Category Archives: Climate change

How climate change will affect food supplies.

Better crops from better soil

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.

They state:

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!

 

Our Lawns Are Killing Us

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.

Lawn pesticide fact sheet

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!

Market information – garden statistics

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.

Growing food in small metre square beds

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!

 

True cost of cheap food is health and climate crises, says commission

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.”
Read more

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

Let’s hear it for wildflowers

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!

Promoting organic gardening in a climate emergency

It is a real pity that Ryton Gardens will no longer be open to the public. It was major tourist attraction in the past and Garden Organic will lose a lot by closing it. How many other casual visitors were inspired by what they saw? A much smaller garden, closed to the public except for occasional open days is no substitute.

We need an organisation to promote and encourage organic growing both to improve food security and to combat climate change. Part of that has to be a place where good practice can be seen by casual visitors. Most of all we need an organisation that can recognise the crucial role that sustainable food growing has in combating climate change.

Maybe it is time for a new group, charity or organisation to take over that role and really get things moving. Take a look at the edible garden display at RHS Harlow Car to see what can be done. I Just wish the gardens were organic.

Winter lettuce

Over the years I have tried many ways of keeping veg going in the winter. It was hard at the old site as it was in a frost pocket. Between 2003 and 2013 the temperature dropped to at least -10C every year with one year it was -17C.

Looking though photographs I found some images of winter lettuce from 2010. I trialled three different varieties, Ayr, Valdor and Winter Density, all sown on 23 September, so I am thinking it is not too late to try some in the new garden, maybe with fewer weeds this time!

They will need protection,  last time I made some ‘solar pods’ as described in the book “Solar Gardening: Growing Vegetables Year-round the American Intensive Way” (1994.)
It is available here at Google Books.

The ‘pods’ are for raised beds with the ends made of marine plywood and covered in twin wall polycarbonate sheet. I will make smaller versions this time, enough to cover half a bed, one metre square.

Full size solar pods in snow.

 

Growing food after oil

This was the headline for a recent article in The Guardian.  I am sorry to say it followed the usual formula of trivialising the issues by focussing on a couple who had setup a small holding to grow salads and raise a few animals. It also included a photograph of a vegan cafe growing their own salad using hydroponics.

James Koch (left) and James Smailes at their vegan cafe, Suncraft, where they grow salad leaves hydroponically. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod/The Observer

Why is growing food hydroponically seen as the easy answer to food security when it is very much part of the oil-based economy?  ‘Hydro’ uses artificial fertilizers dissolved in water to feed the plants. These chemical fertilisers are made using huge amounts of gas, a fossil fuel!

The belief that the nutrients in soil can be replaced by the right chemical mixture shows a deep misunderstanding about how plants get their nutrients. There are other issues including the substrate in which plants are grown, it often includes enerygy intensive, single use material like rockwool, perlite and vermiculite.

Hydroponics is portrayed as a ‘magic bullet’ that provides an easy way out of a complex problem. In reality it boosts the profits of the immensely powerful agrochemical and fossil fuel industries and offers false hope.

The photographs, videos and TV interviews with people growing food underground and in shops and restaurants makes good news stories. The rows of veg, usually salad crops, under  LED lights creates an atmosphere of technology providing self-sufficiency.

The problem is that it takes a lot of words to explain that growing food in water containing dissolved chemical fertilizer under artificial lights is neither sustainable nor self-sufficient.

Hydroponics can never be the silver bullet for food production. Growing fully sustainable and nutritious food can only happen if we change the way food is produced and marketed. That means the end of the supermarket supply chain and a step back from the high tech, high input chemical growing that has such a strangle hold on farming.

We need more small, organic market gardens and farms round the perimeter of towns and cities that can supply local shops. That means seeing agricultural land as a vital part of our survival rather than a commodity to be used for the greatest profit. Until that happens, we will have no food security with a very real risk of starvation and famine in the so called ‘developed world’.

Broccoli Is Dying. Corn Is Toxic. Long Live Microbiomes!

Do you want the cheapest food possible? If so this is what you get: “Data going back to 1940, as reported by Eco Farming Daily, shows: “The level of every nutrient in almost every kind of food has fallen between 10 and 100 percent.”

This is not anything new, it is well documented and we have mentioned it before – “A study on the mineral depletion of the foods available to us as a nation over the period 1940 to 1991.” see the PDF is here.

There is a stark choice: you either go for the cheapest food and kid yourself that it is good value for money or you buy decent food that is not produced using high inputs of chemical fertiliser and chemical pesticides  –  organic food!

See this piece in Scientific American

Biochar

I found this book in last week in Oxford last week, Blackwells Broad Street branch.  it just jumped off the shelf. I have known about biochar for some years but not used it in the garden. With the new plot and talk about sequestering CO2 and making better use of nutrients it could not have come at a better time.

What I like about the book is that there is some history, the use of biochar goes back to 450 BCE – 950 BCE. The soils from that era are still black, it lasts locking up atmospheric CO2 for centuries. There is a section about how it works and very useful practical information about making biochar in either in a burn pit or a TLUD: top lit up-draft gasifier.

Making a TLUD from a couple of steel barrels look relatively straight forward so that is what I will do.

It fits in nicely with the yearly timetable as I am just about to start preparing the soil for the winter. I will post some pics of the TLUD build progress soon.

IPCC report on climate change and land

Finally we get to the very basic problem – we ALL depend on the land for survival. It is the top 15 inches (38cm) of soil is that feeds us. Forget that, mess up the land, ignore it or take it for granted and we are dead, It is as simple as that.

The full report can be found here

Extracts about food security:

Coordinated action to address climate change can simultaneously improve land, food security and nutrition, and help to end hunger. The report highlights that climate change is affecting all four pillars of food security: availability (yield and production), access (prices and ability to obtain food), utilization (nutrition and cooking), and stability (disruptions to availability).

“Food security will be increasingly affected by future climate change through yield declines – especially in the tropics – increased prices, reduced nutrient quality, and supply chain disruptions,” said Priyadarshi Shukla, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group III.

“We will see different effects in different countries, but there will be more drastic impacts on low-income countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean,” he said.

The report records that about one third of food produced is lost or wasted. Causes of food loss and waste differ substantially between developed and developing countries, as well as between regions. Reducing this loss and waste would reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve food security.

“Some dietary choices require more land and water, and cause more emissions of heat-trapping gases than others,” said Debra Roberts, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group II.

“Balanced diets featuring plant-based foods, such as coarse grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables, and animal-sourced food produced sustainably in low greenhouse gas emission systems, present major opportunities for adaptation to and limiting climate change,” she said.