Feeding the Birds – Birdy Weather Forecast

Being able to look out at the garden every day at the birds is one of the lovely things about living out here in the countryside. We have been feeding them and they have been getting through a lot of food – and I mean a lot! The bird feeder containing seeds had to be filled up three times in one day at one point!

Bird Feeders

This probably does not come as a surprise to anyone who has regularly fed the birds in their garden but I did not realise that they would vary so much in their eating habits depending on the weather.

Our birds are very lucky – they have a seed mix, peanuts and fat balls. It has been very interesting watching to see which foodstuff is in demand. It has also been a good indicator of incoming weather – certainly better than the Met. Office. If a frost is coming, the peanuts and fat balls go down a lot quicker, while seeds are favoured if it is milder.

Becoming more in tune with the natural world around us is a big part of what we want to accomplish here.

Heated Growing and Growing Indoors

I am not convinced by arguments that heated greenhouses and polytunnels are a viable sustainable option. I think that, for the most part, we ought to be putting more energy into growing foods suitable for our climate. That said, there will always be some things on a household scale (like tomatoes and peppers) that need a little extra heat and that we don’t want to do without.

This year, I have been able to germinate heat-loving seeds without investing in a heat mat and propagator by putting them on top of our oil fired boiler. But we will be moving away from that and I am not sure that we will have such a good spot for germinating seeds once we move towards using wood burning/ multi-fuel stoves. I am not sure what the solution will be then but it is a problem to be considered in the future.

Growing indoors (in an area that is already heated for our benefit anyway and not being especially warmed for the benefit of plants) will help us to keep productive plants going for longer. Case in point: my tomato plants in pots, salvaged for the last few fruits when I left my allotment last October and popped on the windowsill in the porch when we moved in here. These slightly straggly tomato plants have kept growing over the winter in a room that is not particularly warm. Now, I was rather surprised to see, they have flowered!

Tomato Plant Flowers
Tomato plant flowering while snow falls outside.

Tomato Flower Close Up I am guessing I may have to give these tomatoes a hand with pollination by giving them a bit of a shake when I water them. I look forward to seeing whether they produce any worthwhile fruit. In the meantime, the cuttings from these plants are still in water and I hope they will form roots in the next week or two.

Thoughts on Art and Sustainability

There are three sorts of people involved in building any better society: first, there are those ideas people who dream it up, then there are those daring pioneers who go there first and show others the way and finally there are those who come in and build, in a practical way, upon what the first two groups have done. This is of course a huge oversimplification but the point is that people do approach change in different ways and all of the above are needed for change to happen. Artists can fit into all of the above categories.

In terms of changing the world and working towards a more sustainable future, we tend to think first of scientists, engineers, those who have the tools and understand the building blocks. Secondarily, we think of politicians and policy makers – those whose decisions can make or break us.  What we sometimes forget, I think, is that forging sustainable communities is a hugely important part of achieving real and lasting change and art and artists can be a vital part of creating and maintaining those communities.

As a writer, I think about permaculture, ecology and sustainable living a lot. I mostly write travel articles (specialising in eco tourism, alternative travel, camping, hiking and generally enjoying the natural world) and much of what I write is intended to educate and inform. So when I think about the role of art in creating sustainable communities, I tend to think about it in those terms: art as a tool to engage and teach people things.

Art can indeed be used as tool to educate, inform and engage and what is more it can move the reader or audience. No matter whether you happen to be a writer, a photographer, a painter, a sculptor or a musician, no matter what media you use you can help to spread the message about sustainability and can make it stick in people’s minds.

But this is not the only way in which art can help us in creating sustainable communities. Art is also a way of exploring our common humanity. Creativity can forge bonds and connections that would not be possible in quite the same way in a purely concrete and literal world.  Creative writing or art therapy sessions can help make a group of people closer and also allow them to air any grievances and let out their emotions in a healthy way. Art can enliven a community’s surroundings and inspire them in everyday ways.

Artists can truly be catalysts for change. Thinking again about the three groups of people needed for change, we can see what an important role artists have to play. Artists use creativity to dream up new ideas and so fall into the first category of people needed to bring about change. Artists can also be radical, daring – their creativity will often encourage them to forge a new path and so they can also be pioneers. Lastly, art can help in practical ways to create common bonds and keep a community going. It can design new systems and dream up sensible and sustainable new ways of doing things and, crucially, it can communicate those ideas effectively.

It seems that artists all have an important role to plan in the radical change that is so desperately needed.

Polytunnel and Vegetable Bed Plotting

Since the weekend, the weather has been too cold and windy to get on with much outside, so I have been spending time planning – over planning some might say! I thought I would share my thoughts on the polytunnel crops and the outside vegetable beds so you can see what I am thinking regarding the layout.

I want to experiment this first year with planting a little bit of lots of things, so we can see what does and doesn’t work. I also want to experiment with sowing some of a crop in the polytunnel and some outside so I can compare yields and see what is sustainable.

A rough idea of the planting scheme for the polytunnel for the first year.
A rough idea of the planting scheme for the polytunnel for the first year.

Outside, we have not yet finished digging the beds but this is what we are ultimately aiming for:

This is the plan so far - it may change. The first thing to go in here will be the potatoes towards the end of March.
This is the plan so far – it may change. The first thing to go in here will be the potatoes towards the end of March.

Let the plotting continue…

Snow

It is snowing a bit here today – the weather could not be more different from the lovely sun we had yesterday! It serves to corroborate the old wives’ tale that if we have a mild and sunny start to February then the month will have a sting in the tail. Still, the peas and beans seem happy in the polytunnel, out of the elements.

Since the weather is so bleak today, I have been doing inside jobs – cleaning plant pots and planting some more tomatoes and peppers. I have also spent some time doing some research and plotting out my gardening schedule for the next few months.

Meanwhile, the cable routing for the Internet etc. continues.

Polytunnel Interior Works

I have dug all the beds in the polytunnel. It was a lot of work, especially as I had to relocate a huge number of daffodil bulbs from the central bed.

Huge pile of displaced daffodils awaiting relocation.
Huge pile of displaced daffodils awaiting relocation.

I will find a place for some of them outside the polytunnel tomorrow. They seem to be very resilient – they survived us all trampling them when we were building the frame and sheeting, and they even survived hidden under the groundsheet for a week or more!

I have also made my first piece of staging for the polytunnel – a hanging shelf made from leftover wood and polyethylene. It will be good for resting seedlings on once it warms up a bit and will also double as a little bit of extra frost protection for seeds planted in the ground in there over the next month or two.

Polytunnel with beds prepared and hanging shelf temporarily in place.
Polytunnel with beds prepared and hanging shelf temporarily in place.
This one is taken from the front door. As you can see, the shelf is a convenient place to pop the watering can.
This one is taken from the front door. As you can see, the shelf is a convenient place to pop the watering can.

The paths will be narrower once the edging logs are in place. Getting those in place and finishing off is a job for tomorrow. Fortunately, though it is cold outside, inside the polytunnel it is pleasant enough not to need a coat when the sun is shining.

While I am getting on with all of that, there is also work being done on routing wiring through the main house for satellite Internet etc. and a reclaimed wood floor is going down in the caravan. So, a busy day all round!