Archive for the ‘The Commons’ Category

Grassroots Directory now crowdfunding!

GD 400x400 no borderThe Grassroots Directory is an A-Z guide aiming to showcase more than 200 of the most exciting community-led projects in grassroots Britain, taking you from Allotments to Zero waste and everywhere in-between.

As we join the dots between Repair cafes, Local currencies and Urban farms, you can find out how they work, what makes them tick and even how to set one up in your own hometown.

We are now crowdfunding this new publication with the fabulous Unbound Books, and we’d love your help to make it happen.

https://unbound.co.uk/books/grassroots-directory

If you’d like to support us by making a pledge and circulating this email to your own networks, that would be great. You can read all about the project, watch our (3 min) video (filmed at Grow-Our-Own in Bluebell Allotments in Norwich), and make your pledge here:

https://unbound.co.uk/books/grassroots-directory

GD SeedsThe Directory was inspired by many years documenting community projects, including in the national grassroots newspaper Transition Free Press. But given the short-lived nature of most online and printed media, we felt that producing the Directory as a ‘bumper annual’ would give these stories a longer – and hopefully well-thumbed – ‘shelf life’!

We look forward to including your name in the back of The Grassroots Directory!

web grassrootsdirectory.org/
twitter @grassrootsmap
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‘Kimchi Slaw’ Variations and a Jar of Smreka

Dear Reader, this post follows the variations on my recent ‘kimchi slaw’ fermentations. See here for original recipe link.

11th March 2015
Kimchi-Smreka March 2015New ‘kimchi slaw’ in the jar, this time leaving out the shitake mushroom water, powdered kelp and onion and adding organic sea lettuce (Ulva lactuca). This was dried, so I rehydrated it, draining the first 1/2 cup of water away (the smell was a bit strong for me, though I may give it a go next time).

I added another 1/2 cup water, then liquidised both sea lettuce and liquid for the sauce along with the cranberry juice, garlic, raw honey (from Bungay Community Bees), 1 homegrown Ring of Fire chilli, a lot of fresh ginger, half a dried pear and the flesh of a small apple.

These pickles/slaws/kimchis are really versatile. This morning’s version has a good, fresh smell of ginger and leek – I’ll be burping the jar from tomorrow and starting to eat it in three days.

The bubbling jar in the background is fermenting juniper berries aka smreka, following a recipe from Bosnia which appears in Sandor Katz’s excellent The Art of Fermentation. It’s been on the go for three or four weeks now, I release the lid at least once daily for burping, and I’ve had a sip – very light and sweet, even though it’s just juniper berries and filtered water with nothing added.

Early Feb 2015
The bulk of my latest fermentational ‘kimchi slaw’ experiment is made up of a Chinese cabbage Charlotte brought back from a Turkish shop in Tooting (on a recent Playing for Time visit to Lucy), along with local organic carrots, leeks, apples and a little chopped red cabbage.

This time I added a dash of organic cranberry juice to the sauce and the whole jar smells completely fresh and amazing. See here for full recipe and method of my previous kimchi slaw along with all relevant references, acknowledgements, inspirations and links!).

I’ll be tasting this one on Tuesday 10th Feb (giving it a full three days in the jar) and will report on it here (below the picture) for anyone interested.

Kimchi-Slaw 8 Feb
11 February 2015
Well that is my favourite ‘kimchi slaw’ ferment so far (even though I say that every time!). I enjoyed the fresh tartness of the apple (no pear this time), and the pungent flavour of those leeks goes brilliantly with the ginger. We opened the (litre) jar last night and finished a third of it, with handcut (by me) chips (French fries) done in the oven with rosemary, green peppercorns, rapeseed oil and lemon.

Text and Image by Mark Watson under Creative Commons with Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives license.

Real Seeds and Stories 2014

A post that visitors to Mark in Flowers look at regularly is Huauzontle – Let’s Grow from Real Seeds, which I originally wrote about 18 months ago in response to the planned EU plant material regulations. As you can see I updated it over the following year as the discussions and campaigns progressed.

Essentially it’s all about anyone anywhere having and keeping the freedom to save and sow our own seeds, whether we’re gardeners, smallholders, farmers or plant people like me. This freedom is one of the things under threat from those planned regulations.

So this is a short post about some of the real seeds I’ve saved this year and some of the connections they have for me, along with a picture of the seed board I made yesterday.

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I’ve been very excited to grow and save seeds of the Ají Limón or Lemon Drop chilli, which is used all over Latin America, particularly in Peruvian cooking.

first lemon drops detailNot only are the fruits an astonishing deep lemon yellow in colour, but the taste is a phenomenal five second journey through various delicate aromas including citrus! Then the bite hits and it’s pretty strong. It’s well worth it though if you have the stomach. I’ve been making raw and cooked salsas with just tomato, lemon drop, a few finely chopped onions, lemon or lime juice and salt to taste. My mouth is watering!

I don’t know what it is about the Solanum family, but from potatoes and tomatoes to daturas and deadly nightshades, in one way or another they all seem to have the ability to grab our attention!

Lemon Drop chilli seeds are available from the Real Seed catalogue – then you get to save your own (that’s what’s great about Real Seeds, they encourage you to save and grow your own!). Lemon Drops don’t cross-pollinate with other chillis either as they are a different species.

I grew some ‘Sunzilla’ giant sunflowers (also from Real Seeds) this year; three of them took up residence in our centre bed at home and they looked great. I’m not sure whether seeds I’ve saved from these will be the Sunzillas next year as I had other types growing. But since my experience in 2011 with sunflower interpollination, I’ve grown much less controlling about it.

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Then there are the orange cosmos seeds. These seeds are truly real and saved, being the descendants of plants growing in Arizona when I spent quite a bit of time there at the beginning of this century. They are annuals so I plant them each season. I almost lost them in recent years as germination hadn’t been great, but this year they bloomed happily over the summer outside the back door (alongside feverfew, spearmint and Japanese mugwort) and I have good seeds for next season.

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Real Seed Catalogue is great, but there’s nothing quite like swapping and sharing seeds directly with others. That’s sometimes how I’ve made friends with people. And so a word about the envelope marked Nick’s place in Bungay. Inside are seeds of Babington’s poppy (Papaver lecoqii), a UK and Northern European native wildflower which grows in all sorts of places including Nick’s garden. Nick is a formidable grower of vegetables and downsizer and over the years I’ve known him and through our involvement in Sustainable Bungay, we’ve swapped all sorts of stories and seeds and plants and vegetables. We’ve felled dead elms and organised home medicinal wine-making demos together.

So it was a poignant moment when he moved to Wales last month to start a new life. Nick is no longer there to visit at his place in Bungay but he leaves behind many great memories (and seeds!).

Images: saved real seed envelopes 2014; lemon drop chillies Capsicum baccatum 2014; Sunzilla is coming! 2014; epazote (left) and feverfew, orange cosmos, spearmint and yomogi, 2014

(All text and images by Mark Watson under Creative Commons with Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives license)

Flowers, Fruits and the Colours of the Day

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Every year I sow heavenly blue morning glory seeds hoping that they’ll flourish and flower together with the (yellow) sunflowers. Every year they tend not to do either, preferring to stay inside and push out some blooms when they feel like it. On Sunday (30 Sept) I found three truly glorious ones in the conservatory when I’d almost forgotten about them.

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The chillis have done really well this season. The slim red ones here are Ring of Fire, They bite like hell and have the extraordinary effect of bursting about six different flavours into your mouth in the two seconds before the skoville factor hits and all subtlety vanishes! The small red ones are the Apache variety, again hot but less so with good flavour for general cooking and salsas and beans. The yellow ones are Ají Limón or Lemon Drop chillis used a lot in Peru. They took a long time to germinate, grow & ripen but wow! what a fantastic multiflavour, multiaroma chilli. Like the Ring of Fire they smell great raw – just don’t rub your eyes (or nose) with your fingers afterwards – they’re really hot! You can get the seeds from The Real Seed Catalogue and then save your own for next year. Well worth it for the colour alone.

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The fiery hummingbird sage comes back year after year with its compellingly pungent leaves and bright red flowers. A native of northeast Mexico, I started growing it in 2003 from seeds gathered at a herbalist friend’s land in Arizona. Here in Suffolk I keep it going by cuttings every couple of years. So far they’ve set no seed though.

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And then sometimes you just have to leave the house and garden and get out a bit amongst the subtler but equally stunning wildflowers. Here is Charlotte ’52 Flowers’ walking amongst the flowering Devil’s-bit Scabious on a nearby common last Sunday (28 Sept).

On Making Space for Nature with Sustainable Bungay

This post was first published on 24th September 2014 under the title ‘Mark Watson on Making Space for Flowers’ as part of the “Making Space for Nature” theme on the Transition Network website.

IMG_1158“Did you grow all those yourself?”, a young woman asked me last week at Transition Town Tooting’s 7th Foodival.

She was pointing to a wicker basket filled with the aromatic lemon balm, rosemary, anise hyssop, marjoram and a dozen or so more herbs and flowers I was preparing tea from at the event:

“A lot of them I grew at home in Suffolk, some are wild plants and others are from gardens here in Tooting, including the Community Garden up the road.”

She looked suprised, almost shocked. “My only reference for that kind of thing are the supermarket shelves,” she said.

In that moment I realised many things all at once: that events like the Foodival show how we can come together and regain autonomy over what we eat (and drink); that you never know who will walk in the door and get switched on by something they’ve never considered before; that making space for nature goes beyond the world of nature reserves, wildlife documentaries or even pilgrimages into the wilderness. I realised that an intrinsic engagement with the living world is what I’ve been showing and teaching in the last six years since I became part of the Transition movement; and that Transition has offered me a role where I can use my knowledge and skills to bring plants and people together in a dynamic and inspiring way.

Bungay is a small rural market town of 5000 people on the river Waveney in north-east Suffolk, surrounded by conventionally farmed agricultural land. The common idea that people in rural areas are automatically more connected with nature can be misleading. Wherever we live now much of the time is spent in artificial spaces: in front of computers, television screens, in our minds and indoors.

When I consider Sustainable Bungay, the Transition group where I’ve been most active since 2008, I see that (re)connection with living systems and considering the planet is implicit in everything we do, from the permaculture inspired Library Community garden, to the Give and Grow plant swap days to a cycle ride down to the pub by the locks of the Waveney at Autumn equinox. The very first Transition event I led was a Spring Tonic Walk introducing people from Bungay and Transition Norwich to dandelions, cleavers and nettles, the medicine plants growing in the neighbourhood.

Voilet-adorned prunes detailOur monthly community kitchen, Happy Mondays is now in its fourth year. A meal for 50 people, most of it locally sourced, is prepared from scratch in under three hours and features everything from nettle pesto and bittercress salad to puddings with foraged sweet violets or blackberries from the common.

Bungay Community Bees was formed in 2009 in response to the global pollinator crisis. There are now more than a dozen beehives in orchards and gardens in and around the town. The group has also created a purpose-built apiary (an observation shed with a hand-crafted glass hive) in association with Anglia Regional Co-operative Society and Featherdown Farms. In the summer schoolchildren from the region come to visit the bees and go on nature walks where they learn about flowers and pollinators.

College farm apiary

Even behind the Give and Take days with their ethos of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Refashion, Re-just-about-everything, there is the sense that the planet needs a major break from all the stuff the industrial system keeps pumping out. Nature needs a breathing space!

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A natural breathing space is among the many things that Bungay Community Library Garden offers. In 2009 a subgroup from Sustainable Bungay teamed up with the town library, organised an Introduction to Permaculture course with Graham Burnett and worked with local builders, gardeners, tree surgeons and group members to transform the unused brick courtyard with one jasmine and a honeysuckle into a flourishing community garden with raised beds, fruit trees, flowers and herbs.

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Each year since its opening in 2010, the garden’s central bed showcases a different theme: plants for bees in 2011, plants as medicine in 2012, an edible bed in 2013 and this year dyes and textiles. This way people can get a feel for just how multi-faceted plants are and just how interwoven they are in our human lives. In many cases the categories change but the plants stay the same. The calendula you made a tea from in 2012, you tossed into a salad in 2013 and dyed a scarf with the following year!

The person curating the garden each year organises events around the theme. In the Plants for Life series I ran in 2012 focusing on health and wellbeing, there were monthly talks, walks and workshops with guest speakers, on everything from biodynamic growing to walking with weeds to the medicinal properties of homemade wine! I also ran ‘plant surgeries’ during the summer where people could come and ask questions about the project and the plants and exchange their knowledge too.

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The garden has become a focal point for many of Sustainable Bungay’s activities from steering group meetings in the summer to seed and produce swaps, Abundance exchanges of foraged fruit, and apple pressings. It is also the starting point for the wellbeing walks begun by the Arts, Culture and Wellbeing group last year.

The idea behind the walks was to explore local places together to encourage wellbeing and a sense of belonging. How that might increase personal, and particularly community, resilience, help combat the desire to be somewhere else and so encourage lower use of fossil fuels. Many people reported that simply by taking part in the collective walks brought an experience of wellbeing in itself.

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There is more. Recently a group called NR35 (‘Natural Resources’ 35) based on the local postcode, began to explore “how to use our skills, knowledge and labour to generate an income by sustainably managing/harvesting the resources which are wildly abundant around our rural market town.” The results include the harvesting of fruit and vegetable gluts, some of which are supplied to local restaurants and grocers and a communal firewood store. Last spring a small group of us learned how to make a dead hedge with local tree surgeon Paul Jackson. It took just a morning but I remember practically everything Paul taught us.

So what I’m saying here is that making space for nature can start right outside our doors, and in the places we find ourselves. That it’s not always the big exotic landscapes abroad where Nature is to be encountered. We need to discover the natural world where we are and engage with it, because it’s the natural world that makes sense of everything in the end.

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In 2015 it will be my turn again to curate the theme at Bungay Community Library garden, and the focus will be on ‘Helpful Herbs’ of all kinds. Lavender and rosemary are settling into bed, with thyme, St. Johns Wort, sweet cicely and others already there. And I’m working with a team on some exciting events. I’m also planning to map the project as part of a group helping to shape a new Transition Diploma, a collaboration between Gaia University and the Transition Network. Oh, and to make it into a Transition livelihood!

Meanwhile here is a picture from a plant walk around Bury St Edmunds I led in June this year with Sustainable Bury. The caption would probably go something like this:

“You can’t go anywhere nowadays without people sitting on walls looking at Hoary Willowherb!”

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Mark Watson is co-chair of Sustainable Bungay, a Transition Initiative in Suffolk, UK. Mark teaches groups and individuals to reconnect with nature through plants in the places they live. Details about his talks, walks and workshops can be found on Mark in Flowers.

Images: Talking plants and teas at Tooting Foodival, September 2014 by Chris from NappyValleyNet; Wild sweet violets adorn Happy Monday pudding by Josiah Meldrum; School visit to Bungay Community Bees’ observation hive by Elinor McDowell; Preparing the beds, 2010, Bungay Community Library garden (MW); the garden flourishes, summer 2014; Walking with Weeds, Plants for Life, 2012 (MW); 1st Wellbeing walk by the Waveney, 2013 by Charlotte Du Cann; Throwing our arms up under the cherry trees, April 2014 (CDC); Of walls and hoary willowherb in Bury St Edmunds, 2014 by Karen Cannard

A Quick Run Round The Dandelion Field

P4110006 - detail“Can I have some of your weeds?” I said to Malcolm as we picked up our weekly veg box from his smallholding.
“How much is it worth?” he laughed. “Yes, of course you can.”
“Do you reckon I can pick 100 dandelion heads in five minutes?” I said.
“No chance,” he replied.

But that is in fact what I did. Or it may have been six minutes. Whilst Charlotte picked up the box and chatted with Malcolm, I moved swiftly round the field picking fresh flowers for the ‘dandelion beer’ recipe I’d found in Hedgerow Medicine.

Got home, shook out the small black beetles, boiled a few litres of water with 100g of sugar, let cool to blood temperature, poured into a large bowl along with a whole finely sliced lemon, covered with a clean dishcloth and that’s it. I’ll give it an occasional stir over the next few days, then on Monday or Tuesday I’ll pour the lot through a sieve into a couple of bottles and it should be ready to drink by Thursday or Friday.

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Hedgerow Medicine is a great book by Julie Bruton Seal and Matthew Seal, full of simple recipes like this, all clearly written, which can be followed by anyone, herbal old timers and novices alike. I’ve written here (and elsewhere!) about the book, which continues to be one of my favourites.

And dandelions are one of my favourite spring tonic plants. A herbal treasure chest, rich in potassium and other nutrients, and a strong but gentle cleanser for the urinary system, the leaves and flowers are also great in salads. Plus goldfinches love the seeds. And they are just plain joyous spring sunshine plants!

And if they can get me moving so quickly around a field, there must be no end to their extraordinary qualities!

Postscript 29th April
Made two delicious, refreshing litres from this first batch. It’s really good value too, the cost of one organic lemon, 100g sugar and the heat to boil the water. Batch no. 2 is now on the go.

More real seeds… coincidentally

I had literally this morning just signed Global2000’s latest appeal for the EU Seed Regulation to be scrapped and begun again from scratch in the EU Parliament’s plenary session vote coming up on 13th March*, when I heard a thud on the doormat. And this is what had arrived:

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My latest order from the Real Seed Catalogue. Lovely open-pollinated (non-hybrid) seeds and none of them genetically modified. And with great names: ‘Lemon Drop’ chili, ‘Special Swiss’ sweetcorn, ‘Dragon Purple’ carrot and my favourite: SUNZILLA ‘very, very BIG SUNFLOWER. Real Seed orders always come with instructions for sowing, harvesting and saving the particular seeds seeds in your order, many of the seeds are heritage and heirloom varieties And the prices are very reasonable.

These are the very types of seeds under threat by the proposed draconian regulation. So do sign the appeal for the EU Seed Regulation to be scrapped and started again from scratch. We need to support seed diversity. And see here to find out more about the proposed law.

* On 11th March the Seed Regulation was voted down by the European Parliament by a majority of 511 to 131 votes. This is great news. However the European Commission has not yet completely withdrawn the proposal, which means that “many small growers, growers’ associations and gardeners at both a professional and amateur level” still stand to be affected by future legislation. Ben Raskin of the Soil Association advises us to be vigilant here.

Related post: Huauzontle – Let’s Grow from Real Seeds