Day 6 – Simple things

Today I’ve been volunteered to be a taxi driver by my daughter, so I decided to do some quick things around the garden for the benefit of wildness.

First I fed the birds with some dried mealworms. We have a massive population of Sparrows in the village – bucking the national trend of decline.

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Then, I went and cleared a gap in our hedge for hedgehog passage. We used to have pet rabbits you see, and they used to escape through gaps in the hedge, so I put lots of mesh up to stop them getting through when we let them have a run in the garden. We don’t have rabbits any longer but we have had hedgehogs. In fact, a couple of years ago we had a nest in our raspberry patch. I was SO chuffed! I want to see them back. I hope this new gap will provide easy access. No pics for this.

Then, I seedbombed around the pond with Kabloom Seedboms – it’s a little late in the season but I found them the other day and thought I should give them a go. I think I’ve just used Pollinator BeeBom, LoveBom and Poppy PeaceBom. My kind of bombs!

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Then, I got out my drill and a big drill bit and drilled some holes in a couple of logs. Such a simple little thing but I hope to encourage some solitary bees. Last year we had some in a little hazel stake I placed on the fence and forgot to move. They made the holes themselves, but I’m giving them a head start this year 🙂

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Going wild doesn’t mean you have to make big plans, pack a picnic and drive miles to a nature reserve. Gardens are important habitats for nature, and I think we should all stop being so apprehensive about letting a little bit of wildness in 🙂

Day 4 – My wild garden

I like growing things and I like things growing, but I’m not too fussy what it is. Here’s a few wild spots in my garden, I spent the evening looking at them quite intensely after I mowed (most of) the lawn.

I spent a lot of time watching the tadpoles after feeding them some fish food. Here’s some footage of a feeding frenzy that was already under way, I think it’s a bit of cannibalism! Or perhaps it kinder to say that they’re taking advantage of some available protein….

I’m really chuffed with the pond (apart from the visible lining of course!) It’s my first pond and it only took a couple of hours to make. It took a while longer to fill but that’s another story…

I’ll be looking at the pond in more detail later in the month, and hopefully I’ll be able to tell you more about the newt that has moved in.

30 Days Wild

I’ve signed up to the Wildlife Trust’s ’30 Days Wild’ campaign, and I plan on actually blogging on here every day (I know right!) with details of my wild antics.

I’m not *really* organised enough to plan 30 days of activity in advance and weather will always play a part but I like to ‘go wild’ as often as possible, so I fully expect to be able to pull this off ad-hoc…

I joined my local Wildlife Trust on my birthday this year (and the local Fungus Group – thanks Auntie Janet!), so I’ll try and visit as many local sites and reserves as possible and share some pics/stories.

Snake’s Head Fritillary are off the list, but I had the pleasure of seeing them while they were in flower in Cricklade North Meadow National Nature Reserve a few weeks ago!

Saving your own seed

I have been pondering this recently, as I just got an allotment (more on this later). How did we cope before seed companies?

40 years ago most people would be saving the seeds of their favourite crops to reap the successes in subsequent years.

I came across this text on the Real Seeds site today, which sums up my thinking better than I could put it 😉

Why Save Your Own Seed?

Until recently, every gardener in the world saved their own seed. And every gardener was, therefore, a plant breeder. They simply saved the seed of the plants that did best for them, and which they liked most. Although simple, this was efficient.

Each gardener was maintaining a slightly different strain of each vegetable, and this made for a huge living genebank that was very resilient against disease or climate change. If things changed so that your cabbages didn’t do well, someone down the road had a slightly different one that would cope.
This has worked very well for the past 11,000 years. That includes the Bronze Age, the building of the Pyramids, the rise and fall of all the major empires. Every year, without even thinking about it, millions of people added to the achievements of their ancestors to maintain and improve the previous years’ varieties. Because their seed was real, open-pollinated seed, every seed was a bit different, so it was widely adapted, but also adaptable – it could cope with all sorts of change.

Now, we have thrown this all away. In the past 40 years, almost all these adaptable local strains have been lost. Gardeners have forgotten how to save their own seed. They are sold hybrids, where every seed is identical, in every packet, year after year – no adaptability for different soils, or for changes in climate over time.

And because these hybrid seeds are all the same in every field in every country, people have to bludgeon the environment into some sort of ‘standard’ growing medium with fertilisers and chemicals, to grow their standardised seeds. Should the climate change, or the supply of cheap oil (to make all these chemicals) dry up, then these hybrids will do badly, and there will be no real seeds left to breed from.

Profits for the seed companies now, but disaster in the future . . . real farming is a project that has been ongoing for millennia, but now in the height of our tiny period of cheap oil, we think we know better and have turned it into just another industrial process. Peoples food should represent stored sunlight and water, but 90% of its calories come from oil these days – for the ploughing, spraying, fertiliser, transport. When the oil runs out, who will have the real seeds that can grow without it?
Seed-saving is easy. You’ll get better seed, better food, and help preserve 11,000 years of work for the future! Continue reading “Saving your own seed”

Plan Bee

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Bees pollinate a third of the food we eat. They are essential for farming and if we wanted to do the pollinating work ourselves – it would take a workforce of 30 million. And that’s just for food – bees also pollinate most wildflowers.

In the United States over a million hives have been lost since 2006 due to Colony Collapse Disorder – a very mysterious condition. Apparently, we don’t have it in the UK yet – but even so, 2008 was the worst year for bees in the UK – with up to 30% of hives not surviving the winter.

I can’t begin to imagine a world without bees. Or some of this stuff:

Alfalfa, Allspice, Almonds, Apples, Artichoke, Asparagus, Avocado, Blackberries, Blueberries, Broccoli, Brussel sprouts, Cabbage, Cacao, Cantaloupe, Caraway, Cardamom, Carrots, Cashew, Cauliflower, Celeriac, Celery, Cherries, Chicory, Chives, Cinnamon, Citrus, Coriander, Cranberries, Cucumbers, Currants, Dill, Fennel, Garlic, Gooseberries, Kale, Leek, Macadamia, Mango, Mustard, Nutmeg, Onion, Parsley, Parsnip, Passion fruit, Peaches, Pears, Plum, Pumpkin, Radish, Raspberries, Squash, Sunflower, Tangerine, Tea, and Watermelon to name a few. Not forgetting honey and beeswax of course.

There are things we can do – the Co-op has taken the initiative and set up a campaign called Plan Bee, along with a website that provides lots more information, and a couple of videos if you prefer to watch than read. (hopefully they will enable embedding at some point)

I applaud what they are doing, and attempting to do, and strongly encourage everyone to see what they can do to give the bees a hand whenever I can, so I thought I would take this opportunity too 🙂

Through Plan Bee:
1. The Co-operative Food will temporarily prohibit the use of neonicotinoid-based pesticides on own-brand fresh produce. These are Acetamiprid, Clothianidin, Dinotefuran, Fipronil, Imidacloprid, Nitenpyram, Thiacloprid and Thiamethoxam. To find out about The
Co-operative’s market-leading policy on pesticides, please see our latest Sustainability Report (p.95).

2. £150,000 will be made available to support research into the demise of the honeybee, with a particular focus on UK farming, pesticides and gene-diversity. This is the largest ever private contribution to bee research in the UK.

3. Over three years The Co-operative Farms will trial a new wildflower seed mix that will be planted alongside crops on our farms across the UK.

4. The Co-operative Farms will invite beekeepers to establish hives on all our farms in the UK.

5. The Co-operative will engage our three-million members in a campaign to protect and nurture the bee population in the UK, with advice and tips featuring on our website.

6. Members were invited to attend one of 40 screenings of a special preview from a forthcoming film that addresses the decline of the worldwide bee population and the significance of the bee in food production. In addition, The Co-operative has also commissioned a new bespoke documentary on the decline of the bee population in the UK.

7. The Co-operative will partner with RSPB’s ‘Homes for Wildlife’ team and empower members to garden in ways that are honeybee-friendly.

8. An initial 20,000 packets of wildflower seed mix will be distributed to members free of charge at membership events throughout the UK.

9. Bee boxes are being sourced and made available to The Co-operative members at discounted prices. Find out how to get hold of a discounted bee box.

10. The Co-operative will support our members and colleagues to find out more about amateur beekeeping and will encourage links between local beekeepers and members. Find details of your nearest beekeeping association.

Also – there is a documentary worth watching called “Who Killed the Honey Bee” showing on BBC4 starting on Thu 23 Apr 2009 at 21:00, with repeat showings. It will also be available on iPlayer.

Give me your favourite quotes

I have been using a great little WordPress plug-in called ‘Quotes Collection‘ on this blog – it’s great for grabbing those quotes you see popping up over the web and adding them to your blog. It is my favourite aspect of my own blog actually – I like being inspired, challenged or reminded of important concepts and values by great thinkers.

You can get a sample of them by clicking on ‘Next Quote’ over there on the left- it doesn’t need to reload the page due to some javascript trickery (and you should see a non-javascript degraded version if you you don’t have js turned on).

Anyway – I want your quotes! What is your favourite quote? What makes a good quote?

If you have a favourite quote that covers anything in the category/tag cloud – please post them here and I will add them to my quotes collection… and others can grab them too.

Mind the gap

I am not the only one fretting about over-specialisation it seems. I was pointed to Sharon Astyk’s ‘Casaubon’s Book’ blog by this Eating the Seasons post, which mentioned the book Depletion and Abundance: Life on the New Home Front.

The post that I thought might be of interest is this one about the ‘gaps’ in our self-sufficiency skill set. It is an interesting challenge, and one I am already engaged in constantly! Not necessarily because of peak-oil, but perhaps more to do with John Seymour and maybe Felicity Kendal.

For the past couple of years I have been trying to grow stuff (I have an allotment now even, but need to get a bike and somewhere to store tools & shelter me from the rain.. look out shed alert!).

I recently fixed my daughter’s bike which had suffered a horrendous chain tangling accident (involved the use of a chain link removal tool!).

I have wrestled with basic plumbing (I can plumb in a dish washer or washing machine, replace washers in taps, unblock drains etc), I sweep my own chimney, split logs, make kindling and light a fire without a firelighter (i do want a firesteel though and must have a go at friction fire lighting).

We make our own compost, I collected seed from some of the veg and herbs I grew this year, and we have eaten stuff I grew (just not as much as I know we can).

My wife has always been a great cook, but she has been whipping up some delicious veg box meals, and has recently become a bit of a compulsive masterbaker! She can now pretty much cook any recipe, but her cakes and cookies and sweet treats are better than anything you buy in the shops. I am a competent cook too, just not as dedicated, or perhaps committed…

That was quite cathartic, we/I have made progress. But here is my list (to be expanded upon and hopefully crossed off):

  • I many have gaps in my DIY skills – we need to decorate (we know how to do that – we just enjoy sitting down after work ;)) and erect many, many shelves and stuff
  • Lots of room for improvement in the horticultural field. I just need to get out there more. Weeds, slugs, spider mite, blight and cabbage white butterflys are on my hit list – I generally want to grow gluts, cancel the veg box and learn to preserve
  • I want to learn how to use a chainsaw and more tree related stuff (I have been planting tree seeds recently – want to go collect some acorns, but also want to learn how to fell and coppice etc)
  • I want to learn to play an instrument – one that doesn’t need plugging in
  • I always loved chiseling and whittling wood as a kid – I want to rekindle that and turn it into something useful (like a breadboard or a wooden spoon)
  • I want to learn more bushcraft and foraging skills

I have an abundance of diverse technical skills and I blame that for my lack of diversification and competence in more practical skills, but at least it is doing something tangible to help – it is paying the rent and putting food on the table, and giving me a lot of job satisfaction, as I have managed to combine my geeklust with an environmental job. So I am sorted there really – I could go on for ever learning this scripting language or that OS but I am slightly less obsessed now I have a fairly good grounding I can plug most gaps one way or another.

That’ll do me for tonight!

Anyone else feeling gap aversion?

Sow the seeds and scatter…

Last year I grew some carrots from seed – and chucked some spuds in the ground – the carrots worked but the spuds got blight – still got some nice little earlies though. We also grew some tomato plants in a grow-bag outside and got a few tasty trusses (one of the plants got blight too though – it was awfully damp last year)… although I didn’t really know about topping them…

Anyway – this year – I have gone a little overboard! I do love the bit where the seed germinates and bursts forth full of promise with its cute little cotyledon. Here’s some of the seeds I have planted this year:

  • Marjoram
  • Sweet Basil
  • Greek Oregana
  • Thyme
  • Summer Savory
  • Coriander
  • Parsley
  • Barlotta Lingua Di Fucco Nano
  • Carrot
  • Potato
  • Chinese Cabbage
  • Little Gem
  • Pumpkin
  • Red Onion
  • Pentland Brig Kale
  • Melon
  • Strawberry

Most of them were from Tucker’s Seeds but I also picked up a few cheap packets from Lidl.

I was going to bore you with an account of this year’s horticultural endeavors, but I found this great site called myfolia.com and will be detailing it all in excruciating detail (if I manage to find the time to update it in between watering everything, weeding and fighting slugs and snails!). This isn’t a gardening blog btw 😉