Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Green Fertiliser

Using Green Manure in #WinsfordGardens a #CTWW weekly challenge

As an alternative to chemical fertilisers, green manure can be used to improve and protect the soil. It is therefore, a staple of organic gardening and sustainable agriculture. In Winsford Gardens in Penge, we tried this last year in the two new flower beds we created where our willow arch had stood before it was vandalised. If I recall correctly, we used Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum.) Fenugreek is a legume (Fabaceae family) and other legumes are the most commonly used green fertilisers because most of them have symbiotic Nitrogen-fixing bacteria in structures called root nodules, and because Nitrogen is the most limiting nutrient in the soil. However, a number of late-flowering non-leguminous plants can also be used. The Fenugreek was allowed to grow for a period, and then before it reached full maturity and flowered, it was ploughed back under the soil by hoeing. In a similar process to composting, heterotrophic bacteria break down the organic material. The Nitrogen becomes available to other plants, but the weak acids also react with insoluble soil minerals to release Phosphates. We have just planted up the two beds so we’ll let you know if it worked.

A couple of years ago we also planted Comfrey in Winsford Gardens and used the leaves to make a green fertiliser. Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) is a perennial herb (Boraginaceae family) with black, turnip-like roots and large, hairy broad leaves that bears small bell-shaped flowers in a variety of colours. It is a fast growing plant and Nitrogen hungry, and the leaves can be harvested up to five times in a single year, after which the plant will rapidly regrow. The leaves and stems are covered in fine hairs that irritate the skin, so they must be cut wearing gloves. ‘Comfrey Tea’ can be made when the leaves are soaked in rainwater for four to five weeks, where they quickly break down into a thick black liquid. Alternatively, they can be used sparingly in the compost heap as a compost activator. In addition to the Nitrogen, the leaves are an excellent source of Potassium (up to three times more than animal manure) which the plant takes from deep in the subsoil, unavailable to other plants. The Comfrey Tea is very strong and must be diluted before use on beds.

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Mulches and Mulching

Mulches and Mulching

in #WinsfordGardens a #CTWW Weekly Challenge

Mulching doesn't only give a garden a neat and attractive appearance but it also improves the soil around plants, and it helps conserve water in the Summer and to keep down some of the weeds. Any way to reduce watering and weeding certainly works for me! Mulches will also protect roots of plants from frost damage during the Winter.

We use mulched wood chip where it is especially effective - around the Roses in our Rose Garden and around the Fruit trees in our Urban Orchard. It is excellent for our fruit trees - apples, pears, gage, quince and cherries. We mulch in the Autumn and in the early to late Spring, when soil is moist and warm.

Winsford Gardens Rose GardenWe use the compost and the leaf mould that we make ourselves in Winsford Gardens as a biodegradable organic mulch on the flower beds and vegetable beds. It is then drawn down into the surface layer by earthworms and improves the soil structure and fertility. We also use soil improver made by the London Borough of Bromley from local residents recycled household garden waste. Other options are to use seaweed, well rotted manure, spent hops or spent mushroom compost.

For our Rose Garden and the Urban Orchard, we have the wood chip delivered from local tree surgeons working in the area. Fresh wood chip needs to be seasoned before use as it takes longer to biodegrade and can actually take Nitrogen out of the soil. This reduction in available Nitrogen can last for several months to several years, depending on the species of wood. We must also be careful not to lay mulched wood chip in direct contact with tree stems it can cause them to soften, making them vulnerable to bacterial and fungal infections. Certain trees such as Larch, Ash, Maple and Red Fir have been blamed for inhibiting nitrate formation by soil micro-organisms so we try to avoid those.

We try our best not to use any peat because its use leads to further depletion of the peat bogs in countries such as Ireland Winsford Gardens Urban Orchardand the Baltic states, which supply most of the peat used in the UK. Another alternative is to use coir, made from coconut shells or tree bark. Bark isn't as useful as wood chip as it tends to come in strips and doesn't give good coverage.

You can also use shingle, pebbles, gravel, and other decorative aggregates around trees. These inorganic, non-biodegrade mulches do not improve the fertility or structure of the soil, but they do suppress weeds and conserve moisture.  Permeable woven landscape fabrics can also be used that allow rain and irrigation water to reach the roots. Stone chips have the disadvantage that they can damage lawn mowers when they migrate onto lawns.

Once you have added a mulch to the soil you will initially need to apply extra water to reach the roots of the plants beneath. If you want to apply fertilisers there is no need to remove mulches. Fertilisers spread over mulches in late winter are washed down to plant roots by rain more slowly with less loss of Nitrogen by runoff or volatilisation.

Friday, 3 April 2015

Penge Green Gym Newsletter April 2015

Penge Green Gym Newsletter


Dear Penge Green Gym Supporters


Lots to do now spring is here!

As the bulbs come into their own and the days are getting longer (if not any warmer!) all hands are on deck to start the process of getting the park ready for summer and especially our open day on Sunday June 14th.  Many of the hedges and larger bushes have been given a good hair cut which makes the park look very neat and tidy and the park is already full of colour.

Sadly, we have had some very serious vandalism over the last month with the fence to the growing area being knocked down and many of the panels of the greenhouse being kicked in.  And along with the damage, once again, to the fence around the wildflower meadow it has been a very disheartening time.  We have however, (with the help of the council in providing funds to replace some fence posts) now repaired the fence and put the greenhouse back together.  We can only hope that the vandals don't return.  And we hope to engage the local people to help us to keep an eye on the park.

Now that the greenhouse is repaired we have sown hundreds of seeds and are very quickly seeing them poke their heads up through the compost!  It is a joy to see new growth where there was once destruction.

We have also been busy building new cold frames and shelves which will be needed as the plants mature and get ready to be planted out.  A special thank you to Barry for all his hard work.


2nd Birthday

On 1st April Penge Green Gym celebrated its 2nd birthday as an independent group.  We celebrated in our favourite way with some cakes (thank you Tom and Electra) and a nice cup of tea!



You can still also use Easyfundraising is an easy and free way to support the Penge Green Gym.  When you buy items on the internet from well known shops such as John Lewis and Amazon, you can sign up to Easyfunding and they will donate a percentage to Penge Green Gym.  To sign up, go to  You can also help by downloading the easfundraising christmas pack and print of posters and flyers and add our name.