On what felt like the first day of Autumn, Stuart and Imgard kindly hosted the perfect HEOG reunion after the long summer break. Their garden in Long Lawford was not part of the official visit but drew praise from everyone for the vegetables and fruit – not to mention the free roaming chickens.
They were not fazed by welcoming twenty five guests into their home, splitting the unruly crowd into two groups. Whilst one group spent time with Stuart in the workshop, Imgard supplied copious tea and cakes to the other! Both groups had a great time. In the workshop Stuart explained how he keeps hives in a number of locations and demonstrated how he scrapes the wax caps off each frame before loading it into an imported German honey centrifuge which spun out the honey. It soon became apparent that beekeeping involves a lot more than putting on a fancy hat and puffing smoke in the garden! Some of the caps were rock hard and the pile of frames would take a day to get through. Stuart has assembled a good collection of hives and extraction equipment. As well as supplying jars of honey, they often have beeswax products such as candles for sale, and Stuart had the group setting up the silicone moulds for a batch of small candles.
Thanks Stuart and Imgard for your hospitality, for an interesting insight into the hard work to get honey from the hive to the jar, and for the chance to take home a jar of lovely unfiltered honey!
Fifteen members gathered in the height of the July heatwave at Garden Organic's Ryton headquarters to tour the Exotic Vegetable Garden created by the Sowing New Seeds project. Even by HEOG's sunny standards this was a hot day which was matched by the heat in some of the vegetables we sampled on the tour.
Anton Rosenfeld (left) was our guide, and he conducted us on a tour of the continents of the world, from where immigrants to this country have brought crops which were familiar to them in their homelands - and most importantly - which they found could be grown in the very different climate of this country.
We started in the Caribbean where among the many varieties being grown we were introduced to Calaloo, which is used as a kind of spinach, and the cucurbit Chayote. From there we moved to East Asia to see Shark fin melon, a rampant grower with fruits like a green-striped pumpkin, commonly used in soups for its texture. Shungiku (or Chop Suey Greens) is cut at a small size and used in stir frying, and Vietnamese mustard has a sweet and hot taste and is also used in stir fries or salads.
In the African beds Anton told us the story of Zimbabwean White maize, which is a hard starchy version of our
We looked at the more tender exotic crops growing in the greenhouse, and then on to the Heritage Seed Library, which has been closely involved in producing and distributing the seeds necessary to support the project. Finally we had a quick look at the seed-raising polytunnels where some of the plants are being grown on to produce future stocks of seed in an environment to exclude cross-pollination.
Everyone came away with a greater awareness of the huge diversity of crops which are hardly known of in this country, let alone grown here. The project has many resources, including growing guides for individual vegetables on the website www.sowingnewseeds.org.uk .
Thanks to everyone who helped out at Leamington Festival whether on the stand, building the stand, or with produce. Over the two days we had a number of visitors, many of whom were interested in our Organic Directory and in the plant displays. We raised £35 to help cover the costs of the leaflets and more importantly made and renewed links to other local organisations, some of which will feature as future visits. The food was good too! Thanks to our friends from Two Hoots for making room for us.
Twenty of us met on a springtime afternoon to marvel at the facilities at the Gate Farm Visitor Centre. With a typically warm welcome from the Hammett family we were shown how they had developed facilities so that they could make their Wildflower meadow accessible to children from local schools, especially those who really benefit from time in the countryside.
A group of over twenty members and friends walked to the field, and whilst on this visit buttercups prevailed, Susie had us hunting the rarer small flowers and different grasses. The hedgerows weren’t cut back this year due to the earlier wet weather so these proved to be a real haven of wildlife.
After the walk the family fired up the barbecues and in typical HEOG fashion, organic meats and vegetables were soon on the grill and the table in the barn laden with salads, stir-fries and sweets. Thanks Steve, Susie and family for a wonderful day, which attracted many kind emails of thanks.
It was a wonderful springtime evening and 20 people made the trip down to Worcestershire to Charbel Akiki’s ten year old smallholding. Charbel was just back from running a farmers market in London which is the main outlet for his Demeter certified Biodynamic produce.
We were warmly greeted by Charbel and his family and toured his vegetable fields and polytunnels which had an amazing selection of fresh salads and herbs. His friend Keith explained how he kept bees on the farm for pollination and his young Steiner student Sophie explained how she was spending her 6 week visit from Germany helping with weeding. Next we walked up to the superb orchards which were set up with the help of Pershore College.
With the blossom out in full on a warm evening it was really inspiring. Chickens, geese and guinea fowl roamed freely throughout the orchard in the most perfect environment. Thanks Charbel for a really inspiring visit. www.akiki.co.uk
Garden Organic combined the AGM with a day of talks and visits on the theme of “Fighting for Biodiversity”. Any AGM can be a dry affair and the organisation clearly tried to address this by arranging as much excitement as possible. The chair Irene Wilkinson opened the meeting and announced her retirment, Myles Bremner the CEO gave an inspiring speech on the organic fight and announced his resignation before Alan Booth completed the hat-trick by announcing the charity had made a trading loss in the year and then announced his retirment.
Asked for questions the audience fell silent (they apparently wondered that if by proffering a question they too would have to resign). A new team will be in place for the 2014 AGM. The retirement from GO of Bob Sherman and Pauline Pears who have both given so much to the charity and to the wider movement drew deep respect and applause from everyone.
President Tim Lang opened up the Members Day with a rousing call for organic gardening to drive public health and (thankfully without resigning) finished his speech to make way for two interesting speakers; Paul de Zylva on Friends of the Earth’s Bee Campaign and John Walker’s frightening exposé of Clopyralid weed-killers.
Members had asked us to organise an evening where they could share ideas and experiences in gardening. David and Sue Searle generously welcomed us to their Kenilworth home, where they converted the living room into a theatre to seat 24!
First off, David shared his experience of growing grapes, making it clear you can be fairly brutal to vines and they don’t mind. Next, Gillian shared photographs of various decorative vegetables which she had chosen because they are refreshingly different and are very useful when you have a small space for vegetables and flowers.
Barry and Ginny shared their experience of apple growing in 2012, which had been a really poor year (to them, this meant their apples lasted only to April!). They had fed an army of squirrels with their figs and grew enough wheat for 5 kilos of grain. Stuart then teased the group with a quiz about plants and trees for bees. Despite having two dozen experts gardeners in the room, it was surprising how many common blossoms we didn’t recognize!
Finally, Ross shared his techniques for avoiding potato blight on the allotment and quoted John Sargent as saying that even flavourless ‘Sarpo Mira’ taste better if you plant your own seed for a few years. Sue proceeded to provide a wonderful feast of cakes to finish off the evening. Thanks David and Sue for hosting us and thanks to all the speakers who made for an informative evening.
Our first talk of the 2013 season set a tall order – to cover 600 million years of history in one evening. Our speaker, Ian Fenwick, representing the Warwickshire Geological Conservation Group (www.wgcg.co.uk) tackled this seemingly impossible task with enthusiasm. A previous chairman of WGCG, and retired Senior Lecturer in Geography at Reading University, Ian has had a lifelong interest in the rocks under us, their effect on landscape and the uses they are put to.
He started with the oldest rocks from the Pre-Cambrian era which occur in the north-east of the county along the Hartshill ridge, where these hard volcanic rocks have long been quarried for building and road construction. Moving southwards through rocks formed in the Cambrian and Ordovician periods he reached the Carboniferous period - represented by the Warwickshire coalfield which was created when swamp-like conditions encouraged the growth of tree-like plants resembling giant versions of the mares-tail we are familiar with today. When these plants died their remains were compressed over millions of years to become coal.
The distinctive red sandstones of the Permian and Triassic ages (c. 200 to 300 million years ago) were the result of this area being covered in sand dunes when Britain was located somewhere near the equator. These rocks have been extensively used throughout the county as building materials over many centuries - Kenilworth and Warwick Castles being notable examples.
Following this, layers of mud and sand were deposited in the warm, tropical shallow sea which covered much of central England in the Jurassic period, giving rise to the heavy clay soils typical of southern Warwickshire. In these deposits the skeletons of marine reptiles (ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs) have been found.
During the Ice age - the Quaternary Period covering the last two million years - glaciers and ice-sheets advanced and retreated periodically over central England, depositing a complex pattern of clay and gravel, and shaping the river systems we know today.
The WGCG produces leaflets about local geology, (some available on-line - www.wgcg.co.uk/publications.php) and also a booklet 'A Ramblers' Guide to Building Stones in Warwickshire' which a number of members bought copies of after the talk. Our thanks go to Ian for sharing his knowledge and enthusiasm with us.
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