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One of the most common plants in our garden is the ash tree, Fraxinus Exclesior, a fast growing native hardwood. The owner of the garden loathes them, but I’m letting them grow just about wherever they chose to self-seed, or wherever the bird poo carrying them lands. I’m doing this because I like them, and because they grow fast and give good quality wood which I may be able to use in three years, but also because recently a fungus called Chalara fraxinea has come from goodness knows where and seems to like eating them. Alarming numbers of ash trees are dying off all over Germany.

Until February this year there was some hope that the UK would be spared: as long as no ash trees from the continent were brought in the fungus may not make it over the channel. Unfortunately no-one told the politicians this (or if they did, the politicians didn’t want to hear it) so they allowed the trees to be imported and exported, and Chalara fraxinea turned up as well. In several places.

The brilliant minds of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), formed  ‘Emergency Committee Cobra’ which has come up with such gems as “everyone should be responsible”. and advise people visiting forests in the UK to “Wash your hands afterwards“. Thanks for that.

According to this very comprehensive post on the Ubiqitous Blog this is nothing new: scientists have been repeatedly ignored when their concerns may inconvenience some corporate interest, and one who was asked to investigate a similar fungal attack on trees in a park had a gagging order placed on them to prevent them saying where the outbreak may have come from.

At the same time, the  Environment Secretary (who supports a third runway at Heathrow, a badger cull and fracking, but dislikes wind farms, just as an aside) has suggested that the current outbreak of fungus causing ash dieback is ‘possibly just wind borne’, which is interesting because two weeks ago a forester in Germany old me no-one is sure how the fungus spores are transported.

Which would mean that in the UK, a scientist commissioned to investigate an outbreak of fungal based dieback cannot publish his or her findings for fear of legal repercussions, but a politician known to support corporate interests over the environment can make statements which happen to match up with the desires of the industry to keep going as usual, and that’s okay.

Is this a very strange situation, or am I  missing something?

[Edit: Check the comments. It appears Ash seeds are wind blown rather than carried by birds. Thanks Kim.]

It’s the slug hunting season, which means that I’m cycling over to the Very Smallholding every evening. This is fine when the sun is shining and the birds are singing but I’m less enthusiastic about it when the rain is coming down at a rate that would have put Noah off, as it was last week.

Last year the slugs found our tiny veg patch and demolished the only three Kohl-Rabi which managed to survive my ham-fisted gardening. On the first night of this season we lost three pumpkins in the Cow Poo beds (I offer no prizes for guessing why they are thus named). We tried putting cylinders of plastic around the plants but these were Special Ops slugs: they bypassed our defences by going under mulch and following the stems up above ground.

Fortunately Disgruntled has passed on a method for making traps which seem to work: the second night we found sixteen very dead slugs, and no plants eaten.

We fed the slug remains to the slow worms in the garden and for a couple of weeks an uneasy peace reigned with a couple of slugs a night falling into the traps, only one courgette getting chomped and a yeasty smell pervading the garden, but last night I discovered a skeletal potato plant far from the original incursions, and three very fat slugs, still on the leaves. These were quickly ejected and emergency extra slug traps laid. I’m taking salt tonight…

Any other ideas for repelling slugs?

I’d given up any hope of getting anything eatable* out of the Very Smallholding this year, so you can imagine the delight when we discovered that the green stuff emerging from badly cut holes in the cardboard was not celandine and brambles but celandine and brambles and some actual potato plants.

Encouraged by this blistering success I planted our mid-season spuddies. These had been correctly chitted, by which I mean they’d got bored waiting in the bag and started growing, so they had something of a head start and we’re now several potato plants better off, which we can add to the three tomato plants that a neighbour left outside our gate one morning and which are actually producing tomatoes, and never mind that a certain small person who shall remain nameless has eaten the first red tomato.

The weed patch formerly known as the seedbed was also re-dug and planted up with leeks, kohl-rabi and something else I have yet to identify which the Greek grocer was throwing out, although they are currently in a life-and-death struggle with the slugs (note to self: take salt to garden tonight). All of which makes up for the fact that after carefully tending more than fifty spinach seeds to plants and then transplanting them, a total of one weedy yellow spinach plant is still alive.

*Except blackberries: we’ve lots of those.

A friend has asked for ideas on ‘how to start cycling’ for someone who owns a car but wants to cycle more for transport, especially commuting. Now, I’m not terribly well qualified for this as I never owned a car and only got my driving licence when I was twenty six because we were in a rural area and I mistakenly believed I ‘needed a car’. Here are my paltry suggestions, I hope more experienced people can add others:

  • Don’t panic: the streets look scary, but they looked pretty scary on your first driving lesson too, and you made it.
  • Get a decent bike: Yes, I know supermarkets are selling ‘bargain’ bicycles, but how much are you really going to use a bike to get around if you have to pedal to get downhill with a following wind? Especially if it doesn’t have lights/mudguards/luggage rack. And your ‘expensive’ bike will still work in ten years time: your car won’t.
  • Get at least one good lock.
  • Freeze your car keys: put them in a margarine tub full of water and put it in the freezer: that way you can get at them if you need to, but it’s a lot less convenient than having them by the door.*
  • Put your bike keys by the door.
  • If you feel the need for a helmet, get one, if the idea (or cost) of a polystyrene lid puts you off, don’t.
  • Explore: bikes can go places cars only dream of. Find regular routes you are happy with. In six months your mental map of the town will look different to a motorists, so you’ll send drivers down dead end streets.
  • Always hide after giving drivers directions.
  • Learn how to ride safely. learn about blind spots, door zones et c.
  • Please, stop at red traffic signals.
  • Wave at other cyclists.
  • Learn which sort of car to watch. Locally it is Taxis, old men in big cars (especially Mercedes) and young women. Other places are different. I don’t know why.

And of course:

  • Enjoy yourself, smile and wave at drivers, even when they are swearing at you. It’s nicer than shouting back and it makes them madder than anything else you could do.

*maybe not if they’re one of those new-fangled electronic keys…

Water supply in the garden, with the all-important privvy in the distance.

The dustbin lid-like object under the tap is apparently a steriliser for use with an open fire. I’ll experiment with that later. I need to get the privvy working first. To do that I need to make a compost bin, for which I need wood, which I’ll salvage when I clear out the shed. After I’ve emptied the Shed of Asbestos…

Some people manage to do all this and keep livestock. I can’t even find my tools.

Much physical and mental activity this week was concerned with digging a potato bed in the garden (so we at least have something growing, even if it’s a bit late) and getting the area around the slowly collapsing summer house in our newly available garden from this:

To a slightly more organised state, without the ancient kitchen appliances which were colonising it:

This involved digging out the patio, removing all the logs, and hauling several bucket loads of rubble and concrete, a dodgy gas cooker, the rotting remains of a kitchen unit, the oldest fridge I’ve ever seen and assorted large and useless items of broken garden furniture to the recycling centre. I also spent a rather unpleasant afternoon in a protective suit with face mask and gloves sorting a lot of broken asbestos sheets. I could have done this somewhat faster except that with my usual brilliance I carefully placed half the asbestos into the bag provided before realising that the bag was too heavy to carry to the road.

This has not left much energy for things like blogging.

I’ll be back next week, after some sleep…

I got an email from a friend this Monday saying they knew of a ‘very overgrown’ piece of land whose owner was desperate for someone to look after it; by Tuesday I had an appointment to go and look at the land, and by Thursday evening I was in. Considering you usually don’t get any information about land unless your great grandfather lived in the village, this is quite a shock.

The land is 13 Are, about 1300 square metres, which isn’t quite as massive as it sounds, but it’s still pretty big compared to a balcony.

It’s about 50% brambles and 100% south-west facing hill. The brambles are so rampant that I can’t get within about ten metres of the bottom edge of the property. But it isn’t overlooked by too many houses so I shouldn’t get into too much trouble with nosy neighbours with my strange permacultural ways.

Pictured is the all important privvy/outhouse. At least I think that’s what it was: at the moment it’s full of windows and shutters from some long-forgotten building project.

So this is where all my fancy talk about ecology and self sufficiency will hopefully become reality, and blog material.

Observant readers will have probably noticed that the bike repair apprenticeship I was applying for didn’t work out. This was partly because the shop had a bad summer (it rained through August) and partly because of the inflexibility of the trade guilds.

This was… somewhat disappointing.

Mind you, when you don’t know what you’re going to do, you can try anything. So we started looking around, and after much research we found the discipline of Permaculture.

Permaculture started in the seventies, and originally the word was a fusion of the words ‘Permanent and Agriculture’. The basic idea is that if you design your farm/garden/line of buckets on the balcony carefully, you can recreate a small ecosystem where plants and insects can work together and help each other to grow, without needing extra energy from oil. You just help it along a bit, and make sure some of these plants are edible. Over the years the name has developed since to mean ‘Permanent’ and ‘Culture’. It’s been described as a ‘toolbox’ which connects many of the skills we need for sustainable living.

What made us sit up and take notice is that there are lots of people running theatres within the movement. As our dream is a community theatre, this seems a sensible way to go: rightly or wrongly I’ll feel a lot more confident taking further steps when we’ve got a little training. With a family, just jumping in the deep end doesn’t seem such a good idea as it did when I was a fresh 20 year old.

So, next year I’ll be taking the Xtracycle off on the train for four weekends in Vauban, the sustainable part of Freiburg-im-Breisgau that featured in this blog before, to go and find out how to do all this, which I’ll naturally blog about. So far impressions of the course and people running same are pretty good. I’ve even been offered a safe, covered parking space for the Xtracycle.

As Freiburg is one of the most cycle-friendly cities in Germany this should also give me lots of opportunities to whine about how bog-awful Ostfildern/Stuttgart are in comparison.

From the Post Carbon institute: a great five minute animation about fossil fuels, environmental problems and peak oil with a positive message…

The carrot harvest from the mayonnaise buckets. Considering that I did just about everything wrong, I’m pretty happy with how things came out. They taste good too. I didn’t carry them on the bike because even I’d be pushed to find an excuse to cycle from the back balcony to the kitchen. Especially on the second floor.

I’m wondering about some kind of Permaculture course to avoid making the same mistakes again. Does Anyone else have experience of one of these?

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