Vegetable Growing -Update

I am having to make changes to my vegetable growing areas in order to reduce the time that it takes to manage. I currently have two areas in which I grow vegetables and grains, covering over a quarter of an acre. This has been difficult to maintain whilst at college, and will be much more difficult when I start at university. One of the principles of Permaculture is to “Creatively use and respond to change”, so that’s what I’m doing.

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Studying Soil Science

I’ve found myself getting more and more focussed on Soil Science, and wanting to research and test the effects of some of the ideas and systems that I am working on. Without access to academic papers, journals, expensive text books and laboratory equipment I am unlikely to be able to test my ideas sufficiently, so decided that I needed to go to University to do so. Continue reading

Fungal Compost

Making a more fungal compost has been an aim of mine for some time. One of the ways that I do that is to not make ‘hot’ compost, keep the proportion of high carbon materials high, and to not turn unless it’s needed. However recently I set up a truly fungal mix of ingredients and this post is about how that went. Continue reading

UK Permaculture Convergence 2014

I will be attending the UK Permaculture Convergence 2014, where I will be giving a talk about my work on grain polycultures. The Permaculture Association organises a convergence every two years. The 2012 convergence was the first that I attended, and I spoke about grain growing there too. I have found the two year gap between convergences is really interesting, as it highlights how much has changed in the two year period, a fact that might not have been so marked with an annual event. Those changes will be reflected in the content of my talk.

My 2014 Convergence Workshop

In 2012 my workshop reflected where I was at the time with my Small Scale Grain Growing. Things have changed markedly since then. I have successfully added soybeans and edible lupins to the crops grown, and this year I am growing rice, teff, proso millet, foxtail millet, grain sorghum, grain amaranth, and lentils to see how they perform. Perhaps the best way to illustrate the difference is by the work that I was doing today. Having harvested my wheat, spelt, and rye last week, I was preparing one of those beds for sowing the next crop combination. In this case a second flint corn, to be intercropped with winter wheat, sweet clover, and persian clover. In October the corn will be replaced by broad (fava) beans, and it has been planted at a spacing that will suit the beans. I am looking to use this type of intercropping and follow on cropping to maximise the amount of root exudates produced by the plants, along with the biomass, in order to build soil fertility at the same time as providing food. The adjacent bed is growing grain sorghum, intercropped with grain amaranth, and some white clover and red orach volunteers. I am trying a cowpea interplanting with this combination, to be sown tomorrow, after germinating indoors since Sunday.

To get to these beds I had to walk past a bed with a lentil, soybean, and teff polyculture planting at one end of a bed that included two types of oats, a barley, and a second lentil variety at the other. All very different from the wheat/clover/bean combinations of two years ago.

Workshop Details

My workshop is officially called ‘Designing Grain Polycultures for Food, Fertility, and Fun’ and for the promotional ‘blurb’ I’ve described it as:

‘How complex mixtures of grains,  pseudograins,  and legumes can be grown to feed us and our soils. The talk will include details of the full range of crops that I am growing, including uncommon grains, and legumes, how they effect the fertility of the soil, and how they can be used in multi-species mixtures to meet specific needs.’
What I hope to do is weave together strands of food production, soil fertility, and good design, as well as having a giggle at the same time.

Convergence Highlights

Whilst I’d love my workshop to be the highlight of everybody’s UK Permaculture Convergence 2014, the reality is that there are a lot of good things going on over the course of the weekend. What I enjoyed most about the 2012 convergence was the opportunity to meet in person many of the people that I had been communicating with digitally for the previous year. For Diploma apprentices there is an annual Diploma Gathering, held November/Deacember each year, and there are now more regional gatherings being organised, but this is the ‘biggie’, and a real opportunity to start embedding yourself deeper into the wider network. I am fortunate to enough to be on the panel for Jan Martin’s Diploma Accreditation, which will be held at the convergence. For anybody who wants a chance to find out more the diploma, this is a great chance to listen to somebody explain what it was like for them. You can find out more about Jan’s Diploma on her blog, ‘The Snail of Happiness‘.

Good food, good company, bar, workshops, Diploma presentation, Ceilidh, time and space to chat. What isn’t there to like about a weekend away with like-minded people?

International Permaculture Convergence UK 2015

The UK is hosting the International Permaculture Convergence in 2015, and we will be hosting hundreds of permaculturalists from around the world. The UK Permaculture Conference 2014 is being held at Gilwell Park, which is the same venue as has been chosen for IPC UK 2015. Not only does this give the IPC planners a chance to test out the venue, but it also gives us a chance to get a feel for what it will be like next year. Funds raised from the 2014 Convergence will help pay for the IPC in 2015, so the more people who attend, the easier it will be to fund the IPC, and the more cash will be left over to help funf IPC 2017, which will be in India.

UK Permaculture Convergence 2014 Details

The UK Permaculture Convergence 2014 will beheld at Gilwell Park from the 12th to 14th September. Details and booking information can be found here. The convergence is open to non-members of the Permaculture Association for the first time this year, but the cost for non members is more than the cost of a year’s membership and the price for association members. So it makes sense to join.

Hope to see some of you there




Potato Blight and Compost Tea

I hadn’t intended writing a post on potato blight and compost tea to end my posting drought, but I had the opportunity to record the effect of using compost tea on blighted potatoes, and decided to run with it. Please note that if you’ve found this blog searching for remedies or preventative measures to combat potato blight,  I’m not claiming to have found a cure.

Potato Blight Conditions

Periods where potato blight is likely to occur are called ‘Smith Periods’. There’s a good explanation of Smith Periods on the Blightwatch site. I’ve been a bit busy and haven’t been checking the weather forecast, nor have I notified Blightwatch about a change of email address, so was horrified to find that two complete beds of potatoes were showing signs of potato blight. The two beds are shown in the picture below, after treatment.

potatoes in beds

Two beds of potatoes

The bed on the right is a double row of Charlotte potatoes. A lovely second early, salad potato, which should be ready to harvest soon. The bed on the left contains a single row of Lady Balfour potatoes, an early maincrop potato which I grew for the first time last year. Please note that these were taken after all of the treatments that I undertook.

Normally I spray my potatoes with compost tea before any likely Smith periods. I think that it helps to delay the onset of potato blight. I avoid spraying in the evenings, as the nights normally have higher humidity levels, and I want to avoid wet leaves at night. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been busy with my grain crops, and it completely slipped my mind. The first thing that I normally do once I have potato blight is to cut off all affected foliage. In the picture below you can see how badly the right hand row had been blighted by the amount of leaves that I cut off. Yesterday I started a compost tea brew before defoliating so that it would be ready to spray by the following morning. (Recipe details later).

tTreatment for potato blight

Potatoes after trimming

Note that some of the top leaves had lots of small blight spots, but I wanted to leave a few leaves on each plant. After removing all of the infected foliage the potatoes didn’t look too bad, so I took off the clothes that I had been wearing whilst handling the infected foliage, along with the secateurs, and put them to one side to use for that purpose only, to avoid spreading the potato blight to a third bed in another area, and to the tomatoes and peppers in my polytunnel.

Applying Compost Tea

This morning when I checked the plants more leaves were showing large blotches of blight. I had hoped that the extra airflow may have checked the spread of the disease, but that hadn’t been the case. I then applied compost tea as a foliar spray, trying to wet the undersides of the leaves too. The compost tea was applied at a dilution of 1.9 with water, or 10%. 1/2 liter in a 5 liter sprayer. I have a larger backpack sprayer, but it wasn’t needed for this quantity of crop. 20 liters was enough to treat both rows.

Compost Tea Recipe

I used a simple bacterial compost tea recipe

50 liters of rainwater

500 cl of liquid kelp

500cl of molasses

2 liters of urine (approx)

500 cl of vermicompost

500cl of my best cold compost

500cl (approx)of finely sieved rockdust (basalt)

I forgot that I have made some fish hydrolysate and could have added that too.

Further Treatment

After the compost tea had dried I decided to spray with a kelp and seaweed foliar spray. I can’t really tell you why, but it felt right. My brain rationalised it by telling me that it was food for the plant to help it fight the infection, because the ingredients for the compost tea brew would largely have been incorporated into bacterial bodies. I don’t think that’s strictly true, and perhaps I just wanted to ‘do something’ extra to help.

The Results

A few hours after applying the second spray it rained heavily. So when I went back to check on the potatoes later in the afternoon I was expecting things to have deteriorated. It was immediately obvious from a distance that there hadn’t been an increase in blighted leaves, and in fact the bulk of the foliage looked healthier than it had this morning. A closer inspection of the leaves confirmed that. The picture below is of a leaf that had exhibited  patches of dark brown blight. You can see that the blighted tissue appears to be being eaten away from the center outwards. Where intact areas of blight remain the colour is a lighter brown, and areas of leaf tissue where blight infection had just begun has lightened up.

leaf treated for potato blight

the effect of using compost tea on blight


The picture below shows one of the upper leaves that had been covered in little dark spots of potato blight. Again the blight seems to be lighter in colour, and to be being eaten away.

blight on potato leaf

a leaf showing blight spots

The next picture shows another leaf with the spots almost gone.

potato blight on leaf

More blight spots

Further Actions

I’m going to give the potatoes another spray with compost tea tomorrow, after removing any leaves still showing signs of potato blight infection. I may also remove some more of the leaves from the Lady Balfour row, to give a better flow of air through the plants.


It is impossible to say with any certaintity how much of a role the compost tea played in the checking of this potato blight infection. The potatoes may have fought the infection off themselves. The improved airflow and reduced humidity created by a drastic pruning of the leaves may have been responsible, or contributed. The additional spray of kelp and molasses may have been the main component, which is more simple and quicker than starting a compost tea brew. However I’ve seen compost tea prevent blackspot on new rose leaves after spraying, and my potatoes are normally pretty late in getting blight when I am spraying them regularly with compost tea. It certainly seems like there is scope for a more structured potato blight compost tea trial.


All of the best