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I have been posting less frequently of late because I have become much more involved in the day to day running of Worcester community garden, a delightful teaching and display garden nestling alongside Worcester racecourse where I have volunteered for the past seven years. On our site, helped by a wonderful group of committed volunteers, we use organic, no-dig methods to produce a bountiful crop of fruit and vegetables each year, as well as to inspire visitors with gardening ideas they might like to try in their own gardens or on their balconies.
Organic, no-dig methods develop healthy soils. Healthy soil contains a wealth of organic matter which in turn helps to retain nutrients and gives structural stability to the soil.
Organic soil also has a potentially huge role to play in tackling climate change because it traps CO2 from the atmosphere. Using “no-dig” – which means exactly what it says – avoids carbon being later released back into the atmosphere, as happens when soil is tilled.
In modern farming, where fields are routinely tilled and cleared for crops, CO2 and other organic matter in the soil is released into the atmosphere in large quantities, contributing to greenhouse gas emissions. As it sheds its organic components, the soil also begins to lose its structural stability, making it more prone to erosion as well as less productive. Attempts are then made to “make good” this inevitable loss of fertility through the use of agrochemicals, including artificial fertilisers. Agricultural lobbyists argue that this soil degradation and the use of chemicals is an unfortunate consequence of the requirement to obtain high crop yields.
However, research has shown that soils on organic sites in urban areas, including allotments and private gardens, is actually far more productive in terms of yield than “conventional” arable farming.
Some of that research has calculated that organic gardens and allotments can produce between 4 and 11 times the yield of agricultural land based upon chemical dependent production.
After an early spike, the year-by-year yield from agrochemical farming has been in long term decline. Levels of organic matter are now so low beneath many agricultural soils that it is leading to more and more erosion and depletion. This method of growing our food is, in all senses, unsustainable.
One of the primary purposes of our community garden is to showcase a better way of producing abundant crops. We do not dig the land and we produce compost to feed the soil our plants grow in. We obtain impressive yields of delicious organic produce each year.
And, in addition to showing people the value of growing their own food in natural, healthy soil, we are playing a small role in improving local food security, eliminating air miles, improving physical and mental health and working to counter climate change.
leek, potato and coconut soup
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
2 leeks, approx 300 g, sliced
200 g potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 bay leaf
1 litre vegetable stock
100 ml coconut milk
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1. Pour the oil into a large pan and place over a medium heat. Once the oil is hot, add the onion and cook, stirring every so often, for 5 minute or until soft and translucent. Add the garlic, potatoes and leeks and stir well before adding the bay leaf and the stock.
2. Bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to low, to maintain a gentle simmer. Cook for 20 minutes or until the potato is soft. Remove from the heat. Stir in the coconut milk, and leave the soup to cool for ten minutes before blending.
3. To serve, reheat the soup in a clean pan. Serve in bowls with a swirl of coconut milk.