Category Archives: Organic food gardening

The title says it all – organic food gardening = growing your own food using organic methods.

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

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.

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!

 

Food as medicine

As it should be at every hospital!

“You become diabetic because when you don’t have good food to eat, you eat whatever you can to survive,” Golden says. “Because of the healthy food I get from the pantry… I’ve learned how to eat.”

That is why growing food is the best single thing that you can do to improve health. Not only does it provide cheaper really fresh food, it educates and informs and changes lives.

I just do not understand why more of this kind of initiative is not happening in the UK. It is sad to think that people are being deprived of the experience of growing and eating their food.

You don’t need a lot of space, do it square metre beds!

 

Why Growing Food is The Single Most Impactful Thing You Can Do in a Corrupt Political System

See the original article and watch the videos at realfarmacy.com/

I have always said that growing your own food is the most anarchic thing you can do. Politicians and big business do not like independence, they want us to be docile consumers. To be the least bit self-reliant subverts that. That’s what makes me smile every time I get veg from the garden!

Growing food is easier than you think, you can start in an afternoon – see how

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.

Sale of Ryton Gardens to Coventry University

It is good to hear that Garden Organic have finally secured  a deal with Coventry University for the purchase of the site. The bad news is that they will close the gardens to the public later this month.

It will not be the same when as I visited for tea and scones nearly 30 years ago and discovered organic gardening. I was recovering from a life threatening illness. Finding organic growing at Ryton not only saved my life it is where I met my partner of 21 years!

Ryton Gardens a few years back

It is two years since the Garden Organic announced they were looking to sell the site for housing. After a concerted campaign against that they started talking to Coventry University who have been long term tenants.

Why sell the gardens?
At the time there were justifications for the sale like “organic is now mainstream” which totally missed the point and made wrong assumptions about public knowledge of organics. Their aims and actions should always have been to engage and educate through demonstration gardens, courses, the dissemination of research and by working with members and local groups. It is encouraging to see those intentions restated in the three-year, 2019-2021, business plan:

“By 2023, there will be Garden Organic networks of local organic groups, organic demonstration gardens, education and training events, projects and programmes, and Ambassadors/Trustees throughout the UK.”

Fine words but we still need more – see the next post.

 

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.)