Last Tuesday Richard and Joanne headed down to Kent to visit Nigel and Wendy at Landews Meadow Farm who very kindly found some time in their very busy work schedule to show us round. Their farm is a truly impressive place, and I’ve written up a summary of the “non-compost” parts of what we learned on The Oak Tree Farm website here.
Nigel has been working hard to implement Elaine Ingham’s methods on his farm, and the results are visible and impressive. He hasn’t carried out controlled tests as he is keen to have the benefits of the soil improvements everywhere, something we can understand, and have done ourselves with our 2016 tomato polytunnel, but the number of wormcasts on his pasture surface show very clearly that there is a lot of biology in his soil! Like us, his farm has very low rainfall, particularly in summer, though his soil is clay unlike the sandy loam of The Oak Tree.
Nigel went on Zach Wright’s UK course Spring 2016. We were gutted to have missed this, it looked really excellent, but we understand that Dave Beecher has been working closely with Zach and will be running similar courses in the UK soon – when we hear more we’ll keep you posted!
Nigel makes compost in the “hardware cloth” cylinders recommended by both Zach Wright and Elaine Ingham. We’ve found that hardware cloth doesn’t seem to be a British English term, which makes it hard to track down to buy. “Galvanised wire mesh” seems to be similar stuff in the UK. Nigel builds his heaps on pallets covered with woven weed control fabric “mypex” and he wraps a single layer of tarp over and round the heap to keep the heat in.
Nigel’s raw ingredients are
- 40% green material (cut grass, or, slightly less successful, hay)
- 40% woodchip
- 20% nitrogenous stuff. He uses a cow poo mixed with water to a fairly runny consistency: he has plenty of the raw material to hand…
He uses a hose with a finger over the end to spray materials as they are added to the heap (by contrast we have been using a fine spray head). He has had considerable success with this method, managing to match the exacting temperature profile demanded by Elaine Ingham and Zach Wright’s methods, and the resulting material certainly looks excellent.
Landews Meadow Farm is on quite an exposed site (they have a fine wind turbine!) and while the compost area is protected by a hedgerow, it takes a fair bit of incoming weather (the English Channel is visible from the farm on a clear day!) Clearly the use of animal manure slurry is a good way to get compost heaps up to temperature as we found with using poultry manure slurry in our heap 160910. We had struggled to get heaps up to temperature reliably before doing this. He does five compost heap turns, carefully manipulating the material to ensure that all parts get up to heat in the hot centre at some point.
We were particularly interested to hear the simple “Zach Wright” method of making compost extract. We had attempted to mimic this following a phone conversation with Nigel before the visit, but we had made it more complicated than it needed to be! Nigel simply takes a 30l container, adds compost to it (see the photo below for an idea of how much) and then stirs it with a stick for about 30 seconds. Easy!
Once stirred he uses the secret ingredient of a jelly bag (the sort you use to strain fruit to make sweet jelly preserves) to strain the mixture before using it in his tractor mounted sprayer – brilliant! It is just these sorts of practical details we wanted to learn – it had never occurred to me to use a jelly bag (though I have one in the loft somewhere!) He then dilutes it into about 200l of water. Apparently Zach Wright dilutes further saying that one hardware cloth/galvanised wire mesh heap can be used to treat 200 acres!
Once again, a huge thank you to Nigel and Wendy for welcoming us to their beautiful, innovative and productive farm!