Author Archives: Colin Shaw

Leeks

We have a reasonable crop of leeks from the new garden but they are not that long because they were not planted deep enough and the soil is not yet in good shape.

This is a leek from our old garden, the photo was taken on 24 December 2009 which was about 5 years after we made the garden. We only needed one!

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.

 Shrubs, bush fruits and trees useful to all species of bees

Download the PDF file HERE

 Key to list:

** tender. * not reliably hardy. Spp = species. (N) = nectar produced when weather good enough. N = nectar collected. P = pollen collected.

**Abutilon vitifolium May–Jul NP  Soft grey/green vine shaped downy leaves, large saucer-shaped flowers, various colours.
Berberis spp Apr–Jul NP Wide range of species, all attractive to bees.
Buddleia alternifolia Long lilac spikes. Jun NP B. globosa Globular orange flowers. May NP B. x weyeriana Orange panicles. Jun–Oct NP
*Ceanothus spp NP Wide range of species, all attractive to bees. Range from spring to late summer flowering.
Chaenomeles spp Ornamental quinces. Feb–Apr NP
Cistus spp Rock roses. May–Jul NP Evergreen. Range of colours.
*Choisya ternata ‘Mexican Orange Blossom’ Apr–Jun P Evergreen.
Clematis spp Climbers. Most large flowered hybrids only produce pollen. C. armandii Evergreen, strongly scented. Apr–May (N)P C. cirrhosa Evergreen, small bell-like flowers. Dec–Feb (N)P C. montana Apr–May NP C. vitalba Traveller’s Joy, wild clematis. Jun–Jul NP
Clethra alnifolia Acid soils. Aug–Oct P
Cotoneaster spp Jun NP Wide range of good garden plants.
Cytisus spp Brooms. NP Wide range of species & hybrids, mostly early flowering.
Deutzia spp Summer P
*Escallonia spp & hybrids NP Wide range of good garden plants. Evergreen.
Eschscholtzia spp Late summer–autumn N Unusual lovely shrubs, mint-scented leaves, flowers various colours. Good nectar producer.
*Fuchsia magellanica Late summer N Naturalised in S & W. Free-flowering.
Genista spp Gorses. Early NP Wide range of garden varieties.
*Hebe spp NP Wide range of sizes from dwarf to large, evergreen, flowering periods vary from early summer to late. Some very tender species.
Helianthemum spp & hybrids Sun roses. P Evergreen dwarf shrubs, many colours.
Hydrangea Only those varieties with fertile florets are used by bees, not the showy sterile ones (Hortensia). H. petiolaris Climber. Jun NP H. paniculata and H. villosa Late summer NP
Hedera helix Ivy. NP Climber, evergreen. Good source of late nectar.
Kalmia spp Calico Bush Jun NP Evergreen, acid soils. K. angustifolia, K. latifolia
Kolkwitzia amabilis May–Jun NP Uncommon shrub, easy to grow, beautiful drooping bell-shaped flowers.
Lonicera spp Honeysuckles. NP Shrubby honeysuckles have smaller more open flowers, with more available nectar than the climbing varieties. Some flower late winter. L. angustifolia, L. standishii, L. purpusii
Mahonia spp Winter/spring P Evergreen shrubs with yellow flowers. Valuable pollen source early in the year. M. aquifolium, M. bealei, M. japonica, *M. lomariifolia
*Myrtus communis Late summer (N)P Evergreen, fragrant flowers.
Olearia spp Daisy bushes. O. haastii White flowers. Jul–Aug NP O. macrodonta Jun NP
Parthenocissus quinquefolia Virginia creeper. Aug NP
Perovskia atriplicifolia Aug–Sep NP Aromatic grey foliage & purple/blue flowers. Excellent bee plant.
Philadelphus spp Mock Orange. Jun–Jul NP Large number of species and varieties, most strongly scented.
Potentilla fruticosa NP Many varieties & hybrids. Small shrubs, white or yellow flowers. Long flowering period.
Prunus laurocerasus Cherry laurel. Apr NP Evergreen. Also has extrafloral nectaries, very attractive to bees in summer.
Prunus lusitanica Portugal laurel. Jun NP Evergreen.
Pyracantha Firethorn. May–Jun NP P. angustifolia, P coccinea
Rhododendron spp NP Small varieties of rhododendron & azaleas can be worked by honey bees. R. ponticum can produce poisonous honey occasionally.
Ribes spp R. sanguineum Flowering Currant. Apr NP Pink, red or white flowers. R. odoratum Buffalo Currant, yellow flowers. Apr NP R. speciosum Red flowers. Apr–May NP
Rosa spp N? P Only single flowered types. Wild roses & R. rugosa.
Rosmarinus officinalis Rosemary. Apr–May NP Evergreen, aromatic.
Salix spp Willows. Early spring NP Numerous small shrubby willows. Good species include: S. apoda, S. boydii, S. hastata, S. lanata,S. melanostachys, S. uva-ursi
Symphoricarpos spp Snowberries. Jun–Aug NP Most produce copious amounts of nectar. S. alba, S. occidentalis, S. orbiculatus, S. rivularis
Syringa spp & hybrids Lilacs. Spring NP Wide range of medium & large shrubs, mostly spring flowering, all strongly scented.
Tamarix spp May–late summer NP Feathery foliage, profuse masses of tiny, pink flowers. Varying flowering times from May to late summer.
Ulex europaeus, U. minor Gorse. N? P Long flowering periods.
Viburnum spp Wide range of evergreen & deciduous shrubs. Good species include: V. bodnatense, fragrans Winter NP Deciduous, winter flowering, scented. V. burkwoodii Evergreen, scented. AprNP V. carlesii Scented. Apr NP V. juddii Scented. Apr–May NP V. opulus Guelder rose. Jun–Jul NP V. tinus, V. laurustinus Evergreen. Oct–Mar P
Weigela florida & hybrids May–Jun N P? Pink, red or white flowers.
Wisteria spp Climbers. W. floribunda & W. sinensis Apr–May (N)P

Bush fruits
Most bush fruits are valuable bee plants, some producing copious nectar (marked §). Flowering time varies with the variety.

Bilberry Whortle berry Black, red & white currants
Blackberries Wild & cultivated
Blueberries
Gooseberries
Hybrid berries: Boysenberry, Worcester berry, Jostaberry
Raspberry & Loganberry

Trees
**Acacia Beautiful, tender, winter flowering trees. Winter (N)P Masses of yellow, scented flowers. A. dealbata, A. longifolia
Alder Good very early source of pollen. Jan–Mar P Alnus glutinosa
Blackthorn Common wild hedge plant. Mar–May (N)P Masses of white flowers. Valuable source of early pollen. Prunus spinosa
Cherries Huge group, mainly decorative trees. Avoid double flowered varieties. Prunus avium Gean, wild cherry Apr NP P. cerasus Sour cherry, small shrubby tree. May NP Profuse flowers. P. cerasifera Myrobalm, Cherry plum. Mar–Apr (N)P Wide range of cultivars, some with purple foliage. padus Bird cherry. Long racemes of May NP white flowers. P. subhirtella autumnalis Attractive small tree. Winter P P. x yeodoensis Joshino cherry. Small, beautiful. Mar–Apr NP
Chestnuts, Horse chestnuts Large, attractive trees. NP Aesculus hippocastanum White flowers. Apr–May A. carnea Red flowers, slightly later. Mayindica Indian horse chestnut. Pink flowers. May–Jun A. californica Buckeye. White/pink flowers. Jul–Aug
Chestnut, Sweet or Spanish Castanea sativa Jul (N)P
Crab Apples Beautiful medium sized trees. Spring NP Malus spp & hybrids. Many named varieties: John Downie, Profusion, Golden Hornet.
Eucalyptus spp. Evergreen, aromatic foliage. Some hardy in the UK. Late summer (N) E. gunnii, E. niphophila, E. parviflora.
False Acacia Robinia pseudoacacia Fragrant white flowers. Jun NP R. viscosa Clammy locust. Late Jun NP R. hispida Rose acacia. May-Jun NP
Hawthorns Common, wild, small, shrubby trees May NP Erratic, but can be profuse producers of nectar. Crataegus oxycantha, C. monogyna C. prunifolia, C. crus-galli, and many other species.
Hazels Early catkins a valuable source of pollen. Mar–Apr P Corylus avellana, C. maxima
Hollies Evergreen, tiny flowers, attractive to bees. May-Jun NP Ilex aquifolium, I. opaca and spp.
Honey Locust Long branched spines on trunk, scented flowers. (N) Gleditsia tricanthos
Indian Bean Tree Magnificent, spreading trees with panicles of scented, foxglove-like, speckled flowers. Jul–Aug NP Catalpa bignonioides, C. fargesii, C. ovata
Judas Tree Pretty small tree, purple pea-flowers on bare stems. Apr–May NP Cercis siliquastrum
June Berry, Snowy mespilus. Beautiful tree, masses of white flowers in spring, edible fruits in June. Spring (N)P Amelanchier lamarckii
Lime Can supply large quantities of nectar when conditions are right but can be erratic. Aphids on some species produce honey-dew. (N) Tilia cordata Small leaved lime. Late Jul §T. x euclora Crimea lime. No honeydew. Jul–Aug T. x europaea Common lime. Jun–Jul T. maximowicziana Japanese lime. Jun §T. x orbicularis Hybrid lime. Jul–Aug T. petiolaris Weeping silver lime. Jul–Aug T. platyphyllos Broad leaved lime. Jun–Jul tomentosa Silver lime. Jul § Nectar in these species can stupefy bees.
Maples The decorative Japanese maples rarely flower in the UK, but the larger species are all excellent bee plants. Spring (N)P Acer campestris Field maple, native tree. A. macrophyllum Oregon maple. A. negundo Box elder. A. opalus Italian maple. A. platanoides Norway maple.
Mountain Ash Sorbus aucuparia Spring NP Many other cultivated species.
Sweet Gum Liquidambar styraciflua and hybrids. Spring (N)
Sycamore Valuable nectar source. May NP Acer pseudoplatanus
Tree of Heaven Large town tree. Jul–Aug N Ailanthus altissima
Tulip Tree Large tulip-like flowers. Jun–Jul (N) Liriodendron tulipifera
Whitebeam Sorbus aria Common whitebeam. May–Jun NP S. intermedia Swedish whitebeam. Jun NP

 

 

Under our feet

What if an easy way to reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide were right under our feet? It would not require years of research, huge investments in unproven technology and is available now. Today!

Impossible? NO! We can start now. All we have to do is change the way we manage the soil that grows our food.

I have used no-dig raised beds to grow food for nearly 30 years. In 2009  four small beds were made without digging heavily compacted soil that had not been cultivated for 30 years. The soil was gently loosened, covered with compost and seeds/plants sown. It worked! See this page

Now there is research about the beneficial effects of not cultivating the biggest of which is creating a carbon sink that reduces the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere.

Why are we not doing this on a large scale? Why the reluctance to act? We could all start to make a real difference today!

Land use and CO2 needed for 1gm of protein

There is lots of discussion about eating meat and climate change. Obviously livestock farmers are reacting strongly to the call to reduce or eliminating meat from our diets. These two graphics show how meat compares to other food types in terms of the amount of land needed to produce 1gm of protein and the amount of CO2 produced per square metre of land.

(Click on the charts to go to the site)

Natural pest control

I am often asked if homemade sprays are safer alternatives to commercial pesticides. My answer is always NO! Apart from being illegal in the EU you never of the unintended consequences of making a spray.

The real answer is to create a garden that achieves a natural balance and accept that every year there will be some losses. In other words, stay cool and work with ‘nature’.

In our old garden we did achieve that balance. It took a while but eventually we had few problems. In the first year Gooseberry Saw Fly stripped a bush but never they came back. There were occasional black fly infestations on broad beans but nothing serious. We grew a potato variety called Sarpo Mira which never had blight – it is the most blight resistant spud in existence and was bred many years ago using conventional techniques.

Part of the reason for the lack of aphids was the nettles that surrounded the plot. They the perfect place for Ladybirds to lay their eggs early in the season. Ladybird larvae are voracious predators of aphids. They look scary but they really are your friend.

 

Better crops from better soil

What never ceases to amaze me is we have so lost touch with planet Earth that we have forgotten it is literally earth, or soil, that feeds us!

There is an increasing amount of evidence that we are taking too much from soil and giving nothing back. This leads to soil erosion on a massive, world-wide scale. No country is immune.

On the web site of Boston’s WBUR radio station is reference to a report from the UN saying that our soils are in trouble.

They state:

The health of the Earth’s soil is crucial to storing carbon.

So what does it mean when scientists conclude the Earth’s soil is being lost 10 to 100 times faster than it is forming?

“It’s undermining our ability for long term sustainability, in a nutshell,” scientist Louis Verchot says.

At last the message is getting out! By treating agricultural land differently, we could increase food output, improve spoils and lock in CO2. It is not rocket science! It does not need fancy new technology in fact or needs common sense old technology. No government needs to pass new laws or have any input into this. We could start doing this now! Yes, today, now!

The only groups fighting against it are agrochemical companies because they can see their profits plummeting.

Gardeners can be part of the change by quite simply learning more about what healthy soils. The first thing is to learn how to make and use lots of good compost. Next is to stop digging!

 

Food as medicine

As it should be at every hospital!

“You become diabetic because when you don’t have good food to eat, you eat whatever you can to survive,” Golden says. “Because of the healthy food I get from the pantry… I’ve learned how to eat.”

That is why growing food is the best single thing that you can do to improve health. Not only does it provide cheaper really fresh food, it educates and informs and changes lives.

I just do not understand why more of this kind of initiative is not happening in the UK. It is sad to think that people are being deprived of the experience of growing and eating their food.

You don’t need a lot of space, do it square metre beds!

 

Food too good to waste

“If we consider the fuel that it took on the farm and on the roads, the energy it takes to process our foods, and make our fertilizer, food is very valuable indeed!”

If you are a gardener then why throw out food waste? There are many ways to it, you can either add it to your normal compost bin or have a separate container.

There is a myth about not composting cooked food as it attracts rats. Rats are survivors and they do not spend time hunting out cooked food, they will eat anything they can find.

We have been using a HotBin to compost food waste for a few years now and find it works well. Like all composting the trick is to get the right mix of contents and the add material in batches and not a few bits at a time There is more here

If you want to compost food waste from a school then look at the Ridan composter. It is much easier to use especially where food waste is added on a daily basis. It is much more expensive.

Our Lawns Are Killing Us

The amount of chemicals used on lawns is staggering. In the US it can be nearly four times that used on agricultural land. The only reason is to make lawns look nice. Visual appearance is the key factor!

There are no figures for the UK, but it is likely that they are very similar. The British are obsessed with lawns and spend millions every year to get the right effect. The typical front garden is still a lawn with flower borders.

Grass grows and lawns need to be mowed, usually every weekend. The first signs of spring used to be marked by the appearance of migratory birds but now it is the song the lawn mower and the strimmer that heralds the new season.

It takes a lot of work to keep the grass looking pristine. That includes the application of chemicals including selective weed killers, insecticides to kill unwanted bugs and fungicides. They may be combined into one product under the ‘weed and feed’ banner. You can also add cats and dog repellents to avoid unwanted dead patches of grass.

Are Lawn chemicals toxic?
There is evidence to show that garden pesticides are dangerous especially to children. In the US many homeowners have lawn care packages which includes mowing, strimming and the applications of chemicals. In some areas local bylaws (ordinances) insist that front garden (yards) look pristine all the time.

Of 30 commonly used lawn pesticides, (See the PDF here) 19 are linked with cancer or carcinogenicity, 13 are linked with birth defects, 21 with reproductive effects, 26 with liver or kidney damage, 15 with neurotoxicity, and 11 with disruption of the endocrine (hormonal) system. Of those same pesticides, 17 are detected in groundwater, 23 have the ability to leach into drinking water sources, 24 are toxic to fish and other aquatic organisms vital to our ecosystem, 11 are toxic to bees, and 16 are toxic to birds.

A study in the US used markers were added to common lawn treatments to track where it went. Scans of the homes of participants found chemical residues on door handles, floors and carpets. What was even more concerning they found the markers in the stomachs of children who had played on the lawns.

While the results are shocking, they are hardly surprising. If you spread pesticides on your lawn and then walk, sit, or play on them residues will be transferred.

Lawn pesticide fact sheet

The big questions are why does the visual appearance of a patch of grass outweigh the health effects of using chemicals? And, why is there such a strong desire to conform to an antiquated definition of a nice garden? It is rooted in a post war return to decorative gardens after using them to grow food. That created the huge garden centre and garden products industry that we now have.

“Ornamental horticulture and landscaping in the UK made an estimated £24.2billioncontribution to national GDP in 2017. 

Around 568,700 jobs across the country are supported by ornamental horticulture and landscaping, equivalent to 1 in every 62 jobs!

Market information – garden statistics

There is a move to grow food in front gardens. In some US cities the rules have been relaxed and people are growing veg ‘out font’.

In the UK there is generally nothing to stop homeowners growing whatever they want except the usual quiet disapproval of neighbours but it takes a certain amount of guts to ‘rock the boat’ and stand out as being different.

Growing food in small metre square beds

The other alternative is to grow wildflowers. They can be sown in irregular swathes across the lawn or replace all the grass. The big advantages are no more mowing, strimming and no need for weed killers and other toxic chemicals!