Author Archives: Colin Shaw

Composting Christmas trees

As I am always on the lookout for material to make compost my thoughts turned to Christmas trees. What has stopped me in the past was the long running gardening myth that pine needles turn soil acidic which is the last thing I want. Then I found a piece about composting Christmas trees on  this site

Christmas trees: Yes, it is possible to compost a whole (real) Christmas tree. You’ll need to put in a bit of work by stripping the branches off the tree and breaking / cutting everything into small pieces first. The smaller the pieces better. You don’t really want any woody bits larger than your thumb going into your compost bin. Shredders make light work of this process if you have one. Thick woody pieces can however take a very long time to start to decompose (were talking a year or two before you see any progress) so be prepared to be patient, or consider composting only the smaller limbs if you don’t own a shredder. There is a misconception that composting pine needles will result in acidic compost. It’s not true, by the time the needles are composted they will have lost most of their acidic potency.”

I now have half a dozen trees lined up for shredding and with some other stuff to add that should fill a cubic metre bin.

How to be happy – compost something!

Can you compost egg shells?

Why of why is there a constant stream of advice to add egg shells to compost bins? They do not break down and neither do they add calcium to soil. It is an internet problem, somebody puts it on a web site or social media page and it becomes ‘the truth’. Nobody bothers to check, nobody challenges or tests it.

They last a very long time in a garden: “The study looked at a property in Virginia that was at one time owned by Thomas Jefferson. It was a tobacco plantation that contained a small community of slaves from 1840 to 1860. Excavation of the site found thousands of eggshell fragments from both chickens and ducks, which had been raised by the community.”

Click image for full article.

End of year report

It has not been the easiest of seasons with lots of cool, dark and wet weather especially since September. We have enjoyed harvesting a few test crops and are looking forward to planning for the 2020 season.

One success has been the compost and we have ended the year with around a cubic metre of good compost ready to cover the beds over winter. That was from five batches made up to October. The last batch failed as it had too much woody stuff (carbon) and not enough green material (nitrogen.)  It will now sit there until next year when it will be mixed with the inevitable mountain of grass cuttings.

Click an image to enlarge

There is still a lot to do but at least we know that the beds are working especially the solar pods, which were completed in early October. Details can be found here: “Solar Gardening: Growing Vegetables Year-round the American Intensive Way” (1994.) It is available here at Google Books.

It is real treat to have home grown lettuce at this time of year! The pods will be used to get an early start in February/March next year. The bed behind the first pod has been covered with a wheelbarrow full of compost to protect the soil from compaction by heavy rain.

The three 1M square solar pods

Inside pod 1, some left over lettuce plants and springs greens

Food and climate change

“Food has not been the focus of climate change discussions as much as it should have been. (…)  We can still act and it won’t be too late”  

Barack Obama, 26 May 2017.[1]

If you have ever wondered why food is such an important part of climate change then read this article from Grain. It questions the belief that agriculture accounts for a third of greenhouse gas emission and say it is nearer 50%!

The changing climate is already having an impact on food supplies. We are all vulnerable, wherever we live, which is why we need more sustainable and resilient ways to grow food.

Study Shows ‘Frightening’ Decline of Insects and Spiders

Yet another study showing that insect numbers have declined. This time it is a ten year study which found that insect biomass declined by 40% in grasslands. The full article can be found here.

Should we be worried? Quite simply a massive YES because we depend of flying insects for pollination. Also, because the decline is down to the use of pesticides in food production and although the companies that make them will argue that they are safe nobody can convince me that ingesting eating small amounts of poison on a daily basis can be good for us.

We are locked into an agricultural system that is driven by supermarkets who control everything from seed to the checkout. The way food is grown depends on total control of the environment and the elimination of everything that could affect profits. This is one of the consequences of the cheapest possible food – we destroy the environment that keeps us alive.

Things have to change and quickly. We need to move to a different way of growing food. If not,  the whole system will collapse and leave us with nothing.

 

Parsnip harvest

It is that time of the year, the parsnips are ready! A quick harvest today yielded some super specimens. They are a good length with no sign of disease.


I must admit to having never lost the excitement of seeing veg come of of the ground a few months after sowing some tiny seeds. Already have the seed catalogues ready to start planning for next year.

 

The ring of market gardens around Liège

There used to be a lot of markets gardens in the UK. I grew up in a small Warwickshire village and we used to have family trips in the car around the Evesham area because there were so many small growers selling produce at the garden gate.

My dad used to grow and sell, it was mostly enormous Webs Wonderful lettuces cut straight from the garden for 6 old pence worth around 45p today. There are still a few people doing it in Norfolk and Lincolnshire, they call them farm shops now.

In this part of Derbyshire there are no market gardens.That could be because the climate is harsher or just that nobody does it anymore because food shopping is now all about finding the cheapest supermarket produce.

The other Issue is land. Every spare bit of ground is snapped up by speculators hoping they will get planning permission for houses and sell for a fat profit. The other group willing to pay over the odds for agricultural land are equestrian users.

Yet again we seem to have lost the plot!  In other countries where food is valued there are lots of small growers. This web site documented the area around Liège, Belgium. It is amazing to see what people do with small plots.

We should do more of this in the UK not only would help improve food security and access to cheap fresh food it is good exercise in the fresh air. Allotments should be available on an NHS prescription.

Access to land for growing food has got to be seen as essential for human wellbeing and survival. There has to be more allotment provision for organic growing of course, in towns, cities and rural areas.