Water or lack of water, muck, mulch and water storage

I think that this summer has been a major wakeup call for everyone, gardeners included.  The last real drought was in 1976 when I was a mere 7 years old.  There is a danger in the era of fake news, social media and the over dramatisation of everyone and everything that the real issues get burried in the tidal flow of information that bombards us on a daily basis.  However, this year (globally) the weather has been extreme with parks in the UK so dry that they are brown instead of green and some gardeners having to choose which plants they want to save by watering.  It has been a horrendous time for gardeners and farmers alike but it does bring the subject of climate change to the forefront and makes everyone re-evaluate how we use water.

I’m not a huge user of social media, yes I have a Facebook account and a tumblr account but I only use it for exchanging plant pictures and showing my appreciation for the work and results of fellow gardeners.  I am not really interested in what someone had for dinner, I’m certainly not interested in being ‘poked’ and I definitely do not want to be exposed to the negativity of somebody venting their spleen when they are upset.  It seems to me that society has lost its tact, kindness and suitability filter, please let’s have it back.

As a society I think we all have a part to play in reducing fake news, which in my opinion seriously endangers democracy and world peace.  Instead of ranting about something transient let’s all focus on what is important. Lets start with the planet, the environment and how we treat each other.  Maybe it’s too big an ask.  The current issue is that the planet is in danger and humans have to change their behaviour.  I prescribe to the philosophy that we are not owners of land or the planet but merely guardians or caretakers and we should be passing it on in a better state than it’s in for future generations, plants and wildlife.  My hope is that this year will help to refocus human beings worldwide away from celebrity and social media as our main sources of human interaction. Let’s interact face to face and more importantly, let’s make a lasting change.

I was born in the 1960’s and I have grown up in a time where the availability of electricity, water and food were taken for granted and it was assumed that there would always be an unlimited supply.  This year has shown us this is simply not the case.  Now, we have to accept that global warming is a reality.  Humans are using up too much of the planet’s resources at an increasingly alarming rate and unless we do something it’s going to get worse.  This year could either be a blip or it could be the way the planet is heading.  I am hoping it’s a blip but my gut feeling is that it’s not.  I think that the Ocean Rescue campaign by Sky is fantastic but I also think that it’s easy to just become a passive observer.  I’ve always held the belief that real lasting change doesn’t come from governments and legislation, although it does have it’s part to play, if we really want to change the impact that we are having on the planet then we need to take action and when I say ‘We’ I mean everyone. We need to reduce our environmental footprint.  What does this entail?  Well if you have a garden, you could grow some fruit and vegetables, there’s nothing better than home-grown that hasn’t been sprayed with any chemicals. Admittedly, we are in a modern world where many people in towns and cities live in flats and don’t have access to a gardening space but there are alternative ways in which you can do your bit. When you go to the supermarket, check where your produce comes from, make a conscious choice not to buy produce that comes from abroad.  Many food items have been picked before they are ripe, have travelled thousands of miles to reach the supermarket shelf and this has a huge environmental cost.  So I would advocate buying food that has been produced in your own country and where possible locally.  This not only helps the planet but also your local farmers.  Also consider the packaging, if you can buy it loose, do so, consider what happens to the packaging of what you buy after you have thrown it away.  It may sound dramatic but it is these choices that will really have an impact on the environment long-term. It’s a case of voting with your feet, not being complacent and waiting for your own government to create legislation.

Here in the Moosbach Garden we have produced a lot of our own produce this year.  We have grown and preserved beetroot, courgettes, beans, peas, black currants, red currants, gooseberries and peaches.  We have also grown cabbages, chard, lettuce, brussels sprouts, potatoes, apples, pears, plums and blue berries.  Yes, before you all shout at me, I know that we are lucky enough to have the space to grow such a wonderous selection but I would advocate utilizing the space that you have.

Gardening and growing your own produce is not without its trials but if you are successful then the rewards are worth it.  For us, not surprisingly, the biggest issue has been the hot weather and lack of water.  We have our own spring and this usually provides us with enough water for cooking, drinking, showering and extensively watering our 2 hectare garden.  This year in August our spring ran dry and there was no water coming through to our water tank (almost).  There was a little water trickling into the tank but not enough to supply the house and garden.  We had to make the hard choice to stop watering the garden, even though we knew that this would result in plants dying.  My daily routine of watering has been reduced to just watering the pots every other day, the rest of the garden is bone dry.  The more established shrubs are faring better than the newly planted ones but the trees are struggling and we have lost some.  You can see it here in the Back Forest everywhere you go, tree leaves have gone dry and dropped and branches are dead, I think next Spring will be a shock to many when it will become evident how many trees have been lost.

Here in the Moosbach Garden, where we have loamy soil with lots of stone the ground dries out very quickly.  Our plan for this Autumn and Winter is to install  a drip feed watering system in the garden which we can operate at night where less water will evaporate and to manure and mulch all of our flower beds, vegetable beds, shrubs and trees.  The best approach is to improve the composition of the soil and thereby its water retention properties and then apply a good layer of mulch, this should enable us to use less water but keep the plants moist enough to thrive.  We are lucky enough to have a neighbour with horses so our starting point is applying 2-year-old horse manure.  I’d like to make several points here, if you can’t get horse manure then cow manure will do but both need to be at leat 18 months to 2 years old, the manure should feel crumbly in your hand and you need to apply a good quantity and repeat every year.

Then in late Winter to early spring apply a good layer of Mulch or bark, this will help further with water retention and has the added bonus of suppressing weeds.  It is worth checking with your local authority or forestry commission where you might get bark at very reasonable rates.  It should be noted that this needs repeating every year, it takes at least 3 to 4 years to really improve the quality of your soil but the quality of soil is everything in gardening terms.  Also consider if you are making the best use of the rainwater that falls onto your property, water butts aren’t cheap but you can add one a year and sometimes local authorities run offers for reduced prices water butts.

I suspect that in the next couple of months the hot weather will be forgotten and we shall all be turning our attention to preparing our gardens for winter and this is the perfect time for planning how to improve your soil. Personally, I like nothing more than applying a good layer of manure to the garden in the cold of winter, it keeps me connected with the garden at a time when nothing is growing.

Here in the Moosbach Garden we are planning ahead and this winter will see us manuring and mulching beds along with building new walls and paths to compliment out new rose walk which connects 2 areas of the garden.

We wish you all a happy (and rainy) time.  Don’t forget that Autumn is the perfect time for planting new fruit trees whilst the soil is still warm.

 

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Time for environmental revolution

It is snowing again at the Moosbach Garden, it feels like it has been snowing for months and I have to admit that I’m feeling a little bit like a caged animal. Bramble, my 4 legged confidant and helper is feeling likewise.  You might suspect from his name that Bramble is a labrador or sheepdog but he is in fact a black cat.  I recollect that he acquired the name because deep down my life partner wanted a dog.

Bramble definitely has ideas far above his station, he is the son of a farm cat but I think in a previous life he was a lady of leisure.  He has literally fallen on his feet and he’s going to milk the situation for all he can get.   He likes a delicate head massage and is especially fond of lying on his back under a warm lamp, so far he hasn’t demanded additional Spa treatments but it’s coming – trust me.

I’ve been reflecting on nature and the environment these last few days and it strikes me that the more I garden the more I think about the impact we have on the planet.  When I first came to live in Germany I was stunned by the large numbers of bees, bumble bees and butterflies that there were.  When I lived in the UK I was used to the fact that declining insect populations were inevitable but it’s not the case.  Many people think that the individual cannot play their part in turning the tide of declining populations but it’s simply untrue.

I do believe that governments have a part to play in eradicating the use of harmful chemicals and plastics but it is also true that individual action has an equally important role to play.  When I grew up  I was used to the fact that if you had unwanted weeds in your garden then you popped down to your local garden centre and purchased weed killer.  I think it has become a culturally acceptable way of dealing with a problem, regardless of the environmental impact, it’s advertised as an easy solution. We live in a world where we are presented with so-called easy solutions but not what the long-term consequences are. There are always consequences.

Here in Germany it is not part of the culture to use harmful chemicals and quick-fix solutions to eradicate weeds and bugs or not to recycle as much as possible.  Most drinks that you buy in bottles here come with a deposit and it is a normal, everyday occurrence to see people returning empty crates to supermarkets or beverage shops.

We all complain about it but it’s time to start doing something other than moan.  Get rid of all of your weed killers and start digging weeds out by hand, plant more companion plants that deter unwanted insects and bugs and stop using cheap plastic pots in the garden.  You can still use plastic pots if you want  but instead of buying those cheap, thin plastic pots that break after a year or less buy something of a better quality that lasts for years, this is both cheaper in the long-term and more environmentally friendly.  I was looking at buying seed trays the other day and was horrified at the array of cheap thin Plastic seeds trays that won’t last 5 minutes and will be relegated to landfill.  I remember as a child a relative who was a gardener for a big country house who grew all of the plants for the large garden from seed in robust seed trays, raked up the leaves in the autumn and made leaf mold compost.  So I say let’s stop doing what is easy and start doing what is right.  Look at what is environmentally sustainable and play your part in making that happen.

It is amazing how quickly the changes that you make take effect, given a chance nature and wildlife will recover.  Remember, when you create a garden you are creating a living ecosystem. The more plants that a garden has the more insects it has and the more birds it has.  It’s all about the food chain and I believe you can suffer a few plant casualties in order to restore natures balance.  Since we have been developing the Moosbach Garden a nature revolution has been taking place. Admittedly there were already a good number of bees, bumble bees and butterflies here but now there are more, there are more insects in the garden and therefore more birds and in greater diversity.  We also have more geckos, more frogs and more hedgehogs, more of everything. We have been here 4 years, that is such a short space of time but the change in a large one.  Species of wildlife that weren’t here when we moved in have come back.  Apart from the obvious feel good factor of knowing that you have helped restore the natural balance of things, you get blown away by how amazing  and how beautiful that insect is. What a privilege it is to encounter that dragonfly or marvel at the industrious droning of bees happily collecting nectar whilst pollinating flowers.  That is something we should protect for future generations, for ourselves, for the planet.

Here’s my list of things to do from now and forever:-
  1. Stop using any weed killers, pesticides or poisonous chemicals in your garden
  2. Investigate alternative methods like companion planting and weeding by hand
  3. Stop using cheap plastic pots and trays, either use terracotta pots or invest in more expensive, more robust, reusable trays and pots that will last for decades
  4. Recycle more garden waste, make your own compost, make leaf mold compost
  5. Collect the seeds from your own garden, store them and use the them following year, swap seeds with neighbours and other gardeners
  6. Grow some fruit and Vegetables using nothing but soil, natural fertilizers and home-made compost. There are very productive fruit tree varieties available now for small spaces as well as for larger gardens.  If you have space look at growing older varieties so that they are not lost forever.

There are many things that we can all do now, today, that have an immediate impact on our present and on our future.  As consumers we have the ultimate power to influence large corporations and government.  If we all went back to using a milkman who delivers milk in glass bottles and who collects the empties that are then reused, how long do you think it would be before the big supermarkets stopped stocking plastic bottles of milk?  For as long as we continue to buy produce contained in plastic they will keep producing it.  Next time you go shopping look at what you are buying.

Here’s my list of shopping do’s and don’ts :-
  1. Don’t buy anything in plastic that you could buy in glass or isn’t going to be recycled.
  2. Look at how much packaging there is on a product, what happens to that packaging after you’ve consumed what is in it, make an informed choice
  3. Buy produce that has been grown locally, reducing the environmental foot print, buy produce that’s in season locally and support local smaller producers
  4. Buy smaller quantities of food that you know you’ll use and that you won’t end up throwing away
  5. Take your own material bags for packing your shopping
  6. Cook more meals from raw ingredients, break the cycle of convenience food and live additive and preservative free, it doesn’t take as much time or effort as you think.

I think most of us agree that there is climate change and that something radicle needs to happen, it’s time to stop hoping that the governments of the world will make it happen.  Governments are influenced by large corporations and big business – it’s a fact. So be the change and be the change now.  We all need to take responsibility for ourselves, our choices and our wonderful planet.

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