Save allotments from development

In this time of uncertainty, we need more space to grow food. The UK food supply has been described as precarious for many years and the effects of climate change and leaving the EU will make continuity of supply more difficult.

This is an interview with Professor Tim Lang from around ten years ago.

 

A big incentive for growing you own food is cost and there are other benefits like freshness, increased nutrient content and zero food miles. Add to that the exercise and fresh air that comes from gardening combined with the community of the allotment and there is good reason for them to be prescribed by doctors!

But there are problems. Allotments need a few acres of land which is in direct competition with the current house building frenzy making them prime targets for land grabs. There is money to be made, lots of money, by building houses and no landowner seems exempt for the lure of a quick profit.

Take for example the once sleepy village of Wellesbourne in Warwickshire. A few years back it was earmarked for expansion and thousands of new houses with no gardens have been built. It is not far from the M40 so has road links to Birmingham and London which makes it an ideal and desirable commuter location.

There is one plot left in the village – the allotments which would net millions if it was ‘developed’.  The owners, the Diocese of Coventry,  want to sell off the top half and leave an area away from the road plus part of another field for a very reduced number of plots. The problem is the lower field floods.

There have been allotments on the site since 1838. Now there are 61 plots tended by 90 people and a long waiting list. The plots are well look after and it is obvious there is a lot of work going into the site. Even in the middle of winter there are crops to be picked and plants to be planted ready for the new season. Why then does the Diocese of Coventry, want to wreck it all? The answer is very simple – MONEY.

Instead of selling off allotments for a quick profits we need to save every one we have and make more land available for food growing to enable communities to be more sustainable and resilient. Climate change is already having an effect on food supplies and things will only get worse. It is very sad that the Diocese of Coventry does not understand this.

This is Mr Hale, he is 88 and yesterday he was digging his plot ready for planting. He explained that the soil is very good, on the light side with some silt. It is also black which usually means it has lots of organic matter.

He is philosophical and doubts that he will still be digging in 5 years time but he is also passionate about the allotments and does not want them to go. Who can argue with him?  There’s lots of evidence that he’s not alone and is is plain to see what the site means to so many people.

There is still time to save the Wellesbourne plots because the district council have admitted that the number of new builds in their 5-year plan has been exceeded so no new planning applications will not be approved in this period.

See the Wellesbourne allotment  web site for more information.

Composting Christmas trees

Over the that last couple of weeks I have shredded 12 Christmas trees to make compost. That produced was about 0.75 cubic metre from the branches and tops. It was less than I expected and next year I will start collecting the trees earlier and aim for around 20. The main trunks were too thick for my small shredder and will have to go to green recycling.

The shredded material was mixed with a small amount of garden and kitchen waste. It was then damped down with a mixture of equal parts ‘universal compost activator ‘ or urine* and water.

The next day the bin had heated up to almost 23C. Not a big rise in temperature but considering we have been having sharp overnight frosts and cold days I am happy with the results so far.

* We are trying to reduce water consumption and would line to convert to either rainwater toilet flushing or composting toilets. The estimated average is 130 litres of drinking water, per household per day, is used to flush toilets!

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.