Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Lovage and Tony Blair (a tenuous connection, I know)

Tony Blair has just gone for lunch. (I'm following the Chilcott inquiry - see my newsblog). So I've popped into the courtyard for a little sunshine and to check a few plants:

I wonder if Tony tends a Kitchen Garden...With the size of the pension he'll be getting - and his lucrative lecture tours - somehow I don't think he'll be tending spuds anytime soon. No matter fellow Kitchen Gardeners - he just doesn't know what he's missing...LOVAGE for example...

Yes, I know at the moment it doesn't look like anything much. That's because it's only January and the poor thing has been covered in snow for weeks. Come March and it will spring into life. Purchased from Victoriana Nursery. Good with chicken. In soups and salads too. Here is a link with recipes How to cook Lovage

Sunday, 24 January 2010

BBC City Food Lecture

Listen to Chief Scientist David King at the City Food Lecture on BBC Radio 4 at this link:

"It's predicted that the world population will reach nine billion in 2050. Simon Parkes reports from the City Food Lecture, where former Chief Scientist Sir David King spells out his vision for how we can meet that challenge".

Monday, 18 January 2010

Spring plantings and perennials/Vision 2050

The snow has only just cleared and already fellow plotters are out in force at the weekend making preparations for Spring plantings. It's great to see everyone is so keen. (Local government rhetoric on tackling climate change is all very well - but plans to do this are still only words on paper in some places - see Vision 2050). Organic gardeners have been getting real about it - and getting our hands dirty - for years now. We have to educate our elected representatives, that much is clear.

Stopped by our Allotment Society shop yesterday to renew my membership and catch up on plans. A sense of relief was in the air and I had the chance to exchange a few words with our lovely Chair, who promised to update me on the progress and politics of our long-awaiting composting toilet as soon as she has some news.

But the best was yet to come. With a bag of sharp sand on the back of my tricycle I headed down to the plot. It's Year Four. With all those additions of home made compost and the many mulches I've put down during the last four years the soil is looking better than it has ever been. The pay off for all that hard work. The sunshine was beautiful.

Cut the raspberry canes down. Tweaked the guttering on the shed. Pruned the pear tree.

The no-dig approach definitely works - soil condition is better than it has ever been. I felt sorry for a fellow plotter who gloomily told me: "I've still got so much work to do..." (they dig the plot from front to back every autumn/spring). As I've said before on this blog: "Why do it to yourself?".

We'll be picking asparagus this year for the first time (April). I hope the cherry plums will flower early - we can harvest rhubarb too.

It suddenly dawned on me that the time to start raising seedlings at home for the plot is a mere SIX WEEKS away. I'm really glad that my approach has been 'little and often' - Spring really seems like something to look forward to now. Hope you'll still be reading then to share it with us...

Friday, 15 January 2010

Transition Town Chester. Events NEXT weekend.

Very glad to see "Transition Town" Chester supporters have been working hard to put on varied events NEXT (not this) weekend. (Although it's a shame I was somehow missed off the news email list - I might have been able to publicise this earlier...). There isn't a creche and no child care offered - for that reason I'm not sure I'll be able to make it. So apologies in advance if you don't see me...

(The following information comes to you courtesy of Transition Wiki). Events include a session on "Successful Gardening". Look out for fellow "plotter" Mary Gillie...Here's the list of dates, times and events:

1) A Sustainable Future for Cheshire West and Chester?

A series of presentations by members of Chester Climate Change and Sustainability Ginger Group and others.
14:00 to 17:00pm Friday 22nd January, 2010
Room CBB115, Best Building, University of Chester

"Radical changes to society, economy and lifestyles will be necessary to mitigate and adapt to the combined impacts of climate change, peak oil and international inequalities. Planning for a more sustainable future requires the integration of long term vision with identification and communication of the steps by which we may get there. This event attempts to provide an outline of both with an emphasis on communication and awareness raising."

14:00 -14:10 Arrival and registration.
14:10 - 14:40 Keynote presentation: Tom Barker Vision2050 A Sustainable Future for Cheshire West and Chester
14:40 - 15:10 Bob McCombe and Stefan Nicholls. Developing resilience in a small urban community
15:10 -15:40 Opportunity to get refreshments and network in the nearby Westminster Building cafeteria.
15:40 - 16:00 Roy Alexander. Ashton Hayes Going Carbon Neutral
16:00 -16:20 Mary Gillie. Chester Cycling Demonstration Town
16:20 - 16:40 Ged Edwards. Sustainable Blacon
16:40 -17:00 General discussion/debate and opportunity to identify projects for the local and wider area.
Each of the speakers will cross-reference to the others to demonstrate how the examples link closely to the vision.

17:00 - 21:30 Food and Film Age of Stupid ( . Wesley Church Centre (WCC).

SATURDAY: WCC - Stands for Wesley Church Centre

10:30 - 15:30.BTCV- Environmental information and display. (WCC).
10:30 - 15:30. Continuous showing of Eco-Education short films.(WCC).
10:30 - 15:30.Composting Information/Advice available fromCheshire Composting Team.

10:30 - 11:00. Solar Power presentation by Solar Twin.(WCC).
11:00 - 12:00. DrawingWorkshop led by Mary Hill.(WCC).
11:30 - 12:15. Bike MaintenanceWorkshop presented by The Bike Factory.(WCC).
12:30 - 13:30. Succesful GardeningWorkshop led by AndrewLambie and Ester Sloggett.(WCC).
12:30 - 13:30. Yoga/Meditation by Lisa Foden.(WCC).
13:45 - 14:15. Solar Power presentation by Solar Twin.(WCC).
14:00 - 15:00. DrawingWorkshop led byMary Hill.(WCC).
14:15 - 15:00. The Importance of Bees presentation by Cheshire Beekeepers Association.(WCC).
15:00 - 15:45. Bike MaintenanceWorkshop presented by The Bike Factory.(WCC).
15:30 - 16:30. Yoga/Meditation by Lisa Foden.(WCC).
15:30 - 17:30. Energy Descent Action Plan presented by Stefan Nicholls.(WCC).

Throughout the day there will be information, displays and advice available from Solar Twin, Cheshire Beekeepers Association, BTCV, TheBike Factory and CheshireComposting Team.

19:00 - Late. Ceilidh at All Saints Church, Hoole. Organised by Diana Wilderspin-Jones


11:00 Cycle Rides: (a) 23 miles (b) 10 miles. Meet Northgate Arena. Contact Simon Brown: 01244 403960

13:00 – 17:30. Be the Change Symposium presented by Andrew Herbert, Diana Wilderspin – Jones, Mike Arundale and Cliodhna Mulhern
followed by soup, bread and cake, suggested donation £5pp. (WCC).

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Food costs to soar as freeze deepens

See this Guardian piece...

Food shortages. Weather. Oil, gas. Cabin fever and the way forward...

Photo: Giant Winter Spinach in our courtyard under snow...

A friend of mine came to lunch last Monday. She ended up staying three days. The roads just weren't safe enough for her to travel back. In our city (and the surrounding villages) we are hardly ever visited by such extreme weather conditions.

All of us are suddenly reminded of existential matters. Have we got enough food in? Enough fuel? Is the heating working alright? Can we afford the extra money we have to spend heating our houses?

We've spent time and money in the last few years making sure our insulation is up to standard. We continue to reduce our carbon emissions. Warm Front loft insulation. No double-glazing yet. Due to the age of our house, the damp course had broken down so we had to prioritise spending on an air-brick damp-proofing system. It takes at least six months to kick in and until it does, we're limited in what we can do in the house.

We investigated solar power to replace our boiler, but we don't have a water tank in the loft so a system like Solar Twin is not feasible for us at the moment. We installed an A-rated energy efficient Worcester boiler five years ago. Our chimney is not big enough for a wood-burner so we still have our coal fire too. A great comfort in this weather - it is helping the house to dry out - but as far as carbon emissions are concerned, of course we're going to have to get rid of it at some point. Not this year though, we've missed our (finance and tolerance level) window to get the work done. I'm secretly glad as it is so cheery right now. But coal deliveries are to say the least, uncertain at the moment. I'm comforted that we have several possible sources of of heating.

The houses on one side of our street have a good covering of snow on the roofs. (Showing that they are well-insulated). On the other side of the street there is no snow on the roofs at all. The heat loss must be considerable and the insulation poor.

A journey to the local shops has been difficult here. The pavements were frozen for a long time and even in Doc Martens you're risking a broken arm or wrist if you fall. (And I did - thankfully not serious). These issues are particularly critical if you have a disability. Buses in to town were never very reliable but at least the main roads to town are cleared and you see buses now.

When you go to local shops you face the problem of shortages. Particularly fresh fruit and vegetables. Bread deliveries to local shops are also an issue. I've started using the bread maker again.

Then there are the schools closures. Our school was only closed for a day, but most of the schools in Cheshire are still affected by the weather. I understand there is worse to come. I'm thinking that the shock waves of this cold snap will continue long after the snow and ice is gone. Deliveries will be behind. Businesses losing money.
I can only guess at the havoc all this has brought to some people's lives. At the school gate I talked to a mother-to-be. She's booked in for a Cesarean section next week. From a neighbour I heard that all non-essential operations have been cancelled at the hospital.

We don't run a car but all this still makes a difference to our daily routine. The school-walk (or bike) used to take me half an hour maximum. At the moment I'll be lucky if I get away with two hours per day. I'm self-employed but I dread to think how people are managing if their employers refuse to pay them. We go outdoors when we can, but I'm sure like me, many parents find it difficult to keep children amused in such adverse weather conditions.
So what's the good news? Last year an Anglo-Saxon peasant instinct had prompted me to set aside a storage area in a cool room of our tiny house. Here's the link to the blog post and the picture. We'd bought most essentials in bulk and stored them. Our 'pantry' is coming in to it's own now...
The chutneys I'd made the year before last (!) have stood us in good stead for snacks and to spice up some meals. We'd bought a sack of potatoes back in November which is still going strong and we have some 'Golden Wonder' home-grown stores still from last year's harvest. We also have plenty of home grown garlic. Home grown onions were used up last November.
We have plenty of leeks too, but I can't harvest them as the ground is frozen solid. The Giant Winter Spinach is ready to go and will start growing again in February or March. We're going to start raising seedlings again in late February. These can stay in the small greenhouses in our courtyard until the weather is good enough to plant them out. We'll be able to start harvesting Rhubarb and Asparagus for the first time this year.
I'm really looking forward to the spring. In Year Four of our allotment the soil is improving all the time and I'm getting more confident as a no-dig gardener. Looking forward to sharing some of my plans with you all...