Sunday, 11 June 2017

Your environment needs you!

Even in the most built up suburbs, we all have some connection with the environment. Whether this is a few street trees, a small park, window boxes or bird feeders on a balcony, it is still a connection, a chance for wildlife and fauna to exist and to flourish.

Much has been written about the benefits of having trees in built up areas, they absorb CO2 and pollution, they act as shade and mitigate the heat effect of the city environment, they will support some form of other life, even it is just a few sparrows and invertebrates. And yet, for some, they are inconvenient, too hard to maintain, to mow around. Sheffield City Council and Amey PLC are chopping down large numbers of trees against local wishes in Sheffield and campaigns such as @thesadsquirrel on Twitter among others are fighting to try and save them. Some of these trees even act as memorials to soldiers lost in the world wars, but this doesn't seem to be enough to spare them.

And now, we have as Environment Secretary here in the UK a man who regards wildlife and environmental laws as inconvenient, who is completely unprepared and unqualified to do this job. The Government itself is prepared to do deals with a political party who (among many other controversial policies) has climate change deniers and creationists among its MPs!

So, what to do? There are plenty of organisations who are prepared to stand up for nature, for the environment, to campaign against destructive policies, actions and developments. Everyone canm write to their MP about issues in the local area and online petitions can be promoted to garner widespread support. Any MP wishes to keep their seat, especially at the moment with such a fluid and evenly balanced situation in Parliament, and enough local opposition to a proposal will cause them to take notice, especially in marginal constituencies. Collective. focused action can work, and even direct protests, done in the right way, can have an effect on public opinion and those in power.

We can also get involved, with volunteering, donations to wildlife and environmentally friendly organisations, to enable them to do projects to protect species, habitats, to lobby and campaign and for collective action. Each of us can some something positive directly for nature, from a bird feeder, a patch of wildflowers in a garden, plants good for pollinators (though do be careful and have a look at the work of Dave Gouldson on supposedly bee-friendly flowers on sale in certain stores), leaving a pile of twigs in a corner for a hedgehog to make its home, or a patch of nettles or buddleia for butterflies.

On a wider scale, we can change travelling habits, not quite as easy as it sounds sometimes, local public transport can sometimes be expensive or infrequent or not convenient to get to work. Changing to a more fuel efficient car, or if affordable an electric one. In the house we can use energy efficiently, recycle as much as possible and choose products that minimize impact on the environment and wildlife. Again, not easy sometimes and making certain choices may be difficult for some. But most people are in reach of a store with local produce, or a market, or can choose produce as local as possible from the supermarket where possible. Or grow your own! Even in a flat, like my grandparents were 10 floors up, you can grow tomatoes and peppers and cucumbers!

The message is, don't give up, keep looking at ways to change habits and purchasing in favour of the environmental benefit, and do the best you can under whatever circumstances you find yourself financially and physically.


















Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Our friendly blackbird

On all four sides of the allotment are hedges now with a mixed cotoneaster, holly, hawthorn,bramble, rosehip and some other bushes I can't name at the top end (one of which has beautiful yellow flowers), and also a hazelnut tree filling in a gap on one side and privet/hawthorn around the rest.
Last year, we had a blackbird nest in one hedge, the sparrows in the middle of the hawthorn at the top and a robin nesting in the hazelnut tree.

Not quite as busy this year, sparrows down the bottom and a blackbird nest at one side. Now, there were a pair of blackbirds early on going into the hedge but of late, since the chick has left the hedge, it only seems to be the male that is feeding the fledgling.






Here's the fledgling, as is usual with young birds they just sit around look very sorry for themselves and a little bit helpless, but of course it is better to leave them alone for their parent to find them. As happened in this case, the male blackbird came and worked its way down the allotment making a gentle calling note until eventually the little one caught sight of it and clumsily flew into the damson tree to have a catch up with Dad!

Around the allotments at least one other blackbird pair have nested, there was a young mistle thrush this evening (last year both mistle and song thrushes fledged young, as well as dunnocks, and robins and maybe a pair of linnets that hung around from Spring).

The swifts are whizzing around as well now, from just 5 two nights ago to 9 last night and now 25+. Some house martins around as well but for swallows you have to go to the next villages and for sand martins down to the river. No bats yet, there's usually at least one or two as it goes dark down the allotment path.

Monday, 8 May 2017

When last season still hasn't finished..

One of the rather pleasing inconveniences of growing your own is when a particular vegetable produces for so long that it takes up space that is needed for next season's vegetables! This is what has happened with the purple broccoli, which has still been producing right up until now. 

Also shown are some of the asparagus spears we have been growing, as with all asparagus plants it can only be cut for 4-5 weeks to avoid weakening the plant too much so it is very much a crop of late April-May and a very time limited treat!
Here is one of the purple broccoli plants. This patch is actually needed for this year's potatoes, some of which have been put in where the broccoli isn't (with protection on more than one night against frost damage!). Normally we let the broccoli go to flowers to help pollinators at this time of year but this year it is coming straight up after going to flowers so that more potatoes (Sarpo Mira, Desiree, Red Duke of York) can go in. 

Monday, 24 October 2016

Note to Blackbird....

It does seem strange that even though the harvest of this year's crops is nowhere near finished, we are sowing a crop for next year already!

We have had good success for many years with "Japanese" onion sets, which give home grown onions from late June onwards! And although they don't store for quite as long as main crop onions, it is worth it to get them so early!

Anyway, as with any onion sets, they do tend to get pulled up again by blackbirds that do not seem to know the difference between the "tail" of an onion and a worm!

So, for all blackbirds reading this, here is a handy guide!

Onion set:


Worm:


Talking of worms, we started digging over vacant patches this week and each spade put in brought up worms, which of course is a very good sign! Some people advocate a no-dig system, putting a large layer of mulch over the earth which worms and other creatures take down into the earth. We dig over the soil to help remove weeds such as couch grass (a real problem in the allotment), docks, dandelions and so on. Also, the local blackbirds, robin, song and mistle thrush love having a root round where we have been digging, getting quite tame sometimes. But then, rather than digging in the compost and manure, we just spread it over the grown and then let the worms do their work!



Saturday, 23 July 2016

Renewables and Brexit

One of the many concerns around Brexit is what this might do for our obligations under the EU Climate Change treaties.

Obviously, after Brexit we would have no specific obligation to meet any new EU target but we have incorporated measures into the Climate Change Act already.

Unfortunately we seem to have gone backwards somewhat, with a hard brake on solar power and onshore wind subsidies (when the industry was expecting a gradual reduction and phase out).

The Carbon Capture and Storage proposal fund has been shelved and vested interests, political interference and NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) attitudes often oppose what are sensible schemes for generating more power from renewables.

The cabinet reshuffle the other week doesn't bode well for environmental protections generally but with the axing of the Department of Energy and Climate Change and the responsibilities passing over to another department more focused on business vested interests will still mean such as gas and oil and coal will be preferred over renewables.

Many other countries are investing heavily in renewables and some examples as below:

Portugal - 48% renewable generation
Netherlands Plans for offshore wind generation
China  Some controversial schemes but huge turnaround from the coal dependent generation a few years ago

 (In fact if you're a train enthusiast and want to see some of the last "service" steam locomotives in use in the world there's only a few dozen left in China now with, I think, just one passenger service which uses steam due to diesels not coping with the high altitude of the line. There's (surprisingly) a handful in Bosnia at a coal mine as well! There were a few in Ghana as well but India went diesel/electric a few years ago)

I'm reading An Optimist's Tour of the Future by Mark Stevenson and this, although written about 3 or 4 years ago now, gives so many different projects that people are working on, such as carbon capture, improving solar cells and so on.  There's a really low tech way of improving soil and grazing and conserving water in the Australian Outback simply by changing the way cattle herds are managed!

In summary, with the right investment, right cooperation across countries, business and institutions, and with the proper steer and commitment and investment from Government, we can bring down the amount of carbon in the atmosphere, run on cleaner generated energy, become more energy efficient and sustainable.

But an isolationist, populist departure from the EU, together with vested interests having too much influence at the top of Government (and quite frankly some selfish and short-termist views of some of those in power) is going to be very bad for the environment and for the climate generally.







Sunday, 26 June 2016

Allotment update - late June 2016

The allotment is nearly full now and everything is in. The full list is as follows:

1st section:

Onions, leeks, parsnips, mini sweetcorn, nasturtiums, garlic (just picked), carrots

2nd section

Peas, three types of beans, sweetcorn, two minarette pear trees, 3 blueberry plants, lavender (last three permanent), pumpkins

3rd section (permanent beds)

Raspberries, blackcurrants, rhubarb, minarette damson, minarette apple

4th section

Asparagus bed (permanent), potatoes, 1 random cauliflower that should have come up last year! Minarette apple (permanent)

5th section

Courgettes, strawberry sweetcorn, cabbages, broccoli

Sides

Strawberries, autumn raspberries, blackberries, Pinot Mernier grape vine, minarette apple

Also - at house - peppers, cucamelon, fig tree, grape vine, Meyer lemon, rocket, mini carrots, tomato

Bird update

Still possibly one occupied nest in hawthorn tree at top end, possibly house sparrows. Was a blackbird nest in side hedge. Song and Mistle thrushes have nested somewhere nearby, as have robins.



Recent sightings have included first record of a garden warbler and linnets. And - although not a good photo, this red kite has been regular, and was very low at times - calling out as well.












Unfortunately we may have a problem (although maybe the solution is pictured above!)

This was in a neighbouring allotment though I suspect that it has had a look round ours.

Monday, 30 May 2016

Rhubarb Chutney

Time for something new, not tried this recipe before, but with quite a lot of rhubarb to get through, it seems like a good idea! 

In Yorkshire, an area between Leeds and Wakefield is known as the "Rhubarb Triangle"
The rhubarb in the allotment was originally a root cut off one winter from some from my mum's plant, which is from the same type of soil just outside the designated EU area - that being said there was a forcing shed near their house. 

Anyway, what you will need to make approximately 2-3 jars of chutney is:

1kg rhubarb, washed, peeled and diced. 
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped into small pieces
Pickling spice (usually obtainable in small jars from the supermarket where all the other jars of herbs and spices are)
200ml pickling vinegar
400g sugar
1 small lemon (I used two really small ones from the Meyer lemon tree we have)
1 small piece of ginger root, peeled and chopped up small. (if you want to have a bit of fizz on your tongue, try a small piece of raw ginger!)
First step is to wash, peel and chop up the rhubarb, sometimes you can just peel it straight off with your fingers, but sometimes you can - pointing away from you - pare the skin off as if you were whittling a piece of wood. Dice up and place in a large saucepan. De-seed and chop up the lemon roughly. 
Then peel and chop up the onion and add to the pan. (note I actually made two 500g batches of chutney, one with onion and one without)




 





Peel and chop up the ginger and weigh out the sugar, and measure out the vinegar. Note that I have used a mixture of dark brown and white sugar but all it does is vary the colour of the chutney.


  





Add all the ingredients to the pan, and then boil up and simmer until everything goes mushy. Then, using a potato masher, mash up all the mixture and then boil up until the vinegar has reduced and the chutney is rather sticky and clingy. 








Then spoon into sterilized jars - it's easier using a funnel on top of the jar, seal and allow to cool before labelling up.