Category Archives: Soil health

Grow to eat

There is a long tradition in the UK of holding village shows at the end of the summer. The idea is that residents display the produce they have grown which is judged and prizes are awarded. Part of that tradition is competition between men (and it usually is men!)  to see who can grow the biggest specimens of common veg.

Entries are judged against strict criteria laid down in various books like The Horticultural Show Handbook published by the RHS. There are prizes for the biggest, heaviest, longest or ‘best’ specimens.

Onions, 250g or under

Merits Firm, thin-necked, blemish-free bulbs grown from either seed or sets with well-ripened, unbroken skins free from pest, disease or other damage.
Defects Bulbs that are too small or in excess of 250g, thick-necked, misshapen, blemished, or that have broken skins or have been skinned excessively.
Advice to judges All specimens must be weighed and any more than 250g must be disqualified. Bulbs should be as near to 250g as possible, of good form and alike in size, shape and colour.

In some parts of the country winning is taken to extremes with potential prize winning veg being guarded round the clock as competitors have been known to sabotage the competition.

I am often asked why I do not enter the local village show, usually followed by it is all for charity, and sometimes with a ‘do not be so miserable’.

The main reason I have never entered a show and never will is that we grow food to eat. We maximise gross yields to grow a surplus that can be stored over winter. In this time of global uncertainty when the dire effects of climate change and environmental destruction are being felt in many countries it seems immoral to grow vegetables purely to be shown, judged, raffled and then probably thrown away.

The way food is grown is critical to the impact that it has on the world. We grow organically and have done for the last 30 years. We believe that it uses less resources, has a positive effect on the environment and produces more nutritious better tasting food.

Our produce would be marked down for blemishes and the odd bit of nibbling by slugs, snails and other pests because that would spoil the visual appearance. To grow visually perfect veg you must use chemicals.

There is mounting evidence that the climate/environmental crisis is deepening and accelerating. There is also no doubt whatsoever that climate change will affect our ability to grow food. We cannot continue the way we are which means the way we grow food including how we cultivate our gardens and allotments.

That might seem extreme, but you only have to read the evidence out there to know that we are on the edge of a precipice. There are already there are millions of people starving, homeless and desperate.

The biggest problem we face in the UK is that people cannot or do not want to understand the severity and the gravity of the issues. It is this inertia, this desire to carry on as we are,  to get back to normal when Cove is finished, which is the most dangerous aspect of climate change.

That is why we grow food in a sustainable way and encourages others to do the same. That means not using the old methods. It is respecting the food we have grown and encouraging others to do the same. It might be painful and even be unthinkable to some, but we must move on and leave beyond behind the traditional ways of doing things. There has to be a new normal  to avert the massive crisis that humanity faces.

That is why we will never grow food to show, we will never try to win prizes for the biggest veg specimen. We will work on ways of getting maximum yields from the small plot we have and share what the way we do it. In 2020 we harvested 78 Kg of food from 17 square metres. The aim is to make that at least 100 Kg in the 2021 season. That is our prize.

Good soil supresses weeds

The more I learn about soil the better it gets! Having good soil with the right pH supresses weed growth. Perfect.

And the great thing is that good soil also produces heathier crops. So, less weeds, better crops eliminates the need for pesticides or artificial fertilisers. This has to be the way to grow healthy, sustainable and nutritious crops

Drainage and digging

We have been making a new raised bed on the lawn for soft fruit bushes. The lawn been there for many decades so is very compacted. During the heavy rain earlier the year the area flooded and we did not want fruit bushes sitting in water.

The first stage was to remove the turf followed by a gentle forking over of the soil. I know we are no-dig gardeners but looking at the soil under the grass convinced us it needed loosening.

The videos below show a simple drainage test. The first is on the compacted soil just after the turf was removed. The water puddles and takes a few seconds to drain away. The second video shows the improved drainage after forking, the water disappears almost immediately the flow is stopped.

 

Emptying the food composter

Today was the annual clean out of the HotBin composter we use for food waste. That is, food preparation waste not wasted food. We cook from fresh, no ready meals or ultra-processed food except for the occasional bag of frozen oven ready chips!

That means we generate around 5-7Kg of compostable material, never ‘waste’, a week or 260 -360Kg a year!  Teabags are included as we use Clipper which have 100% compostable bags or use leaf tea. We also include a small amount of discarded cooked food but there is not much.

Some myths about composting food ‘waste’:

1. You must not compost cooked food as it attracts rats. In over 30 years of composting I have only ever seen one rat which was asleep in the top of a bin used only for garden waste.
2. You cannot compost rice as it is full of bacteria. I think that has got around the internet because of warnings not to reheat cooked rice. Any active compost bin is full of bacteria, they do all the work and generate the heat.
3. Composting food stinks and attracts flies. Not in our experience if you do it right in a bin designed for the job.
4. It’s better to give it to the council. Never! It’s far too valuable to give away.  Home composting cuts costs and reduces CO2 emission from the large lorries use to cart it away. It also helps to grow bigger, more nutritious veg and completes the cycle from ground to food back to ground.
5. Add eggshells to the compost to provide calcium. More advice from the internet which is totally wrong. Eggshells dot not breakdown however long they are in the bin. The shell is not water soluble and cannot give calcium to soil.

Here is an egg shell I dropped in this time last year!

When we opened the bin there was a solid mass of completely composted material or should I say SOIL because that is what it is now. It amounted to two heavy wheelbarrows full which went straight onto a bed to be distributed later. It is rich and full of nutrients and well worth the minimal effort to make it!

We use a Mk1 HotBin,  we have had for a few years. It works well enough but it could work even better with increased airflow and a slight modification is planned before refilling starts. The latest Mk2 model has the changes incorporated. They are not cheap but have a number of features that makes them ideal for household use e.g. they have a tight fitting lid with a charcoal filter it take out any smell. Full details available here. If you are a member of Garden Organic buy from the organic gardening catalogue and get 10% discount.

There is also a new make on the UK market, the Aero Bin Hot Composter from Australia. The Centre for Alternative Technology use the large version for their food waste and last summer it was working very well. More information here.

Compost tumblers also work but can be hard to turn when they are full unless they have a geared handle.

The usual disclaimer, we have no connection to any product or company mentioned other than being a customer.

If you have any questions please email us

 

True cost of cheap food is health and climate crises, says commission

From the Guardian article:
“The true cost of cheap, unhealthy food is a spiralling public health crisis and environmental destruction, according to a high-level commission. It said the UK’s food and farming system must be radically transformed and become sustainable within 10 years.”
Read more

From the report:
“Our own health and the health of the land are inextricably intertwined [but] in the last 70 years, this relationship has been broken,”
The full report

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

IPCC report on climate change and land

Finally we get to the very basic problem – we ALL depend on the land for survival. It is the top 15 inches (38cm) of soil is that feeds us. Forget that, mess up the land, ignore it or take it for granted and we are dead, It is as simple as that.

The full report can be found here

Extracts about food security:

Coordinated action to address climate change can simultaneously improve land, food security and nutrition, and help to end hunger. The report highlights that climate change is affecting all four pillars of food security: availability (yield and production), access (prices and ability to obtain food), utilization (nutrition and cooking), and stability (disruptions to availability).

“Food security will be increasingly affected by future climate change through yield declines – especially in the tropics – increased prices, reduced nutrient quality, and supply chain disruptions,” said Priyadarshi Shukla, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group III.

“We will see different effects in different countries, but there will be more drastic impacts on low-income countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean,” he said.

The report records that about one third of food produced is lost or wasted. Causes of food loss and waste differ substantially between developed and developing countries, as well as between regions. Reducing this loss and waste would reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve food security.

“Some dietary choices require more land and water, and cause more emissions of heat-trapping gases than others,” said Debra Roberts, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group II.

“Balanced diets featuring plant-based foods, such as coarse grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables, and animal-sourced food produced sustainably in low greenhouse gas emission systems, present major opportunities for adaptation to and limiting climate change,” she said.