I park my little tractor outside the garden, close to the post and rail fence of one of the paddocks, in which stands a majestic Horse Chestnut tree. Well it was majestic until last Friday lunchtime, when half of it crashed to the ground, taking two large branches from a neighbouring oak tree with it. The tree had a single stem that split into two around 15ft up the trunk, and one complete half of it from that height now lies prostrate in a contorted tangle of shattered limbs. For me the fortunate thing was that the bough fell alongside the fence line, missing the tractor by a matter of feet. A massive clear-up operation is now required, but that’s a job for the professionals, as the lopsided tree will also need to be assessed for its safety; meanwhile I think that I will relocate the tractor.
We are having a week of austerity. Now that I am harvesting so much from the garden it is difficult for me to justify getting a delivery from the organic wholesaler, as each shipment costs £65, and it is really difficult for me to recoup that cost when there is only a limited amount of produce that I need to supplement my own production. So, that means that choice will be limited this week; no oranges, lemons, kiwi fruit, tomatoes or even onions. What I can offer is: beetroot, chard, pointed cabbage, lettuce, new potatoes, broad beans, mushrooms, garlic, carrots, & kohlrabi.
Last week I raised the difficult issue of plastic packaging, and true to my word, I would like to open a two-way discussion on the matter. I recognise that there is understandably a huge groundswell of anti plastics sentiment following our high profile recent education on the harm that they do to the environment. I dislike single-use plastics as much as most of you do, but the reality is, for some things they currently remain the most viable option for keeping produce fresh. There are alternatives, such as plant-based plastics, made from corn or potato starch, and these are marketed as being compostable, so on the face of it surely that’s the solution for those occasions where such packaging is required? Well not necessarily. It turns out that they are compostable, but only if you have an industrial scale composting facility that generates the 60 degrees of heat required to break down the material; in your compost heap at home it will partially break down into fragments that studies have shown take many years to decompose. A study run by the University of Plymouth found that biodegradable plastic bags were still capable of being used as bags three years after being buried underground because they had degraded so little. In a report in last Thursday’s Daily Telegraph, professor Mark Miodownik, a materials specialist at UCL, said: “The public really need to know that when something says it’s compostable, it is not going to disappear as soon as you drop it and it may not actually be good for the environment. Even on a home compost heap, these products may not biodegrade for years because the conditions are not right. Most people put them in the bin, where they do not look any different to regular plastic so are not separated out and end up burned or in landfill. Or they put them in with the food waste, which is actually worse, because it is not dealt with in the same way and can contaminate the process. At the moment most biodegradable or compostable products end up in landfill, where they will not biodegrade, which raises the question of what the point is?” Another report states that biodegradable and compostable plastics do not degrade in a marine environment.
The production of bioplastics raises ethical questions too. Concerns include the use of GM crops, and the use of valuable farm land that could be used to grow food crops. Other potential impacts of the growth of bioplastics crops include, but aren’t limited to: deforestation, monocultures, use of fresh water supplies, soil erosion, fertiliser use (which often comes from petrochemical sources), and pesticide use – few of these are compatible with the ‘Organic’ ethos. The more you look into it the more confusing it all becomes.
I am trying to minimise the use of plastics in the veg boxes, but because of the way that I operate, it is going to be difficult for me to completely eliminate them….or a slightly less nasty version of them. I am on my own running the business, so the way it works is that on Thursday I harvest, sort and pre-weigh the vegetables into their units of measure, before packing the boxes that same afternoon. Most of the boxes are then delivered on Friday morning. Particularly during the warmer months of the year, if I do not use plastic bags most of the leafy greens will have wilted by the time they hit your doorstep. The other reason for using them is that if the vegetables have been harvested in the rain the cardboard boxes, and anything pre-packed in paper bags, become a soggy mess. Some of you return plastic bags in your empty veg boxes, which may salve your conscience, but for food safety reasons I am unable to reuse them, so you are merely getting me to dispose of them rather than you doing it yourself.
I will aim to further reduce the use of poly bags in the veg boxes, I can continue to monitor the development of alternative materials and try out some of them. There will inevitably be cost implications – typically the compostable equivalent bags are 10 times more expensive than ‘regular’ ones, as are heavy duty paper sacks for potato use, and I can’t afford to bear the additional cost. I would like feedback from you on the issues I have raised here; it’s a far more complex subject than it appears at first glance, and I’ve only scratched the surface! Anyway, I would appreciate your comments or suggestions, which you should send to firstname.lastname@example.org Thank you.
I am aware that there have been instances of customers being ‘timed out’ when placing orders. I have relayed information on this issue to the technical bods and hope for a resolution soon; until then remain calm and count to 10 when it frustrates you.
My holiday is now less than 2 weeks away. This week is unaffected, but next week everything is brought forward by a day (for most), because I am going away on Friday 21st, and there will be no collections from Wyken on the 22nd. I will remind you of these arrangements next week.
Right, that’s me done, sorry that it hasn’t been a barrel of laughs this week. Before I go, a couple of nature notes. The pheasant is down to 2 chicks, at least that’s what she had last time I saw her. And at home the Hummingbird Hawkmoth has been visiting the Valerian just outside the back door. They are such magical little creatures to observe.
Have a good week – tomorrow looks like being a shocker, so stay safe if you are out and about in the heavy rain.