Cutworms & Gromix

June 15, 2011 § Leave a comment

Two quick notes, firstly, here is a cutworm nestling happily in my favourite flashy butter oak lettuce.. get out!! (I fed it to the pig ha!)

Cutworms are usually grey-brown, but may have a yellow or green tint to them, and look like fat, smooth caterpillars. They measure about 2.5-4cm (1”) long and move very quickly when disturbed, curling up into a tight ‘C’ shape.

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They reside in the soil by day and come out at night to wrap themselves around the base of plant stalks and eat them. They can decimate a crop and are partial to a wide range of fruit, vegetable and ornamental plants.

The eggs are laid by turnip moths in June and July. After two weeks the larvae hatch and live for a month before pupating in the soil. A second generation can hatch in August and September which will over-winter in the soil, coming to the surface to feed when environmental conditions are favourable.

Birds, especially chickens, feed on cutworms, and some nematodes will effectively eradicate them. A ring of twigs driven into the ground, tin cans with both ends cut off, cardboard or foil can be wrapped around the base of plants to prevent these soil-dwelling pests reaching the stems- mulch mats also.

My next comment is about growing media. Her eis the standard mix we use at vegplugs.co.uk:

.. basically we need to get out of this antiquated mindset that plants need peat. Some plants do need peat- they thrive in it and substitutes often give substandard results – but these are very few. If your sowing seed or potting on plants you need not use pure peat/compost.

Free respiration in the root zone is essential for healthy, fast-growing plants. Plant respiration relies on air spaces in the soil for gaseous exchange to and from roots. The higher the porosity of a soil, the greater it’s potential to move water and air to plant roots. Smaller pore spaces mean greater water retention and therefore lower air supply.

In the image above you can see lots of aerators (along with peat-free organic compost) .. perlite and clay pebbles give the soil a lovely loose, airy structure. Sometimes we use water-retentive gel (about 10-20%) in the mix. This is a standard mix for potting on nearly any plant. For sowing seed we cover them with pure compost or vermiculite, but they are sown into this mix.

In the garden, coarse organic matter (leaves, pine needles, well rotted wood chippings etc) increases the size and the amount of pore space in the soil, as does perlite. Microorganisms, bugs and worms make air spaces, so healthy soil is, by virtue of these beasties, well aerated.

We blend our compost on-site to suit each variety we grow. Each blend aims to optimise drainage, nutrients, aeration and disease resistance. We use (not all at once): peat- free certified organic compost, perlite, vermiculite, sharp sand, coconut fibre, powdered neem cake, lime, mycorrhizal fungi and organic seaweed-based nutrients. Some plants prefer a less nitrogen rich free draining soil, for this recycled polystyrene, fine gravel and/or fine bark is added to the blend.

A useful list of NPK values from the chileman.org

January 26, 2011 § Leave a comment

NPK value for various organic materials, from a good chilli info database at the chileman.org

Alfalfa Hay: 2.45/05/2.1
Apple Fruit: 0.05/0.02/0.1
Apple Leaves: 1.0/0.15/0.4
Apple Pomace: 0.2/0.02/0.15
Apple skins(ash) : 0/3.0/11/74
Banana Residues (ash): 1.75/0.75/0.5
Barley (grain): 0/0/0.5
Barley (straw): 0/0/1.0
Basalt Rock: 0/0/1.5
Bat Guano: 5.0-8.0/4.0-5.0/1.0
Beans, garden(seed and hull): 0.25/0.08/03
Beet Wastes: 0.4/0.4/0.7-4.1
Blood meal: 15.0/0/0
Bone Black: 1.5/0/0
Bonemeal (raw): 3.3-4.1/21.0/0.2
Bonemeal (steamed): 1.6-2.5/21.0/0.2
Brewery Wastes (wet): 1.0/0.5/0.05
Buckwheat straw: 0/0/2.0
Cantaloupe Rinds (ash): 0/9.77/12.0
Castor pomace: 4.0-6.6/1.0-2.0/1.0-2.0
Cattail reeds and water lily stems: 2.0/0.8/3.4
Cattail Seed: 0.98/0.25/0.1
Cattle Manure (fresh): 0.29/0.25/0.1
Cherry Leaves: 0.6/0/0.7
Chicken Manure (fresh): 1.6/1.0-1.5/0.6-1.0
Clover: 2/0/0/0 (also contains calcium)
Cocoa Shell Dust: 1.0/1.5/1.7
Coffee Grounds: 2.0/0.36/0.67
Corn (grain): 1.65/0.65/0.4
Corn (green forage): 0.4/0.13/0.33
Corn cobs: 0/0/2.0
Corn Silage: 0.42/0/0
Cornstalks: 0.75/0/0.8
Cottonseed hulls (ash): 0/8.7/23.9
Cottonseed Meal: 7.0/2.0-3.0/1.8
Cotton Wastes (factory): 1.32/0.45/0.36
Cowpea Hay: 3.0/0/2.3
Cowpeas (green forage): 0.45/0.12/0.45
Cowpeas (seed): 3.1/1.0/1.2
Crabgrass (green): 0.66/0.19/0.71
Crabs (dried, ground): 10.0/0/0
Crabs (fresh): 5.0/3.6/0.2
Cucumber Skins (ash): 0/11.28/27.2
Dried Blood: 10.0-14.0/1.0-5.0/0
Duck Manure (fresh): 1.12/1.44/0.6
Eggs: 2.25/0.4/0.15
Eggshells: 1.19/0.38/0.14
Feathers: 15.3/0/0
Felt Wastes: 14.0/0/1.0
Field Beans (seed): 4.0/1.2/1.3
Feild Beans (shells): 1.7/0.3/1.3
Fish (dried, ground): 8.0/7.0/0
Fish Scraps (fresh): 6.5/3.75/0
Gluten Meal: 6.4/0/0
Granite Dust: 0/0/3.0-5.5
Grapefruit Skins (ash): 0/3.6/30.6
Grape Leaves: 0.45/0.1/0.4
Grape Pomace: 1.0/0.07/0.3
Grass (imature): 1.0/0/1.2
Greensand: 0/1.5/7.0
Hair: 14/0/0/0
Hoof and Horn Meal: 12.5/2.0/0
Horse Manure (fresh): 0.44/0.35/0.3
Incinerator Ash: 0.24/5.15/2.33
Jellyfish (dried): 4.6/0/0
Kentucky Bluegrass (green): 0.66/0.19/0.71
Kentucky Bluegrass (hay): 1.2/0.4/2.0
Leather Dust: 11.0/0/0
Lemon Culls: 0.15/0.06/0.26
Lemon Skins (ash): 06.33/1.0
Lobster Refuse: 4.5/3.5/0
Milk: 0.5/0.3/0.18
Millet Hay: 1.2/0/3.2
Molasses Residue: 0.7/0/5.32
Molasses Waste: 0/0/3.0-4.0
Mud (fresh water): 1.37/0.26/0.22
Mud (harbour): 0.99/0.77/0.05
Mussels: 1.0/0.12/0.13
Nutshells: 2.5/0/0
Oak Leaves: 0.8/0.35/0.2
Oats (grain): 2.0/0.8/0.6
Oats (green fodder): 0.49/0/0
Oat straw: 0/0/1.5
Olive Pomace: 1.15/0.78/1.3
Orange Culls: 0.2/0.13/0.21
Orange Skins: 0/3.0/27.0
Oyster Shells: 0.36/0/0
Peach Leaves: 0.9/0.15/0.6
Pea forage: 1.5-2.5/0/1.4
Peanuts (seed/kernals): 3.6/0.7/0.45
Peanut Shells: 3.6/0.15/0.5
Pea Pods (ash): 0/3.0/9.0
Pea (vines): 0.25/0/0.7
Pear Leaves: 0.7/0/0.4
Pigeon manure (fresh): 4.19/2.24/1.0
Pigweed (rough): 0.6/0.1/0
Pine Needles: 0.5/0.12/0.03
Potato Skins (ash): 0/5.18/27.5
Potaote Tubers: 0.35/0.15/2.5
Potatoe Vines (dried): 0.6/0.16/1.6
Prune Refuse: 0.18/0.07/0.31
Pumpkins (fresh): 0.16/0.07/0.26
Rabbitbrush (ash): 0/0/13.04
Rabbit Manure: 2.4/1.4/0.6
Ragweed: 0.76/0.26/0
Rapeseed meal: 0/1.0=2.0/1.0=3.0
Raspberry leaves: 1.45/0/0.6
Red clover hay: 2.1/0.6/2.1
Redrop Hay: 1.2/0.35/1.0
Rock and Mussel Deposits
From Ocean: 0.22/0.09/1.78
Roses (flowers): 0.3/0.1/0.4
Rye Straw: 0/0/1.0
Salt March Hay: 1.1/0.25/0.75
Sardine Scrap: 8.0/7.1/0
Seaweed (dried): 1.1-1.5/0.75/4.9
Seaweed (fresh): 0.2-0.4/0/0
Sheep and Goat Manure (fresh): 0.55/0.6/0.3
Shoddy and Felt: 8.0/0/0
Shrimp Heads (dried): 7.8/4.2/0
Shrimp Wastes: 2.9/10.0/0
Siftings From Oyster Shell Mounds: 0.36/10.38/0.09
Silk Mill Wastes: 8.0/1.14/1.0
Silkworm Cocoons:10.0/1.82/1.08
Sludge: 2.0/1.9/0.3
Sludge (activated): 5.0/2.5-4.0/0.6
Smokehouse/Firepit Ash:0/0/4.96
Sorghum Straw:0/0/1.0
Soybean Hay: 1.5-3.0/0/1.2-2.3
Starfish: 1.8/0.2/0.25
Sugar Wastes (raw): 2.0/8.0/0
Sweet Potatoes: 0.25/0.1/0.5
Swine Manure (fresh): 0.6/0.45/0.5
Tanbark Ash: 0/0.34/3.8
Tanbark Ash (spent): 0/1.75/2.0
Tankage: 3.0-11.0/2.0-5.0/0
Tea Grounds: 4.15/0.62/0.4
Timothy Hay: 1.2/0.55/1.4
Tobacco Leaves: 4.0/0.5/6.0
Tobacco Stems: 2.5-3.7/0.6-0.9/4.5-7.0
Tomato Fruit: 0.2/0.07/0.35
Tomatoe Leaves: 0.35/0.1/0.4
Tomatoe Stalks: 0.35/0.1/0.5
Tung Oil Pumace: 6.1/0/0
Vetch Hay: 2.8/0/2.3
Waste Silt: 9.5/0/0
Wheat Bran: 2.4/2.9/1.6
Wheat (grain): 2.0/0.85/0.5
Wheat Straw: 0.5/0.15/0.8
White Clover (Green): 0.5/0.2/0.3
Winter Rye Hay: 0/0/1.0
Wood Ash: 0/1.0-2.0/6.0-10.0
Wool Wastes: 3.5-6.0/2.0-4.0/1.0-3.5

The Earth Moved

January 13, 2011 § Leave a comment

I read a delightful book this week by Amy Stuart called The Earth Moved: On the Remarkable Achievements of Earthworms.

Here is a short synopsis from Booklistonline.com:

No less a scientist than Charles Darwin wrote one of his most popular books on how earthworms were responsible for creating the rich uppermost layer of soil, and garden columnist Stewart’s equal fascination for this spineless, subterranean earth mover (and ingestor) shines through in the chatty text. She explains the differences between red worms that thrive in compost piles and worm bins, nightcrawlers that dig their deep burrows in the soil, and gray worms that live around plant roots. She examines the work of scientists as they discover new species of earthworms, looks at the role of earthworms in soil ecology, dissects the anatomy and taxonomy of the world’s earthworms, and discusses the interactions of human and worm. The importance of earthworms to the organic farmer and backyard gardener is one of Stewart’s key points. This quirky book will find a niche in all gardening and natural-history collections.

Nancy Bent
Copyright © American Library Association


Long have I been loving earthworms and often am I to be found with my head in the wormery. Amy Stuart’s book taught me plenty about earthworms and I can thoroughly recommend it. My favourite bit of the book is a paragraph that i’m going to paraphrase horribly, but essentially the author finds it amusing that mankind has spent millenia staring at the sky for answers about creation, when they need look no further than the soil beneath their feet.

When I was a kid there was this snotty adolescent called Ethan who lived across the street who would spend his weekends mixing concrete with the express purpose of burying worms in it so he could watch them die as the concrete set. It broke my heart. I’d go collect the desiccated worms and give them a proper burial in the stream. Seriously, I can’t walk past a worm on a pavement without picking it up and finding some soft earth for it. Love ’em 🙂 Thank you worms.

Pigs as ploughs: Put your spade away and get a pig

December 3, 2010 § Leave a comment

When I first heard about no dig gardening I thought Yes! Indeed that’s the way forward for my veg growing operations. For the last three years I’ve done it successfully, but for the past three years I’ve been making/obtaining tons of compost & manure.

Now I have pigs so there is nothing spare for the compost heap, and really without a constant influx of compost the wheels fall off my no-dig system.

These last three compost laden years have spoilt me- I wince at the thought of digging even a celery trench let alone double digging, and I’m a fit (marginally), healthy (fairly) 29 year old.

Solution! The no-dig strategy now encompasses pigs.

Anyway, pigs are the ultimate ploughs, they are like ploughs with a fertilising arm attached to the rear end. They have little pointy feet which avoid compressing the ground. I compare them to fat ladies in stilettos (no offence to fat ladies in stilettos).

They root down to their eyeballs and heave the soil aside, leaving it fluffy, aerated and devoid of weeds/last year’s crop stumps. With a little raking these are perfect soil conditions for planting vegetables.

If you are lucky enough to have a pig, or have a neighbour who will lend you one, a simple rotation system can see all of your digging done for you.

Fencing is of paramount importance as hungry/bored pigs will really enjoy digging under a fence. Believe me you don’t want to be chasing a fully grown pig about your neighbourhood.

Peat free we are

November 13, 2010 § Leave a comment

We have been a peat-free company since we opened our vegetable plug plant business. Peat in-situ is a tremendously valuable natural resource and far too precious to use for growing plants.

Click here to read an article published by the Royal Horticultural Society about peat.



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