Friday, 18 February 2011

Plants for a Future

I first came across the work of Ken and Addy Fern who founded the charity Plants for a Future,  a year ago, and realised straight away they were contributing something very valuable and positive to the planet. They are inspire us as we work on our own patch of land creating a forest garden.  

Plants For A Future was originally set up to support the work of Ken and Addy, on their experimental site in Cornwall, where they carried out research and provided information on edible and otherwise useful plants suitable for growing outdoors in a temperate climate. Over time they planted 1500 species of edible plants on 'The Field' in Cornwall, which was their base since 1989. Over ten years ago, Ken began compiling a database, which currently consists of approximately 7000 species of plants. This is an extract from their web site:

It is our belief that plants can provide people with the majority of their needs, in a way that cares for the planet's health. A wide range of plants can be grown to produce all our food needs and many other commodities, whilst also providing a diversity of habitats for our native flora and fauna.
There are over 20,000 species of edible plants in the world yet fewer than 20 species now provide 90% of our food. Large areas of land devoted to single crops increase dependence upon intervention of chemicals and intensive control methods with the added threat of chemical resistant insects and new diseases. The changing world climate greatly affecting cultivation indicates a greater diversity is needed.

When comparing a large cultivated field to natural woodland the woodland receives no intervention but produces lush growth and diversity of plants and animals. Yet the cultivated land supports very few species. The quality and depth of soil in a woodland is maintained and improved yearly whilst erosion and loss of soil structure plague the cultivated field.

Our emphasis is on growing perennial plants with some self-seeding annuals, a large part of the reason for this is the difference in the amount of time and energy it takes to cultivate and harvest crops. Annuals means the cultivation of the ground every year, sowing the seeds, controlling the weeds, adding fertilizers and attempting to control pests and diseases. It all seems so much extra work compared to planting a perennial and waiting to harvest its yield. Especially when you consider that even with all the effort put into growing carrots their yield for the same area of ground will be less than that of a fruit tree and will only last the one season.
Not only do people seem trapped in a method of growing with lower yields for far more input but also one that is damaging the environment and all the plants and animals that live in it.

Continued cultivation of the soil, whilst creating a desert to most of our wild plants and animals, destroys the organic matter and opens it up to the risk of erosion from wind and rain. The soil structure is damaged and becomes compacted leaving it unable to drain properly or allow plant roots to penetrate and obtain nutrients, and valuable topsoil is washed away in heavy rain.

A cultivated crop such as wheat has all its roots in a narrow band of soil with intense competition between plants for the same nutrients. Any nutrients below this belt are inaccessible to the plants. The crop is susceptible to the same pests and diseases and has similar climatic requirements, if one plant suffers they all suffer. The amount of energy used in producing high yields is far more than the food itself yields in energy. We do not believe this is sustainable.

When looking at woodland, almost no weeding is required, no feeding and no watering yet year after year a host of animals can be found along with the inevitable plant growth. A wide range of plants grows side by side each occupying its own space. Some with deep roots bringing up nutrients from beyond the reach of other plants. When leaves fall they provide nutrients and substance to the soil. Plants with shallow root systems obtain their nutrients from nearer the surface of the soil. The canopy of trees creates a shelter and temperature fluctuations are less extreme in a woodland environment. The soil is protected from erosion.

Woodland sustains itself and is highly productive due to its diversity which leads to a gradual build up of fertility. All the different available habitats allow a wide range of creatures to live in woodland, and the plants, insects and animals all work to create an altogether much more balanced and harmonious way of life. Another benefit of Woodland Gardening is that the high humus content of the soil acts like a sponge to absorb water therefore replenishing the ground water table.

Growing a diversity of plants emulating woodland, we can grow fruit and nut trees, under- planted with smaller trees and shrubs, herbaceous, ground cover and climbing plants. This way it is possible to produce fruits, nuts, seeds, leaves and roots throughout the year. Unlike the majority of cultivated food plants these have not been selectively bred to increase size of yield, reduce bitterness or increase sweetness, yet many of them are delicious and highly nutritious.

We aim to recover lost knowledge and learn more about the hundreds of medicinal plants that we can grow, in a race to find safe natural alternatives to drugs used today. Plants can also provide us with fibres for clothes, rope and paper, oils for lubricants, fuels, water proofing and wood preservatives, dyes, construction materials and more.

A large number of native broadleaf trees are planted to provide natural shelter and wildlife habitats. Trees are the lungs of the planet; they purify the air locking up carbon and have the potential for reducing the greenhouse effect. Trees protect the soil from erosion, encourage rainfall, and regulate the flow of ground water preventing flooding. Fallen leaves are an effective soil conditioner.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Michael Reynolds: Architect extraordinaire!

There are people who aren’t driven by the profit motive and who care enough about the
environment to want to make a positive difference to the way it is nourished. Sometimes they are striving against the mainstream to bring their vision of a better and saner world to wider attention. These people by their foresight and vision are offering us opportunities to move away from the usual conditions that govern our lives. Such a person, in my eyes is Architect extraordinaire Michael Reynolds.

If we are to successfully make the transition to low carbon future, and become in dependent of oil supplies. We have to change every aspect of our present wasteful lifestyles, then I would say that our homes are the one of the prime places for us to begin.

If you were to think of a house built entirely out of waste products, the chances are that you would visualise a rickety, contraption help together with bits of rusting metal. However, the homes that Michael Reynolds constructs couldn’t be further from that nightmare scenario. His homes look like and are, state of the art places anyone would be delighted to live in. These houses are fully integrated sustainable structures that look fantastic and are aesthetically pleasing on the eye 

What is amazing is that Reynolds builds houses out of what other people call junk; tyres, cans and plastic bottles and clay are all features. And each house only uses renewable energy.  Water is collected from the roof and used four times. Electricity is produced with by a photovoltaic / wind power system. This energy is stored in batteries and supplied to electrical outlets. And the houses reuse all household sewage in indoor and outdoor treatment cells resulting in food production and landscaping with no pollution of aquifers. Toilets flush with greywater that does not smell.
So, not only are these houses made of things that would otherwise be thrown away. 
Because these homes are able to produce all of their own water and power from natural sources, the occupants are fully independent of all utility charges, whilst knowing they aren’t dependent upon limited outside resources such as water as well as carbon producing electricity. Even sewage doesn’t have to be flushed away but is recycled into the land to be used as a fertiliser.

Michael Reynolds is a self-described "guy who's trying to do some sustainable housing for the future." He is a passionate advocate for sustainable living. He believes our consumerist society is destroying our natural resources and eco-systems and that the only "logical" thing to do is to use the discards of our currently unsustainable lifestyle to create sustainable housing. When asked about the common misconceptions of his work, he replied, "When we started, some people just thought we were building out of recycled materials. Then others began to see we were building sustainable buildings out of recycled materials." It is this "logical" paradigm for building that Reynolds has been advocating for more than thirty years. "We need to live in an entirely different way and that is what we are hoping to find and present to people.

He created the alternative word Biotecture to describe "the profession of designing buildings and environments with consideration for their sustainability. A combination of biology and architecture." Michael Reynolds builds Earthships and teaches anyone who wants to learn how to build them, too. He describes an Earthship as "a fully sustainable building made with biproducts of our society. It is a building that will take care of you in every way: food (year round green house), heating, water, air and sewage disposal. "Earthships are the living model of the future that goes far beyond house and architecture."


Tyres are the foundations

“Everything we are doing is a response to the mess we find ourselves in. We know that we were running out of fuel and water. I was inspired to create a way of life that responds to those problems. There are mountains of tyres around the world, and no one knows what to do with them. Hawaii actually ships its used tires to California." Michael's Earthship designs use discarded tyres to create incredibly strong foundations. After filling the tires with earth and stacking them like bricks, the resulting walls are so thick, they aid in temperature retention. Coupling this feature with year-round greenhouses allows each earthship to maintain a temperature of 72 degrees, regardless of where it's located. "Once I added the concept of thermal mass by beating dirt into a tyre I created a low-tech, readily available and easy-to-learn method of building. I couldn't have conceived of a better material than tires to build with."

Although he trained as an architect, his way of doing things was, for many years anathema to the powers that be, the petty regulators with their blinkered vision, could not understand why he would wish to build houses made of what they saw as rubbish, for many years he was stripped of his architect certificate by the American Architectural Society

His earthships can be built anywhere in the world and don’t cost a lot to make either. The homes use totally sustainable methods to generate energy. His home State of New Mexico too, stopped his company from building the Earth ship, even at one point sending police with guns to enforce their orders. Happily Reynolds has now both had his licence reinstated (after the Orchestra Society learnt about the amazing word he and some of his crew did, to help rebuild homes in the Indian Arrdman Islands after the Tsunami disaster of 2005. Her has also convinced the New Mexico legislature to pass new laws allowing his amazing homes to be built for everyone who has the foresight to want to live in one. 

More information  about these amazing homes can be seen at the Earthships website

Monday, 7 February 2011

A Supermarket by the people and for the people.

At long last there is an alternative to the supermarket monopoly. Channel 4 is currently showing a series called The People’s Supermarket. It's about the efforts of eco chef Arthur Potts-Dawson who has created a Supermarket which is owned, run and for the people. It’s all so inspiring and offers a genuine alternative place to shop, but where the prices are as low as those people have come to

Potts-Dawson has long been appalled at the practices of supermarkets, how they throw away thousands of tonnes of perfectly edible food each week, and how they are driving many farmers and producers out of business, by refusing to pay decent prices for the produce they buy from them.  Now he has crated a supermarket with supermarket prices, but where producers and farmers are given proper rates for their produce. The business is a co op and is owned by it's member, who all work in the store for a couple of hours a month.

The People’s Supermarket Mission statement:

Our vision is to create a commercially sustainable, social enterprise that achieves its growth and profitability targets whilst operating within values based on community development and cohesion. Our intent is to offer an alternative food buying network, by connecting an urban community with the local farming community.
Vision and Values:
The Supermarket is a sustainable food cooperative that responds to the needs of the local community and provides healthy, local food at reasonable prices. To this end, we believe in a series of key values, which guide our philosophy and management approach. We seek:
-  To create a supermarket that meets the needs of its members and the local community by offering high quality, healthy food at reasonable prices.
-  To buy from trusted suppliers with whom we develop mutually sustaining relationships.
-  To buy British produce where possible, and produce local to London.
-  Provide choice and information to our members to help them make healthy decisions.
-  To create a community supermarket that highlights the possibilities of consumer power and challenges the status quo.
-  To minimise wastage, by creating prepared dishes from food coming up to its sell-by date, and by composting all other waste material.
-  To provide inspirational training and life skill opportunities to the local community
-  To create a working environment that values every one’s contribution, is welcoming, safe and non-judgmental
-  To be a training and development resource for our community.
-  To buy sustainable energy and other inputs, and to promote alternative, forward thinking ideas and solutions.

The People’s Kitchen

In recent weeks the supermarket has also opened its own in-store kitchen — The People’s Kitchen. This serves up food cooked by chef Potts-Dawson, using ingredients from the supermarket itself.

Watch the series here
Click onto the Peoples Supermarket website here.

Sunday, 30 January 2011

leaving behind the old values

Party politics and big business have not worked.  It's time to leave behind those twin pillars of the status quo. Even so called radial political parties like the Greens are perpetuating this stalemate, pretending they are an alternative, when all they are doing is propping up outdated values. 

This is an extract from an essay from The Resource Based Economy, a site dedicated to a world, which is free from the vicious grip that money has on us all. Where greed and competition are replaced by a realisation that only by mutual interdependence can we realise fulfilled and purposeful lives. To read the full article or to learn more about their work, click here  

A resource-based economy is a society without money with the earth’s resources distributed equally without any form of exchange, barter or payment. It is not a new communistic approach. Neither is it socialism or capitalism. It’s beyond communism, socialism, feudalism, fascism, capitalism or any other ‘ism’. It’s beyond any social system that has ever existed on this planet, at least in our awareness. In communism the state owns everything. In socialism the state owns something while the rest is privately owned. In capitalism everything is privately owned.

In a resource-based economy the world’s population doesn’t ‘own’ anything, but has access to everything. Anything ever needed, like food, clothing, housing, travel, etc. etc. is provided in abundance through the use of our updated knowledge, values and technology. There’s no ‘state’ that is the owner of the resources, and nothing is privately owned. In RBE the world’s resources are considered the heritage of all the inhabitants of this planet, not just a select few. RBE is not a society where we will live in scarcity with few resources. It is not a society where a few control and distribute the resources. No, it is a totally new society where we let today’s and tomorrow’s technology be developed to it’s fullest to work for us, and where we utilize knowledge about nature and technology to provide a life in abundance for everyone. It is a society where we truly have the option to take care of each other instead of struggling to survive.

It is a totally new way of life, unimaginable within today’s value system, but still something most people truly long for in their hearts. It is a world where we can call ourselves Free and live with dignity and respect for each other, nature, the planet and the universe. It is a concept where value no longer is measured by money, but rather by the joy we feel, the contributions we make, and the development we take part in. It is a society where we utilize our minds and hearts in providing a healthy life for everyone, developing our knowledge about nature and technology, and using this in the most sustainable way.

Imagine a world without money, barter or exchange, where everything is provided for everyone, and everyone can pursue their own interests and dreams and live in the way they want. Be it moving closer to nature and grow your own garden of delicious vegetables, travel the globe and experience the wonders of the planet, make and perform your own music or collaborate with others to develop a new invention for the betterment of society. In a society where we don’t have to think about money and profit, we can truly develop ourselves and the human race into something completely wonderful.
The monetary system
The monetary system doesn’t work anymore and is obsolete. This is obvious when you look at today’s world with increasing unemployment, financial crisis, endless consumption producing endless waste and pollution, not to speak of crime and wars. You could say money has outplayed its role on this planet. It produces greed and corruption through the profit motive we are all a slave to. The economy is falling apart, and everyone seems to be struggling to get richer and richer or just to make ends meet. The financial crisis has so far made over 200 million more people end up in poverty. Now, about 2 billion people in the world are considered poor. Poor countries that have received massive loans from the World Bank have become much poorer after receiving the loans, because of the interest. And they can only hope to pay it back. The collective external debt of all the governments in the world is now about 52 trillion dollars and this number doesn’t include the massive amount of household debt in each country. How can we owe each other so much money??? Because we think we need it.

We don’t need money
It turns out that it’s not money we need. We cannot eat money, or build houses with them. What we need is resources. Food, clothing, housing, etc. Money is just a hindrance in making the resources available for everyone. Imagine if there was no money. Right now. No money. Everything would still be there, wouldn’t it? The trees, the mountains, the houses, cars, boats, air, grass, snow, rain, sun, animals, birds and bees and the people. Nothing has changed, really. Why? Because money doesn’t really exist. There’s no money in nature. It’s only an agreement between the world’s people, used for thousands of years as a medium for the sale of goods.

It was a means of which people could trade stuff that they all needed. Labour, food, housing, etc. If it wasn’t scarce, there was no need to charge for it. Like water and air. The rulers claimed ownership to land, and thus became the “owners” of this land. They could then charge others for using it and for stuff that was produced there, like it is today. And the property could be sold and inherited in the bloodline. “Banks” became invented, and eventually; loans. And now society has become addicted to it, like a drug. But, like a drug, money is something that we don’t really need, we only think we do.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

The Cardboard Revolution.

We are creating a Permaculture/Forest garden on our ¾ acres of land. Last autumn, I decided I that I was not going be digging the garden from now on (thus preventing CO2 to be released into the atmosphere), and also cut back as much as possible on watering, allowing the different rooting systems of the plants to do that work for themselves, naturally.

 We had a large lawn area in the garden, which I decided I didn’t need any more. So decided to incorporate this area too, into the forest garden. Using large carpets, given to me by a neighbour, as well as coverings of cardboard. I managed to get all of the lawn covered, and what is left of the grass will become meandering paths though the trees

As I write this (late January), the carpeted area is completely clear of all weeds and I will, in a few months time, be able to begin cultivating this added area. All I have to do now is to put a mix of compost and leaf manure over the area, to be ready for cultivation.

I’ve just read about another person’s experience of turning his allotment into an area following permaculture practices. He too used cardboard to clear the weed. Here is his story

How To Make A No-Dig, Weed Free, Water Conserving Garden By John Walker
Article first published in 'Permaculture Magazine' No. 15

Fresh from a trip to Australia and having seen the video 'In Grave Danger of Falling Food - The Permaculture Concept', John Walker found himself severely bitten by the 'Mollison bug'. He began turning a derelict Ipswich allotment into a productive, organic food garden in less than six months.

Here he shares his experiences of getting to grips with a no-dig, permaculture allotment.

Catching The 'Mollison Bug

Watching 'In Grave Danger of Falling Food' had prompted me to think deeply about forests and natural vegetation systems in general, alongside all I'd ever been taught about digging and other forms of soil cultivation. Being a professional horticulturist at heart, I was surprised at how easily, after a traditional education bestowing the virtues of agriculture/horticulture, I warmed to the many lessons permaculture began to teach me. It seemed to make perfect sense, natural vegetation systems don't dig then plant themselves, so why shouldn't our gardens and allotments mimick the successes of Nature? Of course there's bound to come a time when we might need to reach for the spade, but if the means justifies the end, then I'll meet Nature halfway! My whole approach to growing plants was, and still is changing. A revolution in my thinking had begun which is still going strong today.

The Big Cover Up

Once I'd chosen my plot (neglected but not too overgrown - I avoided any with 8ft high brambles), the great cover-up began. Firstly I cleared any rubbish, tough woody waste, and large bricks/stones. I then 'flattened' the whole area, both by using a grass hook, and by simply trampling any weeds flat. Next, I scattered a generous helping of pelleted chicken manure over the entire area, both to encourage breakdown of the soon-to-die weed layer and generally give the soil bacteria a bit of a treat. The next step was the most satisfying - laying the cardboard. Avoiding windy days, I simply laid the sheets out like tiles, overlapping their edges by no less than 6in (15cm). I found that the thicker cardboard was best, and promised maximum weed suppression. The other key factor is to use large sheets, as there's less chance of weeds popping through, and you cover a larger area more quickly. You might think that what I did next was in some sense 'cheating', but I felt it was vital that the cardboard layer should be weighed down in some way, to keep it firmly in place, especially with an established layer of weeds lurking below.

After weighing up all the options, I decided to treat myself to some mushroom compost, supplied rather fortuitously by a local organic mushroom farm. I've received a fair bit of criticism for this, ranging from the 'how can I afford to do that' argument to 'what about the fossil fuel used to get it there?'. These are very good points, but the best advice I can give, is to do what you know you can easily achieve and afford; use garden compost, leaf mould, well-rotted manure, even topsoil if you can get it.
This season I'm using manure, and I don't mind paying a few quid for it.

I spread the mushroom compost out in a layer 4in (10cm) deep over the top of the cardboard, then soaked it thoroughly. This also moistened the cardboard, which started going mouldy after just a few days. A year later there's hardly a trace of cardboard left, just a crumbly surface enriched with the mushroom compost that's gradually being incorporated by the worms.

My final act in the cover-up was to cover the whole area with a 6in (15cm) deep layer of straw, to act as a water-saving, attractive and weed-blocking mulch, and this too was given a good soaking to keep it in place.

It was around this time that I was first asked, 'When are the donkeys arriving?'. To my fellow allotment holders, the layer of fresh straw meant one of two things; either I was about to set up a donkey sanctuary (complete with free rides for the kids), or I had gone into commercial mushroom production.

Seed Setbacks
After allowing a few weeks for everything to 'settle in', it was time to start sowing and planting, and at this point my cardboard revolution suffered its first big setback; the layer of mushroom compost was just too wet, and the cardboard still too intact. My makeshift solution was make a slit through the cardboard, down into the soil below, and then mix the soil with the mushroom compost, sowing the seeds onto this. Smaller seeds posed more of a problem than say peas or beans, and I still found that germination was very poor in places, which I put down to both less than ideal conditions, and various 'damping off' fungi which I suspect were lurking in the mushroom compost (where else!). Later in the season, and after some experimentation, I found that the best results were achieved by taking out a 'slit' in the mushroom compost, filling the base with fine, crumbly soil, sowing the seed, then covering with more fine soil.

On reflection, if I were repeating the same exercise I would leave an area free of the cardboard 'treatment' for the first season, even if it needed digging (a little compromise won't hurt at this stage) as some clear ground is essential for crops like carrots, parsnips and most with small seeds, and certainly any that cannot be raised elsewhere and transplanted into mulched areas. A year after starting all you need to do is draw back the straw layer (which itself is breaking down nicely), level the soil and sow as usual. The straw can be put back just as soon as the young plants have some decent-sized foliage.

The Insulation Effect

Planting ready-grown transplants straight through the straw/mushroom compost/cardboard layer posed few problems, and this is definitely the technique to go for when you start from scratch. All you need to do is draw back the straw, part the mushroom compost, make a hole in the cardboard, break up the soil below, work the young plants' roots well in, and water. I did all this, but nothing happened. The plants sat there quite happily, but that's all they did, and I was very puzzled, until it dawned on me just what was happening. The straw layer (which covered the entire area), was acting as an 'insulating' layer, preventing the suns rays from hitting the dark soil, so stopping it from warming up. Growth did eventually take off, but only when actual air temperatures rose noticeably. This season I drew the straw back off the beds in early spring to let the sun do its job, then got it back on again as plants developed, but before any serious drying from the surface started to take place.

Weed Wars

As you would expect, virtually no annual weeds came through the cardboard layer, instead they lay rotting and dying below, making a valuable contribution to the organic matter in the soil, their breakdown aided by the super-charged pelleted chicken manure scattered months before. But three weeds in particular made it through; creeping thistle (pull out with as much root as possible), docks (loosen with a fork and ease out the deep tap root), and hedge bindweed - the one with the big white flowers that smother hedges (and garden plants) in summer, which proved the biggest challenge. It's vigorous underground stems go off in all directions in search of light, looking for the tiniest flaw in your cardboard layer. The solution? Diligence, patience and that smug feeling when you manage to extract a 4ft (1.2m) long runner, and trace it back to its point of origin!

Couch grass also rose to the challenge, but a double-thickness of cardboard, from experience, should see it off. Through the season the straw layer developed its own community, and was the stage for many unseen battles; spiders loved it, slugs loved it, beetles adored it (mostly the beneficial kinds) and birds loved to peck about in it! This latter activity might not give you the neatest of beds, but I'm sure that whatever the birds were after, they certainly found them.

The heat Of The Day

Suffolk, and especially Ipswich, which seemed to be able to dodge even the passing shower, was exceptionally dry last summer. Although in the heat of the day my crops flagged just like everyone else's, they generally had a much better 'look' to them, and recovered from the midday heat much quicker. The straw mulch of course played a great part; by reducing surface evaporation moisture loss was greatly reduced, and it also prevented the soil from getting overheated (the straw's insulating properties now having a positive effect), keeping the roots cooler. When I did water, I pulled the straw back first, soaked the soil around the plants, then fitted it back around the stems.A Real Revolution?I really believe that the 'cardboard revolution' could be the start of something big on Britain's allotment fields. It's here that so much enthusiasm is so easily quashed by the sight of overgrown plots, brambles and a waving sea of weeds. But it doesn't have to be that way. Using cardboard (I find plenty in those big skips behind electrical superstores), some kind of organic material, and a mulch like straw, you really can convert a bare, unproductive plot into a vibrant, healthy no-dig food garden in one growing season. The best bit is that people will come and talk to you about it, and perhaps some of them will try it for themselves.John Walker is a freelance writer with an interest in permaculture and other environmentally-friendly gardening matters, and would like to hear from fellow no-diggers on their experiences.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Food, but not what your grannie would have eaten!

That supermarkets are such a bad thing for society in general, is a fact that really cannot be disputed. That they offer the customer very cheap food as well as the convenience of being able to do all of their shopping under one roof, is of little comfort when weighed against the many negative and potentially harmful consequences of their existence.

Supermarkets are of course businesses within a capitalist system, their bottom line is always profit. Despite their pronouncements that they are the customer’s friend, their only real concern is and has always been the accumulation of profit.

Here are just a few reasons why supermarkets, in their present form are an overwhelmingly negative drain on society.

1. The goods they sell as goods are would not have been recognised as fir for consumption as little as 30 years ago. Most of the products sold as food in these warehouses is noting more than industrial processed food like products

2. Much of this so-called food has been adulterated to make it easy to last. It is full of additives of every description, from stabilisers and emulsifiers to preservatives and colourings. Not to mention the growth hormones that are fed to animals to make them larger. To give the food longer shelf life, the produce has to be pumped full of additives.

3. Supermarkets are busy expanding all over the country, in the process destroying local communities. Every time one of these bemanoths moves into a local community, sees the death of small local shops, many of which have served the local community for years. For every pound that is spent in a supermarket only 20p (in wages), stays within the local area. Whereas for every pound spent in a local store, £1.36 is generated within the local economy

4. Supermarkets are only able to achieve such low prices by economy of scale, by having such large infra structures that enable them to service their stores in every part of the country. Consequently they are dependent upon oil to fuel their vast company of trucks, a commodity that is a main component of global warming. Local shops, by sourcing most of their products within their immediate area don’t need to consume such massive amounts of non-renewable energy in transportation so their CO2 outlet is fairly small in comparison.

Another way supermarkets can keep their prices so low, is by under paying their producers. Tesco give the highest price to milk producers, but they only pay 24p a litre, whereas the average small daily farmer needs at least 29 p a litre to break even. The consequence of this greed is that many small producers and farmers are forced out of business, unless they can find alternative markets to the supermarkets.

5. Supermarkets demand that their producers only supply them with the produce that looks 100%. This means that farmers have to throw away many more times the amount of produce then is actually sent to the stores. A carrot that is a little wobbly, or an apple that has a slight discolouring will be rejected by the supermarket buyers. Consequently, Britain throws away vast amounts of perfectly edible food. This is just unacceptable. But still the awful practice continues.

It’s a common fallacy that people with low levels of income have little choice then to shop at these supermarkets. My partner and myself have an income level considered to be under the poverty level. Yet we buy most of our food from local sources, and only eat organically. We do grow a lot of our own produce too yes, but still have to buy in a range if items. We make a choice though, we don’t need I players of plasma screen TV’s. 

Friday, 21 January 2011

The lessons from nature

 (You have to wait for about 35 seconds for the film to appear)

This is a documentary about one of the pioneers of permaculture. Sepp Holzer, an Austrian mountainside permaculturalist, from before the term was invented, Together with his wife Veronica, he has created a living example of the possibilities that this way of tending the soil can contribute to us, and is a positive riposte to the outmoded and destructive methods of modern intensive farming. it shows the benefits of working with nature instead of trying to destroy it. 

The Holzers and their farm the Kramaterhof, became well known only after publicity in 2000. Sepp Holzer narrates the history of synergistic ideas that have made his farm a high production combination of agroforestry, aquaculture, terraces and raised beds, water heat exchange, self-produced electricity, pig raising, and fish farming without toxic pesticides, herbicides, or having to buy additional foods to feed the pigs and fish. The Kramaterhof farm is more biodiverse than his surrounding "pine tree desert" landscape and it generates its own Mediterranean microclimate through ingenious techniques--despite being 1500 meters up in the Austrian Tyrol.

The Tyrol, with some of the finest skiing in Europe, under Sepp's care can grow lemons and kiwis. The film and his discussion provide a treasure trove of abstract techniques you can use. Learn how to integrate these techniques based on his 40 years of experimental expansion across 45 acres. He has turned marginal, erosion-prone mountain lands with poor, acidic soils into a stable Eden on Earth with rich soils, high biodiversity, and high productivity. This is done without irrigation, without expensive pesticides and herbicides, and without any imported fish, cattle, or pig feed. Instead it utilizes well chosen ecological cycles to expand production naturally. Sustainability and high productivity are elegantly conjoined.

For more infomation about the work of Sepp Holzer, visit his site:

Pesticides threaten bees

A new generation of pesticides is making honeybees far more susceptible to disease, even at tiny doses, and may be a clue to the mysterious colony collapse disorder that has devastated bees across the world, the US government's leading bee researcher has found. Yet the discovery has remained unpublished for nearly two years since it was made by the US Department of Agriculture's Bee Research Laboratory.
The release of such a finding from the American government's own bee lab would put a major question mark over the use of neonicotinoid insecticides – relatively new compounds which mimic the insect-killing properties of nicotine, and which are increasingly used on crops in the US, Britain and around the world.

Bayer, the German chemicals giant which developed the insecticides and makes most of them, insists that they are safe for bees if used properly, but they have already been widely linked to bee mortality. The US findings raise questions about the substance used in the bee lab's experiment, imidacloprid, which was Bayer's top-selling insecticide in 2009, earning the company £510m. The worry is that neonicotinoids, which are neurotoxins – that is, they attack the central nervous system – are also "systemic", meaning they are taken up into every part of the plant which is treated with them, including the pollen and nectar. This means that bees and other pollinating insects can absorb them and carry them back to their hives or nests – even if they are not the insecticide's target species.

In Britain, more than 1.4 million acres were treated with the chemical in 2008, as part of total neonicotinoid use of more than 2.5 million acres – about a quarter of Britain's arable cropland.
The American study, led by Dr Jeffrey Pettis, research leader at the US government bee lab in Beltsville, Maryland, has demonstrated that the insects' vulnerability to infection is increased by the presence of imidacloprid, even at the most microscopic doses. Dr Pettis and his team found that increased disease infection happened even when the levels of the insecticide were so tiny that they could not subsequently be detected in the bees, although the researchers knew that they had been dosed with it.

Dr Pettis told The Independent his research had now been put forward for publication. "[It] was completed almost two years ago but it has been too long in getting out," he said. "I have submitted my manuscript to a new journal but cannot give a publication date or share more of this with you at this time."

However, it is known about, because Dr Pettis and a member of his team, Dennis van Engelsdorp, of Penn State University – both leaders in research focusing on colony collapse disorder (CCD) – have spoken about it at some length in a film about bee deaths which has been shown widely in Europe, but not yet in Britain or the US – although it has been seen by The Independent.

In The Strange Disappearance of The Bees, made by the American film-maker Mark Daniels, Pettis and van Engelsdorp reveal that they exposed two groups of bees to the well-known bee disease nosema. One of the groups was also fed tiny doses of imidacloprid. There was a higher uptake of infection in the bees fed the insecticide, even though it could not subsequently be detected, which raises the possibility that such a phenomenon occurring in the wild might be simply undetectable.

Although the US study remains unpublished, it has been almost exactly replicated by French researchers at the National Institute for Agricultural Research in Avignon. They published their study in the journal Environmental Microbiology and said: "We demonstrated that the interaction between nosema and a neonicotinoid (imidacloprid) significantly weakened honeybees."
Neonicotinoids have attracted growing controversy since their introduction by Bayer in the 1990s, and have been blamed by some beekeepers and environmental campaigners as a potential cause of CCD, first observed in the US in 2006, in which billions of worker bees abruptly disappear from their hives.

Between 20 and 40 per cent of American hives have been affected, and CCD has since been observed in several other countries from France to Taiwan, though it has not yet been detected in Britain. Although Bayer insists its products are bee-safe, French and German beekeepers have blamed them for large bee losses. Neonicotinoids have been banned, to different degrees, in France, Germany, Italy and Slovenia, although they are freely sold and widely used in the US and Britain.

In the UK, the Co-op has banned them from farms from which it sources vegetables, but the Government has rejected appeals from beekeepers and environmentalists for their use to be suspended as a precaution. This week, however, an Early-Day Motion was tabled in the Commons by Martin Paton, the Labour MP for Gower, calling again for the Government to suspend use of the compounds following major new controversy in the US surrounding Bayer's latest neonicotinoid – clothianidin – which is increasingly being used in Britain. In November, a leaked internal document from the US Environmental Protection Agency showed that it was continuing to license clothianidin, even though its own scientists reported that the tests Bayer carried out to show the compound was safe were invalid.

Leading the calls for neonicotinoids to be banned in the Britain is Buglife, the invertebrate conservation charity, which last year published a review of all the research done on the chemicals' impact on "non-target" insects such as honeybees and other pollinators.
Yesterday the Buglife director, Matt Shardlow, said of the Pettis study: "This new research from America confirms that at very, very low concentrations neonicotinoid chemicals can make a honeybee vulnerable to fatal disease. If these pesticides are causing large numbers of honeybees, bumblebees, solitary bees, hoverflies and moths to get sick and die from diseases they would otherwise have survived, then neonicotinoid chemicals could be the main cause of both colony collapse disorder and the loss of wild pollinator populations. "The weight of evidence against neonicotinoids is becoming irresistible – Government should act now to ban the risky uses of these toxins."

Bayer insists its neonicotinoids are safe for bees when used properly. Dr Julian Little, a spokesman for Bayer CropScience UK, said it was difficult for it to comment on an unpublished study. "It makes it impossible to look at their methods, it makes it impossible to check whether you can repeat the work, you don't know where they got the imidacloprid from, you don't know how they gave that to the bees," he said. But he added: "I'm sure there are some very interesting effects Dr Pettis has seen in a laboratory, but in reality, when you get to what's important to everybody, which is what happens in the field, you don't see these things happening. Bees are very, very important insects to Bayer CropScience and we recognise their importance."

From the Independent newspaper

Thursday, 13 January 2011

No weeding required: The Forest Garden

 We’re slowly adapting our piece of land to forest garden principles, something I would have done years ago if I had been aware of the technique and just how suited it is for gardens.
I came across the idea originally in the pages of Permaculture Magazine, about a couple, who own a 7 hectare plot of land in Portugal, who have converted the space into a Forest Garden. I’ve come across the term ‘forest garden before,’ but never considered using its principles in my own, very large garden. But now I’m converted, and feel that this really will be the way many of us will use our spaces in the future. For this method of gardening, or non gardening, involves no weeding, watering, digging or feeding, and it can be left to look after itself for weeks, even months, on end. What’s more, It's organic, wildlife-friendly, disease resistant, it massively reduces your weekly food bill and brings  foraging to your doorstep.

Forest Gardening was introdiced into this country by the late Robertt Hart, in Shropshire in the 1960s. He wanted to create a healthy and therapeutic environment both for himself and for his brother, who was born with severe learning disabilities. He became interested in growing for medicinal purposes and he developed the concept of a forest garden, through observing the interactions and relationships between plants in natural systems, particularly in woodland. He set about rearranging his own garden on forest principles with edible layers of self-sustaining perennials that would provide food, fuel and medicines, as well as support wildlife. His philosophy was recorded in two books, ‘The Forest Garden,’ and ‘Beyond the Forest Garden,’ (Green Books),

A key feature of this type of gardening is companion planting, where you where plants are of mutual benefit to each other, just one of the many examples of companion planting is the ‘Three Sisters’ method, pioneered by some Native American groups in North America. Squash, maize, and climbing beans are planted together, and they work together: the beans grow up the stalks of corn, and add nitrogen to the soil that the other plants need in order to grow, while the squash spreads along the ground, which helps prevent weeds from growing and acts as a mulch for the other plants.

Unlike most gardens with their clipped hedges, manicured lawns and neat borders, a forest garden, mimics nature, in that everything is mixed up; fruit bushes grown next to herbs, and trees are intermingled with flowers, Just like a natural woodland! The sheer variety of plants available to use is mind boggling too. The main distinctive feature though of this way of cultivating the earth is that everything you plant is either edible or beneficial to wildlife and if for no other reason that should be reason enough for forest gardening to become the main way of gardening in the future. You don’t need a massive amount of garden either; a tiny strip in the centre of the city, or even a couple of window containers will be enough. The main thing to remember and this was another reason for my conversion, is that, once you have got the space up and running, no other work is involved, apart from harvesting!

Forest gardening is centered around differing layers or canopies; a first layer of fruit trees is followed by a lower layer of smaller nut and fruit trees on dwarfing root stocks. A third layer of consists of fruit bushes, then an  ‘herbaceous layer’ of perennial vegetables and herbs. The fifth layer of edible plants covers the ‘ground and finally with a ‘rhizosphere’ or ‘underground’ dimension of plants grown for their roots and tubers. With a vertical layer of vines and climbers climbing up the higher layers. 

You know, the more I delve into this method, the more I am amazed!  Plant disease is cured, because you use companion planting, no watering is needed, because of the natural mulching and, s all of the plants are perennials, and the taller trees keep the smaller plants moistened too. Never again will I grow cabbages and onions, I’ll use wild varieties like Welsh onions, 9 star Brassica and Wild garlic. We’ll eat delicious salad mixes of Lambs lettuce, Sorrel and Wild Rocket. I’ll grow Soapwort too, as an alternative to soap. Herbs will be used both in cooking and as medicinal remedies.  And, all of the plants will be perennials

Having just undergone weeks of scorching heart, where most of my time was spent watering, feeding and weeding, I count my blessing that I’ve ‘discovered,’ forest gardening. From now on, I’ll be able to sit under the canopies, a cup of tea in hand, enjoying the wildlife visitors and look back on those dark days of the past with a deep sense of gratitude that now life will be more simple!   

We already have a range of established fruiting bushes and a few fruit trees already and we aren’t in a rush to change the rest of our garden, we can’t afford to splash out on a whole load of trees and shrubs all in one go, so we will build up slowly

Here are some useful links:     

A short video where Robert Hart talks introduces the main principles of Forest gardening:

Plants can be ordered from these two specialised Forest Garden Suppliers:

The Agro Forestry Research Trust:
Plants for a Future: