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.

 

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!