Saturday 30 July 2011

When the Chips are Down

It’s noon on Saturday and a small and buoyant crowd of people are gathering for The Spuds Don't Work rally outside the Forum. Activists from France, farmers from Norfolk, campaigners on bicycles with placards saying Stop Gambling with our Chips!, children riding small red tractors piled with red and white tubers from Wales. A waitress from The Greenhouse is handing around (delicious) organic chips to passers-by. I’m taking pix and speaking with Brenna and Tierney and Christine from Transition Norwich, Becky and Hayley from GreenGrow outside Bungay and the people from Growing Communities in Hackney. We’re all here to champion the potato, that key staple veg of all our allotments, gardens and fields and protect the land from the invasion of GMOs.

For the last ten years the Sainsbury laboratory at the John Innes Centre has spent £1.7 m of public money researching (so far unsuccessfully) a potato that is resistant to blight. During this time the UK has successfully resisted the introduction of GM food into its stores and supermarkets. But the laws in Europe are now changing, making it easier for GM crops to be grown and the debate is back on the table for both growers and consumers. Already the seed merchants and pharmaceutical companies are pressurizing farmers in East Anglia to adopt them and this event is bringing this into public awareness. At 1pm a red tractor will drive through the streets of Norwich to the John Innes Centre and deliver a load of conventionally bred blight-free potatoes in protest at the research and trials taking place there.

“It’s becoming impossible for farmers in Canada to be organic," reported one of the speakers (this week a farmer in Australia is suing a bio-tech company as their seeds have entered his crops and he has lost his organic status) as we listened to speeches from the Soil Association, local farmers and national campaigners outlining the main reasons why public money should be spent elsewhere.

“It’s complex,” said Josiah before he went on BBC Look East to discuss the GM potato trials at the Centre. Scientific research and the debate around it is complicated, but the decision to allow GM trials is simple. You either believe that it’s OK to radically interfere and manipulate the structure of plants and sow the land with these invasive artificially-bred organisms.

Or you know it isn’t.

The real complexity here however is not this decision, but in arguing from different paradigms. One where corporations seek to control and exploit the natural world for profit and to drive the industrial food machine to every corner of the globe, and the other (of which Transition is part) where individuals and groups seek to establish a small-scale agriculture that works with the natural world, to prevent waste and relocalise the food chain. Josiah who has worked with local growers for years (including FarmShare) and knows his potatoes (as well as the research behind them), faces the same difficulty all of us do in facing that argument.

The people who push for GM are smart and aggressive and have little conscience about these matters. Their decisions are based on conquest and profit. They also fund the academics who can argue cleverly on their behalf. Those who oppose GM have gut instincts, a knowing in the core of themselves that bio-tech crosses a certain line and a feeling they do not want to eat food grown in this way, anymore than they want to eat cloned animals.

The majority of people in the UK have those same unacademic feelings and instincts and do not want to put “Frankenfoods” in their shopping baskets. Corporations seek to persuade everyone to buy bio-tech by claiming it will banish the spectre of future World Hunger, mostly in Africa. The reality is that there is already famine in Africa, as there are massive land grabs by UK bio-fuel companies (a main cause of rising food prices). There are also studies that prove growing organic crops is a far better solution to food security than global industrialised farming which dispossesses and exploits people, drains water tables and destroys local eco-systems. The “opposers” are in fact not so much against GM and its consequences but for everything it takes away, including social equity.

The difficulty is that it is not really an argument we need to be having. Arguments reduce issues into black and white boxes and exclude the ur-complexity, which is not the Byzantine line of scientific reasoning, but the richly-woven web of life, the way everything on the planet is connected and in relationship. The dominating “left-brain” mindset of Empire goes way too fast for this complexity to be seen or heard. It deliberately compartmentalises each issue, so that its contradictions never confront each other. It reduces communication into superficial feel-good spin whilst keeping the depth discussion of real-world ethics and social responsibility at bay. It reduces the globe to a soundbite. A few short moments on a television broadcast.

GMs have been in use in North America for years now. The crops don’t give the great yields that are promised (and sometimes fail), use more pesticides, and the seeds (which farmers can no longer keep themselves) have increased dramatically in price. Economically many farms are struggling. In spite of all the scientific research there has been no study on its effects on people’s standard of health (the US has one of the worst in the Western World). There are plenty of good reasons why we are outside the Forum today in defence of the real potato. But the underlying force that brings us all together has been the subject I’ve wanted to pay attention to this week on This Low Carbon Life.

Because ultimately there is a decision that we all have to take at some point down the line, as the Artic melts, as the environmental storm brews all about us: whether we follow the reason of the mind or the logic of the heart. This ultimately is a question of allegiance. Not just to the beating engine of our bodies, to the profound feeling intelligence of our beings that informs every great thing that we do, but the heart that is the natural order and organisation of all life.

The earth is not made of the human mind. Cities and civilisation are constructed of the human mind, but the natural world and everything we depend on for life is not. Air, water, plants, pollinators. Our minds tell us we can control what gives us life, in spite of increasing evidence to the contrary, and forget one essential fact. The earth is a creation of heart.

We just have to reassemble the letters.

The gathering outside the Forum; chips from the Greenhouse; Brenna on her bike; Jack from GreenGrow with the red tractors (small version); already blight-free potatoes from Wales.

Friday 29 July 2011

The Spirit of the Beehive

In 1923 the philosopher and seer Rudolph Steiner gave a series of lectures on agriculture in which he predicted the future fate of the honeybee. Mechanical beekeeping practices were putting these creatures under high levels of stress and interfering with their natural cycles. In eighty years' time bees will face a crisis, he said, and because bees are inextricably linked with the human world, we will also.

The honeybee has worked her delicate symbiotic relationship with the plant world for millions of years and for as long as anyone can remember the sweet substance she makes from the nectar of flowers has attracted the attention of human beings. Still today men will climb trees in the deep forest to steal honey for the benefit of the tribe. It is a substance that no man can make himself - its flavour and density changing from flower to flower. From the light and delicate orange blossom to the deep resinous flavour of pine trees. Only when civilisation came did people begin to cultivate and control bees and provide them with hives. For hundreds of years people chased out or killed colonies from their skeps at the end of the honey season in autumn. Now they feed them with sugar to substitute their foraged winter stores and it is this practice, along with manipulating the queen and her colony and the damaging use of pesticides in our agricultural systems, that has precipatated our present world-wide collapse of honeybee populations.

It was in response to this crisis that we began Bungay Community Bees in 2009, a small Transition project that was the first Community Supported Apiculture in the UK and caught the imagination of bee and flower lovers everywhere. Last Sunday we held a Bungay Beehive Day in “celebration of the honeybee and other pollinators along with the plants they love”. We held it in the local festival marquee on Castle Meadow and though it was a first-of-its kind event it attracted the attention of people from all over East Anglia. Because, no matter how dark and difficult the times, there is something the honeybee colony has that brings people together in a certain spirit. And it is this spirit that Steiner referred to when he said that, in spite of the crisis, the evolution of people would follow along the lines of the honeybee.

It’s not personal, said Margie from the Natural Beekeeping Trust as she described the way bees work with each other and the world. The Trust promotes a move away from commercial beekeeping practices towards a harmonious relationship with the bees and a respect for nature. She was opening a series of talks we organised that ran along with our information stalls, bee and flower walk (conducted by Mark), display hives and children’s activities. And though there was respect for the scientific method the talks we gave that day were about something else.

People say they have done Transition for years, they don’t need to be part of a Transition group, or they try and hide the Transition word at all costs from their friends and community and pretend it is something else, something less challenging, less well . . . evolutionary. But the fact remains it is evolutionary. Not in the way Steiner or a scientist might describe evolution, but because it is effecting something people have not done collectively before, which is to live in harmony in nature and with each other, having spent millennia living against nature and against each other.

The two spheres – human and natural - are indivisible. Those that feel they don’t need to join the Transition movement because they have championed the environment for decades sometimes forget that this is a social movement. And those that feel it’s all about community and people also forget that it is based on permaculture and our right relationship with places and plants. Something has to bridge those two worlds in our imagination and in our actions and no creature does it more effectively, more elegantly, more beautifully than the bee.

The honeybee was first cultivated in ancient Egypt and has been used as a model for social organisation within civilisations, from kingship to socialism to Buddhism. Hive mind is something that is both sought by controllers and feared by the controlled. However this is to entirely misunderstand the organisational field bees operate in and what that feels like.

Imagine you are in hive, I said the schoolchildren as they sat by their computers in May. It’s warm and dark in there (20c) and scented with flowers and there is a hum that resonates inside your body. It is one of the cleanest and sweetest-scented built environments in the world. The bees fly out into the sunlit world and they return with the sweetness of the earth. The queen is like the sun in the solar system and everything in the hive is organised around her creative powers. Everyone has a role and knows what to do.

You don’t understand the field with your mind, you understand it with your heart and your physical form. It’s a different order of intelligence altogether.

It’s hard to talk about the organisational intelligence of the heart, because we are a cold-blooded mind culture, addicted to competition, fantasy and domination. We worship science and reason and champion our above-it-all powers of control and give little place to the warmth and beauty of our natural beings that love to work in co-operation. Publicly we do not acknowledge the effect of high or low vibration in the physical world, even though privately we respond in every moment to atmospheres in rooms and people.

Joseph Beuys the activist-artist, once set up an installation called Honey Pump in the Workplace, inspired by the lectures Steiner gave. He contended that if you provided the right conditions people would naturally communicate and work together in harmony. You don’t have to explain anything people just "got it". The warmth and vibrancy of natural substances related to the warmth and movement of our blood and activated the higher centres of our consciousness: thought became imagination, feeling became inspiration, and will, intuition.

It's that natural harmony we are trying to get to in Transition. It’s a hard slog because the mechanical forces that keep us within the unnatural system of civilisation, that stop us swarming, that overwork us, seem stronger than our natural instincts. Our immune systems have been weakened by the chemicals we have been absorbing for decades, and the powers of the sun that emanate from all creative people within the collective have been routinely excluded or they have had their wings clipped.

And yet if we provide the right conditions people come together and things change quickly. Those sunny creative forces emerge from within and affect the whole. As soon as Bungay Community Bees was formed the whole initiative underwent a shift of mood and tempo, meetings suddenly got easier and more coherent. Other projects started up. Within the town council where there had once been mistrust and dismissal, there was interest and acceptance. The local newspapers ran full page stories, local radio and television interviewed our first beekeepers. On Sunday an estimated one thousand people came to the workshops, talks, walk and to visit the stands and stalls.

We’re doing everything we can to help the bees.
What we don’t know is that the bees are doing everything to help us.

Entrance to the Bungay Beehive; our first top bar hive; Margie's talk on Natural Beekeeping; children's workshops, making bee masks and puppets and bug hotels; Plants for Bees board; climbing Castle Meadow on Mark's walk; in the Bungay Library Community Garden; wild "weeds" in honey jars; on the way to the garden (photo by Muhammad Amin); Philip's talk on bumblebees and wild plants; Bungay Community Bees boards

Thursday 28 July 2011

On an ordinary summer's evening in a Transition town . . .

"It’s definitely the stick," said Mark as he stood with a piece of wood in his hands. It had been inadver- tently donated at Sustainable Bungay's Give and Take Day and suddenly reappeared in our hallway. From the outside it looked like a shiny broom handle but it wasn't: it was a fighting stick belonging to a young man mortified by its disappearance. But you’d have to be a warrior to know that.

It’s an ordinary summer's evening in a Transition town. We’re on our way to our monthly core group meeting. First we have to drop off the stick at Kate’s and have some supper with Nick.

“You share your lives in the blogosphere and I’d like to share some of what I do," Nick said as he began to fill a box full of July veg - onions and garlic, fennel, beetroot, fresh eggs and blackcurrant jam. We sat down at the kitchen table and drank some squash wine, ate a delicious bean salad and talked about the financial crisis.

You have to be in Transition to truly appreciate Nick's house – kale and courgettes in the front garden, sorrel around the door, a garage with dried herbs hanging from the ceiling and shelves full of preserves, giant tanks of rainwater, chickens, cupboards and windowsills with kegs of homemade wine, a stack of books on economics. It’s not what it looks like, but what is behind everything you see. What it took to get there. The bare aesthetic of downshift.

Years ago I interviewed a man called Tommy Roberts. I was working for a glossy magazine at the time and the subject of the article was Taste, that indefinable quality that distinguished one person or house from the next. What is Taste? I asked various arbiters of style, fashion designers and editors, owners of grand and important properties. Tommy was once a designer of natty suits in the 60’s when he was known as Mr Freedom but at that time had a shop under Centrepoint full of zany, brightly coloured modern furniture: Taste is the Japanese room with one beautiful vase in the corner, he told me. A lifetime of taking away makes that room. It’s what you don’t have that defines taste.

We live in a have and have-not culture and our value systems are entirely based around possessions. Not just the things those designers were talking about back in the 1980s when materialism and property began its great boom – wallpaper and watches and John Fowler’s "pleasing decay" - but a personal warehouse of business connections, children, communities, garden flowers, Hollywood stars, holiday countries. My special world.

"Well, you’re rich in other ways," said the man at the Financial Instability workshop at the Transition Conference after I had detailed my downshift from The World of Interiors to Sustainable Bungay.
"I really am not rich", I replied.
"You are rich in social relationships", he insisted, frustrated with my density. "In quality time. You are abundant in other ways."
"I have very little", I replied. (which is not strictly true because like most people in this country I have chairs and tables, pots and pans and all manner of basic essentials). "What is wrong with nothing? Why do we have to be wealthy at all?"

What I wanted to say was I had spent a lot of time clearing out that room. And I didn’t replace the things I used to own with different things - with people or experiences, or a low-carbon lifestyle - but had learned to love space and time and the freedom that lack of ownership brought.

In downshift less is not more in the way we once understood Japanese style. Less means you take everything you don’t need away, so that what really matters is left. It means you don’t have because having is no longer important. What becomes important is that freedom of movement and living a deliberate life.

It’s an ordinary evening in a Transition town and we’re on our way to our meeting at the Library. But first we have to meet at the pub with the Community Bee Group to celebrate the success of our Beehive Day (which I’ll write about tomorrow) and then unload Eloise’s van full of information boards and select some just picked fruit from the back of Cathy’s car. Cathy runs the Abundance project and swapping our produce and plants- at our meetings, in the Library community garden- has become a way of life. So here we are in the car park with a stack of boards and punnets of cherry-plums and blackberries meeting in a damp summer in a difficult time, swifts whizzing round the roofs, echinacea flowers full of bees.

At the Transition Conference we all did an exercise. We had to imagine a group we longed to be with in the future. I am no good at visioning and all I could think about was the fact I would be 65 in ten years time and how weird that was. And then I realised I don’t long for a group of people because I am already with those people and I had met them three years ago in the theatre down the street from here. And what was difficult to feedback to my fellow Transitioners in the canteen in Liverpool was the fact that it wasn’t the individuals in the initiative that made us matter to one another, the way we are used to people mattering in our lives, as special friends, or heroes, support systems, as possessions and dependencies. My important relationships.

It was the fact that when we met up as a group in these public spaces something happened between us. Something we held in common. We understood implicitly what we were doing and why – sharing stuff, organising events, going through the agenda. When I looked at this working-together in the visioning it looked like an energy field, the kind of energy field you sense when you stand by a hive humming with bees. A hum of warmth and intelligence that allows people to naturally collaborate and make that low-energy downshift happen. When that’s going on you don’t need possessions to compensate for your isolation, to anchor your introverted fantasy world. You don’t need data or climate science to persuade your tricky mind. You just need to tune in and act.

If you passed by Bungay Library tonight you’d notice the lights were on and if you peered in you might see a group of people around a table, eating plums and laughing, one person intently writing notes, one speaking, another occasionally calling order and everyone else paying attention. None of us look as if we are arbiters of taste, or abundant, or full of well-being or anything else the modern world puts a price on or gives value to. We’re obviously not important members of the community with homes-to-die-for, or great jobs or cars. We appear utterly ordinary and so we are. Ordinary people doing an extraordinary thing.

You can’t see the field from the outside, you have to feel it from the inside. You recognise it when you are in it because you are doing it along with everyone else. In fact you can’t be in it unless you are doing it.That’s the real shift. The move from individualism to group collaboration for the good of the whole is primarily a personal shift, away from ownership and control, into a field of exchange and communication and reciprocity, into give and take. And that’s a whole new lexicon of being. It’s not a replacement of things, it’s a move. A let go and a join in.

Because Transition is not a noun, it’s a verb.

Photos: echinacea by the carpark; with squash wine in Nick's kitchen; rainwater storage; Cathy's Abundance fruit; Nick with harvested herbs.

Tuesday 26 July 2011

Danger ahead

Strandhill in Sligo is a fantastic place - the tides make it unsuitable for swimming, but the surf is great!  Being on the far west coast of Ireland, it doesn't get dark at night until long after ten o'clock in the summertime, and the pubs have great music.  There's pretty good ice cream too.

The dunes are beautiful too - you can clime the one on the left of the photo and when you get to the top, it drops away into almost a hidden valley, with a tidal estuary that is full of waders when the tide is out.  This year for the first time, though, part of the sand cliff had fallen away, eroded, I guess by a combination of bad weather, high tides, and the constant footfall of tourist and local alike.  It made me think of an article by George Monbiot on creating an underground national park for fossil fuel reserves, to be left undisturbed in perpetuity.

So much of our natural world is being eroded away by our physical or ecological footprint, there must surely come a time when we need to say stop - no more traffic until the resource has recovered.  For the sand dunes, that might be five or ten years, for oil reserves, it could be thousands.

Worth thinking about seriously, though.

Pic: Strandhill dunes (JC)

Monday 25 July 2011

Home Thoughts from Abroad

Just got home from a family wedding in Ireland and am still slightly battered by the drive back; if I'm honest, my resolve not to use Ryanair ever again took a bit of a battering yesterday while stuck for an hour on the M6 somewhere east of Chester!  However, it gave me the chance to watch a hawk hovering over a field, and watch the swifts chasing butterflies in and out between the lorries standing still on the tarmac.  It's amazing how quickly nature reasserts itself when the human world come to a standstill!

Ireland has had a tough year, as any search of the news shows, and there were a lot more boarded up shops and houses than I noticed last year.  However, one thing really struck me about the Irish response - virtually every foodstuff in the shop is plastered with "made in Ireland" stickers - even the chocolate had a "made in Ireland" logo next to the fairtrade one.  It's a fiercely proud response to the crisis and one that mocks the UK's feeble and frankly spineless attempts to support its own farmers and food producers.  It seems to me like our supermarkets in particular go out of their way to hide the fact that the food is made elsewhere while fooling us into thinking it's home-grown, yet the Irish are doing it loud and proud.  There were signs everywhere, promoting jobs, promoting Irish food, supporting tourism and the community.

I was pretty impressed; we could learn a lot from their example.

Sunday 24 July 2011

Stupermarket Break Out!

In the third of our occasional Sunday cross-posts Rachel Lalchan, editor of the Ecomonkey blog and one of the organisers of the Magdalen Streeet Celebration, reports on her recent withdrawal from buying stuff at supermarkets.

It's been over 13 months since we shopped in a large, intense, brightly lit, empire of grocery consumerism and I'm happy to report that life sans supermarket is not only viable but quite wonderful! With no intention of going back, I hope you will consider quitting too!

The thing about supermarkets is that there's really nothing super about them. Ripping off farmers and producers both here and abroad, selling cheap products at huge cost to suppliers, tricking us into buying far more than we need, producing tonnes of unrecyclable waste, filling our landfills, upping CO2 emissions, encouraging detrimental consumer habits, grabbing land from local ownership, promoting unhealthy over-processed crud disguised as 'food', destroying local communities and values as well as our own farming industry, I mean really, what's super about any of that?!

To ensure that farming can continue in the UK as part of our sustainable present and future and that we can feed ourselves instead of relying on other countries for our nutrition, we need to stop supporting supermarket shopping. It has proved to be an unhealthy, unsustainable and unethical method of putting food on our tables.

So, what can we do? Firstly, we would do well to ignore the outrageous lies that supermarkets and their affiliated corporations put out about alternative shopping and feeding methods being more expensive, too time consuming or just not practical for such busy people like us (funny how we're so often told how terribly busy we are by people who want us to buy their unnecessary convenience items).

There are many options to supermarket slavery and whilst they make take a little time and effort to put into action, as change of habits always do, they are possible. And affordable. Improved health, real community interaction and support, increased awareness of what we consume at little or no extra financial cost. All these benefits are possible. And you truly are worth it!

Secondly, research your options - box schemes, farmers markets, local shops, direct from farms, generous friends with gardens, landshare and allotment produce swaps, growing your own or preferably, a combination of all these. Some box schemes, for example, are cheaper than others, some offer standard seasonal fare whilst others provide more of a choice including fruit and other food and non-food items. Take time to find the option that best suits your lifestyle, pocket and family needs.

If home grown produce sounds a tad scary, start small with a tomato plant, 'cut and come again' lettuce and some herbs on a windowsill. There is heaps of growing advice online, in libraries as well as within community projects. Keep persevering even if crops don't work out the way you expect. Once the basics have been mastered and you've been enchanted by the magic of growing food you will feel able to turn that unused lawn into a veg patch, a tiny courtyard into a vertical feast machine, find a local allotment or join a landshare project.

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, enjoy the lifestyle changes and don't give up. Once you get used to ordering fruit and veg online, make popping to the farm or market at the weekend a sociable habit, spend invaluable time on the allotment or garden, experience the joy of picking your own raspberries, lettuce leaves etc you'll wonder why you spent so long traipsing zombie-like through aisle after aisle of processed stuff you didn't need, pushing trollies full of items just because they were 'on special', coming home with reams of plastic bags, unrecyclable packaging, and that familiar feeling of emptiness that constant consumerism brings.

There are alternatives to the stupermarket madness and we need to take advantage of them now, before our ability to feed ourselves, both as a nation and as individuals, disappears. Once you walk out of the supermarket for the last time, I can promise you won't look back and your life will feel much better for it.

Rachel Lalchan shoppers reach for that quintessential summer treat, they should perhaps ponder the fact that it is the farmer, not the supermarket, who is paying for the generous discount.

The farmer may well be making no profit at all, with no choice in the pricing and little or no idea, when he picked and shipped the raspberries, how much he would get for them. Or that the packaging would be paid for by the farm, but done by a company chosen by the supermarket – at up to twice the cost of it being packaged independently.

Farmers do not talk about these things. Many of them, during a month-long investigation, told
The Observer that in the midst of the downturn they dare not risk annoying the big processors and shops. There is a "climate of fear" – the National Farmers Union's phrase – in the monopolistic world of modern food retail: small producers are too frightened to speak out about the abuses that are impoverishing them because they risk "reprisals", which may mean losing the only customers there are. Very few felt able to speak to us on the record...

Alex Renton, Guardian, 2 July 2011

Read full article here
Radish Lettuce Bed; Riverford veg box; first harvest (copyright: Racheblue@bAd) Riverford Veg Box (Riverford Farm)

Original article published on Ecomonkey

Saturday 23 July 2011

Urban Wild

A photograph. Ordinary. Some bushes, grass, a few flowers scattered round. The ground a bit dry after the hot weather; nothing too spectacular.

But wait. Hold on a moment. Have another look. There, in the centre of the pic - what's that poking its head up above the grass?

Right in the middle of Norwich city centre, mid-week, lunchtime, the traffic humming, shops doing business at a hundred miles an hour, people rushing around. Two foxes, playing in the hot summer sun, rolling in the grass, play-fighting, while the rest of the human world walked by oblivious.

I was spell-bound. I reached, ever-so-slowly for the camera; by the time I got it up to my face, they'd spotted me; one ran for the cover of the bushes, the other stood looking straight at me, just long enough for me to take one snap, then it bounded off. Standing statue-still, a few moments later, it poked its head out and had a cautious sniff of the air, but the moment was gone.

High summer in an invisible city, a single side-step away from our own.

Thursday 21 July 2011

Waiting for the Heatwave, Living on the Edge

Sometimes I think summer is a state of mind. It pulls you back into memory like no other season: to your picnic childhood, brief summers of love, books set in intense heatwaves on the brink of adulthood, at the end of empire. The past is a different country. They do summers differently there. Even looking back at the photographs of last year everything seems somehow more numinous, more vibrant, more . . . well hot.

High summer is seaside and the people flocking from the cities to sit by the glittering, watery edge of the island. To be unmoored in time, naked to the elements, set free for a moment on this last strip of permissible wildness. It’s cycling down to the dunes in the morning and going for a swim (not today though, it’s raining). So this is a picture from last July when we met Beth from our lane one fine day.

BIG GARDEN But whatever the weather and our fragile happiness that depends on it, the natural world is still out there doing its thing, which in this moment outside the window is expanding in all directions.. Up to midsummer everything shoots skyward in an orderly manner. Then July comes with its big summertime moon, the trees grow dark and shady and the garden becomes huge, resplendent and unruly. I walk about with a pair of shears in my hand and wonder how bushes can turn quite so Amazonian. Here it is at dawn, with some of the local seaside plants - fennel, wild carrot - and surely the biggest buddleia in the world.

INSECTS: Summer is when all the insects arrive. Some are welcome and some are really not. Summer for the black cat (now curled up in the long grass like a small lion in the savanna) is scratching ticks and fleas. For us it's swatting the massive mosquitoes from the marsh and bloodsucking flies known as clegs (maybe should be renamed camerons), avoiding lying in nests of ants, negotiating with the wasp battalions over the greengages. Oh, and aphids . . .

But summer is also the “lawn” full of grasshoppers, the dramatic webs of garden spiders, stag beetles under the logs, the thrilling experience of dragonflies whizzing past your ear on their zig-zag patrols. And it’s sitting beside the buddleia amidst a cloud of butterflies – peacock, scarlet admiral, tortoiseshell, painted ladies - and sometimes those butterflies and dragonflies landing on you. Clocking you with their highly-tuned intelligence. It’s predicted to be the best butterfly summer in 30 years this year, so keep a look out!

BEE PLANTS: All this week I’ve been looking out for flowers in the lanes for our Bungay Beehive Day on Sunday. I’m organising the Plants for Bees stall where we're having a display of the main honeybee plants of the year and a live exhibition of high summer flowers in honey jars. I'm really looking forward to talking with Katherine from the River of Flowers project about planting urban meadows and creating pollination streams.

June is tough for bees in the countryside. Agrochemicals and vergecutters destroy all the “weeds” that once provided them with abundant pollen and nectar. But by July their “hungry gap” is over and there are flowers growing like reckless rebels everywhere they can. Here are some of the ones that are growing by the edge, through the cracks, on the verge of an ecological breakdown. Great mullein on the A146 outside Beccles, viper’s bugloss by Adnams' brewery outside Southwold, St John’s wort on platform 3 at Lowestoft station:

STORING IT UP: Everything is fleeting – childhood, love, the flowers, a summer’s day - and sometimes you just have to take time, even five minutes, to notice the sweet moment as it runs through your living body like a river. Store it up for those long dark winter nights ahead, like fruit in a jar. Like the cherry jam Ed gave me from his tree in Bristol, like the strawberry jam from Malcolm’s smallholding in Darsham, like the whitecurrant jelly from Julia’s garden next door, like the wild cherry-plum pie Nick brought to our Low Carbon Cookbook meeting in Norwich this week and Mark making me laugh on the train going up there.

Here he is in shock response to rising food prices (one of the discussion topics for our Burning Issues chapter), standing with Erik beside Christine’s small city orchard of peach, plum and pear. Smile!

Beth, Jessie and me on Southwold beach; big garden at dawn; scarlet admiral on buddleia in Philip and Irene's meadow; by the great mullein on the A146; by the viper's bugloss outside Adnams' distribution centre; St John's wort on Platform No 3, Lowestoft;
Mark on the train (with banana), edible flowers from the garden; with Erik on Christine's balcony.

Wednesday 20 July 2011

High Summer - the watery bits

In summer the sun warms the sea
which makes the clouds
that fall as rain and fill the ponds

and waters the plants

that I can eat

No blog is complete without a picture of Mark's Plant !

Tuesday 19 July 2011

Glorious Summer- well, at least we can look at the pictures

After a hideously wet summer holiday in Scotland last year (the first we've had where it's been actually wet, in 5 years), I realised that I actually twitched every time I thought of this year's holiday. To try to calm myself, I switched countries and went to Wales instead. We arrived to torrents of rain and howling winds. I sulked and promised myself Greece next year.

Then the sun came out, stayed out, got hotter and hotter.

We travelled over to the coast, swam in the sea and gloried in beautiful sunsets. I wish I was still there.