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Archive for June, 2011

This month’s entry is a version of the June article written for the BL Magazine.

Summer, in theory, has arrived. However, June, in reality has been a tad on the disappointing side; May wasn’t that great either. I don’t, obviously, refer to the South but the North West. A couple of days ago the daytime temperature here was just over 9˚C followed by a rather chilly evening; we ended up lighting the wood burner [the one in the lounge, not in the garden]. Doesn’t sound much like June does it.

Earlier this year, around Easter, the North West was blessed with some dry weather; we certainly deserve it after four consecutive years of wash out summers. I often joke about how the wetter summers being entirely my fault… they arrived the first season I set about the gardening round. But they are no laughing matter; gardening in the rain is certainly no fun; postponing jobs means postponing your income; and, more worryingly, they allude to a more sinister underlying fear that our climate really is changing.

The delicately balanced world we inhabit is being bombarded by all manner of ecological assaults [pollution, depleting resources like oil, mass farming, GM crops…etc]; it is inevitable that there will be consequences somewhere down the line. You only need to watch Professor Brian Cox’s ‘Wonders of the Universe’ to realise how humanity hinges on a myriad of scientific laws, subtleties and what seem like incredibly random coincidences. Our world is sensitive and even the smallest changes are bound to make a difference at some point; it is only logical.

Living more sustainably [eyes rolling or not] is gaining in momentum and is something I’m having a go at; from making a conscious effort to buying British to growing my own fruit [and harping on to everyone else how great and easy it is to grow]; to buying the kids chickens instead of rabbits [got to have something that earns its keep].

As gardeners we tend to be patient and appreciate the seasons, we will plant bulbs in the autumn and look forward to their colourful blooms six or seven months later. We will plant young fruit trees and happily wait a few years for the first fruits, we can plant an acorn with the thought that we probably won’t see it in its maturity…but our children will. I love this about gardening and have realised that living sustainably commands the same kind of patience and forward thinking.

There are many things that we can do in the garden to reduce our impact on the environment. Recycling water, from collecting rain in butts to re-using our grey water from our sinks or baths is an obvious step… although up here in the North West we seem to have enough rainfall during the supposedly dry summer months to not have to do this…at all. Next would be the organic way by avoiding the use of pesticides and harnessing nature’s natural predators and remedies to do the work. Growing-your-own is a sustainable choice and the idea of using our gardens more resourcefully is without doubt becoming even more popular.

However, there is a darker side to gardeners. One of the most contentious issues facing the horticultural world and the home gardener is the use of peat. Peat is in demand as a growing medium for our plants because it possesses a number of qualities; it has the capacity to hold good amounts of air and water and has naturally low pH and nutrients… which suits a diverse range of plant species. The problem is peat is a natural material formed by the decay of the sphagnum moss, found growing in wetland bogs, taking hundreds of years to form. Peat lands also have the ability to store carbon [CO2] rather than releasing it all into the atmosphere, making them incredibly important habitats to help balance our increasingly warming climate.

The horticultural demand for peat to fill our hanging baskets, containers and seed trays has resulted in the loss of an incredible 94% of the UK’s lowland peat bogs since the beginning of the 19th century [according to figures from The Wildlife Trust]. What are left are fragmented areas struggling to regenerate. No garden, no matter how spectacular, should knowingly be at the expense of our natural habitat.

There are numerous peat ‘alternatives’ available made from a range of different by-products like coir [coconut fibre], leaf mould, green compost [council compost], garden compost, composted bracken, wood based residues, worm compost and other natural manures. If you live up North, check out Dalefoot Composts in Cumbria www.dalefootcomposts.co.uk for some very interesting sustainable alternatives.

Another option, and a very cost-effective one, is making your own compost. One thing I would add to this previous post [gained from my recent experiences of becoming a chicken keeper] is that chicken poop plus the biodegradable bedding I use [Bliss Bedding] has created the hottest and steamiest compost heap I have ever had! It’s incredible! Within five weeks of having the chickens I noticed the change in the heap; the brown and green stuff ratio is obviously perfectly balanced now and with the regular decanting of chicken droppings into the bin it also gets more of a mix…speeding up the whole decomposing process. All-in-all…chickens rock!

Since writing this article for BL Magazine back in May, Mark Diacono has written a brilliant article for the Daily Telegraph ‘Do we need to use peat?’ which goes into more depth about the alternatives and is accompanied by Monty Don’s peat-free compost recipes.

So, the next time you’re planning to fill up your hanging baskets look out for compost with the Peat Free label on the bag; if they don’t stock any…don’t stand for it, complain and demand the alternatives. By 2020 all growing media products for home gardeners are to be Peat Free… if new Government targets are reached…

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