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



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



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



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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October 25 2012 5 25 /10 /October /2012 14:28




Every now and again we hear reference to a mysterious figure known as Pope Joan. Her dates are contested: some suggest that she reigned from 853-855, but others suggest that she reigned  in 1199 for two years. Joan was said to have been a very scholarly woman of English origin who disguised herself  as a male to avail herself of the educational opportunities available to men but not women. She was said to have been an enormously successful scholar who succeeded in becoming a great teacher at Rome and was elevated to the papacy, only to be found out when she went into labour in public, whereupon she was executed by an irate mob. Most scholars now regard this story as a myth, but what is the truth behind it? We can never have certainty in history, but what is the weight of the evidence.


Firstly, popes send out streams of letters and edicts, but there are none in the name of this pope,. She is said to have taken the name John Angelicus, and is sometimes confused with John V111. There was an a slightly later  pope of that name who was renowned as the pope who led the papal ffleet to battle against the attacking Muslims. This story forms no part of the Pope Joan tale. Some think that she might have been John  V11, but this misdates her more fully.Secondly, if she reigned from 853-855, she would have clashed with the eastern patriarch Photius, who detested the papacy and considered himself superior to the Popes. Were the pope to have proved an imposter, Photius and his supporters would have given maximum publicity to it in the writings of the Orthodox  church. But there is no mention of the story.


Anastasius the librarian, writing about the time that Pope Joan was said to have existed, is said to have mentioned her in his chonicles, but it is noteworthy that not all copies of this chronicle mention her, the only ones being later versions. Some might suggest that Anastasius' writings were edited to delete mention of Pope Joan, but there is no evidence of deletion in any of the copies.


One  mention of Pope Joan comes in the writings of Martin Polonus, a Vatican official who died in 1278, who wrote a historical chronicle which mentions Pope Joan. However, not all copies of Martin's works contain mention of Pope Joan. Furthermore, the copies that do seem to change in style when they mention her. Mention of her  reign is in a handwriting distinct from the rest of the chronicle and seems to have been clumsily inserted in a space at the bottom of a page. An earlier mention of Pope Joan comes in the writings of Marinanus Scotus, 1028-1980, but not all copies of his manuscripts contain the story. Again we are looking a problem common with mediaeval writings, insertion of later material into an earlier document


There is also the problem of dating. Leo 1V died in 847, to be succeeded three months later by Benedict III. There seems to  have been no space for the reign of Pope Joan, although devotees still argue that the dates were adjusted in the manuscripts. Hincmar of Rheims tells of how an emissary sent to Leo learned on the way to Rome that the Pope had died and then on his arrival presented his letter to Benedict III. There is no  room for Pope Joan here.


there are some legends to be dispensed with. VAtican processions do not go down a certain street in Rome, which is said to be because it was where the female pope was found out. A better explanation is the more prosaic one that it is too narrow. Similarly there is the story that the pope at his consecration sits on a chair with a  hole in it so that his maleness can be proved  by a cardinal who feels underneath. This is a myth.


A more credible account of Pope Joan comes in the writings of Rosemary and Daniel Pardoe: The Female Pope, the Mystery of Pope Joan, who argue that a more plausible date is between 1086 and 1108, when there were several anti-popes elected in the generally confused situation at the time. An anti-pope who may have been a disguised female cannot be ruled out, but there would need to be some evidence of it, which there is not. Onofio Panvinio, a sixteenth century Italian historian, suggests that the legend may have arisen in relation to the utterly corrupt court of Pope John X!!, [955-964]who had several mistresses, one of whom was a lady called Joan, who was apparently very influential. She d a very influential assistant, Sister Pascalina, who was sometimes nicknames the she-pope.


There seems to be no room for a genuine Pope Joan, but there is sometimes truth behind a legend. It may have been the case that a senior Vatican official was actually a disguised woman and was eventually found out. It is also a sad case that some people have the sex organs of both sexes to a greater or lesser degree, though true hermaphrodites are rare. Most of these people are more one than the other, though they are generally infertile, so the story of Pope Joan giving birth would not be credible if this was the case. Was there a senior figure who was one such person.


I do not think that there was a real Pope Joan. But the issue has no bearing on whether or not there should be women priests. I believe that women should be allowed to be ordained as priests and even bishops, and if this is so there could in theory one day be a woman pope. There probably will be, but I don't think that it will be in my lifetime




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October 3 2012 4 03 /10 /October /2012 19:31




Recently a fragment of papyrus was presented to a conference in Rome, in which Jesus is reported as speaking about his wife. The fragment, written in Coptic, the language of ancient Egypt, is small and hard to read. Elsewhere in the fragment the name Mary is mentioned, but that could refer to either Mary Magdalene or Jesus' mother. So is this evidence that Jesus was married? Karen King, who presented it, does not think that it is evidence, as she believes that it is a late composition, probably from the fourth century, so it is not a document from Jesus' time.


The fragment itself is limited as evidence? Is it genuine? Probably not. Professor Francis Watson of Durham University thinks that it is a modern forgery. His grounds for thinking this are that the text seems to be taken from a variety of early Christian documents, one of which is the gospel of Thomas, an early text. Furthermore, he detects a line break at exactly where a line break occurs in a modern copy of the Gospel of Thomas. For this reason he believes that the text  is forged, though he is yet to be fully certain.[Catholic Herald  28Sept 2012]


Yet the issue of Jesus' marriage will not go away. Occasionally we hear talk of Jesus' being wed to Mary Magdalene. What is the evidence in favour of this claim? John's Gospel tells of how when Mary met him after the resurrection she made as if to touch him, which suggests that she was used to physical  familiarity with Jesus, [John 20:18.] The Gnostic gospel of Philip, a late text not deriving from Jesus' time, speaks of Mary as enjoying physical intimacy with Jesus, often kissing him on the lips. [The Gnostic Gospels, Elaine Pagels, Weidenfield and Nicholson 1979, p64.] This gospel is familar to us through the Nag Hammadi texts, a collection of papyrus documents and fragments found in Egypt. It dates from the third century A.D, so it is not as old as the four canonical gospels. This text has been criticised on the grounds that the Gnostics were promoting Mary as a rival to the apostles, and thus grounding their teachings in the testimony of one closer to Jesus than they were. Clearly, as the church was basing its testimony on the witness of the closest companions of Jesus, a good polemical tactic was to find the testimony of someone closer than they were.


There is also the fact that Jesus was often called rabbi by those who addressed him, and it is the case that Jewish rabbis are supposed to be married. In this case Jesus should have been married to someone, probably from an early age, otherwise he could not have qualified as a rabbi.


On the other hand, the evidence against is strong. The earliest Christian writings are the letters of Paul, and later on the synoptic gospels. They never mention Jesus'  having had a wife. The oral tradition of the Christian community never speaks of Jesus as being married. Talk of his marriage comes from quite late. The tradition that he married Mary Magdalene and went to live in Gaul, modern France, is a mediaeval legend intended to prove that the ruling dynasty of France, then the Merovingians,  were descended from Jesus and therefore had special legitimacy. Serious scholars discount it.


Furthermore, it is quite possible that Jesus had a close relationship with the Qumran community of the Dead Sea scrolls. Consider, he was a rabbi, but he does not seem to have attended an orthodox rabbinical school,  so he may have studied at a less orthodox Jewish site, such as Qumran. At Qumran there was a tradition of celibacy for the spiritual elite, those who could handle it. Thus it is possible that if Jesus had been a member of the Qumran community and part of its spiritual elite, he  was a celibate.Certainly, if he was married there is no mention of his having had any children.


The gospels speak of Mary Magdalene belonging to a group of woman who provided for Jesus from their personal wealth and ministered to him. This is significant, as if Jesus was married to Mary, she and her wealth would have legally become his property, but the gospel speaks of it as hers, [Luke 8:1-3.]Certainly they do not identify her as anything other than a member of Jesus' personal band of friends.


Ultimately, we can never have certainty about the past. The weight of evidence seems to favour the earliest texts, which are the canonical gospels, and these do not provide any evidence of Jesus' marriage Thus it is unlikely that Jesus was married, but there remains a theoretical possibility that he was.







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September 8 2012 7 08 /09 /September /2012 19:30



Every year those of us living in temperate climates experience the Autumn fall, and it gives us a great soil improver for the garden. How can gardeners use leaves to help them enrich their soil?


Firstly, leaves decay differently from plant remains. When you compost plant debris it breaks down primarily by bacterial action; however, leaves decay more slowly and do so by by fungal action. You should therefore not include leaves and plant debris in the same composter. You want separate bins for your compost and leaf mould. Leaf mould is also slower to make than compost is. In a few weeks a hot compost heap can have provided some quite good compost, but the leaves will take a few months to decay. Some leaves take longer than others do. Certainly sycamore leaves take more time than most.


You can simply use leaves as a mulch. If you have a fruit tree, you can spread leaves around its base. Spread them in a thick layer to ensure that none of the ground is showing, but do not have them massed against the bark, as mice may hide in the leaves and nibble the bark. With a young tree a spiral guard is useful to protect the bark. Wet the leaves  thoroughly after laying them down, so that they will be less prone to blow away. Eventually the leaves will break down, but they will have added some useful organic material to the soil. However, they are not a great source of plant food, but they are a good weed preventer. They do not prevent weeds indefinitely, for as they decay strong weeds will force their way through. But this does not prevent the mulch from being useful.


If you are making a  leaf mould bin, you can make it in the same way as a compost bin. I made one out of canes, wire and string. I lashed it all together very firmly, and it survived some quite horrific winds one winter. It should be exposed to the elements,as water is an important factor in fungal decay.  Of course, you do not need to make a bin. You can simply use black plastic bags. Fill them with leaves, tie a knot in the top, but then the knack is to press down the middle to make a dent.This allows rainwater to accumulate and drip down onto the leaves, giving them the water that the decay process needs.


It  is the leaves of deciduous trees that you should use, as they are the ones that naturally drop. Green leaves are richer in nutrients than those that go brown before they drop. Ash leaves are ideal, as they drop when green. Beech leaves are brown before they drop and provide very little nourishment to the soil.


Leaf mould is a good soil improver. It is not sufficient on its own, as you need manure and compost as well. but it is a part of a gardener's arsenal

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August 30 2012 5 30 /08 /August /2012 19:20



Well, summer is officially over, and it is time to tidy up the allotment. It has been a good year for weeds. The rain has often kept us indoors and the weeds have taken their chance. That's what a weed is: a plant growing where you do not want it. It is biologically no different from the plants that we grow in our gardens. There is no special biological category  for weeds.


Many weeds are edible and were eaten as part of the ancient diet right up to the modern period. Some foragers stil eat them. Some are plants that were once in favour and have been abandoned. Take ground elder. This was introduced by the Romans and for many years was a staple part of the British vegetable diet. It has a taste of parsley, but has now been abandoned and is simply seen as an invasive weed of gardens. Fat hen and good King Henry [to be distinguished, please, from bad Henry, a very poisonous woodland plant, also known as dog's mercury] were both eaten as part of the stone age diet. They are often found growing in hedges throughout the British Isles. Jack by the Hedge is known as garlic mustard and was once widely eaten. Young netttles are full of mineral salts and if added to a stew  or soup quickly lose their sting in the cooking and are extremely edible. You will not need to add salt to a soup or stew in which you have added nettles. A good book on edible plants will tell you what you can and cannot eat, and it is a good idea to obtain one and familiarise yourself before you go foraging. It is important even for experienced foragers to take care and be sure on identification before they pick.


Yet weeds are useful in other ways. Take an example. I picked my onions, which were large and plentiful, then went off for a week in Grasmere. When I returned the weeds had taken over the onion patch. What should I do? Pull every one? Not at all. I am not using that bed over winter, so I am going to leave them. They will make good ground cover before I put the plot to bed for winter by putting tarpaulins over it. As ground cover they protect the soil from damage by heavy rain and ensure that nutrients in the soil are retained in the plants' cells rather than washed away. I can compost the weeds  and this way retain the nutrients.The roots of the weeds penetrate the soil during the winter period and help to maintain its structure, as they create passages fore air to circulate. Nettles have deep roots which delve down into the soil to bring to the surface nutrients that most other roots cannot reach. Hence composting your nettles brings minerals into the compost.


Gail Harland, writing in the Weeder's Digest, speaks of beneficial weeds, which are broad leaved plants that do not compete with crops. She cites studies that show that Brussels sprouts growing among weedds had fewer aphids than thsoe growing in bare soil [p30.] Some weeds, such as crow garlic, if grown near carrots confuse the carrot root fly with their powerful scent. This protects the carrots. Some weeds provide cover for ground beetles that can prey on insects harmful to the crop.


There is a happy medium to be struck. Eliminating every weed is impossible, and trying to do so loses some useful plants; on the other hand you cannot let them grow wild. Some weeds, for example Japanese knotweed, Himalayan balsam and giant hogweed have to be eliminated, and nettles make a painful presence on any plot. Bindweed strangles other plants. All of these have to be eliminated. On the other hand ground elder makes a perfectly pleasant contribution to your salad, as do dandelion leaves. Just make sure that you don't pick the wrong types of weeds. As I said, a good guidebook  is very useful, indeed essential if you are inexperienced.



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August 14 2012 3 14 /08 /August /2012 17:19




The book of Acts, written sometime between 70 and 80 A.D. records Jesus' ascension into heaven. After he had departed two men in white, angels we suppose, told the apostles that Jesus would return in the same way. Since then Christians have expected the return of Christ, but they do it with varying degrees of expectancy. Some think that it will be soon, others do not, and the rest, the group in which I find myself, don't know and don't speculate. Indeed, the date of the second coming becomes less relevant as one grows older. As I point out to various fervent people who come to my door asking whether I believe in the end of the world, I am sixty two now, so unless the return of Christ/end of the world  happens in the next thirty years or so, I am not bothered.


Most of those who speculate about the end of the world and the second coming of Christ overlook one saying of Jesus just before he ascended, "It is not for you to know the times and seasons that the Father has appointed by his own authority." [Acts 1:7] Yet this has not stopped Christians seeking clues. St Paul speculated about the return of Christ in 1Thessalonians 4:13-18, when he imagined that this would be a dramatic event when the saints would be taken up to meet Christ in the upper air. Paul was imagining the scene in terms of Jewish eschatological expectation. [Eschatology is the theology of the last things: death, judgment, hell and heaven.] It is this image that has given rise to the belief held by certain Protestant/evangelical groups that there will be a rapture, when the saints will be taken to Christ and the unsaved left for a period, during which there will be tribulations, after which some of those remaining will be saved.  Belief in the rapture is found among biblical literalists, but those who see the Bible as containing some symbolic elements, are not as likely to take up this belief. I am not a biblical  literalist, so I do not commit myself to belief in the rapture. But I do not deny it.


Others pore over the Book of Revelations, sometimes known as the Apocalypse, looking for clues as to the end. The trouble is that this book was written in deeply symbolic language dealing with the major problems faced by the church in its time.The infamous term 666 is a code for the Roman emperor. Certainly the writer expected that the vicious persecution being suffered by the church in his time would presage an imminent return of Christ, but this did not happen, and soon Christians were beginning to realise that the long yearned-for  return would not be soon.


Some people imagined that there would be a millenium before the end of the world, in which Christ would rule a wonderful earth of all the saved. But even this is the subject of disagreement. Premillenialists believe that it has not happened yet; post millenialists believe that it has already ocurred in the church; and the two are at loggerheads. It must be said that this conflict is within the evangelical movement, as it has not raised its head in Catholicism or Orthodoxy.


At times throughout history people have tried to discover the Bible code that will reveal the dates of the return of Christ, but no such code has been found, as it does not exist. As we recall, Jesus said that we were not to know the times and dates, so why would God have included them in a code? Predictions of the date of the second coming of Christ have always failed, so it seems that attempts to decode the book of Revelations always fail.


Jesus said that there would be wars and rumours of wars before the end, but when has there been an age without war? Christians would be persecuted before Christ returns, but there has rarely been a historical period when this is not happening. Today Christians are the world's most persecuted group, but this is not new.So nothing can be concluded about the second coming of Christ from the state of affairs at present


What is the wisest path for a Christan? It is to accept that Jesus will come again, but that we do not when or how. We must in the meantime go on working and living well, aware that our personal death is more likely to be before the return of Christ than not. I will finish on a personal anecdote. In 1991 I was awaiting my year seven class one morning when some children burst in very excited. They had heard that the world was going to end at 9:20 a.m, a man on the television had said so. My response was "It is either is going to end, or it isn't. If it doesn't end, you will need your exams; and if it does, this is Religious Education, so you will be needing it in twenty minutes. So either way, let's get working."




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August 9 2012 5 09 /08 /August /2012 10:59




Worms are often regarded as a gardener's friend, as they break up and aerate the soil. However, there are different kinds of worms. The earthworm that you might see wriggling when you dig up a clod of earth is very different from the worms that you find in compost or manure heaps. There are a few kinds of these worms, but very common are brandlings. These are notable by the fact that you can see delicate stripes on them, as you can see in the picture above. They are biologically adapted to the warmth of manure/compost heaps and cannot live in the cooler soil, so when you see a TV gardening presenter casually chucking a worm from his/her compost heap onto the garden, he is doing it no favours.


Compost worms can be found in any compost bin or heap, but there are specific worm composters available that can be ourchased. The simplest can be a bin with holes drilled for the worm liquid, but there are more complicated ones.


The advantage of a worm composter is that it is enclosed to stop the worms escaping, and therefore it can be used to digest cooked food [not meat.] which in an open compost heap would attract rats. Worm compost is very rich and benefits the garden enormously. So the gardener would be advised to have a worm composter. But it is so rich that it is applied sparingly rather than in great piles.


The basic design of all worm composters is to have a space at the bottom for the liquid that the worms excrete to be collected. This is drained away by means of a tap. It smells vile, but it is incredibly rich. You mix it in water at about ten to one or less and  spread it around the allotment/garden. Spread it widely.


All worm composters have an area just above the liquid reservoir that contains inert substances for the worms to be safe in. You can use shredded paper, dried leaves or straw. Worms detest acidity and so do not use peat or anything that is acidic.


Start adding food in small quantities just above the safe area. Sometimes mix a little lime in to make the material sweet, as this counters acidity in the food. When the bin is full to the top, you will find the worms in the top section, extract them to another bin set up in the same way as the first one then begin the process again. Spread the worm compost onto your garden. Remember that as it is so rich you cannot simply fill a pot with it and use it instead of soil. It is a soil.  Some gardeners collect the worm eggs for reuse, but they are small and hard to find.


A worm composter is a valuable addition to any allotment or garden. They are commercially available, but it is possible to make one.

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July 16 2012 2 16 /07 /July /2012 12:13



The issue of GM crops [genetically modified] has sprung up again after several years of quietness. One side tells us that these crops can feed the world and produce untold benefits; the other says that they are monstrous and should not be permitted. Who is right?


Humans have been genetically modifying crops for millenia through the process of breeding, in which crops with desired characteristics are selected and bred together, while others are discarded to become either extinct or rare varieties. The difference between this traditional breeding method is that scientists can now take a gene from one species and insert it into another to produce what they believe is a very desirable outcome. Objectors made the valid point that all these crops ahad been tested only in the laboratory, but field trials on how they fared in the broader ecological system were lacking, so we could not know of any unpredicted consequences that might arise when they were sown.


So what is the problem? Genetic modification is neither right nor wrong in itself. It is to be evaluated by the assessment of its consequences for humans and the environment as a whole.Take a recently proposed crop, which is under trial. Scientists are trying to insert a gene into cereals that enables their roots to produce the nodules that fix nitrogen into the soil. This can have great benefits for cereal growers, as they will not need as much expensive nitrogen fertiliser  to add to their soil, saving them much cash. Objections might be that there could be unpredictable consequences that will arise later when these crops are grown. But there might not be. Living on fear of change is not an acceptable way to operate.


Yet we must also be wary.Scientists are human and make mistakes. They work for research firms that have a vested interest in their products success, and so scientists can be under financial pressures to conceal embarrassing data. It is very easy for humans to let their financial interests sway their judgment.


Perhaps the issue is not that crops are genetically modified, as there can be beneficial and harmful genetic modifications, but the overall game that is being played by the GM producers. A few years ago crops were being modified to be resistant to herbicides and pesticides  produced by certain companies. These were broad spectrum poisons that killed indiscriminately, creating ecological deserts in which only monocultures were growing. They overlooked the organic principle that the soil is a living reailty, a vastly intricate eco-system which sustains itself. They killed friendly and unfriendly creatures alike. Bees were subject to poisonous intereference in their immune systems, jeopardising their vital role in pollination. This sort of GM modification was performed in the interests of companies with no respect for the environment.It was and is destructive of the eco-system on which all life depends.


There are further issues. For millenia farmers have saved seeds, but GM companies have tried to establish a seed monopoly, despite the efforts of ecological campaigners, such as Vandana Shiva, to prevent them. The aim seems to be to control the sale of GM seeds to farmers, making them buy new seed every year rather than produce their own. Effectively this is serfdom.


There are other problems, notably the problem of resistance. Take for example the Greenhouse Whitefly, Trialeurodes vaporarium. In parts of Britain this has become resistant to pesticides and now is very difficult to control by chemical means. Farmers speak of the spread of super weeds, which have become resistant to the herbicides produced by the seed companies. These are the unpredictable consequences which the envrionmentalists fear.


The problem may not be GM crops themselves, but the game that people play with them. I am using the word game in the philosophical sense of a pattern of activities with a purpose. Maybe there is some good that can be accrued from GM crops, but can we trust the GM companies to work in the interests of environemnt and people at alrge rather than their own profits. I very much doubt it. It is not that we should not trust scientists, but that we should repose unqualified trust in no one, business people, scientists, governments and eco-campaigners alike . None has a monopoly on wisdom, we must all realize that we have much of it to seek and that we rarely find it when pursuing our narrow financial interests.  We must tread carefully in this matter.



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Published by frankbeswick - in Agriculture
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