Tuesday 30 August 2011

A Different Kind of Tea Party

Summer came to an end yesterday with a surprise... a visit from fellow TN blogger John (Heaser) and his wife Rebecca. They turned up on our doorstep after a sea walk in Southwold, armed with a huge bag of homegrown carrots, beetroot, romanesco courgette and cucumber.

I picked fresh peppermint and spearmint from the garden for tea and we sat in the tent porch talking about plants and vegetables – everything from runner beans through to sunflowers, the ten types of potatoes John is growing this year and the ‘ricola’ peppermint I gave to Rebecca for her herb patch. This type is grown for Swiss chocolate and smells like After Eights.

This year we have grown more vegetables than normal - runner beans and tomatoes in amongst the herbs and flowers, potatoes at the edge of the compost heap (currently home to a large family of grass snakes), cucumbers, courgettes and aubergines. But the garden is still mostly unmown and left to its own wild devices for the benefit of birds, lizards, bumblebees and the friendly snakes.

John gave me a vital piece of advice for potato growing. And though it will be obvious to people who have been growing them for years, it may not be to novices (like myself). So I’d like to share it:

Potato leaves love sunlight BUT the tubers need to be protected from direct sun and so need at least an inch and a half of soil over them. This keeps them under the ground and stops them from going green (green on potatoes indicates a high level of solanine, which is poisonous to humans). Yesterday I had found a few good-sized potatoes exposed to the surface. But there wasn’t a lot left of them after I’d cut the green away.

Then the conversation turned to another kind of blight - imminent economic collapse, which had been a key subject of discussion both at the Uncivilisation Festival Charlotte had gone to, and the recent off-grid Sunrise festival. John said he’s glad to have 30 years’ experience of growing food at home to provide at least some basic necessities in the face of future adversity.

But what of the general awareness of anything being other than ‘business as usual’? Last week I had gone to Southwold for tea with a friend from London. She was glad to be on holiday she told me because her next door neighbours have spent the past nine months having building work done on their house and the noise is unbearable. And EVERY one of the houses around her has had major building work in the past few years. And the conversation among the other Londoners present was the same conversation I would have heard before I left two decades ago. Money, house values, children’s education. Nowhere in this seemingly financially secure company was there talk of collapse or the sense that life was going to be any different than it had always been.

As I walked home in the pouring rain I wondered: Is this because most of us are not aware of the storm brewing, or don’t want to look out of the window, or that it’s a taboo subject? Not the kind of surprising talk you have over tea?

There is an excellent interview on Transition Voice by Lindsay Curren with Dmitry Orlov, peak oil commentator and author of Reinventing Collapse: The Soviet Example and American Prospects. The interview is long but well worth the effort to read. In it he talks about collapse American style, where for most people in the ‘polite society’ of ‘how are you?’ ‘Fine’, collapse is ‘not even on the radar’. I don’t think that’s just America.

What kind of teatime conversations are you having?

Pics: John, Rebecca, Charlotte and me at the tent with mint tea; John's homegrown vegetables; ricola peppermint - all by Mark Watson


  1. A quick heads-up on the green potato thing.

    If part of the potato is green, then there is solanine *all through* the potato, not just in the green bit. So while most people can eat a bit of solanine and not be harmed, if you really want to avoid it, potatoes with green parts need to head right to the compost heap. (The solanine doesn't do animals any good either, apparently, so don't feed the green ones to the chickens).

  2. Hi Mark,

    Looking out of the window can be scary. Once we've looked, we cannot remove what we've seen from our conscience/conciousness.

    I believe many people have an idea of what's out there but are too afraid to explore. Others aren't even curious - ignorance is still bliss.

    If I've learned anything since the Transition journey began for me, it is that the world becomes a far more interesting place with eyes wide open. Frightening, yes. Horrific, of course. But with eyes closed we also miss the truly amazing sights, right down to the exciting sight of new buds emerging on a plant you're growing for the first time.

    Such a pity that so many prefer to focus on the countless distractions, and truly miss out.

    Eco :-)