Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Gardeners have the power - Crush Hunger!

Couldn't let today pass without putting in a wee plug for Kitchen Gardener's International new initiative 'CRUSH HUNGER'. If enough people donate $10 dollars each they will be in line for a prize of $50,000 to be used to help more people globally grow their own fruit and vegtables. Tell your friends! Check out this link for more details:

KGI has done some brilliant work on the 'Eat the View' campaign and succeeded in getting a veg patch on the Whitehouse lawn. (I'm told Buckingham Palace held secret meetings with the first Lady. They say that was what prompted our monarch to follow suit...). Gardeners have the power...

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Allotment Photography

Looking at
perfectly executed gardening photos - I often tend to feel I'll never measure up. I'm sure novice gardeners share that feeling too. So here are photographs of a different - dare I say more realistic kind.

It's not necessarily vital that your your veg patch looks professional and pretty at all times is it? Of course it's a bonus if it does, and a beautiful layout comes with time and experience.

But most organic allotmenteers just want things to work. It's a different aesthetic isn't it? First in the series of (definitely not airbrushed) less-than-perfect-looking-but-very-productive-fruit-and-veg-patch-photographs are the leeks. We haven't started harvesting these yet but we have many more than last year. So that's great. The leeks in this picture could have done with more rain and/or watering. I could have got them started earlier too.

We do have larger ones on the plot. These specimens in the next picture (on the right) are nearly ready to harvest.

The asparagus patch is one of our greatest gardening achievements so far. This is a not-particularly-impressive picture. Practically speaking, the plants are really healthy and sound. For the first time (in June next year) we'll be looking forward to harvesting organically grown asparagus spears. In this picture you might think the couch grass at the side is encroaching on the raised bed, but actually I dug a small trench to keep it away which is very effective as the couch grass doesn't cross it.

My mother told me that my grandfather (who had several allotments) hardly even used to water his. I try to adopt the same approach. Otherwise it is way too much work for us. I've got used to planting just before it rains and nurturing the soil so that it retains water for a long time. I also make extensive use of mulches. Which brings me to our next picture:

Not exactly neat and tidy but very effective on the scale of things as well as being ecologically sound. Here is a slightly raised simple bed edged with cardboard boxes (from mail order goods) and topped with wood chippings from our communal heap on the allotment site The advantage of this technique is it gives the worms a place to hide out (underneath the cardboard) and escape the winter chills.

I planted dwarf broad beans in this space at the weekend. Bare rooted raspberries went in next door to these. More onions and garlic can wait until November.

Last but not least the strawberries. These are recently transplanted - they didn't do so well in the old water butt where they were before as it was difficult to provide them with enough water.

They're looking a bit tatty - but as you can see they're fruiting in October - I'll give them a bit of TLC and they'll be in good shape for next year.

Really glad to say that I won't be buying any more organic slug pellets. Our froglets must have done very well and I saw a juvenile in early autumn - so hoping they'll do the slug patrol for us next year. It's great to see so many spiders and ground beetles too.

Friday, 16 October 2009

The Gardening Year. The journey.

Just to cheer you all up after that bout of global number-crunching - here's some sanity: the latest picture of our plot. Year Four and the Avalon Pride peach tree is flourishing as you can see.

We're much further on with winter vegetable production - with leeks in various sizes which usually last until January.

The poached egg plant (Limanthes Douglasii) was still flowering yesterday - it has self-seeded - that's the THIRD time this year. Beautiful.

World Food Day - Crunching the Numbers about Food

Received an email from Roger Doiron over at Kitchen Gardener's International with some interesting stats in time for World Food Day tomorrow. He's allowing bloggers to republish them so here we go. (Normally I find numbers a bit scary, but these, I'm sure you will agree are important and enlightening). Thanks Roger.

1: number of new kitchen gardens planted at the White House this year AP
1943: the last time food was grown at the White House White House
20 million: the number of new gardens planted in 1943 LA Times
40%: percentage of nation's produce coming from gardens in 1943 LA Times
7 million: estimated number of new food gardens planted in the US in 2009 NGA
$2000: amount of savings possible per year from a 40' x 40' garden KGI
90%: percentage of fruit/vegetable varieties lost in the US the last 100 years CNN
3500: number of vegetable varieties owned by Monsanto Monsanto
18,467: number of new small farms counted in the last agricultural census USDA
4,685: number of farmers markets nationwide USDA
4,100: number of Wal-mart stores and clubs in the US Wal-mart
187,000 ft2 : average area of a Wal-mart superstore Wal-mart
60,112 ft2: average area of a farmers' market USDA
9.5 million: number of imported food shipments arriving in the US each year Huffington Post
226,377: number of establishments registered to export food to the US Huffington Post
200: number of on-site inspections of these establishments conducted by the FDA last year Huffington Post
76 million: number of people who fall ill each year due to food poisoning CDC
50 gallons: volume of sugared beverages consumed per person in the US each year LA Times
22,727: number of Olympic-sized swimming pools those beverages would fill
$15 billion: annual estimated revenue of a penny-per-ounce tax on soda LA Times
$20.5 billion: Coca-Cola's gross profit in 2008 Coca-Cola
72 million: number of American adults considered obese CDC
33%: percentage of US children likely to develop obesity or Type 2 diabetes CDC
10-15 years: average number of years their lives will be shortened as a result CDC
57 years: average age of the American farmer USDA
25 days: average shelf-life of a Twinkie Snopes
350 parts per million: sustainable level of CO2 in atmosphere
390 parts per million: current level of CO2 in the atmosphere NOAA
31%: percentage of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions attributable to food and agriculture IPCC
2020: year by which many geologists feel the world will have reached "peak oil" production UK Research Centre
10 calories: average amount of fossil fuel energy required to produce 1 calorie of food energy in industrialized food systems Cornell
29,100 calories: estimated fossil fuel calories required to produce one order of Outback Steakhouse Aussie Cheese Fries Men's Health
1 billion: number of hungry people in the world in 2009 FAO
9.1 billion: projected world population in the year 2050 US Census
70%: percentage increase in global food production required to feed that projected population FAO
70%: percentage of world's fresh water used for agricultural purposes UNESCO
1.8 billion: number of people expected to experience "water scarcity" in the year 2025 UNEP
0: number of new, oil-rich, water-rich, fertile and inhabitable planets we are likely to discover in the next 40 years
1: number of people needed to make a positive difference in any of the above: you!

Monday, 12 October 2009

The Gardening Year (and this blog's first birthday)

It's nearly a year since I started this blog. (3rd. November, 2008 to be exact).

In gardening terms - reflecting on past successes (and failures) is an important process. So if it's alright with you readers - that's what I'm going to do for the next two weeks until this blog's first anniversary.

The picture opposite was taken on 18th. April, 2008. In the next few posts I'm going to include more recent photographs - you'll be able to track our progress that way.

We'd taken on our plot in early summer 2006 and it had been completely derelict then. I wish I'd taken a photograph at the very beginning - to prove it, but my little one had not long been born, and taking pics was the last thing on my mind...

Notable features at the start included brambles as thick as your thigh which I had to dig out, dozens of sacks full of broken glass... The lot. I mention this because I've met a few new plot holders recently who are starting in a similar place. Although at least they had their plots cleared, whereas I did mine by hand with a scythe. So don't lose heart new plotters - it is possible. Whatever you do, though don't rotovate. You'll only chop the weeds up and compact the ground - get some advice from Garden Organic about 'Starting an Organic Allotment' instead.

So, what can we see in this picture? Starting in the foreground: A weedy and still bramble stricken strip of ground covered in mulch fabric, newly planted gooseberries, newly planted rye grass and clover lawn underneath the apple trees I inherited (the one in the picture is the old variety - called Newton Wonder), inherited daffodils, newly planted asparagus bed on the left - a few raised beds and a few sack fulls of rubbish.

In 2007 when I took on the plot - most of the areas surrounding it were uncultivated. Now we have neighbours. By year four - our heavy clay soil has been much improved due to the almost constant addition of various mulches and manures. These included: rabbit manure (from a local rabbit breeder), cardboard and wood chip mulch for the paths (delivered to the site by local tree surgeons), home-made compost (since I cleared the plot from derelict there was a great deal of green waste to deal with), cocoa shells (an organic and fairly expensive product which I used sparingly on the asparagus patch and around the peach tree), 'Strulch' (also a fairly expensive product used on raspberries, it lasts a long time and is made of mineralised straw so it also feeds the soil), comfrey leaves and last but not least: kitchen waste treated with Bokashi Bran and buried in trenches.

The improvement in the soil means it is generally much easier to work - and direct seed sowing will finally become a possibility this coming Spring. The clearance of neighbouring plots has generally been a positive thing, but the clearances of vegetation mean that strong winds have been a difficulty too - and so I've planted appropriate wind breaks. Photographs to appear in the next few blog posts.

At the beginning I toyed with the idea of making a static design for the plot and then following it. I'm glad I didn't now. The lay-out of the plot evolved gradually. Some features (like the apple trees) - were fixed - but in general I observed soil, sun and shade and made decisions as I went along. The plastic raised beds worked out quite well as I moved them round quite a bit. They have a five year guarantee so whilst they're not indestructible they're fairly sturdy.

The cardboard and wood chip mulch I've used for the paths has lasted a season which means it is extra work to replace it - but because this adds organic matter to the soil, I feel this has been worth it. I'd advise new gardeners to keep an eye on the principles of permaculture whilst they are designing their layout. Think about putting your shed in the middle of your plot instead of at the end and use several compost heaps and water butts dotted around instead of just one - it really does make the work easier.

My blogging skills have improved over the past year. I'm currently without a camera as my compact and fairly simple Samsung L700 has finally packed up. Good news in some ways as this means I can finally upgrade to an entry-level digital SLR. Another fast learning this space...

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Composting Toilet Saga Continues

The saga of our composting toilet continues. Sigh. News of our site's supposedly subversive efforts has hit the local press. See this link.

Meanwhile a very nice chappie from a lovely local composting toilets company has seen this blog and contacted me with an offer to come and talk to our local council and try to convince them to do the right thing. They say they've never had a council refuse them yet. These composting toilets seem super efficient, very attractive and are wheel-chair friendly. It's worth a shot, have a look for yourself at how lovely these nifty models are these days - see NATSOL

And if that doesn't work, please tell your friends and sign our petition at this link:

Thanks very much.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Guerilla Gardening. Urban Food Production.

Just received this great film from a friend about the Abundance Project featuring Guerilla Gardening and Urban Food production. Watch it at this link.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Allotments, Art and Creativity

There's a lot going on at our allotment site. Not just the growing - but all the creativity that comes along with it. We have artists, poets, craft workers and business people of all kinds in our number. This willow horse is lovely, isn't it? I took the picture last year sometime and of course the willow has rooted now. There were also several wicker rabbits on site. I've forgotten the artist's name now, bless them, but I'll find out and add the detail to this post.

Then there are the picture people. Plot holder Nellie Maan for example. Nellie has a vast amount of international experience with art and business. She opens her studios sometimes as part of Open Artist Studios events. Together with her other half, she's doing interesting things with board games as a tool for creative enterprise. Click on this link for more about Nellie's work. To find out about Cheshire Open Studios click here.