What’s with all the vegetarians!?

If you ask a vegetarian why they choose to be so, you might hear one of the following answers: To be kind to the animals – and then you’ll hear the counter-argument that those animals would’ve never lived if it wasn’t for their meat. Maybe it’s to protect the environment, and then you compare the diverse oasis of life on grazing land with the monoculture desert of a wheat field. To be healthier; you may be onto something, or maybe not according to others.

Of course, it’s all beside the point, even if not eating meat is the ideal scenario, each individual has the right to evolve at their own pace.  By this sentiment, it appears people are going to be eating meat for some time. So what are the opportunities to evolve the meat industry? To begin with, anywhere that the word “industry” can be brought into the world of animal rearing you’re going to have a welfare problem. Micro farms, local production, and knowing the producer of your meat is the only real way of assuring the increased welfare of the animals we eat.

Once you’re satisfied with the animal welfare, what about the environment. Large-scale meat production has an infamous reputation for creating ecological disasters, from deforestation to the nitrification of our oceans, and of course, the methane greenhouse gasses that literally have us baking in the Dutch oven of an over flatulent cow population. I’m not convinced that anyone has the answer to the cow farts, but small-scale, locally produced meat has a far smaller impact on the environment than mass-produced exports, especially if produced on a super-efficient mob grazing system.

Mob grazing is simple, inspired by the natural migration of herds and leaves the land in great condition. The principle is easy to understand; you grow your grazing to a good height before giving the herd access to a small strip at a time. The herd then forages for the species they need and prefer while trampling the rest into the soil. This leads to a much better fed animal, and soil that is so well fed that it creates much stronger regrowth. This, in turn, leads to a healthier animal which will become healthier food.

Other additions to this system, such as following cattle with sheep, and sheep with poultry lead to a huge decrease in parasite and disease build up.  The concern of routinely administered antibiotics on the farm can then be largely avoided.

This may all take your fancy, but what about the cost!? I guess one answer is to eat less meat but to make sure the quality is higher. Another answer is the community supported agricultural model. With this model, you simply buy into the share of an animal at the start of the season. The farmer cares for the animal, and at the end of the season the animal is butchered and shared amongst those that have bought into the scheme. This system works well if you like the idea of half a lamb for the freezer, an 8th of a beast or a Christmas goose. The options are endless, and you can assure that the meat that you eat has as little negative impact as possible on all that matters to you.

It’s not new news that biodiversity is the way to healthy ecosystems, and healthy crops within an ecosystem, but what’s the easiest way to achieve that!? The most effective way to give your biodiversity a boost is with wild flower seed bombing.

Seed bombing was first developed by Masanobu Fukuoka when he wanted to sow his rice fields without flooding or ploughing. The system involves encasing seed in a mixture of clay and other substrates to create a capsule that can be broadcast without seed drills or machinery of any kind. The clay case offers protection from birds and rodents, while also covering the seed enough to keep it moist for germination.

Creating the Mix
Seed bombs
Wild Flower Seed Bombs

Seed bombing is a powerful tool, so be careful what you sow. This mix contains 20 indigenous British perennial wildflowers. We know that these aren’t going to upset the ecosystem as they would already be growing in the area if it wasn’t for agricultural practices wiping them out. We also know that they can survive in the shaded margins, and won’t compete for valuable crop growing space.

Handy Egg Trays
The Perfect Seed Blend for Bounderies

For this mix the casing is made from 15 litres of very wet clay. Coconut coir is then added until the mix becomes firm enough to handle. The mix is chosen for it’s low nutrient, that wildflower needs to get going. There’s 100g of seed in this mix that should give an ideal 4-5 seeds per bomb. The beauty of the coir is that it will continue to soak up the moisture and firm up the bombs for a few hours after forming.

 

The bombs have been left to set in egg trays, as this keeps them in shape and soaks up any remaining water. They stay in these trays for a couple of days before being thrown all around the hedge lines of the growing spaces. Being perennials they’ll take a couple of years to really establish, but other than a couple of hours making and throwing the bombs, they’ll make a huge ecological difference, and a lot of beauty for years to come.

To find out more about how the diversity factor helps with your crops take a look at this article.

This amazing charity works with young people across the UK in developing emotional strength and real life skills to carry them through life. In this often divided World, real connection with nature and practical life skills make a huge difference. To add to their raft of educational resources LIFEbeat wants to offer a series of educational gardens at Stanford Hall, Leicestershire. These gardens will be used to offer ecological education for LIFEbeat camps and local school children for years to come.

We’ve started laying out a permaculture garden, a formal potager and a “no dig” growing area. Now we’re looking to bring in a diverse team of volunteers to get the job finished.

Can you join us from February to April 2018? Accommodation, food and great learning experiences provided!

Check out LIFEbeats amazing work here:

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A Country Estate’s Adventures in Permaculture

If Stonehenge is the heart chakra of the Earth, and the Midlands the UK’s logistical crossroads, then Stanford Hall is a likely spot to take a collective journey from head to heart. The river Avon passes right through this estate on its journey to Stonehenge.

   

This is an estate of many things: of pioneering men, of aviation, of hydroelectricity and thinking, thinking, thinking. So close to the historic site of the enclosure riots, where our ancestors fought for our right to common land, and lost. So entrenched in the history of bloodshed; blood that was spilled so that the land could be taken from the privileged and divided amongst just a few more privileged men. The birth place of what went wrong may well be the place where agriculture began, but here is the historical epicentre of disenchantment for the common man. So what about the dawning of the age of the heart!?

It’s here, amongst the mandala of ancient oak avenues. It’s here, within the ring of whirling wind turbines. It’s here, flying the flag of permaculture; of Earth care, people care and fair share.

    

There has been a lot of talk of the community supported agriculture – and yes, it’s a big deal! Feeding our next generation with nutrient dense, biodynamic vegetables is worth shouting about. Giving our school children the opportunity to join in with their food production, and to learn about sustainable agriculture is a ground-breaking way of supplying the school canteen. But what of the rest of the estate. There’s 1000 acres of it out there.

    

Having spoken through the brimming possibilities with Nick and Lucy – the current custodians of the estate – it’s easy to see that their recent immersion in a permaculture design course has sent them home full of ambition, direction and the bolstered sense of responsibility that newfound knowledge imbues.

      

Being a site of special scientific interest brings restrictions, but for species as rare as those found here, the added level of care seems little bother. With the guidance of Natural England and that of the principles of permaculture, it is clear that the whole estate can offer sustainable output without compromising any living being.

The estate already boasts some of the most sustainable solutions, with Captain Compost gathering the festival food waste before hot composting it to feed next years festival goers. The educational gardens, with their huglekultur, no dig heirloom vegetable trial beds and accelerated composting systems. The vital work of LifeBEAT, introducing inner city youth to the ways of the land and to their inner selves. The pioneering water powered electrical generator that’s being developed right here on the estate. All of this going on and you can be sure it’s well protected for its wildlife inhabitants too.

    

On a recent walk through the woodlands Nick spoke of charcoal production, coppicing, tiny homes, agroforestry, habitat improvement, and new spaces for leisure. They’re pipe dreams, but having seen what’s already been achieved we know the pipe flows strong. You can’t help but get the feeling that with the right people passing through there’s a whole lot more the estate is destined to become.

    

Ultimately it’s our connection to the land that determines our sanity and wellbeing. We are born of this soil; I don’t mean that in some biblical sense, or some historical sense. I mean that right now, in present time, the very fabric of your body is evolved up through the life forms of the soil. As is so in physicality, the same goes energetically and emotionally. Biodynamics is the invitation to heal soil, body and soul. We may try to distance ourselves from the obvious but unfathomably complex truth of our creation, yet we and the soil are inseparable. When we feel lost and far from home, it is this truth of the soil that we long for, it is this journey that an invitation back to the land offers.

Here, that offering is clear. The facilities are built; a chain of yurts strung like pearls along the river’s edge. The curvy compost loos with views, and hot showers for all. There’s the Stables cafe and a dining room fit to feed an army. The estate even boasts a caravan site with power, water and a shop full of supplies. Here the journey may begin for all who wish to take it.

    

A snowflake has been ambling down the slope here for some years. Now I hear the creaking pressure of a sizeable snowball. And as it rolls, it picks up another curious soul. A man at a crossroads, a student looking for a better way, a women with a kindling idea, a guy left disenchanted and looking for connection. I hope to see them all passing through, leaving their mark, with a 1000 acres of sanity in their hearts.

 

Find out more at www.StanfordHallCSA.co.uk

 

 

Please Brexit Through the Gift Shop…

With Brexit looming a few of us are starting to ask the question “What does it all mean anyway!?”. As an agronomist the question for me is “Where’s my dinner coming from, and at what cost to the Earth and my bank balance?”. 2016’s veggie price hikes give a little clue to what happens when Europe stops sending lettuce our way. With there only being a shade over 0.2 acres of British arable land per capita, the answer doesn’t seem to be in growing it here. Currently the British diet costs between 15 and 16 acres per capita, so we’re very short indeed.

Maybe it was misguided information, maybe it was no information at all or maybe it was for reasons outside of my capacity for understanding, but most British farmers voted for us to leave Europe. The consequences of that decision effect every one of us at least 3 times a day. We import twice as much food from Europe as we export to it, and until now that was without restriction or extra taxation. In fact it was a market lubricated with very favourable subsidisation for the British farmer. Labour at harvest time too, was hugely supported by European workers. “They took our jobs”  and thank goodness they did, as it appears that the British didn’t want to pick their own, or pay another pricey Brit worker to do it for them. Bankruptcy now looms for many British fruit producers, which brings us back to the question, how will we feed ourselves?

It is possible to feed a man on 1/3rd of an acre. It involves a vegan diet, biodynamic soil, close attention to the land from loving hands and a certain amount of appeasement of the gods. Even with those fates and figures… even if everyone in the U.K transformed into a barefooted, poncho clad, vegan over night there’s still not enough arable land to feed us. It looks like the super rich are going to need that wealth they’ve been hoarding after all, as someone’s going to be eating the super pricey imports.

But I jest. Let’s not get all doom and gloom about it. I’m sure we’ll still get to eat a little of that roast beef that we’re so named and famed for across the channel. There are enough neatly trimmed lawns, pony paddocks and golf courses to make up a huge chunk of the shortfall. With some extra care via community supported agriculture, community gardens and home grown vegetables this could be our opportunity to have a much needed lifestyle boost. The answer IS there, right outside our own back doors. Maybe now is the time to make lemonade, to Brexit through the gift shop, to pull together and plant our own little patch of Eden.

 

 

This Summer we are handing out 5000 Seeds of Eden Restoration Packs at festivals such as Give, One Tribe, Tribe of Doris and Positive Vibrations. Let us know if you would like to help us by handing out Packs.

Here are some clues as to what is in the pack

War and Peace

The history of man is littered with conflict. More often than not that has been down to the desire for a certain type of plant, or for a commodity that plants can provide. A part of your seed blend includes many of those species. Once you have the seed, you have abundance, now we can share it.

Plants for a Sustainable Future

There are plants that could bring down the plastic, petrol and poison peddling corporations of the World. For some reason the corporations aren’t shouting about them. Such alternatives are trickling into the market, but if we want to change anything we must all start using them. You’ll see some of these plants popping their heads up in your seed bed too.

The Birds and the Bees

We all know that the birds and the bees need a helping hand right now. Most of us also know that if the bees die out we die out very shortly after. This wildflower entry into the mix also brings a whole lot of beauty!

Famine and Feast

“Moreover he said unto me, Son of man, behold, I will break the staff of bread” 

 Ezekiel Around 540BCE

So who is this Ezekiel fellow!? He’s the the main man in the Book of Ezekiel in the Hebrew Bible. In Judaism, Christianity and Islamic Faith, Ezekiel is acknowledged as a prophet. What he was trying to tell the World is that wheat – the staff of bread – is going to start failing us, and unless we diversify our diet we’re all going to starve and die.  Not wanting to give us a load of problems without any solutions he also left us with a handy recipe for a very nutritious seedy loaf.

Well guess what!? His prophecy just happens to be bang on. We’ve depleted our soils to the point that most of our wheat is not high enough in protein for human consumption, and now goes into animal feed. The wheat we do eat has been inbred and genetically modified to the point that millions of humans can’t digest it, and as if that wasn’t enough, we’ve covered a 3rd of the World’s land mass in a handful of such species, resulting in the mass extinction of both animal and plant species worldwide. Ezekiel’s little recipe doesn’t sound like such a bad idea now, so yup, they’re in the mix. Spread genetic diversity far and wide!

Coming Back to Life

In the beginning Earth had no organic matter for plants to grow in. With the past 20,000 years of ploughing, soil erosion is rapidly sending it back into that condition. So you might ask, how did plants ever get started? There are certain species that we call pioneers, they don’t need much organic matter to get going and gather nutrients in different ways. These plants are still around, and move in when soils are disturbed by landslides, fallen trees, human activity etc. These are the species that can take dead soil and bring it to life. We desperately need to regenerate our soils, so you’ll find some of those in the mix too.

 

How to Sow Your Seeds

Sow from March to May for best results.

Find a sunny patch of ground that measures approximately 4 square meters. If you don’t have your own spot to plant them in, take them out and about and do a little guerrilla gardening. Unmaintained spots that couldn’t be much worse are ideal for low input growing.

Remove any large weeds that might restrict light, this will also open up the surface of the soil for sowing. Sprinkle your seeds on the ground and throw over a little earth. Do a ceremonial shuffle up and down the bed and tread them gently into the surface. If its dry water them in.

Be sure to pop back every so often to see how they’re doing. Give them a little water if they’re desperate, and weed out anything that’s taking over too much. Be careful what you remove, and research any plants you don’t know. Don’t forget, you can always post questions and pictures on our facebook page.

Exciting opportunity to start a Community Supported Agriculture Scheme at a beautiful estate in Leicestershire. We are starting from scratch on a 7 acre field and we need all the help we can get.  You can apply to stay here via WWOOF.org or contact us directly if you are interested!

 

https://www.wwoof.org.uk/news/where-will-you-wwoof-2018

Garden Design:

When designing your growing space it’s important to remember that you are designing a carefully balanced eco-system and considering the wildlife around you from the outset will promote a healthy garden for years to come.

Do – create space for wildlife, but keep the wilder areas away from your main production areas. Remember that the predators that eat the pests need a regular supply of food to survive, so leave some areas where both can survive. Predators are usually larger and faster than prey, so while the pests will only slowly migrate into your production areas, their predators can easily venture out and patrol for anything making its way to your vegetables.

Do – keep your production areas clear of rubbish, hiding places, unnecessary large plants, weeds and structures. That way, if a potential veg muncher strolls onto your patch the predators can easily spot them and catch them.

Do – encourage predators by creating habitats such as hedgehog hotels, ponds for frogs, dragon flies etc. and nesting sites for black birds and other insect eating birds.

Don’t – use raised beds with wooden sides unless you absolutely have to. They create excellent hiding places for slugs, snails and woodlice.

Don’t – site your compost heap and other material storage near your productive beds, the wildlife area is much better for this.

Soil:

So called pests serve a very important purpose in the cycle of life. In the same way that we’d be piled up high with corpses if the flies didn’t use them to feed their young; we’d be surrounded by dead and dying plants if it wasn’t for the creatures that ate them. Pests and diseases only attack plants that are already weakened by either age or poor growing conditions. If your plants have pests the likelihood is that your soil is not right for them. Put 2 inches of compost on the surface of the soil each spring and autumn and the majority of pests will have little effect. Those that do arrive will soon be followed by their predators, so you don’t have to do anything. For a more in depth look at how to care for your soil join us for our regular workshops.

 

When Planting:

Slugs and snails are nature’s way of thinning seedlings; they just don’t do it in neat rows like humans do. If you want neat rows you have to protect plants while they are young and getting going. Protection methods vary from plant to plant and garden to garden, some will be listed later. In the meantime, here’s a few do’s and don’ts:

Don’t – use pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, or artificial fertilisers, especially those with an NPK ratio above 10. These will kill the soil food web right from the very bottom. Natures’ clear up team will then move in to clear away the mess, which (being a silly thinky thinky human being) you’ll mistake for another problem that you’ll have to fix with yet more “clever” human solutions.

Don’t – think you’ll ever understand the entire great mystery that is the ecosystem of which you’re a part of. Simply observe it, allow it, and lend a hand in helping it to regain the balance which it had before human intervention.

Don’t – plant your whole batch out at once, put a few out and wait and see what protection you might need. When you do plant the rest of the batch out protect accordingly and pot on and hold a few plants back to fill in gaps where you lose the odd plant here and there.

Do- use compost, actively aerated compost teas and other “microbe herding” techniques to create the ecosystem that the plants that you want to grow require. To learn more about these methods attend our tailored workshops.

Do – water rarely, for many reasons that are too lengthy to explain here, but with regards to slugs and snails, if you have to water, water really thoroughly. Allow the surface to dry out and leave it that way unless you see your plants are desperate for a drink.

Do – companion plant and interplant wherever possible. Nature doesn’t do monoculture, if you create one you’ll create an imbalance and nature will come and fix it in its own inevitable way.

companion planting

Do – remove lower and dying leaves so that they don’t give hiding space and food for slugs and snails.

A few protection methods and their pros and cons:

Slugs and Snails:

Wool – Wool can be either bought in pelleted form or simply collected from sheep fields

  • Pros: Gastropods don’t like crawling on it, it dries up their mucus and irritates their foot, it can be found for free and doubles up as a slow release nitrate.
  • Cons: It can blow away leaving plants exposed, it’s not 100% effective and the pellets are quite pricey.

Coffee Grounds – used coffee grounds can be sprinkled on the ground, and given the option the slugs will avoid it.

  • Pros: It’s cheap and easy to come by, it breaks down as a slow release nitrate and it helps to prevent weed germination.
  • Cons: Uncomposted coffee grounds prevent germination of your seed as well as that of weeds and more than 5% of it in your growing medium inhibits growth. It’s not as affective when on wet soil.

Crushed Egg Shells – Slugs don’t like crawling over sharp or gritty stuff, that includes egg shells, but you have to crush them quite fine.

  • Pro’s : They’re cheap and easy to get hold of, they break down leaving calcium and trace elements for plants and they aid drainage once taken into the soil.
  • Cons: They’re not 100% effective and processing them can get smelly and tedious.

Sharp Sand: Sharp sand acts in the same way as egg shells, and although it doesn’t break down into nutrients as quickly, it does still aid drainage at the surface.

Brambles – all those tiny spikes make a little barbed wire fence against slugs and snails.

  • Pros: They’re cheap and easy to get hold of and they’re very effective if positioned correctly.
  • Cons: They can be fiddly to deal with, especially if you have a lot of plants to protect.

Copper Tape: Gastropods don’t like climbing over copper; they receive minute electric shocks if they try.

  • Pros: It’s very effective, tape can last a while and it’s easy to apply.
  • Cons: It’s expensive as it has to be pure copper; it also has to be non-corroded so it only suits places such as around propagation benches where it won’t get too weathered.

Bottle Cloches – Bottle cloches help to harden off, get plants established and offer some protection against pests too.

  • Pros: They’re easy to make, cheap and very effective.
  • Cons: They need air holes in them and sometimes blow away so slugs still sometimes get their dinner.

All of the above methods help to get plants established and work best in a garden that already has a well-balanced soil food web. In extreme circumstances however, more drastic action may be needed to reduce the gastropod population. This is where nematode herding comes in. There is a type of nematode that is naturally present in nature that feeds by entering the gastropods’ body and farming bacteria while inside, effectively breaking the slug down and killing it. To do this you need to collect around 50 slugs or snails, and if you can’t collect anywhere near that number you don’t need to take such action. We can show you how this is done, and give you a slug that is infected with the nematodes to get your own brew off to a quick start.

Other protection methods for various species come in the form of nets, fleeces and specific companion plantings. Let us know what you’re struggling with and we’ll show you the solutions.

 

The weather is hotting up and our warmth loving veg is going out. Here we’ve been planting the famous 3 sisters; corn, squash (6 types) and beans. The 3 sisters companion planting system is a stroke of South American genius that allows you to produce huge amounts of winter storers with very little input.  If you’ve got a patch of ground that you’re just bringing into cultivation this system really helps to clear the ground. Simply lay down a couple of layers of card, cover with 6 inches of well rotted manure and plant under mini cloches (half bottles with air holes work great). These protect the plants not only from pests and the elements, but also from manure falling on the stems and rotting them. once the plants are established you can pull the cloches away and let them romp. The roots will work their way under the card and find all the food and water these hungry plants need.