Moving Compost

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We’ve actually got around to ‘turning’ a compost heap over.

That is quite and achievement here. We often fill compost heaps so high that we can’t possibly turn them over without creating a collapse similar if Everest gave way.

But we did it, in two hours in the rain. We kind of had to do it because, well, I needed more space for the onions and garlic. I’ve planted somewhere around 250 onions… we were given quite a few but it was good seeing as the cats have already dug some up…

But yes – back to composting – why do we ‘turn’ compost over? Why do we compost in the first place? Why not chuck it in one of those bins?

For shame.

Right, compost: organic matter that has been decomposed and recycled as fertiliser and soil amendment. Compost is the KEY ingredient to organic farming. Despite the slug pellets, that is what we aim to do.

Have you ever read The Running Hare by John Lewis-Stemple? Do, its great.

You make your compost out of basically anything in the garden – that can be cut grass, leaves, old plants, some people choose not to include their weeds but I do because I like dumping them somewhere and feeling like I am recycling. You can also put your food waste in it. This might attract rodents, of course, but what about your tea bags, banana peels, veg scrapings? Those are all really good to rot down and so not worth giving to the bin man. You can put cardboard and paper on too – covering the heap with cardboard is a good way of helping it to rot down.

But why should I compost?

  1. Saves money – do you know how expensive compost is?
  2. Saves resources and reduces negative impacts on the environment by avoiding chemical fertilisers.
  3. Improves soil – it feeds it with a diversity of nutrients, improves soil drainage and increases soil stability.

Compost takes time. It can look messy. But it is so worth it for a gardner. It is an investment.

So, if you don’t know already, ‘turning over’ the compost bed is aerating it. It gives it a flush of oxygen that encourages the bacteria breaking it down not to remain sluggish. It therefore speeds up the process, sometimes by weeks.

To aerate your compost, fork or shovel the compost into a newly set up enclosure next door to it. It is that simple. If your pile isn’t as big as a mountain.

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My new book: A Growing Mind: the small book of gardening for eating disorders

Ok… so this is the explanation to why I was absent for a while this year.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Growing-Mind-gardening-eating-disorders/dp/1976388740/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1506408661&sr=8-3&keywords=isobel+murphy

I was in hospital for weight recovery for anorexia that I had been hosting for the last few years. I had hit what I call, rock bottom, and was more than desperate to end this nightmare. I saw my doctor and old psychiatrist from 2013 and was sent to hospital.

I went to three different hospitals during that time and learnt different things from each of them. Some experiences were awful and scarring, others made me the person I am right at this moment, a bit of a better person, hopefully.

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Eating disorders are odd problems. When I was younger, I was taught that an eating disorder was someone who wanted to be thin so much that they starved themselves. I remember thinking ‘that’s vain’. I never ever considered that I would have one. I didn’t know that it could become an obsession, almost a religion, that it involved punishing yourself, feeling so guilty you want to rip your insides out, a way of distracting yourself from the rest of the world you don’t understand, a way of blocking out other pain because living in your head and body trumps all other external suffering.

It is very hard for people who have not had an eating disorder, or had to live with someone close with one, to actually be able to understand how difficult life can be with this illness.

I realised while I was in hospital that funnily enough, gardening had prepared me for the struggles I had ahead. It might sound odd, but it is true. I have explained it in more detail in the very short book.

My hope is that whoever is struggling with and eating disorder will read this book and will get something out of it. It might cure you, it might not, it might be somewhere in the middle. But when we have these illnesses, isn’t it great to try anything to see if it helps, just a little? I think any ease in the internal and physical pain is a relief once you actually have it.

Let me tell you, I was terrified of recovery. I still have ups and downs, but the difference is that the downs don’t destroy me anymore, I can still eat and not over-exercises and keep sane. It is always better once you are there. The climb of the mountain is rough, but the view is exquisite.

This book tackles other issues that come with the package with eating disorders but might be good for anyone else struggling with depression, control issues, anxiety, being sociable, insomnia or sleep issues, and people who just need to feel calm.

If you know anyone who this book might help, please offer it to them. I really want it to help someone like it helped me.

Here is the link again to the book on Amazon (I self-published it so made it as cheap as I could) :

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Growing-Mind-gardening-eating-disorders/dp/1976388740/ref=sr_1_6?ie=UTF8&qid=1506321159&sr=8-6&keywords=isobel+murphy

Keep yourselves well. Lots of love.

The Green Prescription

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/wellbeing/health-advice/do-you-need-a-green-prescription/

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I hope the link above still works, it is rather old in the news of the world timeline now. I read it in my grandma’s paper she hands onto us for the chicken houses and I was very pleased to see that someone else had discovered the benefits of being 1) outdoors when you are unhappy/stressed/depressed/insomniac/anything horrid, and 2) how gardening can strangely benefit your mental health when you are feeling blue.

As someone who was introduced to gardening in a rather bleak part of her life, I really believe in this cure. Any problems I have, any doubts are (unfortunately not completely cured, it is still not the Disney magic we all need) washed away or quelled. I do not know what it is but gardening and being outside really can lift the spirits and make someone feel top of the world.

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I have read before about how the soil contains bacterium that boosts serotonin levels, the hormone responsible for regulating our mood. Humans have been aware of the healing values of gardening for a long time. Court physicians in ancient Egypt prescribed garden walks for the mentally unwell. Roman satirist Juvenal exhorted us to ‘live as a lover of the hoe and master of the vegetable patch’. Gardening was used as therapy for war veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. As it is Mental Health Awareness Week, it is probably a good time to post this on my documenting/gardening blog. It might help someone.

So if you are very feeling low, try stepping outside and taking in a deep breath of fresh air. It really can clear your lungs and head. If you are ever feeling angry or stressed or like hitting someone or shouting and screaming, go and pick up a spade or fork and (do not attack someone) start digging in the dirt. If you are crying, weed a flower bed. If you don’t feel like eating, grow and tend your own nourishment and watch in fascination as it becomes a huge being from a tiny seed, all for you. If you can’t sleep, take a long walk or bike ride somewhere green or dig until your legs can’t hold you up anymore.

This is the green prescription and a way of life that we all probably need.

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Books: Fiction for outdoor lovers

It might be difficult to tell from my writing on this blog (I make far too many grammatical errors and cannot excuse myself for my bad proof reading enough) but I am and always have been a book-worm. I pretty much devour books. I read a lot of varieties but I do love old-fashioned fiction written in the style of the Brontes, Hardy, George Elliot, Jane Austen, Thackery – and I must add, I have ready every novel by Daphne Du Maurier, ‘The Hunger Games’ series a few years back and grew up adoring Enid Blyton, ‘The Butterfly Lion’ and when I was twelve, my favourite book was ‘The Book Thief’. Book-worm.

It is even more exciting when the character suddenly finds his/herself in the most gorgeous scenery or working on the land. I relate to it immediately. I have compiled a list of fictional books for the outdoors, old-fashioned, farm labour lovers on the internet, as well as recommending some outstanding reads worth trying…

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THE SECRET GARDEN – Frances Hodgson-Burnett

“There’s naught as nice as th’ smell o’ good clean earth, except th’ smell o’ fresh growin’ things when th’ rain falls on ’em.”

‘After losing her parents, young Mary Lennox is sent from India to live in her uncle’s gloomy mansion on the wild English moors. She is lonely and has no one to play with, but one day she learns of a secret garden somewhere in the grounds that no one is allowed to enter. Then Mary uncovers an old key in a flowerbed – and a gust of magic leads her to the hidden door. Slowly she turns the key and enters a world she could never have imagined.’ Penguin Books

This is a lovely book sold as a children’s book but it will be a delight to all adults too. It deals with grown-up situations – poorly children, orphaned children, loneliness, charity, father and son love, the wonders of the outdoors, gardening and wildlife and finding life again – but is written in a tone that makes it gentle enough for a child to read it. This is a wonderful technique as it makes a book about serious subjects actually happy. I felt so joyous whilst reading this book. I wanted to go to Yorkshire, run on the moors and play in the secret garden behind a stone wall, weeding in the peace and quiet, be Dickon, the kind-hearted animal and plant whisperer. It is a beautiful read and will make you happy and want to live.

“Sometimes since I’ve been in the garden I’ve looked up through the trees at the sky and I have had a strange feeling of being happy as if something was pushing and drawing in my chest and making me breathe fast. Magic is always pushing and drawing and making things out of nothing. Everything is made out of magic, leaves and trees, flowers and birds, badgers and foxes and squirrels and people. So it must be all around us. In this garden – in all the places.”

ANNA KARENINA – Leo Tolstoy

‘… taking long, regular strides, and with a precise and regular action which seemed to cost him no more effort than swinging one’s arms in walking, as though it were in play, he laid down the high, even row of grass. It was as though it were not he but the sharp scythe of itself swishing through the juicy grass.’

‘‘I must have physical exercise, or my temper’ll certainly be ruined,’ he thought, and he determined he would go mowing, however awkward he might feel about it with his brother or the peasants.’

 ‘He thought of nothing, wished for nothing, but not to be left behind the peasants, and to do his work as well as possible. He heard nothing but the swish of the scythes, and saw before him Tit’s upright figure mowing away, the crescent- shaped curve of the cut grass, the grass and flower heads slowly and rhythmically falling before the blade of his scythe, and ahead of him the end of the row, where would come the rest.’

‘Leo Tolstoy’s classic story of doomed love is one of the most admired novels in world literature. Generations of readers have been enthralled by his magnificent heroine, the unhappily married Anna Karenina, and her tragic affair with dashing Count Vronsky. In their world frivolous liaisons are commonplace, but Anna and Vronsky’s consuming passion makes them a target for scorn and leads to Anna’s increasing isolation. The heartbreaking trajectory of their relationship contrasts sharply with the colorful swirl of friends and family members who surround them, especially the newlyweds Kitty and Levin, who forge a touching bond as they struggle to make a life together. Anna Karenina is a masterpiece not only because of the unforgettable woman at its core and the stark drama of her fate, but also because it explores and illuminates the deepest questions about how to live a fulfilled life.’ www.goodreads.com

It is a BIG read. Not quite as long as ‘War and Peace’ but still a chunky book. The film of ‘Anna Karenina’ focuses mostly on the relationship of Anna and Vronksy, overlooking Levin who actually takes up most of the book. He is a really interesting character. Some people say that the chapters where he is scything and working alongside his fellow farmers is the most boring part of the book. To me, it was the best. I felt a glowing excitement while I was reading it and that was the day I decided I wanted to one day get a scythe. That dream came true a couple of weeks ago. I am sure that anyone who loves farming, being outdoors, physical labour, old-fashioned tools etc. will adore this part of the book. If you don’t, then still read it as the rest of the book is exciting, dramatic, filled with deceit, death, love and hatred, family affairs, success and failure. A typical good old-fashioned read.

 ‘The longer Levin mowed, the oftener he felt the moments of unconsciousness in which it seemed not his hands that swung the scythe, but the scythe mowing of itself, a body full of life and consciousness of its own, and as though by magic, without thinking of it, the work turned out regular and well-finished of itself. These were the most blissful moments.’

FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD – Thomas Hardy

“To persons standing alone on a hill during a clear midnight such as this, the roll of the world is almost a palpable movement. To enjoy the epic form of that gratification it is necessary to stand on a hill at a small hour of the night, and, having first expanded with a sense of difference from the mass of civilized mankind, who are diregardful of all such proceedings at this time, long and quietly watch your stately progress through the stars.”

‘Independent and spirited Bathsheba Everdene has come to Weatherbury to take up her position as a farmer on the largest estate in the area. Her bold presence draws three very different suitors: the gentleman-farmer Boldwood, soldier-seducer Sergeant Troy and the devoted shepherd Gabriel Oak. Each, in contrasting ways, unsettles her decisions and complicates her life, and tragedy ensues, threatening the stability of the whole community. The first of his works set in Wessex, Hardy’s novel of swift passion and slow courtship is imbued with his evocative descriptions of rural life and landscapes, and with unflinching honesty about sexual relationships.’ goodreads.com

One cannot write a list of country-worshiping fictional novels and not include Thomas Hardy in it. ‘Far From the Madding Crowd’ is probably my favourite but I love ‘Tess of D’Urbevilles’ (read the description of the green hills surrounding Tess and her fellow milkmaids – I wanted to be an old-fashioned milk maid living in Dorset straightaway and that was before I had even been or heard of Dorset) and I have read ‘The Mayor of Casterbridge’, slightly less country but an exciting read and still set in Hardy’s Wessex. Dramatic, romantic, honest, tragic and sad (Hardy’s style I am afraid), I urge everyone to pick up a famous copy. Trust me, I know people who have studied his poetry at school and thought they hated Hardy’s melancholy writing, have then read ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’ and realised that he is a brilliant story teller.

‘It was that period in the vernal quarter when we may supposed the Dryads to be waking for the season—The vegetable world begins to move and swell and the saps to rise, till in the completest silence of lone gardens and trackless plantations […] there are bustlings, strainings, united thrusts, and pulls-altogether.’

‘This reminded him that if there was one class of manifestation on this matter that he thoroughly understood, it was the instincts of sheep.’

Books: Gardening

Some gardening books I recommend:

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‘Grow your own Eat your own’ and ‘Bob Flowerdew’s Organic Bible’, both by Bob Flowerdew

Grow Your Own, Eat Your Own’ – Bob Flowerdew: Offers advice on harvesting, storing and cooking your homegrown produce throughout the year. He discusses how to grow for your particular kitchen needs, coping with gluts and storing and preserving: drying, jams and jellies, syrups and squashes, salting, brining, fruit cheeses and butters, pickles, chutneys, sauces and ketchups, soaking and sprouting… His recipe includes handy tips of growing techniques, adopting an organic approach to gardening, includes recipes (fruity up and down pancake, cinnamon baked pears, plum sorbet, artichoke pate, stuffed courgette flowers, pickled beetroot…) and adds a little extra page on keeping poultry and bees, underlining the wonderful relationship between keeping an organic garden and livestock.

‘Bob Flowerdew’s Organic Bible’: Gardening organically and how to ‘work with nature’ rather than to fight against it. A good book for organic gardening completely, not just for growing produce. Discusses making own liquid feeds and compost too.

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‘Salad Leaves for All Seasons’ by Charles Dowdling and ‘Gardner Cook’ by Christopher Lloyd

‘Salad Leaves for All Seasons’ – Charles Dowdling: Dowdling first started growing vegetables commercially in 1982 when he set up his first green box scheme, eventually selling about 200 salad bags per week. This book highlights the different salad leaves one can grow, growing hardy varieties outdoors during the winter, growing easy-peasy micro leaves and dealing with the abundant pests salad leaves attract. He is quite keen on planting and the relationship with the moon cycle. He also includes lists of what is best to plant per month, breaking down the extensive list and narrowing the sometimes overwhelming options one can have for planting, making it easier. There are also some recipes for all seasons included from his wife, Susie (e.g. June: Somerset Spelt Risotto with Sugar Peas and Pea Shoots, September: Dark Red Lettuce with Cucumber, Cashew Nuts and Pumpkin Seeds, January/February: Winter Salad with Lettuce, Winter Purslane, Apple and Cheddar …). He also divides the salad leaves into sections and discusses the different varieties and when best to plant them. For example, for lettuce, he writes about how to grow it, when to grow it, growing it outdoors/ in a container, problems, harvesting, watering, types of lettuce (hearting, loose leaf etc.), colours of lettuce (dark lettuce has a slightly bitter flavour, slower to grow than light green and less attractive to slugs, apparently) and then he discusses varieties (e.g. Loose Leaf, he recommends, ‘Lollo Rosso’, ‘Aruba’, ‘Rubens Red’ and plenty more). It is a very useful, detailed book for anyone who wants to be self-sufficient in growing green leaves for themselves or others.

‘Gardener Cook’ – Christopher Lloyd: Lloyd depicts how to grow the best varieties of fruits, vegetables, salads and herbs and how to use them in cooking, including recipes. It is divided into the following sections: Fruit Trees, Soft Fruit, Root Vegetables, Green Vegetables, Salads, Herbs. He writes information on the produce he grew at Dixter and a little history he has with the particular food item, before offering some recipes (Apple Charlotte, Spinach Flan, Potato Salad with Wine and Anchovies, Beetroot Baked with Cream and Parmesan Cheese, Rhubarb and Banana Pie, Leek and Mushroom Tart…). Included lovely photographs, too. As Lloyd writes in the blurb, ‘Growing one’s own food is tremendously rewarding… We have always grown fruit and vegetables in the garden… What could be more natural than to use them effectively in the kitchen?’

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‘RHS Encyclopaedia of Gardening’ and ‘RHS Vegetable & Fruit Gardening’

‘The RHS: Vegetable and Fruit Gardening’: A large book packed with information about growing all types of vegetables and fruit. Discusses types of plants briefly in A-Z order among other advice, such as crop rotation.

‘The RHS Encyclopaedia of Gardening’: Largest saved for last – this is a whopper of a book. It has everything technical you need to know about gardening and is a good one to refer to.