Permaculture blog

General blog about Permaculture issues
Published by Sam Page on 27 April 2017

Is your garden bee-friendly?

On average, our gardens provide far more flowers than agricultural land and although large fields of flowering rape may be attractive to bees, they are often sprayed with toxic insecticides. Unfortunately, many of our gardens are populated with intensively bred bedding plants, most of which have little or no nectar, and so are of no interest to bees. Pansies, petunias, busy-lizzies and begonias add a splash of colour, but years of selection for increasingly showy blooms have resulted in the flowers losing their original function (to attract pollinating insects). To encourage bees and other pollinating insects, it is far better to grow old-fashioned cottage garden perennials such as lavender, lupins, Aquilegia and sage, together with foxgloves, native bluebells and other wild flowers like viper’s bugloss, comfrey, sainfoin, tufted vetch, bird’s foot trefoil, teasel and knapweed.

Image The large queen bumblebees and solitary bees that live in our gardens, come out of hibernation as early as February, when they need to feed on nectar from early wildflowers such as lungwort, dandelion, daisy and celandine. You can see three male, amorous, hairy-footed flower bees chasing a female, as she feeds on lungwort, in the picture on the left. Other essential sources of nectar and pollen in the spring are the blossom of fruit trees and bushes. It's a good idea to leave a few brassica plants to flower as they will provide abundant nectar in early spring.

Bumblebees fly low over the ground searching for undisturbed nest sites. Some species prefer to nest underground in abandoned burrows of rodents, while others prefer to nest just above the ground in dense grass or leaf-litter. The queen stocks her nest with pollen and nectar, and lays her first batch of eggs. This means that you should leave part of the soil undisturbed and not cut your grass below 10-15 cm to protect these nesting sites.

Image Look for underground bumblebee nesting sites in bare earth.

Female bumblebees incubate their eggs much as a bird would, by sitting on them while shivering her flight muscles to produce warmth. When the eggs hatch the legless grubs consume pollen and nectar, grow rapidly, and pupate after a few weeks. A few days later the first workers hatch from their pupae and begin helping their mother, expanding the nest and gathering food. By mid-summer, nests can contain several hundred workers who must feed on nectar and pollen-rich flowering herbs, such as rosemary, lavender, marjoram, chives, sage, verbena, borage and comfrey. The picture below shows a worker bumblebee foraging in summer flowering marjoram.

Image At this point the queen starts laying both male and female eggs: the females are fattened up to become future queens. When they are adult, both males and new queens leave the nest, mate, and the new queens burrow into the ground to wait until the following spring. The males, workers, and the old queen die off in the autumn, leaving the nest to decay. 

Bumblebees without pollen baskets on their hind legs are probably cuckoo bumblebees. These bees have switched to a parasitic existence. The females are especially powerful and force their way into the nests of their bumblebee hosts. They kill or evict the queen and take over her workers as their own, using them to rear their own offspring.

Some species of solitary bee continue to feed and provision nests well into the autumn. When completed, the nests are sealed with a plug of mud or leaf mixture. The old queen, workers, males and all the adult solitary bees do not live to see the next generation. 

In autumn the number of flowers begins to decrease, but a ready and continuous supply of pollen and nectar are still being sought by bees until late in the year. Suitable flowers for this time of year are verbena, aster, black-eyed susan, winter-Image flowering honeysuckle and ivy. Careful pruning can increase the length of flowering or even delay the start of flowering till later. Look for gaps in flowering and try to find a plant that will fill that gap for the next year. Leave dead stems on plants in the border over winter as they may provide homes and shelter for many insects including some bees.

Gardeners can help bumblebees by leaving suitable places for hibernation undisturbed, such as a cool, north facing bank which they can burrow into. Nest sites of solitary bees (in the ground, in borders and the lawn, and in wood and in plant stems) should be left undisturbed through the winter. It can be useful to mark the site of spring and summer ground nests as they can easily be forgotten about when forking over soil. Where nests occur in bare ground the area should be kept relatively free of ground covering plants.

Image Here is a white-tailed bumblebee feeding on nectar from ivy flowers, just prior to winter hibernation.

Are there sufficient bee-friendly flowers that can provide a continuous source of nectar, between February and October, in your garden, plus undisturbed spaces where bumblebees and solitary bees can nest?

If you would like your garden to be included in the Bee Foraging Corridor, between Marlborough and Pewsey, please download and fill in this Bee-Friendly Garden form, then send it to permaculture@transitionmarlborough.org 

Published by Sam Page on 25 January 2017

Milly, Jane and Sam recently attended the Oxford Real Farming Conference, where they heard about the latest research that shows that both organic milk and meat contain around 50% more beneficial omega-3 fatty acids than conventionally produced products.

Largest study of its kind

Image Gillian Butler, Senior Lecturer in animal nutrition at Newcastle University said:

Our study suggests that switching to organic would go some way towards improving intakes of these important nutrients. 

Analysing data from around the world, the team led by Newcastle University, reviewed 196 papers on milk and 67 papers on meat and found clear differences between organic and conventional milk and meat, especially in terms of fatty acid composition, and the concentrations of certain essential minerals and antioxidants.

Their study which is published in the British Journal of Nutrition, provides data that shows a switch to organic meat and milk would go some way towards increasing our intake of nutritionally important fatty acids.

Chris Seal, Professor of Food and Human Nutrition at Newcastle University explained: “Omega-3s are linked to reductions in cardiovascular disease, improved neurological development and function, and better immune function.

“Western European diets are recognised as being too low in these fatty acids and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) recommends we should double our intake.

“But getting enough in our diet is difficult. Our study suggests that switching to organic would go some way towards improving intakes of these important nutrients.”   

Western European diets are too low in omega-3 fatty acids

A systematic literature review analysed data from around the world and found that organic milk and meat have more desirable fat profiles than conventional milk and meat.

Most importantly, a switch from conventional to organic would raise omega-3 fat intake without increasing calories and undesirable saturated fat.  For example, half a litre of organic full fat milk (or equivalent fat intakes from other dairy products like butter and cheese) provides an estimated 16% (39 mg) of the recommended, daily intake of very long-chain omega-3, while conventional milk provides 11% (25 mg).

Other positive changes in fat profiles included lower levels of myristic and palmitic acid in organic meat and a lower omega-6/omega-3 ratio in organic milk. Higher levels of fat soluble vitamins such as vitamin E and carotenoids and 40% more CLA in organic milk were also observed.

The study showed that the more desirable fat profiles in organic milk were closely linked to outdoor grazing and low concentrate feeding in dairy diets, as prescribed by organic farming standards.

The two new systematic literature reviews also describe recently published results from several mother and child cohort studies linking organic milk, dairy product and vegetable consumption to a reduced risk of certain diseases. This included reduced risks of eczema in babies.

Newcastle University’s Professor Carlo Leifert, who led the studies, said: “People choose organic milk and meat for three main reasons: improved animal welfare, the positive impacts of organic farming on the environment, and the perceived health benefits. But much less is known about impacts on nutritional quality, hence the need for this study.

“Several of these differences stem from organic livestock production and are brought about by differences in production intensity, with outdoor-reared, grass-fed animals producing milk and meat that is consistently higher in desirable fatty acids such as the omega-3s, and lower in fatty acids that can promote heart disease and other chronic diseases.”

Find our more here...

Published by Sam Page on 15 December 2016

Image New Scientist article: ‘Care About Earth? Ditch Organic Food’ by Michael Le Pen – December 3rd 2016 issue

Here is Milly's response:

Dear Editor,

A reporter using the words “hoodwinked by feelgood mumbo-jumbo” requires, in my opinion, a lesson in effective communication. That level of patronizing judgement without a single citation or any expansion on sweeping statements like “organic food also results in higher greenhouse gas emissions than conventional farming” might sit more comfortably in a tabloid ‘news’ paper than a respected popular science publication. In a moment of optimism and charity, I wondered if this opinion piece was deliberately written so poorly and with such a click-bait title in an effort to stimulate some useful dialogue on the subject.

Conventional farming has only been ‘conventional’ since the 1920s (before that all farming was, essentially, organic) when the nerve gas agents created to kill people in WW1 were found to also, unsurprisingly, be effective at killing various crop pests. Equally, nitrogen-based fertilizers came about in the early 1900s when Fritz Haber developed a process to synthesize nitrate from the abundant nitrogen in the air. Creating this plant-available form of a crucial nutrient is a very high-temperature, energy-intensive process that has used vast quantities of fossil fuels over the past 100+ years and continues to do so. Nitrate is also explosive and fuelled the munitions industry and all its associated human death and misery before a grain of it enhanced a single wheat yield. Let’s not forget where our industrialized agricultural system really started.

Michael Le Pen seems to be saying that we should simply abandon organic completely because the movement doesn’t embrace GM crops as the ‘technology showing the greatest promise for reducing farming emissions’ (again without citation or explanation). Please take a look at the growing body of research in the field of permaculture, Elaine Ingham’s work in soil science, send a reporter to the Oxford Real Farming Conference in January, have someone interview Geoff Lawton about ‘greening the desert’ in Jordan, have a serious think about a paradigm shift from the 400 years of reductionist scientific thought that has created a bizarre notion that we are better than the billions of years of R&D that life on earth has already gone through; look at Janine Benyus’ work on biomimicry.

It is interesting to note that elsewhere in the same issue of New Scientist (p8 – Parkinsons’ we’re looking in the wrong place) I read “ Other studies have shown that farmers exposed to certain pesticides - and people who get their drinking water from wells that might be contaminated with pesticides – are more likely to get Parkinson’s. Perhaps these chemicals can also damage nerves in the gut”. Also interesting that the suggested possible solutions to this problem did not include any reference to reducing exposure to said pesticides. Perhaps Clare Wilson and Michael Le Pen had conferred before writing their respective articles.

On p7 in the ‘60 seconds’ column there is mention of the severe bleaching effect on the corals in the Great Barrier Reef. The Australian Institute of Marine Science’s website offers an explanation: Well documented by 25 years of AIMS research on the Reef, the increased sediment and nutrient loads to coastal waters:

  • smother coral reef organisms due to the settling of suspended sediment
  • reduce light availability for coral and seagrass photosynthesis due to increased turbidity
  • favour the growth of macroalgae at the expense of corals due to high nutrient availability.
  • Sediment and nutrient loads come largely from agricultural run-off – so conventional farming is contributing to the demise of the Great Barrier Reef.

On p20, Matthew Watson puts the urgent case for atmospheric geoengineering to address the need to alter the global climate system. Nowhere is the potentially massive role of soil sequestration of carbon and trees mentioned, even as an adjunct. Trees and soil are extremely effective, cheap, simple, accessible technologies that provide huge potential sinks for atmospheric carbon; we are losing both at phenomenal rates. More trees and richer soils also have a myriad of positive knock-on effects in our intricately connected biosphere that are predictable and advantageous to all life on earth. Can the same be said of atmospheric geoengineering?

In case any readers think I am ‘anti-science’, that is not the case. I am pro the science that is rooted in our interdependence not our separateness – that seeks to learn, with some humility, from nature and not just about it, that seeks collaborative and cooperative solutions; that doesn’t speak to people who have a wider viewpoint as if they are fools or charlatans.

There are so many more possible critical responses to Michael Le Pen’s piece, I hardly know where to start. I trust I will not be the only reader to respond in similar vein and look forward to seeing some coverage of the wider world of soil science and carbon sequestration in your publication in the near future.

With kindest regards

Milly Carmichael 

Published by Sam Page on 16 October 2016

Image Reflections on Permaculture: farming, nursing and education – 3 epiphanies in 24 hours  

by Milly Carmichael

Image Image I went to George Hosier’s talk last night at the Merchant’s House - their Autumn lecture. George’s family have farmed at Wexcombe for nearly 100 years, always innovating and being creative with their farming practice. George continues that tradition and has been practicing no-till methods and holistic land management for the last three years and was sharing what he had learned and how he plans to continue to develop into the future. It was so refreshing and encouraging to hear a local farmer sharing his passion and enthusiasm for new farming strategies and technologies in this way – so far his yields are holding up well while he significantly reduces his use of diesel, heavy machinery, pesticides and herbicides; the farm is a haven for wildlife and the soil is becoming more full of life and resilient to the vagaries of our changing weather patterns.

At the end of the talk, someone asked, “This is really niche farming at the moment isn’t it? Do you think it’ll ever become mainstream? “

“It might have to” – I said under my breath – not feeling quite bold enough to state it out loud in a room that looked like it might contain quite a number of traditional farmers. With real conviction, and respect for his fellow farmers in the room who might be facing considerable change in the near future, George said that it already is mainstream for those farming at the edges – in Australia and South America, in very dry places, in very wet places where the weather and soil conditions are already changing and becoming critical, these practices have become mainstream because those farmers now have few choices to do otherwise if they want to survive along with their livelihoods.

I felt goosebumps rise in my skin and a surge of adrenalin course through my veins. He said “it’s already mainstream at the edges”. ‘Value the edges and the marginal’ is a key principle of permaculture design. The Formidable Vegetable Sound System remind us that ‘The edge is where it’s at’ (track 4 on their album ‘Permaculture: A Rhymers Manual’) Something came together in that moment – a great way of explaining the principle in my own teaching and a way of connecting with people who we might perceive, perhaps, as not being particularly open to a permaculture way of thinking - traditional agriculturalists. Then I was sitting at work office today talking with a colleague and she was sharing concerns about the way some teachers at a school she knows manage behaviour and discipline in a rather Victorian manner – not really taking account of the individual nature of the children but using a one-size-fits-all / adults have the power / “it’s not because you can’t , it’s because you won’t” kind of approach. My friend has tried to introduce some new ideas to the school about language use, connecting with the children and using a solution focused approach but her suggestions for changes to their behaviour policy have not yet been welcomed. Some key members of staff are of the belief that children’s behaviour can only be managed with a ‘healthy’ fear of authority and threat of punishment or humiliation in front of their peers. They don’t yet have confidence that children’s behaviour can be managed without them.

Then another light bulb moment! At the talk last night, someone else had asked George ‘but what will you do if they ban Glyphosate (Roundup) – we just can’t farm without it – it’s not possible’. To which George replied – with respect and humility – that he’s not sure yet how he’d do that. It won’t be easy but he’s pretty sure it’s not impossible. Farmers will need to be creative and try out new ideas. He’s met people who are doing it though – organic farmers who have farmed without glyphosate for years and he had already explained how a no-till method radically reduces seed germination for black grass. By leaving seed on the surface where it can be eaten by mice and birds, rather than pushing it into the soil and providing its ideal conditions for growth, pernicious weeds like black grass can be managed without weedkiller or at least, significantly reduced quantities. Authoritarian methods of raising and teaching children are a bit like Round-up, I think: broadcast methods aimed at killing all ‘weeds’ rather than understanding the conditions in which they germinate and changing those conditions with observation, care, attention and gentle action. Or even changing our perspective on ‘weeds’ and seeing their real value.

As we talked, a third wave came over me as the phrase ‘wound care’ popped into my head.

Back in my nursing days I was taught that a wound must be allowed to granulate – to heal – slowly from the bottom up and from the edges in. If it heals over the top while the bottom is still infected, bacteria can track out into surrounding tissues and cause more serious problems. Perhaps contrary to what might seem logical at first, wound management can actually involve actively keeping a wound open so that it can heal from the bottom and the edges. This is most important with deep, infected wounds. And so it is, both in the flesh and almost poetically as metaphor. We heal from the bottom up and from the edges in – whether as individuals, as families, as communities, as nations, as a planet. It can be slow and healing can look ugly, raw and painful in its process. If we can bear it, not shy away from it or try to cover it up, we stand a better chance of real recovery with minimal scarring.

Published by Sam Page on 03 August 2016

We have invited Peter Smith, who is the Chief Executive of the Wildwood Trust in Canterbury, to come to Marlborough to talk about 're-wilding', on Thursday 8th September, in St Peter's Church, starting at 7.30pm. Entrance is free - there will be a collection to cover costs.

Peter has been at the forefront of efforts to reintroduce animals such as the beaver, wild horses, lynx and wolves for ecological restoration. Here is the introduction to his blog:

"People think I'm just trying to look after nice fluffy animals, What I'm actually trying to do is stop the human race from committing suicide." Gerald Durrell

Image From my 20 years as a nature conservationist I have learned the utter futility of trying to protect nature under our current economic system. But by making some small changes to our taxation system we could make a world fit for our children to inherit full of wildlife & prosperity for all.

There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root....  Henry David Thoreau

Land Value Tax, which is in my opinion the Holy Grail of legislative changes to protect wildlife, is the simplest expression of the Economic theories of Henry George. This theory goes that if we abolish all harmful taxes on our hard work and trade and instead charge a rent for the use of natural resources such as Land we will not waste them or allow private interests to exploit the rest of humanities access to them.

Such a tax would not only stimulate jobs and enterprise but put a value on all of our natural resources and force us to look after them. If it was implemented for agricultural land, where the lower value of perpetually designated wilderness or natural grazing land is reflected in its land value taxation, it would be the surest way to save the wildlife of the UK and for the least cost to the taxpayer”

This would mean hard to farm areas, steep banks, riverbanks, rocky outcrops and areas landowners want to designate a nature reserves, which must be legally binding, could be set aside for wildlife and as such attract no taxation. The result of this would be that unproductive and marginal land would become wildlife havens and receive long term protection for future generation to enjoy. But it would also take away land and monopolies from our plutocrats who own wealth with no obligation to the rest of society, these plutocrats fund both the red and blue (and Yellow) faction of the vested interest or ‘line my friends pocket’ parties that control the legislature in Britain.

This blog is dedicated to teaching those who love nature that there is a simple ‘magic bullet’ that can save the rare wildlife of this country at no cost to the taxpayer. This magic bullet will actually grow our economy and create jobs and help create a better society based on rewarding those who work hard while penalising idol people who make monopolies such as bankers and landowners.

The solution if adopted worldwide would alleviate poverty and starvation and make a significant contribution to preventing war and terrorism.

Follow me on twitter: @peetasmith

Views are my own and don’t reflect the views of Wildwood Trust - you can find Peter's blog here...

Published by Sam Page on 30 May 2016


More than 1,600 cities, towns, villages and urban communities take part in the 'RHS Britain in Bloom' each year. The campaign runs year round and participating groups report a wide range of benefits such as cleaner, greener and safer surroundings, a growing sense of community pride, and increased commercial enterprise and tourism. Britain in Bloom: transforming local communities highlights the benefits that participation brings.

Communities of all sizes can take part, from small villages to large cities. Some groups are entirely run by volunteers and some work in partnership with their local council. Every summer participants are assessed for efforts in three key areas:

  • Horticultural achievement
  • Community participation
  • Environmental responsibility

Image In March the organisers of Marlborough-in-Bloom invited the Permaculture Group to take part in this year's flower display. The theme for 2016 is 'bees'.  We were allocated three wooden tubs: two outside the RSPCA shop on the High Street and one opposite Pino's restaurant.

We wanted to demonstrate how to integrate flowers and vegetables in small spaces to attract bees, so members of the Permaculture Group have been busy raising the appropriate edible plants in time to be planted out by the end of May. We have now transplanted shade-loving edibles, including Swiss chard, fennel, purselane and wild strawberries into the tubs outside the RSPCA shop.

Image We have planted climbing Italian Borlotti beans, sunflowers, borage, Swiss chard, nasturtium and English marigold in the sunny tub opposite Pino's restaurant. All of these plants will be  sustained organically throughout the season. This means that we will not be using any chemical fertilisers or pesticides, but rather Milly and Barney's wonderfully nutritious compost and Sam's smelly comfrey tea!

Published by Sam Page on 18 May 2016

Image A novel way of applying permaculture principles by Milly Carmichael:

It was a very early start this morning for a 7.30am meeting at Faringdon Business Breakfast Club http://www.fbbc-networking.co.uk/
I had always felt daunted at the very thought of business networking meetings, all sorts of odd fantasies about being NLP'ed, twittered and stalked on Linked In had haunted me for years but it turns out that it's not like that at all. I was there was because my business partner and I had recently tried out using the principles of permaculture to review our business and one of the things that came up when we considered 'integration' was that we really weren't as well integrated into the area local to our office in Faringdon as we could be.  After a little research, I became aware of The Faringdon Business Breakfast Club and decided to give it a go. The principle of 'valuing the edges and the marginal' really inspired me here as such a meeting was right on the edge of my comfort zone, which is, of course, a sign that it will probably be a productive and creative place to step into. 
The first meeting went really well, I quite enjoyed myself, met lots of interesting people with local businesses and had a cracking cooked breakfast to boot. My comfort zone had been expanded and it had been a pretty painless process. But the best is yet to come. 

Shortly after that meeting , I had a call from one of the organisers asking if I'd be their speaker for the next meeting and could I share some of the things I teach and train about while putting a 'business' spin on it. I usually teach and train about mental health, sexual health, safeguarding, communication skills and the like but this seemed like a gift of an opportunity to take the plunge with something new;  so I talked about what business can learn from natural systems and gave a brief introduction to the ethics and principles of permaculture, explaining  how we were starting to use them for our own business reviews and planning, linking to ideas about circular economies and biomimicry in design and technology too. It was very well received and I now have contact with an HR consultant who can see possible benefits in her line of work, a man who works in equine assisted learning (courses with horses) who can see useful overlaps with his own practice and the offer of a direct introduction to the CEO of Hawkwood College in Stroud who could be interested in helping to develop the ideas of applying permaculture principles in business practice. 

What have I learned? That as I had suspected, permaculture principles are a very sound guide to life! They can be trusted to show you the way forward because they are the guiding principles of all natural systems and I am, of course, a natural system too.  

Please contact Milly if you want to learn more: millycarmichael@hotmail.com

Published by Sam Page on 16 January 2016

Image Jane, Milly and Sam attended the recent Oxford Real Farming Conference.

The Real Farming Conference followed straight after the National Farmers' Union's Oxford Conference. But while the NFU Conference focussed on industrial agriculture that depends on badger culling, river dredging, monocropping and fossil fuels, the REAL farming conference is a place where diverse, environmentally-friendly farming methods, such as agroecology, organic and permaculture are discussed. There were more than 36 concurrent sessions, spread over 2 days, on issues ranging from soil health and GM technologies to life without noenicotinids, seed-saving and agroforestry. 

The session on Food Sovereignty was presented by the Land Workers' Alliance, a producer-led organisation of small-scale producers and family farmers, who use sustainable methods to produce food, fuel, fibre and flowers.  They spoke about the need to link with other organisations to radically change the UK food system - which currently relies on more than 70% of imported food.  The Land workers' Alliance also took the opportunity to launch their 'Rural Manifesto' which has a series of recommendations on ways of reducing rural poverty and deprivation.  This manifesto was immediately supported by both the Green Party and the Labour Party.

Soil was a constant topic following the International Year of Soil 2015…..2016 being the International Year of the Legume (jokes about wind farms no doubt).  The Soil Association want targets set for increasing the organic matter in soil - quickly. Evidence suggests that planting legumes would be good value for money as the benefits accrue in the first few years with no need to keep adding. Bare ground is being frowned on, with the increase in the use of cover crops.

Community Supported Agriculture projects are on the increase, CSA is seen as a collective act, with both benefit and risk of the enterprise shared between grower and shareholder (those who eat the produce) - it takes commitment on both parts. A project in South Wales was particularly successful -  volunteers had built a straw bale education building, with additional funding. A more local, very successful, community-led CSA exists in Stroud.

The difficulty accessing land was highlighted - Community Land Advisory Service could help? or Ecological Land Co-operatives? Dyson was revealed as the largest landowner in the UK.

(Jane is planning to visit some more local CSAs if anyone would like to fill a car sometime……)

Image Innovative Farmers is another initiative of the Soil Association that supports farmers who may feel isolated trying out new, more sustainable, ideas.

One session had a speaker from Hodmedods. Nick Saltmarsh had wondered where the field beans in his area were going - assuming, like many of us, that they were for animal feed - actually, they were being eaten by people in Egypt! Pictures of typical recipes using these legumes followed, looking mouthwateringly good.  He is now part of a company that grows legumes for UK consumption, bringing more land into use for local food. The soil benefits too with increased fertility. Trials of lentil growing have begun.

The Soil Association also hosted a session entitled 'Runaway Maize' which highlighted the threat that this crop is posing to our soils. Maize is used for both animal feed and as a biofuel for anaerobic digesters, therefore attracting a double subsidy. Unfortunately it is causing massive soil erosion wherever it is planted, due to being harvested in October or November, by machinery that compacts the wet soil and leaves it exposed to run-off throughout the Winter. The NFU wants farmers to plant 125, 000 more hectares of the UK's best agricultural land with maize.  This massive area of land could produce sufficient wheat for 2 billion wholemeal loaves. George Monbiot described DEFRA as 'Do Everything Farmers Ask' and the NFU as 'the champion of bad farming practice'!


Published by Sam Page on 29 July 2015

Ask UK bread manufacturers and retailers to stop using wheat sprayed with glyphosate

Image Glyphosate is the most widely sold weedkiller in the world, you might know it as the active ingredient in Roundup and Weedol. The big chemical companies advise farmers to spray their wheat crops with glyphosate a few weeks before harvest - to kill the crop and remove weeds to make it easier for them to harvest. Government figures show its use in UK farming has increased by a shocking 400% in the last 20 years. Nearly a third of UK cereal crops (over 1 million hectares) were sprayed with glyphosate in 2013.

In a recent EU research study, 7 out of 10 UK city dwellers had traces of glyphosate in their urine.But, this chemical doesn’t break down immediately, and can follow the grain into food manufacturing processes. Tests by the Defra committee on Pesticide Residues in Food (PRiF) have found that as much as 30% of UK bread contained this weedkiller. UK wheat will also be used for lots of other foods including biscuits.

We don’t think this is right. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (part of the World Health Organisation), have identified glyphosate as a probable carcinogen to humans - do we really want this weedkiller in our food?

Outside the UK, there are moves to ban the sale and use of Roundup – which Dr Robin Mesnage of the Department of Medical and Molecular Genetics at Kings College in London revealed tests showed as being 1,000 times more toxic than glyphosate alone. Denmark, Switzerland, Germany and France have all imposed restrictions.

The Soil Association has called for an immediate ban on pre-harvest use of glyphosate on crops, but we must do more to get this chemical out of our food.

Please sign the Soil Association's Petition here...

Our local Waitrose supermarket is selling various forms of glyphosate, called 'Roundup' and 'Weedol' to gardeners - the Permaculture Group has recently written to Waitrose's Head Office asking for both of these toxic herbicides to be withdrawn, in accordance with advice from the World Health Organisation.  Here is part of their response:

"For the time being we will continue to sell the products and it'll be down to the consumer to make an informed decision whether or not to purchase this weed killer. 

We appreciate that this will not be the response you'd all of been hoping for, though I can assure you that this has been taken seriously. We do sell a number of Bee and insect houses to protect our wildlife and this is important to us. I actually have a number of them in my garden and do all I can to provide a safe environment for Bees."

It is actually children and elderly people who are most a risk from pesticide poisoning, nevertheless, Wiltshire Council's contract gardeners regularly spray glyphosate on weeds around schools and play areas in Marlborough. Read more here...

Published by Sam Page on 25 June 2015

Image Chickens should be fully integrated into the permaculture garden. This is because they consume pests such as small slugs and the eggs of both slugs and snails, while chicken manure is high in nitrogen and known to be antagonistic to many soil pests.  Many gardeners prefer to keep bantam chickens as they can be allowed to roam freely amongst mature plants without causing damage. They are happiest when they can roost in a shady orchard, so their coop should be placed in Zone 2. Here is Ruth feeding her bantams - she told us that she prefers their smaller eggs because they have bigger yolks!

Chicken characteristics

  • Social, with clear pecking order, take themselves to bed when it gets dark
  • Omnivorous – green leaved plants, seeds & fruits, insects & slugs
  • About 200-300 eggs per year, depending on breed
  • 18-22 weeks till they START laying, 4-5 years of good laying, normally break for winter when daylight hours are short
  • Moult in late summer (gradual so you only notice feathers lying around)
  • 5 – 10 year life span

Image Growing your own chicken feed:

  • Mulberry   
  • Watercress    
  • Trefoil
  • Comfrey (wilted)   
  • Buckwheat
  • Nettles (dry)
  • Mangle / Beet

You can also feed them leftovers:

  • Excellent – Most seeds (especially sunflower), yoghurt, kale, lettuce
  • Good – Non-starchy vegetables, any meat, cooked eggs
  • In moderation – Starch (bread, rice, potatoes). Avoid green potato peelings.
  • Avoid – Sugar, salt, avocado, citrus, dried or undercooked beans
  • No – rotten or mouldy food


Diagnosing chicken ailments - many ailments can be determined just by looking at your chicken's eggs, see below and also down-load the Alltech Egg Shell Quality poster for more detailed information.


Page: 1/4Last Page