Category Archives: Organic food

An improved lettuce table-update 26 June 20

It is 23 days since the lettuce table was finished and the first seeds sown. There is a good crop of three different types of salad mixes ready for picking. There should be four but the germination of one mix was patchy.

The original lettuce table can be found here

The radishes were removed as they were growing far too much foliage and swamping the salads.

The four colour Mizuna has done really well, it was a trial pack of seeds for 99p!

The watercress trough followed on the 15 June 20 with some cuttings taken from a standard organic pack from Waitrose.  Seed of unknown variety was also sown and it germinated in a few days. It might not have enough time to mature this year but we will try again next spring.

If using cuttings rooted in water the roots should be converted to soil roots gradually. After the water roots have developed gradually add soil tot the jar each day until you get a thick slurry. Leave for a few days watering daily and then plant out.

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Progress in the garden

This is our fruit and veg  garden on 16 May 2020. We started work on the plot just over a year ago. There was a lot to do and it’s been hard work but worth it. We are looking forward to harvesting some tasty, pesticide free veg soon.

The weather made it a difficult year but gardeners always say that! The first few months were cold and wet and the top part of the garden was flooded a few of times due to poor drainage. That should now be fixed.

Spring has been cool and mostly dry here and again we are verging on a drought. There were frosts up until last week. That has caused some damage especially to the fruit bushes in the new bed to the left of the path, the top corner is just visible in front of the chairs.

We have done a lot recently thanks to lock down but there is still more to do to achieve our aim of an sustainable, zero waste fruit and veg garden.

New projects
We are lucky to have a corner of a large garden to grow food. Many people have only have a small gardens or just a balcony so we want to share some ideas. First will be an update to the lettuce table  made about 20 years ago. The plan is to make one using as much reclaimed timber as possible and use reclaimed butyl rubber pond liner for the waterproofing.

Next is the use of self-watering containers. We have used them before with good results. We will have peas, beetroot, tomatoes, courgettes and strawberries in various sizes of container. More to come on this soon.

We are also about to start making comfrey liquid fertilizer from the plants started in 2019. This is part of the closed loop, self-contained. zero waste garden we are working towards. It will not be on the same scale as our previous project.

We desperately need an extension to the compost bins as we are already getting short of space. So far we have a cubic metre of compost maturing in one of the bins. The second bin has active compost in it which leaves just one free for the next batch. The plan is to try a very simple way of locking boards together to build metre square bins that can be used when required and then broken down over winter.

As winter approaches we want to try some new ways of extending the season with the aim of having keeping some crops going through winter. That will mean some new cloches and cold frames to go with the solar pods stacked against the wall on the top right of the photo above.

That should be enough to keep us busy for a few weeks, we will post news with videos of progress here.

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The usual shop bought lettuce

Ever wondered where those bags of bright green lettuce come from? The answer is from massive fields harvested by big machines.

Notice how perfect they are. How is that done? The answer is simple by repeated application of pesticides including insecticides and fungicides plus lots of artificial fertiliser to make then look very green.

Modern pesticides are systemic which means they get into every cell of the plant. They are designed to poison any insect that bites the plant. Systemic pesticides cannot be removed, no amount of washing will get them out.

The government sets the maximum amount of residual pesticide for each pesticide in common use. But there will a cocktail of different pesticides in every plant. There is no limit to the number pesticides used. There is little research as to of effects on human health of regularly consuming  pesticide cocktails, even if the residues for each individual chemical stays within the limits. Nobody knows how they might react with each other. Things are changing as concern grows about the food we eat, see this report.

Lettuce are fed a lot of artificial fertiliser to ensure that they grow quickly and look very green. That produces more problems. First, not all the fertiliser is used, the surplus is washed into ditches, then rivers and then the sea. Excess nitrogen in water is a big problem yet is virtually ignored.

The other concern is that the soil used on farms has become depleted. It does not hold together well so get washed off in heavy rain or blows about when it is dry because it contains very little organic matter. Soil loss from erosion is a massive issue for the UK and the world with a prediction that we only have about 40 years of topsoil left. What then?

When the lettuce will be ready to harvest they are picked by hand and packed into plastic bags ready to be shipped to the retailer. Supermarkets will control the whole process from telling the farmer what variety to grow, how to manage the crop and how many bagged lettuce they want on a certain date. The field becomes an extension of the shop floor, part of a mass production process geared to make the maximum profit for the retailer.

All this because consumers have been led to believe that the cheapest, mass produced factory food is best. Bur cheap food comes with hidden costs –  read about mineral deficiencies in modern food.

People often ask why bother to pay the extra for organic produce. The answer is simple, choose food that is grown in rich fertile soils without the use of pesticides that produces more nutrient dense food that is much more sustainable or stick with factory farming. It’s you choice!

Our first lettuce of the season, grown in soil with absolutely no chemical pesticides!

This is a link to a lettuce table we made a few years back where you can grow your own even without a garden. We are about to make another so stay tuned – video to follow.

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.