Kim explains how getting up close and personal with nature has greatly helped her ten-year-old autistic son, Arthur get close and personal with nature
If someone had said to me ten years ago that autism and the therapeutic
benefits of gardening will become your life, I wouldn’t have believed them. Yes, I enjoyed growing some of my own food in my
back yard in Brighton, but it wasn’t until my son
Arthur’s autism diagnosis a few years back that everything changed. Now I
believe so strongly in the power of gardening to help those on the spectrum
having seen its positive impact on my son, I’ve set up a social enterprise to do just this.
It’s also very much about the eating, with a combination of raised beds,
herb gardens, polytunnels, soft fruit garden and lots more foraging
opportunities besides. Every person on the spectrum is under- or overstimulated
in a number of ways, so it’s important for us to
aim to cater for all. We’ve already got one
quiet corner as a place of retreat in case of sensory overload. It’s a lovely spot nestled under our majestic beech tree and surrounded by
various shrubs and trees, so even in the slightest breeze there’s a gentle rustling sound all around. It has a wildlife wood pile and
feeders to attract birds and we’re planting lots of
scented herbs such as mint, rosemary and lavender around the edges. My son is
almost instantly calmed when he sits here.
Movement is incredibly important
for a lot of autists, so you don’t want a
garden just to sit in, there should be lots of opportunity for walking and
doing things as well. A predominately fruit and vegetable filled space is
ideal, especially so when you consider sensory issues can often lead to
challenges around food and result in a more restricted and sometimes not
particularly healthy diet. This is another area I think being involved in
growing some of your own produce can help with. In my son’s case, he needs food to be exciting; he gets easily bored, so picking
food fresh is stimulating for him.
Sometimes animals are able to
connect and therefore help in a way that our neurotypical society probably can’t explain, so we also have a small collection of extremely friendly
Shetland pony, sheep, chickens, ducks and dogs. Autistic scientist and author
Temple Grandin has spoken about the benefits of animals , while the Horse Boy book and film demonstrated it. I myself have seen it in action time and time again.
Our Shetland pony, seem especially able
to anticipate my son and understand him so intuitively, it’s heartwarming to see. I also heard a story recently from an autism
social worker about a young autistic lad whose confidence absolutely excelled
after being able to help look after his neighbour’s dog. It was the first time he’d been given
responsibility for anything.
All so often we expect autists to
fit into what society defines as normal, which is something that a non-neurotypical
mind will often seriously struggle to do. Rather than focusing on what can’t be done, I’m instead hoping via
my social enterprise to hone in on what can. To use the nature garden as a
therapeutic space to build confidence and help ideas blossom and grow. In a
so-called normal world that is spiralling seemingly out of control, difference
needs to embraced and celebrated more than ever
A version of this article first
appeared on the Guardian website
Hurrah, some rain is forecast. I know, it’s June, and we all want to be outside enjoying the sun and the last thing we want is rain. But 2019 has been a dry year so far. Down in the south-west, January was incredibly dry. Then summer arrived early in February, when temperatures soared and reached record highs in some part of the country. The rain returned in March, but April and May have had lower than average rainfall.
A worrying picture
The Environment Agency’s water flow and river level data for England look worrying. There were no rivers recorded as having above normal flows, in fact, more than half of the rivers that are recorded in the data had a daily flow that was below normal or notably low compared with the mean data for this time of year. In the south-west, the cumulative rainfall total for May is less than 40 per cent of the monthly long-term average. We are going to need higher than average rain over the coming weeks and months to help to replenish the ground water. Its beginning to look much like 1976 and 1977 which is not good news for our gardens. Hence my enthusiasm for the predicted rainfall.
Our gardens are already suffering. I don’t know about your
soil, but my soil is dry! I garden on a heavy clay and it’s already baked hard.
In fact, it’s hardly changed since last year. I’m planning for another dry
Its not too late to protect your soil and harvest some water
Firstly, get mulching!
Its amazing what a simple layer of mulch over your soil does to trap
moisture. Mulch can be anything from compost, straw, bark, gravel, crushed
slate. I like grass clippings at this time of year. I don’t use them fresh but
spread them out and leave them to dry for a few days, so they are not too ‘hot’
when I spread them over the soil. I have
been mulching with comfrey leaves in the polytunnel as they will not only
protect the soil, but release minerals too, so a double benefit.
The raised bed in spring still covered by a thick mulch
My experiment with deep mulched beds in the style of Ruth Stout is looking good. Last autumn I covered a raised bed with a thick layer of old straw and hay. It protected the soil over winter, stopped weed seeds germinating but most importantly, it conserved water. By April all the other beds in the vegetable garden were dry and needed watering before I could sow any seeds or put out transplants. It was so different in the mulched bed. The soil under the mulch was moist and ready to plant up! It’s now early June and the soil is still moist and I haven’t had to water any plants.
The soil under the mulch in May is still moist
I bet you’re all shouting; ‘What about slugs’ Well, this
year I haven’t seen many, so I am taking the risk. If they do appear, I’ll pick
them off and then use some nematodes to wrestle back control.
Be inventive and save some water
What else can you do now? Save water! If you are not harvesting water, start now. Install water butts to catch water from roofs, from the house roof to the shed roof. You can harvest on the allotment too, as this photo shows. A simple wriggly tin roof that catches water and directs it into water butt. In fact, anything flat can be put up to direct water into a container.
An allotment storage container has been fitted with a corrugated roof to direct rainwater into a container
And before you go – our website has just been listed amongst the Top 40 UK Gardening blogs. You can visit the other blogs here
Just as the first proof copy of our new book, The Climate Change Garden, lands on the
doormat, I received a press release that the Environment Agency has launched a
major long-term strategy to tackle flooding and coastal change. The Environment
Agency is preparing for a potential 4°C rise in global temperature and urgent
action is needed to tackle more frequent, intense flooding and sea level rise.
The number of people who could be affected by flooding in
the UK is staggering – who knew that more than 5 million people in England
alone are at risk from flooding and coastal erosion. Yet only a third of people
who live in areas at risk of flooding believe their property is at risk.
Two-thirds of properties in England are served by infrastructure in areas at
risk of flooding and for every person who suffers flooding, around 16 more are
affected by loss of services such as power, transport and telecommunications. That’s a significant proportion of the
population. We really need to be more aware of flood risk.
There’s going to be more money put into education. Property owners are going to be encouraged to build back better after a flood. As well as the houses, that’s a lot of gardens that could be flooded. Do you know what to do to repair flood damage in the garden or how to make your garden more climate change resilient?
Standing water floods a grassy area in the garden after days of heavy rain
Kim and I have written our Climate Change Garden book is
because we don’t think people realise what’s ahead. Too many people have a head
in the sand approach. It won’t happen, or if happens it won’t be in my life
time. May be if we recycle more plastic and cycle to work we’ll stop climate
change. No we won’t. Climate change is happening already, so all we can hope is
that the climate change measures that countries have been implementing over the
last decade will keep the temperature increases down to moderate levels of just
a degree or two. But the Environment Agency is planning for a 4°C rise in temperatures
– that’s massive, the worst-case
scenario. Not only will we have to prepare for storms, flood waters, rising sea
levels, but droughts and water shortages too.
What about our book? It’s not about what you can do to stop climate change. It’s what you can do to prepare your green space for climate change. It’s not going to be gardening as we know it, we are going to have to change and adapt. Storms, torrential rains and strong winds are happening now. We give you ideas for making your garden more resilient in the face of extreme weather, plus ways of planning for future climate changes. And it’s not just excess water. We’ve written about too little rain, coping with droughts, heavy snowfall, late frost, how it will affect your veg plots, orchards and flower gardens and there are loads of ideas for making your green spaces more climate change resilient.
Featured photo Floods threaten houses in Oxford Ecoscene / Nick Hawkes
Kim outlines some additional ingredients for the best ever all-in-one natural soil improver for the veg patch…
soil is the key ingredient in the success of your resilient produce
growing efforts so it’s essential to treat it well. Building fertility can be
done in a number of ways, and once you have this there is little need for
additional fertilisers or soil improvers, other than an annual mulching of
compost (aka gardeners black gold) and maybe some manure. It really is as
simple as that.
Yes, you can buy or indeed make all manner of fancy supplements to pass onto your plants, but it’s completely unnecessary to do so when your compost is turbo charged. So why not save the cash, time and effort by instead going all out to make your pile the best it can naturally be? Alongside the basic materials (around 50% green waste mixed evenly with 50% brown waste), here’s a look at some of the extra-special ingredients that can also be added to make a most outstanding all-in-one soil improver of your own:
This easy-to-grow perennial is a veg patch must in my opinion. Its nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium-packed leaves provide a highly beneficial addition to your home-made mix. Bocking 14 which is sold through the Organic Gardening catalogue has also been shown to have a higher nutrient content than common wild comfrey and its fast growing leaves can be harvested and added to your compost pile several times a year.
These nitrogen-rich weeds have many great uses for your smallholding. Although you wouldn’t want them taking over, allowing a small patch to grow will attract lots of wildlife such as butterflies and ladybirds (who like laying their eggs on the leaves). Added to your compost heap, nettles also act as a compost accelerator, helping to speed things along no end. Rather than making a separate fertiliser why not just add leaves and stems directly. Just take care to ensure there are no roots or seeds present as these will live in your average colder decomposition system.
is another fantastic free material which many of your trees dutifully furnish
you with in the autumn. Rather than making a separate leaf mould pile, add
leaves directly as part of a brown layer to your heap. As a highly potent soil
improver in its own right, this addition will be sure to supercharge your
compost to the benefit of your plants.
from the beach
you live close to the sea then why not take a few carrier bags next time you
visit to collect some of this hugely mineral-rich booty for your veg patch. As
well as all the nitrogen, potassium, magnesium and so forth it contains, it
also boasts hormones which help to stimulate plant growth. Plus… seaweed helps
to encourage the micro-organisms in the soil. It truly is a wondrous plant.
You are on safe ground foraging wise as long as you just collect any material that has washed up onto a beach. Seaweed collected can then be chopped up or added whole as a green layer to your outside bin.
– how to make your supply go that bit further
It’s very difficult to make all the compost you would need yourself each season, so as well as buying some peat-free extras in, you can also purchase (or make) a compost tea-making kit to spread the microbial activating benefits that bit further. Doing so is especially beneficial early in the season when the foliar application of your home-brewed tea will boost the health and vitality of seedlings no end.
.A version of this article first appeared in Kim’s resilient gardener column in the March issue of Country Smallholding magazine
It’s time to sit down and look through all the seed catalogues and try not to get carried away. I like to review the successes and failures of the year when choosing varieties to grow for the new year and I check my stocks as you can see in the photo, as I have a habit of ordering seeds that I don’t need!
2018 was a challenging year and an indicator of the climate changing times ahead. First it rained a lot, then the Beast from the East dumped a load of snow. The ground was cold and wet and spring was late. However, May was record breaking, being the warmest May since records began with endless sunshine and hardly any rain. The Met Office described spring 2018 as “very dynamic with many fluctuations”. The high temperatures and drought continued through to August and then in true drought style, storms rolled in and dumped a lot of rain. Autumn was warm and many crops continued to grow through to December.
I have been looking at my records to remind myself what was successful and what was not. My leeks have been brilliant, as have the squash on my mound beds. Twelve huge fruits from one Queensland Blue plant was amazing. Elsewhere, the butternut squash Hunter was prolific. Other successes include beets, kohl rabi, parsnip (my own landrace from Tender and True), chard, early pea, chick peas, butter beans, French beans and edamame beans. I struggled to get carrots to germinate so I had hardly any carrots until the last sowing. The brassicas survived well under their butterfly mesh tunnels as I think the mesh created valuable shade and reduced the temperatures a little, but I had loads of white flies and they attracted cluster flies. There were clouds of them under the mesh, which was truly unpleasant. The brassicas may have survived, but they didn’t really start putting on growth until September. The summer cabbage was ready in autumn and the early Brussels are only just reaching a harvestable size and I have a few tiny cauliflower florets.
All the beds were mulched to retain water, but I did have to water the spinach, beets and chard and some of the squash. My mound (Hugelcultur) bed was not watered, other than to establish transplants, but the high level of organic matter and the woody material at the base of the bed meant water was retained.
So what do I order? I am paying a lot of attention to the descriptions, looking for slow to bolt and drought tolerant in particular. Being in Somerset, I may opt for varieties that come from France and Italy as they may be able to cope better with high temperatures and low rainfall. There is a risk of late frost but that is becoming increasingly less likely.
I may take a different tack with brassicas and look for the compact varieties that can be grown closer together and shade the soil effectively. Early maturing may be a bonus, as the crop can be harvested before the high temperatures take their toll. So something like broccoli Cima di Rapa, Brussels Early Half Tall, Calabrese Kabuki and Kale Nero de Toscana rather than Black Magic
Salads grew well last year, both in the tunnel and outside so there will be more orders of agretti (tricky to germinate and get going but once underway is prolific), perilla, purslane, wild rocket, mustard Red Frills (still going strong in the raised beds), plus plenty of oak leaf lettuce and salad leaves.
But the stars of the show in 2018 were chickpeas and edamame beans so I’ll be growing far more in 2019.
How you can be in good company with a more free-spirited approach to planting on your plot…
Most gardening books will tell you about the importance of crop rotation ‘blah, blah, brassicas after legumes”… “waffle, waffle, potatoes first…” It’s a planting system that is undoubtedly sensible if a) you’re a market gardener and will be growing produce en masse or b) you prefer to keep planting in uniform blocks or rows. However there is another way…
If, like the majority of gardening folk, you’re growing on a relatively small scale (for yourself and your family), then a higgledy –piggledy approach is definitely worth considering. Rows upon rows of the same thing are all very well and good if that’s what you like but I believe there’s room for more creativity and fun with a range of different types of vegetable and fruits to keep each other company. Especially when you inject herbs and colourful edible planting such as calendula, borage or nasturtiums into the mix. It’s effective and it looks good.
The sheer diversity of this approach also helps keep your soil healthy, avoiding nutrient loss or pathogen build up. Additionally, mixed planting with a range of different sized (and smelling) vegetables and fruit co-existing together seems to also help prevent so many pests in the first place. It also gives produce picking a bit of a foraging edge that I personally find more exciting than block growing alone.
Whether you want to dabble with weaving companion plants into your existing (and planned) veg beds or would like to embrace this approach more ambitiously here are just a few combinations and methods to help you on your merry mix and match way…
Make it easy peasy for your cabbages
Hungry brassicas generally follow nitrogen fixing legumes in a crop rotation cycle so why not cut to the chase by planting the two alongside each other throughout your patch. This way the likes of cabbage, broccoli and kale can cash in early on this beneficial mineral that their pea or bean neighbours generously release into the soil.
Outwit the pesky carrot fly
It’s a formidable pest the old carrot fly – able to smell out carrots from great distances and the destruction its young cause to your crop can be devastating. To avoid this simply grow your carrots mixed in (and surrounded by) other very strong smelling plants and every time you harvest some mask the trail by crushing the leaves or stalk of its pungent neighbours. Onions work well as do leeks, garlic, marigolds, fennel and chives.
Not forgetting your fruit trees
They also like a bit of beneficial companionship and chives are supposed to help prevent disease if planted around pear trees. While lavender is also said to help deter codling moths from apples.
Weave in some herbs
For me no veg patch is complete without at least a few of these rather fantastic, flavour and aroma packed plants. Life and indeed food just wouldn’t be the same without them; it would be dull and bland, which is no kind of life at all.
Plus pollinators and beneficial insects love them so will be encouraged onto your plot to lend a helping hand if you grow some; rosemary, thyme and lavender being arguably the best in this regard.
Fennel is another particularly worthy contributor as it’s a popular home for ladybirds, whose larvae are a powerful aphid munching force to be reckoned with.
Use salad leaves as fillers in-between other planting
Easy to grow and extremely undemanding of their neighbours – they can be planted in any gaps, in and around much hungrier crops.
Let some plants flower and go to seed
It adds a welcome splash of colour and will attract pollinators. Additionally if you allow a few to go on and self-seed (lettuce, rocket, parsley and radish, say) then you will be rewarded with lots of free seedlings in return.
The ‘four sisters guild’
Comprised of sweetcorn, squash, pea and amaranth, each of these plants, with differing heights and demands benefit each other as they grow. It’s a perfect example of how different crops can work in harmony together.
Other good companions to grow
Bees love borage and comfrey and garlic mustard can act as a good pest confuser. Celery harbours beneficial insects and stinging nettles really do have a lot of uses including overwintering ladybirds, so I really wouldn’t weed them all out.
Calendula (aka Marigold) is one of the biggest heroes and as it looks so fantastic all manner of beneficial insects such as ladybirds, hoverflies and lacewings love it. Who can blame them!
Last, but not least, have fun with it and create your own version of edible loveliness – enjoy!
A version of this article first appeared in the April issue of Grow Your Own magazine 2017 and also published on http://www.getbadlybehaved.com 10th August 2017
Kim Stoddart looks at some of the easiest and most rewarding ways to boost your eco-gardener credentials, whilst having fun in the process…
gardened entirely for free a few years back for my writing in the
Guardian. What started out as a ‘can I really do this?’ experiment
turned into one of the most empowering and rewarding experiences of my
life. What I learnt during this period has informed my more resilient
approach to gardening today, even though I enjoy flicking though a
gardening catalogue as much as the next person.
money saving is just one of the many multifaceted perks of learning more
make, mend and do on the veg patch. Plastics in particular are, as we
now all know, a huge issue with more than 8m tonnes of this discarded
material ending up in our seas each year alone. Predictions that if we
do nothing about this problem, our oceans will by 2050 contain more
plastic than fish have really brought the predicament home hard. Also,
unfortunately it has become increasingly clear that the items diligently
sent to recycling are actually in part ending up in garbage sites
across the world, as a government watchdog warned last year. So reducing
your use in the first place and finding a viable role for what you have
already where possible is positive action indeed.
are in reality lots of ways we can do this easily with plastics and
other waste materials besides. And doing so also affords one with a
sheer empowering satisfaction, knowing that you’re not reliant on buying
everything in. Also, the knock on confidence which comes from having
some fun getting creative with objects that would otherwise be destined
for landfill is outstanding indeed.
Here are just some ideas to help you on your merry, waste-much-less way…
Make a compost pile out of old pallets
Garden centres and builders merchants have this packaging material gathering dust somewhere on site. They make a very good frame for a multi-chambered compost bin, and have many other uses besides. They can be attached together easily by way of hinges , garden wire, or on an even more basic level, tied together, to enable you to increase your home made composting efforts with gusto. Having more than one bin enables you turn your heap from one area to another much more easily and means you can process even more green and brown food and household waste (and maybe that of friends and neighbours) to the benefit of your veg patch.
Pop all your organic waste from the kitchen and plot on the compost heap
Keep existing plastic in use for longer
One of the best ways to deal with the aforementioned plastics crisis, alongside reducing your usage overall, is to try and make use of items already created for much longer. As long as you feasibly can in fact. High quality plastic pots and planting trays in existing use should last for many, many years anyway but even the thinner trays from garden centres can be repaired to extend their working lifespan. I use duct tape on mine, which might not be the most attractive thing to look at but it does the job nicely.
Don’t throw them away, mend and re-use
Equally your supermarket
shop provides many potential planting trays in the form of yoghurt pots,
veg trays and cartons which are especially handy for germinating
seedlings in. Looked after, they can also last a good few seasons.
bottles also have a viable use as makeshift cloches for seedlings at
this time of year. By cutting a bottle in half and placing the top
(minus cap) over a plant pot, you are affording it with valuable extra
protection against the cold. The hole at the top also provides
ventilation and again, these materials can be stored away for next year
after you’ve finished with them.
Recycle cardboard yourself
It has so many uses around the veg patch and this way you definitely know it’s been put to good use. From a weed cover in a new no-dig bed, to a most useful brown layer when added to the compost heap, just be sure to remove any sellotape or staples before use.
Cardboard is a great mulch to suppress weeds and retain moisture
Get creative with junk
rather than seeing old items as junk, when you look at them as
potentially useful materials for the veg patch, things can get very fun
indeed. From using old tractor or car tyres as impromptu raised beds or
seats, to fashioning toilet seat planters or making a pond out of an old
washing bowl, one persons waste, can become an interesting centrepiece
to your plot.
In a practical sense, old windows are incredibly helpful for use as makeshift cold frames. If you have existing wooden raised beds they can simply be used over the top, or otherwise secured more professionally with hinges over a wooden frame for ease of use. Any which way they are excellent at affording seedlings with an extra layer of protection when you need it most.
An old window frame forms a new cold frame
A version of this article first appeared in the March issue of Grow Your Own magazine
The orchards are full of blossom at the moment and bees (hopefully) are busy. But all may not be well. I have just watched a Countryfile Spring report on fruit trees, pollinators and the threat of climate change. The item resonated with me as we have a chapter on orchards in the Climate Change Garden book and it’s not good news. Our fruit trees are so dependent on insects to pollinate their blossom and there is such a narrow window of opportunity – it’s just a week of so for insects to find and pollinate the flowers before they die, so wind and rain at the wrong time means the pollinators are not out. Or it could be that the blossom opens too soon before the bees are active and this is happening a lot. As we see earlier springs, the chances of a mis-match between blossom and bees increases. The result – less home-grown fruit from the UK, more imports and more costly food.
But there’s another problem. Fruit trees are put in
pollination groups, from early to late flowering so when you plant fruit trees
you need to make sure there is a pollination partner in the orchard. Some are
self-fertile but the triploids need two partners and you need a partner in the
same group or overlapping group. But
growers report seeing varieties respond differently to the early spring with
group 1 pollinators coming out late and group 5/6 being early and overlapping –
its truly mixed up My Court Pendu Plat
is a late-flowering group 6 and good for frosty areas. However, it’s not self-fertile
so it needs a pollination partner – its limited at the best of times, but when
pollination is pulled forwards there may not be much left to pollinate it. At the moment in early May my Court Pendu Plat,
Court of Wick and Sunset are yet to flower – they are groups 6,4, 3
And it’s all change at the end of the season too. As reported on the programme, fruit growers are harvesting their fruits almost a month earlier that just 30 or 40 years ago. Nowadays harvest can be all over by the end of September, whereas in the 1960s it would have only just began. That’s a frighten change in such as short time frame.
So what can the gardener do? Honey bees are not the only pollinators, bumble bees, and solitary bees especially are pollinators too, as are hoverflies. So make sure there are plenty of habitats for these insects to overwinter nearby. Having a diverse range of fruit trees is important too, some flowering earlier and others later so you ‘hedge your bets’.
Kim explains how to help counter the hungry gap by expanding your salad horizons with leaves from other plants currently growing.
If you looked at the average bag of unexciting supermarket salad mix,
you’d be forgiven for assuming that all leaves had to look like this.
Yet, you’re really missing a trick if that’s how you think it should
always be. All year round, exciting pungent herbs, flowers and leaves
can provide a welcome tasty and hardy addition.
With the emphasis on baby leaves from the hardy brassica family. Here’s a look at some of the best leaves available right now:
Flat leaf kale
could also use small curly kale leaves, but personally I don’t like the
texture unless they are cooked. The likes of Red Russian kale however
is perfect. Just keep harvesting the larger leaves for cooking and use
the small, tender baby leaves for dressing in salad. They make a
delicious and antioxidant-rich, healthy addition.
them or hate them, this plant is such a useful winter staple to grow,
but they are not all just about the er, sprout. The tops and leaves also
have fine culinary potential in a range of dishes.
actually worth leaving a few plants in the ground after you’ve harvested
the main event, for the flurry of leaves that will appear as a result
of the natural instinct to keep growing, set flower and seed drives on
new growth as we head towards spring. The pretty yellow flowers
eventually produced will attract a range of beneficial pollinators, and
are themselves edible and very attractive when added to food.
use this as a colourful addition to salad all year round as it works so
well. Simply leave a few roots in the ground and keep harvesting to
encourage new leaf growth. Come the hungry gap in early spring, such
wider edibles particularly come into their own.
of my favourite herbs for sure, this plant has the ability to stand
firm against the cold over winter and even to put on slow growth if
positioned in a sheltered or covered spot. Its vitamin C-packed-leaves
make an especially welcome addition to food, and if you can it’s worth
bringing any plants you have growing inside to ensure more regular
pickings at this time of year. Cut up small the leaves also work really
well raw as a garnish or salad staple.
you don’t want to go crazy harvesting from any overwintered pea plants,
certainly there’s no harm in picking off a few shoots here and there.
If you like the flavour and texture, it’s worth sprouting some inside, in a warm, sunny spot for a welcome winter supply suitable for more regular pickings.
popular staple once you get started growing them, this wide variety of
greens are very versatile and hardy at this time of year. Again, it’s
the baby leaves you want for salad, not the tougher thick stemmed adult
leaves which benefit from a bit of cooking to make them more palatable.
Choose from mustard greens, mizuna and mibuna, as well as pak choi and
Chinese cabbage if growing under some form of cover.
Swiss chard and spinach
lovely very hardy leaves which are readily available. Do also leave
some in the ground for a flurry of new growth come spring.
Whilst not grown for their leaves, these plants have tender stems well worth utilising in the kitchen.
There are so many reasons for letting this much maligned weed grow in a controlled way on your veg patch. As well as providing a most valuable source of nectar for bees early in the season, most of the plant is also edible to boot. Yes, it has a slightly bitter taste but the small, young leaves can be added to salad for an interesting flavour addition, as can the flower petals.
A version of this article first appeared in the February issue of Grow Your Own magazine.
Its #bigbutterflycount time – walk for 15 minutes and record the species and numbers of butterflies that you see (https://www.bigbutterflycount.org). It’s something I do every year, but this time butterflies have been badly hit by the drought. In fact, insect life is pretty poor at the moment. I can walk along our hedgerows and hardly see anything with six legs, so its all very depressing.
Today’s butterfly count – 4 small whites, 2 meadow browns, 1 speckled wood, 1 small copper. The smallest I think I have ever recorded. I have seen large whites, green-veined whites, red admiral, peacock, comma, common blue, and brimstone in recent days, but only one or two. No small tortoiseshells yet. No caterpillars on our nettle patches. There were very few bees to be seen and no hoverflies, but it’s not really surprising, there is hardly anything in flower. And this is where the title of this blog comes in. The only flowers in abundance at the moment are willowherb (Chamerion angustifolium) and bramble.
There is some bindweed, corn marigold, horseshoe vetch in flower, plus some thistles that I have let flower against my better judgment because they are nectar-rich, but nothing else of note. Fortunately, I have flowers in the allotment area and gardens, but the fields are virtually devoid of any flowers. Just as well I don’t cut my hedgerows very often as I wouldn’t have had as many brambles in flower. Like many other flowers, the brambles are early and I’m already picking fruit, so in a week or so the remaining flowers will be gone. Just have to hope we get some rain and the second flush of clovers and dandelions appears. I’m not sure what the honey harvest has been like this year, there was probably a bumper June when friends reported lots of activity, but now beekeepers must be worried.
Normally when I walk our fields at this time of year clouds of meadow browns lift from the margins while our hedgerows are buzzing with insect life. Not so this year. Our hay was taken in mid June, and little grass has grown back. Even our late cut meadow is yellow and the flowers are over. Around our pond we have loads of knapweed, which pulls in the marbled whites in large numbers, but this year I counted just two or three on wing and they appeared very early, in mid June, so are no longer around. Just as well, as the flowerheads are shrived.
Going forwards, its clear that this type of weather may become more common so we will have to think about how to supply our pollinators with nectar in mid summer.For me it may be a crop of sunflowers.
First posted on www.livingonanacreorless.co.uk on 2nd August 2018