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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
Ecology Food Growing Organic Practice Spirituality Urban

Herbs

Fooling around with 20m2 on a roof terrace in the centre of London, there are distinct limitations to one what can achieve in a garden. I could, as the genius Mark Ridsdill Smith does, grow a lot more vegetables. However, my own view is that whatever vegetables I grow to eat – and this year it’s been spinach, leeks, rocket, red cabbage, yacon, potatoes, runner beans, broad beans, beetroot, and tomatoes – is only ever going to be a token, for giggles…

For whatever reason, after growing cavalo nero, lettuces, and spinach erbette, I’ve cooled on growing leaves. I’ll grow spinach again over the winter but, although they are touted as the best things to grow in the city (because they are fast to grow and expensive to buy), I find leaves somehow boring.

Equally I find most ornamentals, often highly cultivated plants you couldn’t imagine happening in nature, almost products of a laboratory, a very tedious thing to grow. The flowers I’m growing, borage, phacelia, limanthes, marigolds, sunflowers, dandelions, nasturtiums are found at vegetable-growing seed suppliers as varieties that are good for insect life. Even my most ornamental flowers honeysuckle, poppies, zinnias, dahlias, (this last especially a concession to Mrs Ingram who loves them – they are beautiful…) are renowned for being attractive to pollinators.

What works very well among these select vegetables, trees, and carefully-chosen flowers, are herbs. Ever since I came across Juliette de Baïracli Levy and went on Kirsten Hartvig’s amazing country ramble at Forest Row I’ve been enchanted by them and their awesome potential. In the city they really work well, they don’t take up masses of space, the bugs love them, and they are fascinating. Currently, I am growing nothing particularly far out.

I believe that what one grows in the city should fundamentally address our urban alienation from nature. That selection should be geared to making us connect with the process of growing, with the seasons, with the cycle of life and death, and our cosmic alignment. In the city, we can’t pretend that we’re living wholly natural lives, but at least we can use growing to keep in touch with those things; like a diver underwater has an oxygen tank.

Categories
Ecology Food Growing Organic Practice Urban

My Trees

I’ve been meaning to write a post about my trees for a while. Growing trees from their seeds takes a certain amount of care and patience.

I was worried about the health of these two Horse chestnut trees. I was sure they’d succumbed to fungus and died. But they’ve come back looking very strong this spring about which I’m delighted. I’d potted them up and put them in my own compost. These were grown from two conkers I found in the street around the corner in the autumn of 2023.

It’s troubling when young deciduous trees lose their leaves in the winter. You think they have come a cropper. This Oak I found as an acorn on Hampstead Heath. I think it’s going to do well this year. I gave its siblings to friends in Wales.

Since I rather optimistically planted a pip in a friend’s back garden in the early seventies when I must have been, ooh, six years old, growing an apple tree from a pip has been an cherished ambition. This was from an organic apple from the supermarket. I currently have a few more pips I’m hoping will sprout – one a particularly delicious variety I got from a farmer’s market, the other from the apple tree by the Caddy’s caravan in Findhorn. I read recently in Mark Ridsdill Smith’s excellent “Vertical Veg” book that apple trees do well in containers on roof gardens – so have redoubled my efforts. It’s all about tree crops, people.

Finally, this Ash tree, a volunteer which I have nurtured has really thrived from what was just a tiny weed. Very proud of it!

Categories
Food Growing Organic Practice Urban

March 2024

I mentioned a couple of posts ago that there was nowt going on. But now the building work is [really finally] over and I’ve finished the first draft of the book. Simultaneously, suddenly, spring is upon us. It’s unlikely that we will see another frost until the end of the year.

I’ve planted the first batch of seeds. Compost here is all Carbon Gold (Biochar All-purpose outside and Biochar Seed Compost indoors). All seeds not my own, or sourced elsewhere, are from Tamar Organics.

From Top left to bottom right: Beetroot, Sunflowers (two varieties), Allium (that I found drying in the green house beside the Caddys’ caravan in Findhorn), Rosemary (the herb favoured most highly by Juliette de Baïracli Levy), Calendula, and Chamomile.

The Sunflowers are a departure for me. I was always on the fence with them in the past but in the course of writing “The Garden” I’ve become keen on them. They, of course, also produce a crop. The Sunflower was Helen Nearing’s favourite plant.

From left to right: Yarrow (from Emerson College), Dandelion (cultivated from volunteer), Buddleja (cultivated from volunteer), Horse Chestnut (found in the street), Thyme, Rosemary, Apple (from Sam’s Biology tutor), Oregano, Dandelion (cultivated from volunteer), Borage (from last year’s seeds), Calendula (from last year’s seeds), Cosmos (from last year’s seeds).

From back to front: Buckwheat (from last year’s seeds), Nigella (from last year’s seeds), Clover.

Back to front: Echinacea (these need repotting), Limnanthes x2 (from last year’s seeds).

From left to right: Apple, Amaranth (from last year’s seeds), Ash (A volunteer), Yacon (tubers from the plant I got from Ann Sears), my old Dogwood, Mint (last years seedling which I cut back and mulched and which have bounced back), and Rocket (a bit like a weed it seems).

The Spinach and Leeks have really thrived over the winter in the raised bed. I need to actually harvest both soon.

From Left to right: Nasturtiums (from Findhorn), Lavender, Honeysuckle, and the green manures (this is basically my home made compost sown with clover, alfalfa etc. into which I’m going to plant seedlings once they are ready). Nasturtiums are really underrated as a food crop. The leaves and the seeds (very peppery) are delicious.

And here are the Black Cat and the Grey Cat with the broad beans planted in December. They are so happy to be out on the roof garden again after a really beastly winter coping with dust and rubble indoors. This tiny landscape fills me with joy and anticipation. So lovely to have seeds there from my journey.

Categories
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.

Categories
Agriculture Organic

Kochia

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…

Categories
Agriculture Ecology Organic Practice Regenerative Soil Urban

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…

Categories
Food Growing Organic Practice Soil Urban

Broad Beans 2023

I first planted Broad Beans on December 4th 2021. See the photos from 2021 below. This will then be third year I have planted them in the same pot.

No dig aficionados will be interested to know that at no point have I thrown away the soil in this container. I have merely cut the plants away at their base, leaving the roots in the soil, and refreshed the pot by means of growing (another) legume like the Buckwheat I cut down in the autumn, and dressed the surface with compost.

As far as I know this is pretty extreme. When people talk about No Dig, they are applying the method to a bed in the ground, not to containers. I’m not even certain whether it is supposed to work in pots. It seems logical, however, that the roots of older plants will decompose into the soil, and that the actions of worms (of which there are few in here) will create some aeration. However, I’m almost certain that I would get better growth if I composted the remaining soil after harvest and started again with a whole fresh round of compost. Even if I dug it up and mixed in some compost – No Dig heresy. So, it’s an experiment.

What I can vouch for is that using 2021’s Super Aquadulce beans as a seed stock, planting my own beans as seeds, created smaller and less productive plants. Of course, 2022’s smaller crop might equally have been to do with this No Dig “in container” method I have been experimenting with? This year, I reasoned, it was a good idea to buy in fresh bean stock from Tamar Organics by which approach I will be able to eliminate what caused the smaller growth. Science innit.

Also I have reflected that, with the amount of care one lavishes on a plant through the year, getting a mediocre crop is dispiriting. I know some people are militant about only using their own seed, a logic that they extend to disparage the use of F1 seeds, but as far as I’m concerned it’s cool. I mean, none of us is an island! As fun as it is to grow from one’s seed (and I have a bumper crop of seeds to sow in Spring 2024) total self-sufficiency as position is overrated.

As far as F1 seeds go, this is where I’m squarely with the Wizards. Of course GMOs are heresy, lunacy, but we should use whatever breeding techniques we can to make great crops; to make organic work. In actual fact these Super Aquadulce beans aren’t F1s. But some F1s, even if I can’t use their seed, that’s gotta be cool. This year I bought some Spinach, “Tundra F1,” which I look forward to growing again.

I was delighted with the latest batch of compost out of my hot bin.

Ooo-arrr. Look at that there compost (Here dressing my Mint pot).

And here it is laid out as a sheet mulch, spread like thick like butter, on my broad bean box.

The box sited. Here it gets a lovely long day of light as the sun sweeps from east to west.

Here are the beans. Sown squarely. Next year I will try the Biointensive method of sowing in triangular formation. It does make sense.

As Henry Thoreau said, “What shall I learn of beans or beans of me?”

Categories
Growing Organic Soil Urban

Yacon Harvest

I held out as long as I could, but after the first frosts I thought it wouldn’t be sensible to wait any longer. The time had come to release the Yacon!

Seeing the tubers for the first time was very exciting. [Pounds chest] “Man grows Yacon.” Grown out of my own compost I should emphasise.

I left these fellers in the soil and covered it with some of my own compost (not shown). That way we can see the circle of life in action in the spring.

Here they are straight out of the soil. Looking a little forlorn, “Please don’t eat us!” “Ha ha, but this is your destiny!”

They scrubbed up very nicely.

I tasted a slice uncooked. Very fresh. Almost like apple. Not bursting with flavour it has to be said, but I’ve come to the realisation that all new foods (especially new vegetables it seems) take a little getting used to.

Then straight into the oven. I wanted to avoid the “leave-them-hanging-around-in-the-fridge-for-a-couple-of-days” stage. They came out looking EXACTLY like Jerusalem artichokes which should have given me ample warning. Anyone who has eaten Jerusalem artichoke should know what I’m talking about…

Categories
Agriculture Ecology Food Growing Organic Wilderness

Berries

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.