Agriculture Community Ecology Practice Urban


Researching my forthcoming book which is now complete, “The Garden: Visionary Growers and Farmers of the Counterculture”, I visited the New Alchemy Institute in Cape Cod. Watch this wonderful National Film Board of Canada documentary if you’re interested in finding out a little about New Alchemy.

I interviewed Hilde Maingay and Earle Barnhart, the married couple who were central members of the collective. They now live at the site itself, which was originally not inhabited. Maingay herself was the main grower; the garden there was at the heart of New Alchemy’s activity.

I enjoyed their company so much that during lunch I offered to make them a video for their current project, the P-POD. Between jobs this past few weeks I designed and animated this film which I can share with you.

Agriculture Ecology Health Spirituality Wilderness

Shanin Blake

[Thanks to Jeff for the heads-up.] It seems like Shanin Blake is attracting as much attention as hate on TikTok, her native platform. She’s being slated for having parents who work for Lockheed Martin [this, I am informed, is apparently a meme], being a perpetrator of cultural appropriation, spreading misinformation about health etc.

I’m just totally fascinated that she’s bringing all these subjects dear to my heart to the centre stage. I do think, however, that Blake should be careful not to burn out on the weed, acid, and shrooms. She’s starting to look weirder and weirder to the extent that I’d be concerned if she was my daughter. This concern comes from a place of love though. It would be a pity to squander all that positive energy.

Shanin’s horny, verging on the softly pornographic, videos appear to come from that hippie quarter where naturism meets the erotic. They remind me of the Fidus pictures and the Lebensreform photos.

What’s her music like? Well actually I think it’s nice! It’s a perky, super-intimate take on the modern R’n’B of Erykah Badu, Solange, SZA, and Janelle Monae. Black music, yes. But therefore she’s sitting in what used to be a perfectly respectable tradition peopled by the likes of The Box Tops, Hall & Oates, and David Bowie. “Senses” below from two years ago is a pretty piece of ear candy which would sit well with the clockwork mouse music.

Agriculture Ecology Food Nutrition Organic Practice Urban

Carlin Peas Update

It’s a Carlin Peas update. These peas work better tinned I think. It’s the lazier, more expensive, and ecologically unsound way to eat them. But, on the other hand, cooking them oneself takes forever and might even be less energy efficient. Very delicious.

Agriculture Growing


It’s been very quiet chez Sick Veg and the reason is… it’s the winter.

Nothing much is growing apart from my spinach (see top photo). It’s one of those relatively rare vegetables that keeps going – even if its growth slows right down.

The way that winter suspends everything is one major reason why farmers across Europe have taken the opportunity to protest. Yes, they are infuriated about losing their subsidies, but any other time of the year they wouldn’t have the time to blockade roads.

It’s also the reason that, although there’s not much going on on this blog, I’ve been busy. I’ve taken the seasonal opportunity to interview a lot of people for my forthcoming book. They wouldn’t have the time to talk to me any other time of the year.

Simultaneously, on top of my day job as an animator, we’ve been doing the house up. That’s meant five months of scaffolding, rubble, and paint fumes. A painfully expensive, time-consuming nightmare which has been a necessity. Thankfully that’s now over.

While I finish the book it will probably remain quiet here. But come the spring I will again have the opportunity, and material, to update more often.

Agriculture Organic


This news from Reuters.

Crop-killing weeds such as kochia are advancing across the U.S. northern plains and Midwest, in the latest sign that weeds are developing resistance to chemicals faster than companies including Bayer, opens new tab and Corteva, opens new tab can develop new ones to fight them.

For the details I’d suggest reading the Reuters report. But this is worth quoting here:

Bill Freese, scientific director of the Center for Food Safety in Washington, said farmers should shift away from crops genetically engineered to tolerate herbicides, which lead to plants becoming resistant to multiple chemicals through repeated sprayings.

“It’s like this toxic spiral,” Freese said. “There’s no end in sight.”

Not enough people seem to grasp how important these issues are. We’re alienated from agriculture to the extent that it seems completely irrelevant. The way I like to think of it is that every job that a person is doing, they are doing that in lieu of being a farmer. The least we can do is to come to terms with that…

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Green Manure

“Green manures… on Old Street?!” I hear you say. “In Central London?! Why sir, you are a mad fellow indeed! A mad chap for sure!”

In this pursuit of soil regeneration in my container pots I thought this was worth experimenting with. Green manures are, by definition, NOT No Dig. The idea with them is that you grow these leguminous nitrogen-fixing plants, and then, when they are fully-grown, cut them down and dig them into the surface of the soil. By just digging down a few inches I aim to come to a sensible compromise.

According to the packets these should have all been sown at the end of summer after I had harvested my vegetables, flowers, and herbs. Really they are used by farmers after cutting down a whole field of wheat or barley, to give the soil a rest, a bump of nitrogen and some decaying organic matter. The really smart farmers, in my view, grow a legume which will double as a crop – the best example would be something like a Peanut (which doesn’t grow well in my climate as far as I am aware) or, better (because I love to eat and do so daily), Buckwheat.

My Broad Beans are at the back under this mesh with which I am protecting these beds from the Black Cat who clambers all over any empty pots. In the foreground are six pots full of these clovers and alfalfa (a crop itself I guess).

Let’s see whether anything grows or whether the seeds rot before it’s time for them to sprout…

Agriculture Community Practice

Farmer’s Petition

Sign here.

Agriculture Food Growing Urban


Amaranth is one of those plants, like Yarrow or Nigella, that I find interesting.

The variety that I grew is a very beautiful red and has these long stalks. The leaves are edible, like a collard green, though I didn’t find that out in time to eat these ones.

Its heads have tiny seeds which are also valued as an ancient grain. While it’s highly appreciated in third-world agriculture, predictably enough the Palmer Amaranth variety is viewed as a weed damaging to soy bean productivity in the South-East USA.

I harvested my tiny crop early in October. I took these heads, dried them slowly in a ventilated plastic bag, then partitioned off the tiny seeds.

One of the nicest things about the crop was these beautiful red sticks the stems made. I got a similar kick off the stalks off the Flax I grew. One Flax stick I keep resting on my computer keyboard. If you had enough of either of these plants these stalks would be great for weaving with.

That aspect of plants, the diverse use of products from a crop, something that is enabled by more rural labour, is a thing of the past. This is also one of the hidden losses with the high-yield grains with their stubby stalks. Those full-length stalks the stubs have replaced would have had a myriad of uses; as animal feed and not least as an amazing source of compost.

I stopped short of winnowing the seed I harvested. It’s very difficult to separate the remains of the red plumes from it. I could have persisted, but also thought the mix smelt a bit musty, so I opted to save it and sow it again next year.

As a cheeky shortcut I bought some Amaranth on the high street and made a porridge with that so as to taste it.

What surprised me was that the mustiness I had identified in my own crop was also present in this shop-bought packet. I guess that’s just how it smells! Still, the Amaranth makes a tasty porridge. The tiny grains are like miniature “bobas”.

When I was visiting Helen Nearing’s garden at Forest Farm in Maine this October I noticed that she had grown Amaranth there also. The heads here bowing with their heavy load of seeds.

Agriculture Ecology Food Regenerative

Pigeon Peas

If you live in the UK and you are trying to do your bit for the environment when it comes to food there are a few critical steps you can make.

  • Eat less meat. In the UK grams consumed per day per person decreased from 103.7 in 2008 to 86.3 in 2018. [I’ve seen a different set of figures for more recent years which don’t match up with these – but the trend is downwards.]
  • Eat local. This is, sadly, one of the areas in which Organic trips up. A lot of Organic food travels a long way. [You want to ask yourself, “How much petroleum is in this avocado?”]
  • Choose “sustainable” food. This is the most controversial of the lot. There’s no certification system in place for food which alleges it is sustainable yet. So, regrettably, claims for it mean very little. [My own idea would be to have a ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ format where growers and farmers would get a star for fulfilling set criteria. Using cover crops? One star. No chemicals? One star. No or shallow till? One star. Applying Organic matter to the soil? One star. That kind of thing…]

Ensconced in this futuristic landscape – something like a gleaming eco building perched on top of a hillock – is the company Hodmedods. Their remit is “Pulses, Grains, Seeds, Flour & More from British Farms.” The nub of this, if it even needs spelling out, is P-R-O-T-E-I-N. These days, rather than getting excited about the latest Trap single, I find an organisation like theirs a more interesting proposition.

Recently Hodmedods entered into partnership with the British high street store Holland & Barrett. H&B have decided to refresh their brand by getting back to their roots as a wholefood store. We could articulate this as Hodemedods X H&B. The “collab” manifests as an offering of ten products – which contains four legumes (those are the one which contain protein and are therefore good alternatives to meat).

Right away I liked the look of the Carlin Peas, which are most well-known as Pigeon Peas. These are described as having been traditional fare and grown in the North of England. They are a variety of common pea (Pisum sativum), a different species from the West African pigeon peas (Cajanus cajan).

I soaked my Peas for 24 hours. The wrapper says they need a lot less – but I beg to differ. They need more to be soft enough to then simmer.

And then, once softened, I cooked them with garlic, onions, and cumin. They were really delicious; nutty is the word that’s often used. We had them with some cod. That pretty much defeated the purpose but we’ll get there yet!

Agriculture Ecology Food Growing Organic Wilderness


Berries from Cape Cod, Upstate New York and Maine. The Raspberries (totally delicious) on Four Season Farm, the Huckleberries (which Picture This! mistook for Deadly Nightshade) from Soul Fire Farm.