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How mushrooms put new life into Bill’s clay garden

Tuesday, February 14, 2017 - 13:30

WHEN Bill Moore and his wife, Jean, moved to their new home in Gunville in 2014 they quickly discovered why there had been a brickworks there.
Clay — an abundance of it.
In times when transport was problematic, brickworks grew up in locations where the raw material was plentiful, the bricks were baked and the homes constructed nearby.
But what to do if you want a garden?
The easy answer is to spread a layer of topsoil and grass it over, as builders often do, covering a multitude of sins.
But if you want a vegetable patch, you have to create a depth of organic matter and for the average gardener that normally involves back-breaking labour.
And so it was for Bill who, I am sure won’t mind me saying, is not in the first flush of youth.
"Having a great love of growing my own vegetables, I decided to dig up the lawn at the rear of the garden to make a vegetable patch," said Bill.
"There had been a long, dry period that summer and I quickly found out why there had been a brickworks in Gunville. The clay was so hard I had to use a pickaxe to try to break up it.
"My next door neighbour told me that area of the garden had not been dug for more than 30 years.
"I was fortunate the compost bins had been left full but even after they had been emptied and dug in there was still much too much clay in the soil for my liking.
"It was then quite by chance I came across the Natural Mushroom Company that is based at the back of Brownrigg’s farm shop on the Newport side of Godshill.
"It grows exotic mushrooms in long plastic bags that look rather like a group of nesting bats in the roof of a cave.
"The contents consist of very finely chopped straw and, as the mushrooms grow, their roots convert the straw into what looks like sawdust. While it may not have a lot of goodness in it, compared to your own or shop-bought compost, it’s free for anyone to take as much as they want," said Bill.
The worms love it as much as Bill and so far he has used it in two ways — the first amount dug in to break up the clay and, in 2016, and this year as a top dressing to keep the weeds down and to retain soil moisture — and it worked a treat.
Bill found the bags of mushroom compost stacked at the back of a polytunnel.
"The compost is still in the plastic wrappers so they are very easy to handle and some still have mushrooms growing in them," said Bill.
The bags vary as to how wet they are (you can tell by the weight ) and he tends to choose the drier ones as they are less likely to leak into the dumpy bag in which he carries them to protect the boot of his little but surprisingly capacious car.
His Nissan Micro can — with the back seat folded down — carry 20 bags.
Bill has also 'ironed out’ a problem of a shortage of outside work-surface space but using it was not without teething troubles.
When he first set up the 'workbench’, it was an especially windy day, which Bill was not unused to having previously lived in Queens-bury, West Yorkshire, at an altitude of 1,000ft — one of the highest towns in England.
He first used the old ironing board’s wire construction to sieve out the soil from the weeds — separating the wheat from the chaff, so to speak.
"But it had been a long, dry spell, dust blew around the garden and straight into the utility room through the outside door that I had left open," Bill said.
"To say Jean was not happy is a bit of an understatement — it looked like everything, including me, had been covered in gravy browning.
"For most of the rest of the afternoon I spent hoovering and wiping down all the units.
"I later found it easier to wash the earth off the weeds in a bucket.
"My message is if the person who does the ironing in the house is thinking about buying a new board (please note this is a gender stereotyping free zone) please don’t throw the old one away.
"It can be really useful in the garden, when replanting hanging baskets and window boxes.
"Provided the ground is firm and level, the board will take a full-sized window box, you can set it to a height you are most comfortable to work at and it means you can change the plants and compost in-situ, rather than having to lug the window box back to the greenhouse."
l Bill pointed out Paul at the mushroom farm asked him to use the term 'exotic’ rather 'magic’ to describe his mushrooms — for obvious reasons.
Paul Metcalfe, points out he does not have limitless quantities of spent compost at his Godshill farm.
Availability varies because, unlike when Bill got his some time ago, people can basically now take as much as they can for a tenner.
The message is go to the website themushroomfarmer.co.uk and contact Paul through that before rolling up.

Reporter: richardw@iwcpmail.co.uk

 


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