Sunday, 16 December 2012

This blog hasn't gone as well as I'd have liked.

In fact, I've neglected all the blogs I write.  But this one in particular.  It wasn't a good year to start out on the path of home grown and so on. The poly tunnel only half went up.  I have a nice sturdy frame, but no cover, and the plot it stands in is now covered in grass and nettles and other rememberances of a wet and lousy summer which saw everything I tried to grow eaten by slugs, but the plot gradually succumb to 4ft high nettles and brambles almost everywhere.

I have had some success, in that it is now nearly two months since I last visited Tesco.  By and large, I have discovered various places I like to shop; Sergeants butchers and the nearby farm shop at Stowbridge, together with the pet food place, form the bulk of my weekly shop.  I use several other butchers and farm shops but those ones seem the best to me.  I also visit Boots and Savers in Downham, for other bits and pieces, and very occassionally I will visit Waitrose.  The latter is a compromise I can live with.  By and large, though, I am eating and spending locally.

Still no dairy, though, but I think I might have some options there - more research needed.

After the new year, I am back to being a potter again, for as long as I can hold out.  This means economising, but should give me some time to fix up for growing come the spring, hopefully.  We'll see.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Checking in.

Not been that good at keeping this up to date, mainly because there hasn't been much to say really.

Progress so far is slow slow slow.  I have started clearing the space for the polytunnel but it's now covered in snow and ice and so it isn't clear when I'll get it done.  I have ordered a load of wood for raised beds behind the house and in the tunnel itself.  I've gone for 2nds decking timber - pressure treated soft wood boards 6 inches in width - if I double those up I'll get 12 inches in depth, which, when filled with soil should suppress any grass and weeds under neath.  That's the idea anyway - no dig.

I've made some progress on purchasing food.  On a Saturday I now make a trip to Downham, to visit the Downham Co-operative stall in the market place and visit one of the local butchers to buy meat.  Yesterday I also went to Denver Windmill for oats, flour and bread.  I waited 8 minutes for the most wonderful bread fresh out of the oven.

I haven't done so well in other areas.  Finding a non-supermarket source of dairy is a problem.  Dents garden centre on the A10 stock dairy but it seems to be mass-produced stuff, not local.  I guess I'd rather give them the money than Mr Tesco though.  Same goes for stuff like cat-food, toothpaste and toilet roll - costs a bit more, but I am sure I'm saving buying veg and meat in Downham - I never seem to send as much as I would in the supermarket.

The other thing is getting stuff during the week.  I usually leave work about 6pm, and often the only option is to stop at Tesco in Ely.  If I were more organised then I could make sure I had food in, but anyone who knows me knows that's unlikely to change.  Still, it might be easier during the summer, when the sun comes up earlier and sets later.

Well, anyway, that's all for now.

Friday, 30 December 2011


Why is a good question to ask.  Why am I putting myself through this?  Why am I choosing to live a life like this?  What makes someone do this and how does it fit in to the wider world?

First off, I am not a super environmentalist.  I trust science to tell us stuff that we know at the moment - that what might change in the future, though.  At present, science tells us we are in a period of global warming and that it is probably man made.  Until they have evidence to suggest we're ok, or come up with a bunch of solutions that make that go away, then I will attempt to do my bit.  This is part of my bit.

Another thing I am not is a luddite.  I work in technology and have been fascinated by it since I was a young person.  I think technology is part of the solution to mans problems.  However, I think part of the solution might also be to look back at the way we used to live and re-consider that in light of todays context and problems.

For example, agriculture was a main part of life in the UK until relatively recently.  And the way that agriculture was done fitted in with the land and the people and the wildlife and the place.  It gave employment to a large chunk of the population, although the living was hard and problems great.  It was like that because they didn't know any better.

At some point, agriculture left the people and the land and became something that it shouldn't be.  It became a business and something more akin to a factory, than something that was born out of the land.  We have followed a path that has ruined the land, its fertility and productivity, and instead we have to chemically enhance the land to get things to grow.  Production is a lot higher than it was in past times, but at the expense of the land and the people that used to work it.  I think there must be a better way by reverting back to the way things used to be but using science and engineering to provide a better way to feed everyone.  I have no evidence of this, or figures, but I think we once fed our nation, are we seriously saying we can't do it again?

I am not against, for example, GM - genetically modifying plants is something we've done for hundreds of years, albeit through selection rather than in the laboratory.  However, one size doesn't fit all, and the need to help defeat famine in Africa is not applicable here, yet.  Arguments for GM and massive globalisation in order to feed the planet don't necessarily apply to all the planet per se.  Again, this is more opinion than fact, but it's what I think.

I have always been a fan of self sufficiency and not depending on anyone else.  I am a fan of off-grid and would, if I had the money, investigate power solutions if I could.  Growing my own, and working for myself are goals that are quite high on my agenda.  However, in the past, I haven't managed this.  I also think it is not a path I'm expecting everyone to take.  This isn't a replacement for agriculture, and in fact, I don't intend to not eat food grown outside the uk.  For a start, I won't refuse what others give me, if I visit, and I can't do without certain foods - spices for a start, sake and miso for others.

Living a virtuous life is also kind of appealing to me.  What the hell does that mean?  Most people who know me as the lazy eedjut that I am will probably be laughing right now.  However, I am a bit of a loner.  A monastic life is one that appeals to me, for instance - a life that is hard and sparse but rich and quiet.  I like concepts like wabi-sabi, which I think fits in with my aesthetic sense, but which I think is also about the way you live your life.  Being a wood-fired potter, I have kind of been forced to think about these things, and the more I look to Japan to find out what they think, the more I find that it's much like the way I think too.

A life of cycles and routine and repetition appeals.  A life of seasons too, and eating and living within those constraints is, I believe, the right way for me to live.  I have tried to do just that - I try to buy british produce that is in season.  I won't eat an apple or a pear, when I can eat a strawberry or a raspberry.  I'm not interested in eating asparagus at christmas, because it would take away the joy of eating asparagus for those few weeks that it is in season.  Too much of a good thing makes the good thing no longer good, in my opinion.

Anyway, there you have it.  Some of my crazy head thoughts, at 3.30am on a Saturday morning when I can't sleep.  I might try and explain some of these things a bit further, at some point.

Step One.

So, it's not even 2012, but I'm on the case.  Tomorrow I go and see a cheap tipper trick which will come in useful for all sorts of reasons, i think.  But my main task today was to order a poly tunnel.  Which I have done.

So, I have space for a 14ft by something, and I went for 28ft as, although I'll be able to see it from the sitting room window - something I'd hoped to avoid as I like my view of the hedge - I think the proportions sound better and it'll give room.  It's quite an expensive investment, and so it'll have to make some contribution to its upkeep, but I'm hoping a crop of chillis or something I can sell by the road will help.

I went for in the end, as they seemed to be reputable and I liked the videos.  I had considered building one - a wooden frame and a sheet of plastic would do it - but thought for the first time, I'd be better off expending less energy on this, and more on clearing the plot and so forth.

Last night I started making a list of items I want to grow this year.  I already have rhubarb, apples and pears, and some cherry trees, although they haven't really given enough fruit, and I think I could be a lot more ornamental about it, but that takes time.  My pear crop this year was massive - but they just rotted in storage, so next year I'll know to pickle and bottle and dry and do whatever it takes to make sure they all get used.  And, I'd always believed a pear never ripens on the tree, but that can't be true because I had some of the best pears I've ever had fresh picked.

Anyway, for the tunnels I was thinking aubergines, melons, chillis of course, tomato, peppers.  Anything else anyone can think of?  I was also thinking that winter crops might be pak choi, but I haven't got further than that (I have the Winter Vegetables books, read it in fact, but not made a proper list yet.)

Outside the poly tunnel, I am going to do mixed planting of vegetables and flowers in one part, and raised beds in the other.  My septic tank has its overflow pipes spread out in the garden away from the house, and the soil is a bit smelly.  I am thinking that this probably isn't that un-healthy but to avoid any problems, raised beds of a foot or so of soil would be the best options.  I might  line the bottoms too.  We'll see.  I have a sugar beet factory up the road and they sell the soil wash-off as top soil - the truck will allow me to get plenty.  I'll also be reliant, for a while, on bought compost, so I'll have to find a bulk source for that too.  And manure.

Any thoughts on sources for north west norfolk would be helpful.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Almost a new year, almost a new blog.

Hi.  I'm Andy.  This is my new blog.  There are currently 3 days or so left of the year 2011 and I have a plan.  In fact, I have had a plan for the last few years, but this year is the year of the plan.

Basically, sometime in 2007 I bought this house in Norfolk, not far from Downham Market.  It is an old railway cottage for a level crossing on an old drove road, but that road is now a rather busy route to a sugar beet factory and for various farming activities.  The railway line was pulled up many years ago, although some of its path can still be seen.

The house is set in about a quarter of an acre - 1000 metres square.  I had to do some work on the house - and quite a lot is still in need of doing - but this year is the year of the garden.

So my plan has multiple aspects to it:

  1. Firstly I plan to grow a lot of fruit and vegetables.  This means cultivating the garden in some way.
  2. I need to resurrect the making and firing of pots.  This means finding a reliable wood source, getting some bricks and rebuilding the kiln.
  3. Supermarkets have been big in my life, since coming here, and I feel uncomfortable with that.  So part of my plan involves reducing, hopefully to nought, my reliance and visits to the supermarket.
  4. Most of my waste seems to be plastic and so I would like to reduce my plastics use.  I can't get away from it completely because a lot of the potting side comes wrapped in plastic, but I want to avoid plastic bags and food wrapping as much as possible.
  5. Lastly, and this is perhaps the easiest of the lot, I want to reduce my food miles.  So this means sourcing food that is grown and produced in Britain.
I shall use this blog to show progress and hopefully to act as a communication with a wider community who might be able to help.  I might also do some tweeting or set up a facebook group, but I haven't got that far yet.

At this stage, I also want to state a few things.  Firstly, I am not a nutter.  Secondly, I am not a hippy new-ager peak-oil environmentalist.  I am a rationalist, a technologist, a scientist, but I am also someone who thinks, to some degree, that the way we live life has got a little bit lost somewhere down the line.

I sympathise with and share many goals with the hippy new-ager peak-oil environmentalist, and off-grid living is something that intrigues me.  But I work in IT and it still interests me to some extent.

Well, that's a first post.  Hopefully some of what I think will come out in the blog, as well as further details of the plan.  But it's out there now, so I have to stick with it.