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Keyhole Gardening form Practical Action

A fascinating idea from Pratical Action – keyhole gardens
Here’s how to create your keyhole garden:

1. Plot the area for the garden’s bed – 3 feet all round from your centre point
2. Construct side walls from bricks, logs and stones
3. Build composting basket in the middle – wire, bamboo stakes or hard-wearing cloth work well
4. Secure the basket, making sure it keeps shape
5. Fill the basket, using about 18 inches of good quality soil (the rest can be compost)
6. Add plants to your new keyhole garden – and remember to water!

More on this and other amazing ideas at practicalaction.org

Save our Bees

38 degrees are currently running a campaign to save our bees after research reveals that the UK has failed to ban 36 dangerous pesticides that are forbidden in the EU, some of which are highly toxic to bees. You can sign the petition at https://act.38degrees.org.uk/act/ban-bee-killing-pesticides-23?submit=true

The Soil Association Reflections on COP26

Below is an extract form the full blog, to read the whole blog visit the Soil Association website.

So, lots of words, pledges, and commitments. Clearly action and further ambition are now both needed, and the UK must not shirk its responsibilities in assisting the global south in this in addition to its domestic agenda.

Was it worth the long train journey to be there? Emphatically yes.

Whilst it was pleasing to see the UK government’s rhetoric around global regenerative practices at COP, this now must be reflected in domestic agricultural policy, with a shift to support for organic and agroecological farming that place farmers at the heart of decision making. With the Environment Bill receiving Royal Ascent, but lacking protections for soil health, we look to a strong Soil Health Action Plan for England in the New Year. After all, healthy soil is critical in combatting climate change – a solution that is under our feet! Looking ahead to the Biodiversity COP in Kunming in April 2022 it is vital that the UK leads the way in ensuring climate actions do not come at the expense of nature. We must tackle our own demand for overseas commodities that harm ecosystems. We’ll be working hard to draw attention to the impact of commodities grown in sensitive environments in Latin America to feed intensive livestock systems in the UK. As part of this is our campaign calling for Peak Poultry and our calls for dietary changes to include less and better meat. Additionally, given global ambitions on deforestation, we’d like to see Defra to build on the recently approved Environment Bill to ensure that commodities we import are not linked to any type of deforestation.

Was it worth the long train journey to be there? Emphatically yes. Every voice and action count now, both in limiting temperature rise and in making the case that we need to transform food and farming to do this. And we need to keep hope alive on climate change. If not the COP – then what?’

Sustainable Living Guide

Sustainable Living Guide

The Soil Association has created a FREE digital Sustainable Living Guide! In the guide, you’ll find lots of ways you can help restore nature, health, and a safe climate from the ground up. Covering all areas of sustainability, with a number of small changes you can make at home and advice on bigger changes you can make in your life to reduce your carbon footprint and support a sustainable future. This guide includes:

  • The latest on packaging
  • Creating a wildlife friendly garden
  • How to avoid greenwashing
  • The link between your finances and sustainability, from Triodos Bank
  • Energy saving advice, from the Centre for Sustainable Energy
  • Sustainable travel tips, from Sustrans

You can download the guide from the soil association web site www.soilassociation.org or try the link


UK Goverment Net Zero Strategy - a response from the Soil Association

In October 2021, the Government launched their Net Zero strategy – the Soil Association were not overly impressed about the impact on agriculture and food policies.

The SA write:

This is an emergency – but you wouldn’t know it from the government’s new Net Zero strategy. As it relates to food and agriculture, it is devoid of urgency. Vague statements on emerging technology take priority over concrete commitments to agroecological solutions. Perhaps feed additives with methane inhibiting properties will help to reduce emissions from housed cattle. Perhaps innovations in alternative proteins will shift the balance of the UK diet, as the strategy suggests. The recent National Food Strategy called for an urgent transition to nature-friendly, agroecological farming and sustainable diets– the Net Zero strategy falls short in helping to deliver that ambition.

This is an emergency – but you wouldn’t know it from the government’s new Net Zero strategy.

There are welcome elements to the strategy. The government has signalled its ongoing support for agroforestry and tree planting. It has recognised the damaging impacts of nitrate and ammonia pollutants from slurry, generated in vast volumes by intensive livestock systems. Nods towards expanding legislative prohibitions on the burning of peat bogs are welcome, as is the suggestion that regulation might be introduced to curtail the use of manufactured nitrogen fertilisers. The government is also considering new legislative powers to improve soil management and nutrient management.

The Climate Change Committee has said that Net Zero won’t be attainable without a change in our diets, including a sizable reduction in the consumption of poultry meat – why is the government trying to dodge the difficult public conversation on dietary change? The National Food Strategy called for an urgent transition to agroecological or nature-friendly farming and sustainable diets – but the strategy falls short in helping to deliver this ambition.

It also raises lots more questions than it answers – Is the government pursuing a trade agenda that supports the UK’s climate ambitions? Does the strategy’s emphasis on bioenergy align with the government’s purported intent to protect nature and restore soil health? Is the environmental land management scheme fit for purpose?

Find this blog here on the Soil Association website and see more at the Soil Association blogs on their web site.

Government backpedalling

Government policies

The Soil Association has flagged its serious concern about reports that the Westminster government might backpedal on plans to make sure farm subsidies benefit nature and climate.  Head of Farming Policy, Gareth Morgan said  that such a move would be "an outrage".

The Soil Association is also asking the new Defra ministers to make sure that farmers that do most for the environment - such as organic farmers - are properly rewarded for the benefits they provide. "We know most farmers care deeply about  the environment and it is vital that they’re rewarded to protect it – especially in the face of trade deals that threaten to undercut British farmers with imports of food ordered to lower environmental and animal welfare standards. Government must proceed with the most evidence-based solution – a rapid shift to agroecological, nature-friendly farming.

Potato Seed Trials

As potato days around the country are cancelled so Alan Romans is offering seed potatoes which are part of the project he has been promoting for a few years now, trying to raise the next generation of blight resistors in association with the Sarvari Trust. He writes ‘I have combined 3 groups of parents to get 3 different sources of blight resistance over 3/4 years. My technique has greatly improved this season and I have thousands of seeds. I can cope with 100/200 of them at most. Nearly all of the progeny will have some blight resistance with a few having great resistance.

Most will be modern maincrop/ late maincrop ie not daylength dependent for tuberization (like eg Golden Wonder) and could have large yield potential.
To stand a fair chance of useful tubers in one season I would sow the seed in February like tomato seeds in a propagator and plant out as soon as conditions permit. Allow at least 12″ between plants if looking for size. I cram the seedlings as close together as I can to give me more to assess and am happy to get a few minitubers of the more promising to plant on in the following year. I am always impressed by how vigorous the little seedlings are.

My seed, so far, has been very good for one year but then loses much of its viability by year 2 – hence my apparent selfless generosity! It would be great if any members interested would join our very informal group and look out for commercial quality tubers coming from very blight resistant plants, which could be assessed at Bangor University in the future. Good but not essential – I am not getting any younger and the more my crosses get out there the more chance there is that something gets passed on. Regards, Alan Romans’
If you are interested in this project get in touch.

First Published in early 2021 on wyog.org.uk

Stop Poison Poultry

The Soil Association is running a campaign Stop Poison Poultry as they raise raising awareness of the toxic pesticides sprayed on soya crops across Brazil – pesticides that are dangerous to farm workers and their families and wreak havoc on Brazilian biodiversity. As the soya is exported to the UK and fed to millions of British chickens, they are  calling on supermarkets to pay urgent attention to pesticides and scrub their chicken supply chains clean.
There is an alternative created through Innovative Farmers  where research by one farmer has been growing vetch and sprouting the seeds which he feeds to his chickens, these are more nutritious and converted into a reliable source of protein. Vetch is a useful crop as it’s a nitrogen fixer. Read more at www.innovativefarmers.org
You can find out more about the campaign and add your name via the link below. https://act.soilassociation.org/stop-poison-poultry

pollution from synthetic fertiliser

The Soil Association are running a campaign to stop pollution from synthetic fertiliser. The way we grow our food is damaging the soil, destroying plants and killing wildlife. Emissions from fossil fuel-based nitrogen fertilisers used in intensive farming are sadly contributing to the climate emergency. But it doesn’t need to be this way.

Join them in making a stand against synthetic fertilisers. Together we can:

  • Set a target for reducing fossil fuel-based fertiliser use in UK farming
  • Help farmers to transition away from these expensive, synthetic fertilisers
  • Support nature-friendly farming approaches, like organic, that don’t rely on synthetic fertilisers

They have an online petition – go to their web site https://act.soilassociation.org and look for the fix-fertiliser campaign