Category Archives: Urban food growing

Beat the food shortages

The thing about Covid-19 that strikes us most is the panic buying of food and other essentials. The hoarders are stripping supermarket shelve. The stores are reacting by limiting the number of certain items and forcing long queues to get into stores. Is it time for food rationing? Evidently the government has a permanent stock of ration books.

The current situation highlights the dominance exerted by a very few companies. Supermarkets control the production and growing of food, its distribution and the retail sale. Consumers have no choice other than which store to choose. That cannot be a good thing.

Professor Tim Lang talks about food security (2009)

What needs to come out of all this is the recognition that food security in the UK is at best  precarious. A point that has been made many times over the years but one that has been ignored by everybody.

We need to be more self-reliant both as individuals and as a nation. We must get back to taking personal responsibility for our food and stop relying on a very small number of multinational companies to do everything for us.

We need to take personal responsibility for what we eat and not trust others to feed us endless processed food and ready meals. Most of all, we should grow more of our own food. We have done it before in times of crisis and we can do it again!

Now is the perfect time to start, cultivate the garden, buy some seeds and GROW FOOD!
You do not need an allotment or a large garden and you also don’t need to dig everything in sight! Follow the first link below to see how you can start today and have a working veg garden in an afternoon.

Quick and easy spare metre beds
Growing potatoes in a dustbin
Sowing seeds 
Veg growing chart
Composting

If you need individual help and advice then please contact us and we will be pleased to give any help and support you need.

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.

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.

Under our feet

What if an easy way to reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide were right under our feet? It would not require years of research, huge investments in unproven technology and is available now. Today!

Impossible? NO! We can start now. All we have to do is change the way we manage the soil that grows our food.

I have used no-dig raised beds to grow food for nearly 30 years. In 2009  four small beds were made without digging heavily compacted soil that had not been cultivated for 30 years. The soil was gently loosened, covered with compost and seeds/plants sown. It worked! See this page

Now there is research about the beneficial effects of not cultivating the biggest of which is creating a carbon sink that reduces the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere.

Why are we not doing this on a large scale? Why the reluctance to act? We could all start to make a real difference today!

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.

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.

 

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’.

Broccoli Is Dying. Corn Is Toxic. Long Live Microbiomes!

Do you want the cheapest food possible? If so this is what you get: “Data going back to 1940, as reported by Eco Farming Daily, shows: “The level of every nutrient in almost every kind of food has fallen between 10 and 100 percent.”

This is not anything new, it is well documented and we have mentioned it before – “A study on the mineral depletion of the foods available to us as a nation over the period 1940 to 1991.” see the PDF is here.

There is a stark choice: you either go for the cheapest food and kid yourself that it is good value for money or you buy decent food that is not produced using high inputs of chemical fertiliser and chemical pesticides  –  organic food!

See this piece in Scientific American

New York City’s largest rooftop farm

We need to do this in the UK. There are many urban roof tops that could be used to grow food where it is needed.

(Click image for the full story)

In the coming years the effects of global heating will have an impact on food supply. The impending crisis in the UK shows that we must have a stronger and more resilient local food supply. Conventional agriculture takes time to switch to growing different crops, but roof top gardens could be up and running within weeks.

What is likely to stop that? Local planners and health and safety concerns! I am not saying that we should ignore the safety implications of roof top gardens but

Biochar

I found this book in last week in Oxford last week, Blackwells Broad Street branch.  it just jumped off the shelf. I have known about biochar for some years but not used it in the garden. With the new plot and talk about sequestering CO2 and making better use of nutrients it could not have come at a better time.

What I like about the book is that there is some history, the use of biochar goes back to 450 BCE – 950 BCE. The soils from that era are still black, it lasts locking up atmospheric CO2 for centuries. There is a section about how it works and very useful practical information about making biochar in either in a burn pit or a TLUD: top lit up-draft gasifier.

Making a TLUD from a couple of steel barrels look relatively straight forward so that is what I will do.

It fits in nicely with the yearly timetable as I am just about to start preparing the soil for the winter. I will post some pics of the TLUD build progress soon.