Members' Experiments 2015 Update

Many thanks to everyone who's taking part in this year’s members' experiments.

We still find the idea of pooling the knowledge from gardeners and growers around the country very exciting! To keep you updated, we’re providing progress report of how our trials are working out here, at Ryton Organic Gardens.

A survey of garden and fruit growing
Thanks to everyone who has already sent in their response to this survey. Please note that there’s no need to wait until the end of the growing season, as this is a general survey about unusual fruits that you’ve tried. We look forward to receiving your responses to this survey.

Growing Indian and Vietnamese mustard for its leaves
We sent out two types of unusual mustard for you to try sowing at different times. The Indian mustard is quite coarse and is best when eaten cooked. It can be used in a similar way to spinach and has a peppery taste that works very well in a curry. The Vietnamese mustard can be eaten raw or stir fried very briefly. It has a hot and sweet taste and is one our favourite leafy crops for flavour.

Our first sowing of mustards in April both grew very slowly due to the unusually cool conditions in late spring. Pigeons seemed very keen on the Indian mustard and we had to cover this crop to prevent it from being devoured completely. Conversely, the Vietnamese mustard went more or less untouched so this is a good plant to grow if you have lots of greedy pigeons in the area.

We only managed one harvest from the Vietnamese mustard before it started flowering on Midsummer’s day. This is typical of many oriental greens that seem to bolt very quickly if sown in early spring in response to lengthening days. However, as a plus side, you can eat the flower buds just before they open and they taste like spicy broccoli – something we discovered by accident! Don’t give up on this crop as we generally find that later sowings will keep going for longer. 

The Indian mustard hasn’t flowered yet, but it did get a bad infestation of mealy cabbage aphid despite the valiant attempt of hoverfly larvae to consume them. This year has been particularly bad for aphids – the cool start to the summer has slowed down the predator population more severely than the aphids.

Don’t forget to plant out the later sowing dates for this crop – you should have one sown in mid- June and another sowing in early August. Remember to take your harvests every four months as you can always eat the results!

Does buckwheat really control couch grass?
We cleared the couch grass in our two plots and sowed the buckwheat in one of them. The couch grass began to reappear within five days, but the buckwheat was also very quick to emerge. Within a month, the buckwheat had established itself very vigorously and was almost completely covering the ground. It has certainly done a good job of competing against the couch grass so far.

Just keep on monitoring the plots every month and let us know the progress of the grassy weeds, the broad leaf weeds and the buckwheat. The buckwheat will begin to die down pretty quickly after it has finished flowering, so we look forward to see whether it has a long lasting effect on the couch grass.

Compostable packaging – can it really be processed in a domestic compost heap?
It was a day we had all been looking forward to here in the Master Composter team at Garden Organic – time for the three month check on the compostable packaging experiment!
We had added the pristine ‘compostable fork’, bagasse plate, cardboard and ‘home compostable’ caddy bag to our Green Johanna compost bin back in April. The Green Johanna has been working really well for all our office food waste and shredded paper so it was definitely the best choice for this experiment.

After emptying out half the contents of the bin we soon found the four experiment nets in the lower layers of the bin. The bin wasn’t very warm, but was teaming with brandling worms, springtails, millipedes and woodlice.

In the first net was the caddy bag. It was remarkably unchanged, and had only just begun to breakdown around the edges. Secondly, we found the bagasse plate – it was hard to find anything resembling even part of the plate, only a few small fragments. The cardboard sheet had similarly decomposed almost completely. Finally, the sturdy compostable fork had yet to break down at all. We returned all four nets back into the Green Johanna, along with the coloured labels to carry on composting. We now eagerly look forward to October when we can fish them out all over again. It will be interesting to see how much more the caddy bag decomposes and whether the fork even begins to be composted!

If you're taking part in this experiment, don’t forget to check your nets every three months and record the results. We look forward to finding out all the results next Spring. If you'd like to share any photos of your compostable items so far, please do email them in to the team at

You can download the pdf version of this update, featuring photos of the experiments here.

If you'd like to take part in the Garden Organic 2016 Members' Experiments you can do so by becoming a member and register to take part in October here.

Monday, 3 August 2015