of being extremely high in nutrients as well, and therefore ideal for hungry tomatoes.


Once more established these plants (and all my veg) will be fed with a good dose of worm tea throughout the growing season.

I also planted up a runner bean in the same way. These should probably be grown outside but this one will be grown in the greenhouse. I did this a few years ago and had a surprisingly good crop, but this will is the first time I have done it with a Bokashi base to the pot. I'll post the (hopefully pleasing) results.

Runner bean in pot

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Emptying the bottom layer of your worm bin

In many of the discussions on worm bins people ask about either adding the next layer or how do they go about emptying the bottom layer (or even knowing when it's ready to empty).

I generally empty mine when the top layer is almost full (generally twice a year with my family) and I try and do it in the Spring and the Autumn i.e. while the weather is still reasonable.

A common misconception is that all the worms will have vacated the bottom layer and moved up. I've owned a wormery since 1998 and I have never yet known this to be the case - there are always a few of the stubborn ones quite happy in the bottom layer.

Emptying the bottom layer of the worm bin Emptying the bottom layer of the worm bin

So how do you separate them from the compost?

You have a few choices:

  • The first is don't bother. You can just empty the whole bottom layer in your border or compost bin where the few stragglers and eggs will either live in the garden, become live food for the birds or in the case of the compost bin carry on regardless. I like the last option because they can then colonise your compost and thereby speed up that process as well.

  • You can empty the whole lot into a barrow or onto a plastic sheet and hand pick them out, either adding them to your wormery again or even box them up and head off fishing. The choice is yours.

  • Put the bottom layer on the top with the lid off. Scrape away and remove compost until you come across some worms and then leave it for a bit. Worms hate the light and will burrow down into the compost that remains. Repeat this process until they have all burrowed into the layer below, by which time you will have harvested all the compost.
    Be warned though that this is a lengthy process.

When you remove the bottom layer you will almost definitely find that the sump is full of worms. Many beginners panic and worry about worms getting in the sump but they always do.

It's yet another reason to make sure you empty the sump regularly so that they don't drown.

They can and will climb out when they are ready but you're very lucky indeed if you never find any there.

Emptying the bottom layer of the worm bin Emptying the bottom layer of the worm bin

As you can see from the pictures both my bins have plenty of worms in the sump. So while we're emptying the bottom layer make sure you empty the contents of the sump (drain it of liquid first though) into the top layer. It tidies the sump up as well as helping establish worms in the new top layer.

So now you've emptied the bottom layer and cleaned out the sump you can place the now empty tray to the top of the bin.

When adding this new layer be careful to make sure that it fits snugly. If there's too much stuff in there then a) you'll be squashing them with the new one and b) they can get out of the sides.

I just add the layer and start adding waste - they will move up when they are ready i.e. they have eaten most of the layer below and fancy some of the new stuff.

I guess it wouldn't harm to take some of the bottom layer and add it to the new one, especially if it's quite full and stops the new layer fitting snugly. Definitely add the moisture mat (or a layer of cardboard) as the darkness will further attract them into the new layer.

Emptying the bottom layer of the worm bin

As you can see from the pictures, adding what's in the sump can make the wormery look quite wet and soggy so make sure you add a fair amount of shredded/scrunched paper and/or cardboard to help dry things out.

Emptying the bottom layer of the worm bin You can never have enough paper in a worm bin, something that people often forget. It helps keep things dry and adds a god dose of carbon. The worms will munch their way through it as fast (if not faster) than the food scraps and the resultant compost will be of a higher standard.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

I've won an award!

Turns out that I have won the 'The Bokashi Backup Award' in the The Rubbish Diet Awards 2009.

I'd like to thank Almost Mrs Average for the honour - I'm really pleased that some of my advice and help was able to be used in her extremely successful attempts at getting us to slim down our bins by reducing, re-using, recycling and generally buying more carefully.

I'm off to celebrate now with a nice cup of tea ...

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Creating a raised bed for vegetables

For the last few years I have grown a few vegetables in pots: spinach, tomatoes, dwarf beans and even a single runner bean plant. They have all done well, as have the odd lettuce and rocket.

With my small garden I've relied on these pots (and the greenhouse), while keeping the main garden for lawn and borders full of flowers, as well as shrubs for attracting birds and insects (it's also nice to look at).

link-a-bord system newly assembledLayer of cardbooard for suppressing the grass
This year though I have decided to expand the vegetable production and will be utilising two raised beds by the greenhouse for this purpose. I purchased a link-a-bord kit from Wiggly Wigglers and have today set it up. The kit itself took all of 5 minutes to assemble and is made from recycled uPVC. I think I would have preferred wood but this kit is light, simple to assemble and won't rot.

I didn't fancy the back breaking job of digging up the turf so laid some cardboard on top of the grass. This should stop the grass growing through yet still allow the bed to drain well. By the time the season is over the grass should be dead and the cardboard rotted enough to just be dug over like a normal plot (well that's the theory anyway).
A layer of BokashiA layer of compost from one of the bins
Next came a bucket of Bokashi for the base followed by a layer of home made compost from my third bin. Both these will add nutrients to the soil as well as help stop the soil drying out. I did exactly this in my pots last year and had the best crop of veg ever, even though our summer was atrocious, so I'm sure that it will help just as much this time around.
Finally, a layer of John Innes multi-purpose compost
Finally I topped it off with some John Innes multi purpose compost as that will be ideal for planting the veg plants into. Once established in this the roots will find their way down to the compost and Bokashi and all the nutrients they contain will keep the plants fed and healthy.

The second raised bed kit is on order and I'll be setting that up next to this giving me quite a bit of growing room. I'm hoping to utilise this room properly once I've read Growing Fruit and Vegetables on a Bed System the Organic Way by Pauline Pears.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Keeping your solitary bees warm in the winter

During the recent cold spell in the UK where temperatures were below freezing for over a week and fell as low as -12C in places I brought in my solitary bee nesting tubes and put them in the fridge to keep them warm (a fridge keeps them at between 3 and 4C, still cool enough to stop them hatching).

Having written about this on the Wiggly Wigglers Facebook group Heather also mentioned it during Podcast 165 so that other people could save their own bees.

Solitary Bee nesting tubes During the podcast Richard questions why I would do this so here are my reasons: Bees in the UK (solitary, Bumble bees and honey/hive bees) are suffering a lot in the wild at the moment and disappearing from our gardens at an alarming rate. By putting in these nesters we are encouraging solitary bees, such as the Red and Blue Mason bees, into our gardens thereby saving them the bother of hunting around for suitable nesting sites and encouraging pollination of our plants during the summer. Plus they are amazing to watch, none aggressive and therefore suitable for a garden that also has children.

However, they suffer the effects of the crazy British seasons just the same as anything else. For the last few years they have hatched early only to find there are very few flowers for them and this year we have had the first real Winter in years where it didn't get above freezing for over a week.

So by putting the tubes in the fridge for a few days you actually keep them warm enough to survive the very low temperatures but cold enough not to start hatching in your fridge (and thereby saving me from an almighty talking to from Mrs Sherlock!).

I originally got this idea from Christopher O'Toole, author of "The Red Mason Bee", which is available from Wiggly Wigglers by clicking here.

Although he does state that they can be over-wintered in a shed or greenhouse he also states that a fridge is fine as it keeps them at a constant temperature and stops them emerging too soon into a cold Spring.

HOWEVER, I would recommend only putting them in the fridge when you know the temperature is going to drop very cold i.e. -10C or slightly less if it's for a prolonged spell and even then only for a few days at a time. This is because modern fridges (often with auto-defrost) don't appear to keep the required humidity very well and you run the risk of drying the cocoons out. There is more about this on the Beediverse web site.

Another reason for using your fridge is when Spring looks like it will come early. As mentioned above this then keeps them cool enough not to hatch out too soon. To quote Christopher O'Toole again: "... keep an eye on the weather and check with the long range weather forecasts. About seven to ten days before you think the fine weather will begin, put your bees out on your plot."