30 December 2012

I Forgot To Explore

Oh, poor neglected blog. My excuses range from cold, junk-stuffed room, to Christmas plate-spinning. As the silent days multiplied the motivating reason for this electronic articulation of garden love faded into a whisper. The rustle of chocolate wrappers and jingle of 24/7 (or so it seemed) Christmas DVDs were louder than the sob of the great outdoors. Which, let’s face it, is currently grey, wet and a bit chilly. And thus, lit by the glow of tree lights, and embedded in a comfy sofa, I relegated Garden65 to the status of a New Year’s resolution, i.e. to be done in January.

But that was then. Today after some Sunday leisurely labyrinthine web-surfing I came across these words written by an illustrator/guerilla artist, Keri Smith, that remind me of why I began and continued to engage with my dear blog.

I forgot that the world, here symbolised by the microcosm of a Mancunian back garden, is worthy of exploration.

Happy New Year to you. May the stories you find in 2013 be intriguing.

11 December 2012

Which Charity Gets My Money?

Having come to the conclusion that The Woodland Trust doesn’t need my tiny donation anymore I thought I’d have a look at the worthiness of some other conservation charities. If I have any firm opinions on the state of the natural world in Britain it would be that it is the little things of the ecosystems that are being neglected. Trees, birds and badgers, sea eagles and beavers need money to improve their lot, but isn’t it obvious that they exist in a complex world – a system, in fact – balanced on the health of insects and microbes and ugly diddly things? Jo Public can be persuaded to give money to plant romantic oaks or bring in cute beavers from Europe, but how will you inspire her to part with cash to help increase the number of insects, or tackle councils who keep her roadside verges tidy (too tidy)?

To be honest there is a growing fashion for wildlife gardening, and I guess the publicised panic over bees covers a panic of other less attractive pollinators. It seems the importance of the small-scale is getting across. Perhaps I’m just catching hold of the zeitgeist after all.

Either way I’ve decided to take a closer look at three charities who work at the base of ecosystems: plants, insects and ponds: Plantlife, Buglife and Pond Conservation.

I’ve put some basic information in a table form in the document below.

They are all newly created charities with a small staff. Bizarrely Germaine Greer is the President of Buglife, with the arty guy who makes a programme with Fiona Bruce as President of Plantlife. Interestingly, Pond Conservation seems to have attracted the big guns to its board of trustees. A Lord is the President alongside lots of chairmen and members of select committees of important sounding institutions. Buglife’s trustees are publicity friendly tv presenters (though I’m glad to see EO Wilson there too), and Plantlife’s trustees are a gentler more arty crowd. I wonder if it is important who does the networking at high levels for the success of a charity. It will be interesting to see if Pond Conservation grows.

As a member of The Woodland Trust I received a glossy magazine and constant requests for donations. Plantlife will send a magazine, Pond Conservation has ‘e-updates’, and Buglife sends out a newsletter and some posters and a badge. Isn’t it fascinating how they have positioned themselves? Plantlife seems to have the traditional approach, Pond is modern, and Buglife assumes its members will be boy scouts.

All of them claim to spend only 1% of their income on ‘governance’. Pond spends 92% on conservation work, Plantlife 83% and Buglife 89%. The Woodland Trust 74%.

So we are getting a picture of their characters, but what of the work they do? Recently despite its child-friendly image Buglife has written letters to the government over the issue of banning neonicotinoids and appeared at select committees. Personally I think this is a very important subject and I’m glad to see them getting serious. I am hoping this will get more publicity in the future.

Buglife’s future projects seem interesting. They will be looking at strandlines on beaches and how over-tidying beaches affects the delicate populations of insects higher up the beach. Now that is clever thinking. There will also be research into invertebrate numbers (like the BTO’s bird count?) and earthworm trends. As a member this is the sort of thing I’d like to see my money going on.

Pond Conservation also has counting projects. I think it comes under the umbrella of citizen science. It digs ponds and gives advice.

Plantlife gives a moderate impression, which may be unfair. Their campaign to discourage councils from cutting verges before the flowers have set seed wafted into my consciousness this year, so the publicity for that must have worked, especially as there are no verges to worry about here. Perhaps their greater work is done on the nature reserves they run.

So .... where will my two pennyworth be going?

  • This year Plantlife can be left to their own devices. I need to know more about what they are doing.
  • I don’t want a poster or a badge, but I do worry about insects
  • Then again, I’d like to be a member of the cool gang that is Pond Conservation

It’s going to be Buglife in 2013, with an eye kept on Pond Conservation and ear out for any other charity working at ground level.

Comparing Conservation Charities

8 December 2012

Vegetable Knowledge

Virginia Woolf in a great hat with Angelica Bell

 I'm a bit miffed that I've not posted for a while. I haven't managed to keep up with the self-imposed posting schedule of one every other day. Of course, winter would always be a challenge, what with it being the season of hibernation and dormancy, but that is not the only reason for the lack of posts.

The room with the big computer on which I prefer to work, because it has a wide screen and comfy chair, is cold and dark. It is where the permanently loaded clothes horses are kept and is crammed with folders and books, a sewing machine, bags of scrap material, boxes of paints and past art projects, the 'to be ironed' pile, and the 'only used on Sundays and Christmas day' dining table. The room is not nice, and nowhere anyone would want to spend an afternoon.

It is telling that nearly a century after Virginia Woolf noted women do not have enough power in their homes to claim a room for themselves the situation remains. I know of other women who have to practice what is important to them in the smallest, darkest, most awkward room in the house.

But enough feminist musings ... let me tell you of my new vegetable knowledge.

The organic growing course in Debdale has been very enjoyable and inspiring. Lately we have been learning about sowing seeds and transplanting seedlings. I'm a dab hand with a dibber now.

Now don’t you go thinking vegetable growing a dull topic – the other week I was shocked to my core, and still haven’t quite recovered: leek seedlings are planted in holes in the ground and NOT covered over with soil! They seem so thin and vulnerable to be treated this way. My mothering instincts are yelling ‘won’t someone protect the leeks?!’

leek seedling planting out
A deep hole is dug and the little leek is popped in.

Watering it swishes some earth around its base, but otherwise it is left to fend for itself.
Of course the reason is to encourage the growth of the white bit.

diagram of leek inside loo roll holder
Another method is to plant them out inside loo roll holders to keep the stalks straight and white.
Interesting. Might try this in Allotment 90.
Less shocking but equally intriguing are carrot seedlings. Did you know it is recommended that you plant the seeds directly into the ground rather than germinating the seeds in trays? This is because there is a danger of damaging the root when you wrestle the tiny seedling out of its cell and man-handle it into the ground. If it is broken the adult root will grow gnarly with a likelihood of a photo of it being uploaded onto Facebook as yet another 'rude vegetable'.
diagram of carrot roots
 And my final piece of ignorance is potatoes. I didn't know until this week that new potatoes grew from the stalk of the plant and not the original seed potato.

4 December 2012

Rain - Birdoswald


It was misty the other day. A good opportunity to write an educational post about mist formation I thought but then I looked out of the window. No, it was too beautiful, too delicate to dissect into scientific fact. So instead I'll show you this poem by Frances Horovitz.

Rain – Birdoswald

I stand under a leafless tree
more still, in this mouse-pattering
thrum of rain,
than cattle shifting in the field.
It is more dark than light.
A Chinese painter’s brush of deepening grey
moves in a subtle tide.

The beasts are darker islands now.
Wet-stained and silvered by the rain
they suffer night,
marooned as still as stone or tree.
We sense each other’s quiet.

Almost, death could come
inevitable, unstrange
as is this dusk and rain,
and I should be no more
myself, than raindrops
glimmering in last light
on black ash buds

or night beasts in a winter field.

Frances Horovitz, 1980

2 December 2012

Tumblr Dreams

It seems to me that this is the time of year, of frost and thick socks, that Tumblr comes into its own.

For the uninitiated this is a blogging platform that encourages its users to make collections of images. Pinterest is also a way to do this, but the majority of its pinners are young American women more interested in nail varnish and losing weight. Tumblr users are more stylish (I dabble with both).

I have to confess to spending evenings on the Ipad flicking through pictures of snow covered log cabins, roaring fires and the cold cold outdoors. My family think I'm checking my emails, but I'm not - I'm trekking through thigh deep snow to a cabin in the woods kept warm by an open fire, where I'll settle down on a blanket covered chair to read Dr Zhivago with a mug of coffee with a nip of brandy in it. Who else is in that cozy cabin is my business ... ;-)

A quick selection: