Author Archives: Colin Shaw

The EarthShot prize

By now many of you will heard about the EarthShot prize, if not check out  It is a BIG project, it needs to be! I am pleased to see it happening but it does not mean that all our problems will be solved by 2030.

Where do we start?
The big question is ‘how can one person make a difference?’ The answer is to cut personal CO2 emissions as much as possible and then some more.

For the last 30 years I have been growing food in a closed loop garden – no waste ou tand no input of fertilizers or pesticides. Organic food growing has been a major part sustainable food growing in cities, towns, and villages for many years. That is how this web site was born, it was the first organic gardening site in the UK and designed to demonstrate that organics was not some sort of magic but just a more sensible and sustainable way to grow food.

But why concventrate on food? The facts say it all. When the amount of CO2 produced by the production of food and from food waste if food were a country it would rankas the thrird biggest polluter behind China, and the US.

There is no universal one-size-fits-all solution. The best way start is to grow at least some of you own food even if you have no garden, you can use small, recycled l containers.

A new way to think about growing food
In the UK many put their gardens to bed for winter and that is when the ‘season’ is seen to end. There may be some brassicas left ready for Christmas but o the whole we still tend to think of a shortish summer season and then a long rest!

Things have changed, some crops do need some protection, but it is possible to keep many plants growing now. Another sure sign that temperatures are rising. The other way is to use a protected cropping.

 Food waste
If you do not have any growing space the other way to save CO2 and MONEY is to drastically reduce food waste. It is a massive problem and akin to flushing paper money down the toilet.

Be part of zero waste reduction and do not give away valuable food waste – into a compost bin ready to rot down and use on the garden. There are some very neat and odourless systems around which do an excellent job of converting food waste into a rich, black compost in just a few weeks. They are not cheap so why not share one with a neighbour?

While I am excited and enthused by the Earthshot Prize  spending millions on big projects could engender the idea that it is all fixed now so there is no need for individuals to do anything. That MUST NOT happen, we must keep up the momentum to ensure that every community aims to be zero carbon by 2030. There is no alternative.

I am working on a high tech, sustainable food growing project. It is early days yet but the basic parts are on order so work should begin in the next few weeks. I will post a link here when there is something to show so please come back soon.

Seeds sowing depth and root depths

I am often asked about the sowing depths for seeds. The rule of thumb is no deeper that 2-3 times the distance across the widest part of the seed. That means very shallow for carrots so it’s best to sow onto the surface and cover with a very light amount of fine soil or bagged compost. If you soil is not fine enough then add compost and sow into it to ensure the seed has good contact with the growing medium. Water before you sow.

Revisiting some old research from a few years back I found these root depth and spread charts. Notice how deep the central or tap root can go with beetroot down to 10 feet and carrots to 8 feet. That is why it is best to make deep fertile soil by using lots of compost and mulch.

The right time to sow seeds and flood defences

What a cold, dry and miserable April it has been. Too cold to sow or plant much outdoors as the soil temperature has been too low. If you are new to gardening or have an allotment for the first time don’t be pulled along by the old myths like planting certain crops on specific days of the year. The climate is changing and you must go with the best conditions to ensure success.

Have a look at this page which gives details of the minimum and optimum soil temperatures for some common veg. Remember this is the soil temperature at the depth the seed is planted and not the surface. If it remains dry, then seeds and transplants will need regular watering. Water in the day and not last thing at night as the ground and plants will stay cold all night.

Now the forecast is giving many hours of heavy rain for Monday 3 May, well it is a bank holiday!

Our garden slopes to one corner and the water goes with the flow. This can flood the sheds just out of shot. For some time I have been meaning to put in  guttering to take the water off the paths and down a drain, the paving slabs have and intentional left to right slope. Today was the day when that little project was finished. Hope it works.

 

HotBin composters

We have two HotBins for composting food waste. The idea was to have one as an active bin and use the other for maturing compost when it was full. We ended up with two half full bins that would not heat up.

Talking to a friend revealed that she had the same problem, the bin would not heat up when it got to be about half full. She solved the problem by using a corkscrew compost turning tool and even came round to do our bins!

The problem is finding the tool. If you know of a source please email us!

NFU supports using banned bee killing pesticide

Only a few weeks into Brexit and the UK wants to ditch the ban on neonicotinoid pesticides which are known to kill bees. The NFU supports the use on this devastating chemical on sugar beet crops. They have been trying push a new green image, yet this shows how their thinking is stuck in the past.

We must wake up and demand a clean, eco friendly food system that does not reply on soaking crops in chemicals that are known to destroy the environment.  We need large scale fundamental change about the way food is produced and how it affects the environment. If we do nothing, then rapid climate breakdown will happen very quickly.

PLEASE click the image to sign the petition, write to your MP and send a Tweet. Even if you don’t normally do this sort of thing please help save bees.

Grow to eat

There is a long tradition in the UK of holding village shows at the end of the summer. The idea is that residents display the produce they have grown which is judged and prizes are awarded. Part of that tradition is competition between men (and it usually is men!)  to see who can grow the biggest specimens of common veg.

Entries are judged against strict criteria laid down in various books like The Horticultural Show Handbook published by the RHS. There are prizes for the biggest, heaviest, longest or ‘best’ specimens.

Onions, 250g or under

Merits Firm, thin-necked, blemish-free bulbs grown from either seed or sets with well-ripened, unbroken skins free from pest, disease or other damage.
Defects Bulbs that are too small or in excess of 250g, thick-necked, misshapen, blemished, or that have broken skins or have been skinned excessively.
Advice to judges All specimens must be weighed and any more than 250g must be disqualified. Bulbs should be as near to 250g as possible, of good form and alike in size, shape and colour.

In some parts of the country winning is taken to extremes with potential prize winning veg being guarded round the clock as competitors have been known to sabotage the competition.

I am often asked why I do not enter the local village show, usually followed by it is all for charity, and sometimes with a ‘do not be so miserable’.

The main reason I have never entered a show and never will is that we grow food to eat. We maximise gross yields to grow a surplus that can be stored over winter. In this time of global uncertainty when the dire effects of climate change and environmental destruction are being felt in many countries it seems immoral to grow vegetables purely to be shown, judged, raffled and then probably thrown away.

The way food is grown is critical to the impact that it has on the world. We grow organically and have done for the last 30 years. We believe that it uses less resources, has a positive effect on the environment and produces more nutritious better tasting food.

Our produce would be marked down for blemishes and the odd bit of nibbling by slugs, snails and other pests because that would spoil the visual appearance. To grow visually perfect veg you must use chemicals.

There is mounting evidence that the climate/environmental crisis is deepening and accelerating. There is also no doubt whatsoever that climate change will affect our ability to grow food. We cannot continue the way we are which means the way we grow food including how we cultivate our gardens and allotments.

That might seem extreme, but you only have to read the evidence out there to know that we are on the edge of a precipice. There are already there are millions of people starving, homeless and desperate.

The biggest problem we face in the UK is that people cannot or do not want to understand the severity and the gravity of the issues. It is this inertia, this desire to carry on as we are,  to get back to normal when Cove is finished, which is the most dangerous aspect of climate change.

That is why we grow food in a sustainable way and encourages others to do the same. That means not using the old methods. It is respecting the food we have grown and encouraging others to do the same. It might be painful and even be unthinkable to some, but we must move on and leave beyond behind the traditional ways of doing things. There has to be a new normal  to avert the massive crisis that humanity faces.

That is why we will never grow food to show, we will never try to win prizes for the biggest veg specimen. We will work on ways of getting maximum yields from the small plot we have and share what the way we do it. In 2020 we harvested 78 Kg of food from 17 square metres. The aim is to make that at least 100 Kg in the 2021 season. That is our prize.

Microgreens

Microgreens have become fashionable over the last few years. There are reports of indoor farms starting up in old factories and disused railway tunnels with enthusiasts saying this is the new, clean efficient agriculture which is better than messy soil. They fail to admit that nobody is growing root crops because they need soil!

The commercial growers generally use hydroponics, where the nutrients are dissolved in water which constantly circulates around the system. The nutrients used are soluble manufactured using the same energy intensive process used to produce agricultural fertilisers.

There are other ways to grow microgreens  and we have opted for a ‘soil’ mix and an organic fertiliser based on seaweed. This could be a much more eco friendly way of satisfying the demand for fresh greens when it is impossible to grow outside.

The photo shows left-over pea seeds that were soaked over night and then just spread on the seed tray. That was 2 days ago, and they have sprouted already. I have never lost the fascination of seeing life created by just adding water! They will be grown on to the first true leaf stage which should take 10-12 days.

Next for seeding are Radish, Beetroot, Basil, Red Amaranth, Sweetcorn, mixed salad leaves and Sunflowers, Will it work? It should but who knows, so watch out for updates.

The environmental impacts of food

All text and graphics below are from this site

What are the environmental impacts of food and agriculture?

The visualization here shows a summary of some of the main global impacts:

  • Food accounts for over a quarter (26%) of global greenhouse gas emissions;
  • Half of the world’s habitable (ice- and desert-free) land is used for agriculture;
  • 70% of global freshwater withdrawals are used for agriculture;
  • 78% of global ocean and freshwater eutrophication (the pollution of waterways with nutrient-rich pollutants) is caused by agriculture;
  • 94% of mammal biomass (excluding humans) is livestock. This means livestock outweigh wild mammals by a factor of 15-to-1. Of the 28,000 species evaluated to be threatened with extinction on the IUCN Red List, agriculture and aquaculture is listed as a threat for 24,000 of them.

Food, therefore, lies at the heart of trying to tackle climate change, reducing water stress, pollution, restoring lands back to forests or grasslands, and protecting the world’s wildlife.