Another Sunday

Walking around the Corn Exchange in Brighton: organic cosmetics, turned wood, preserves from ‘scrumped’ fruit, natural spun yarns, complementary this and that: we’re witnessing another farmers’ market/country fair being set up.

But wait a while, and wander round again, with the fair filling up and people searching out the seed stalls scattered amongst the green well-being & natural knick knacks. We watch them gradually gravitate towards the central market place, a ring of tables laden with seeds: searching, exchanging, buying seeds, questioning their provenance, asking advice, sharing information. At its core, Seedy Sunday still retains its seed saving origins.

A dead fox, urban sheep, countryside cowboys

Sheepcote valley

Just back from a brilliant ramble around Sheepcote Valley on the eastern edges of Brighton, an area of chalk downland now undergoing conservation grazing by a flock of ‘urban’ sheep. As we moved down from the ridge into the valley, Paul the ranger almost stumbled over the corpse of a fox, a young male about one or two years old; dead for at least a couple of weeks, it had until recently been covered by snow. He mentioned having heard about a likely lamping expedition 2 or 3 weeks ago, just before the snow fell across the Downs, and only the 2nd such incident in the Valley he knew of in the last 2/3 years.  He turned over the corpse with his feet to check on possible causes of death, saw a large hole in its side, most likely from a rifle shot.

Lamping is a method of night hunting using off-road vehicles with high-powered spotlights, that uses the eyeshine of animals to identify and target them. Spotlights are used because of the tendency for many animals, such as foxes and rabbits, to stare into the light rather than run away, as they would from humans. They are immobilised by the light and are then shot. Importantly, In Britain, while lamping foxes using dogs is now illegal, lamping then shooting is legal. However, no-one can kill a badger in Britain without a licence.

dead fox

The British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) publish a code of practice for lamping specifically as pest control, carried out with a landowner’s consent:
The night shooting of foxes and ground game is necessary to ensure that damage to game, wildlife, livestock and growing crops is kept at acceptable levels. It is a safe and effective method of control.[…] There are no specific legal restrictions on the night shooting of foxes. Authorised persons may legally carry out this form of fox control. Ensure you comply with previous guidance in this code.

But we also have The Hunting Life, that describes an essentially illegal activity: Lamping with lurchers at night can provide fast action and really get the heart racing […] Lamping with air guns and high-powered rifles at night can be lethal for pest and predator control at longer ranges, and provides great sport for the hunter.

in 2004, a boy of 13 was shot dead in a lamping incident near Totnes, Devon. Subsequently, an investigation by The Independent indicated its widespread illegal use and persecution of wildlife, from blasting at rabbits and hares, more organised deer poaching, to persecution of badgers. The RSPCA described illegal lampers as ‘thugs of the countryside’ and a redneck culture across Britain of people going out into the countryside ‘blasting at anything that moves’. At the 2004 Liberal Democrat conference, a member of a Montgomeryshire hunt explained how lamping was leading to a new type of ‘countryside cowboy’.

Scientific evidence suggests that the fox is not a mass killer, as popularly described, but has an important role to play in countryside ecology, and that fox populations self-regulate without the need for human intervention.

Sheepcote valley lies below the racecourse, on the eastern edge of Brighton, now included in the South Downs National Park, but very much on the urban fringe. It is public land, not private, and anyone taking part in a lamping expedition would have been doing so illegally, Sussex ‘cowboys’ with rifles.

2012: growing food in difficult circumstances

I’ve been leafing through my allotment diary, reflecting on how difficult growing food has been, thinking about the key issues of the year, some about battles with weather, others more overtly political:

In January we experimented with potato recipes, mainly pastry because Denis has a gluten allergy, & we discovered a delicious potato pastry using non-wheat flour. We also had an excellent supply of main crop potatoes from 2011 stored in our shed for use during winter. So, plenty of tubers to experiment with.

February was raw with cold, along with much discussion over access to seed & to land for growing.

This month tested the cold hardiness of our over wintering crops. Snow & frost rendered the soil hard & impenetrable. Yet, the kales were remarkable; I used to leave them to get very large because that’s what I thought you did with them, but learnt the hard way during winter 2010 that large leaves also disintegrate into smelly mush when there’s a freeze. Now I crop the plants as soon as they produce large enough leaves to eat, plant them closer together, so have more for cropping more regularly. I added pictures of the various varieties, with commentary, to my post on kales, useful now I’m planning the varieties to sow in 2013.

February also marks the Celtic festival of Imbolc, the time chosen for Brighton’s Seedy Sunday, an opportunity to share local knowledge about the plants & foods we grow & eat. This gathering was marked by anger & concern over a threatened allotment rent rise that broke apart the superficially apolitical world of allotment gardening. A petition circulated, with much lobbying & planning in the background. The failure of the Allotment Federation to do anything to either inform or protect allotment holders from what was judged a predatory raid by the council on allotment rents as easy revenue, was also seen as a double betrayal by the 1st Green council in England. Continue reading

Threat to Stanmer footpaths

A brief post but urgent

It doesnt end does it!

Small incursions into footpath access mount over time to a denial of access to significant areas of countryside. This latest attempt, by Cherrywood Investments/Stanmer House, at restricting footpath access:

Stanmer House was originally given to Brighton , in Stanmer Village, Stanmer Park, Sussex.

Do visit the links & circulate the information. What is essential is your response by completing the public evidence form & sending it in – the more people who provide evidence of public use & the need for continuing access, the better.

Seed Saving; or how to stop multi national seed companies from stealing our food heritage

When I got back from Seedy Sunday at Hove Town Hall (Brighton 6th Feb), I started reflecting on the practice of  seed saving & the implications of the loss of seed varieties. I jotted down the following thoughts but never got around to posting – well, here they are:

I currently save mainly peas & french beans (climbing & dwarf) because their growth cycle is easier to manage. However, in 2009/10 I ventured into unknown territory by saving leaf celery seed – a member  of the Umbelliferae, it’s biennial, so I needed to grow plants for 2 years – in the 1st year the plant grows stems & leaves, it dies down in winter, resprouts in its 2nd spring & develops flower spikes. The seed heads ripened slowly, from the top of the stems & the middle of the umbel outward, then downwards. I had to check plants for ripened seed heads – they developed from green through khaki to dark brown, therefore I had to cut small groups of seeds regularly as they ripened, over approximately a month (August-September), as much to catch them as they ripened & before the rain caused the seeds to go mouldy. After that, I just pulled all the plants up & composted as I needed the ground for brassicas. Why did I decide to save leaf celery if it’s so time-consuming to collect, you ask? Check the price of  seed in any catalogue that sells leaf celery – it is extortionate for a tiny amount, usually carefully wrapped in waxed paper (makes you feel it must be worth it)- & like parsley, also in the Umbelliferae family, it germinates erratically, so a small amount of expensive seed might only produce a very small number of plants. Also, by growing & saving seed from strong plants I am selecting seed from those that thrive in our local conditions: chalky soil, local climate. Seed companies have taken control of our supply of seeds, produced F1 hybrids that don’t breed true & aren’t adapted to local soils & climates,-lots of uniform plants all ready at once for harvesting. Open pollinated plants don’t all mature at the same time (necessary for commercial production & mechanical harvesting). Leaf Celery is also very hardy & brilliant for soups, salads & casseroles -it survived the winter temperatures of 2010 despite my forgetting to cover the crowns with leaf mould.

The more you sow & save, the more you know what is going to be successful – always within reason, depending on weather, slugs & other pests.

It’s also important to remember that, by taking control over seed production from local farmers & from women, the global seed conglomerates are contributing to impoverishment & dependency on the part of poorer populations, both in the global South & in areas of the global North where ‘grow your own’ is in danger of becoming a ‘life style choice’ due the costs of seed,tools & land, amongst other things.

suggestions for further reading:

*The Seed Savers Handbook, 1996, Jeremy Cherfas, Michele & Jude Fanton,  Eco-logic books.

Deals with the politics & environmental reasons for seed-saving. Also includes seed saving details. Excellent, although out-of-print it is available 2nd hand

*Roots of Vegetables, 1997, Ray Warner Thomas Etty Esq

Provides a history of many old vegetable varieties, text extracted from contemporary books & catalogues

*Heritage Vegetables 1998, Sue Stickland, Gaia Books Ltd.

Why our vegetable heritage is important, why it is disappearing & what seed saving groups worldwide are doing to combat this development.

Although I haven’t actually dealt with the activities of the global seed companies (despite my  title), this is a topic I’ll return to.