Monthly Archives: July 2014

World Food Security And Growing Your Own

 

Sprouted Beans. Ready in days, tasty cheap and easy. Just add water!

Sprouted Beans. Ready in days, tasty cheap and easy. Just add water!

The global population is estimated to reach between 8.3 and 10.9 billion people by 2050. Food security is a major worry for the world’s leaders. It is now known that the millions of people growing their own food throughout the world already play a big part in providing food that eases the food security issue, The more of us that can grow our own, on our own land, the more we can reduce the pressure on land and resources elsewhere. The ratio of energy needed to produce food and the energy this food actually produces has increased negatively too, because of fuel used to produce the food and transport it, and the use of fertilizers. That’s another improvement when it’s grown in your own place (garden or pot) as there are NO fuel costs beyond buying the seed initially. No airmiles, no artificial fertilisers and no petrol or diesel to get to the shops, and YOU save energy not going shopping, carrying the food and throwing away the wrapping.

Surely then we should all be doing our utmost to grow what we can, for the sake of our planet and our children. We are learning to re-use items otherwise destined for landfill, to reduce pressure there, but this, our food, is so important that we need to do what we can. It’s so simple! Anyone could grow beansprouts or lettuce leaves on the windowsill. There are only benefits to growing your own. No trip to the shops, much cheaper food and no air miles. Food is as fresh as it can be, loaded with good nutrients that haven’t had time to deteriorate and tastes marvellous. It also costs you a lot less than that lettuce wrapped in a plastic bag and refrigerated to stop it wilting. Convinced yet?

You don’t have to have a huge plot and grow potatoes to make a difference. As one supermarket chain keeps re-iterating, every little helps, especially if we ALL do a little. Beansprouts of various kinds, salad leaves and even beetroot can be grown in pots and containers. Spring onions, chives, herbs and even tomatoes can be grown easily, cheaply and need only a little TLC for success.

Have you tried? So many people have said to me they kill things. They can’t grow things. Keeping plants alive is just a matter of giving the plant what it needs, and that’s a fairly simple matter to understand. They need something to grow in (compost) some food (compost then liquid feed), light and warmth. Then they need water. But they, like us, drown in too much of the stuff. There you have it. Simple. The internet abounds with specialist techniques for growing various things, and if you’re that interested you can follow them, as I do sometimes. But I’m passionate about gardening. You don’t have to be to grow basic stuff and get good results.

Try this. Take one tablespoon of mung beans or whole lentils. Place in a large jar, cover the end with old tights or a bit of muslin. Fill the jar with water. Empty. Leave on windowsill  but not in strong sunlight. Repeat rinsing twice a day and eat within the week. Simple!

Come back and see me again. I’ll give some basic hints and tips, tell you what I’ve done and what works and doesn’t work for me. Have a try. It’s very satisfying to pick and eat something you’ve tended, however nervously.

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Butterflies, Bees, Birds And The Big Butterfly Count 2014

 

Peacock Butterfly

Peacock Butterfly

Today has been exceptional. Walking back up the garden having sown more radish and beetroot, I disturbed the butterflies feeding. They swarmed in front of my eyes. Such a delightful sight! Most of them were peacocks, but I have spotted today small coppers, a common blue, red admirals and large and small cabbage whites.

Peacock Butterflies dance

Peacock Butterflies dance

That’s just the butterflies. I noticed a couple of years ago when visiting Geoff Hamilton’s garden at Barnsdale Gardens that the marjoram had more bees on it than anything else. As this herb is one I make a lot of use of, I resolved to ensure at least one big clump adorned one of my borders. I have one marjoram and one oregano clump right nest to each other. This has paid huge dividends. Not only do I have plenty for my antifungal, antibacterial tea, but I have many, many bees of many types. Now, I’m no bee expert, but I saw working honey bees, buff tailed bumble bees, leaf cutter bees, white tailed bumble bees and lots of others. Hoverflies dodged their way around them, all feeding and buzzing to my delight. The maxim I keep repeating, ‘build it (or grow it) and they will come’ actually does pay off.

Bee On Marjoram - One Of Hundreds Today

Bee On Marjoram – One Of Hundreds Today

There’s a big event happening. I’ll be getting involved myself. This is a cause that really matters. One third of our food needs pollination by insects, mostly bees. Peaches, runner beans, apples, pears, you name it, bees do the job for us. The Big Butterfly Count 1014 takes place from 19th July (so it’s happening folks) until Sunday, 10th August. Right now, you can help conservation by giving the scientists the information they need. Here’s the link to get you started. 

Bee On Dahlia

Bee On Dahlia

And you can plant marjoram, simple single flowers like these dahlias, Buddleja davidii to help our insect population. Our gardens are hugely important. They cover so much of our land that we can save these insects from their demise if we try. Sorry to rant, but they need our help and it’s such a simple, easy thing to do. Grow simple flowers! Grow herbs. Will you?

Oh, I’ve had to come back and edit this post. My memory is tragically bad. I mentioned birds, didn’t I, in my title? That was to remind you. They need water. If you don’t have a pond, please put out a dish of water or a bird bath. They need to drink and bathe. Many have visited my bird bath today. They’re lovely to watch, so don’t miss out.

Aubergine Triumph!

 

Aubergine Flower

Aubergine Flower

I was nineteen when I got my first garden and attempted to grow my own tomatoes. I had a plant sitting by my newly purchased back door, before I’d even had the chance to garden. My dad was envious, as my tomatoes in a pot, with yellow leaves and restricted growth yielded more tomatoes than his cosseted greenhouse plants. Forty years on, I have a large garden and a bit more ambition. So as I have a greenhouse big enough I decided to try aubergines this year, and wow, I’m so pleased. Fruits are forming! The flowers are beautiful and the fruits curious and exciting. There’s always something new to learn and try with gardening. Always something exciting happening. They seem to have done well with regular potting on in good compost and fed about fortnightly since the flowers started to form.

Aubergine Forming

Aubergine Forming

The strawberries are about finished now and I’m going to root some runners. Some for me and some to give to friends. Figs are swelling and I’ve cut back its growth. It is going mad, as it’s planted in the ground and has too big a root run. I inherited it, so I’m going to give its roots a prune come autumn, to hopefully restrict its growth a bit next year, otherwise this triffid will take over!

On the vegetable bed, we’re still eating new potatoes, yielding about 1k per plant. We’re also eating turnips, khol rabi, French beans, runner beans, lettuce and swiss chard. It’s brilliant! I’m so pleased with progress. It’s very satisfying to have at least half of your dinner plate filled with home grown, fresh, vitamin loaded produce. Flavour and health combined with satisfaction. Great for the digestion! I just need to produce more soft fruit now.

Where potatoes have come out, broccoli is going in. The ground has to be stomped on to firm it for them, but it’s best use of the space, and will give us a late autumn/winter crop to look forward to.

Tah Dah! Aubergine definitely growing bigger!

Tah Dah! Aubergine definitely growing bigger!

Today I’m taking cuttings of perennials, to increase stock. I’ve bought quite a few new ones this year, with the intention of bulking them out to make a better display next year. Gardening is all about patience. It has its rewards. It’s so satisfying to see the fruits of your labours and plans, even if you have to wait a year for the results. It’s also worth taking cuttings to ensure I have replacements should any die off during the winter.

I have a holiday planned. A road trip to catch up with old friends. I’ll have to leave my partner in charge of the garden and greenhouse, but I think he’ll cope. As long as I leave a set of instructions and phone regularly, I should come home to a living garden!

Great Crested Newts Welcome Here

Great Crested Newt. Once Common, Now Endangered.

Great Crested Newt. Once Common, Now Endangered.

Well, I was chatting to my neighbour. Comparing gardens, I told him of my plans to install a wildlife pond this autumn. Guess what? When he had a wildlife style pond he had great crested newts! So they are in the area. This may well be the best case of ‘build it and they will come’ I’ll have had so far. I certainly will build it. Of course the advantages of ponds are well known. Not only will I have a chance to help an endangered species, but all the other wildlife a pond will inevitably attract is going to increase the biodiversity of my garden and many others.

As a child brought up in the north of England, before the days of Elf and safety, I played in the mill ponds that serviced the cotton industry. The mills, ponds and industry have gone, and so have the great crested newts that were then common and we played with. The ponds were steep-sided concrete affairs, but the newts didn’t seem to mind. Now they rely on us to make homes for them and leave them be to reproduce and hopefully recover their numbers. This is just as well. Our local council have approved planning permission for houses to be built on green fields behind us, and the farmer who owned them is quite happy to take the money and run.

So anything I can do to make homes for the creatures that will be displaced can only help. We have a hedgehog house, a bat box, five nest boxes (and will install more) a log pile, long grass, wild flowers and a huge nectar bar in the form of my borders. They will get bigger as I continue to expand them and shrink the amount of lawn. I say lawn, it’s more like rough grass, and not my top priority. I’ve planted lots of climbers around the fencing, where native hedgerow isn’t. In the hedgerow, I’ve added more honeysuckle, and pushed in native flowering plants, hoping they’ll cope and get on with it. So far I’ve had success with one or two vetches, and leave bits of nettle, but don’t really need to. There’s lots of it around where we live, so I don’t have to get stung every time I’m tending the garden.

I love this lifestyle. Food on the table and wildlife in the garden.It’s quite easy, this environmentally friendly gardening, once you know how. Much more relaxed than the old stiff, prune it to death style of gardening that saw every blade of grass regimentally organised and every flower standing to attention, bare soil in between. Give me abundance and flowers, insects and animals very time.

How about you?

 

 

Finally! The Butterflies Arrive to Feast Among the Bees

I’ve had the odd meadow brown, the odd cabbage white (not quite so welcome) and a couple of small tortoishells, and have scanned the borders every day to see what would come to feed. In my last post I shared my frustration at planting so many nectar flowers this year, using the maxim ‘build it and they will come’, but they didn’t. However, today, TWO peackock butterflies inside five minutes turned up on my flowers. Hooray! Numbers this year must be way down, though, for me not to have at least the buddleia covered in the different species we normally see.

verbena bonariensis

verbena bonariensis

The bees, however, are intriguing. I’ve seen new (to me) species of bees I can’t identify, and have a leaf cutter bee nesting in a trough on the patio. Even honey bees are in evidence. The bergamot, calendulas, cosmos and sedums and of course verbena bonariensis seem to be bring them in. We also have plenty of hoverflies and other insects, so hopefully the butterflies that are around will feed and breed, raising numbers for next year. Moths also seem to be coming in, judging by what I can see when sat out in the dark with only background lighting from the conservatory. Something’s working then.

I can also now list frogs, toads, lots of birds species and a visiting hedgehog, so slug numbers are way down on previous years, and I actually get to eat my lettuce! Just wait until I get my pond in there. Damselflies, dragonflies and newts may join us. One of my friends has grass snakes. I wish! There is a woodpile and compost bins at the end of the garden, so you never know.

Watch this space!

Summer Rewards The Work Of Spring and Butterflies Where Are You?

Buddleia for the butterflies

Buddleia for the butterflies

Spring is hard work in the garden. Digging, weeding, the preparation of vegetable beds and the propagation of flowers for those bees, birds, butterflies and other pollinating insects.

Summer brings the rewards, as well as the maintenance jobs and late summer sowings.

We’re now eating lettuce, khol rabi, turnip, a bumper crop of new potatoes, strawberries, beans (runner and French) radish and leaf beet. Tomatoes are delicious and aubergines are forming in the greenhouse. Delightful! I’m now a little frustrated, as I tripped and fell flat on my face on a hard wooden floor a couple of days ago, and muscles and bruising now have to be rested and nursed better. So how I’m going to remove the foxgloves, dead head the ladies mantle and other plants that will seed everywhere I don’t know. I also want to sow more beetroot and spring onions. Despite all the stuff that seems to be growing well, spring onions aren’t. I don’t know why I’m having such trouble with them, as they are normally easy to grow, but this year I’m having to buy them in. Very few have germinated and grown. Maybe I need to change to another seed supplier for them, or grow them in a different spot.

Wow, just went out to get some veg for lunch and realised what a great crop of Dwarf French beans we have. I’ve grown the climbing variety before but didn’t have room for the dwarf ones. They’re quite prolific and will definitely be on next year’s grow list, as they’re my partners favourite! Some you lose, but others you win. I’ve already got a small later crop sown in a container, so we should have even more to come.

Using Painted Lady runner beans seems to have helped keep the pigeons at bay, too, so my runner crop has set much better than last year, with less nipped off pods. I’m glad pigeons aren’t more intelligent! Now the beans just need a little time to develop. They are MY favourite! I could eat a plateful at a time.

Cosmos for the Butterflies

Cosmos for the Butterflies

The rest of the garden is great at the moment, with lots of flowers chosen to attract the insects, especially butterflies. So where are they? I have cosmos, buddleia, sedums and different daisies in flower now, but very few visiting butterflies. Even the verbena bonariensis has only attracted the odd small tortoishell. Disappointing and worrying. Are numbers really that low? Bees are here. I’ve even spotted a leaf cutter bee nesting in one of my alpine troughs, and I think is what is carving up my dahlia leaves,  and hoverflies are here too. So please come, butterflies. There’s a whole snack bar waiting for you!

Pallet Planter For ME

Pallet Planter For ME

Our experiment with a pallet planters is a resounding success. We made one into a wall planter for alpine strawberries (better than opal fruits for a burst of flavour) and the other into a free standing planter for my precious flowers, mainly fuchsias. That stands against a fence which was bare and boring before, but not now. Re-cycling at its best!

 

Grow Your Own and Other Progress

It’s all go here. Health up and down, but I’m half way through decorating my hall, stairs and landing, and want to finish the job desperately as it’s been ongoing since March. So I’m juggling getting the garden planted, growing the vegetables, decorating and the usual household jobs. That should keep me out of trouble! When I’ll find time to do my macro photography and iStock (a way to keep the wolf from the door) I don’t know, but I need to.

We’ve had two batches of baby blue tits from one nest box this year. The pair started early, in March, and as soon as one brood fledged, they laid another batch of eggs that fledged on Friday, 31st May. One flew straight onto my patio table and past Daisy (my staffie’s) mouth. Luckily she missed it! It landed in front of me and we met eye to eye before it flew to safety on my conservatory roof, mum fast on its heels with food. It was a wonderful experience to be so close to a wild baby bird.

We have five nest boxes, and I don’t think the other four were occupied, but I’ll leave it for a week or two before checking, just in case. It may be that they need moving, though we tried to put them in my native hedge in the right kinds of spots.

I went shopping this morning. I did NOT go out with the intention of buying more plants, I promise,  but guess what? Yep, four more new ones. A Sedum kamtschaticum variagatum, an agapanthus (one of my favourite South African plants) and a new one to me, lithodora, with the most exquisite blue coloured flowers. The last is another penstemon. That’s a violet colour. Penstemons seem to like it here, the slugs leave them alone and the one I planted last year is in full flower and looks fabulous right now. So another will enhance my borders next year when it’s filled out.

My tomatoes are doing well, too. The first flowers have set, are swelling and I eagerly await eating them instead of the shop-bought, tasteless, vitamin denuded supermarket offerings. I’ve just noticed whitefly on the aubergines, so I’ll be using and little soap and water in a spray to ‘drown’ them before  I have an epidemic on my hands. If that’s done in the evening, the bees and butterflies will be in bed and this method is non-toxic. But the first flowers have opened, so I should have fruit soon.

Last night I rootled around my potato crop, just in case they were ready. They so ARE! Plump, unmarked, perfectly formed Charlottes. I used seaweed meal, chicken manure pellets and blood fish and bone when preparing the soil, as well as council made soil conditioner and a bit of home-made compost. There was no-where near enough compost as we’ve only started producing enough green matter this year to produce it in any quantity. Anyway, the Charlottes. WOW WOW WOW! Amazing flavour and texture. I just wasn’t expecting the vast difference between mine and shop bought Charlottes. They were VERY creamy and slightly salty, and needed NOTHING added to them to give them flavour. No salt, no butter (I can’t have butter anyway). But they really needed nothing. I’d recommend anyone to find space for new potatoes. You won’t be disappointed.

My first creamy, gorgeous Charlotte potatoes

My first creamy, gorgeous Charlotte potatoes

Further down the veg patch Komatsuna, a Chinese green we haven’t had before is flourishing, as are the lettuce, Khol Rabi and Swiss chard. We love Khol Rabi and it’s £1.20 for one in the supermarkets. It makes sense to grow them as they take up very little space for the money savings. With my restricted diet, I’m always looking for new vegetable and herb flavours. So also in the ground are some Hamburg parsley plants. I’ve never tried it before, so I’ll let you know when we do try it what it’s like.

Lettuce catch cropped beneath the runner beans

Lettuce catch cropped beneath the runner beans

Runner and French beans are busy scrambling up the canes, and I’m looking forward to a good crop. Yum! Meanwhile, the space beneath the canes is planted with lettuce as a cache crop. One inherited food crop I’m so pleased to see doing well this year is my fig. It’s loaded with swelling fruits and they are delicious fresh. I can’t wait! Food glorious food.

My inherited fig

My inherited fig

And for lunch today? Grated raw beetroot, grated raw turnip, new potatoes, lettuce, spring onions, and the only thing that didn’t come out of the garden, some salmon. Oh, and my tomatoes are still green, so I had to use shop-bought. Tasteless!. But the rest? Lovely.

I hope to be able to ‘stay on it’ with this blog, though I can’t ever promise regularity. I’ve lots to tell you about the rest of the garden, flowers and wildlife yet, though, so I hope you return and bring your friends. It’s cool to be able to pass on experience and knowledge. It’s also great to hear from readers, and comments or questions are welcome, so please don’t be shy!