For many years I have wanted to read Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” but have not got round to it mainly because I thought it would be a bit too full on. Well it is and it is not! First impressions are that considering it was published in 1962 it feels like it was written yesterday.
What has changed in 58 years? Everything and nothing. We are now more deeply committed to high input agrochemical farming and even more reliant on pesticides and other chemicals that have invaded every part of our daily lives.
I was asked recently what is the best thing we can do to increase biodiversity in gardens. My answer is simple, stop using insecticides. There is no excuse for blasting everything with a spray just so it looks nice and kills all those supposedly nasty insects and then wonder why there are so few birds around.
This year Spring in our garden was better, the number of birds seemed to have increased and the dawn chorus returned. Then lock down ended and the birds stopped singing and spring became silent again.
I am left with the feeling that the only thing we have done since 1962 is to speed up trashing everything we depend on. It feels like we are on an increasingly steep downward spiral that will lead to the total destruction of the planet that gives us all we need unless we do something.
So, what can we do? We can find the courage to be different and not be part of consumerist society where status is determined by ownership of the latest toys. We can find an alternative to factory farmed food soaked in chemicals and wrapped in plastic. That might mean spending a bit more on what we eat and less on holidays, mobile phones, or other non-essential goodies we are coerced into accepting as the norm. Or we do nothing and take it on the chin and leave the next generation with little but a dying planet.
The choice to downsize, consume less and eat organic food is no where near the hair shirt mentality touted by those who want to retain the status quo. It can be liberating, joyful even, like a release from always having to follow the crowd, to keep up, to gain status by being seen to buy the right stuff.
It took a brush with death for me to make new choices 30 years ago and yes, I did see my whole life flash in front of me like a failed B movie. You don’t need to go through that to realise there are better alternatives. Learn from others who have done it be proud to be different. Relax and enjoy what we have right in front of us. Now is the time to change and live differently, seize the moment.
At first glance the BBC report last year “Climate change being fuelled by soil damage” might appear to be all about big agriculture and nothing else. While is is abundantly clear that the way land is farmed must change gardeners and allotment holders also have a part to play.
The report states that:
“There’s three times more carbon in the soil than in the atmosphere – but that carbon’s being released by deforestation and poor farming.”
“Problems include soils being eroded, compacted by machinery, built over, or harmed by over-watering.”
The way we treat soil is crucial for good yields and to preserve that vital top 4 inches (100mm) that feeds us. Every bit of soil left bare to the elements contributes to global heating and soil degradation. By using other ways of growing you not only achieve higher yields without adding commercial fertiliser, but carbon dioxide is locked up.
The move to more sustainable growing is not difficult, it does not require big investments in tools or machinery it just means doing things differently. That might be hard for dedicated allotment growers but the benefits are huge.
It is important to remember that allotments and gardens make up a large area of land in the UK. Allotment holders and gardeners can make a difference, we need to act now and show that we care about the environment that we leave for the future generations.
Watch the fascinating video from the US to see how commercial compost is made on a large scale. There are other methods especially for food waste where it happens ‘in vessel’ to ensure that all pathogens are killed and to reduce odours.
Compost locks up atmospheric carbon in soil. Healthy soils grow healthy food.
When the Met Office Hadley Centre for Climate Science and Services was opened in 1990, they predicted that within 30 years the UK climate would have changed. They were exactly right, the climate has changed. There are more severe storms, periods of drought, unusual weather patterns and more. So, what does that mean for gardeners who grow food?
The 2019-20 winter was very wet with flooding in many parts of the country. It was followed by a long warm dry spell and drought in the South. Now it is back to cool and wet with cold northerly winds. Some will argue that there is nothing unusual about that, but the difference now is that weather swings from one extreme to another and weather patterns can last for weeks.
This is for Friday 5 May 2020 – click image to see an animated jet stream forecast from netweather.tv
The jet stream moves around more and breaks up. It used to be relatively stable flowing from east to west over the Atlantic. It did sometimes go further north or further south but was generally more stable for longer periods. Now it breaks up and ‘kinks’ often pulling air down form the Arctic with cold northerly air stream across the UK.
Gardeners are used to adapting to the vagaries of the British weather but sudden switches from warm to cold in summer are different. This week saw a near 20C drop in temperature with cold winds and nighttime temperatures in single figures. Add in the rain and the plants sit in cold wet soil which slows down or stops growth.
We need to change the way we grow or risk losing more tender crops. For us that has involved covering potatoes and dwarf French beans with solar pods overnight. The climbing French are more difficult to protect but at least we can try to keep the wind off them by making a tent out of old bubble wrap and fleece. The lettuce table is covered to avoid flooding from the heavy rain.
Unfortunately it looks like we have lost half of the Blueberry crop. There are three bushes, early flowering, mid season and a later variety which keeps us going for three to four months. The early bushed flowered and the fruit set so it looks like a good crop. Probably less than half the fruit set on the mid season bush and most of the flowers on the late bush have died.
Next year we plan to stick to the dwarf varieties and maybe try some more hardy runner beans. Also, we might well decide to plant out in late June which will shorten the growing season but could avoid cold spells. What ever happens gardeners are a resourceful and resilient bunch and will find ways to cope!
“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.
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!
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!
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.
Growing food in cities should be a priority. Both on roof tops and any available space. This pic of flats in Sheffield must be 10 years old. Each flat has its own mini greenhouse yet nobody is growing anything. What a waste.