More than spring, I love autumn. There is a smokiness in the air from the wood fires, it’s not too cold when you can walk in the parks and there are still days of sunshine when it is not too cold to sit outside. Nature is settling down for a sleep over winter and there is quietness like when someone is preparing for bed and mysterious shadows especially in the afternoons. Animals are busy gathering food to last over the winter and we are also busy foraging and preparing chutneys, jams and other delicacies from the bounty that nature presents in autumn. Autumn is a season of great generosity from nature. What I enjoy the most are the autumn colours which are quite unlike spring when branches are still bare. The trees and shrubs display their most amazing colours in leaves, berries and barks. Soon these will become nature’s own special compost. I have been walking around in London and Cambridge, taking photos of autumn scenes. I feel so energised when I go out to the park. I hope you like these photos!
‘Just put it in the compost heap- and it will biodegrade!’ That is what I have heard from enthusiastic proponents of biodegradable ‘plastic’. But now I’m cautious about doing that. This is after my experiment trying to actually compost this stuff.
As you see in the photo above, this is what the plastic bag looks like after more than a month inside the pot. I filled the bag with dried and green leaves, hoping to start the process of biodegradation. But it remains as strong as ever with no signs of disintegration. My friend used a large ‘hot’ composter and she also found that the ‘vegware’ she threw in haven’t composted at all. I have since learnt that these bags require specific environmental conditions to biodegrade. Most require an industrial composting facility. If accidentally mixed with regular plastics, compostable ones contaminate the recycling process.
Keep Britain Tidy has complained, ‘The drive to introduce bioplastics, biodegradable plastics and compostable plastics is being done with limited emphasis on explaining the purpose of these materials to the public or consideration of whether they are in fact better from an environmental perspective than the plastic packaging they replace.’ I also saw report from the BBC where a biodegradable shopping bag could still carry a full load of groceries after submerged in water for three years or buried underground for the same time. In some ways these are worse than the normal plastic ones because they come with the myth that they are somehow more benign to nature.
I was recently offered a ‘vegware glass’ at a charity meeting. When I asked for a proper glass, the woman said, ‘But these are compostable- and it’s all a part of a circular economy’. I replied, ‘Please show me where your composter is.’ She said the office didn’t have one. ‘So you expect me to take this home and compost it? What if I don’t have composter? What happens if the vegware doesn’t break down?’ She didn’t have the answers and so reluctantly led me to the kitchen and gave me a glass. Whether it is vegware, or biodegradable- it is also a single use item. Single use items should be banned- our planet is not big enough to take in all the rubbish we throw in it.
In these days of climate change with extreme heat and lack of rain, even in the UK, one has to think about how to keep plants hydrated. I went away for three weeks recently and had only just bought a lavender plants before leaving. I was worried about it dying while I was away. So I used a weed- nettles which grow well in my terrace- to make a green mulch.
The green mulch would not only save the soil from drying out but also as the nettle dried out, it would nourish the soil. It also would prevent other weeds from growing in the pot. I had first learnt about green mulch from some Cuban organic farmers who had used it during the ‘crisis’ days to grow urban food but had never used it myself.
Almost four weeks later, this is the result. The plant looks healthy and has grown well while the nettle has dried and become part of the soil. Some small weeds have grown in the pot but those will also form part of the new green mulch. This was so effortless and economical that I’m going to use it again and again.
Lately I’ve been walking around the streets trying to photograph bees. I’m not a professional and all I have is a smartphone, and these little creatures are very fast. So the photographs aren’t very good. However, I have noticed a much smaller number than last year, especially in my garden. I grow wildflowers and plants in my terrace, hoping to attract bees. But in one day, I may see about 5-8 bees (I don’t know if they are the same ones or different ones). Last year, I could see 10-15 bees each day in my terrace. The numbers of hoverflies remain the same as before.
Bees seem to like purple or pink flowers- I’ve noticed. Lavender, appear to attract the most bees, including bumble bees, while honeybees also like the blue/white borage flowers, and marjoram, which has small pinkish white flowers.
What I’ve also noticed are dead bees- particularly the large bumblebees. This photo below was taken on a nearby pavement.
Declining bee populations have been blamed on a combination of factors: climate change, pesticides – notably neonicotinoids – and varroa mites spreading in beehives. While the EU has imposed an almost total ban on neonicotinoids, climate change is decimating bee populations with late frosts and later summers. Honey is one of the products that bees create and we eat, but on a general level, bees are responsible for pollinating plants. This ‘unpaid’ act by these busy workers, help plants to grow and give food, flowers, cosmetics and thousands of other plant based products.
In a study by Sussex university on a project called ‘Honey bee health and well being’, it was found that bees do prefer all varieties of lavender and borage (which was the best all rounder). These are also very cheap plants to grow- while Lavender is a perennial, Borage will self seed. The lead scientist of the study, Professor of Apiculture, Dr. Francis Ratnieks, said, ‘The most important message from this study is that choosing flowers carefully makes a big difference to pollinators at zero cost. It costs no more to buy bee friendly flowers and they are not more difficult to grow and are just as pretty. The flowers don’t have to be native, wild flowers.’
Let us grow more organic blue, purple and pink flowers and help these hardworking saviours of humankind.
I had been away for awhile and the blazing spring had turned into a burning summer. One of the plants that had suffered from this was my bay tree. I don’t know why or how the others survived but this one literally looked burnt. I’ve had this tree for a long time and was sad that it had gone. But I don’t know why, I decided to replant it elsewhere. Each time I watered it, I muttered words of encouragement and thanks for the bay leaves it had given me. In the meantime, someone had given me another bay tree for which I was very grateful. So I decided I should get rid of the dead bay tree. Lo and behold, when I went to do so, this is what I saw-
It was as if the bay tree was saying to me, ‘Why did you give up on me?’ Now I’ve taken this lesson as a metaphor for life. Never give up!
I have written previously about how winter leaves gifts behind, although spring and summer are seen as seasons when we have more gifts from nature. I made this gift for my colleagues at work using leaves and dried flowers that I was going to put into the compost heap. It was easy to do and looks quite good I think. I had all the stuff at home including the vase and the sponge base, so it is a zero waste zero price gift!
This is spring time in the UK and we can hear birds flying, chirping and building nests. Walking under a tree, I heard the sounds of baby magpies hidden somewhere while I watched the anxious parents bring food to them. Birds are amongst the non humans who actually build homes for their young ones. Many birds are expert builders (and don’t seem to need any training!), and some are experts at repurposing holes, ledges, and parts of buildings for their nests. As an architect, I first learnt about non human architecture from this book many years ago-
A weaver bird’s nest from South India (credit: wikimedia commons)
But these days, given our penchant for weeding and tidying gardens straight after winter, our non human friend have nothing to build nests with, especially in cities. This year, I have been very busy finishing a book and had forgotten to ‘tidy up’ my patio. It was full of dead plants and I felt very embarrassed about how it was looking. But one day, raising my head, I saw two magpies busy pulling at my dried plants and branches and fly off with a beak-full. Next, I saw a little robin that has become a regular, taking little branches and stems for its own nest. I have also had a thrush coming by to pick up building materials. Ahh, I realised, my patio was actually being useful, even though it looked a state!
my untidy patio with metal robin
Seeing these birds has been such a delight and given me another reason not to tidy up so soon. Along with the nest building materials, they have taken away weeds, cleared up spider’s webs and eaten some slugs- saving me some work. I never knew how useful birds are to the canny gardener. Make sure you keep some of these materials to attract birds into your garden and help them build their nests in the spring-
Things that birds could use
Twigs or sticks
Grass clippings or dead grass
Moss or lichen
Pebbles or small rocks (not the ones in the photo though!)
Spider web silk
Straw or other dried plant stems
Do keep some water for these thirsty parents too!
PS- As these birds tend to be wary of humans, I tried but couldn’t take a photo!
This has been the worst heatwave in the UK since 1976 and with climate change, it is not known if this will be a temporary phenomenon or a lasting one. Climate change is slowly affecting food growing as well as the ability to maintain other forms of life such as bees. It is estimated that the USA is losing 10% of its crops due to climate change. My garden which is usually lush at this time of the year is not looking good at all. It seemed a battle that I wasn’t going to win with my planters looking like this-
But look at the plants that seems to be green and doing fine- it is the South African native, the Agapanthus and the ‘Indian’ hawthorn- both of which seem to need little water. Euphorbia are also doing well as they are drought resistant. Planters need more watering because the roots cannot access groundwater unlike plants grown on land. The succulents which can live with little water are also fine. We also have a hosepipe ban on now, but I don’t use it anyway. I use water that has been used to wash vegetables and fruits. You can also use cooled down bathwater as long as it is not too soapy.
The RHS says that most gardens are hardy enough to be watered in moderation with repurposed water – known as grey water – even if it does have soap and suds in it, ‘Grey water should be used with care, but can be useful in times of water shortages. Plants can be watered with shower, bath, kitchen and washing machine water – fortunately, soil and potting composts are effective at filtering them out. There should be no problem with small-scale, short-term use of grey water to tide plants over in summer drought. An exception is on edible crops, due to the risk of contamination from pathogens in the water.’
I’m going to wait and see what happens next- whether my Mexican daisies and other plants recover. Which plant lives and which dies will be important to decide my next year’s planting because climate change is here to stay.
or perhaps follow this person who has decided on an almost entirely plastic garden which doesn’t need watering and looks vibrant all year!
Each summer, my olive tree and other plants get mealy bugs and woolly aphids. Now I abhor both of these. Looking up the Internet suggestions on how to get rid of these in the most eco-friendly way, If found the use of soap solution along with physically touching the stems and picking them off. How ghastly- I’d never touch these! I have been cutting off the branches each year and that has also helped with pruning. But this year, the tree appears to give off snowy showers when I shake it and I didn’t even feel like pruning it. I’ve tried the home made soap solution but I think the solution needs to stick to the infestation to be effective. I’ve tried vinegar solution but don’t like the smell.
This year, while thinking about the ‘stickiness’ aspect of the solution, I found some unused Ecover floor cleaner. I added 25% cleaner to 75% water along with a pinch of turmeric to act as disinfectant (total 500ml).
When I sprayed this, the foam actually stuck to the branches and nodes where the insects were. You need to shake the bottle from time to time as the turmeric tends to settle at the bottom. Almost immediately I noticed that infestation was gone!
I will have to wait and see if it does return but the olive tree looks amazing now. You have to be careful not to spray surrounds but as you see that my tree was next to wood, it was okay. Also, don’t spray edible plants with this spray. Ecover floor cleaner, which has linseed oil as an active ingredient, claims to have the following eco-credentials:
Fresh perfume from plant based ingredients
Cleans floors effectively and quickly
Excellent natural floor care and protection against staining
No petrochemical based ingredients
No residue of unnecessary chemicalsFast and complete biodegradability (OECD-test 301F, full product)
Minimum impact on aquatic life (OECD-test 201&202, full product)
Against animal testing
Suitable for septic tanks
I am not advertising for Ecover as this was just an experiment but I thought it was better to use this than sugar soap and WD40 which also some people have used as insecticide.
The cost of Ecover is £3-50 for 1L, so my spray works out to be less than 1pence for 500ml.
Someone else tried my solution for her rose bush and says it has worked on the aphids. So you can try it and let me know if it works for you in the comment section below- good luck!
PS- as an added advantage, I use this mixture to quickly spray and clean up wooden floors and non food use areas.
Its officially summer and time to work on the garden. The recent storms and previously unseasonal snow in February and March plus two travels, made my garden a bit untidy. I felt a bit embarrassed by it all, but today as I went out, I saw what I had been missing. There were bees flying around, spiders making their nests, earthworms in the soil and many other insects going about their business. Birds such as sparrows, pigeons and gulls floated about in the air. There was a real eco-system there which I had not recognised. Even tiny patio gardens have a way of making a complete micro eco-systems which are a part of the much bigger eco-system we live in. Even inside the home, there are spiders, ants etc which are part of an eco-system which help you- spiders eat other harmful insects such as moths and mites; while ants can take away bit of food that you can’t see. I’ve got all these and feel fine with it. What about your home?