January 2011


Another great interview from Peak Moment TV. One woman’s experiment to see how much food she could grow from her own garden. She has bees, chickens and rainwater harvesting – it’s an inspiring video – take half an hour to watch, or at least listen, to one person’s view on sustainability and resilience – and the fun she has.

This is the bible by which we run our allotment-style vegetable beds. It’s not the only gardening book you’ll ever need – it assumes you have basic gardening knowledge already, or are getting it from another book. Where this book shines is in it’s explanation of Biointensive gardening practices. Unlike some “pretty” gardening books it is not a joy to read, however the tables of plant spacings, expected yields and typical consumption are invaluable if you are serious about trying to feed yourself from your land. One of my favourite parts of the book is the section of sample garden plans – they are a little complicated to follow but really help to build the confidence of novices like us.

The great testament to this book’s usefulness  is that it is probably the muddiest of all our books. It is the one with us when we’re working in the garden, not a coffee-table talking point or occasional reference.

If you want to move beyond just messing about, this Biointensive “mini-farming” approach is one of the ways to go. It’s not a book to get from the library, this is one to buy, and use. Order it from your local bookshop, but if you have to buy it online please follow this Amazon link – How to Grow More Vegetables: And Fruits, Nuts, Berries, Grains, and Other Crops Than You Can Imagine and the Trafford Eco House will get some money from your purchase (it won’t cost you any more).

An interesting challenge this – a comment from Chris Young from the the Real Bread Campaign on my post on “how much does it cost to bake your own bread“.

Apparently I can make delicious bread without the sugar or milk – Chris gave a link to this Real Bread recipe. I haven’t had a chance to try it yet, but will do next time I have a chance to play again. I think the main issue may be the small amount of yeast combined with the rapid cycle I tend to use, which produces a loaf in under an hour. We’ll see!

Here’s the recipe:

500g Flour (wholemeal or a mix of white and wholemeal)
5g Salt
350g Water
5g Dried yeast (or 10g fresh yeast, or 3g easy-blend yeast)
15g Butter or olive oil (optional – makes bread slightly softer)

Unless your machine’s instructions say otherwise, pour the water into the loaf pan and, if you are using it, add the fresh yeast. Disperse the salt in the flour and then sprinkle this over the water. If you are using dried or instant yeast and/or butter or oil, place them – not touching each other – on top of the flour. Secure the pan in the machine, close the lid and press the start button.

I’ll post a picture once I’ve tried it.

If you’re serious about growing your own food, you need to look at Growing Power in Milwaukee. Here are the headlines:

  • Three acres
  • 450,ooo kg of food a year
  • 10,000 fish

Show me a non-aquaponic system that can produce that! Take 5 minutes of your life and look at a non-profit doing something amazing:

I’ve had a few questions at talks I give about what books I’d recommend, and I’ve given out a few names depending on the topic. I realised though that I haven’t put anything about our growing library on the blog, so I’ll try and rectify that over the coming year (no promises!)

I thought I’d start with something scene-setting, rather than the slew of practical books that I usually recommend.

Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive” takes a look at the collapse of historical civilisations, and then sets that in a modern context. Diamond looks at deforestation, overpopulation and pollution, and the inability of civilisations to live within the capacity of the land they actually live in, rather than the one they wish they inhabited. I thought it was quite well written, although it did need a bit of perseverance at the start. It cleverly took me from the position of smug modern human, mocking those foolish primitive islanders, through to foolish modern Australian, being paid to deforest the land.

It was not all doom and gloom though – there are some good examples of societies that have struck a balance and survived whilst neighbouring civilisations fell. Overall, it does a lot to highlight how precarious our “all-powerful” societies really are. Well worth a read.

Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair.

If you like the sound of it, pick it up at your local library or bookshop, but if you have to buy it online please follow this Amazon link – Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive and the Trafford Eco House will get some money from your purchase (it won’t cost you any more).

A strange mid-winter warm spell has me feeling ridiculously springlike. In contrast to the -10c we were experiencing before Christmas, it’s now a balmy +12c. It’s not just me noticing the change – the garden is awakening. The broad-leaved sorrel is the first of the perennials to re-emerge from the softening ground, and the ivory shoots of our new bulbs show that our ever-hungry squirrels have failed to eat all of them and that my dreams of woodland drifts of snowdrops and bluebells may yet come to pass! 

Rocket stoves are an incredibly efficient way to burn wood – they burn hot enough that they burn both the wood, and the gases it emits. While people do build them into their houses, I was looking for a simple one for outside for occasional and emergency use. You can build your own, and lots of people do (just google Rocket Stove plans), but I’d had a good one recommended to me, so with Christmas coming up I crossed my fingers and hoped Santa had got my note . . .

Luckily the post did get through, and soon I was happily unwrapping a Stovetec Rocket Stove from Wild Stoves. Rather than try and describe it myself, here is a video review of one in action:

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