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.
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!
Time to start taking life seriously and stop using all pesticides and artificial fertilizers.
“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.
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.
This is a brilliant introduction to agroecology. Good for children and adults.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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!
From the Guardian article:
“The true cost of cheap, unhealthy food is a spiralling public health crisis and environmental destruction, according to a high-level commission. It said the UK’s food and farming system must be radically transformed and become sustainable within 10 years.”
From the report:
“Our own health and the health of the land are inextricably intertwined [but] in the last 70 years, this relationship has been broken,”
The full report
Yesterday I visited Calke Abbey and was just knocked out by a strip of wildflowers. Not just because of the visual appeal but for the food they supply to insects. I got to thinking that if everybody sacrificed some of the immaculate lawns to wildflowers it would help reduce the dangerous decline in the insect population. It would also cut down on the work and energy required for the the ‘perfect lawn’. Not to mention a reduction of pesticides and energy used.
Ban the grass – lets make wildflower areas the new garden norm!