Banned pesticides in imported food

With a lot of talk about the UK buying food from ‘the market’  it is no coincidence that Johnson whipped his MPs to get a bill through parliament. The legislation clears the way for the UK to import food without conforming to current UK or EU standards.

Great you might say, as long as it is cheap but it is likely that such food could have been treated with pesticides banned in the UK for many years because of their known effects on human health. Chemicals like organophosphates  which were derived from the gas used in WWII gas chambers.

A new report from Switzerland found alarming levels of residues in imported foods from many Counties including the USA.

The range of produce containing banned pesticides is alarming.

 

What we must do to preserve the quality of UK food:

  1. Sign the petition the food standards petition here 
  2. Find your MP and write to them to voice your concerns.
  3. Do not buy food from any of the countries on the list above – check the label.
  4. Contact you favourite supermarket asking them if they are aware of the issue and what they are doing about it.
  5. Play safe and only buy fresh fruit and veg that is certified organic.
  6. Grow as much of your own as you can.

Drought and what to do to save your plants

There is a drought, no rain for weeks, expect hose pipe bans soon say the water companies. But what about gardeners? What can we do? The answer is to mulch.

The graphic says it all, there should be no bare soil in the garden as it dries out very quickly.

Mulches
If you make compost then use it as a mulch, it does not need to be perfect so not need to sieve.
The RHS say you can use:  wood chippings, processed conifer bark, well rotted manure, straw (for strawberries), spent hops (poisonous if eaten by dogs) and seaweed. Some of these will not be easy to get!

Cardboard could also work but not corrugated as there is concern about the toxicity of the glues used. Do not use old carpet or plastic sheet which can have very toxic breakdown products,

The basic advice is to cover the soil and water sparingly without using a hose pipe in areas where they are banned.

Watering
We also need to be aware of the best way to water plant see this page.

My grandfather was a master gardener. He was born in Australia but moved to Lincolnshire. He had a huge vegetable garden on superb light soil which was prone to drying out. For watering, he used a galvanised bucket and an old food tin, like a big baked bean tin although I doubt very much that he knew what they were. The idea was that you walked along the row of veg giving each plant half a tin of water at the roots. There was no mains water available, so his irrigation methods had to be frugal. It was a good lesson to learn. (CS)

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French beans – timing is critical

We tried to get off to a good start this year by deciding when to sow seeds linked to the date they would need to be planted out. Dwarf French and climbing French bean were sown in small pots on April 23 thinking that we would plant out around the first/second week of June. All went well except the weather was a lot warmer than usual and the plants matured quicker than expected.

This week it was obvious that the plants needed to be in the beds as they were growing well and risked becoming pot bound. They had been slowly hardened off so yesterday, May 30th they went into the beds.

Climbing French bean – pot bound roots – Roots teased out before planting

Looking at the roots it was clear that it was the right decision especially for the climbers. They looked good and we were thinking we had got it about right.

Climbing French bean – damaged tip Climbing French bean – good tip

Another thing to check is the growing tip. If it has been broken off then ditch the plant.

The climbing beans were tied onto the canes to stop them being blown about. Please note: they were loosely tied, the twine was not tightened as that would cause damage to the stem.

The bed of Dwarf French beans

Later we checked the Met Office forecast for the coming week. On Thursday and Friday  June 4 & 5 the night-time low is 3C. That is a slight frost! We can cover the dwarf beans with a solar pod but not the climbers. Wrapping in fleece might work but who knows, we could lose the lot. And, of course, the potato tops will need covering. Nice as it is to live in the Peak District hills a move a few miles further south would greatly improve the gardening!

Next year the seeds will be  sown a couple of weeks later so they are ready for planting out in mid/late June.

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Strawberry planter

We had decided to have more strawberries next year and thoughts turned to making a planter out of scaffold planks. Then a helpful brother sent a link to a video on Pinterest about how to make a planter from a pallet.

The next project on the list! There is a big pile of pallets up the road, surely they will part with one of two.

We need new food systems

It is 30 years since the Met Office Hadley Centre for Climate Science and Services was opened by Margret Thatcher. She said; “What it predicts will affect our daily lives. Governments and international organisations in every part of the world are going to have to sit up and take notice and respond…” They have not done that.

What the scientists are predicted 30 years ago was exactly right; the climate has changed. The weather patterns we are seeing now are here to stay. They affect everything we do especially growing food. It is no use saying that if things go wrong here we can go to ‘the market’ because the effects of climate change are worldwide.

We need is to change the way food is grown and distributed or starve. That means radical new solutions that serve local communities and get away from a centralised system that relies on huge farms selling though a few large retailers or the dwindling number of wholesale markets.

One solution would be to move to community supported farms, CSAs where people invest in a farm in return for a weekly supply of seasonal veg. Farms, in CSA terms, would more likely be known as market gardens in the UK.

This is a good example of how an American CSA responded to Covid-19

This is how a CSA adapted to the Covid-19 pandemic

CSAs are similar to how food used to be grown and sold 50 years ago in areas like the Vale of Evesham, Kent, Lincolnshire and Norfolk. There are still remnants of it on the Lincolnshire Norfolk Border.

A Norfolk market gardener who has a small shop next to his house.

Villages and towns should start to harness the power of allotments through food shares and mini produce markets. That might require some changes to allotment regulations, but it would be far better than allowing surplus produce to be wasted.

We could also return to selling at the garden gate like many used to do in the 1950s and 60s. Again, there are probably regulations that prohibit it but we desperately need to be creative or face food shortages very soon.

Most of all we need food to be grown sustainably i.e. in the most environmentally friendly way possible without the use of pesticides or chemical fertilisers.

Making fertiliser – comfrey & nettle juice

Our aim is to make a productive fruit and vegetable garden with zero external inputs or outputs. That means that everything comes from within the garden including fertiliser. Being organic gardeners, we do not use chemical fertiliser mainly because of huge amounts of energy  used to make it and the mining of mineral like phosphates is not sustainable. So, we make our own from Comfrey, or Symphytum, and nettles both of which are grown in the garden.

The Comfrey patch. When buying Comfrey plants make sure you use the Bocking 14 variety as it will not spread! We have used Dalmore Croft for many years – no connection just happy customers.

In the previous garden we made comfrey juice by filling barrels with the leaves and stems and then pressing the contents with broken paving slabs. It worked very well, there are details here. In the new garden we will do exactly the same but in 60Ltr, barrels.

There is also a simple way of extracting the juice using a piece of pipe and a bottle weight. Details here

Lawrence Hills, the founder of HDRA analysed comfrey juice and found that the nutrient content was very similar to Tomorite. We are also making nettle liquid which is high in phosphorous. Combined with comfrey juice this will make a balanced fertiliser.

Please note: we make concentrated juices and NOT comfrey teas. The juice is pressed out of the plant without adding water.

This is how we added the drain and made a stand for the barrels.

(Hover over the image to see the caption, click to enlarge.)

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Strawberries

It is strawberry time!  The quintessential British (and Japanese) fruit –  red, ripe, sweet and juicy fresh strawberries. That rules out the tasteless varieties sold in supermarkets, so it means having a strawberry patch in the garden! If you want to taste real strawberries then grow your own, pick them and eat them straight away.

You need to find a variety that works for you. That is more difficult in the Derbyshire hills. Strawberries like sunshine and warmth, we tend to get that in small doses and can easily have frosts in May and September which makes the season short. But, it is possible to grow these delicious fruits.

Commercial growers use polytunnels or hoop houses as they are called in the US. Unfortunately the Peak Park District National Park have a total ban on them because they don’t look very nice. Shame. One alternative is to grow in containers which is exactly what we are doing this year.

Using containers makes it easy to move the plants into the greenhouse over winter which might just extend the season. These are two old containers made several years ago. There is about 4-5cms of gravel in the bottom and a row of holes is drilled round the sides just above the top of the gravel to prevent flooding and water logging. The troughs were then filled with peat free compost.

This year we managed to get a selection pack of six plants of five different varieties. They were just about acceptable and looked if they had been kept in small pots for too long due the closure of garden centres. They have all taken well and are producing fruits. There are two Elsanta and one each of Vibrant, Flamenco, Honeyoe and Symphony. It will be interesting to see how they do.

Looking at the area in front of the greenhouse has sparked an idea – a new strawberry bed 3m x 0.75m! The best time to plant bare rooted plants is around October/November. In the previous garden we had two large beds and one was planted with Vibrant. It seemed to do OK on an equally cold and windswept site. Just an idea!

And now just to get the gastric juices going here is a film about strawberry mania in Japan –  click on the image below. It shows that they take strawberries very seriously with each variety grown to give a different experience.

Click to watch the video

And then there is Japanese “strawberry short cake” near the end of the film. You can find a recipe here. Can’t wait to try it!

Click for recipe

Bountiful green ‘playgrounds’

Another interesting article from The Straits Times Note: the circuit breaker is the Singapore version of lock down.

Having just sown a lot of radish seeds this caught my eye “….. no vegetable goes to waste. Radish roots are used to make fried radish cake, while the radish tops go into soups and stir-fried dishes.”

Singapore has long been a leader in growing food in cities. Chengi Hospital has a roof top farm which produces fresh vegetables for the kitchens, no cook-chill there! There has to be innovation cities where space is at a premium. There are also important lessons here about local food as Tim Lang says:

“Food may come to consumers locally – in your shop or home – but is actually the result of international , national and regional dynamics”
[From: “Why UK Food Security Matters” Page 66 · Location 1538 Kindle edition. Accessed 18/05/2020 0653]

Much more could be done in the UK if there was the will to do it. That means accepting that our food supply is at best precarious and that we need to produce more locally. The current politics is set on abandoning UK farming and trusting ‘the market’.

Progress in the garden

This is our fruit and veg  garden on 16 May 2020. We started work on the plot just over a year ago. There was a lot to do and it’s been hard work but worth it. We are looking forward to harvesting some tasty, pesticide free veg soon.

The weather made it a difficult year but gardeners always say that! The first few months were cold and wet and the top part of the garden was flooded a few of times due to poor drainage. That should now be fixed.

Spring has been cool and mostly dry here and again we are verging on a drought. There were frosts up until last week. That has caused some damage especially to the fruit bushes in the new bed to the left of the path, the top corner is just visible in front of the chairs.

We have done a lot recently thanks to lock down but there is still more to do to achieve our aim of an sustainable, zero waste fruit and veg garden.

New projects
We are lucky to have a corner of a large garden to grow food. Many people have only have a small gardens or just a balcony so we want to share some ideas. First will be an update to the lettuce table  made about 20 years ago. The plan is to make one using as much reclaimed timber as possible and use reclaimed butyl rubber pond liner for the waterproofing.

Next is the use of self-watering containers. We have used them before with good results. We will have peas, beetroot, tomatoes, courgettes and strawberries in various sizes of container. More to come on this soon.

We are also about to start making comfrey liquid fertilizer from the plants started in 2019. This is part of the closed loop, self-contained. zero waste garden we are working towards. It will not be on the same scale as our previous project.

We desperately need an extension to the compost bins as we are already getting short of space. So far we have a cubic metre of compost maturing in one of the bins. The second bin has active compost in it which leaves just one free for the next batch. The plan is to try a very simple way of locking boards together to build metre square bins that can be used when required and then broken down over winter.

As winter approaches we want to try some new ways of extending the season with the aim of having keeping some crops going through winter. That will mean some new cloches and cold frames to go with the solar pods stacked against the wall on the top right of the photo above.

That should be enough to keep us busy for a few weeks, we will post news with videos of progress here.

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