This month we have
- News of environmental activism sessions
- A campaign against attempts to patent all fruit and veg seeds
- The push for agroecology to reduce pesticide use
- Raising the profile of soil
- Using shellfish to tackle potato pests
- Terry on the pollination of tomatoes
- Jack’s view from North Wales
Thanks to everyone who sent in suggestions for what they would like to see on the new web site, if you have some ideas do let me know. email@example.com.
Summer programme for environmental activists during June – July and August- run by CICD a college in East Yorkshire. In our summer programme, we come together to learn about the reasons for and consequences of climate change, discuss what to do about it – and to take action. You can read more about it below, and click here for more about our college: https://cicd-volunteerinafrica.org/programmes-cicd/climate-activist-summer-programme-1-3-months
If you think this could be of interest, contact us directly with any questions.
Mel Pita, College for International Co-operation and Development, Hull. firstname.lastname@example.org
Saving our food. In March a bunch of screaming broccoli and tomatoes in Munich stood outside of the European Patent Office (EPO) to save the future of our food! Our partners and the voices of more than 180,000 people from our community protested to stop companies like Bayer-Monsanto or Carlsberg from having the exclusive right to grow our fruits, vegetables, and seeds. Our voices were heard! The Chairman of the EPO, Josef Kratochvíl, three days after our protest wrote us an official letter saying that he “respects the opinion of civil society groups” and ”welcomes a fruitful dialogue with these groups.” Last year, the EPO officially accepted that conventionally-bred plants are not patentable. But Bayer-Monsanto and others are abusing the European patent system to take control of our food. They want to decide what we eat, what farmers produce, what retailers sell, and how much we all have to pay for it. While the Chairman says that he respects and welcomes our opinion, this just isn’t enough. They must close all legal loopholes in patent law that allow companies to register new patents on tomatoes, barely, melons, and all natural foods. The EPO will meet again at the end of June and its chairman wants a “fruitful” dialogue. We’re currently planning another action prior to this meeting to ensure they’ll get our message: make a final decision to close loopholes and stop patents on seeds once and for all!
More detail from www.wemove.eu
News and research
The recent Soil Association magazine has an article on ‘Ten Years for Agroecology in Europe’ which sets out how ti would be possible to provide a sufficient and healthy diet to a growing population using ecological faming – without the use of pesticides. It discusses the current problem of crops commercially available to farmers being specifically designed for high pesticide use aimed at increasing yields and nothing else, This just leads to an increasing need for pesticides, meanwhile pests and diseases quickly develop resistance so new and more potent pesticides are needed. Pesticides have been shown to play a major part in the catastrophic farmland wildlife crash. Removing a single pesticide, like neonicotinoids, doesn’t work as they are simply replaced by another pesticide. The report shows how moving the farming system away from a reliance on pesticides can still provide a sufficient and healthy diet to a growing population, and this year work on a UK model will illustrate how such an approach can also tackle climate change impacts and wildlife decline.
The importance of soil
The Land Magazine www.thelandmagazine.org.uk has an interesting article in its issue 27 which considers why soil is not seen as interesting or relevant by politicians or people. The UN has reported that a third of all the worlds soils are degraded, yet UK Governments plans to improve the environment (2018 25 year Plan to improve the environment) still have no roads maps, no identifiable milestones.. so no soil health strategy linking the state of our soils with their sustainable management. There is no sense that the Government has any coherent vision for achieving its aims. Last year the Sustainable Soils Alliance (SSA) campaigned to get soil health included in the Agriculture Bill as one aspect of what farmers can be paid for because it is a means to delivering other public goods. So a step forward. The article outlines some of the problems faced by different levels of complexity; in a country with 747 different soil types how can policy makers decide what counts as a healthy soil – a task the SSA is on with in an attempt to break down the inertia that exists. Currently the monitoring of soil receives 0.4% of all Defra’s spend on monitoring of air, water and soil. At a time when the UK is losing 2.2 million tonnes of topsoil each year, much of which ends up in water courses as sediment contamination. English Farmers have a one in 200 year chance of being inspected for observance of the Farming Rules for Water. The article also looks at peat loss and the role of peat and soil in carbon storage – 95% of UK land carbon stocks are held in our soils, and 40% of this is stored in peat bogs which are decreasing rapidly.
Potato Cyst nematode (PCN) is a pest which is decimating Scotland’s potato industry and has also affected daffodil bulb growers. The chemical treatments available are limited and harmful of people and soil. Without a solution, it was expected that the seed potato industry would be annihilated in 30 years. The Rural Innovation Support Service (RISS) has picked up on some work undertaken in Holland that showed that creating a chitin rich compost can clear fields of PCN. Chitin comes from shellfish and from Soldier flies. As well as trials on the compost other framers are working on trap crops, where the nematodes hatch and attach themselves to other plants where they cannot complete their lifecycle, and also PCN resistant potato varieties.
For the full article head to www.innovaivefarmets.org and look for the September 2020 news.
Terry’s Tips 2.
May, the month of blossoms. From apple trees in all their glory to the quiet blooms on the gooseberry, they are all producing pollen. It is the same in the greenhouse, where the early tomato pollen is eagerly awaited. It is s simple really, viable pollen, receptive stigma, successful fertilisation, lovely tomatoes.
It’s those fertilised flowers on that bottom truss that ‘anchor’ the plant down into a regular cropping pattern rather than just a vegetative growing one. Tomato flowers with their 5 or more anthers hanging down close to the stigma are ideally adapted for self-fertilisation and from mid-season onwards this is usually what happens. Although pollination of greenhouse tomato varieties can take place over a narrow range of temperatures the optimum for these is 68F/ 20C for both anther and stigma. The actual quality and potential viability of the pollen will depend on the nutrient status of the plant and health of the flower itself. Tomato plants being grown organically usually have bright yellow flowers with plenty of pollen, over many years I have only see’ dry set’ after the most severe climatic conditions, when there has been no pollen to fertilise the stigma.
Once a tomato flower is fully open it is at its most fecund over the next 3 days. When the greenhouse atmosphere is too dry, the pollen will not stick to the sigma, but if it is too wet the pollen sticks to the anther and will not ‘fly’. A relative humidity of 70% suits both anther and stigma and ensure a good set. By May time in an unventilated greenhouse the temperature can rise to over 100F/ 37.5C, so do bear in mind that 4 hours at 105F/ 40C cooks and kills pollen.
If it is too dry, watering the path will increase the humidity, or if preferred a fine mist spray over the plants will rapidly moisten the truss. An hour later tap the wires or canes to gently shake the flowers and distribute the pollen. If we are fortunate enough we may hear the gentle humming of a bee as it goes about doing the job for us. If spraying as to be done later in the day allow enough time for the plants to dry off before nightfall. A week later gently pull a spent flower from its calyx, if a tiny round fruit is visible with a very fine style attached the fruit has set and the swelling process now begins.
Thanks to everyone who donated towards our new web site. We have reached our target and have commissioned a web designer and plan to start working with them this month. If you have any suggestions for what you would like to see on the new web site please get in touch, tell us what information and news do you like, what gardening advice is useful? Do you like quizzes or fancy something aimed at children? Would you like to write for the newsletter or for the website?
Send any suggestions and offers to email@example.com.
More zoom talks.
On April 14th., This one is about the organic garden at Waltham Place and the chemical free philosophy that drives it. Details are here – https://ebts.org/uk/uk-events/waltham-place-gardeners-talk/
WYOG and our annual show
At the moment we are not sure if we will be able to hold any form of show this year, the Saltaire Festival are considering if they can host a festival. We will need to check with the college if the venue is available, look at all the covid rules that might be in place, and check if we have any judges willing to judge on taste! We will be meeting to discuss all these in June and will let you know; any thoughts on the matter appreciated.
We welcome a new regular columnist this month – someone you will know well from our shows. Terry Marshall is going to write a Terry’s Tip each month.
Spring is in the air and for greenhouse growers’ thoughts turn towards planting tomatoes. Tomato plants whether lovingly propagated, gifted or bought are all subject to the same natural laws, in this case rooting temperature. Tomato plants WILL NOT grow new roots at a soil temperature below 59 F –14.5 C. How often do we hear “My tomato plants don’t seem to be growing”. That’s because they are not. The top 1″of soil may be ‘aired’ but 4 -6 inches down the temperature may be 45 -50 degrees. A Soil thermometer is a very useful tool, (Birthday or Christmas Present ?) but it needs to be used carefully and placed some 4″down in the border. If it is too cold to plant, try ridging up the soil. In most cold greenhouses it is worth doing this anyway a week to 10 days before planting day, this will expose a greater area of soil surface to warm up the bed, then this can be raked down ready for planting. Warm moist soil allows for a rapidly developing root system and the plants are off to a flying start. The same goes for outdoor plants too. Now is the time to be sowing outdoor varieties to ensure a big plant for planting after the last frost. This year there are some lovely outdoor Blight Resistant varieties available, ‘Mountain Magic’ is delicious.
From Val’s plot
This is the month when we start seeing brighter sunnier days and can get fooled into planting things out too soon. The soil needs to warm up a bit more first and drain after all the heavy rain we have had recently. Seeds planted in cold wet soil will simply rot. So, as you get your beds ready don’t forget to add in as much compost as you can get and maybe add some pelleted fertiliser to scatter on prior to planting; I use the plant based one Viano and I have also bought some seaweed feed for giving everything a boost once they have started growing.
It’s time to get the seed packets in date order so you can get plants started at home, in greenhouses or cold frames ready to go out when the weather is better; remember we can get frosts up here into June, so putting out courgettes now will end in tears, keep them back and growing somewhere cool until towards the end of May. Likewise, most seed packets give the earliest sowing date as if you lived in the south of England, always best to aim for the middle date they suggest for sowing directly.
I am planting out broad beans and onion sets now; the potatoes went in at Easter. I have the early peas growing in my cold greenhouse ready to go out at the end of the month and I have started to sow cabbage seeds and cucumbers and gherkins. The leeks I planted in pots a month ago are doing well and will be planted out when I find a suitable space and they are a bit bigger.
I still have leeks, sprouts, kale and purple sprouting growing so it’s a bit of a juggling act as to which beds are ready to go and how that fits with the crop rotation I try and practice.
If you haven’t already got them going then this is your last chance to plant chilli and tomato seeds, or you can buy plants from the organic gardening catalogue. It’s also time to think about sowing squash seeds inside and before long the sweet corn can be sown in pots.
There is still time to buy some wildflower seeds and get them going for some lovely summer colour – Boston Seeds have a good selection.
This is the time to get on top of slugs whether you are using the higher tech nematodes or lower tech options. If you have your beds covered with cardboard or membrane, now is the time to turn it over and collect and dispose of all the slugs and snails lurking underneath. I make beer traps and put them around a bed I intend to plant a few days before so I clear a lot of them away before the small plants are put into their bed. Pauline Pears on the Zoom talk suggested that when you plant a new bed there will be little else for the slugs to munch on so she puts out lettuce leaves weighed down with a stone, and then the slugs go for that and also hide underneath and she collects them and disposes of the bodies. Everyone will have their own solutions but please avoid using pellets that are not organic and wildlife friendly; we don’t want to kill the hedgehogs who do such a good job of eating slugs. A pond will attract frogs and newts who feed on slugs and other grubs. Keeping your beds mulched so you improve the soil will mean many slug predators can exist in and under the mulch and eat the slugs and snail eggs.
Jack First writes this month on ‘some old ways of dealing with slugs and snail’s.
The gardeners of the past had a few tricks of their own and in order to understand the methods used we must first take a closer look at our foe. The slug like the snail requires a constant supply of moisture to enable motion. After foraging and sensing a shortage of moisture a snail will quickly shut up shop. That is why they can often be seen half way up a tree or wall. Here they remain until evening dew or rain enables motion. The slug on the other hand has no such luck. At daybreak, they must find a place of safety but often they can be found on a path or pavement. One can see their slime trails heading in all directions in a frantic race for a damp hiding place to rehydrate. They can often be seen totally desiccated having used up all their water reserves. So to start with we can be 100% certain that slugs and snails need moisture in order to carry out their nightly foraging. So why do water in the evening when the ground remains wet all night. We are inadvertently inviting these pests to a smooth wet path to dinner. Best not to water seedlings or young plants in the evening.
The old books referred to frequent stirrings between the crop rows. There are different tools to carry out this job depending on soil type or structure and once mastered is a speedy task with many benefits. The aim is to loosen the soil with a hoe or tine but only very shallow, no more than an inch deep. Slugs and snails as well as other pests lay their eggs close to the crop, the stirrings bring the eggs and lavae to the surface which perish or are consumed by birds. The gardeners of old were convinced that regular stirrings stimulated growth as more air was introduced to the soil. This is certainly the case when after heavy rain some soils become capped and stirrings permit air again. Most importantly from the slug and snails point of view getting to the crop is much harder. This top layer of soil being light and airy soon dries out. It is no longer smooth but for the slug more like terminal moraine, hard and difficult to traverse.
There is the old trick of light dusting of lime using a hessian sack. Many gardeners used to keep hens ducks or geese which if carefully managed soon clean up a patch. I witnessed this myself in Keighley where our Italian neighbours, Autoro and Lelia kept hens. When foraging for food hens scrape the ground then quickly step backwards eyes peeled to the ground consuming all that moves. Autoro would guide his flock for about ten minutes between the crops. Hens are opportunistic and will peck at the greens so they must be kept on the move. Needless to say Autoro and Lelias plot was fairly free of slugs. If you can get hold of daggings or wool you will find these a good deterrent. The last thing a slug or snail needs is to be dragging a wooly coat around. Seriously though, works well and also eventually rots down well.
Why we should use organic seed
The Seed Cooperative newsletter has a fascinating article on new research showing the importance of organic seed, extract from an article written by Phil Sumption – March 2021
We believe that to grow organically you need to be ‘organic from the start’. That belief – our gut reaction – is now backed up by science. It is all about seed health and soil health, which links to human health. I have heard people say – why choose organic seed – it surely can’t make any difference? Well – actually it does!
It is partly about approach. Stephanie Klaedtke of ITAB, France argued at the recent EUCARPIA-LIVESEED conference on breeding and seedsector innovations for organic food systems that we should be using the term ‘Plant salutology’ instead of plant pathology. Salutology comes from two latin words ‘salud’ and ‘logic’, meaning ‘health’ and ‘study’, which translates to ‘the science or the study of the origins of health’. It focuses primarily on optimising and maintaining health rather than treating disease. Plant pathology, in contrast, is the scientific study of diseases in plants caused by pathogens. Seed and plant health is a continuum – seed health is intertwined with seed vigour and the role of microbial communities on the seed. It is an agroecological or holistic approach – to look at managing the microbial communities around the seed and not just treating the ’problem’.
Gabriele Berg of the Institute of Environmental Biotechnology, Graz University of Technology, in Austria emphasises the importance of the seed microbiome. The plant microbiome is crucial for growth and health. She remarked: “Seeds were often considered as reservoir for pathogens or as free of microorganisms, but recent studies have revealed an unexpected microbial diversity and abundance within seeds. Soil type, climate, geography and plant genotype were identified as main drivers of the seed microbiota. The microbiomes have secretly co-evolved with their host plants over millennia. Breeding has changed plants with selection for yield and resistance, but this is reflected in the seed microbiota as well, resulting in diversity loss, which has consequences for health issues. To restore microbial diversity, bacterial seed treatments can be harnessed for sustainable agricultural approaches by improving stress tolerance and resilience of modern crops.”
Plant breeding was recently discovered to directly and indirectly shape and select seed associated microbial communities. Pumpkin seeds were found to have a distinct seed microbial community to the surrounding soil, characterised by a high Enterobacteriaceae (40- 83%) abundance. They found that bacterial taxa were mainly transferred from sown seeds to progeny seeds, while fungal taxa found on the progeny seeds for the most part originated from soil. Moreover, plant beneficial taxa (e.g. Bacillaceae, Burkholderiaceae, Pseudomonadaceae) were observed to be transmitted onto the progeny seeds. The study highlights the complex assembly of seed microbial communities across different cultivars and the importance of the consideration of plant associated microbiomes during breeding.
During organic seed production and plant breeding mother plants are exposed longer to pressure from weeds, pests, diseases, and abiotic stress. These stressful conditions will result in a shift to a more beneficial microbiome. What is more, there may be differences between varieties which means the more varieties you have the more diversity of microbiota you should have. Diversity in the garden leads to diversity in the gut!
The LIVESEED report Organic seed health. An inventory of issues and a report on case studies concluded: “Use of seeds produced under organic conditions can also have benefits, as organic soils may have a richer and more diverse microbiome and part of this microbiome enters the seed during development. Although much more research is needed, there are indications that certain microorganisms in this seed microbiome play a role in tolerance of the emerging seedling toward biotic and abiotic stress in the field.”
The full report is available at www.seedcooperative.org.uk