Category Archives: Organic gardening

Organic growing is the only way forward

“Even as the United States government continues to push for the use of more chemically-intensive and corporate-dominated farming methods such as GMOs and monoculture-based crops, the United Nations is once against sounding the alarm about the urgent need to return to (and develop) a more sustainable, natural and organic system.
(The Huffington Post)

That was the key point of a new publication from the UN Commission on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) titled “Trade and Environment Review 2013: Wake Up Before It’s Too Late”,” which included contributions from more than 60 experts around the world.”

It has been a long time coming but now the UN are saying that organic growing is the ONLY way forward. Commercial growing in the UK is dominated and controlled by the agrochemical industry. it is not sustainable and threatens food security. We simply cannot continue to rely on farming methods that are dependent on large chemical inputs.

Soil
The biggest asset we have is soil yet 50+ years on chemical fertilizers has left a depleted soil virtually devoid of organic matter so prone to erosion. See this 2006 report on UK soil erosion.

An alternative food supply
In a time of climate emergency, we need to be aware of the perilous state of our food supply. Supermarkets work on the “just in time” supply principle. They usually have 2-3 days of stock in the local supply chain. We import around 30% of our food from the rest of Europe.  Any disruption to that through weather or politics will see the shelves empty within 24 hours as people panic.

We desperately need to separate ourselves from the supermarket food supply chain and grow food in any available space. It can be done, 25 years of organic growing often in very small spaces has proven that to me. We just need to get on and do it!

 

 

Buy organic food to curb insect collapse

An article in The Guardian says that buying organic food is a way to save the insect population. I am so pleased to see that in print but excuse me, organic growers have known that the many years.  In the past the press has ridiculed the ‘all muck and magic’ brigade and depicted us as happy idiots who do not know the benefit of modern insecticides. Now we are on the brink of a precipice it seems organic growing really does have something to offer.

The first thing to do is ban TV advertising of pesticides and herbicides. Then start a programme to turn the whole country over to organic growing. It will not be easy as the soil on agrochemical farms is in very poor condition, but it can be done.

Is that hoots of laugher I hear in the background? Are farmers and growers shouting we will all starve? Well think on mate, without insects to do the vital pollination of plants we will starve. So, you choose, change the way we grow food to more sustainable, environmentally friendly methods or stick with the conventional chemical soaked stuff that feeds the profits of the agrochemical companies. I know what I would do!

Insect decline catastrophe

There was an alarming article in The Guardian yesterday, scientists are saying that the rapid decline in insect numbers is a catastrophe and evidence that the sixth mass extinction has started.

Since the late 1940s agriculture has become dependent on the use of artificial pesticides and fertilizers. The widespread use of various ‘sprays’ to keep crops ‘clean’ is seen as the only alternative to starvation. The agrochemical industry has become a big business dominated by very few companies. In short there are huge amounts of profit in killing anything that crawls or flies near a crop.

There has also been a corresponding increase in the use of pesticides in domestic gardens. That can be even worse for insect life as the density and variety of flowering plants is much higher. Anything that crawls or grows in the wrong place is zapped with adverts on TV telling us how to keep our gardens ‘beautiful’.

But insects are far more than an inconvenient pest. Without them we are in big trouble as they are major pollinators of flowers that become our food. Insects are part of the food chain that sustains us, without them we starve.

What can we do? First stop using pesticides in your garden. Second, lobby governments, farming organisation and growers to stop using pesticides. Most of all buy only organic food! If you grow your own, then switch to organic growing methods.

Growing food in 2019

The beginning of 2019 brings many uncertainties; BREXIT, will it be the chaos of a ‘no deal’ or a smooth transition. Will we see threats to our food supply from climate change?

Whichever way you look at it there has never been a better time to start growing at least some of your own food. So what is stopping you? Many will say they do not have the time or that they have very little garden or none at all. Or that they do know how to start.

First, I want to say that growing food is not that difficult. There is an old saying that seeds are programmed to grow. There are also a lot of myths around and even some bad advice.

As for lack of time and space I want to show you some easy ways to get started that use little of either. And if you do not have a garden there are always containers. As a very well gardener once said to me, “there is nothing that cannot be container grown!”

Over the coming months I will add instalments about choosing what to grow, how to grow it and where to start. Over the last 30 years I have grown fruit and veg in a small town house garden, a large veg plot and in containers on a patio. I have written about growing in magazines in the US, UK and Australia. Pioneered Square Foot Gardening in the UK and developed a form square metre bed gardening. I have also taught compost making and other subjects and have run this site, for over 20 years.

Please check back soon to see the first instalment about choosing seeds.

Rise in organic food sales

An article in The Guardian says that “Organic food and drink sales rise to record levels in the UK”. That is good news but there is still scepticism about the value of organic food. Some say it is too expensive others argue that it is a con. The thing that finally convinced me it was the only food i wanted to eat was finding the information about pesticide residues in food. That was in the early 1990s when the government stipulated a ‘safe’ minimum amount of residue for each common pesticide and fungicide. For many years two government scientists, McCance and Widdowson, produced a report of the amounts of each pesticide found in fruit and veg that they bought from supermarkets. There were items that exceeded the allowed maximum and this was included in a yearly report.

What was not recognised was that most crops received multiple applications of different products. There might be applications of fungicide, then pesticides for insect infestation followed by weed killers. There was never any limit for cocktails of chemicals.

Then in a drought year we heard about high levels of chemicals in carrots and the government  told us to wash them. The problem is that modern pesticides are systemic. That means they are taken up into the cells of the plant and cannot be removed, even by fancy veg washing products. And peeling does not help as the chemicals are in every cell.

Those of you of a certain age will remember crops of corn slowly turning a golden colour in late summer and then the harvest that followed when the weather was right. Now, cereal crops and potatoes are ‘sprayed off’ so that harvest can happen at set times. On corn they use weed killer and acid on potatoes to kill the tops.

Modern farms are part of the supermarket supply chain and if they are contracted to supply 100 tonnes of potatoes in the first week of September that is what they must do or lose the contract. It is supermarkets who control agriculture as it must be part of a production line to ensure continuous supply. There is no such thing as seasonal fruit and vegetables, we want everything all the time and we it now!

There have been arguments about organic produce being more nutritious. An idea fiercely contested by conventional farming. A study by Newcastle University found that organic milk was higher in nutrients. Such research is not so common now as universities rely on external funding.

Other groups round the world looked at simple indicators of quality in veg like the Brix reading. Although this is a simple test that anybody can do it does provide an overall indication of quality. I have a brix refractometer bought several years ago when experimenting with different growing techniques and did a random test on carrots last week. Comparing a standard carrot from Waitrose with one in our box from Riverford Organics. The results are clear

Supplier BRIX
Waitrose 6.4
Riverford 10.2

It is not all about pesticides as non-organic, or factory farming, methods also have an effect on soil, our greatest natural asset. Since the 1940s the emphasis has been on increasing production through the widespread use of chemical fertilisers. While the use of N-P-K (Nitrogen Phosphorous Potassium or Potash) does give rapid growth, it produces plants that do not have the strength to withstand insect attacks. Previously farms mixed and crops on land manured by the animals. That was a natural cycle and produced rich healthy soil.

A somewhat ironic side effect of not applying organic matters to soil such as compost or manure is that it results in thin soils which are easily eroded. Farmers use high cost inputs to get bigger, quicker crops and lose their soil in the process.

There is growing evidence that the strongest, healthiest and most nutritious crops are grown on good quality soils that provide the whole spectrum of minerals and nutrients. That is not surprising! The fact that the nutritional value of food has declined since the 1940s is overlooked see this report from 2002  And this one from McCance and Widdowson

This is why I decided to buy organic food nearly 30 years ago. Some will argue it is an expensive luxury but now the price of organic veg is the same or only slightly more than the other stuff. In the end it is your choice but remember one thing, your body is you, if you look after it and feed it well you will feel the benefits. Like I said to a man one day if you bought a top of the range luxury car would you put paraffin (kerosene) in the tank to save money. He told me not to be so stupid, so, I asked him why did he put the cheapest possible food down his throat. My only conclusion was that he valued his new car more than he valued himself.

The answer? Grow you own and if not have it delievered to your door.  We use Riverford as we no longer able to grow much of our own food.

‘Ultra-processed’ products now half of all UK family food purchases

An article in the Guardian today reports on research on the nutritional quality of heavily processed food. The print version shows a map of Europe with the UK being the highest consuming nation of processed food (as % of household purchases) in Europe. UK – 50.7%, Ireland – 45.9%, Germany 46.2% The lowest being Portugal – 10.2%, Italy – 13.4%, Greece 13.7%

Researchers refute the often-heard mantra of the food industry and  government:

Their research shows that the adage repeated constantly by the food industry and adopted by politicians – that “there is no such thing as bad food, just too much food” – is wrong, …

The links to be obesity are also mentioned. Then are the effects of a poor diet on health and the corresponding use of resources to treat conditions which could likely be avoided.

Eating good food need not be expensive especially if you grow your own organic fruit and veg. Habits need to change, diets need to change and we need a massive education programme to reverse obesity rates and help people move to a better diet.

Trying to answer my question about GO going

I still cannot imagine GO without a garden. Part of my attachment to the gardens is personal; going there literally did change my life and gave me many extra years.

I first went to Ryton to visit the café which was in a wooden shed at the back of the shop. Then I found the gardens and the organic growing stuff. I went back many times and the gardens were always a place to see stuff growing, understand how brassica collars worked, learn the best way to deter slugs and importantly how to make compost. Seeing it, touching it, smelling it was a vital part of the experience.

So, back to the question, I do not think that GO should, well go. There certainly needs to be a ‘root and branch’ overhaul of everything starting with a concerted publicity campaign to get more visitors to the garden. The next is real consultation with members about the way forward. That means being honest and open, not just trying to justify the decisions taken by council, in secret, behind closed doors

There are rumours of a £1.2 million hole in the pension fund. Not sure how that has come about but if that is the main reason to sell then the decision verges on insanity. There are other ways to raise money which could include selling SOME the land or developing SOME in different ways that retains the bulk of the gardens. There are also other ways to raise money but that means being creative and asking for help.

Again, I make this plea to GO, please talk to us! You keep saying there are 20,000 members so why are you ignoring such a valuable resource? There is no need to waste precious funds on expensive PR companies to argue your case all you need to do is engage with members.

And PLEASE, PLEASE postpone the sale until we have had a chance to talk about all possible options.