Learning to Garden (2) – Ash and Manure

For the past two years I’ve been working on my house and this has given me the opportunity to ponder the changes that have taken place between 1901 when it was built and now.  Most of the building materials were sourced locally and there was a fair amount of what is today called recycling.

For the most part, the quality of the original materials and workmanship is high, less so for recent repairs and upgrades.  An exception is the use of town ash, in fairness, it has taken a century to become a problem.  An Edwardian dustbin contained everything from food waste (bones), packaging (bottles and pots) and ash from coal fires.  This stuff was carted away and and some poor body got to separate out things that could be reused.  A lot of the ash went to brick fields where it was mixed with clay which was presumably more expensive.  Some of the partially burnt fuel in the ash helped the firing process.  Some of it got used as an alternative to sand in the mortar for garden walls, some to fill cavities and the clinker was a form of hardcore.  Wall with a high ash content have needed a lot repairs.

The clay for the bricks was dug locally.  The house is in a hollow carved out of chalk, it is probable that the chalk would have been “burnt” for lime which was used by the local builders to mix mortar.  The flints which were found as the chalk was excavated were used to build retaining walls in the garden.  The materials used in the repairs have come from as far away as Germany.  Today most building materials are trucked into the town from large plants located close to motorways.  Some old bricks I’ve encountered have been nasty compared to even a cheap modern one so one should not be too romantic about old building materials.

Bike with 5 kg of Horse Poo

The big change has been the availability of cheap diesel fueled transport, virtually all the materials used to build the house would have arrived on a horse drawn wagon.  Once built, horses would have delivered coal, carted away filth and left piles of dung in the road.  This stuff got scraped off the streets and sold to the market gardens within the borough and to farms farms beyond it.

At first glance this looks like a family of virtuous circles cuddling up to each other, but I’m guessing that the work was dirty, poorly paid and the standard of animal welfare was not high.

I have just cleared the garden of rubble and felt that it would be a good idea to dig some organic matter into areas which have been neglected (which in reality is most of the garden) before planting anything.  I  paid £6.99 for a bag of farmyard manure from the local garden center, as I have found there are some hidden benefits in this approach.  However, I decided that I should be able to get something similar for free.  So I cycled towards the riding school where my daughter used to frighten the horses equipped with a trowel and an empty rubble sack.   With little difficulty I gathered up 5 kg of horse poo.  Not wanting to spoil the ride home or lumber myself with a substance that had the potential for upsetting the neighbors, this modest quantity seemed about right.  4 kg has been buried in a narrow bed with will be planted with broad beans later this month, and 1 kg is shared by two rhubarb plants which are currently holidaying in the front garden.  Smell has not been the problem I feared, but my dog and an urban fox are digging up the poo for midnight feasts.

Week ending 04-Oct-2015

Planted 10 tulip bulbs in pots filled with budget garden center compost.  My wife bought these in Amsterdam during the summer.

In early spring, being fond of strong tasting food, I purchased a “horseradish bone” and planted it between a couple of rubble sacks.  I dug it up this weekend intending to grate it over potatoes.  The central root was not that big, but smaller ones had spread out over half a square meter.  In a blog post someone describe horseradish as “invasive”, hopefully I’ve dug it all out.  I’ve potted some of the roots in three medium sized pots.  This might not be something to grow in a small garden.

The Guardian magazine had a short paragraph suggesting that chili plants could be treated as perennials.  So two have been given the opportunity to become house plants over the winter.  I am quite attached to those two plants, suffice to say that had been “discarded” by a previous owner with a good crop of chilies.  On the day of the rescue I was cycling around town in my building clothes with a couple of sad looking plants sticking out of my rucksack.  This is a partial explanation of why I was not in Amsterdam with my wife.

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About SolarBucket

I trained as a mechanical engineer in the 1970's and then spent most of the following 25 years doing sums and software for Oil and Gas Exploration. Current interests are the study of wind and solar resources.
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One Response to Learning to Garden (2) – Ash and Manure

  1. This made me smile. I can picture it. Careful that you do not over winter pepper bugs in your plants and give them a leg up in your garden. Best wishes.

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