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  • : The blog of Frank Beswick. It deals with my interests in religious, philosophical spiritual matters and horticulture/self-reliance
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April 13 2013 7 13 /04 /April /2013 17:09

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Retirement comes sometimes suddenly, but oft-times gently. In my case it has been a slow moving into a retired state. I had intended to continue supply teaching for a few years yet, but the while the agencies still have older people on their books, they seem more concerned to find jobs for the younger ones. Well, the younger teachers need a future! But we older ones still need something to do, and many of us need more money than are provided by our pensions. My own strategy is to carry on doing some economic work, but place far more emphasis on self-reliance.

 

Do an audit

 

A key part of any self-reliance strategy is to audit your opportunities and skills. In my case I am a qualifed horticulturalist and have an allotment. I am also generally competent at making and mending, but need professionals for some tasks, such as  plumbing, gas and electricity. I also have some economic opportunities still.  I am an examiner and am still being invited to apply for promotion [I don't want it.] I write and can continue doing my successful private tution business.  Mix self-reliance with some surviving economic opportunities.

 

Food

 

Key to any self-reliance strategy is the need to provide food. You need to develop the art of growing vegetables. If you have a garden or an allotment, fine, but you can grow in containers. Potatoes can be grown in sacks or specially designed containers in any yard. A greenhouse will provide you with tomatoes, peppers and other vegetables that require heat. A plastic one can be purchased quite cheaply. Window ledges and balconies can be home to containers that can produce some salad vegetables, but always ensure that you are not overloading a balcony. Salad vegetables are easy to grow and by regular sowing you can ensure a steady supply of salads.  

 

Mushrooms can be grown in any darker part of your house. mushrooms do not need darkness, but they do need an airflow. Some, like shiitake, are great but need warmth.

 

Adding value

 

Sometimes you can turn dairy products into cheese and yoghurt. I have a yoghurt maker. All you need is milk and a starter culture. Currently starter culturesare hard to acquire, but you can use a live yoghurt as the starter. It requires a good dose of starter, and ideally it should not be infused withany fruit juice. Similarly, milk can be turned into ccottage cheese quite easily. All you need to do is boil it to a high temperature and, if you cannot add rennet, do what I did and add lemon or orange juice. Add salt and then strain. Once it has drained tie it tightly into a bundle to drain and then three days later you have cottage cheese. Eat quickly, as it does not keep well. With cheese and yoghurt always ensure that your equipment is clean, so as to avoid impurity. If a yoghurt shows a red streak, throw it away! A good guide book is always very useful and can protect agains mistakes.

 

Wine is a great addition to your self-reliance strategy. You will have the time to forage for blackberries and elderberries. These with the aid of sugar and yeast can be made into wine. Wine made with only elderberries can be very tart and upsets some people, but elderberry mixed with blackberry is great. I have made a fantastic wine from blackberry and apple.

 

Foraging

 

Depending on where you are there may be opportunities for foraging. To do this you need a good book, such as Food for Free, by Richard Mabey. A range of books will show you various plants from different angles. There are a few poisonous plants to be avoided, but there are many nutritious ones growing round our towns and lanes. It is important to know what you are picking. If you live near the sea there is foraging that can be done on the shore, but if like me you live in a town, you have to make do with what is found by road and canal sides. Find out what is likely to be growing in your local area and concentrate on that.

 

Mushroom foraging can be profitable, but you need to be very careful that you know what to forage. Never pick a mushroom that you do not know. Never pick button mushrooms wild, as you cannot tell the difference between poisonous and non-poisonous ones. Get some good books on mushroom identification and be very careful.

 

 

 

 

 

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April 13 2013 7 13 /04 /April /2013 17:09

5908589011_09ce166da7.jpg

 

Retirement comes sometimes suddenly, but sometimes gently. In my case it has been a slow moving into a retired state. I had intended to continue supply teaching for a few years yet, but the while the agencies still have older people on their books, they seem more concerned to find jobs for the younger ones. Well, the younger teachers need a future! But we older ones still need something to do, and many of us need more money than are provided by our pensions. My own strategy is to carry on doing some economic work, but place far more emphasis on self-reliance.

 

Do an audit

 

A key part of any self-reliance strategy is to audit your opportunities and skills. In my case I am a qualifed horticulturalist and have an allotment. I am also generally competent at making and mending, but need professionals for some tasks, such as  plumbing, gas and electricity. I also have some economic opportunities still.  I am an examiner and am still being invited to apply for promotion [I don't want it.] I write and can continue doing my successful private tution business.  Mix self-reliance with some surviving economic opportunities.

 

Food

 

Key to any self-reliance strategy is the need to provide food. You need to develop the art of growing vegetables. If you have a garden or an allotment, fine, but you can grow in containers. Potatoes can be grown in sacks or specially designed containers in any yard. A greenhouse will provide you with tomatoes, peppers and other vegetables that require heat. A plastic one can be purchased quite cheaply. Window ledges and balconies can be home to containers that can produce some salad vegetables, but always ensure that you are not overloading a balcony. Salad vegetables are easy to grow and by regular sowing you can ensure a steady supply of salads.  

 

Mushrooms can be grown in any darker part of your house. mushrooms do not need darkness, but they do need an airflow. Some, like shiitake, are great but need warmth.

 

Adding value

 

Sometimes you can turn dairy products into cheese and yoghurt. I have a yoghurt maker. All you need is milk and a starter culture. Currently starter culturesare hard to acquire, but you can use a live yoghurt as the starter. It requires a good dose of starter, and ideally it should not be infused withany fruit juice. Similarly, milk can be turned into ccottage cheese quite easily. All you need to do is boil it to a high temperature and, if you cannot add rennet, do what I did and add lemon or orange juice. Add salt and then strain. Once it has drained tie it tightly into a bundle to drain and then three days later you have cottage cheese. Eat quickly, as it does not keep well. With cheese and yoghurt always ensure that your equipment is clean, so as to avoid impurity. If a yoghurt shows a red streak, throw it away! A good guide book is always very useful and can protect agains mistakes.

 

Wine is a great addition to your self-reliance strategy. You will have the time to forage for blackberries and elderberries. These with the aid of sugar and yeast can be made into wine. Wine made with only elderberries can be very tart and upsets some people, but elderberry mixed with blackberry is great. I have made a fantastic wine from blackberry and apple.

 

Foraging

 

Depending on where you are there may be opportunities for foraging. To do this you need a good book, such as Food for Free, by Richard Mabey. A range of books will show you various plants from different angles. There are a few poisonous plants to be avoided, but there are many nutritious ones growing round our towns and lanes. It is important to know what you are picking. If you live near the sea there is foraging that can be done on the shore, but if like me you live in a town, you have to make do with what is found by road and canal sides. Find out what is likely to be growing in your local area and concentrate on that.

 

Mushroom foraging can be profitable, but you need to be very careful that you know what to forage. Never pick a mushroom that you do not know. Never pick button mushrooms wild, as you cannot tell the difference between poisonous and non-poisonous ones. Get some good books on mushroom identification and be very careful.

 

 

 

 

 

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February 28 2013 5 28 /02 /February /2013 11:25

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People are moving to a more self-reliant lifestyle, growing their own vegetables, keeping chickens and so on. But one way of being self-reliant is to grow your own mushrooms. There are several different kinds of mushrooms that can be grown commercially. All can be grown from spawn [not seed] produced commercially, but they must be grown in a way appropriate to their type and in suitable conditions.

 

There is some important biological information on mushrooms that is very important to have. The technical term is fungi. Mushroom and toadstool are popular terms, the former for the kind of mushrooms that we can eat, the latter for the ones that we cannot. It is vital to insist that you only eat fungi of whose identity you are sure. While most fungi are not fatal, there are some that are, but fortunately these are not the kind that you get in mushroom kits. It is advisable to purchase a kit from a good supplier. Also it is useful to have a good book for identification.

 

Fungi are neither animal nor plant, but something else entirely, and as air breathers they must receive sufficient ventilation and a steady flow of air is needed. It is a mistake to think that they need darkness. They can grow in dark, but they do not need it. Some fungi need to be sufficiently warm to grow, but not overwarm. There are several kinds that can easily be grown at home.

 

1: Conventional agarics. These are the white or brown mushrooms that you buy in the shops. You can purchase kits to grow them. It is possible to make your own mushroom compost, but as doing so includes a careful blending of manure and gypsum and supervision over a few days, it is not worth the while of the small grower.

 

2:  Oyster mushroom. These grow on wood. They make a good addition to stews and can be gently fried to make a pleasant delicacy. There are two ways of growing them. One is to innoculate wood with spawn. The other is to innoculate a toilet roll soaked in tea. The wood and the roll must be kept moist. When the substrate is be added exhausted it can be added to the compost bin.

 

3: Shiitake. These are a Japanese delicacy that grow on logs or sawdust spawn. You can grow them by purchasing innoculated dowels to hammer into logs. You can also grow them on sawdust spawn. They need a warm place to grow, so should not be grown outdoors.

 

There are several other kinds that can be grown, but the methods given here will enable you to commence growing.

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February 12 2013 3 12 /02 /February /2013 16:05

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Problems on the empty plot next to mine! Well, the half-empty plot because the front bit is taken by a new fellow who is working hard. But the rear is in mess. There was a large, overgrown damson tree and plenty of tree root penetration in the ground that makes it hard to dig. I thought of taking it over to get the greenhouse that has been left there, but in the end thought the better of it. I don't fancy working from scratch. But I did do some digging on the plot, purely voluntary and out of need, as the place is infected with plum sawfly larvae, and they might get to my damson and plum trees [plum and damson are so closely related that they are susceptible to the same pests]. So needs must!

 

Sawflies are a group of flies that each take a specific host. They are characterised by the female's having a saw-like ovipositor. With this she cuts into the leaf and deposits her eggs, which then a week later  turn to larvae that munch away happily at your leaves. Leaves can be ravaged by this fly. After a while the larvae drop off the tree and burrow into soil, where they dig cells in which to hibernate for the winter. In the cell they become adult and in Spring come out to mate and start the problems over again.

 

Which plants are affected?

 

Fruit saw flies include apple, pear [which also affects cherries], plum and gooseberry. There are several different rose sawflies.  Willow bean, Solomon's seal, pine, spirea and aquilegia are also affected. Hazel saw fly will affect birch, acer, hornbeam, ash, poplar, willow and some others.

 

What to do about them.

 

The best bet is to dig over the soil in Autumn or early Spring when the larva are pupating in their cells. This exposes the larva to cold and to predatory birds. Regular garden maintenance, which involves digging ground once a year will help break up the sawflies' cells.

 

Cultivation techniques involve picking the sawflies off the plants. Ensure that you look under the leaves, as that is where the larvae prefer to feed, in the shade and the shelter, nice and safe. They hope! Solomon's seal sawfly lays its eggs in the joints where branches break out from the stem, so you can look there. Most gardeners pick off and burn infected leaves. On roses, if leaves are rolled, it might be leaf-rolling sawfly, for which the solution is to pick off and burn the infected leaf.

 

If you are not organic you can use a contact insecticidebut poisoning the sawflies risks poisoning useful insects. I have never used an insecticide

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January 8 2013 3 08 /01 /January /2013 14:26

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So you want to make your own compost. You get a bin, place it in the garden, and then what do you put in it. Surely, it is clear, you compost your grass cuttings and your vegetable waste. But at this point you have to be careful. Cooked waste, especially meat, should not be placed in a compost bin, as the smell of cooked food attracts rats. Far better to keep cooked food waste in a worm composter, which is sealed to prevent worms getting put and rats getting in. Save the compost bin for uncooked vegetable scraps and garden waste

 

But there are other materials that can go into compost. Compost bins will take shredded paper, up to about 20%, and they positively benefit from some woody material to balance out the green, nitrogenous stuff. Too much of grass cuttings will result in a compost that accelerates quickly, giving off much steam, but runs out of oxygen and needs constant turning. Woody material slows the process down to a manageable rate.

 

Some substances are known to be useful. Coffee grounds and tea bags can go in. Hair, be it animal or human, adds nitrogen, as feathers do. Wool waste, known as shoddy, is mulched over rhubarb in its early stages. In the rhubarb industry, which is was strong in South West Yorkshire, waste from woollen mills was collected and applied to the growing rhubarb. Banana peel is particularly useful for the addition of phosphorus, in which it is very high. In addition, seaweed is always beneficial, as it adds micronutrients to the heap. At Heligan gardens in the period up to the First World War gardeners were told that they ought to urinate on the compost heap, as it adds nitrogen.

 

Egg shells add calcium, but they take some time to digest. Woodash can be added, but it is better laid on the ground. Leaves should never be added to the heap, as they take longer to rot than vegetable waste  does and rot in different ways. The compost heaps rots through bacterial decay, whereas the leaves decay through  fungal action.

 

Anything organic will decay and is in theory useful in compost, but it has to be sued in the correctw ay. A compost heap needs regular turning, as it requires oxygen to maintain the decomposition process

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January 7 2013 2 07 /01 /January /2013 11:29

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Whether you have a farm, a garden or an allotment, the nutrients needed by plants are the same. Obviously all plants need water, carbon dioxide and oxygen, but there are others. These  divide into macro and micro nutrients.Macronutrients are required in larger quantities than micronutrients, but all are important for plant health.

 

Macro-nutrients.

 

These are six of these. Many fertilisers contain a range of nutrients, though in different proportions. The three essentials are nitrogen, phosporus and potassium, which is why many fertilisers give you their N, P, K ratio, K being the chemical symbol for potassium

 

Nitrogen. This is essential for promoting green growth and it comes from manure to a great extent, though any kind of hair or feathers will also provide a good supply of this important element. This is why shoddy, wool waste from mills, is mulched over rhubarb, which requires a good nitrogen supply when in its early stages.

 

Phosporus.  This element makes for strong flower and fruit development, so  high phosphate feeds are known as bloom boosters. Do not overdo the phosporus, as excess can inhibit the uptake of other nutrients and lead to chlorosis, leaves going pale and dying. Cattle manure is good for phosphates, the form in which phosporus is absorbable by plants.

 

Potassium:  This element makes for a good root system and is considered important for maintaining plant health.  The best potassium feeds are woodash, which is high in potash, and banana skins, whose potassium level is very high.

 

Calcium.  This is vital for bringing soils to neutral pH, but it is also important for building plant cells. Calcium deficiency makes leaves go white. Blossom end rot in tomatoes is due to calcium not reaching the tomatoes in the  required quantity.Lime is a good source of calcium, as is bone meal, crushed seashells and eggshells

 

Magnesium: Calcium and magnesium work together. Lack of it produces symptoms similar to calcium. This element is often found in lime, particularly dolomite.

 

Sulphur.  This element fosters green growth and maintains a healthy balance of nutrients in soil. It is rarely lacking in Britain, as much has been added to soil by burning fossil fuels, which have deposirted sulphur from the air, but if the soil has too high a pH, sulphur can be added to bring it down.

 

Micronutrients

 

You rarely need to add a specific feed for micronutrients, as they are spread throughout a large number of different organic substances.A good seaweed meal is usually high in these micronutrients, and home made fertilisers, such as compost made from household waste, are high. Unless there is a specifically recognizable problem, a general addition of fertiliser will suffiice. Experts might design specific supplements based on chemical analysis.

 

Boron: Blackening and weakening of leaves and weakened root growth are deficiency symptoms. This deficiency is more common on sandy soils than on others.

 

Chlorine:  Paling of the leaves is a sign of chlorine defiiciency

 

Copper: Deficiencies are most common on organic soils, derived from peat, and chalky soils.  Mineral soils, those deriving from parent rock, but containing a good quantity of organic  matter are generally not affected by deficiency of this element. Leaves go yellow and wither.

 

Iron: Deficiency symptoms are similar to calcium deficiency, but most British soils are not lacking, the ones most likely to suffer being those on limestone. High levels of organic matter generally ameliorate deficiency symptoms

 

Manganese. This substance works in conjunction with magnesium and the deficiencies are hard to tell apart.

 

Molybdenum. Rarely deficient, except in acidic soils on occasion, but whiptail is a molybdenum deficiency disorder fround in cauliflowers, in which the leaf blade is thin.

 

Zinc: Few cases of zinc deficiency are found in Brtitain. Weakening of leaves is a symptom.

 

Conclusion:

 

Prevention is better than cure. Ideally growers will supply a good, well-balanced base dressing to the soil that includes a range of elements. They will use manure, compost derived form a number of sources and sea weed. This will prevent deficiency problems from arising. They will continue to supply soil supplements while the plants are growing.

 

 

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January 4 2013 6 04 /01 /January /2013 10:05

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A problem that many gardeners will face at the moment is waterlogged ground. After months of heavy downpours some areas are completely flooded.  I turned up at my allotment recently to find that a quarter of it had had flooded. I was lucky, as the allotment slopes gently from corner to corner and I am nearer the higher bit. Yet my ground is soggy, and I live in South Lancs, and Lancashire is a county where the downpours are reported to have been bad. We are quite flat here and the water does not run off  easily.

 

The first thing to realize is that you can have too much water. The term soil structure is important. The soil structure is the way in which particles of different sizes are present in the soil. This is important, as the structure allows air spaces to exist. as plants take in oxygen from their roots, they breathe through the soil. It is carbon dioxide that comes in through the leaves to photosynthesise. If the soil is flooded, then the air is squeezed out and this is not good for growth. It can be fatal.

 

The first thing to realize is that it is not easy to deal with waterlogged ground. Drainage ditches might take away water if you have a slope. It is also possible to dig a pond and allow some surface water to drain into it. But ponds are subject to safety precautions, especially if you have public access or children or elderly people near. I am not allowed to have one, sadly, as council safety rules forbid it.

 

If you dig over-wet soil it is not thought to be good for the ground, as it damages soil structure, so digging should wait for a drier period. It is possible to tine the ground to allow some air into it. This involves going through with a fork and and spiking it. Digging is better, but tining might help initially. Lawns benefit from being tined.

 

In the long run it might be important to raise ground level. This can be done with raised beds, which cover a significant part of my plot now. These can be commercially bought, but why bother?The commercial ones look good, but you can knock up a raised bed out of scrap or purchased wood very easily. I saw some commercial ones for £39 for a square metre. I made four out of wood purchased from a timber merchant for less than that, and they lasted a few years. The raised beds do not become waterlogged.

 

It is important to ensure that if you have containers, as I do in my back yard, they are properly drained, as containers waterlog even quicker than ground does, as they cannot drain away. I reckon that I will solve their  waterlogging problem by emptying them onto the allotment, and refilling when I want to plant later this year.

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December 14 2012 6 14 /12 /December /2012 15:02

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2012 was not exactly the end of the world, despite some predictions, but it was horticulturally a washout. Even expert gardeners lost crops. I watched Monty Don on Gardeners' World lamenting his carrot crop, or lack of it, and I thought that if it happens to his crops, I know why it has happened to my carrots. For the first time in my life I had blight on my potatoes, only one bed, but I have prided myself on never having blight. So can this year's 's weather  happen again? Climate is changeing, and our gardens must change with it.

 

Some of us on the allotment were discussing the need for protection. There are plenty of cloches going up, as many gardeners are beginning to feel that where we are, the Mersey valley in Trafford, there has been too much wind and rain for our liking. We are thirty miles from the Irish Sea and pretty flat, so there is little natural protection from wind, which is our only real problem. So what do we do?

 

Firstly, there is a need for windbreaks, as wind is a great enemy of young plants. Strangely, completely solid windbreaks, such as walls,  are not a good idea, as they force the wind over them and can cause turbulence, which can be quite destructito form a fence allow wind through, but are capable of cutting its strength by sixty percent, which often renders it harmless to crops. A windbreak has an effect up to a distance ten times its height, so there is a case for having more than one windbreak in parallel throughout the garden.  Gardeners should work out the direction of prevailing winds, which is for me from the West, as it is in much of Britain, and lay windbreaks at ninety degrees to it. Strong hedges can be just as good as netting.

 

Ensuring that polytunnels are well protected is vital. Mine went in a bad storm last year and the frame was damaged. I repaired it with cane, and I have built in a weak spot, so that if the same thing happens again, the cane will snap rather than the metal, and I can replace that easily. One of my colleagues had matting reaching up from ground level all around his tunnel, and I am doing that this year. I was teaching gardening last  year at a sepcial school on a very exposed site. We only saved the polytunnel by roping it down with strong cable. Attaching the cable to heavy bags of soil worked. It took three cables to hold down the poly, but it stayed there.

 

I have been building cloches for vulnerable vegetables. These consist of blue plumbing pipe bent over into a semicircle. The open ends are placed over canes rooted deep in the ground. Over them I am placing polythene and over that netting to hold the polythene in place. I am holding them together with canes running along the sides and top for the whole length of the tunnel. The ends will remain open for access for weeding.

 

I am considering buying a large brassica tunnel composed of netting. This is not a greenhouse or polytunnel, but it allows water and air through at a reduced rate and is quite stable. Hopefully, this will protect my carrots and other vulnerable vegetables from the possible bad weather next year. I do not want another year like this one.

 

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December 1 2012 7 01 /12 /December /2012 19:10

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Winter is a quiet time on the allotment, but there are things to do. It is a time when you might care for your soil. Many gardeners like to dig it over before winter. This allows air into the soil, which is important for plants, as they take in oxygen from their roots. However, it is important not to dig in very muddy conditions, as this is said to be detrimental to  soil structure. Many gardeners like to create frost mould. They do not hoe the dug soil to create a tilth,. They  leave it unhoed and let the frost break it up. By spring it should have broken up nicely into a tilth. I am hoping that whoever takes over my ex-neighbour's plot digs over the ground near the damson trees. These have damson saw fly, which might affect my damsons. A good way to attack the fly, whose larvae overwinter in cells in the soil near the trees, is to dig over the soil and expose the larvae to cold and predators. As the plot is not yet taken by a new plot holder, I  might have to do it myself over Christmas, but it will take some hard work.

 

The problem is that winter rains can damage unprotected soil, as the heavy drops pounding the surface can break up the cohesion of the soil particles. For this reason many gardeners like to mulch the soil. Mulch is any covering that you lay over a soil surface. Sometimes mulches are there for protection, but they can also feed the soil. Many gardeners lay a covering of plastic sheets or tarpaulins over the surface. I am currently doing this on part of my plot. This protects the surface and deprives weeds of light. Light deprivation is a way of destroying weeds. The trouble is that slugs can hide and lay eggs under the tarpaulins. I spotted this when I visited this week. Under a tarpaulin there were quite a lot of slugs' eggs. I exposed an area overnight. The worsening cold and the birds would see off the eggs. It can be re-covered later, but I noticed a very anaemic-looking weed that was dying of light deprivation.The mulch was working.

 

Yet we also get leaves delivered by the council. I decided to mulch  part of my plot with a leaf mulch several inches deep. This would serve to deprive some weeds of light, though not as effectively as tarpaulins do. However, that perennial nuisance, creeping buttercup, has forced its way through and some action is needed. Yet leaves will break down slowly and by next spring they will have added organic material to the soil and some soil structure. Different mulches have their own advantages. I am particularly keen to mulch leaves round my fruit trees,as deciduous trees are naturally  surrounded by a leaf mulch in the forest, so they must benefit from it.

 

It is, however, possible to lay a covering of manure over the ground. This serves to suppress any weeds, protect the surface and add nourishment. However, manure sometimes contains weed seeds, so you will need to be wary of what springs up afterwards.

 

Winter is not a dead time for dedicated gardeners. It is a time to prepare for spring

 

 

 

 

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October 26 2012 6 26 /10 /October /2012 11:51

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A constant source of dispute between believers and non-believers is whether goodness is possible without God. Believers argue that God, at least as he/she is proclaimed by the great religions, advocates goodness, rewards it and punishes wrong doing, and that he actually helps you to be good; non-believers argue that God is not necessary, and that there are good people who have no God. Others go further and argue that God has a negative effect in our lives, promoting war and intolerance. Religious believers counteract these claims by accusing their opponents of being stereotypical and pointing out that atheism does not have a clean record, as we can see with Stalin and Pol Pot, along with the French Jacobins in the revolution. Propaganda flourishes in debates like this. But what is the case?

 

Firstly, there are different views in Christianity on this issue. The evanglical, Protestant  view is that humans are steeped in the guilt of original sin from Adam and Eve  to the extent that they are incapable of doing any good without God. The extreme evangelical case is that the only source of moral goodness is the words of Scripture found in the Bible. For them goodness without God is impossible. The Catholic view is more subtle. Catholics accept original sin, but they believe that humans have not the guilt of it, but the stain, which is a weakness in human nature that makes doing good hard. Catholics also believe in natural law. This is the basic morality by which humans should live which is ingrained somehow in nature and accessible to reason, even without religion. Catholicism sees God as the author of this natural law and looks for the justication of this belief to St Paul's Letter to the Romans chapter 1. However, religion helps to clarify what natural law is, because natural law leads humans to God and Christianity knows who God is and what he wants of humans.

 

Much of what is in the Bible is basic natural law, several of the Ten Commandments, for instance, such as the prescriptions aganst theft,  murder and adultery.

 

It is clear that according to the Catholic view  a person might keep the natural law, even if he knows not God. It would, though be very hard. Not even dedicated atheists would argue that being good is always easy. This is especially so in the level of personal goodness required by religions, which generally demands more than the basic good-natured law-keeping that is required by atheism. Religions believe that their devotional practices aid the development of good behaviour and that prayer is a powerful force for goodness in a human life. The non-believer cannot rely on this source of strength.

 

Another angle on the subject concerns personal virtue. Can an atheist develop personal virtues such as patience, which religious believers try hard to cultivate by means of prayer and spiritual exercises? In the Catholic view this is always possible, as natural law must advocate patience, but again it would be very hard. It might not always be cultivated to the degree in a non-believer than it is in a believer. But a deeper reason is that although the atheist and the believer both cultivate patience, they do so for different, though not totally dissimilar reasons. The social reason for patience is that it helps human relationships to flourish, and both believers and non-believers can value this, but the religious person directs his patience not only at human relationships, but on his relationship with God. This makes him significantly, but not totally, different from the patient atheist.

 

A deeper point is that being good requires giving due respect for all beings. Here God comes in. If God exists he is entitled to appropriate respect, but the non-believer does not give this, while the believer does. Of course, the non-believer may argue that he would give respect to God if he thought that God existed, and this is a perfectly cogent and credible case. I believe that any non-believer who denies honour to God because God does not exist, in his view,  cannot be accounted a bad person. Such a person can give appropriate respect to other creatures, and there are non-believers who are respectful to other humans and animals. However, an atheism which is rooted in hostility to God, even if he exists, is a different matter. This is total disrespect and cannot be the mark of a good life.

 

In the end the religious believer knows that he will be called to account for his actions and that death cannot be an escape from accountability, but that it is the doorway to it. This marks a significant difference between believers and non-believers.

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