Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Child Development and Gardening

This is the first photograph readers have seen of my beautiful daughter, aged three and a half. After a long discussion with fellow Green Parent readers I've been inspired to come out and share something of my parenting philosophy with the world. Forgive me for being a bit slow on the uptake here, folks, but I've suddenly realised that being VISIBLE as a green parent, may help others who are trying to do things differently too.

As far as child development is concerned, we know that pretty much all the important stuff happens between birth and the age of three. You don't need expensive complicated toys to keep little ones amused.

In this photo my daughter is playing with a coir compost brick which I put into a bucket of water. She was fascinated by the process of watching the brick expand into compost and this provided no less than THREE HOURS of entertainment on one particularly wet day, when we were both confined indoors. But then daughter has been filling pots with compost and putting seeds in them since the age of one and a half.

If you analyse all this in terms of motor skills and sensory development - there's probably the meat and two veg there for quite a few 'Early Learning' educational assignments...

Readers will know that we don't have a garden. I'm sure lots of other families are in this situation. We're lucky enough to have an allotment - and I know these are difficult to come by right now. As you may remember, I started converting our plot from derelict soon after having my daughter. It was really hard work and I believe EVERYONE, including families with small children ought to be given a lot more support when they take on a plot, in terms of access to information, networks, tools, childcare even. I've seen many people give up because they find it too difficult.

As parents we're constantly told to keep our children away from junk food, get them to exercise more and give them creative possiblities. Providing growing spaces is a way of doing all these things. My daughter's attitude to food has been shaped by a very practical relationship to the origins of food - and the progress of our veg patch. We've already spent so many happy days together on our plot - putting down roots with other plot holders (small and large) in our community.

I was outraged yesterday when a taxi driver told me he had tried to get an allotment and his local council had sold off the site. The council hadn't maintained the plots - and had allowed them to become so derelict that they had become really difficult to cultivate. Of course no-one wanted to take them up then, and the council had the perfect excuse to sell off the land. This shouldn't be allowed to happen.

I'm adding my voice to the many others calling for a huge increase in the land that is available for people to grow fruit and vegetables. We're all in for a tough time in the recession and I honestly believe a growing space can make a big difference to communities. It's good for people's mental health and helps them link up with each other. Governments and councils can achieve this food vision if they want to. Like everything else it is a matter of political will. We need more growing spaces, simple as that. Check out the Landshare scheme. It's a 'place linking people who want to grow their own fruit & veg to space where they can grow it'. Let me know how you're getting on with it via the comments box.

Okay, I'm getting off my soap box now to get on with watering my seedlings...

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Olive oil and apricots. Where do yours come from?

I love fresh tomatoes and lettuce with olive oil in the salad dressing. My daughter enjoys dried apricots as a snack. If you buy these, watch this video and you'll be prompted to go through your kitchen cupboards and check packets and bottles to make sure the transport and production of them are not harming hard working fruit and veg growers like ourselves.

Added later:
I know readers are interested in this (see the comments below) - so am posting this extract from the Palestine Solidarity Campaign about labelling. Copy follows:

Decisions are being taken in April on the labelling of goods in supermarkets from illegal Israeli settlements - write to Hilary Benn TODAY

Lawyers from the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs the Food Standards Agency (Minister- Hilary Benn) and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Minister- David Miliband) are right now drafting new guidelines on how goods from illegal Israeli settlements in the Palestinian Occupied Territories are labelled and sold in the UK. These guidelines are crucial in that they determine how supermarkets label produce form the illegal West Bank settlements.

Feedback from the supermarkets makes it clear that consumer action is having a significant effect on their attitude towards settlement goods. It is therefore urgent that we keep up the pressure on the government during the next 2 weeks. In particular we must pressure the Government to obtain, and publish, an expert legal opinion on whether or not trading with the settlements is itself legal.

Please write immediately to Hilary Benn (Hilary.Benn @defra.gsi.gov.uk), copying your letter to your MP, demanding that the labelling of settlement produce clearly indicates its illegal origins. There is a model letter available which includes the postal address. See Palestine Solidarity Campaign

Sunday, 12 April 2009

What to plant now

I'm determined not to miss any planting windows this year. So here is a run down of this week's plantings with photos. I've set up a growing system for myself, which I tweak occasionally. Work routines seem to help. So here's what our small courtyard looks like at the moment. Three mini-greenhouses plus a few tables and chairs to raise the pots up a little. We're into our second big phase of planting:

From left to right:
Little gem lettuces in a plug planter, started a month ago. Some of these I'll take to plant out today on the allotment and I'll put a few in the courtyard for the odd sandwich, and in case I can't make it down to the lottie during the week.
  1. Wild Rocket ready to plant out - this is a perennial plant so I'm hoping it will save me some work as I won't have to plant it out again every year.
  2. Large coir pots with Courgettes (3) to be planted out when they are large enough.
  3. Sweetcorn
  4. Balconi tomatoes - yellow and red
  5. Small pumpkins
  6. Lunch box cucumbers (long white paris)
  7. Globe Artichokes
  8. Two large pots of leeks to plant out in June.
  9. Melon
  10. Basil
  11. Pot of strawberries recovering from their journey through the post.
  12. Sugar snap peas
  13. Two tomatoes a bit further on
  14. Two pots of flowers
  15. Pot of calendula
  16. Tray of green and gold Orach

In this picture there's calabrese (started off a month ago). Coriander and lettuce seedlings (Lollo Rosso) to be planted out when they are big enough.
Oh, and broad beans in root trainers. They'll go out on the lottie in about ten days, I would think.

Close up of the lettuce seedlings. Best get on down to the lottie. Good weather waits for no man. (Or woman).

Tuesday, 7 April 2009


Looks like some of our tadpoles have made it. The water in our mini-pond looks quite clear. Needs a bit of topping up with rain water when it gets hot. So far so good. For those who've just tuned in to this blog, here are the posts which describe how we constructed it (and where we got the idea from).

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

You remember the very first post on this blog? 'Making life more beautiful'. It showed something I look at every day - my window box - in summer.

Well, I'm quite proud of the early spring version too. My Christmas Roses have finally started to come into flower. I'm hoping this is going to be an easy windowbox that saves me time, too as these plants could happily stay in there all year round and still look presentable. Giving me more time to keep up food production on the allotment.

I've found a good link with tips on how to care for and propagate Christmas Roses. Do comment and tell me how yours are getting on...

New dedicated international organic page at Helium

Big News. Karyn Sparks has just finished building a Certified Organics Zone at Helium and has placed my article "Assessing the success of the organic food movement" on there.

Helium is a web-based writing community which is attracting a huge global audience right now. Hope readers like it and thanks Karyn. It is really good to know that we're a global movement!