Why can’t we imagine how the land feels?

This article in The Guardian raises issues that explain why the world is in the state it is. If we see the planet only as a resource to be ruthlessly exploited then we will kill ourselves and every other living organism. What we have forgotten is that everything we need we need to survive comes from the Earth.

This is particularly true of soil. If it as only seen a substrate to provide support for engineered plants that rely chemical inputs to survive then we are doomed.

The loss of soil to erosion and resulting prediction that there is only 40 years of topsoil left should be a resounding wake up call. Yet there is no panic, there are no demonstrations in the streets, there is no understanding of what it means.

Ocado invest £17m in ‘vertical farming’

An article in The Guardian today says that Ocado have bought into a ‘vertical farming.’ They are already claiming that it is pesticide free and sustainable.

This is nothing new, the idea has been around for years and was once known as hydroponics where plants are grown in soil less systems. The roots can be contained in blocks of inert media like rock wool or just dangle into water filled troughs.

The ‘vertical farm’ uses trays of plants with lighting above them. The lights used to be energy hungry, but the advent of LEDs has reduced the energy requirement. That is probably where the sustainability claim originates.

What the investors will not tell you is that plants need nutrients to grow, In conventional growing nutrients come from soil. In hydroponics they have to be dissolved in water.

The basic plant food is NPK, nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. These can only be supplied by using artificial fertilizer manufactured in chemical plants. Phosphorus is mined and there are many reports of the devastation this has caused. There is also grave concern about how shortages of phosphorus “could leave us all hungry” 

Artificial fertilizers require huge amounts of energy and raw material from around the world which cannot, by any stretch of the imagination be considered as sustainable.

Soil contains many micronutrients that are impossible to synthesize in an artificial form. Some hydroponic enthusiasts will tell you they include micronutrients in their mixes, but it is not as simple as adding a few more chemicals.

The only place to grow food is in well managed soil. Making artificial food factories might look attractive, especially to investors, but it is not the way forward and looks like another quick techno fix to a complex issue. So, why do it? As Ocado say, they are looking for big returns.


New compost bins almost ready

Work on the new three bay New Zealand compost bin is progressing slowly. The first two bays are in place. All of the timber is reclaimed, the back is made of sample oak flooring panels the local B&Q were throwing out. The rest is either from dismantled pallets or has been found lying around the garden.

With four days of heavy rain forecast there will be no further work this week.

Local authority weed killer spraying

I have never understood why local councils, including our own, think they have the right to spay weed killer onto the border of private property. It is about time it was banned throughout the UK.

Let’s make this a national campaign.
“Greenock gardener Stuart Graham’s campaign to get his local authority bosses to ban the use of Roundup, which contains glyphosate, has attracted international attention.

Now he hopes he may persuade the local authority to go a step further as he continues his fight.”

Another perspective on mass extinction

This post on Professor Mike Hulme’s Site really does raise issues that have been swamped by the panic that follows the impending mass extinction that everybody is talking about. He argues that things like equality and justice are being lost in the climate panic. He also questions if the science really is taking us down that route.

I know that I have felt a huge sense of panic and hopelessness over the last few months because of the enormity of the problem and the evidently short timescale to solve it. The result was paralysis.

What is obvious is that this is a problem of the ‘developed world’. That we go on adding to the problem day-by-day. To then obsess about their imminent demise seems selfish and neurotic.

So, read this and see what you think.



Making compost with grass cuttings

We have been talking about composting recently, particularly about how to do it and what ‘recipes’ to use. In UK gardens there is often a lot of grass cuttings through the summer which provide the ideal base for an active compost bin. By active I mean one that gets above 40C.

Grass in a council green bin two days after cutting

The problem is that grass cuttings will start to compost on their own. Although grass will heat up quickly it soon runs out of air and the temperature falls. The grass then forms a dense stinking mass which does not breakdown.

Layers of partly rotted grass cuttings in a badly managed compost heap

The answer is to mix grass with bulky material like shredded twigs or straw. This allows more air to get to the grass and provides carbon to balance the nitrogen which keeps the compost going.

After a few weeks the temperature will begin to fall because the air in the pile has been used up. Time to turn the heap to allow more air to enter. The temperature should rise again but probably not as high as before.

For more information on what to mix with grass cuttings to get the correct C:N ratios, carbon or browns to nitrogen or greens see this page. For an online C:N ratio calculator  follow this link.

The other important thing to get right is the moisture content;  it should be around 55% or like a wrung out sponge. Not easy to gauge but not dry nor soaking wet.

To compost kitchen waste we use a Hot Bin. There is around a small bin full of stuff every week and I usually add some grass cuttings and chopped twigs. This is the temperature in the Hot Bin a couple of hours after adding new material and giving it a stir. Eight hours later it had risen to 46°C.

Comfrey juice fertlizer

Looking through the gardening books this morning I found this old favourite. It is an original 1976 first edition of “Comfrey, past, present and future”.  It used to be well known in organic gardening circles but seem to have dropped off the radar in recent years.

I found the book in the HDRA shop, Henry Doubleday Research Association, at Ryton Organic Gardens. Now called Garden Organic there is no longer a shop and the gardens are a mere shadow of their former shadow of what they once were. And just at a time when we need to push for more sustainable food growing.

As we are building a new organic garden it seems obvious that Comfrey juice production should be part of it.

Lawrence Hills bred a sterile version of Comfrey, he called it “Bocking 14”. It will not self seed, which is crucial if you want to prevent it spreading!

There are three linked pages that explain why Comfrey liquid is so good, how to make small quantities and how to scale up production for larger gardens.

A chemical analysis of Comfrey liquid

Making small quantities of Comfrey liquid

Scaling up production for the larger garden

Please note: Comfrey liquid made by pressing the leaves and small stalks is totally different to Comfrey tea.