Category Archives: gardening

In the Bleak Midwinter…

‘Go for a walk and see how much food there isn’t….’

Recipes for Resilience, page 42

ice on rhines

Imbolc at the beginning of February may have heralded the inexorable rise of Spring, but it was immediately followed by a spell of savage cold. Here in the Shire, we didn’t get much snow, which can provide an insulating blanket over the soil. Only endless days of constant icy wind. The broad beans may not have made it through!

The only vegetables ready to eat in the Resilience Garden now are the hardy leeks. I dug up the last of the parsnips and carrots just before the cold snap. Emerging slugs were nibbling at the exposed carrot tops, and the parsnips were thinking of growing leaves. This, of course, is why they lay down that valuable store of carbohydrates in their roots.

I’m proud of my self-seeding parsnips. It’s apparently very difficult to get them to do that. My struggle is to get them eaten! On my own I have small meals, and it’s not been possible to host roast dinners. Apart from potatoes, I just don’t eat a lot of root vegetables. I’ve learned to finely grate raw carrot into mayonnaise as a kind of coleslaw, which gets through them, but the unused parsnips troubled me.

My daughter provided me with a recipe which solved the problem:-

Chop a couple of medium, or one large parsnip into pieces and simmer till very soft. Drain and mash thoroughly. Stir in a couple of ounces of grated cheese, a teaspoon of made mustard and a little black pepper. Form into thin, flat round cakes on a floured plate and fry in shallow oil till golden brown on both sides.

The mix is quite soft, almost like drop scones (page 102), so get the oil quite hot before sliding the patties in. Turn with care and a good fish slice. They go very well with bacon and baked beans, or with any meal which involves gravy.

On the positive side, the long frost has nailed those emerging slugs, and it might be another bad year for molluscs. My raised beds are cleared and dug over, so the birds have had a good chance to raid the soil for other pests.

Resilience garden in spring cleared for planting

I’ve bought my seed potatoes, and a couple of asparagus roots to plant. The soil has to warm up a little more first. The onion sets should go in soon, perhaps this weekend if it stops raining! The autumn planting is doing well, though nothing like a crop yet. The allium family are a hardy lot. It’s not surprising that the first recorded recipe (Babylon 3000 BCE) was for onions!

Even so, you can’t live on onions alone. To survive in a Northern climate, you need to have mastered the art of storing food over the winter. The supermarket-to-dinner strategy adopted by many modern people is a potentially fatal regression.

Learn to survive in the 21st century with ‘The Handbook of Practical Resilience’ and ‘Recipes for Resilience’.  

Imbolc – the start of the growing season

Imbolc is a festival very closely tied to agriculture. As people moved away from the land, from being one of the key events of the year, it fell into obscurity. Six weeks after the Winter Solstice, in the first few days of February, Imbolc celebrates the beginning of Spring. From the perspective of a high-rise window, this may not be obvious. Down at ground level though, green shoots are appearing, buds are swelling. Even in the city, the days are clearly longer.

As lambs arrived in the pastures, so did a new supply of milk for hungry stone age farmers. After months of living on preserved food, with little access to sunlight, this source of vitamin D was essential for health. Imbolc customs often involved milk. The name itself may come from ‘oimelc’, an old word for ‘ewe’s milk’.

Imbolc lambs

The winter was over in the minds of these early farmers. Whatever the weather, their thoughts had to turn to mending fences, digging the vegetable plots, putting plans into action. There was much activity around holy wells during Imbolc; weather oracles were anxiously consulted. The American tradition of Groundhog Day on February 2nd has its roots here; once it was a badger who popped out to test the air.

Imbolc snowdrops

In the evening there would be a modest fire ritual. Great bonfires and loud parties weren’t appropriate. Survival was still not certain, but depended on the coming season’s crops. Candles were lit; it was a festival of hearth and home. Women encouraged the goddess of growing things to visit, sometimes by making a special bed for her.

An element of ritual cleansing also goes back a long way. It survives in the tradition of ‘spring cleaning’, but may once have been far more important. Some stone circles are directed at the Imbolc sunrise, notably at Newgrange in Eire. The inner chamber of the Mound of the Hostages there shows such an alignment.

Although we don’t know how these Neolithic people celebrated, we can imagine how they must have looked forward to the coming of Spring!

From ‘Recipes for Resilience – Common Sense Cooking for the 21st Century’.

Contents Recipes for Resilience February

It might seem odd to be talking about greenhouses in February, but this is when they’re most useful. Many of your ordinary vegetables can get a head start, protected from cold soil and freezing winds. The trailing exotics of summer are just a bonus! As for fresh greens, I’m not talking about Iceberg lettuce here, but wild garlic, sorrels and nettles. These start showing just as the root vegetables which kept you going through the dark months are sprouting.

For each month in ‘Recipes’ I provide a short list of seasonal foods. You need to know these to plan your stores. After Imbolc, one can expect to have eggs and milk again, so I’ve gone into a little bit of detail about our historic relationship with milk. This shouldn’t be underestimated; it’s shaped the rural landscape of Britain for thousands of years!

Finally for each month there are the recipes, all relentlessly seasonal. See how much food you haven’t got at this time of year! Leaf through the contents of your copy and see how the available ingredients expand as the weather warms up. There’s over 130 recipes, many of which are directly related to the food you can grow, or which will be in season and cheap.

For resilience tips about other essential resources, consult ‘The Handbook of Practical Resilience – How to Survive in the 21st Century’

Notes on a Resilient Community

I made these notes some years ago, while researching for ‘Recipes for Resilience – Common Sense Cooking for the 21st Century’. A whole sheaf of writing was condensed into a ‘mind map’, as pictured below, and set aside.

rough notes on self-sufficiency

If I need this information for an article, book or story, this serves to remind me of the conclusions I drew from the research. It underpins the description of a resilient village on page 198 of ‘Recipes’ for example.

However, other people don’t find it quite so clear, so I’m just going to expand on these notes a little.

I began the project by musing on how much land a single person might need to grow all their own food. An acre of vegetables is said to be sufficient, but you’d want more variety, more redundancy, perhaps extra food to trade for other necessities. This is what I came up with:-

One acre of vegetables

About a third of an acre for chickens – you’d get both eggs and meat here

One acre for a horse

One acre for a cow

A quarter acre for a sheep

One square yard of grain gives you one loaf; 200 square yards of grain crop should suffice.

A quarter acre of pond supplies fish

Barns, workshops and housing would occupy another quarter acre.

That’s about four acres, adding land for paths, fences, windmills and suchlike.

By that time, I was considering fuel as well. Four acres of coppiced woodland can provide enough to heat a house all year in a temperate climate.

This was looking like a lot of work for one person. Suppose you got ill? A house can accommodate several people. Farm animals don’t like to live alone. Resources and practical skills are only half of the Resilience Wheel. Community is important. Let’s add more people!

With four adults living in the house, the amount of woodland required remains the same, but we need more food:-

Four acres of vegetables

About eight acres of pasture. There’s now enough land for a serious rotation. The sheep follow the cows and horses, the chickens follow the sheep. You could bring pigs into the mix too.

Add a couple of acres of orchard, with fruit and nut trees. The sheep and chickens can forage here too. There will be beehives for honey and wax.

About half an acre of pond is probably still enough. Any more and the fish may be too hard to catch! If you have a flowing stream as well, there’s water power to consider.

An acre of grain gives extra for fodder.

Your buildings will still take up about the same area; a quarter acre

And the four acres of woodland.

That’s about twenty acres all told. The single person had to manage eight alone. I notice I’ve randomly added a few more acres into the total in the original notes. I forget why, so let’s do the same. Call it twenty-four acres to support four people, that gives us extra land for crop and pasture rotation. The animals are much happier in their little herds. The extra labour opens up possibilities.

Now we’ve almost certainly got a surplus of produce. This tiny community could even support an elderly person and children, who each need less than half the food of a working adult. Not many children, as a two-child family is the only way to sustain this group long-term. Land does not multiply itself.

Now they need some company. Let’s give each household of six a thirty acre plot, just in case they temporarily expand to eight people. Fallow meadowland is easy to grow and pleasant to have, easy to cultivate if needed. Twelve of these plots, as segments of a circle with the houses and valuables at the centre, form a circle a mile wide. We’ve now got seventy to a hundred people in a little village, bordered by a band of woodland.

how many people can live on three square miles of land

That’s quite a small community. Could it get bigger and remain resilient? Let’s double the diameter of the circle to two miles. The houses are still only a mile, twenty minutes walk, from the edge. You’ve got horses, renewable energy for tractors, you’ve laid paths. According to the expanded calculations in the picture, up to 72 households could be accommodated, or three to four hundred people of all ages from babies to the very old.

Below is a diagram of how the cultivated land could be laid out, with crops needing more maintenance closer to the houses. Sheep graze the edge of the forest, to discourage saplings encroaching. Water as in ponds, streams, rivers or even canals, may have to be worked around. Perhaps a couple of segments must be left unclaimed to host these common resources.

layout of a self sufficient plot

The coppiced woods form a circle around the village. It’d be useful to have a zone of natural forest beyond these. Fungi and game were always a fall-back plan if crops failed. Lets say a thick band of woodland, a couple of miles across, separates one of these villages from another. Your neighbours are only four miles away, an easy journey on foot – though you have horses and electric vehicles.

All the elements are in place for a fully sustainable, completely resilient lifestyle. Add skilled crafts people making luxury items, remote working because you haven’t forgotten technology and still have the internet. Unlikely? It’s surprising how resilient the internet is now that it’s been discovered!

What you can actually do right now may bear no more relationship to this than an acorn does to a full-grown oak. Remember – every majestic tree was once a nut that didn’t give up!

A Seasonal Recipe – Potato and Leek Soup

Recipes for Resilience – common sense cooking for the 21st century’ is the book you need! There’s over a hundred basic recipes, arranged to make use of seasonal foods, plus gardening advice to help you with your vegetable patch. Learn how to combine food stores with fresh produce, and your food bills could end up as low as mine!

Here’s one of the recipes from the book, using the ingredients you find in the winter months:-

Leek and potato soup

A couple of large leeks from your resilience garden

A couple of medium potatoes from winter stores, chopped small

Stock – half a litre (one pint) for two people (use a stock cube from stores)

Optional – some dried wild mushrooms. Practice with commercially available types

Acquiring the skills to collect and preserve wild mushrooms safely is quite a task. Try eating some already prepared first. You may not like the taste or texture! However, if you don’t eat animal products, fungi can be an important source of protein.

Dried foods need a lot of cooking water, so it’s best to add them to a stew or soup. Follow any instructions about pre-soaking on the packet, or online.

Slice up the leeks and sauté them in a little oil with a dash of tamari (optional). Pour in the stock, add the potatoes and mushrooms. Simmer for about 20 minutes; it’s ready when the potatoes are soft. If the mushrooms need longer – there are many different varieties – the rest of the soup is fine with that, as long as you keep the liquid topped up.

You can make this into a ‘cream’ soup. Allow it to cool so it won’t scald you, then blend it. Warm it back up, stirring in 4 fluid ounces (100 ml) of single cream. Don’t let it boil. Serve as soon as it’s hot enough.

Although richer and more nutritious, this soup won’t keep as long as the dairy-free version; it’s best eaten up at one meal.

Recipes for Resilience book in leeks

Now here’s the seriously resilient version:-

War Soup – a modern famine recipe

4 tablespoons of dried milk

1 stock cube

2 tablespoons dried parsley or whatever green leafy stuff is around, shredded

Mix the dried milk with 2 tablespoons of water until it’s creamy. Make up to half a litre (one pint). It should look roughly like milk. If it seems too thin, mix up another tablespoon of powder with a very little water in a cup and stir this in slowly to thicken it. Adding more dried powder straight to any mix often results in lumps.

Of course, if you have the packet, follow the instructions given to make up a pint.

Heat the milk gently, stirring in the crumbled stock cube and the leaves; serve at once.

Note the similarity to the ‘cream of potato and leek soup’ above. Both involve milk and stock cubes. Both can be expanded with garden forage or wild edibles. You would tend to use these recipes if protein from meat or pulses was in short supply. Milk supplies extra Vitamin D in the dark winter months.

Recipes for Resilience‘ doesn’t just cover the skills of buying cheap for stores, and growing food to supplement your monthly shopping. (Yes, that’s monthly! I go to the supermarket once a month, to buy in heavy items like tins. I spend about £40 there, including a few expensive treats. Every four months, I spend another £50 on stocking up a small freezer. That’s it. My store cupboard’s always full.)

It also explains how to cope with very serious emergencies, where the power and mains water could be out for some weeks. The sister publication, ‘The Handbook of Practical Resilience – how to survive in the 21st century’ goes into more detail. You don’t have to have a cabin in the woods – and you probably won’t – to use the survival skills outlined. They work right where you are.

Can you afford not to have these books?Handbook of Practical Resilience and freezer with labels

You can also buy them on Amazon, though supporting my helpful publisher is better!

‘Recipes’ is here

The ‘Handbook’ is here

Or you can contact me and I’ll send you out a copy.

‘Recipes’ at £9 plus £3 p&p UK

the ‘Handbook’ at £10 plus £3 p&p UK

A Craft Interlude – Grape Juice

In the twenty years since I planted a tiny little stick, it has become a huge grape vine, sweeping around the side of the house and smothering the shed roof.Large grape vine in garden octoberAlthough it produces a tremendous amount of fruit, the grapes are small. Most of their insides are occupied by two large seeds.  They’re not much use for eating, but with a bit of effort can provide a lovely juice.

The first task is to pick the grapes and leave them in a basin covered with cold water for about ten minutes. This allows any insects among the bunches to escape, and some of the debris to float to the top where you can scoop it off.

washing grapes ready to make juice

Take the bunches out one at a time, strip off the grapes and compost the stalks.

stripping grapes from their stalks ready to make juice

Now you need to squish the fruit to extract the juice. We tried a small fruit press, but it wasn’t any faster than crushing the grapes by hand through an ordinary sieve.Small hand press for fruit juice

crushing grapes sieve and strain for juiceThe picture above shows two stages. First the grapes are squeezed through the sieve in the centre, then the juice is poured into a larger sieve lined with muslin. The smaller sieve needs frequent rinsing out, and the muslin has to be changed quite often. Sterilise the cloth by soaking in brewers’ grade steriliser (or Milton fluid) and rinsing well in clean water. Wear a plastic apron if you have one, as the whole process can be very wet.

The pictures below shows the muslin clogged with fine particles. Move the cloth around to use clean areas, but you’ll need a good half dozen pieces ready to use.

muslin used for straining juice gets clogged with residuemoving clogged muslin around the sieve to make grape juiceThe juice collected in the second pan can now be pasteurised. Always use stainless steel pans for making fruit juice.  Non-stick will work, but not cast-iron. If you use enamelled pans, make sure there are no chips in the surface.

Heat the juice gently to at least 70 degrees Celsius and hold it there for at least a minute.  Stir it to make sure the heat is distributed all the way through. You ought to use a cooking thermometer for this. However, we brought both our batches to nearly 100 degrees (boiling point), by not paying enough attention, and it didn’t harm the juice.  So if you can’t get hold of a thermometer, it should be okay to just let the juice gently bubble, then turn the heat straight off.

If it’s not done enough, it’ll ferment in the bottles, so always use proper swing-top beer bottles, or corked wine bottles to store home-made juices. Never use screw-top bottles, as they might explode.

pasteurising grape juice in a panThis is the juice just after being heated.  Note that it still has impurities in it even after the straining. We pasteurised one batch in the bottles, but these impurities rose to the top and made a mess, so we redid that batch as above.  We strained the pasteurised juice through clean muslin again, and decanted it into sterilised bottles.second straining of grape juiceNote the second straining doesn’t leave so much residue. Even with these precautions, there’s still a little sediment in the finished bottles once they’ve settled for a few days!

Rinse out the bottles, preferably with hot water.  Glass can crack if it’s too cold when you pour hot liquids in.  Note the work surface is covered with a towel; this had to be changed for a dry one at regular intervals. It isn’t a fast process; with the first batch it took me about 8 hours to fill a dozen bottles with the finished juice!

filling the bottles with grape juiceIt’s worth the trouble though. Home pressed grape juice is delicious, free of additives, and thoroughly resilient. Our next project is to try and extract grape seed oil from the residues, but we might leave that for next year!

 

 

Your Resilience Plan – Food

In Chapter Three of the ‘Handbook for Practical Resilience’, the Food section is used as an example to describe the role of the tasks provided in achieving your personal resilience.

Ideally, you would be sourcing many of your basic foods from local suppliers either directly or through shops, deliveries and markets. You’d know most of the people involved in the food chain personally. You’d grow a lot of fresh produce yourself, or harvest it from your community garden.”

If you have reached this level of food security, you are doing very well. However, not many people in Britain will be able to tick all these boxes, so we’ll look at the other end of the scale.

You buy all your food from a large supermarket, eating mainly processed meals. You can’t cook and don’t know anyone who can show you how. If you have a garden at all, your landlord won’t let you grow vegetables. In an emergency, you would depend on food aid being brought to you rather than being able to support yourself on surrounding resources for a while.”

This is not a resilient position to be in. You don’t have any control over your food supplies.

empty shelves 1 mar 18

Imagine a scale from one to ten, with the highest score being for the ideal situation. Where do you think you are on this scale? What actions could you take to improve your score, and what barriers might you need to deal with?”

The first strategy you need to consider in the worst-case scenario is storing food. Supermarkets – and cash and carry shops – are useful for sourcing large amounts of tinned and dried produce. They have handy car parks, so you can transport these easily.

Ready meals are a waste of space. You need to be able to put basic meals together from ingredients. This is far more economic, both in cost and storage. With cooking skills, you can make the best use of the sort of random selections available during shortages. You can also plan ahead, shop with a list and work out how to use up leftovers.

It’s unlikely that you’ll have enough land – several acres – to supply all your food needs. Even a pot of herbs on the window sill can provide essential vitamin C if you are obliged to live on stores for awhile. Using whatever growing space you have will help you cultivate the skills required to grow food. At the very least, this will help you partake in informed decisions about community or national farming strategies.

An important factor in your personal resilience is the amount of food grown in your immediate area – within walking distance! At present, food growers have difficulty selling their products at retail prices. They are forced to go through commercial buyers, who take most of the profit.

If you move your food shopping away from supermarkets and towards local markets, high street shops and farm deliveries, you are moving a considerable amount of money back to food producers. This will enable them to continue, and food will remain accessible to you.

The first five tasks in the Resilience Plan for each section are achievable with no extra resources, just a few changes of habit. The fifth task in the Food section is to research a balanced diet. This is useful for your general health, but more important in a prolonged food shortage.

Vitamins and minerals are rarely scarce in normal circumstances, as people can eat a lot of food. Where you have to ration stores though, it’s very important to be aware of these. ‘Recipes for Resilience’ covers this in more detail, and outlines a simple list of food stores which can fit under a bed, or other small space. You can build on this to fill any available space you have.

a box of emergency food supplies

There is more that you can do as an individual to support local food production. Some community initiatives may exist in your area. Join a buying group or food co-op, learn about community supported agriculture. Start your own scheme, referring to the Community Quadrant for help.

Take your growing projects further. If you have a garden, dig up unproductive lawn areas and start growing vegetables. Apply to your local council for allotment space. Encourage the planting of food trees in public spaces.

Many people think the height of survival skills is to be able to forage on wild plants. There will not be enough of these. With practical resilience, you’re better off learning how to determine whether out-of-date tinned food might kill you or not.

A knowledge of native edibles is useful in your Resilience Garden. With selective weeding, you can ensure that you have a base layer of these hardy self-seeders. If you have to neglect the garden for awhile, they will carry on without your help for several years.

The final task is a research project, designed to lead you into more complex issues around food. The concept of default meatis that which can be produced by feeding domestic animals on the waste created from growing one’s own vegetables.

You will observe, when you do this for yourself, that there is a great deal of leafy material, peelings and other by-products. These can be composted directly, or fed to livestock for meat, eggs and milk. In Russia, 40% of food comes from individual small-holdings.

So these are the ten tasks to accomplish in the Food section of the Resilience Wheel. You can hurry through them, or take your time, gradually increasing your food security skills. Remember that you only need to score 70% in each section, so even if you have no chance of accessing land in Q8, you can still pass.

The Food section of the Resources Quadrant is one of the subjects I’ve chosen for further development (as described on page 178). As you work through the plan, think about your own areas of particular interest. Where would your personal skills and experience be best applied?

Page and chapter numbers refer to ‘The Handbook of Practical Resilience’.  The ten tasks relating to the Food section of the Resources Quadrant are listed in Appendix One (Your Personal Resilience Assessment).

Food security, storage and growing are covered in detail in ‘Recipes for Resilience – Common Sense Cooking for the 21st Century‘, along with over a hundred useful recipes.

Both books are available from Amazon and Waterstones, but it’s more resilient to support the publisher direct.

 

A Review of Emergency Stores in the Resilient Household

After staying within the confines of the Resilience Garden for three weeks, I thought it’d be a good time to see how my food stores were holding up.

Naturally, I have the box containing the fortnight’s worth of emergency supplies, as described in ‘Recipes for Resilience – Common Sense Cooking for the 21st Century’. I’ve hardly touched this, so I still have a good reserve if the kitchen stocks get low.

These are unusually high. Despite my reservations about freezer stores (see ‘Recipes’ page 171), I inherited a small front-opening freezer from a lodger. I was only just ahead of the panic-buying curve in filling it up, but went into lock-down with a good selection of frozen food. I targeted fresh meat, fruit and other ingredients rather than ready meals. I’d already discovered that a partly empty freezer consumes noticeably more electricity than a full one does, so as I use the supplies, I fill up spaces with packs of sliced bread or home-made cake.

 Freezer stores for Zombie Apocalypse, day 22

Freezer stores for Zombie Apocalypse, day 22

A short power cut reminded me of the vulnerability of this method of storage, so I’ve been focussing on using up the freezer contents! The food I chose can be quickly cooked, even preserved, if the power really goes down.

The leeks in the Resilience Garden have just finished.  I bought a small sack of onions in anticipation of this. The rocket has started to bolt, but there’s plenty of wild garlic for fresh green leaves and the broccoli is ready. The potatoes are finished; they refuse to stop sprouting now, unless drenched with toxic chemicals. Carbohydrates of all kinds are out of season. This is when one turns to dried grains, pasta, rice and flour products.

Wild garlic in the Resilience Garden
Wild garlic in the Resilience Garden

There’s a few gaps showing after so long living on stores. It’s a bad time of year for fruit. I should have acquired more of the tinned and dried varieties.  I’ll have to adjust my usual diet a little to use these up in rotation. No food is wasted using the Resilience plans!

I’m very fond of little trifles, and always get a pack when I do my infrequent re-stocking at a supermarket. However, a packet jelly with frozen fruit makes six small dishes full, and a tin of custard provides enough topping for these. I should’ve put away more jelly and custard, plus some sort of cream!

Home-made trifle

I don’t like storing UHT milk as it has a relatively short shelf life and really does go off. It’s hard for me to use up, as I’m accustomed to have fresh farm milk delivered. When the milk deliveries suddenly went out of business last week, it was a bit of a shock!

It was a good opportunity to open up the bag of milk powder and get that used. Another firm has taken over the milk round now, so all is well with dairy produce again.

Local shops have regrouped and are offering deliveries as well, so I can order in some seasonal produce. I feel I need to support them, but it’s hard to find enough things I need. Rhubarb is good – mine is still too new to harvest – and cauliflower is in season. Mostly I buy more honey, which keeps forever.

In summary, after three weeks living very well on stores, I could still last for months. Tea and coffee might have to be replaced with garden herbs. I’m already out of chocolate and sweets, and the last packet of biscuits is being rationed. The reserve milk is gone, but I have Vitamin D tablets on board.

Following the Resilience Plan, not only will you be set up for food stores whenever something happens, but none of the food will be wasted!

‘Recipes’ gives detailed instructions on how to achieve personal food security and can be bought direct from the publishers.

‘The Resilience Handbook – How to Survive in the 21st Century’  has now been re-released as ‘The Handbook of Practical Resilience – How to Survive in the 21st Century’, with additional content!

How to survive? You need these books.

Brexit and the Resilience Garden

Many people in Britain are growing their own vegetables for the first time. In a country which currently only produces 60% of its food supplies, that’s always a good move. It’s taken the uncertainties of Brexit to bring this home.

Emergency planning is the same motive that inspired me to create the Resilience Garden over a decade ago. I feel for those people out there at the beginning of their journey; the frustrations they will face and the triumphs they’ll enjoy!

allotment with resilience garden soil

There’s a lot to learn about resilience gardening. so much that I had to write another book about it. Here’s a selection of top tips from ‘Recipes for Resilience‘ :-

  • It’s all about soil. Look after it, feed it, don’t tread on it. Use raised beds, keep to paths.
  • A planting chart on your wall saves having to leaf through books or websites with muddy hands.
  • If you don’t have an outside tap, fill a bucket with clean water ready to rinse your hands. You’ll need them clean and dry to handle seeds.
  • Look after your tools; give them a wipe and put them away at the end of each session.
  • If you’re using stakes, cover the ends with padding so they don’t poke you in the eye. It’s hard to see them from above!
  • Collect old buckets and basins. Placed strategically around the garden, they will harvest rainwater for you, saving a trip from the tap. Make sure wildlife can escape from the water, and watch out for slugs moving in underneath.
  • You have to squish slugs and snails. Sorry. Once hedgehogs and thrushes would have done the job for you, and if you poison your pesky molluscs this day will be so much further away.
  • You also have to thin out vegetables like carrots. Steel yourself to compost those little baby plants! Avoid this trauma by becoming an expert at sowing thinly.
  • Cultivating vegetables is a compromise between what you like to eat and what the garden wants to grow. Allowing the garden to win gives you much less work. Leeks are just as useful as onions.

Do not dig up your potatoes to see if they are growing!

Happy gardening!

Spring flowers in the Resilience Garden

Recipes for Resilience‘ covers the whole growing year, with gardening tips, seasonal recipes and historical background.  I’m excited to announce that the book is now available through Amazon and other regular outlets!

Meanwhile, I’m having to change publisher for the Resilience Handbook as well – if you want one of the limited first edition copies, order now!

Reflections on 2018 – the Year of the Earth Dog

A strange year, which somehow seemed to span two or three, yet provide hardly any time for writing.

I’m sure the dramatic contrast of heavy snow in March with the searing drought of June contributed to this illusion.  It was certainly hard work to grow food, and we’re going to redesign the allotment towards even lower maintenance.

It’s being replaced by more raised beds in the Resilience Garden, to fully utilise the south-facing aspect.  When I worked at outdoor events, this area was paved to store equipment trailers; now the slabs look untidy, so I’m just creating another layer on top.  Our experiences with the allotment validated our use of raised beds in difficult growing areas.  One day town car parks may return to the market gardens they once were.

I completed my photo diary of Towntree Farm in all its seasons.  It’s a pity I couldn’t catch it under snow, but I’d never be able to get there through the lanes!  Now I just have to sort the pictures and decide what to print.  I plan to make an album as a gift to the farmer.

Statue at Towntree farm

Having retired from event services, ambushed by a lack of pension, I supplement earnings from my writings  by cleaning in some of the high-end bed and breakfast places locally.  The sense of ambience developed by arranging festivals is a completely transferable skill.  A room cannot be cleaned properly for a new guest in under an hour – if I can’t have that when travelling, I’d rather go to hostels.

However, there are only a limited number of hours in the day to accomplish this.  Visitors start to leave at ten and new ones will arrive by four o’clock at the latest.  The work should be done by then – many cleaners prefer to be unseen by guests, like invisible fairies!

The nature of the job is thus that one must work six days a week to earn enough to keep a house going at even the most basic level.  A room in a shared house would be easier to manage, but this is part of the resilience agenda where I encounter barriers.  Shared housing is increasingly popular among young people in cities, but not well supported elsewhere.

Despite the hard work and general air of gloom over the latter part of the year, I did manage a couple of short adventures.  My daughter took me to Cardiff to see Jeff Wayne’s ‘War of the Worlds’ musical show, which was awesome!

waiting for the show to start war of the worlds dec18
waiting for the show to start

The whole concept is unique, harking back as it does to a book written 120 years ago, and the performers did it justice.  The way in which sound, lighting and special effects can be combined these days would surely delight the original author, whose love of science was well known!

We stayed at the Park Plaza Hotel, which was pleasant and well situated.  We were able to walk from the central station and leave our luggage at the desk, since we were early for check in.  Xmas shopping was in full swing; we picked up novelties like chocolate spanners and giant marshmallow teacakes, which haven’t made it to rural Somerset yet.

A rare double decker carousel entertains Xmas crowds in Cardiff
A rare double decker carousel entertains Xmas crowds in Cardiff

An excellent buffet breakfast in the morning, and more retail therapy in the big city, before returning to Somerset by train and bus.  I’m using public transport, instead of driving, far more these days – another car on the roads doesn’t seem helpful.

The Park Plaza Hotel grows some of its own kitchen herbs
The Park Plaza Hotel grows some of its own kitchen herbs – very resilient!

There was barely time to repack my bags before I had to head off for a few days in London….but that’s another story

 

When I speak of the plans based on ‘The Resilience Handbook – How to Survive in the 21st Century’ I refer to ‘Level One’.   This is, as described in the Handbook, the very basic level of practical resilience which should be second nature to any citizen, and is easily achievable even today.

The universal understanding of key infrastructure is crucial.  Remote, centralised systems should be moved towards local  management.  We need to become a resilient civilisation, and start the long process now.  There are clear, measurable goals at every level from personal to global.

I’ve refrained from describing further levels until now, collecting feedback on the first stages of the Resilience Project, but I have been exploring them.   The work I’m doing on food security would be about Level Five, I suppose.  It’s embedded in a much deeper lifestyle change though – living as though resilience was already happening.  What would be the same?  How might things change?

Buy ‘The Resilience Handbook – How to Survive in the 21st Century’ from this site, not through Amazon, so that the project actually benefits from your purchase. 

As the song says don’t ‘give all your money to millionaires’!

Next post – Ice and Mirrors

July Diary 2018

The hot dry weather continues.  Here in Somerset, we’ve only had about five days with even a light shower of rain since Easter.  It’s been a relentless round of watering; not so difficult in the garden, but a real challenge down at the allotment.

allotment irrigation

This gravity fed system delivers a trickle of water to the tomatoes and courgettes, but the barrel has to be topped up manually.

allotment view July 2018

The raised beds are filled with a mixture of leaf mould, shredded paper and soil imported from the Resilience Garden.  This is full of seeds from useful, fast growing annuals which are shading out the perennial weeds.   Borage, marigold and poppy can be seen in the picture; lower ground cover is supplied by scarlet pimpernel and blue speedwell.

These are easy to pull up, and good to compost, unlike the bindweed, horsetail (outwitting vertebrates since the Triassic) and couch grasses they replace.  Most of the weeds have to go to landfill just now, which deprives this poor soil of even more nutrients.

horsetail plant collecting dew
A horsetail shoot collecting morning dew in its specially designed leaves

We took some time out to go to the Scythe Fair in June.  Adventurous visitors could sail down the River Parrret and catch the horse drawn bus to site!

horse bus scythe fair

Most people came by car though, and this is finally becoming a problem.  It’s a wonderful event and its popularity means that some formalities will have to be put in place.  Perhaps it will lose some of its rustic charm…

rope machine demonstration at the scythe fair
A demonstration of rope making

scythe fair signwriter

….or perhaps not.  Suppose it was possible to close the whole lane for a day, so visitors had to leave their cars (in a convenient field) and walk or cycle to the event?   The locals would need to go along with the plan too, and not use their cars for a day.

The management felt that was too radical a concept – and I agree.  It’s a shame that everyone is so attached to their cars!

I’m just about to set off on another adventure, spreading the Resilience word …more when I return!