Category Archives: The Bigger Picture

The cupboard was bare…

I’m sure that to almost all reading this self-sufficiency and gardening are subjects close to your heart. It’s something I am always striving towards in any small way I can and am grateful for the opportunity to do so.

Home grown courgettes; possibly the only vegetable that is producing anything in my garden. August 2013

Home grown courgettes; possibly the only vegetable that is producing anything in my garden. August 2013

On Wednesday I found out that ‘the country’s cupboard was bare’ – if all of the harvest grown in Britain was stored and started to be eaten from January 1st we would have run out on Wednesday meaning the UK has to import over a third of the food we need, an increase on the amount of food that we had to import 1991 according to the NFU*

As the NFU has worked out these figures I don’t think it will include freshly picked, home grown, back garden food which shows that even so long after the the original ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign growing your own is still am important part of this Country’s ability to provide for it’s self.

The government last month announced that it is investing 160 million pounds in farming technology to help make Britain a “world leader”. I really hope that some thought has been given to sustainable methods and won’t just be ploughed into GMO’s, pesticides and fossil fuel hungry machines.

* The radio 4 report I heard on this did not give exact figures for the increase just that in 1991 Britain produced 3/4 of it’s own food and that this figure has now fallen to just 62%

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Christmas Day

Christmas Day is an odd one; all that build up and rush for the world to stay still for a single day. Or increasingly not.

The pressure to batten down the hatches and forget the run of the mill whilst having the prefect day with loved ones. All that planning, worry and stress for one day of the easy life.

That day is now done and dusted for another year and the world can return to normal. I am back at work for another week, but very grateful of the few extra days spent with family. It was not a complete day of closed down; I still stopped at a petrol station and filled up whilst taking my sister and her partner to their Christmas dinner and my brother still managed to find somewhere to purchase instant coffee when to his horror the jar was down to the last few mugs worth and that is living out in the sticks.

Today (Boxing Day) I had to visit the supermarket with work, as much for the trip out as the young man I care for cannot stand to stay in, and there is more or less panic buying after the single day of close down; very little bread in the aisle, the fridge containing milk was nearly bare and very few fresh goods were left as we walked through the doors. Beside the empty shelved people were phoning loved ones “there are only a few loaves left, how many do you need?… Well, you can always freeze it” and this was a super store supermarket not the small town ones I am use to.

It makes me stand in wonder at the world and how it turns in a ‘normal persons’ life. The world is now a changing place and I truly believe that others will look back at this behavior as a time of madness, the shops have been (mostly) closed for one day that people have had a years warning of and yet this kind of stock piling is the result. Didn’t everyone eat enough yesterday? I highly doubt these people went without but how would they cope if something went awry?

This is not just a personal flight of fancy either, although I do often long for a return to something more in line with my ideals of how the world should work, it has already happened more than six years ago in Cuba when they were ‘cut off’ and their imports of oil were halved and food imports dropped by 80%, The Power of Community: How Cube Survived Peak Oil was made in 2006 and is amazingly hopeful watching if there is time for a little bit of insightful watching during the remaining festive period

Wild boar

22nd May 2012

22nd May 2012

Wild boar made a come back in Britain the 1970s when the farming of them became fashionable after becoming extinct in the country some time around 1300. Wild boar started to become wild again when escapees, or were possibly released, from farms began to live wild again.

Wild boar were one of the many animals who use to live in the Forest of Dean which was once a royal hunting ground, an order for 100 boars and sows was made for a Christmas feast held by the King in 1254 and they have been making a quiet come back here for a few years now with more and more damage from their night-time feeding being the most noticeable sign of their presence; or until this year when their population seems to have exploded and they seem to be everywhere.

I saw my first wild boar a few years ago but have maybe only spotted the odd glimpse of them since, in the past month though they are all over the place and not so shy anymore as more and more people have started to feed them (which unfortunately has encouraged some to have a go at poaching* them also, in most cases without the skills needed either)

22 April 2012

I came across these three sows and about twenty-five piglets on the side of the road one late afternoon. 

22nd April 2012

22nd April 2012

22nd April 2012

And on another night I spotted some really tiny piglets on my way home. I stopped to try to get some photos but they were just to small for my camera to pick up from across the road in the undergrowth. I watched until they disappeared off up the bank with their mothers and them followed some deer a long the track (from the road with a stream in-between us or I think they would have been off much quicker) and eventually realised I was also following a lone boar along the track. I kept following him as the deer disappeared of over the hill until we came to where the road and the forest track met. He stopped to have a roll in the a puddle at the end of the track and then started coming over to the road and where I was standing;

22nd May 2012

And even closer;

22nd May 2012

Before I decided it was time to chase it away and go back to my car… unfortunately it wasn’t very scared of my ‘shhhooo-ings’ and seemed to think my camera was very possible something tastie. He followed me all the way back to my car, at a safe but scary distance behind me stopping every so often when I tried to encourage him to turn round and go the other way, I think he thought I was making a lot of fuss over nothing.

Wild boar are very beautiful creatures with a magical ancient world feel about them but pigs have always been the one animal I am not to keen on and I think at some point in the not to far off future they are going to become more of a risk because they are losing their fear of humans and will soon be only to happy to join us in our back gardens for a cup of tea or a spot of gardening. Our council is starting a weekly food waste collection next month and I don’t think it will take them long to work out the treasures of bin day either.

*I saw this sow and her piglets a few days before she was killed, she was standing in a car park taking sandwiches from people’s hands and had no fear whatsoever and neither did her piglets

Progress

Dandelions reach up for the last of the evening sun as they close - 22nd April 2012

Dandelions reach up for the last of the evening sun as they close – 22nd April 2012

Last year was most definitely one of massive change for me; I moved house, my dad spent months seriously ill mostly in hospital and then died, I was made redundant for the third time from a job I loved and at a time when unemployment for people my age was rising each month and the relationship I had been in all of my adult life ended.

All of these things have completely changed the shape of my life forever and will carry on doing so for years to come I would imagine but it has also been the kick-up-the-bum I needed for me to take stock and decide what is most important to myself and what it is I really want from my life; a little hillside with my very own ‘hobbit hole’.

 This want is something that has been forming for years now but something over the last year has just clicked and made me realise I can make it real  and not just have it as an “if only…In a prefect world” dream.

Summer blooms - 20th August 2011

Summer blooms – 20th August 2011

I am a strong person and one of the things that makes me strong is the connection to the land I have. I feel most alive when I am out in *it*, cleaning out goat sheds, sowing seeds and watching the sky change. It is what I know and understand and when I am away from it I feel trapped and boxed in…

Willow capkins - 21st April 2010

Willow capkins – 21st April 2010

After my last redundancy I made some bad choices; I was so concerned with having a job I didn’t really consider the reason for working and told myself I could make it work. I was wrong and as a result the job/s I have had since November really haven’t been working, most weeks I worked six days a week and my only day off a week was as a result of me putting my foot down and even then that was often pushed with requests to work an extra shift; I am so much more than my job. I know it is possibly a thought that never even crossed others minds but I am a good carer*  because of the me that I am away from work and working six days a week for not enough money doesn’t leave much room for this.

However this has hopefully now changed and a few weeks ago I started a new job which will hopefully give me some sort of balance between work and home life as well as enough income, and so long as I am careful some left over to put into savings towards my hillside. It does of course come with its down sides; a week on week off rota so I shall be away every other week but hopefully these weeks can be used to learn the skills I am going to need e.g. green building and living off grid and maybe even extra time to blog and share what I learn.

Round house - 24th October 2010

Round house – 24th October 2010

Lots of things are going to have to change; the way I garden and allotment, the animals I keep… Thankfully I have my mother and sister who are happy to look after what I already have whilst I am away but thoughts of more chickens or some quail will need to go on hold for the forseeable future. I am going to need to learn and apply more permaculture methods to growing and storing food and I have questions about what to do about seed sowing next spring if I am going to be away. Growing in pots isn’t going to work as well as it did last year but it is all do able and feels like I might just be moving forward at long last.

*and this isn’t just me being big-headed about myself it is what I have been told by both my employers and something I believe when I have seen the way some others work

Three meals that matter

I found this short film being shared around facebook and had to share it here…

Three Meals That Matter (this link takes you to the youtube film)

It makes so many thought-provoking points right from the start and has a very simple way of explaining some of the changes that have happened between people’s relationships to and with food and it’s production

Hand Off Our Forest – Protest Rally

Today there was a rally held in support of the Hands Off Our Forest campaign; over 3000 people joined in a short march through woods, listened to speeches and music, signed petitions and wrote personalised letter in support of the campaign and finished the afternoon off with a fire sculpture by a local artist.

The start of the march - 3rd January 2011

The start of the march - 3rd January 2011

And goes on as far as the eye can see... right back around to the field that the march will finish on - 3rd January 2011

And goes on as far as the eye can see... right back around to the field that the march will finish on - 3rd January 2011

Listening to speeches - 3rd January 2011

Listening to speeches - 3rd January 2011

Still listening even with snow falling all around - 3rd January 2011

Still listening even with snow falling all around - 3rd January 2011

The fire sculpture to finish the afternoon off - 3rd January 2011

The fire sculpture to finish the afternoon off - 3rd January 2011

It was a happy and positive event, a chance to say hello and catch up with people I wouldn’t normally see and the prefect way to highlight and bring attention to the issue and campaign.

Seed saving

Over the past year or so I’ve been more and more interested in where the seeds for the vegetables, and next year flowers, that I want to grow actually come from. And it really isn’t easy to answer questions like where was this grown, how was it grown and will it actually produce anything if I grow it on my wind-swept allotment plot.

Horse chestnut seeds - 21st November 2010

The answer to this is something that I have been developing and refining for a while now, last year I tried to only buy seeds from The Real Seed Company and if I couldn’t then I made sure I found a non-F1 varieties, in fact I think I found The Real Seed Company when searching for a non-F1 variety of sweetcorn so my thoughts and actions about the subject have criss-crossed a little.

My reasons for stopping using F1 varieties was something a long the lines of by growing F1 varieties I wouldn’t be able to save my own seeds and have them grow ‘true’ again, my reasons for buying seeds from The Real Seed Company was that I would be able to save my own seed, with a little work, and had a postcode for where the seeds were grown.

Bobby (french) beans; hopefully the start of next years crop - 19th of November 2010

 I failed to do that ‘little work’ this year and so had set myself up to buy next years seed again. That is until I went to a Seed Saving talk given by Jude and Michel who set up The Seed Savers Network 25 years ago, The Seed Savers Network coordinates a network of seed saving groups across Australia and now works in 20 other countries across the world as well. 

I very stupidly didn’t take any notes like I had planned to but the most important message that I took from the meeting is to just go for it. Seed saving is something that the majority of people no longer feel they have the knowledge or skills to do in this country and that also seems to be spreading now to third world countries too. 

So I am going to stop making excuses as to why I can’t and just go ahead and do something. I have a few beans left at the allotment that were missed and so now hopefully have seeds big enough to grow from next year, I have my lovely squash that I grew this year, a courgette that turned into a marrow that i picked before the first hard frost hit and some squash seeds saved from squash ‘bought’ at the last LETS meeting and there are pages and pages of information and seed packet templates on Google.

And the answer to my excuse about not doing the ‘little work’ so as these seeds grow true again next year; well we all like to try growing new things and so long as it tastes good what does it matter if they are not the same as last year. I may even end up with my very own local variety in a few years time.

Save our public woodland and forests – My Local Campaign

This is a Youtube video put together about the sell off of the woolland outside my gate and where our sheep graze; 

The woods local to me are not the only ones that could be sold off, if you too believe this to be wrong please sign the petition and pass it on to friends and family.

Save our public woodland and forests

The Government is proposing to sell of woodland owned by the  Forestry Commission all over the UK to help clear the deficit. They have said that it is not fair for future generations to be paying it off but personally I would like to keep our public woodland and help pay off the deficit;

The government wants to sell off more than half of our national forests to private firms. This could mean ancient woodlands are chopped down and ruined. Wildlife would have to make way for Centre Parcs style holiday villages, golf courses and commercial logging.

We need to stop these plans. Ancient forests like The Forest of Dean and Sherwood Forest are national treasures – once they are gone, they will be lost forever.”

If you too believe this to be wrong please sign the online petition HERE and pass it on to as many friends and family as possible

 

A visit to Garden Organic’s Ryton Gardens

Well, last week I went and visited the Eden Project which was amazing and I will post more about soon but first I thought I should write about my visit to Garden Organic’s Ryton Gardens earlier last month.      

The glasshouse in "Vegetable Way" - 11th of September 2010

I went with middle-younger-sister when they were open to the public for free as part of Heritage Open Days and we both agreed that we were glad we hadn’t paid to get in which sounds like a very negative way to start as we did enjoy the day.      

The Biodynamic Garden - 11th of September 2010

The site is split into lots of different garden areas my favourite being the Biodynamic Garden, it is their newest garden and already they are seeing a difference in the crop yields from it. The garden is enclosed with a wall that looks like it could be made of straw bales which makes it feel warmer than the other areas, not that it was a cold day.      

I have known about Biodynamics for a little while now but not really understand what it was until mother had it explained to her on a course “Biodynamics is about waking the soil up and reminding it to look after itself” was a very simple description that has clicked with both of us and we have since been out and bought a ‘Biodynamic Preparation‘ for the garden and I think I will (again) try to stick to a moon sowing and planting calendar for next year – but this time using a biodynamic one.    

'All Muck & Magic' TV Garden - 11th September 2010

The other garden that I like was called the ‘All Muck & Magic’ TV Garden. It was the first garden that was made on the site and is the size of an average garden in Coventry, which is about half the size of one of my allotment plots!! And I have three of them!    

In spite of this it felt like a nice little space and had everything packed in – vegetables, flowers, a pond, a seating area and even a (very) mini greenhouse. I’m not so sure it would have felt so peaceful if there was someone else’s garden either side and either a road or another garden at the end but I am very used to having plenty of space around me even in a big house full.    

The garden was made as part of a TV series, each week they made a different corner of it and the garden was named after the television series.  

We got there just in time for one of the guided tours and in one of the gardens (I think it was the compost garden) they showed us an experiment they have been running with leaf mould, green manures and a control bed. Each year they have added more leaf mould to the leaf mould bed, green manure to the green manure bed and nothing to the control bed. The leaf mould bed has out done the other beds year after year and with a rotation of different crops. Very interesting stuff, especially given where we live and that we seem to have a valuable resource each year that goes completely unused. I think this autumn we shall be making some leaf litter bins and gathering up what leaves the goats and sheep don’t eat ready for next year.  

Low Maintenance Landscape - 11th September 2010

Another area was the “Low Maintenance Landscape” which is a form of gardening they use in public places in Germany and is now starting to be used in the UK.  

Plants are picked that are hardy, offer different levels of cover, flower for long periods and have attractive seed heads. Only one day a year of care is needed and that day is spent cutting everything down in winter ready for regrowth in the spring, no watering or feeding is needed throughout the year. 

R

11th of September 2010

 Garden Organic also run the Heritage Seed Library and there is an interesting looking seed saving room inside and some information about the law around selling seeds. In the 1970s legislation was passed making it illegal to sell seed from plants or varieties that were not registered on either the National List or the European Common Catalogue. Seed companies are charged for registering seeds on these lists and it is thought, although exact figures are not known, that over 2000 varieties have been lost in just the 40 years since the legislation was passed. 

The Heritage Seed Library and companies like the Real Seed Company play an important part in keeping unlisted varieties going.