Categories
Community Food Health Nutrition Urban

Parkway Greens

I love to visit this shop. It’s the best fruit and vegetable shop I know in London. Looking at it from across the road today, I thought to myself, “This shop isn’t ALWAYS going to be there…” So I reasoned I had better take some photos of it. Just like I used to chronicle record shops back in the day.

This evening, reflecting further on that transience, I remembered Compendium Books by Camden Lock, just around the corner from Parkway Greens, a remarkable store and something of a cultural hub for the many years it was there.

We don’t think of green grocers in quite the same affectionate way as bookshops, but of course we should. The owner here is a particularly lovely chap. Long may he prosper.

Categories
Community Ecology Growing Health Organic Practice Regenerative Soil Urban

Broad Bean Harvest 2024

The broad beans that I planted in December were ready to be picked. They hadn’t formed nearly as big a bush as last year.

The harvest wasn’t bad, but was not as impressive as before.

These stems went onto the compost heap.

I think this shows the limits of the viability of applying No Dig principles to containers. There’s not enough nutrients OR biology to support more growth.

And I’d taken measures. Rotating the crops, and after all beans are a legume, after the first round of them I’ve had buckwheat and nigella before this crop. I’ve also applied leaf mould. And chanted my mantra over them too, innit.

Digging it out, I WAS surprised to see that the trough was not root bound.

But equally it was rooty enough…

The box itself, given to me by my dear-departed father-in-law, was in need of some repairs. This was another reason to crack into it.

Sieving the soil produced these nuggety chunks of clay. So hard they felt almost like gravel. Sorry, but in no way could these be an optimal growing environment…

Biology

But it wasn’t all barren! There was a lot of insect life. No doubt from the poor guys who lost their homes in my demolishment. Aah, they’ll be OK! I will look after them. It’s mainly wood lice, but there’s other stuff happening. Wait for the cat’s miaow at the end.

But check out these nitrogen nodules on the broad bean plant’s roots. This has been the first time I have seen this with my own eyes. Very impressive.

I mixed the sieved soil from the wooden trough with a mixture of Lakeland Gold compost and some Carbon Gold fertiliser pellets. Heaven knows if that will work?

This new soil went into a shelter I’ve built for the next crop, buckwheat and a few others in pots.

The beans themselves were delicious.

I shared them, steamed and then dressed with olive oil and salt, with Mrs Ingram.

Categories
Health Nutrition Spirituality

Oranges and Lemons

My original 7″ of “Vitamin C”.

[Obligatory moment’s silence to commemorate the life of Damo Suzuki.]

Thanks to the intervention of David Stubbs and generosity of the CAN organisation, I was able to license “Vitamin C” and “Dead Pigeon Suite” (variations on the theme) for my Vitamin C animation. I went to meet Damo in Hackney at the Total Refreshment Centre in May 2018 when he played one of his group improvisational concerts.

We chatted after the gig and later on exchanged emails. Damo wrote complimenting the film, “Good Afternoon, Matthew! It’s very educational and I liked it…” He did, however, express some frustration that, at this very early stage, he didn’t have a credit at its conclusion. I don’t believe I was completely aware of the scale of his contribution to the song, “I was as a singer of them, lyric is written my self, also melody what I sung. Strange world…….” He signed off, “Have a nice Evening! Energy!”

Thankfully I was able to immediately rectify the mistake which is reflected in the film’s existing credit sequence – and shared an updated link with Damo. May he rest in peace.

When I visited California researching my book “Retreat” in June 2018 I had wanted to visit Linus Pauling’s ranch on the Big Sur coastline which is depicted in the animation. I understand from my friend Patrick Holford that he visited his mentor Pauling there.

Lemon on a dining table at the Esalen Institute.

However, I simply didn’t have time to drop by Deer Flat Ranch in what was a massively compressed schedule. However, with Pauling on my mind, sitting at the canteen at the Esalen Institute, I found there was a lemon that had been left on my table outside. There was clearly a prosaic reason for it being there, but it still acquired gently cosmic overtones for me.

Promotional sticker for my animation of Vitamin C. Website now defunct.

Lemons were central to the history of Vitamin C. Although it was a handy and entirely appropriate motif I used throughout the film, Lemons rank quite low in the scale of fruits for their Vitamin C content.

Oranges for juicing.

The great proportion of Vitamin C in Lemons and Oranges is actually in the inedible peel. If you look strictly at the amount of Vitamin C in the juice, Lemon juice contains 38.7mg of Vitamin C per 100g. On the other hand freshly squeezed Orange Juice contains 50mg of Vitamin C per 100g serving. Oranges are therefore a better bet.

Researching my forthcoming book “The Garden” I recently came across a wonderful quote from Alan Watts in his book “The Joyous Cosmology” (1962) on the subject of Oranges, “Oranges – transformations of the sun into its own image…”

My OJ squeezer. No batteries needed.

Certainly these modest amounts of Vitamin C are nowhere near the quantities consumed by those practising Orthomolecular medicine. However, I think we shouldn’t underestimate the bioavailability of Vitamin C in plain old juice. I’m personally not a fan of liposomal Vitamin C – and I don’t care what science is wheeled out in its favour.

Ultimately, you simply can’t get enough Vitamin C. It has a significant role as an antioxidant, but its importance in regulating Histamine, and I would conjecture by extension Dopamine (which is troublesome in high quantities), is under-researched.

Categories
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.

Categories
Health Practice Spirituality

The Sun Salutation

Just as I kept running up against the Mani mantra when I was researching “Retreat”, while writing “The Garden” I often encountered the Surya Namaskar, or Sun Salutation, series of yoga asanas. Which, come to think of it, is unusual while working on a book on gardening, growing, and agriculture? Although I suppose there is a special connection between plants and the sun.

Here is a wonderful Sun Salutation image from Jeanne Tetrault and Sherry Thomas’ “Country Women” book.

And here it is in Ramón Sender and Alicia Bay Laurel’s “Being of the Sun.” A beautiful illustration by Bay Laurel.

In fact, I spent quite a lot of time during the writing of “Retreat” in 2018 and 2019 doing the sequence. I don’t think I had the core strength however, and I constantly hurt my back on it.

Here’s a mural depicting the Sun Salutations I found in the Connaught Place subway station in Delhi in 2020.

I always liked this illustration of the Sun Salutations which I have kept on file for years. Today I enlarged it in AI Gigapixel, cleaned it up in Photoshop, and added the tag on the bottom left. I would encourage you to download it. I took a little time trying to research what the correct names are for each of the poses. But the truth is, apart from a few of them, it’s rarely universal. However, as a final attempt before giving up, I thought I ought to check the Wikipedia entry for them. There I read that:

“Elliott Goldberg [Yoga Historian] called Vishnudevananda’s 1960 sequence a “new utilitarian conception of Surya Namaskara”, rejecting his guru Sivananda’s view of it as a health cure.”

Sun Salutation Wiki entry

Then I got pretty excited, because I have Vishnudevanada’s book. A very interesting dude he gave George Harrison a copy on the set of “Help!” where he was working as an extra.

Looking at the book it’s apparent that the illustrations I’ve always liked have been traced from these photographs.

I’m going to be 53 in May this year and quite fancy the idea of living at least another 50 years – though of course every day might be one’s last… So in due course I think I will try and bring the Sun Salutations back into my life and crank them out once a day like a good little guru.

Categories
Agriculture Community Ecology Food Growing Health Nutrition Organic Practice Regenerative Soil Wilderness

FarmEd

Looking down from the entrance on the A361 down onto the FarmED buildings.

On 7th July I had an appointment in Gloucestershire at 9am in the morning. I’d had to rent a car to get down there in time, so I was faced with the possibility of either heading straight back to London, or trying to find something else to do that day to get some value from my journey. Purely by chance I was scanning through my mailing list folder and found a message from FarmED saying that they were giving a walking tour that very day.

Set up by Ian and Celene Wilkinson at Honeydale Farm in Oxfordshire, FarmED is a demonstration farm created to explore and promote regenerative agriculture. Ian’s background was as the director of Cotswold Seeds, a company which made its reputation developing cover crops to restore soil fertility. Celene, a veterinary nurse by training, has expertise in matters of health as they relate to diet in both people and animals. FarmED have trial fields, host events and seminars, have a restaurant which cooks their own produce, run a profitable market garden, shelter a small dairy, and even produce their own honey. It could be considered “meta” farm.

Honeydale Farm’s location is right next door to Diddly Squat and Kingham, “meta” farms in their own right. However, unlike neighboring Jeremy Clarkson and Alex James, the Wilkinsons don’t have access to unlimited capital.

Is a “meta” farm less valuable than a “real” farm? My view is that farming (and especially organic, biodynamic and regenerative farming) needs advocates. Part of the problem with the urban/rural disconnect, and with it our alienation from the sources of our food, is the absence of dialogue to connect farming with contemporary culture and values. FarmED fills that gap convincingly. Its relatively low agricultural productivity is more than compensated for by its educational services to farming. It’s the same yardstick by which I would judge my own extremely humble efforts.

Collection point for the FarmED CSA scheme.
Rewilded.

Right away I noticed that the farm’s architecture differed drastically from the farms I knew in my childhood with their massive drafty, steel barns and never-ending concrete yards. They are, frankly, very chic. Furthermore, every spare space between the buildings was allowed to grow wildly, if sometimes augmented by carefully sown wild flowers.

The FarmED library.

As we were gathered together in the meeting I room I had the opportunity to marvel at FarmED’s incredible library of classic books on the subject. This is the kind of intellectual heft I delight I seeing behind farming.

Ian Wilkinson.

Ian Wilkinson gave our group an introductory talk explaining how he came across the farm, and negotiated the perils of its mortgage, so as to bring the couple’s dream to life. I definitely got the sense that this was a risky undertaking. The farm also employs a staggering 34 people which must make for a steep wage bill.

Ian passed us over deftly to the brilliant Kate Henderson, who he took great pride in informing us was the granddaughter of farming legend George Henderson. George’s classic book “The Farming Ladder” has been feted by none other than Eliot Coleman and Joel Salatin. Kate got the job as a result of showing up one day in her car with a box of the books, enquiring if the Wilkinsons had any use for them.

Interestingly its publisher Faber, through the efforts of Richard De La Mare, historically editor of the firm’s agriculture and horticulture lists, was a stalwart supporter of the organic cause putting out such notable titles as Eve Balfour’s “The Living Soil” and Ehrenfried Pfeiffer’s “The Earth’s Face”. Faber even republished Darwin’s study of the earthworm. In recent years I associate the imprint mainly with books on music.

Kate Henderson.

Our initial port of call was the first of two trial wheat fields. This one sown with Crusoe milling wheat. Crusoe is a modern “chemical agriculture” wheat which has been bred with short, stubby, strong stalks. These are able to bear the weight of its massive head of grain which has been designed to convert as much of the 170kg of synthetic fertiliser applied to the control plot as possible.

The use of chemical fertiliser to run this ongoing trial is one of the reasons why Honeydale Farm is not certified organic. Any use of fertiliser on the entire site would disqualify them. FarmED’s stated reason for not certifying, however, is that they need to be relevant to all farmers within any specific scheme. The chemical field is also sprayed with a litre of the herbicide Glyphosate.

Kate brought a spade and dug out a clod of earth which we were invited to feel, crumble and smell. I would lying if I claimed to notice much difference between the two plot’s soil based on just these physical characteristics. In fact I was expecting the difference to be greater. There was only a very faintly brackish odour to this, the first.

Chemical soil.
Our group.

Now, on this our march, I took the opportunity to size up the rest of the group. It had a truly remarkable profile with people hailing from diverse fields of expertise. There was Daisy Wood and a colleague from LEAF; Dr. Sarah Watkinson an Emeritus Research Fellow in Fungal Biology from Oxford University; Elizabeth, a farmer from nearby Coln Rogers with two of her colleagues; Celia Leverton a regenerative farmer and travelling scholar on a Churchill Fellowship from Tasmania, and Richard Buckley from Bath and his family (who run an acclaimed vegan restaurant Oak) along with their affiliated grower Georgia. The very tall man was a computer scientist from Boston, USA who was perhaps arriving at the field from the same angle as me. How that angle should be characterised I leave to you, dear reader.

The winter bird seed field.

Sandwiched between the two fields, and separating them as it were, was a field dedicated to growing seed which the birds could eat in the winter. Apparently they love it.

Heritage wheat.

While the conventional field reached Kate’s waist, the heritage wheat field came up to her shoulders. FarmED are this year growing the varieties Emmer and Einkorn – seeds which, unlike the Crusoe, nobody owns the rights to, and which had been provided to them by local farmers.

Right away you can understand why Norman Borlaug and his team set their sights on breeding the Green Revolutions’ characteristic short rigid stems. One heavy rainstorm or gale could flatten the entire field and ruin a crop. It ripples very appealingly in the breeze. Beneath the canopy of the heads of grain is sown clover which not only, as a legume, fixes nitrogen in the soil, but also keeps its temperature down and moisture up.

Soil.

Kate invited us to pick at another clod she had dug, and this time I found a friendly worm; others also found worms in the chunks they picked off. Apparently below 4 worms per sample (spadeful) indicates poor soil, and above 8 worms is good. A healthy earthworm population is calculated as being about 250 worms per square metre. Certainly there were none in the chemical plot.

Kate regaled us with some statistics, however, which put some perspective on our gathering ecological delight.

The heritage wheat field yielded 50% of the grain that the chemical field did. Although I was prepared to overlook the difference in the gluten levels between the heritage (12%) and chemical (28%), modern bakers want higher levels of gluten which give a more buoyant loaf. Of course, the gluten-free lobby argues that these “unnaturally” high levels of gluten have unleashed a plague of inflammatory symptoms in society. Slightly more troubling was that the heritage wheat had lower amounts of protein (9.78%) vs the chemical wheat’s (12.83%).

As much as I dislike modern wheat, in fact I don’t eat it, the arguments in its favour are in some respects convincing. This is even if you take the view that its relative cheapness is complicated by the cost of inputs (fertilizer and herbicide), the hidden cost of its associated environmental damage (soil erosion, biological harm etc), and, as is alleged, its poor flavour.

Sheep.

As we carried on our Magical Mystery Tour we encountered a man who was running a controlled experiment in the next top field. He had sunk two pipes into the soil – one open at the sides – one closed all the way down – and was measuring CO2 output atop both.

His hypothesis here was that the mycorrhizal fungi which, in theory, will have penetrated the sides of the open pipe, would affect the respective carbon dioxide emissions issuing into the atmosphere. Presumably better mycorrhizal integration would mean a lower carbon output, as these rhizomes are believed to draw from the soil and distribute?

The very impressive meter.
Our man demonstrating the technology.
The sensor giving a reading of the ambient CO2 levels.
When our man breathed into the sensor the levels shot up.

The final field along the top contains the market garden’s poly tunnels. I absolutely love poly tunnels and also green houses. If I had a green house I believe I would probably die of happiness. These are managed by the growers Dan Betterton and Emma Mills for the organisation Kitchen Garden People who run the CSA. The Kitchen Garden People Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) scheme organises 130 veg boxes which are collected from the site every week. Very heroically they even produce veg in the “hungry gap”, a hard time for the UK’s farmers which occurs in April, May and early June, after the winter crops have been used up and before the new season’s plantings are ready to harvest.

This year, for the first time, the growers employed a no-dig strategy. In their case, on this medium scale, they sow a green manure, leave it in the ground for one to two years, before eventually allowing it to break down under tarpaulins.

There are many ecological arguments being put forward these days for the positive benefits for soil health through not digging. Unfortunately, in a number of cases this has mean that powerful chemical agriculture conglomerates like Syngenta have begun to argue, I believe speciously, that with no-till (no-dig) methods regenerative agriculture is compatible with the use of herbicides like Glyphosate. This is a kick in the teeth for those claiming that what is known as organic agriculture (very broadly no chemical fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides) is the path to truly regenerative, and ecological farming.

This picture is further complicated by the fact that many organic growing practices, which accommodate massive monocultures, organic fertilisers (as opposed to the use of compost and leys), and ploughing, are seen as ecologically damaging. I understand that currently the UK’s Soil Association is seeking to remedy this with a Organic Regen label. Elsewhere at Honeydale farm they have a policy of tilling only the top 3-4 inches. This is generally accepted as being much less disruptive.

The automated temperature-controlled door panel swung open bisects this photo.

Our group was full of admiration for how the temperature within the poly tunnels was controlled by automated doors and by the irrigation system in evidence. A number of us were intrigued by the growers’ “chop-and-drop” policy which is evident in the stems visibly strewn on the ground. This is a very efficient way to compost, you just let the unused vegetable matter decay right there on the soil rather than wheeling it away to a compost pile, only to then have to wheel it back once it has decomposed. However, some vegetable gardeners argue that “chop-and-drop” increases the numbers of slugs, snails and other pests. It seems there’s often a case to be made for these alternative methods.

Water is not exactly abundant on the site. It’s frugally collected off the building’s rooves and also from a spring on the land. Last summer the team had resort to using the mains during the drought and so this year there are discussions about the possibility of drilling a borehole. I know from experience that this is costly business, and where they are, on top of a hill, they’d probably have to dig deep to reach the water table. Needs must.

The bees at Honeydale Farm, are looked after by what FarmED rather wittily call The “B” Team. I was fascinated to see that the hives are installed into tree stumps. Interestingly the honey is used as much for a skincare range as for food.

Then we walked down the hill on what was truly a most glorious day.

Where, at its foot, we admired the series of drainage ponds.

The walking tour was such a fascinating experience in exquisite scenery alive with nature. Fortuitously the weather was beautiful (it wouldn’t have mattered of course…) and my fellow students were an amazing, multifaceted bunch. As the glow of the summer has begun to fade it makes me misty eyed to think back to it now. Many thanks to Ian and Kate.

Categories
Ecology Growing Health Practice Soil Urban

Drying Flowers

I’ve only been gardening properly since I sowed my first seeds in February 2021. I definitely gravitated towards to the dream of self-sufficiency that’s made manifest in growing vegetables, but as I’ve commented on before, it’s neither practical from a view of self-supporting, or financially efficient to grow one’s own vegetables on a tiny urban roof. The value of that is more along the lines of the fun of growing and picking food you can actually eat, and the cosmological orientation that brings.

I will continue to do grow veg, hopefully one day on a larger plot, but I’ve come round to the idea that growing flowers, especially ones that the bees like, is a totally righteous activity. Part of the fun, the ritual if you like, with flowers is saving their seed and sowing them oneself. Detailed below is this year’s adventures.

Calendula, or as it’s also called Pot Marigold.

Limanthes. Which I describe winnowing here.

Nasturtium. It has been pointed out to me that I could have sowed their brain-like seeds right away and got another season. Maybe next year I will.

Borage needs to be dried quite carefully. It needs air because the stems carry a lot of water and can get moldy.

Here’s the Nigella which I’ve covered before in the past.

All the stems go into the compost heap.

And here are the seeds of my labour. Borage, Nasturtium, Limanthes and Calendula above. And Lavender and Nigella below.

Categories
Agriculture Community Ecology Food Growing Health Practice Soil Therapy Urban

Nigella

My son Sam’s biology teacher gave him some Nigella seeds. I sowed them in October 2022 over where I had previously grown Buckwheat. The Buckwheat, which is leguminous and puts nitrogen back into the soil, was with a view to restoring the container to use. Before the Buckwheat I had grown Broad Beans, itself also leguminous.

Over the past three years I haven’t dug up any containers or pots. This has been to see whether the no dig principles work in this context. I have never pulled old plants out by the roots (unless they have been Beetroot or Carrots!), only cut them off at the base of the stem, and have just dressed over the previous patch with some compost.

Over the course of a season the soil level subsides. This is partly owing to compaction through gravity but is also because the plants’ growth is the soil’s output of matter, of carbon. So it does make some room for compost to be layered on top. So far this has worked fine for me.

In January 2023 I could see some slight signs of growth, but really I thought these were weeds, or possibly the Buckwheat growing back. I’m not expert enough to identify plants at this size.

These were taken in March and April. I was excited about the growth, but was still pretty sure that this was a weed or the Buckwheat growing back (itself sometimes viewed as a weed!).

By mid May the growth was looking luscious and I was beginning to be hopeful that I’d had some success with the Nigella seeds.

Then it became clear from their alien bulbous heads and magnificent flowers that this was Nigella and that the experiment had worked.

These two images below taken on my phone through a magnifying glass I got for my birthday. There’s a pretty chromatic aberration and a lovely background blur from the shallow focus. The architecture of these flowers is just exquisite.

In the first week of June things really took off. There is some kind of ecstacy at this time of year. Indeed in the period leading up to the summer solstice on June 21st one’s garden is truly magnificent. Thereafter the promise of the summer feels like it is ebbing away quite dramatically.

Before I gardened I definitely got the feeling of summer as being a longer phenomenon. It’s interesting how the practice connects you to the seasons. In London it might still be hot, giving the sense of a perpetuating season, but the reality is different.

I’m still planting new seeds though now directly outdoors: Rudbeckia, Hyssop, Buckwheat, Lady Di Beans, Courgette, Lettuce, Leeks. But this maybe with a view to hopefully squeezing a crop in before the end of the year, and expecting less growth.

This was taken on the 8th June – not a great shot but shows the full flowering.

And this on 21st June at the solstice. As you can see all the petals have fallen away.

With the flowers giving up the ghost I got a bit more relaxed about the cats wanting to wander in the bed. Here’s the Grey Cat enjoying herself. I love her expression in the second photo: “I am not here. You can not see me!”

At the start of July I cut the flowers and hung them to dry in my study window. The day before yesterday I noticed that the seeds had started to drop from the heads onto the window-ledge.

This morning I put the whole bouquet in a large, clear, plastic bin bag and shook it gently. Then I decanted the seeds into a jam jar.

Nigella Sativa, to give it its fancy name, is an ornamental flower but its seed is also used a spice (sometimes called Black Caraway or Black Cumin) and is also implemented in traditional medicine systems, Unani and Tibb, Ayurveda and Siddha. In this sense it’s also a crop. I will probably try eating some, maybe as a spice on some of carrots, and then sow the rest in the autumn.

With thanks to Julie.

Categories
Health Nutrition Urban

Hay Fever

Are you suffering from hay fever at the moment? Maybe you are not sniveling and sneezing but still feeling brackish? The pollution load in the city can make matters even worse.

Rather than reaching for an anti-histamine tablet, try taking Vitamin C. It’s extremely effective as an anti-histamine. Right away you will notice a radical improvement in your symptoms. You are also doing yourself a lot of good.

I like these NaturesPlus tablets. They’re food-based. I just take 250mg which is very low. Any Vitamin C tablets would probably be as good. Honestly, try it!

Categories
Community Ecology Growing Health Urban

Grey Cat

Black and Grey cats together.

This is the second part of the Sick Veg cat series. The first being dedicated to the Black Cat. This to her older frenemy the Grey Cat. I know I shouldn’t really post pictures of my cats. I’m sure it represents some kind of degeneration. I ought to be more preoccupied with my perception of other people’s perception of me.

The cats are my garden helpers. They like nothing more than to hang out with me when I water the plants in the morning. In the case of the Black Cat she also likes it when I am killing slugs by torch light. So exciting. They both love chasing hoverflies.

The Black Cat likes to clamber all over everything. The Grey Cat, who is a lot older, likes to lie in the sun. Also to watch water from the tap. She will come and get me, lead me to the hosepipe, and sit and watch the water trickling over the roof totally transfixed until I turn it off. She might do this two or three times in an afternoon. In the summer they both take as much delight in the garden as me.