Category Archives: Permaculture

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.

 Shrubs, bush fruits and trees useful to all species of bees

Download the PDF file HERE

 Key to list:

** tender. * not reliably hardy. Spp = species. (N) = nectar produced when weather good enough. N = nectar collected. P = pollen collected.

**Abutilon vitifolium May–Jul NP  Soft grey/green vine shaped downy leaves, large saucer-shaped flowers, various colours.
Berberis spp Apr–Jul NP Wide range of species, all attractive to bees.
Buddleia alternifolia Long lilac spikes. Jun NP B. globosa Globular orange flowers. May NP B. x weyeriana Orange panicles. Jun–Oct NP
*Ceanothus spp NP Wide range of species, all attractive to bees. Range from spring to late summer flowering.
Chaenomeles spp Ornamental quinces. Feb–Apr NP
Cistus spp Rock roses. May–Jul NP Evergreen. Range of colours.
*Choisya ternata ‘Mexican Orange Blossom’ Apr–Jun P Evergreen.
Clematis spp Climbers. Most large flowered hybrids only produce pollen. C. armandii Evergreen, strongly scented. Apr–May (N)P C. cirrhosa Evergreen, small bell-like flowers. Dec–Feb (N)P C. montana Apr–May NP C. vitalba Traveller’s Joy, wild clematis. Jun–Jul NP
Clethra alnifolia Acid soils. Aug–Oct P
Cotoneaster spp Jun NP Wide range of good garden plants.
Cytisus spp Brooms. NP Wide range of species & hybrids, mostly early flowering.
Deutzia spp Summer P
*Escallonia spp & hybrids NP Wide range of good garden plants. Evergreen.
Eschscholtzia spp Late summer–autumn N Unusual lovely shrubs, mint-scented leaves, flowers various colours. Good nectar producer.
*Fuchsia magellanica Late summer N Naturalised in S & W. Free-flowering.
Genista spp Gorses. Early NP Wide range of garden varieties.
*Hebe spp NP Wide range of sizes from dwarf to large, evergreen, flowering periods vary from early summer to late. Some very tender species.
Helianthemum spp & hybrids Sun roses. P Evergreen dwarf shrubs, many colours.
Hydrangea Only those varieties with fertile florets are used by bees, not the showy sterile ones (Hortensia). H. petiolaris Climber. Jun NP H. paniculata and H. villosa Late summer NP
Hedera helix Ivy. NP Climber, evergreen. Good source of late nectar.
Kalmia spp Calico Bush Jun NP Evergreen, acid soils. K. angustifolia, K. latifolia
Kolkwitzia amabilis May–Jun NP Uncommon shrub, easy to grow, beautiful drooping bell-shaped flowers.
Lonicera spp Honeysuckles. NP Shrubby honeysuckles have smaller more open flowers, with more available nectar than the climbing varieties. Some flower late winter. L. angustifolia, L. standishii, L. purpusii
Mahonia spp Winter/spring P Evergreen shrubs with yellow flowers. Valuable pollen source early in the year. M. aquifolium, M. bealei, M. japonica, *M. lomariifolia
*Myrtus communis Late summer (N)P Evergreen, fragrant flowers.
Olearia spp Daisy bushes. O. haastii White flowers. Jul–Aug NP O. macrodonta Jun NP
Parthenocissus quinquefolia Virginia creeper. Aug NP
Perovskia atriplicifolia Aug–Sep NP Aromatic grey foliage & purple/blue flowers. Excellent bee plant.
Philadelphus spp Mock Orange. Jun–Jul NP Large number of species and varieties, most strongly scented.
Potentilla fruticosa NP Many varieties & hybrids. Small shrubs, white or yellow flowers. Long flowering period.
Prunus laurocerasus Cherry laurel. Apr NP Evergreen. Also has extrafloral nectaries, very attractive to bees in summer.
Prunus lusitanica Portugal laurel. Jun NP Evergreen.
Pyracantha Firethorn. May–Jun NP P. angustifolia, P coccinea
Rhododendron spp NP Small varieties of rhododendron & azaleas can be worked by honey bees. R. ponticum can produce poisonous honey occasionally.
Ribes spp R. sanguineum Flowering Currant. Apr NP Pink, red or white flowers. R. odoratum Buffalo Currant, yellow flowers. Apr NP R. speciosum Red flowers. Apr–May NP
Rosa spp N? P Only single flowered types. Wild roses & R. rugosa.
Rosmarinus officinalis Rosemary. Apr–May NP Evergreen, aromatic.
Salix spp Willows. Early spring NP Numerous small shrubby willows. Good species include: S. apoda, S. boydii, S. hastata, S. lanata,S. melanostachys, S. uva-ursi
Symphoricarpos spp Snowberries. Jun–Aug NP Most produce copious amounts of nectar. S. alba, S. occidentalis, S. orbiculatus, S. rivularis
Syringa spp & hybrids Lilacs. Spring NP Wide range of medium & large shrubs, mostly spring flowering, all strongly scented.
Tamarix spp May–late summer NP Feathery foliage, profuse masses of tiny, pink flowers. Varying flowering times from May to late summer.
Ulex europaeus, U. minor Gorse. N? P Long flowering periods.
Viburnum spp Wide range of evergreen & deciduous shrubs. Good species include: V. bodnatense, fragrans Winter NP Deciduous, winter flowering, scented. V. burkwoodii Evergreen, scented. AprNP V. carlesii Scented. Apr NP V. juddii Scented. Apr–May NP V. opulus Guelder rose. Jun–Jul NP V. tinus, V. laurustinus Evergreen. Oct–Mar P
Weigela florida & hybrids May–Jun N P? Pink, red or white flowers.
Wisteria spp Climbers. W. floribunda & W. sinensis Apr–May (N)P

Bush fruits
Most bush fruits are valuable bee plants, some producing copious nectar (marked §). Flowering time varies with the variety.

Bilberry Whortle berry Black, red & white currants
Blackberries Wild & cultivated
Blueberries
Gooseberries
Hybrid berries: Boysenberry, Worcester berry, Jostaberry
Raspberry & Loganberry

Trees
**Acacia Beautiful, tender, winter flowering trees. Winter (N)P Masses of yellow, scented flowers. A. dealbata, A. longifolia
Alder Good very early source of pollen. Jan–Mar P Alnus glutinosa
Blackthorn Common wild hedge plant. Mar–May (N)P Masses of white flowers. Valuable source of early pollen. Prunus spinosa
Cherries Huge group, mainly decorative trees. Avoid double flowered varieties. Prunus avium Gean, wild cherry Apr NP P. cerasus Sour cherry, small shrubby tree. May NP Profuse flowers. P. cerasifera Myrobalm, Cherry plum. Mar–Apr (N)P Wide range of cultivars, some with purple foliage. padus Bird cherry. Long racemes of May NP white flowers. P. subhirtella autumnalis Attractive small tree. Winter P P. x yeodoensis Joshino cherry. Small, beautiful. Mar–Apr NP
Chestnuts, Horse chestnuts Large, attractive trees. NP Aesculus hippocastanum White flowers. Apr–May A. carnea Red flowers, slightly later. Mayindica Indian horse chestnut. Pink flowers. May–Jun A. californica Buckeye. White/pink flowers. Jul–Aug
Chestnut, Sweet or Spanish Castanea sativa Jul (N)P
Crab Apples Beautiful medium sized trees. Spring NP Malus spp & hybrids. Many named varieties: John Downie, Profusion, Golden Hornet.
Eucalyptus spp. Evergreen, aromatic foliage. Some hardy in the UK. Late summer (N) E. gunnii, E. niphophila, E. parviflora.
False Acacia Robinia pseudoacacia Fragrant white flowers. Jun NP R. viscosa Clammy locust. Late Jun NP R. hispida Rose acacia. May-Jun NP
Hawthorns Common, wild, small, shrubby trees May NP Erratic, but can be profuse producers of nectar. Crataegus oxycantha, C. monogyna C. prunifolia, C. crus-galli, and many other species.
Hazels Early catkins a valuable source of pollen. Mar–Apr P Corylus avellana, C. maxima
Hollies Evergreen, tiny flowers, attractive to bees. May-Jun NP Ilex aquifolium, I. opaca and spp.
Honey Locust Long branched spines on trunk, scented flowers. (N) Gleditsia tricanthos
Indian Bean Tree Magnificent, spreading trees with panicles of scented, foxglove-like, speckled flowers. Jul–Aug NP Catalpa bignonioides, C. fargesii, C. ovata
Judas Tree Pretty small tree, purple pea-flowers on bare stems. Apr–May NP Cercis siliquastrum
June Berry, Snowy mespilus. Beautiful tree, masses of white flowers in spring, edible fruits in June. Spring (N)P Amelanchier lamarckii
Lime Can supply large quantities of nectar when conditions are right but can be erratic. Aphids on some species produce honey-dew. (N) Tilia cordata Small leaved lime. Late Jul §T. x euclora Crimea lime. No honeydew. Jul–Aug T. x europaea Common lime. Jun–Jul T. maximowicziana Japanese lime. Jun §T. x orbicularis Hybrid lime. Jul–Aug T. petiolaris Weeping silver lime. Jul–Aug T. platyphyllos Broad leaved lime. Jun–Jul tomentosa Silver lime. Jul § Nectar in these species can stupefy bees.
Maples The decorative Japanese maples rarely flower in the UK, but the larger species are all excellent bee plants. Spring (N)P Acer campestris Field maple, native tree. A. macrophyllum Oregon maple. A. negundo Box elder. A. opalus Italian maple. A. platanoides Norway maple.
Mountain Ash Sorbus aucuparia Spring NP Many other cultivated species.
Sweet Gum Liquidambar styraciflua and hybrids. Spring (N)
Sycamore Valuable nectar source. May NP Acer pseudoplatanus
Tree of Heaven Large town tree. Jul–Aug N Ailanthus altissima
Tulip Tree Large tulip-like flowers. Jun–Jul (N) Liriodendron tulipifera
Whitebeam Sorbus aria Common whitebeam. May–Jun NP S. intermedia Swedish whitebeam. Jun NP

 

 

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’.

Soil and CO2

This is by far the best explanation of soil sequestration (storage) of CO2 in soil that I have seen. I cannot understand why farmers, gardeners and governments are not jumping on this as a way to help to drastically reduce atmospheric CO2.

Get the PDF here

Why can’t we imagine how the land feels?

This article in The Guardian raises issues that explain why the world is in the state it is. If we see the planet only as a resource to be ruthlessly exploited then we will kill ourselves and every other living organism. What we have forgotten is that everything we need we need to survive comes from the Earth.

This is particularly true of soil. If it as only seen a substrate to provide support for engineered plants that rely chemical inputs to survive then we are doomed.

The loss of soil to erosion and resulting prediction that there is only 40 years of topsoil left should be a resounding wake up call. Yet there is no panic, there are no demonstrations in the streets, there is no understanding of what it means.

New compost bins almost ready

Work on the new three bay New Zealand compost bin is progressing slowly. The first two bays are in place. All of the timber is reclaimed, the back is made of sample oak flooring panels the local B&Q were throwing out. The rest is either from dismantled pallets or has been found lying around the garden.

With four days of heavy rain forecast there will be no further work this week.

Comfrey juice fertlizer

Looking through the gardening books this morning I found this old favourite. It is an original 1976 first edition of “Comfrey, past, present and future”.  It used to be well known in organic gardening circles but seem to have dropped off the radar in recent years.

I found the book in the HDRA shop, Henry Doubleday Research Association, at Ryton Organic Gardens. Now called Garden Organic there is no longer a shop and the gardens are a mere shadow of their former shadow of what they once were. And just at a time when we need to push for more sustainable food growing.

As we are building a new organic garden it seems obvious that Comfrey juice production should be part of it.

Lawrence Hills bred a sterile version of Comfrey, he called it “Bocking 14”. It will not self seed, which is crucial if you want to prevent it spreading!

There are three linked pages that explain why Comfrey liquid is so good, how to make small quantities and how to scale up production for larger gardens.

A chemical analysis of Comfrey liquid

Making small quantities of Comfrey liquid

Scaling up production for the larger garden

Please note: Comfrey liquid made by pressing the leaves and small stalks is totally different to Comfrey tea.

Soil remineralisation page – major update

We have updated the soil remineralisation page and have included more links. We have been adding volcanic rock dust to our gardens from 2004 and believe it increases the nutritional value of the food produced and improves plant health.

Our previous garden suffered very few problems with pests and disease. This was achieved by good organic gardening practices like crop rotation, feeding the soil not the plant and not using artificial fertilisers and pesticides. plus adding rock dust. That will always be our approach to gardening.

Adding rock dust provided the minerals that were missing. See the page