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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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May 2 2012 4 02 /05 /May /2012 16:36




Mamy of us dream of going back to a simpler way of life, dropping out of the rat race and having our own small farm. It's a lifelong dream for many, and some manage to achieve it. However, to stand a chance of succeeding [if you have not limitless money] you need to plan and be thoroughly aware of what you are doing.


Firstly you have to decide whether to buy or rent land. Then you need to decide whether you can afford to buy land that you can live on. If a house is part of the purchase, fine, but if you want to place a caravan on land you will run into difficulties with the planning authorities. It can be done, but a lawyer is an asset here. You will also need to decide how much land you need and how much you can handle. Anything more than five acres is likely to take up almost all of your time, if it is to be intensively cultivated.


The economics matter. OK, we would all like to escape from the rat race but you cannot live without due consideration of economic reality. The smallholding can produce food, but will it produce enough of the money that you will need for taxes and the purchase of goods that you cannot make yourself? The financial pressures on smallholders can be great. The most successful smallholders are ones who do not try to rely on the income from their farm, but have a portfolio of income sources. Any business of your own that you can ideally run from home is what is needed. A friend of mine is just buying quite nice small holding in the Pennines, but it comes with a  large house and so he is wise enough to maintain his lucrative business as an IT consultant alongside it.  Remember, the quintessential smallholders, Scottish crofters, often have a job alongside the croft to sustain themselves.


Selling some products is fine, but you must realize that smallholdings cannot produce in the bulk  required by many business purchasers and only occasionally stock local shops, which purchase from wholesalers. The exceptions are farmers' markets and farm shops, which might take some of your products. Farm gate sales are useful, but they mainly attract passing traffic and a few locals.


You must decide what stock to carry. A friend of my father retired to his native North Wales and took a smallholding, and in the initial flush of enthusiasm had something of everything: cattle, sheep, pigs, goats, chickens, turkey, geese and vegetables. Over the years he began to real;ize that he could not handle such a wide stock, especially as he was growing older, and began to rationalize downwards. The larger animals are always difficult on a small farm, as they need skill in handling,  feed during winter when the grass is not rich, and veterinary treatment when ill, which is expensive. It is better not to carry too wide a variety of stock.


Understand the difference between self-sufficiency and self-reliance. The ideal of self-sufficiency, as popularized in the comedy, the Good Life, was doing everything yourself. Fine if you can do it, but humans do not like to live that way. we belong to social and economic networks and use the skills of others. We all have to accept that there are tasks at which we are not good enough. I can handle woodwork, but I am not a plumber and am unwilling to handle electricity beyond simply changing plugs and bulbs, and gas, which are dangerous enough for me to bring in a specialist. A mistake with gas can mean an explosion. Self-reliance is trying to as much as you can by your own skills, but knowing when to call on others.


It is important to take courses in smallholding, gardening, animal care and possibly business to prepare yourself for your venture. Agricultuere is  skilled task that has to be learned, and there are plenty of important things to be learned. Lifelong learning is the ideal, and it is not a luxury


It is important to give due importance  to your age and physical capacity. You want a smallholding that can take you through your life, but there will come a time when you are not as strong as you used to be. Will you have a family to assist you, or will you have to hire labour, or merely scale down or give up?


A smallholding is a dream. but life dreams have to be anchored in reality, and without a heavy dose of realism a small holding will not be likely to succeed.

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April 29 2012 1 29 /04 /April /2012 21:41



Your garden will be attacked by various predators during the growing season, not least slugs and caterpillars. You never seem to be fully able to get rid of them. However, gardeners have helpful allies which eat the predatory species.


The first of your allies is the lady bird. While it appears to be such an attractive insect it is a ruthless predator that devours aphids, which feed upon the leaves of several varieties of plant.


Another ally are tits. Members of the tit family feed upon insects and their larvae, such as sawfly and codling moth, which do so much damage to fruit in Spring. To encourage blue tits, place nesting boxes nailed to trees at places in your garden and ensure that if they are inhabited you do not disturb them. They are particularly important in spring when the larvae are feeding.


Hedgehogs are another useful predator, especially as they attack at night. Though a much loved creature the hedgehog is a predatory beast that feeds on a variety of insects. It is particularly good for feeding on slugs and snails, especially as they are active at night, when the hedgehog is hunting. It is important that if you want to encourage hedgehogs you do not put down slug pellets, as they poison the slugs, which when eaten by the hedgehogs cause them to be poisoned. An old gardener told me once of his distress when he heard the wails of a hedgehog poisoned by eating  slugs that had eaten toxic pellets. There are organic slug pellets which work not by poison but by gumming up the slug's digestion, and they are aceptable, but the poisonous ones should never be used.Hedgehogs can be encouraged by having a wild area where plies of leaves are left for them to nest in, and there are several hedgehog houses which can be made using designs on the internet.


A pond is a useful addition to an organic garden. Try to get some frogs in it. Frogs will be drawn to the pond where they are hatched, so get some frog spawn and place it in the pond. This will lead them to return year on year. Frogs, though, do not live in the pond, only tadpoles do, as the frog spends much of its time hiding in grass and leaves. They like to return to the pond at times to breed and to keep themselves wet. Compost heaps are popular with frogs, as they are likely to be warm, moist and have a large insect fauna, inclusing slugs and snails. A neighbour of mine took up a large tarpaulin a few years and found a large, apparently well-fed frog and several half eaten slugs. This indicates that frogs need a comfortable and sheltered place to stay. As slugs are also attracted to sheltered places, the frog had found a very nice spot indeed.


Another ally is a duck. Ducks must have a pond to swim in, but if you have a pond then they area possibility.  Ducks can be allowed to wander round the plot, where they forage for slugs. To keep them you need adequate housing safe from foxes and a pond. However, when you have ponds full attention to health and safety issues is a must, especially  when there are children around.


Chickens can be helpful. They are known as a chicken tractor, as they can peck between the rows of vegetables destroying slugs. They need housing sufficiently strong to keep foxes out and they need proper care and feeding, as they cannot rely only on what they peck from a garden.





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April 19 2012 5 19 /04 /April /2012 14:03




Herbs are plants used for flavouring or medicine and are usually grouped into a number of families, each known by a technical name of Latin origin. Technical names can be confusing, as some have changed in recent years because the scientists who specialise in plant classifiication [taxonomists] have reformed the terminology used.


1: Umbelliferae:  This is a large family of herbs that include some very popular ones. Parsley [Petroselinum] is  an important member that has exists in several different species. There are also fennel, coriander, chervil, sweet cicely and chervil. Fennel was one of the nine sacred herbs of the Anglo-Saxons. Fennel leaves, roots and seeds are all edible. An infusion of fennel is commercially available and is used to relieve wind in babies. Coriander has edible leaves and seeds, but they have different flavours.


There are some poisonous umbellifers, so you should be careful about wild picking. While cow parsely, which grows wild in hedgerows, is edible, a related species growing with it is not. Aethusa cynapium is a poisonous umbelifer with an acid taste that burns the mouth. Worse, there are some very dangerous umbellifers. Hemlock and Hemlock water Dropwort, for example,  are deadly poisonous. These poisonous umbellifers have purple blotches on the stem. In general I would not pick any wild parsley/umbellifer that grows in wet, boggy  places such as marshes and ditches. I never pick any wild umbellifer, as I prefer to grow my own.


An  exception is Alexander, a herb introduced by the Romans which has tended to frow within range of the sea, often along road sides, although it has been moving inland recently. The move inland may be due to the fact that it tolerates salt, and roads have been salted in winter recently, leading to conditions favourable to alexander.  This is an umbellifer that grows early in the year and the leaves can be picked wild. It has a pink tinge to its leaf base.


2: Labiatae:  This family includes the many varieties of mint. It also includes sage, marjoram, oregano, thyme, savoury and rosemary. Most mints are grown in gardens. The problem is that mint is very vigorous and can be invasive unless kept under check. Some growers prefer to keep mint in containers.


One member of the mint family deserves care. Pennyroyal, a relatively rare variety not commonly grown nowadays should not be given to pregnant women, as it can induce miscarriage.


3: Lilliacae. This family used to be known as the Alliums. They belong to the broader family that includes lilies, but beware, lilies are poisonous, so not all of this family is edible. The several kinds of onion, leeks, chives, shallots and garlic are all members of this family.


Garlic stands out as a natural healing substance. During the first world war garlic growers were producing it in vast quantities to supply the hospitals, as it contains a powerful antibiotic, allicin. It also contains antifungal and antiviral substances. It was probably an awareness of its healing powers that made people use it as a charm against vampires.


4: Brassicaea. This family used to be known as the Cruciferae. It includes cabbage, kale, sprouts, cauliflowers, broccoli, turnip and kohl rabi etc. most of the family is used as bulk foods rather than as herbs, but there are two important herbs within the family. Mustard is one, and there are several varieties of it. Horse radish is another. In general this family prefers a slightly more limy soil than is needed for other herbs, so pH of 7-7.5 is useful, whereas other families may need a pH of 6.5.


5: Zingiberaceae: This is the ginger family and is known more as a spice than a herb, though the distinction is artificial. The family includes ginger, cardamom and turmeric. Ginger is known for its ability to soothe the digestion and has the advantage that it has no known side effects. In general the family has a range of herbal uses besides being tasty.


Herbs in general prefer a light, well drained soil. They are easy to grow in gardens and can be cultivated in pots on window ledges. Cultivation is far preferable to foraging where these herbs are concerned, as they are not common in the wild. Occasionally they can be found in abandoned, negelected gardens. For example, alexander is often seen near old monastic sites. If you wish to forage for anything, be careful and purchase a good guidebook.


















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April 9 2012 2 09 /04 /April /2012 15:05



The churches of the broadly Catholic tradition are split on the issue of whether to ordain women priests. By broadly Caholic I mean the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches, the Old Catholic Church and the Church of England/Episcopalian church, along with a few offshoots. All of these churches are characterised by having an ordained ministry composed of people who have had a separate sacrament, ordination. In Protestant churches the minister is not seen as being different from the laity, as they believe in the priesthood of all believers, as expressed in the letter to the Hebrews.


Different opinions prevail. Within the Episcopalian/ Church of England tradition women have been ordained, but there has been much opposition. The Roman Catholics do not allow women's ordination, but have people in the church who accept it, and the Orthodox are dead set against it. But what is the basis for ordaining men only?


The basis is surprisingly weak.Jesus appointed only male apostles, but had women in the broader group of disciples. The apostles were personal assistants who went out preaching. In Palestine of that time the roads were lonely and there were bandits, as we see in the parable of the Good Samaritan. To send women out was to risk attack and robbery, possibly rape. There was therefore no theological reason for Jesus to select only males. He had good practical reasons pertaining to the law and order issues of the time. Furthermore, orthodox Jews had no tradition of having women preachers. Any women preaching would therefore have been ignored and possibly stoned. There was therefore no point in having women apostles. But this is not a prohibition that is for all time, but a merely situational consideration.


Furthermore, the term apostle underwent an evolution. The original twelve lost one member, Judas,  and replaced him with Matthias, but after the resurrection apostle meant a witness to the resurrected Christ. There was at least one woman in this group, Mary Magdalene, who is known as the apostle to the apostles,as she saw Jesus near the tomb. As the church claims that bishops are the successors of the apostles, the fact that a woman was an apostle must mean that there can be woman bishops and priests.


The argument that Jesus did not make his mother Mary a priest and that therefore women cannot be priests [as she was so holy] is silly. Despite the Roman tradition that she remained a virgin, the Bible mentions Jesus' four brothers and his sisters [an unspecified number.] So Mary had had up to seven children [if Joseph had not married previously] at a time when there was no antenatal care. Mary would have been fat and suffering varicose veins, and so totally unfit for walking round Palestine. Anyway, as a grandmother she had responsibilities at home. [We know that the grandsons of Jesus' brother Judas went to Rome to meet the emperor Domitian, so there must have been at least one son with children.]


The argument that priests represent Jesus and that Jesus was male, so there is no way that a woman can represent him is weak to the point of risibility. Jesus was human. His maleness was not central to his identity. He had to be one or the other, male or female, and had he been female no one would have listened to him. So there was a good reason for God to incarnate him as male. But maleness is not theologically central to Jesus' identity. In fact, the priest represents the risen Jesus, who has transcended mere biological categories and can be considered as much female as male. So this means that we can have women priests.


There were possibly some spots in the early church were there were women priests, but this cannot be proven. One claim  does not stand up to scrutiny. Paul in the letter to the Romans sends his regards to the presbyter Junias. Some see this as the accusative singular of Junia, a female name, indicating that there was a woman priest. However, it is the accusative singular of the masculine Junias as  well, so nothing can be proven here. But Junias might have been a woman. The Celtic church, which was not under Roman Catholic control, almost certainly had women priests, as St Brigid of Kiildare was ordained bishop. This was written off by later propagandists as the result of a bishop saying the wrong rite over her, but it is not likely that a bishop would go through a whole ceremony and not realize that he was making a  mistake. This is a case of history being rewritten to explain away embarrassing practices with which authority dd not agre, but which cannot be forgotten.


St Paul's supposed order that women should not speak in church, in the letter to Timothy, was not from Paul. It came from a later writer whose works were attributed to Paul. In the second century the Montanists were a sect troubling the church. They had ecstatic prophetesses who spoke out giving supposed revelations, A backlash against women's ministry was inevitable. Yet the church had deaconesses, ordained to an order below that of priest. Opponents of women priests have been at pains to say that they merely arranged flowers on the altar or took the Eucharist round to women. Whatever they did, they were given the title of deacon, which was one order below priest. This implies that the church can give some rank in the ministry to women.


The problem came as the church began to mirror the Roman power structure and a class of ruling bishops developed. The Romans believed that power was masculine and that persons taking orders were inferior to those giving them . Women could not therefore exercise power except as delegated by their menfolk. Thus if Christians had had women priests they would have been seen as taking orders from women and therefore being inferior to women. Furthermore, few women received an education and so could not have exercised the ministry, which requires a reasonable educatonal standard. It was therefore almost impossible for women to exercise the priestly ministry at the time of the early church, when the church was in much trouble with persecution as it was, without adding any more problems.


However, then is not now. We have evolved beyond the Roman imperial power structure and way of doing things. The time has come for the churches to come together to allow women to exercise the priestlly ministry. As we have seen there are no good reasons against it, and historical circumstances do not a good reason make. There will be problem, especially as some churches are set against it, but we must begin to solve them.




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March 28 2012 4 28 /03 /March /2012 11:47




You can sometimes find a bewildering range of terms when dealing with plants. All of them refer to the subject called taxonomy, the classification of living systems. I intend to explain the terms.


Firstly, plants belong to the kingdom Plantae, which includes all flowering plants. But the seaweeds belong to a different  kingdom, and fungi belong to a kingdom between animal and plant. The difference between plants and fungi is very significant. Plants have roots and respire carbon dioxide in and oxygen out, whereas fungi have no roots and are air breathers. What people think are the roots of fungi are the hyphae, a network of threads that cluster together in a huge colony and which collectively produce a fungs as their spore-bearing body.


The basic unit of any living creature is a species, which is a kind of being that can reproduce with other members of the species and shares broadly the same characteristics. But you will note that there are terms other than species. All plants have a double barrelled name derived form Latin or Greek, for example Origanum majorana. The second word denotes the species and is always started with a lower case letter; the first word denotes the genus [plural  genera] and has always a capital. The genus is the group of species to which a species belongs. Sometimes members of the same genus can breed together to produce hybrids. Occasionally you get hybridisation between members of different genera. Take an example. Leylandii are technically known as X Cypressociparis leylandii, as it is now known to be an intergeneric hybrid. Dianthus x allwoodii is an interspecies hybrid within the same genus.


Another term is variety. Take an example. Petroslinium crispum var tuberosum belongs to the species parsley, but has specific qualities, in this case a tuberous root that can be eaten. It can easily breed with other vareties of P.crispum, and the result will be a cross between them. Sometimes species have subspecies. S subspecies  is a variety that seems restricted to a certain geographical area, or at least to thrive best in that limited location. The cricket bat willow is such a subspecies, as it flourishes best only in certain areas of the east midlands of England. You will ssp before the subspecies' name.  You sometimes see a plant named, for example, Linicera periclymenum 'serotina'  The word in quotaton marks denotes a cultivar. This is a variety artiifically created by humans and maintained only by breeding. Sometimes cultivars come in groups, for example Hydrangea aspera 'Villosa Group' This denotation is used to advise that all cultivars in a  particular group are treated in the same way and planted in the same time window.


Below varieties are the form and the subform. These are varieties within varieties, and are generally only of use to flower growers. Vegetabe growers rarely, if ever need such a specific description.


A special term applies to orchids. Besides the genus and species, orchids have a grex. This is an extra name to denote the origin of an orchid hybrid. This is because orchid hybridsation has produced such a dazzling array of plants that an extra term was needed.


Above genus is family. For example Solanacea are the family to which potatoes,  tomatoes, and the nighshades belong. Some families, such as the Rosacea, have many general and thousands of species cntained therein. Breeding between different familes is impossible. Families are grouped into orders and orders into classes, but these need not bother the gardener very much. There is a dazzling array of  distonctions sucha s sub-order, super order and so on. But these are mainly for use  by biologists



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March 17 2012 7 17 /03 /March /2012 13:12



Japanese knotweed is one of the most invasive weeds in Britain. If left unchecked it can take over gardens and force its way through floors. So it is a matter of urgency to prevent its spread. It is illegal to grow it on your land and all landowners are obliged to be rid of it. Unfortunately, this is not easy, as it can rejuvenate from one tiny piece, and it spreads by underground rhizomes, horizontal stems that take it underground for long distances. It then kills all plants in its neighbourhood by drawing all nourishment from the soil. I have even seen it kill a small elder tree.


Some owners bring in Japanese knotweed specialists. These people use excavators to get down to the crown and dig it up. Then they put a geotextile over the site and cover it with earth. This prevents the knotweed from sprouting again. Another method being tried by scientists is to introduce a psyllid, a small insect from Japan that eats it. This has been tried in three selected areas, whose location is secret, but the results are not available yet.


But what can ordinary gardeners do? Firstly, get it early. When I spotted some on in a corner of the car park on my allotment, I attacked and kept on spraying with weed killer until it did not come back. Weedkiller is essential for this plant. Exclusively organic techniques do not work. Constant vigilance afterwards is necessary. A good idea is to use a weedkiller containing glyphosate. This is non-residual in soil and works by travelling down the plants xylem to the root, which it destroys. A good idea is to use the hollow stems to advantage. cut of the top and pour glyphosate down the stem, so that it gets to the roots quicker.


A relative of mine found some in a neighbouring garden of an empty house. He dug six feet down, which is the depth of the crown,  and destroyed it, but even then occasional sprouts were coming up for a few years, which he then destroyed by weedkiller.


Keeping ground well mulched with plastic covers or organic mulches impedes all weed growth. A thick mulch of leaves or leaf mould from a  relaible source  may slow the growth of the weed, weaken it and strengthen your attack on it.


It is also important to take wood chip from reliable sources, as sometimes rogue/cowboy  woodchippers include knotweed in what they illegally dump, and it is from this practice that it can spread


The aim is to keep on attacking the plant until the crown from which it grows is weakened to death, so ensure that ground is kept weed free


It is legally obligatory to burn any remains of Japanese knotweed. It may not be composted with ordinary garden debris. You may not remove any stem from your allotment or garden.

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March 1 2012 5 01 /03 /March /2012 10:32



Jesus preaching the Sermon on the Mount



Much discussion in the clash between the forces of secularism and religion has been linked to the question of  what role, if any, does God have in ethics. Many atheists think that religion involves belief in an old man with a  beard shouting down arbitrary commands from above. This is not what religious people believe, but the stereotype persists.


There is a problem called the Euthyphro dilemma. This is the question of whether or not God commands an performance of an action or refraining from an action because it is good, or whether it is good simply because God commands it. If it is good because God commands it then God is an arbitrary tyrant who might one day make murder and adultery right. If God commands it because it is good, then is goodness independent of God, and so how can God be the source of goodness? The dilemma for religion is that neither makes God the one source of an absolute goodness. Kant thought that obeying anyone's commands on ethics, be they God's or anyone else's, is an affront to reason. Ethics should be rationally justifiable and autonomous of any other thought system, so religion is excluded from it. Ethics should be a body of principles understood by the thinker and applied because they are believed to be right. What we call divine command ethics is not, in this view, acceptable for rational people.


We can, of course, eliminate the old man with the beard idea. It is generally held by people whose knowledge of religion and what religious people believe seems to derive mainly from cartoons. The more religious one becomes the more one realises that God is a profound mystery who canot be anthromorphosised in human form. Hence his commands, should he make them, cannot be of the same order of significance as human commands. They must transcend human commands in significance.This was Kant's mistake. He did not have a grasp of the transcendent goodness of God and did not realize that God was of an order of significance immensely higher than humans, hence he equated divine commands with human commands.


There are three grounds for accepting a role for God in ethics.


1: If we believe that God is wise and good, we are committing ourselves to the belief that he [she, I am not getting into debate on sexist language here] knows what is best for us. After all, he created the world and so must know what works and what does not. From a divine standpoint our human perspective will look really limited and narrow, so what we think may be best may not turn out to be. If God is good enough to will our good and wise enough to know it, we would be wise to follow his instructions.


This raises the issue of afterlife. An afterlife perspective cannot be a perspective cannot be excluded from ethics. It cannot be part of secular ethics, but if there is an afterlife, and if religion can say something about it [not that any religion has clear knowledge of what lies beyond] then it must have ethical signicance for how humans behave. Secular ethics terminates with death, but if there is a possibility of afterlife, then what happens after death  is ethically significant. Religion can talk about that.


2: The Euthyphro dilemma can be resolved and was resolved by the Scholastics in the Middle Ages. Aquinas realised that being is by nature good. All beings, however small and apparently insignificant, are good and reflect the glory of God. Hence God as absolute being is totally and absolutely good in an unqualifed and unlimited sense. Furthermore, he fully knows and understands the good and can will nothing other than goodness. if God commands an action or refraining from an action, his will  is not the arbitrary whim of a tyrant, but the expression of his totally good nature. Thus the goodness that God wills is not independent of him, as the Euthyphro dilemma suggests, but is basically him. The dilemma is effectively solved.


3:Furthermore, the case for religious ethics involves the principle that we must give due recognition to all beings. In recent years we have rightly accepted the moral significance of animals and begun to see that animals  have rights and moral claims. But the principle of giving due recognition to all creatures  works in the other direction. Not only must we respect creatures  "lower" than ourselves in rthe scale of being, but we must give appropriate respect to realities  higher in the scale of being than we are. As God is at the top of the scale, we must give due respect to him, greater than the respect that we give to any other being.This means listening to his words and obeying his commands.


For religious believers God is not a distant figure but a presence or force in life. He is not outside the world looking in, as the Deists think, but involved in the theatre of human life as a guide, lord, friend etc. Hence we cannot leave God out of our ethical calculations and decisions.


Thus there is a case for God in ethics, but none of the above arguments allow us to determine which religion has the true idea of God.





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February 23 2012 5 23 /02 /February /2012 11:34




You may have a back yard or a patio, but you want a garden. no problem. Use containers. But there are some simple rules for a container garden.


The first is that containers should be large enough to take the plants that you want to grow in them, and you must leave enough room for growth. You will have to "pot on" certain plants as they grow. When you judge  that they are becoming too big for the plant pot, gently take them out, and pot them in something larger. When you do this, fluff the roots out a little, because otherwise they tend to cirlce round the pot and trap themselves.


Always leave a bit of drainage space at the bottom of the pot, because in a severe rainstorm pots can become flooded, drowning the roots. That is why it is always a good idea to have containers with some holes in the bottom to allow water to escape. You never need to over-water any plan. Some containers for indoor use have no drainage holes, so do not use them out doors.Some crocks [broken pots] or shards of brick placed at the bottom will allow drainage space and prevent the roots from becoming flooded.


Ensure that the container is placed in sunlight according to the needs of the plant in it. Not all plants enjoy full sun, so research the plant that you are potting  and decide where to out it.In addition to this ensure that you place tender and half hardy plants out only after the last frost date in your area. Be aware, in Britain gardening manuals seem to be based on the south, so their dates are for that reason. We in the north have to wait a little and use out judgment.


The big problem with containers is that they dry out easily, as the plants have no access to soil water, so you need to ensure that the soil does not dry out.


In addition you will need to ensure that the nutritional content of the soil is refreshed annually. A little ferrtiliser every few weeks will work nicely, but it is a good idea to refresh the soil yearly, potting on the plant.


Veegtables can be growin containers as well as flowers. Potatoes grow in sacks or converted bins. On my allotment I use one ton rubble sacks. The reason for this is that one end of my plot is alongside a road which is lined with large trees, which drain the soil and make that bit useless for growing. I have my compost heaps on part of this space and grow potatoes in containers in part of  the rest of it. I can get good early potatoes ahead of the rest of the allotment, as the soil in the sacks warms up quicker than the ground soil





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February 19 2012 1 19 /02 /February /2012 12:35



We are reliably told by weather forecasters that the summer of 2012 will be droughty, unless we receive massive rains to fill up the depleted reservoirs across south east Britain A hosepipe ban is almost certain, but what else can drought struck garden enthusiasts do? Unfortunately, the prospect of a series of droughty summers in the South East is looming as climate changes over the century, so this article is about the future for several years to come


You must seriously consider whether to keep your lawn. Lawns require a large amount of water, so it may be that  you will need to adopt a different garden lay out. Note that lawns are not common in Mediterranean regions, where patios with potted plants are the norm. In parts of south east Britain lawns may become unsustainable over the next century, unless the climate radically changes to the wetter, which is unlikely .Potted plants enable water to be focused more narrowly where it is needed.


Flower beds and pots may need to be mulched. A mulch is a covering for the ground. It may be a plastic sheet with holes cut for plants. It might be compost, woodchip or stone etc. Whatever it is, a mulch will preserve water in the ground, however a stone mulch will prevent you getting compost and manure into your soil, resulting in loss of essential humus. Woodchip or bark make fine mulches,as they allow rainwater to trickle through and will decompose to allow the soil to be refreshed. A moist mulch, such as seaweed or manure, will not only retain water in the soil but provide water to it. Compost is good for water retention, so apply it liberally as a mulch across your soil. Leaf mould also serves a similar function, as it improves soil structure, which enables the soil to retain water more effectively. Potted plants can be easily mulched with woodchip or bark.


More careful watering will be the norm. Forget the hose or sprinkler, which will be banned and become a thing of the past in certain areas. Water your plants at cooler times of the day to prevent evaporation from the surface and allow the water time to be absorbed into the soil. When using a watering can, do not spray water all around, but target it at the base of the plant. Doing this waters the plant and deprives weeds of water, so it is an effective means of weed control as well as a means of watering. .


Have a water butt. This can be linked to a gutter so that rain water can be used. On an allotment a water butt is essential. I have small containers [old plastic pots that contained chicken manure pellets] next to each bed so that rain water can be collected all over the allotment, but ensure that you use this water quickly, as small containers can easily lose all their water by evaporation. Be more careful with your watering. It is possible to over water plants, wasting water in the process. You can also save waste tea and coffee, etc in a bottle to use on your soil. Tea contains potassium and the milk in it contains calcium, so it is a useful soil nutrient in small doses.


Choose drought resistant varieties of plants. Shrubs with waxy leaves are naturaly drought resistant, as they retain water effectively.  Deep rooting plants can draw water from deeper layers in the soil than shallow rooting plants can.



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February 18 2012 7 18 /02 /February /2012 11:30



We often hear the claim made that religion has been the cause of all wars, and it is something repeated habitually without sufficient evidence and without much thought. But is it true?


Let us look at the origins of this claim. Until the eighteenth century no one had heard of it, but during the French Revolution it was originally made by Le Metrier, an atheist. He was a revolutionary, and at that time the revolutionaries, who were all atheists,  had unleashed an appalling reign of terror against anyone who disagreed with them. Scores were going to the guillotine. Religiious believers were pointing out that the perpetrators of this terror were atheists, and it was not doing much for the reputation of atheism [not that all atheists are murderous savages, in fact few are.] Le Metrier hit back with the claim that religion causes all wars, and it has been repeated uncritically ever since.


Yet Le Metrier did not have an unsullied reptuation for kindness. He launched atheist gangs known as infernal columns, which descended on Catholic villages and ravaged them, destroying churches and engaging in violence against the inhabitants.We have the spectacle here of a seriously violent politican trying to shift the blame onto others by engaging in dishonest propaganda.


So does religion cause all wars?  It has had a hand in a few, but not all. The clash between Islam with its jehad and the Christan response, the crusades, is one such, as are the wars of religion in the seventeenth century. But lots of other wars had no religious input whatsoever. What religious input went into the Second World War, or the Falklands war for that matter?The fact that some religious believers were participants does not a cause make. There were atheist participants as well.


We sometimes hear the claim that Hitler was a Christian. He did claim that atheism had been abolished, but he also abolished Christian festivals and replaced them with a  potted version of ancient pagan rites. He had long lapsed from Catholicism, but like all dictators he could use religious language when it suited him. A significant number of catholic priests went to concentration camps and death for opposing him, hardly the mark of a Christian. Hitler was backed by the Thule Society, a dark-pagan racist organisation which hated Christianity. These people have nothing to do with modern pagans, who on the whole are very pleasant and cause harm to no one. The Thule Society would not have backed a Christian. Hitler was basically a gangster who spun a web of lies to back up his project. Just as it is wrong to call him a Christian, it is also wrong to call him an atheist.


Wars are caused primarily by greed for wealth and power. Those who wage them look for pretexts, which are really excuses. I suggest that much of the motivation for religious wars was basically a facade, which covered up greed for wealth and power.


Religion can also become mixed up in race and economic issues. Northern Ireland was divided between Catholic and Protestant, but the Protestants were primarily of British origin and the Catholics of Gaelic descent. It was a war about economic inequalitiesand discrimination against the Gaelic  Irish community, mainly Catholic, more than religion.


The psychologist Gordon Allport identified two modes of belief that run through all belief systems. These are extrinsic and instrinsic belief. Intrinsic believers value a belief system because they think it true and good, and Allport thinks that in general such people show evidence of positive attitudes. Extrinsic believers value a belief system as a support for a system of wealth and power. An example of this aberration would be those churches who searched the Bible to find justification for mistreating black people and twisted the texts to do it. This aberration was found in certain protestant groups in the Southern USA. Allport finds evidence of negative attitudes, such as prejudice and intolerance among extrinsic believers. It seems that the difference is not primarily between belief and unbelief, but between sincere belief and insincere belief.


So religion does not cause all wars, it merely has an input into some of them; but I suggest that the religious input is in many cases a pretext to justify false claims.


Further reading


The Twilight of Atheism: the rise and fall of disbelief in the modern world Alistair McGrath, Random house 2006


The Religious Context of Prejudice, Gordon Allport, cited in Personality and Religion, edited by Sadler, Forum Books, London 1970



















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