Thursday 29 January 2015

There is more to life than gardening. Just...

It's not just about gardening here. Ok, it's mainly about gardening and occasionally something non-gardening related sneaks in; it is 'and other musings' after all. This is one of those times.

Like many gardeners, I have more strings to my bow than just gardening, and something I spend a lot of time on is campaigning with Global Justice Now (formerly World Development Movement), and over the last nearly 6 years I've also been on its national Council and Executive. It's been a role that I've both enjoyed and learned from, including how a democratic activist organisation is run and being a part of managing and developing its overall direction.

My reign of power comes to an end at the June AGM (sob), and Global Justice Now is looking for new people to join its Council. So I've written a little article about it and it would be great if you could take a look. The intro is included below, or you can go straight to the full article on the Global Justice Now website.

I'd like to live in a world where I don't have to keep campaigning for social and economic justice and can instead spend more time in the garden. That will only happen if more people join the movement and together we bring the change we want to see.

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Cross-posting 28th January 2015: The movement needs your voice
2015 is election year for Global Justice Now. Taking place every three years, council elections determine the governing body of Global Justice Now, which is made up of a range of people including recent and long-term supporters of the organisation and activists from local groups. Now, before you think this isn’t relevant to me – STOP - yes it is, and we need your voice on council.

The heart of Global Justice Now is its members and local group activists. I’ve been a member of Global Justice Now since about 2001, and over the years I have campaigned on issues from GATS to food speculation. I have helped put on public meetings, lobby MPs and MEPs, run stalls, taken part in demonstrations and campaign stunts, set up and run group websites and managed social media activities. I’m saying this, not because it’s unique, but because it’s an example of what a lot of you reading this will have been involved in too.

People often say...  Read the full article

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What do we want?
  More gardening!
When do we want it?

Wednesday 21 January 2015

Plants for boggy shade

Series 2 of Great British Garden Revival has had many enjoyable episodes, and for me, the most inspiring was the one on last night (21st January) with Joe Swift encouraging us to include a Bog Garden in our gardens.

By accident I've ended up with a boggy area in my garden, which I've mentioned in May 2014, and my end of year review in December 2014. I've been trying to decide whether I want a boggy garden area or not, and last nights episode rather convinced me I should give it a go. So Joe Swift, you've got at least one person supporting your revival.

After the show ended, I re-watched and caught the names of the plants that I was interested in. I also sent a tweet to Fibrex Nurseries, knowing that one of their specialities is Ferns, and asked them for suggestions for a boggy shady area. As you can see below, quite a lot. I appreciate their suggestions; I've bought Pelargoniums from them too, another speciality, and along with their frequent helpful advice on Twitter, I recommend them to you.

So this is the list of plants for boggy shade that the Garden Revival and Fibrex Nurseries have suggested. I won't be getting them all; I wish I had a garden big enough! But it's a really great start from which I can investigate further and then decide what I think will work for my garden.

Plant suggestions from the Great British Garden Revival
Candelabra primulas

Dicksonia Antartica possibly too big for my garden, but one can dream


Cimicifuga 'Brunette', which I know as Actaea simplex (Atropurpurea Group) 'Brunette' and in fact already have near the boggy area. So 1 point to me :)

Kirengeshoma palmata a plant I've been admiring in other gardens for some time. Not sure if it might be too big for mine, so I will investigate further.

Ragged Robin Another plant I love and have, but not in the boggy area. So more seed of this possibly.

Actually, I should stop calling it the 'boggy area'. Henceforth. it will be the 'small boggy border'. Suggestions of better names appreciated!

Plant suggestions from Fibrex Nurseries
Matteuccia struthopteris (shuttlecock fern, ostrich feather fern)

Osmunda (esp regalia Purpurescens-Gorgeous). Another I already have but in a different part of the garden. I've been thinking about moving it, as I cannot admire it's purple stems enough where it is. So it's going into the small boggy border.

Onoclea sensibilis (sensitive fern, bead fern) red form

Onoclea sensibilis (sensitive fern, bead fern) green form

Dryopteris wallichiana

Athyriums in general, including the following that I liked from their pictures:
  Athyrium filix-femina
  Athyrium nipponicum pictum (Japanese Painted Fern)
  Athyrium otophorum

Thelypteris palustris (Marsh Fern)

Thelypteris decursive-pinnata

Woodwardia was suggested, but Fibrex Nurersies advised they might get too big, so I need to research this one carefully
  Woodwardia fimbriata (Giant Chain Fern)
  Woodwardia radicans (European Chain Fern)

Dryopteris dilitata (Broad Buckler)

That's a rather good list there. Note: I've listed the boggy-shady plants that I was particularly interested in and that would suit my garden. There are many more to suit all tastes and situations. Let the bog garden revival begin.

This episode of Great British Garden Revival will be available to UK viewers until c. mid February on BBC iPlayer: Bog gardens and soft fruit.

Monday 12 January 2015

Gardening with ME: planning the kitchen garden year

The dark days of December are over. The light at the end of the tunnel, that is, the ever lengthening days of January and the promise of a new kitchen gardening year, are in reach. Like many gardeners, I suffer from seed catalogue syndrome, aka my eyes being bigger than my plot.

Seed catalogues tempt you with new cultivars, promises that this squash really will be the one you have been looking for to deal with the vagaries of the UK climate, and will overload you with more squash than you can ever hope for. Terms such as 'blight resistance', 'carrot fly resistance', 'club root resistance' offer hope for pest and disease free crops. Resistance is not useless! Then there is the oohhing and ahhhing over a new variety of chard with all the colours of the rainbow. It's all very exciting.

But. There is a but. I've decided to take a step back and think more carefully before I get overrun with new ideas. I'm getting a little better at managing my ME and this means I've recognised that I only have X amount of energy and I need to make sure that I put my gardening spoons where it they will biggest impact for least amount of energy expended. Which is also a very permaculture way of looking at things. I've made some decisions and here is how I'm going to focus my energy in the 2015 kitchen garden year.

I am going to use my limited energy growing what I know and love, and get better at that rather than try anything new. 
In recent years I've been attempting to try growing a new vegetable each season. This has led me to add new (to me) vegetables such as fennel bulbs and kohl rabi to my growing list. It's great to try something new, and I plan to do so in the future, I'd love to try Oca, for instance, but it takes more energy and time as you read and learn your way around a new crop.

I've decided I want to get better at what I'm already growing instead. For instance, I really do want to get better at growing pumpkins/winter squash. I adore pumpkins and they are a key autumn-winter food for me, but I've not had any success with them in the last couple of years, and it's not just because of the weather. The 2014 pumpkins all got blossom rot and I think I need to improve the soil conditions, amongst other things. Yes, I will try a new variety, Galeuse D'eysines Winter Squash from Real Seeds, I am a humble-gardener looking for the perfect-in-the-UK-climate-pumpkin after all... I'll just focus my energy on trying to get this crop right rather than have my head turned by fancy new vegetables and then end up trying to managing both badly.

I'm going to grow what I like, not what I think I should like.
Growing perennials is the cornerstone of a permaculture kitchen garden. And personal energy wise, as well as soil etc energy wise, it makes sense as once a perennial takes off, it's just a little maintenance, in contrast to annuals which need starting over again and again. However, you have to like the perennial, don't you, otherwise, you are wasting your time and the limited resource (space etc) on something you don't like. So, as mentioned in my end of month/year post, I've decided not to continue to grow the perennial Kale. It's coming out. Because I don't like it very much. I prefer the taste of dwarf curly kale or the nero di toscana type of kale. This means my 'perennial veg bed' will be left with one plant of non-flowering sorrel, which I do love eating, and some space for something else.

That something else is going to be some cut flowers. I used to grow cut flowers, but kind of forgot about them for a couple of years. Following, on Twitter, people such as @TheFlowerFarmer of Common Farm Flowers and @wellywomanblog, author of The Cut Flower Patch, in recent months has reminded me of the joy of cut flowers. But no, I'm not going to expend lots of energy on learning about new plants. I'm going to keep it simple and grow something I know, have grown before, and love, Cosmos. I picked up some pretty Cosmos Antiquity which I picked up from Hardy's Cottage Garden Plants last year and I'm excited about growing those in place of the unloved perennial kale.

I'm growing because I enjoy it and I love the food, not to be self-sufficient
A few years ago, when I was a much healthier person, I got to the point of being around 6 months self-sufficient in vegetables. For example, I grew 10-12 potato varieties each season in 6 x 1 metre beds, and we had enough stored to get us through 6 months. And I grew beds full of courgettes, tomatoes, carrots, parsnip, beans etc. It kind of became a thing I had to do, rather than a thing I loved. I mean, I did love the growing and the work, but I also stressed myself about trying to be more 'self-sufficient'.

I have a smaller garden now. I have ME now. New rules are needed. Rule number one is that I love being in the garden and growing my vegetables and flowers, and that in itself, is enough. Take time to smell the garlic, and anything extra is a bonus.

That also means I don't have to save seeds from every crop I grow in order to be seed-self-sufficient too. I don't need to be seed-self-sufficient. Yes, I hope to save some seed from my favourite (heritage) dwarf French beans and lettuce. But if they end up not being saved, well, there are plenty of seed catalogues out there.

Workability: I will accept that even with all my hopes and planning, it may all fall apart
In the context of the above, I have plenty of plans. I can almost taste this years broad beans with feta and mint salad. I can see a vase of Cosmos sitting on top of the stove in the lounge. But, ME happens. I hope that I won't have to lose another crop of climbing French beans to ME. But I might. So I need some 'workability' (as my counsellor called it). Work with what I have and take it from there. If I don't get to eat the beans, well, the bees will have had some food. And I still would have enjoyed the growing.

Planning my kitchen garden year hasn't turned out to be a set of plans with dates, numbers sown, germination rates, expected harvests, etc. It's a frame of mind. I'm comfortable with that. Happy growing.

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Tim over at Notes of Nature has joined in with the #GardeningWithME meme, and has written a great post that fits into the theme of this one, on planning and pacing, making choices and changes, in his latest post Gardening with ME: Getting Started. Do visit his blog.

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I welcome your comments and thoughts. And if you blog about gardening with ME/a chronic illness, link to this post in your blog, and leave a comment below with a link to your post, so we can all find each other.

About Gardening with ME

Twitter hashtag: #GardeningWithME

Other posts...
  Gardening with ME: sowing broad beans via micro-tasking
  Gardening with ME: weather and energy

Wednesday 7 January 2015

Seed viability: 2015 update

Update 5th January 2019: please see the 2019 update to this post

When I undertake my annual sorting through my seeds to see whether they are still viable (in date), I cross-check it against the Seed Viability spreadsheet that I originally created in 2012. In doing so the other day, I thought I'd check whether there have been any changes to when people consider seeds to remain viable.

Those from Amateur Gardening magazine, haven't changed since 2012. The Seed Savers' Handbook by Michel and Jude Fanton hasn't been updated, so their 1993 edition still stands. There are some differences in the viability periods in the John Harrison listings. The 2012 dates were based on L D Hills, whereas his 2014 listing was updated in light of comments from a few expert growers.

There are other websites (predominantly in the US) now listing information on seed viability (not so much in 2012), however I'm sticking with these as they are comparable, which is the best I think you can hope for in this area of horticulture where if, as John Harrison says "...there are 3 growers assembled you will get 4 opinions!" For me, those listed below give enough indication of what to expect. Furthermore, I got the vegetable list from the Seed Savers Handbook from the Heritage Seed Library in 2012 and I figure they know what they are talking about.

It's important to note that even with the viability ranges listed, seeds can often either fall short of expected viability, or be viable for a much longer period. Much can depend on how they are stored. John Harrison offered some useful advice:
As you probably know, viability is very subject to storage conditions. Consistent, cool and dry being the best. Don't fall for the 'frozen keep forever' - the seed banks like the huge one in Norway prepare the seeds very carefully before they go to the minus 20 store deep underground - ready to replenish the earth after the asteroid hits or whatever. Just freezing will kill off most seeds as the water in them forms ice crystals that rupture the cell membranes.
Incidentally I've sown courgette seeds 7 years past the date on the unopened packet and got 100% germination! Obviously the old car's glovebox was the perfect place...
So view the figures above as a guideline. And if you have the time and energy, don't be afraid to experiment with 'out of date' seeds.

If you would like to know about seed germination, John Harrison's website has some useful information on how to test for this.

Amateur Gardening, 20th December 2014

The Seed Savers' Handbook, Michel and Jude Fanton, 1993 Photocopy sheet from Appendix A

John Harrison, 5th January 2015 & email correspondence 8th January 2015.