Sunday, 27 November 2016

Flower Sprouts are a go!!

This morning I popped up to the allotment for an hour, more to get some fresh air than anything, and to pick some purple sprouting broccoli for dinner. It was a bit of a grey, damp morning but as usual I had a good wander around the garden, picked some beetroots as well as the psb and then saw the flower sprouts looked quite healthy so went to have a look.....

And found this..
Flower sprouts, otherwise known as Kalettes!!

Now I have to admit I didn't grow these from seeds but bought them at Thornbury Garden Shop, which is one of those garden emporiums that sells loads of plants, including home grown seedlings, seeds by weight and a whole host of things you don't realise you need until you get there! I saw these and having tried them the previous year having found them in M&S at an enormous price, really wanted to try them myself. 

Now I have to admit they have not been well looked after! They were left in their modules for too long, planted out and eaten by slugs almost immediately, we didn't net them until the pigeons had had a go, and I certainly haven't fed them. And for that I can only apologise to these poor plants which are now going to feed us over the winter. Particularly as they are delicious!!

So what do I do with them? Well I just pop them into some salted water, let them come to a boil and remove from the heat almost immediately. They taste between sprouts and purple sprouting broccoli and are in fact a cross between sprouts and British kale, and are not just delicious but also a really beautiful addition to the plate. 

Lots of people are selling the seeds right now, so if you were wondering whether to try them, I would definitely say do so. I'll definitely be planting some along with other brassicas next year!!

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Behind the aquaponics challenge!!

So the BBC finally showed the little aquaponics and growing without a garden film so I thought it'd be good to write a wee bit about it.
It was great to do. I entered into it in a slightly cynical way for sure as although I'm fascinated by aquaponics, I really wasn't sure that it would be possible in a domestic setting, or if I could be interested enough in the detail to really get properly involved. But once it was up and running and the fish were in, it became a bit of an obsession and was really fascinating and very, very productive.
Lots of people have asked what was grown in the grow box, so here's a list and how.
Firstly the box is filled with clay pellets, with a few red worms added which have multiplied over the year. The majority of the plants were grown from seed in modules and then planted into the grow box when they had 2/3 sets of true leaves. The only exception to this was watercress which we added as seed and which went completely crazy. It's fair to say we have been self sufficient in basil, watercress and parsley from the box alone all over the summer.
Now the fish were a slightly different matter. They came along and were popped into the tank and we quickly realised that they probably weren't the ideal fish for the tank. They were mirror carp, a deep river fish, so the tank was far too shallow for them, and we had several incidents of them jumping, flying out and across the wooden floor!! As someone who's slightly fish phobic, thus wasn't ideal to say the least. However, they tasted absolutely delicious. Carp is often described as muddy but as we had maintained the water well, keeping it clean and changing it a couple of times, they tasted clean and sweet. We did lose 3 of the fish during an algal bloom, which was awful and really upsetting, it made me realise that water quality is key so we began doing regular partial water changes.

The tank and grow box are definitely staying as part of our home growing story, but we have goldfish now, and we're overwintering the grow box with strawberry plants. In the spring we're going to add some aquatic plants to the tank to help maintain the water quality, but so far it's doing really well.
Several folk have asked me yo blog about how we grew the tomatoes so I'll do separate piece with pics!!
Would I do it again? Yes!!

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

The Autumn Is Here

I'm really not joking but I'm trying not to panic!!
The seed heads of my alliums have finally fallen over. The sunflowers are dropping their heads. The calendula are still flowering but the seed heads are turning black. The dahlias have  gone black in the last frost. The perennial kale looks sad where it hasn't recovered from caterpillar attack and the mints are looking sad  and a bit cross.

The leaves are falling from the trees and shrubs that surround the garden, and each day the little Ginkgos leaves turn a bit more buttery in colour. The Acers, both in a bit of a sulk being in a garden that in all honesty is a bit too windy for them, have lost their leaves and the dieback is showing a bit. 
But am I rushing out to tidy it up? Am I panicking about the weeds that are still coming or the grass needing a last cut and it being too wet? What am I doing about the leaves falling everywhere? 

Well the answer is, I'm not really doing anything. There is no rush, no panic. It's my garden and at this time of year I'm losing interest in what I want from the garden and concentrating on what the wildlife need to get them through the winter.
Of course I'm still doing things. Sweet peas are sown, plugs bought are potted and being cared for in the greenhouse, several pots are full of primulas and some new bulbs have been planted. We've potted self propagated runners from the Japanese Wineberry, the strawberries have had their runners potted on and all the pots are weeded and top dressed with compost.
The leaves falling on the patio and paths are being collected for leaf mould and soon the compost will be emptied and spread on the beds keeping them full of the rich flora and fauna needed for the best growth next year. 
But most of all I'm enjoying the return of the birds to the feeders, the dewy cobwebs across the shrubs each morning and the feeling of life continuing in the garden despite the cold and damp and dark. I'm enjoying knowing the garden is beginning to take on a life of its own, where nature is the predominant force and Mother Nature is in charge.

Just probably need to point out that none of these pics are of my garden, but are photos taken around Bristol during the autumn!!

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Look after the invertebrates......

This is a post that has been a long time coming but today it feels like the right moment. I'm not going to get evangelical about the politics of the US, or pretend I have answers to the issues we face as both nations and a planet, but I am going to offer a few thoughts on what we can do as individuals, taking one couple as a bit of inspiration.
Its no surprise to any of you I am sure, when I say what we all can do, in whatever way we can, is look after our planet a bit better, individually and within our communities. That doesn't mean becoming self sufficient, never flying again or any other extreme promise that is impossible, today,  to keep to, but it means taking personal responsibility for our own small pieces of the planet, both for ourselves, and for nature. 
Whilst we don't all have acres of land, there is one place that is very special to me where the land is managed for nature in the first case, even though in reality it is seen by the outside world as a flower farm. Common Farm Flowers sits in the most beautiful area of Somerset, and whilst it is an extremely successful flower farm it's deeper aim is to look after the land for biodiversity. Fabrizio Boccha, husband of flower farmer and florist extraordinaire Georgie Newbery, was heard to utter years ago when the land was first bought, "look after the invertebrates and everything else will come" and a truer word was never heard. Over ten years meadows have been created, willow has been planted, trees and hedges have been planted. And walking around those meadows, standing under the willows or sitting by the hedgerows, the sound of birdsong is overwhelming. The meadows are full of bees, butterflies, hover flies and dragon flies. All year round the place buzzes with pollinators, including their own bees, kept not for honey but to give the bees a home and ensure good pollination of the crops.
Where trees and hedges have been planted they are native or edible, or both, supporting birds and giving them a place to nest and food to eat. 
And all this on acres of heavy Somerset clay, that gets sodden over winter, and dries to a biscuit over summer. But looking after that soil, understanding it and working with it has meant the land has been supported to become a biodiverse ecosystem with minimum input to the land that is not farmed for flowers, and even in the farmed land where the soils have to hold maximum nutrients to grow the flowers that are so glorious, the land is managed by completely organic means. Tons of locally sourced compost is added each autumn, allowing the worms to do their work once the beds have been given their yearly dressing, ensuring soil flora and fauna is constantly at a healthy level meaning diseases are easily thrown off by healthy, productive plants. 
Now of course there are others working like this, everyday. But the point I'm making is that  we can all support change, be it in a small or large way, whatever the size of our plots. And if we start to take control of supporting our own environments, ensuring they are healthy and ready to, in turn, support all the flora and fauna who need that support, at least we are helping to keep our villages, towns sand cities and all of their populations healthy. 
And finally I'll share with you a video I took at 6am on morning at Common Farm in June. Standing in this space, listening to the nature all around is an emotional moment and one that I return to in my mind in times of stress. The way the land is managed so gently and with such love speaks of the family who run this garden. Deeply respectful, fierce friends and supporters, who gently support their land which in return supports their business. 
I'll be continuing with more posts about how to help biodiversity in every space, large or small so that everyone can join in and really feel that with a few small adjustments, change can be made by us all.

Monday, 7 November 2016

The Anger of the Voice of Despair

This weekend the black dog has visited, but not the usual one. This one has made me angry to the point of despair and given me the need to rationalise my thoughts however hard that has been. And that thought rationalisation made me really work out some stuff that I thought I'd share. A lot of this is going to be political, so if that's not your thing, apologies.
First, of course, Farm Terrace in Watford lost their fight to keep their plots in the High Court. This isn't just a few plots disappearing but has been seen as a dangerous precedent being set. If extenuating circumstances mean whatever it needs to mean, in my eyes that says we'll probably take most excuses. Which of course is crazy but just shows that the laws around our communal lands are just not taken seriously at all. 
Then the weekend has been a barrage of political nonsense, from MP's who send out tweets that suggest they don't understand democracy to Trump and his horrific rhetoric around almost everything, but particularly around his refusal to believe climate change is a thing, to Farage and all the other right wing horrors that make the Internet and social media a dark and disturbing place at times. 
A question about healthy cities finally tipped me over the edge this morning. To ask which work stream healthy cities should come under is ridiculous. Health, be it of cities or people, needs to be an umbrella policy that covers all work streams and has policy embedded around it that all departments at both local and national level adhere to. And health needs to cover poverty, food and how we handle food waste, clean air and water and our urban planning, as well as young people's services, mental and physical health provision for all. Because without health we are nothing other than a failing population struggling to get through each day, being led to do what we are told by an ever more distant political elite who we will fail to engage with and hence feel helpless, unheard, and unimportant. But this is not the first time I've heard someone say of land and food that it's so difficult to pigeon hole, it's easier not to engage with it. And yes. They really said that.
But then last night there was a glimmer of hope. I watched Planet Earth 2 with expectation, just as I watched Life on Earth in the 70's as a child. I watched the iguanas outrunning the snakes, the sloths and penguins and the wonders of the natural world and it made me angrier. Not with the programme but with all the things that had effected me over the weekend, the Trumps and Farages and the hate filled rhetoric abounding from everywhere.
The programme was stunning. The photography incredible. Our earth is a place of wonderment, where species fight huge issues to survive,  and continue just being. They aren't concerned by GDP or growth. And they can do absolutely nothing about the one species that is putting them all at risk. Humankind. 
The pillager of their lands, the destroyer of their homes and the taker of their food. What is it that is inherent in man that insists that growth is so vital in a world with limited resources? And what makes man arrogant enough to think that he is more important than any other species?
I have no answers to any of those questions. 
But what I do know is that I'd like every politician, every journalist, every climate change denier (and actually everyone to some degree myself included), to look around them and see what growth is doing to our planet and to the other species we share it with. Come down from which ever ivory tower they live in and see the reality of poverty on children whose parents are working and yet really struggling to put a roof over their heads and good food on their tables. To see the effects of bad housing, poor sanitation and unclean air on the millions of people that these things affect worldwide.
To live on less than a dollar for one day.
Or on minimum wage for one week.
Or somewhere you are unsafe, whatever species for a month.
Perhaps then pigeon holing might stop and we could look at whole system change. Because that is what we need. Today. Now.
The dog is still here. He's battling in my brain, telling me not to write this, that it won't make any change and that no one will give a hoot. But I know how good he is at messing with my thoughts and I know not to trust him. 
So I'll work on sending him packing at the same time as I pray the world will begin to save itself, not by making growth or by taking more resources from our planet, but by moving forwards with one thought only. 

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

The fight for our plots.

Today we had the worst news in 4 years for any allotment holder. The fight to save Farm Terrace allotments in Watford is over and the site is to be lost to diggers and concrete, a new hospital, or car park or whatever. Watford Council have put building above food and nature, and in all honesty were never going to stop until they won. Today is that hideous day.
Sara Jane Trebar who ran the campaign so valiantly for all of those 4 years, beginning with that now famed tweet that just said 'help' has described the feeling as grief and I wrote a bit about how losing our site, albeit only a part of it, made me feel here, and indeed grief it is. Grief for hope, as all the energy plowed into the campaign appears to disappear down a black hole and is gone. All the time spent campaigning, emailing and building support seems like time lost. Grief in its rawest form as we see our precious land, where our children played and friendships were made, lost. Gone forever.
Sara Jane at Bowood in 2015 where we held an allotment stand, and spoke about sites that are now, all 3, either changed forever or gone. 
But it isn't wasted time and here's why.
There's a land grab going on. Hundreds of years ago the Enclosures Act removed rights to land of normal people who needed that land not for profit, but for life, and it's happening again right in front of our eyes. Allotment land can only be decommissioned if there are "exceptional circumstances" and if a car park or a road, all of which could go elsewhere, are deemed exceptional circumstances then this makes a mockery of the phrase in the first place. In fact the judge has said today that exceptional circumstances are whatever they need to be, in order to pass the decommissioning through and so the whole thing makes a mockery of itself.
As these grabs continue, those common lands, allotments, parks, heaths and moors, are being lost. Lost due to austerity and lack of funds, regardless of the facts that we know about these spaces bring vital for well being. Parks are having to make their own way in the world, often by bringing in expensive attractions that mean they are no longer totally accessible to all, and our allotment sites are all threatened as land for housing, industry and roads is prioritised over the future well being of the common man.
And in the meantime we build houses no one can afford, putting profit before people again and again. We put our monies into corporate hands and trust profit making companies to make decisions about our lives. Decisions that are inevitably made to ensure shareholders get their bonuses. 
By the common man I mean all of  us who feel we have no power to make change. 
But we all have that power, albeit that it doesn't feel like it much of the time. Activism means just that-being active and communities countrywide need gentle activism to demand change. If we all stand up to the corporate land grab eventually we will be heard. And then eventually we will be listened to. 
So if you know of a site that's under threat, become their friend. Take on a plot. Write to your councillors and MPs. Take part in peaceful protest and take your children along, to show them they have a voice. And why? Because it's the power of tiny actions and a want for a kinder future that will gather momentum and eventually make the change we all want to see.
And in the meantime I salute Sara Jane and all those who have and are fighting for their land, their beliefs and for our rights. Get involved and we'll salute you too.