Category Archives: Growing food

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.

 

A different way to make compost

I must admit to being a composting geek. I just love to see piles of what some would call ‘garden waste’ being turned into life giving compost. That is no exaggeration as we need compost to maintain and restore healthy productive soil.

There are many ways to make compost, I have used New Zealand bins for many years. The truth is that compost happens everywhere without human intervention. It is natural process of the breaking down of organic matter. Often the only thing that stops composting is the gardener.

The latest 3 bay NZ bins.

The key thing to remember that anything that has lived can be composted, including us! Just how it is done is open to much debate and the differences between methods can be reduced to how long it takes and the quality of the result.

Many gardeners have a heap of rotting stuff at the edge of the garden/allotment/files. They throw their ‘waste’ on it and just leave it. It will compost over time but there could be a lot of weed seeds and not much in the way of nutrients.

So, what is the best way to make compost? I would say there are two main criteria: Keep the contents dry as rain washes out the nutrients and slows the process. Secondly, have enough air going through the bin so that it heats up to around 60°C for at least 3-4 days. Making hot compost

Last week I found this US based site that shows a very specific way of making compost using the hot (thermophilic) method and then adding worms when the heap cools. The Johnson-Su bioreactor It takes around a year to complete the process, but the argument is that the longer time ensures a good supply of microorganism for the soil. PDF version (full details) And see this YouTube video

Full size bioreactors

The problem for most gardeners would be finding the large amount of materials to fill the heap. Even with a large ornamental garden I find it hard to fill the 1 cubic metre NZ bins. The Johnson-Su method would need almost twice that.  Maybe the answer is a half-size version? It would certainly be much cheaper and easier to make than wooden bins.

Smaller version

The other issue is getting the right mix of ingredients. That is crucial for any type of composter to work correctly. Generally, it is described by mixing green and browns. That is, material high in nitrogen – greens with material high in carbon-browns. Ratio of greens and browns for best compost (Scroll down page.)

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’.

New York City’s largest rooftop farm

We need to do this in the UK. There are many urban roof tops that could be used to grow food where it is needed.

(Click image for the full story)

In the coming years the effects of global heating will have an impact on food supply. The impending crisis in the UK shows that we must have a stronger and more resilient local food supply. Conventional agriculture takes time to switch to growing different crops, but roof top gardens could be up and running within weeks.

What is likely to stop that? Local planners and health and safety concerns! I am not saying that we should ignore the safety implications of roof top gardens but

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.

Grow food in your garden – fight climate change

There is nothing like sitting down to a meal with veg that you have grown. It might be only one or two items but it tastes better and feels good when you know it is from your garden.

Now is a good time to start thinking about growing food next season. You don’t need an allotment or a large garden, start small and see how it goes. See this page

We need more allotments – now!

Here is a bit of very radical action, well not that radical; the government must make more land available for the  “90,000 people on waiting lists to get their own patch of land to grow vegetables.” In short more allotments! Not that difficult, would not cost billions and would help in all sorts of ways. See this link for more information