On Monday the 17th November a group of around fifteen met at the British Legion club in Kenilworth to hear Katie Tippens speak about Biodynamic Gardening. It was a great turn-out, despite the fact we had to change venue and that supported the enthusiasm of the speaker and the audience for the subject. Some of the group were learning about the subject for the first time, others were more experienced.
Katie is the head gardener at Ryton Organic Gardens, home of Garden Organic (or the Henry Doubleday Research Association as the old-hands still call it). Katie has been in the role for 6 years and has a wealth of experience in organic gardening. Two years ago she took charge of the project to develop a unique biodynamic demonstration garden at Ryton. The Elysia Garden has been funded by the natural cosmetics company of the same name and is the first publicly open garden to demonstrate biodynamic methods in the UK.
Biodynamic growing stems from the series of lectures given by Dr Rudolf Steiner in 1924. One of the most interesting aspects of her talk was the importance placed on natural living organisms in the system. Life can only be passed on by the living and plants, animals and soil must be fed with living substances or with nutrients which were created in a life process in order to thrive. After her talk there were a number of questions on subjects such as whether and how the biodymamic approach might be applied to the other gardens at Ryton, and about the details of the special preparations used, and how they are made.
The great news is that the Elysia garden is available for us all to see at Ryton. We are really grateful to Katie for spending the evening with us and for sharing her knowledge and enthusiasm to give us an informative look at this specialised but increasingly popular method of growing - thank you Katie.
On an autumn evening it was great to see 24 people at the welcoming location of St Barnabus Church in Kenilworth. The group included many new faces, including those interested in marking Kenilworth as a Transition Town. Everyone found Emma Hockridge’s talk interesting and the debate afterwards continued for over an hour.
Emma works in the policy department at the Soil Association in Bristol and had been up since 4am. She had already travelled to London for a breakfast briefing with the press, before a day’s work and then travelling to Coventry! In her talk Emma covered the role of the Soil Association and its core belief in “healthy soil, healthy food and healthy people”.
She described the imminence of “Peak Oil” when we have used half of the planet’s oil reserves and the reliance of current food systems on oil for producing and distributing chemicals, for mechanization on the land, for commuting farm workers and not least for distributing and retailing food. The reliance is common sense, but still quite threatening when you consider it all at once.
The Soil Association predict that in little overt twenty years time the availability and price of oil will drive us to a new food system with lower inputs and distribution costs. Needless to say that this will need a new workforce, innovative use of land and long forgotten skills. The debate which followed focused on the drivers which maintain the current system, the threats of GM crops and the initiatives which are being introduced by NGOs and governments. Needless to say the debate continued over the road to the Wyandotte Inn.
Thanks Emma for leading a thought provoking evening!
We had more fine HEOG weather for a double trip to the village of Cotesbach on Saturday September 13th. Double trip? It was a visit both to a thriving organic business, www.naturallygoodfood.co.uk and also to the walled kitchen garden.
Sue and Cathal McGrath greeted us to their shop, which opened five years ago and has developed supplying organic and gluten free goods in the stables of Cotesbach Hall. The couple’s enthusiasm really shone through, and the key success of the business has been to combine a good local shop alongside a national mail order business.
Phil Sumption moved to the village at around the same time and set about using the walled garden of the Hall to grow organic veg. Phil works as a researcher at the HDRA and gave us a tour of his garden. It is a large plot and very impressive in the amount and range of food he grows. Phil supplies the shop, but also takes surplus to Lutterworth Farmers Market.
The garden is irrigated using stored pumped water from the garden well and has two recycled polytunnels from a farm he used to work on, brimming with heritage varieties. As we left the garden the tallest of us were able to reach mulberries on the tree before returning to the shop where Sue and Cathal greeted us with a fantastic spread of cakes, breadsticks, tomatoes and chutney with pots and pots of tea and coffee. We had a great turn out that afternoon with many new faces who we hope to see again. Cotesbach? Worth a visit! Ross Taylor
The ecumenical group Churches Together in Balsall and Berkswell organised a weekend festival in July called GreenFest ’08 which brought together local people, businesses and organisations to express ideas about care of the planet, and HEOG was invited to take part.
On the Saturday an open-air fair, featuring stalls and activities, was held on the unused office car park between the Co-op and the Station Road shops in Balsall Common. A wide variety of green businesses and organisations were represented, and included local groups of Friends of the Earth, garden supplies and food businesses, green shops and children’s clothes, solar energy solutions and a display of the latest electric vehicles.
A large number of local people visited the fair (some were apparently unaware of the event until they stumbled on it) and the Mayor of Solihull and Meriden MP Caroline Spelman also came and visited the HEOG stall. We were able to offer a wide range of leaflets from the Soil Association, Garden Organic and local organic businesses, as well as a display promoting organic gardening people who may be new to the idea of growing their own food.
We were kept busy answering questions on a wide variety of gardening topics, and made many new contacts for the group. Availability of allotments was a frequent topic of interest, and we were pleased to hear on the day (from the Mayor, no less) that Solihull Council are looking seriously at providing new council allotments in Balsall Common. Special thanks go to John and Katie Husbands and David and Sue Searle for their help running the stand, which we all agreed was well worth the effort.
Despite fears about the weather only a brief light shower intervened, although the squally wind did cause problems for some stalls. On the Sunday the weekend continued with an ecumenical service and an afternoon walk from St Peter’s Church in Balsall Common to St John’s Church in Berkswell. Steve Hammett
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