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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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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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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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January 18 2012 4 18 /01 /January /2012 15:48



Integrated pest management uses a variety of techniques in such a way that they do not conflict  with each other. These techniques are chemical, cultural and biological. The skill to integrated pest management is to time the application of each technique for maximum benefit and minimum side effects.


Take an example. If you apply a chemical pesticide, you might kill harmful and helpful insects. So you are killing the friends that eat the pests. So in integrated pest management you study the life cycles of helpful and harmful insects so that you know when the harmful ones are present and apply a chemical pesticide then. In this way you kill the pests, but not the beneficient insects.


The benefit of using integrated pest management is that it prevents over-reliance on pesticides. At the moment there is a problem that pests are developing resistance to common pesticides. For example, the glasshouse whitefly, Trialeurodes vaporarium, has begun to become pesticide resistant in the south of Britain, and the resistance is spreading to other areas. The reason for this is that the pesticides have killed all the flies that are vulnerable to them, leaving those with some inbuilt resistance to that specific pesticide to breed and multiply. Using integrated pest management techniques minimises the use of pesticides, thus preventing the development of resistance. The other techniques will kill off pests. For example, no pest, for example, is immune to being crushed or eaten.


Cultural technques involve hygiene. In integrated pest management the grower ensures that all plant debris is disposed of , so that pests cannot hide in it, and that pots are disinfected in winter. This means that overwintering pests have no place to hide. All nooks and crannies in glasshouses are swept out and disinfected for this reason. Pests whose larvae dwell in the soil are vulnerable to cultural techniques. Vine weevil larvae are vulnerable to a ground roller, which crushes them. Digging exposes the cells in which some pests or their larvae overwinter, and then they are exposed to birds that can eat them. Blasting off aphids with water jets in summer not only destroys the aphids, but waters the plants as well. These techniques will be used at times when helpful insects are not present, as far as possible.


IPM might mean that you become aware of the presence of hosts in your land or area.Some species of aphid prefer a specific type of plant, maybe a tree, as a host for larvae at one stage in their life  cycle. So therefore  growers will as far as possible minimise the presence of host plants on their land. Conversely, they may adjust their land to create habitat for helpful creatures. For example,a pond with frogs or toads pays off enormously if you want slug control, as these amphibians eat slugs and snails. IPM might mean that growers introduce animals that, for example, eat slugs. Keeping a few ducks not only helps slug control but provides eggs. The problem slugs come back as eggs that you can eat or sell.


Intregrated pest management relies on the introduction of selected predators or the encouragement of natural ones. For example, ladybirds [Amercian ladybugs] are great eaters of aphids, so as far as possible they should be encouraged. Integrated pest management [IPM] will encourage hedgehogs and predatory birds. In glasshouses  it will introduce, for example,  Encarsia formosa, a minute parasitic wasp, to attack the red spider mite, Tetranichus urticaria. [Encarsia does not sting humans.] But when the wasps are being introduced chemical pesticides will not be used. You might use a chemical at a time before Encarsia is introduced, or when you are sure that it has died off, but during its presence then chemicals will not be used.Nematodes can be applied in gardens or glasshouses to destoy slugs. These are very tiny creatures that burrow into a slug's nervous system and paralyse it.


Furthermore, care in the use of chemicals is necessary. There are different kinds of pesticides. Integrated pest management will be reluctant to use residual pesticides, These remain in the soil and could therefore kill useful insects. Imidicloprid is one such soil based residual pesticide. It has proved useful in attacking pests, but there are concerns that it might kill helpful insects. The only type of pesticide that can be used is one that breaks up very easily. Slug pellets, will not be used, as they poison not only the slug, but also the hedgehogs and birds that eat eat them. Besides being counter-productive in inteprated pest management terms the use of non-organic slug pellets is horribly cruel, as the hedgehogs can be heard wailing in agony after eating them. However, organic pellets can be used, as they simply gum up the slugs'  digestion. The slugs  then starve to death.


Integrated pest management only works if growers are  knowledgeable and prepared to research their crops and the pest problems specific to their area. IPM will then need a clear pest management plan. A lazy grower or one who wants to take short cuts to a fast profit will not be successful in IPM. The short cuts are the excessive use of pesticide, but they create long term problems. IPM requires that growers are aware of the full range of pest control techniques and judiciously select the ones that are relevent to their circumstances and apply them in a thoughtful, well-planned way. It is the most professional way of pest management.

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January 3 2012 3 03 /01 /January /2012 19:49





The organic movement establishes standards for all aspects of farming and food production. It therefore has standards for eggs.All eggg, including chicken, duck, turkey, qualil and guinea fowl can be governed by organic standards


When dealing with eggs we must be aware of the different egg categories. Battery eggs are eggs produced in cages, but there are also barn eggs, in which the birds are housed in a barn. These differ from free-range eggs  in which the birds have access to the outdoors. Some terms are confusing. Cage free might mean that the eggs are still barn eggs, but not battery. Organic eggs are free-range plus extra standards. Free range in itself does not guarantee that the eggs meet organic standards, though free range eggs are produced to high standards of animal welfare.


The free range requirement holds for organic eggs. The chickens must have access to the outdoors for a significant part of the day and be able to express natural pecking behaviour. They must also be free from routine applicaton of antibiotics, which can only be administered when the birds are sick. Forced moulting is not allowed.This is the cruel practice of starving the birds for a short period to ensure that they all moult at once, which is for the famer's convenience, but not for the birds'.


The main requirement for organic eggs is that the birds are fed an organic diet. This means that they must eat food grown by certified organic farmers. To achieve certified status farmers must meet the requirements of the Soil Association or another legimate certifying body. The food must not contain genetically modified crops and crops that have been cross-fertilised by genetically modified crops are not permitted. Furthermore, the birds must not be fed animal by-products, such as meat remains.


Organic eggs must be produced by birds that are reared to standards of animal welfare that meet the requirement sof the Soil Association. Eggs can only sold as organic if they are produced by a farmer who is registed to produce eggs with the Soil Association or another legitimate certification body that meets the requirements of the state in which it is established.

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January 1 2012 1 01 /01 /January /2012 20:46



Green pest control is an aspect of integrated pest management, the process of combining chemical, cultural and biological controls to attack pests. In green pest control the chemical element is played down at the expense of other elements, though some chemical substances are permitted.


The first element of green pest control is cultural practices. These are the gardening techniques that kill pests. Prime among them is good hygiene. This means not leaving plant litter or debris lying around where pests can hide during the day. In greenhouses it means clearing out containers and disinfecting them to prevent pests such as vine weevils hibernating in winter. Cultural controls might also involve spraying fruit trees with jets of water to destroy aphids. This is important at the times when aphids [greenfly] are present on plants.


Cultivation of soil is important. If you dig the soil in winter certain pests that hibernate in cells in the ground will be exposed. They will then be liable to be eaten by predatory birds. Rolling lawns is a useful defence against vine weevil larvae, which eat the roots of plant, as the roller will crush them.Grease bands can be placed around fruit trees in winter to prevent winter moths from climbing into them to lay eggs. The female moth cannot fly.


Slugs and snails can be attacked by means of a variety of methods. Beer traps are useful. These are jars half filled with beer. Slugs love the smell and crawl into them and drown. Snails are also vulnerable to salt on paths, as salt dries them up. They dislike soil in which soot has been included, and they are said to dislike egg shell strewn around plants, though this does not always work.


Biological  controls involve setting predators on the pests. These can be wild animals that eat the pests. Many gardeners place nesting boxes for blue tits on the trees, as the tits eat various pests. You can also encourage hedgehogs, which eat slugs and snails. Ducks also are great consumers of these pests, so they can be kept in the garden.


Nenatodes are minute invertebrates that dwell in soil. You can purchase them from dealers and apply them by the watering can dilute in water. They burrow into the nervous system of slugs to paralyse them and render them vulnerable  to predators as they lie motionless.Nematodes need renewing every few weeks.


There are also specially bred predatory insects for greenhouses. You have to purchase the predator for the pest. Aphids can be combatted by the tiny predatory wasp Aphidoletes aphidmyza. There are other pest predators depending upon which pest you are which pest is troubling you.


Some chemicals are permitted. The soil association permits organic growers to spray fruit trees with soft soap, which gums up their respiratory systems. There are also organic slug pellets. Non-organic pellets are monstrous, as they poison not only the slugs but the hedeghogs and birds that eat them. Hedgehogs die in agony if they eat slugs that have consumed these pellets. Organic pellets do not poison the slug but swell inside it and gum up its bowels.


All techniques are useful, but it is important to avoid certain chemicals which are thought to be environmentally harmful. Any organo-phosphates should be avoided, as they are a threat to useful wildlife. Neonicotinoides have been implicated in threats to bees. Organic growers cannot use these complex chemicals.

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July 19 2011 3 19 /07 /July /2011 07:45

The Farm Bureau of America is an umbrella organisation covering fifty state farm bureaus. Founded in 1911, it exists as the Voice of Agriculture and to work for strong and prosperous rural communities. Besides providing a voice for farmers, it offers other services, but its position on climate change has been strongly criticised by ecologists. This article provides you with a guide to the Farm Bureau of America.

Origins and purpose


The first farm bureau was founded in 1911 by a farmer, John Barron, in Broome County, New York. Originally it was linked to the Broome Chamber of Commerce, but the two organisations soon split. Farm bureaus began to spring up at county level and then at state level. Now, each state has a farm bureau, and there is an affiliate in Puerto Rico. All are affiliated to the federal organisation

Stated purpose

It is a non-profit-making organisation, whose original purpose was "to make the business of farming more profitable and the rural community a better place to live in." The aim was to do collectively what could not be done individually. More recently, billing itself as the Voice of Agriculture, it declared that the farm bureaus were working through grass root organisations to enhance and strengthen the lives of rural Americans and to build prosperous agricultural communities.


Sometimes known as the American Farm Bureau, it exercises several functions, such as lobbying for farmers and rural interests. It speaks out on agricultural matters to politicians and the press. It originally had an educational function in providing training for farmers and their workers.

However, the bureau offers a wide range of services. Farm bureau health insurance is vitally important in a country with little public health provision. Farm Bureau Financial Services and Farm Bureau Car insurance provide services to rural communities and farmers. The Farm Bureau Insurance Company offers a range of services for life, property and retirement insurance.


Recently, the Farm Bureau has been involved in controversies over climate change. It has taken a sceptical approach to climate change, arguing that there is no scientific consensus that carbon dioxide emissions are causing it ,and pointing out that anti-climate change measures will raise the cost of fertilisers and fuel, thus forcing up food prices and business costs. They were strongly criticised by the Union of Concerned Scientists over their stance, and this issue is ongoing.

20110616-NRCS-LSC-0518Combine harvester working in Wiltshire
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April 20 2011 4 20 /04 /April /2011 15:22

The article shows how to establish and run an organic vegetable garden by showing how organic gardeners feed the soil, avoid pesticide use and rotate planting.

"Feed the soil and the soil feeds the plants." This is the principle of the organic movement. Organic growers believe that the soil is a living reality to be cultivated. They feed it with manure, compost and leaf mould to replace nutrients lost by extracting crops and to maintain humus, the natural glue that holds soil together, retaining nutrients and water. Compost your weeds, as doing this replaces nutrients when it is added to the soil, so get a compost bin. Only after they have fed the soil will organic growers add fertilisers. Ensure that you put this soil nourishment in to balance what you take out in vegetables.

Do not use pesticides, because organic growers realize that pesticides kill not only harmful insects, but helpful ones as well, such as ladybirds, which attack aphids [e.g. greenfly.] Instead try natural methods, such as encouraging hedgehogs and insect-eating birds. You can do this by providing a pile of twigs and leaves for the hedgehogs and nesting boxes for blue tits, which attack insects. Never use non-organic slug pellets, because they cause hedgehogs to die in agony when they eat slugs. Instead use special organic pellets that simply gum up the slugs' digestion, but are not poisonous. You may use Bordeaux mixture against potato blight and other organically permitted herbicides. Net your cabbages against birds, as wood pigeons are very greedy.

Ensure that you have a good crop rotation. There are various rotation systems. The simplest uses four beds: potatoes, onions and leeks, legumes [peas and beans] and brassicas, such as cabbage. You might have others for salads, strawberries and carrots. You rotate the beds year by year, so potatoes are followed by cabbages, which are followed by onions and so on. There may be a separate section for perennials, such as fruit bushes. It can be a good idea to grow strawberries in containers to ensure that they do not spread. Many gardeners grow mint in pots because it spreads so wildly. Raspberries do the same, so you have to pluck up spare shoots that spring up away from the beds.

Always seek advice from experts, if you find a problem, and always be ready to find out more.

1 The rock garden with pergola. | Source | Author Zipity11 | Date 20
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