Category Archives: Organic food

Food glorious food

It really is time that we ditch supermarkets for good. There is still panic buying, stores cannot replenish stokes quick enough and now there is a huge PR battle raging to see who can come out on top.

They did not respond the toilet roll panic a couple of weeks back and could have easily done something like Danish stores who changed prices for multiple items – 1 pack of toilet rolls £1.50,  2 packs £55. No, they did nothing but make bigger profits and argue for customer moderation.

“We must help to shield the most vulnerable in our communities from this virus.” – ASDA CEO Roger Burnley.

Sainsburys are saying they will prioritise home delivery slots for the over 70s and vulnerable people. It seems like just more PR as they are not accepting new home delivery registrations and their help line is unobtainable. The competition is sure to respond and try to out do each other.

In the end supermarkets can do what they want, they can battle to come out on top in the PR stakes, but nothing will change. We have become over reliant on them and they have failed.

We must see this a wake up call and actively change the way food is grown and sold. There must be much more diversity, more home grown produce and a greater appreciation and understanding of food, i.e. seeing eating as  more than just chucking something down you neck as you walk around clutching a polystyrene tray.

The Community Food Growers Network – https://www.cfgn.org.uk/about/

The changes, no, the revolution in food production and consumption will mean teaching people how to select produce and cook it to make a meal, something that has been lost over the last 30-40 years. This must include learning about nutrition and its links to the immune system. We need more local food projects centred on growing, cooking, eating and understanding food.

Only then will we be able to survive similar events in the future, and there will be more.

Life goes on, seeds grow

Seeds grow with very little help from us. These are lettuce, Tom Thumb and Little Gem. We plant smaller varieties because they can picked and eaten in one go. No limp lettuce from the fridge when you grow your own.

Top left are Tom Thumb, bottom right Little Gem

There is nothing special needed, you can use margarine containers with holes in the bottom as seed trays. Use fresh, bagged peat free compost as soil from the garden is too heavy and dense. Water sparingly, don’t over water.

Sowing seeds

More later on what to do next.

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

Food and climate change

“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.[1]

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.

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.

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.)

MPs calls for 100% organic farming by 2050

According to a story on the Delano site, Luxembourg MPs are calling for 100% organic farming by 2050. They get it, they understand what being organic means.

The UK government would rather get into bed with Trump and US farming with its GM crops and chlorine washed chiceken. Know which sort of food I prefer to eat!

A worker sprays a field with pesticides. This view could be a thing of the past in Luxembourg if the country makes a full transition to 100% organic practices  Photo: Shutterstock

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’.