Food, Farming and Human Health

The earth is about 5.3 billion years old. Humans have been around for about 200,000 years. Everything that we virtually associate with human culture and civilisation has occurred in the last 10,000 years: during which time population and consumption increased significantly, spiking particularly within the last 200 years, beginning in the 18th century and intensifying post-World War II. This is the period known as the Anthropocene.

In the 1970’s, developed countries turned towards food that was cheap and convenient. The methods that traditionally guided agriculture were replaced by a new, industrial system that become known as intensive farming. 1The result of increasingly intensive production is that soil has been negatively aged in the UK, some estimate by as much as up to 10,000 years in the last 40 years. This soil degradation coupled with mass insect decline – predominantly caused by pesticide use – and decline in biodiversity has led the Institute for Public Policy Research to announce an ‘age of environmental breakdown’. 2This crisis has significant implications for global economic and social stability.

To address the deteriorating condition of our planet there is an emerging consensus that we need to think towards regenerative farming and 3economic practices, including new political policies which incentivise sustainable and environmentally-friendly farming operations and encourage societal dietary change. The mitigation of the impact of 4intensive farming and pesticide use whilst maintaining food production for UK’s growing population can be achieved by adequate support and optimising the productivity of traditional 5small-scale farming systems which use agroecological and/or organic practices, for instance by using principles of conservation (zero/minimal tillage) agriculture (CA). Presently only 3 % of the UK arable area is farmed using 6conservation agriculture. By refocusing diets around plant-based proteins and pasture-fed livestock, and away from grain fed white meat, Europe would be able to feed its growing population whilst maintaining export capacity and domestic yield and cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 40%, within 10 years, if it switched entirely to environmentally-friendly farming systems. Such a dietary and farming change could address multiple health and environmental challenges synergistically: aiding the reverse of the global burden of chronic disease, such as obesity and diabetes.

The state of the current crisis can be summarised below:

  • 7Between 1980 and 1995, 18% of soil organic matter (SOM) in arable soil was lost, resulting in UK arable soil containing less than 2% organic matter; they should contain 3-6%.
  • 52% of soils worldwide are degraded; 25% severely degraded
  • In the UK, 2.2 million tonnes of soil is eroded every year
  • 85% of fertile peat topsoil in East Anglia has been lost
  • more than half of the EU’s cereals and oilseed crops are fed to animals
  • 70% of UK diet consists of processed foods; 51% of family food purchases consist of ultra-processed foods, the highest proportion in western Europe (compares to 14% in France).
  • 80% of processed food is made from just four crops: soy, maize, wheat and meat.
  • The UK produces circa 60% of food consumed and rely on the EU for circa 30% of food imports
  • Over the last two decades, approximately 20% of the earths vegetated surface has become less productive
  • Organic agriculture covers 58m hectares (143 million acres) worldwide, only 1% of global farmland.

Evidence of the environmental benefits provided by organic farming is strong:

  • Organic farms have on average 50% more wildlife than conventional farms
  • Organic farms have 44% higher levels of humic acid – the component of soil that stores carbon over the long term.
  • Organic farming can help tackle water pollution – with 35-65% less nitrogen and no persistent pesticides leaching.

Notwithstanding the more general ‘direct and existential threat’ of climate change there are specific consequences to human health. For example, exposure to pesticides has been observed to be a causative factor in cancer, hormonal disturbances, infertility, developmental delay in children, Parkinson’s, depression and Alzheimer’s. For instance, malathion, an organophosphate, has been found in human urine and is a known human carcinogen according to the World Health Organisation, indeed it is chemically related to a nerve gas developed during World War II.

There is a remarkable interrelationship between soil health and human health, via the gut microbiome. 8Building a healthy microbiome can deliver numerous health benefits. In particular, studies show that growing up in microbe-rich environments such as farms and/or close to nature can have protective health effects, particularly for allergies, autoimmune diseases and inflammatory bowel disease such as colon cancer: streptomyces, a bacterium found in both soil and the human gut has been found to supress colon tumorigenesis.

A second revolution is evidently needed, that will encompass change in growing methods and consumption habits. The world is capable of resetting a sustainable course. Tools exist to avoid the worst of what is to come: a carbon tax, the political apparatus to aggressively phase out dirty energy, a new approach to agricultural practices, including a shift away from beef and dairy, public and private investment in green energy and carbon capture. What is missing is political will to act – along with overcoming a degree of 9societal inertia, but there is 10hope.

 

Appendices

1There has been a huge increase in agricultural productivity over the past 100 years, but the world must increase its food production by a further 60% in the next 40 years to sustain a global population expected to top 10 billion by 2050. If food production increased along current lines, this would require additional landmass twice the area of India. This increased productivity is challenged by increasing shortage of water, the widespread decline in soil fertility, limited land remaining for cultivation, and unnecessary with food waste: it is estimated that 30%-50% of food produced in the UK is wasted.

2 “Climate change is a direct and existential threat, which will spare no country,” the EU statement warns, “and its impacts are already being felt across the globe, yet action to stem it remains insufficient,” it adds, urging all countries to “join in this necessary raising of ambition”.

3By factoring in environmental externalities in national balance sheets, governments and companies are encouraged to avoid incurring commercial loss, whilst maintaining natural capital. The media has a responsibility to accurately and effectively communicate powerful narratives to foster genuine public understanding of the environmental catastrophe, encouraging society to switch from the ‘take-make-dispose’ degenerative linear model to a more circular sustainable economy.

4Intensive farming:

  • Pesticide use has killed bees and myriad species of insects in very large numbers
  • Fertilisers contribute directly to climate change through the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide and pollution through ammonia; including causing catastrophic consequences of run-off: the largest ever maritime ‘dead zone’ was discovered last year in the Gulf of Mexico – the result of fertiliser and manure from the meat industry.

Alternatively, organic/agroecological farming methods consist of:

  • Using antibiotics on animals only when necessary
  • Cutting out chemical fertilisers and pesticides almost completely in favour of natural alternatives such as manure and wood ash as fertilisers and plant-derived pesticides and managing land to provide habitats for wildlife.

5More than 90% of farms worldwide are run by an individual or family and rely primarily on family labour, and they produce about 80% of the world’s food. In the UK successive governments have pursued policies that have led to farm consolidation, a reduction in agricultural jobs, and rural to urban migration and have incentivised highly mechanised corporate farms as family farms are abandoned: in the UK 33,500 commercial holdings between 2005 and 2015 ceased operating, more than 9 farms per day.

6Conservation agriculture follows the following three principles:

  1. Minimal soil disturbance: through the use of no-till seeding to enhance populations and activity if soil macro-biota such as earthworms and reduce soil compaction; less use of tractors reduces farm fuel use
  2. Permanent soil cover improves water absorption and groundwater recharge which reduces run-off
  3. Crop rotation: as traditionally used to control weeds, pests and diseases and to enhance resilience against bio-stressors; uses less or NIL agrochemicals

7Over the last two decades, approximately 20% of the Earths vegetated surface has become less productive due to loss of soil and environmental biodiversity, in turn due to forests converted to fields, overuse of pesticides and herbicides, overreliance on a narrow range of crop species (monocultures), the urbanisation of land, and pollution – rendering a severe threat to the worlds food supply.

8We have up to a thousand different species of bacteria in a healthy microbiome, and the diversity of their functions and beneficial interplay with our physiology is vast. This diversity offers us numerous substances, particularly complex sugars such as oligosaccharides and polyphenols. The large sugars work to feed gut flora in a way that causes greater reproduction and diversity, plus they secrete by-products as they break them down that support gut health. Polyphenols again are biotransformed by gut flora in ways that benefit the colony and again offer a substrate for growth, replication, and diversity.

9There is a risk that talk of ‘crisis’ induces paralysis instead of action. Climate change is ‘really an economic and social problem with moral and political complexities – it’s about human rights and armed conflict and so many things’. Unlike single-use plastic and pollution, with climate change there is no direct immediate tangible impact: the notion that one’s behaviour affects climate change in the future is too complex and vague for most people. People have a very little ‘pool of worry’; issues are easily displaced other concerns – we only have certain mental capacity to worry about issues. Secondly, we have ‘single-action bias: the belief that we have resolved something big by taking on a single activity. Thirdly: ‘moral licence’; a bad activity is justified by adopting a behaviour one considers to be good (recycling behaviour is a common example). There is complacency over rising sea levels: a rise of between 4-8 feet is synonymous with the devastation coursed by an extended nuclear war. Furthermore, every return-flight from London to New York causes the Arctic to lose three square metres of ice. Global plastic production is expected to treble by 2050, by which point there will be more plastic than fish in the planet’s oceans. For every half-degree of warming, societies see between a 10 – 20% increase in the likelihood of armed conflict. “Humankind” as the bird is TS Eliots Foure Quartets points out, “cannot bear very much reality”.

10Phillip Hammonds ‘green’ spring statement covered aviation emissions, housing, energy efficiency and green gas, including the launch of a global and national review into the link between biodiversity and economic growth. A pioneering trial recently started in Norfolk to explore whether grazing sheep within crop rotations could bring mutual benefits to both arable and livestock farmer, such as improved health and weight gain of the sheep (including lower worm and parasite risk) whilst increasing yield with improved soil health and organic matter (from the sheep’s manure)

Top 3 Herbs for Haemorrhoids: How to Make Your Own Herbal Suppositories

A haemorrhoid or pile is a dilation of the internal haemorrhoidal plexus. Haemorrhoids are associated with a low-fibre, unrefined diet, and increased abdominal pressure, such as for example when lifting, during pregnancy, straining on the toilet (constipation) and sneezing or coughing etc. There is also a hereditary component to it’s aetiology. Studies suggest haemorrhoids affect 13-36% of the UK general population. Haemorrhoids share similar pathophysiology and aetiology to venous insufficiency/varicose veins, hence this preparation is therapeutically indicated in these conditions.

Top 3 Herbs:

1. Aesculus hippocastanum (semen) (Horse Chestnut seed)

Properties: high in tannic acid and aesculin/aescin (a saponin)

Activity: venotonic, anti-oedematous, and anti-inflammatory: astringent and haemostatic.

Indications: haemorrhoids; rectal irritation/itching, sensation of heat or aching of rectum

Energetics: cooling, drying, and slightly constricting (astringent)

Studies of aescin have revealed clinically significant activity in chronic venous insufficiency (CVI), haemorrhoids and post-operative oedema: in one controlled trial aescin was shown to be as effective as compression therapy as a treatment for CVI. Pharmacodynamically it’s effects are due to improving the entry of ions into channels, thus raising venous tension.

 

2. Ruscus aculeatus (radix) (Butchers Broom root)

 

Image result for butchers broom

Properties: contains ruscogenin (a steroidal saponin); high in tannic acid

Activity: venotonic, anti-oedematous, and anti-inflammatory: astringent and haemostatic

Indications: haemorrhoids; rectal irritation/itching, sensation of heat/burning or aching of rectum

Energetics: drying and constricting (astringent)

Studies reveal evidence for symptomatic relief of chronic venous insufficiency, such as painful, heavy and tired legs and for haemorrhoids, such as itching and burning of the anus: in observational studies involving 1,800 participants suffering from haemorrhoids that were treated with suppositories containing ruscogenin, efficacy of treatment was evaluated as very good in 85%-93% of cases.

 

3. Quercus robur (suber) (Common Oak bark)

 

Image result for Oak tree

Properties: rich in tannic acid

Activity: venotonic, anti-odematus, and anti-inflammatory: astringent, haemostatic, and anti-microbial and antiseptic

Indications: haemorrhoids; rectal irritation/itching, sensation of heat or aching of rectum; diarrhoea (following gastrointestinal inflammation), topically on open discharging lesions/wounds and burns

Energetics: cooling, drying, and constricting (astringent)

Oak bark is rich in tannins: containing 15-20% tannins (including phlobatitannin, ellagitannins and gallic acid), which are powerfully astringent: tightening, drying, binding, and toning of tissues – reducing excess discharges. These properties can help to ease the inflammatory congested rectal mucosa by toning the dilated venous tissues.

Cocoa Butter (Theobroma oil)

 

Image result for cocoa butter

 A rich base or carrier oil, that:

  • Emollient: moisturising, soothing and nourishing the rectal mucosal wall
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Anti-oxidant

 

Recipe

Aesculus hippocastanum (semen) (Horse Chestnut seed). 500g (powdered)

Ruscus aculeatus (radix) (Butchers Broom root). 500g (powdered)

Quercus robur (suber) (Common Oak bark). 500g (powdered)

Cocoa Butter (Theobroma oil). 1kg

1:1.5 ratio (cocoa butter to dried, powdered herb). Herbs used in equal 1/3 parts.

 

Method

  • Melt cocoa butter in a bain-marie or slow cooker (on ‘warm’ setting: circa 65-75 degrees centigrade)
  • Add and blend in powdered herb
  • Infuse for 24 hours, stirring occasionally
  • Pour through medium sieve
  • *Form into small pellets using a mould, leave to harden/set

* Make a mould by wrapping tin foil around the handle of a wooden kitchen spoon. Carefully slide out the handle to leave a cylindrical cast. Pinch one end closed, and stack in a jar. Use a pipette or funnel to pour the oil into the moulds.

 

Herbal suppositories should be seen as an adjunct to a more comprehensive treatment ‘package’, which should include:

  • Consuming high-fibre diet, rich in vegetables, fruits, legumes and whole grains (with possible further supplementation of natural bulking agents, such as flaxseed, chia, and psyllium seeds): promotes peristalsis and keeps faeces soft and bulky and therefore easier to pass with less straining
  • Address possible underlying liver disease: liver cirrhosis causes portal hypertension, which increases venous congestion in the perianal region
  • Consume pro-anthocyanidin and anthocyanidin-rich foods to enhance integrity of venous structures (for example, blackberries, and blueberries etc)
  • Consider hydrotherapy: alternating warm/cold sitz baths relieves pain and improves blood flow for uncomplicated acute flare-ups
  • Consume breakfast: 7.5-fold increases in odd of haemorrhoids in persons who do not eat breakfast.

 

Patient guidance notes

Take one (1) suppository per day, at bedtime: insert into the rectum. For symptomatic relief of mild, non-complicated haemorrhoids, for example, itching, burning and pain of the anus. Administer for up to four weeks. If adverse reaction occurs or symptoms persist, seek medical advice. Store in a cool, dry place, preferably in the fridge. Do not exceed stated dose.

How to Plant a Hedge

To border my medicinal herb micro-farm I am planting a circa 40m long hawthorn (crataegus) hedge using 1-year-old (‘whips’) bare roots. As this is a substantial length of native hedge, I am using the quick’n’easy ‘slit’ technique to plant the ‘whips’, firming in with ones heel.

A quick guide to planting:

Before your plants arrive:
  • If you think that you will not be able to plant your hedge within a few days of receipt, prepare an area of ground, by digging out a shallow trench to about a spade’s depth, so that you can ‘heel in’ bare root plants as soon as possible. A vegetable patch is ideal for this purpose.
  • If the weather at the time is cold or frosty, or if the ground is waterlogged or snow-covered, cover the prepared area with clear or black polythene to warm up the soil before your plants arrive.
  • If possible prepare the final area to be planted in advance. Preparation will depend on soil type, the location, conditions of planting and varieties to be planted. Where practical, it is best to dig out a trench about 2-foot wide and 1 spade’s depth, and then fork over the base of the trench to break up any compacted soil. Place a layer of well-rotted manure or compost in the base of the trench and fork this over to incorporate it with the soil. Further manure or compost and sterilised bone meal can be added and mixed with the remaining soil when back filling around the plants. For substantial lengths of native hedge etc, where digging a trench is not practical, spray off the strip to be planted with a glyphosate based weedkiller (i.e. Roundup) a few weeks prior to planting; allow the weeds/grass to die back, then lightly fork over the ground to loosen the soil. The plants can be planted using a spade to make a slit into which the roots are pushed, then firm in with your heel.
  • If using Landscape Fabric or mulch material, back fill the planting trench so that the soil is a few inches above the surrounding level to allow for the soil to settle, and lay the material on top of the soil along the length of the trench, pegging it down with staples every 1-2 metres or bury the edges. Then cut crossed slits approx 6” long at the spacing required. To plant, use a trowel/small spade through the holes, place the plant in the hole and back fill, firming the soil around the roots.
When your plants arrive
  • Unpack and inspect your plants immediately. All plants will deteriorate if left in their packaging for too long.
  • Bare-root plants can be kept for a few days in a shed or garage out of wind and sun, with their outer packaging removed, but roots still wrapped and kept damp.
  • If you are not able to plant for more than a few days, heel in bare-rooted plants in a pre-prepared trench immediately after soaking. Make sure that all roots are well covered with soil.
  • Water the plants in even if the soil is damp, as this will help the soil settle around the roots.
  • Keep the roots damp until you are ready to plant.
  • Pot grown plants can be set aside in a sheltered area until required and should be
     watered regularly.
Planting
  • Do not attempt to plant in their final position if the ground is frozen or waterlogged.
  • If the plants have been heeled in prior to planting, gently loosen the soil around the roots with a fork. Pull the plants out of the soil taking care to minimise root damage.
  • Soak the roots, and keep them in a plastic sack until planting, only getting out a few at a time as required. Never leave bare roots exposed to sun or drying winds.
  • If using rootgrowTM, dip the roots in the gel solution now, just prior to planting.
  • Set the plants out in their planting position at their recommended spacings. Back fill the trench with soil and incorporated organic matter, making sure that all the roots are well covered.
  • For substantial lengths of native hedge etc, ‘slit’ plant and firm in with your heel.
  • Firm the soil around the roots and water in well.

Aftercare
  • Care in the first few years after planting is essential for your hedge to survive and thrive. By following these tips you can be assured of vigorous, healthy growth:
  • Watering: Your hedge will require regular watering for at least the first three years after planting. Through the first Winter, check regularly that the soil along the hedge has not become dry, if necessary water at a rate of 2-4 litres per plant. From Spring water once or twice weekly at a rate of 2-4 litres per plant. In hot dry weather, water plants at least every 2 days at a rate of 4 litres + per plant, preferably in the evening. We would strongly recommend the use of porous soaker hose for this purpose. Plants should not need watering in subsequent Autumn/Winters unless conditions are very dry. Keep watering through Spring and Summer for the second and third years as before. In subsequent years watering should only be necessary in hot dry spells.
  • Feeding: Because hedge plants are grown in close proximity to one another they are very demanding for nutrients. Organic matter or a balanced slow release granular fertiliser should be applied to soil along the hedge in Spring and again in early Summer. Liquid fertilisers can be applied at any time through the growing season to promote healthy growth. Do not feed with high nitrogen fertilisers after the end of July, as this encourages soft lush growth, which can be susceptible to frost damage.
  • Weeding: The area along the hedge line and at least 6” outside the ultimate width of the hedge should be kept weed free to minimise competition for water and nutrients. Some hand weeding will always be necessary between plants. The easiest way of controlling weeds is by using mulch materials or landscape fabric. If using chemical controls, always check the manufacturer’s recommendations before use. The majority of suitable chemical herbicides should only be used when the plants are dormant between November and March. Spiral or similar guards should be used to protect young hedge plants from direct contact with spray.
  • Clipping: For hedging most deciduous plants should be pruned by up to a third in the first year of planting. Some benefit from harder pruning, notably: Hawthorn, Blackthorn, Myrobolan Plum and Privet. Although this may seem drastic it will encourage the plant to produce side and basal shoots, and so create a bushier hedge. In general conifers and evergreens should only be clipped along their sides until they have reached the desired height and then should be trimmed to 10% below the height required, to allow for re-growth. Clipping should always be carried out at least once a year, usually in mid-late Summer or late winter, to keep a hedge in shape.
  • Protecting: If rabbits or hares are known to be a problem in your area you will need to protect young plants with guards or wire mesh fencing. These will also give some protection from deer damage. Spiral guards should be removed after 3-5 growing seasons to allow lower branches to develop – after this time plants will be less susceptible to severe damage. In areas of serious infestation, a wire mesh fence is the only answer. The bottom 6-12” of the wire should be buried below soil level to prevent rabbits burrowing underneath. Above ground, secure the mesh to stout stakes at regular intervals. All our plants are grown outside and are fully hardy, however in exposed areas some young hedge plants may need protection from cold and strong winds. Holly, Laurel, Lonicera, Lavender, Rosemary, and Evergreen Oak are particularly at risk from harsh Winter and early Spring weather. Protection for these and other species can be provided by erecting windbreak netting secured to stakes along the windward side of the hedge. In particularly harsh spells ‘at risk’ plants should be covered with fleece material.

Top 10 Culinary Herbs

Profitable Herbs: An Introductory Guide to Growing the Top Twenty Culinary & Medicinal Herbs on a Market Scale

Below is a draft extract from an eBook I am writing, titled: Profitable Herbs: An Introductory Guide to Growing the Top Twenty Culinary & Medicinal Herbs on a Market Scale

BASIL (Ocimum basilicum)

Basil is the most popular culinary herb. There are many popular varieties to choose from, but you should stick to common sweet basil when you are first starting out. The strong, clove-like flavour of basil is an essential feature of many Italian recipes and its traditional partner is the tomato – spaghetti sauce, pizzas, tomato sauce and tomato salad all call for basil.

Basil is an extremely tender plant, and should not be put outdoors until all danger of frost is past. Start the seeds indoors in a transplant plug tray. The 200 plug tray works great for herbs.

The seeds should germinate in 7-10 days. Mist the soil every day until sprouts appear. When the new seedlings are about 3 inches high, transplant to a larger pot and fertilise with a liquid seaweed or fish fertiliser, watering as needed.

By keeping a cover on your growing beds, the tender basil plants will adapt to the cooler outdoors. When flower buds start to form, pinch out the buds to encourage bushy aromatic foliage. Start a second batch of basil seeds every two or three weeks to provide fresh plants during the selling season. Basil will be your best selling herb, so you’ll need lots of it.

CHIVES (Allium schoenoprasum)

This standard chive is better for the market grower than the more exotic varieties such as garlic chives. A mild-mannered member of the onion family – its grass-like stems can be cut from March to October. A herb with many uses – add finely-chopped chives to potato salad, stuffed eggs, soups, salads, omelettes, cream cheese and sauces. Obviously a herb everyone should grow!

Chives do better in clumps, so you’ll want to start the seeds in a cluster of several seeds. Mist the seeds every day until they germinate, which will be about a week.

Now you can start watering the plants, being careful to water only the base of the plants. A morning watering is best for almost all herb plants. Two weeks after sprouts appear, fertilise with liquid seaweed or fish fertiliser. Chives are quite hardy, so you can safely set them out in the growing bed in cooler weather.

Never leave the flower-heads to open if you want a regular supply of leaves.

CORIANDER (Coriandrum sativum)

The leafy parts of this annual herb are known as cilantro, while the seeds are called coriander. Coriander is a popular culinary herb that also has medicinal properties, as it is widely used to maintain digestive health. It’s a popular herb at the farmers market.

Cilantro prefers moist soil and a cool growing climate – too hot and it will bolt. Put two seeds in each plug, lightly misting until the plants sprout. A weekly boost of liquid seaweed or fish fertiliser will help the plants reach “ready-to-sell” stage sooner.

MARJORAM (Marjorana hortensis)

Sweet marjoram is a herb with a delicate flavour similar to oregano. Of the dozens of varieties available, the sweet variety is the most popular for culinary use, including the edible flowers. Calming and soothing, it’s also used in aromatherapy.

Put two or three seeds in each plug, then mist until they sprout. Thin to the best plant, and give it a boost of liquid fertiliser. Pinch out the tops after the plant has grown a bit to encourage bushing out.

OREGANO (Origanum)

Oregano is almost as important as tomatoes in Italian cooking. This popular herb offers an unforgettable taste and aroma. A hardy perennial from the marjoram family, oregano is also used as a garnish for stews, gravies and soups.

The best oregano variety for culinary use is Greek oregano. Many growers have had success offering an “Italian Herb” combo of oregano, rosemary and sage. Price the combo at 10 percent less that the price of three individual pots, and you’ll sell lots of them!

MINT (Mentha)

The hardy mint family, including applemint, chocolate mint, orange mint, spearmint (garden mint) and peppermint, are vigorous plants, and tolerate shady spots and cold weather well. Because of its vigor, it can be harvested as soon as it gets six inches high, by pinching off the tops as the plant grows. The mints are a favorite flavouring for teas, jellies, sweets and sauces. Bowles mint is the variety most highly recommended for mint sauce, and applemint (round-leafed mint) combines fragrance with a true minty flavour. Chocolate mint is a popular seller at farmers markets, with it’s unusual colouration. The large commercial growers harvest peppermint and spearmint for their oil. One member of the mint family, pennyroyal, is used in sachets to repel moths and added to dog beds to discourage fleas.

Sprigs of mint are added to the water when new potatoes and peas are boiled, but it’s most popular use is as the basic ingredient in mint sauce or mint jelly with roast lamb!

PARSLEY (Petroselinium)

Parsley is so well known that it is often considered more a vegetable than a herb. The ancient Greeks wove it into victory crowns for the athletic games, and fed it to racehorses to make them run faster.

Today, parsley is widely used as a decorative herb, in bouquet garni, and in soups, stews, sauces and stuffing. The leaves are known as a breath sweetener and rich in vitamins and minerals. The flat-leaf varieties are more nutritious than the curly types, and sell out faster at the market.

Germination is slow – it may take up to a couple of months.

The garnish par excellence: an ingredient in fines herbes and a bouquet garni. White sauce with chopped parsley is popular, but for something different try parsley fried until crisp and served with fish.

ROSEMARY (Rosemarinus officinalis)

The Grete Herball of 1526 suggested that rosemary was a good cure “for weyknesse of ye brain”.

This evergreen plant is native to the Mediterranean region, where it can reach a height of six feet and live as long as twenty years. Rosemary is one of the most popular culinary herbs, used to flavour soups, stews and meats.

It is also used as an insect repellant, and as an ingredient in herbal mouthwash. It can be difficult to grow from seed, but can be propagated from stem cuttings of new growth in the spring.

SAGE (Salvia officinalis)

Garden sage is a hardy perennial that’s a member of the mint family. There are several varieties available, but the most commonly grown is S. officinalis, with purple flowers. Sage is an important culinary herb, widely used in stuffings, soups, gravies, meats (such as veal or pork), eggs and sausage, however its main role is to accompany onions in the traditional stuffing for duck and goose. Sage jelly has a uniquely delicious flavour. Sage is also medicinal: it was ‘said by the English herbalist Gerard in 1597 to be “good for the head and brain, it quickeneth the senses and memory”, a sentiment echoed by Culpeper (“excellent … to help the memory”). An old English proverb states that “He that would live for aye/Must eat sage in May”.

TARRAGON (Artemesia dracunculus)

Hippocrates, the “father of medicine”, was prescribing tarragon for a variety of ailments over two thousand years ago. In the Middle Ages, pilgrims put sprigs of tarragon in their shoes for increased endurance on their journey.

Today, this hardy perennial is one of the most popular culinary herbs and has been described as the ‘king of herbs.’ It enhances the flavours of other herbs and gives a unique flavour to egg, fish and chicken dishes, salads and sauces. Of all the herb vinegars, none is better known than tarragon vinegar. Tarragon is also an essential ingredient in tartar sauce and sauce Bernaise.

The tarragon sold as a culinary herb is French tarragon, which must be grown from cuttings or purchased plants. Buy a few plants, and propagate your own tarragon from stem cuttings of new growth in the spring.

THYME (Thymus vulgaris)

Another member of the mint family, thyme has dozens of variations in shape, texture and flavour. Common thyme is the most widely used culinary variety, and is sometimes also called Garden thyme, English thyme or French thyme. Lemon thyme (an excellent ingredient for custard) is a popular seller at the Saturday market.

Because thyme keeps it’s aroma well when dried, it is an excellent winter herb for flavouring bouquet garni, soups and stews. Thyme is often used as a ground cover in orchards to attract bees for pollination.

Thyme is the traditional partner for parsley in the stuffing of poultry.

Top Ten Medicinal Herbs

Walk into almost any shop, and you’ll find herbs used in an amazing variety of products: soaps, candles, teas, potpourris, medicines, and bath oils.

It’s easy for a newcomer to the herb business to get overwhelmed by all the choices. You can focus on just growing herbal plants, making herbal products or decorations, growing herbs for the fresh-cut market, drying herbs for use in valued-added products or selling to the wholesale and bulk herb buyers – the list goes on! It’s important for newcomers to find a niche that fits both their experience level, skills and the local market.

Starting a herb nursery can be a wonderful way for novices to turn their love of plants and gardening into cash, using potted plants as your special “niche” and selling outside your front door or at a local farmers market.

The secret to making good money with a  herb nursery is to specialise in high demand popular plants (‘cash crop’) that can be container grown to save space, time and water.

Below is a draft extract from an eBook I am writing, titled: Profitable Herbs: An Introductory Guide to Growing the Top Twenty Culinary & Medicinal Herbs on a Market Scale

CALENDULA (Calendula officinalis)

Apparently King Henry VIII’s cooks often used calendula flowers to season his meals as he loved rich and colourful food. Hence the nickname “pot marigold”. Calendula is often used in skin preparations, and also for digestive concerns. Calendula promotes cellular healing and also has antiseptic, antimicrobial and antiviral activity.

The flowers can easily be made into tinctures, ointments and salves, or used as a foot or body soak. To improve its potency as a medicinal herb, grow varieties with a high resin content, such as “Resina” or “Erfurter Orangefarbige” – which produces larger, high yielding dense flowers.

This strikingly beautiful plant is one that is great to showcase! People and pollinators will flock to its lovely colour and sunny disposition.

This is one of the easiest medicinal herbs to grow. The flowers are harvested before the plant starts putting energy into seed making, maximizing the resin content.

CATNIP (Nepeta cataria)

This pet favorite acts as a stimulant on cats, but as a soothing sedative for people. In addition, it can provide pain and stress relief and help with cold and flu symptoms.

Catnip is a member of the mint family and contain volatile oils, sterols, acids and tannins. Native to Europe, Asia and Africa, the plant was brought to North America by settlers; nowadays, the plant is popular in herb gardens and grows widely as a weed.

Catnip is considered to be non-addictive and completely harmless to cats.

Catnip is used in medicinal tinctures, salves and foot soaks. It’s also a popular ingredient in ‘dream pillows’. 

CHAMOMILE (Matricaria recutita)

We can thank Peter Rabbit for cultivating a love of chamomile in generations of parents and children alike. As the story indicates, chamomile is a tasty nervine and has a calming effect on both the nervous and digestive systems. The fresh picked flowers make a soothing tea, which aids sleep.

German chamomile is the variety to grow, producing harvestable flowers in just over two months. It’s easy to grow, and fast to produce a saleable potted plant. You’ll have better luck with early plantings, as it tends to bolt in the hot summer.

ECHINACEA (Echinacea augustifolia, Echinacea purpurea)

This is a high demand herb that sells well as a potted plant. It stimulates the immune system, and is often used for colds and flu, respiratory and skin conditions. Specifically it increases the macrophage T-cell activity and helps boost the immune response at the onset of infection. Although the whole plant – roots, leaves and flowers – are typically used in crafting herbal products, the flowers and leaves are more commonly used.

This is fortunate for beginner growers, as the flowers and leaves can be harvested in the first and second year, while the roots take longer to mature. Echinacea augustifolia is the native plant that has traditionally been harvested in the wild.

LAVENDER (Lavender augustifolia)

Lavender has been called the “Swiss army knife” of herbs because it has so many uses. At any given market of health food store you can easily find lavender in soaps, sachets, essential oils, lotions, salves, extracts, teas, decorative weavings, baked goods, flavourings, body powders, and bath salts.

Everyone loves the fragrant flowers, but not everyone knows that the leaves, stems and flowers are all medicinally useful for skin care, women’s and children’s health, nervous system conditions and pain relief: reducing anxiety, promoting relaxation and restoring a sense of well-being. The essential oil extracted from lavender is one of the top ten in the perfume industry, and anyone with a plant or two at home can easily use the same essential oil simply by making an infusion or tincture.

Lavender is also widely used for foot soaks, bath soaks and for sleep/dream pillows.

The essential oil is also good to use directly on insect bites and stings to reduce inflammation and pain.

LEMON BALM (Melissa officinalis)

This popular herb is vigorous and easy to grow. Paracelsus, ‘sold balm to kings as an elixir of life and as a safeguard against early senility, while Avicenna, a doctor in 10th-century Syria, proclaimed that the herb “maketh the heart merry and strengtheneth the vitall spirits”.

The strongly scented leaves and flowers (full of volatile oils) make a popular tea, that is beneficial to the digestive tract, and boosts the immune system – being an old remedy for feverish colds. It’s also considered a great stress reducer: calming the nervous system and aiding restful sleep.

The dried leaves of lemon balm are perfect for ‘dream pillows’. Trimming the plant back after flowering will encourage vigorous leafy growth.

LEMON VERBENA (Aloysia triphylla)

Like lemon (or bee) balm this herb has leaves which emit a strong lemon aroma. Indeed, it is reputed to have the most intensive aroma of all the ‘lemon’ herbs. The leaves of this popular herb, which contain an abundance of volatile oils, make a wonderful, refreshing tea (particularly when combined with mint).

For maximum potency and flavour, harvest the leaves just before using them whenever possible. The leaves can also be dried for future tea making.

Lemon verbena tea is used for calming, as a digestive aid and as a sleep aid. It is best propagated from softwood stem cuttings rather than from seed. Buy a plant or two, then take cuttings from the new softwood. Use a rooting hormone, and stick the cuttings in potting compost to propagate new plants.

It is a tender plant, so make sure it has protection in colder weather.

PEPPERMINT (Mentha aquatica x M. spicata)

The savour smell of the water Mint rejoiceth the heart of man for which cause they strowe it in chambers and places of recreation, pleasur, and repose, and where feasts and banquets are made. John Gerard, The Herball; or, Generall Historie of Plantes (1597)

Peppermint is a hybrid between mentha aquatica and M. spicata. Peppermint has been in existence for a long time – dried leaves were found in Egyptian pyramids dating from around 1000 BCE. In was highly valued by the Greeks and Romans, but only became popular in Western Europe in the 18th century, when it was first ‘discovered’, in Hertfordshire. It’s flavour soon became so popular that it was widely cultivated.

Peppermint’s chief therapeutic value lies in its ability to relieve wind, flatulence, bloating and colic, though it has many other applications. Propagated from seed and harvest just before it flowers, in dry sunny weather.

MILK THISTLE (Silybum marianum)

Milk (or Marian) thistle has been used in Europe as a remedy for depression and liver problems for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.

It has characteristic white veins in it’s leaves, which have given rise to the folklore that Our Lady’s milk leaked into the leaves when she was feeding the infant Christ.

Recent research has confirmed traditional knowledge, proving that the herb has a remarkable ability to protect the liver from damage resulting from alcoholic and other types of poisoning. Today, milk thistle is widely used in the West for the treatment of a range of liver conditions.

Milk thistle prefers a sunny position and self-seeds readily. The flowerheads are picked in full bloom in early summer and the seeds are collected in late summer.

DANDELION (Taraxacum officinale)

Known principally as a weed, dandelion has an astonishing range of health benefits. In Western folk medicine, the leaves, which can be eaten in salads, have long been used as a diuretic. They were recommended in the works of Arab physicians in the 11th century, and in a herbal written by the physicians of Myddfai in Wales in the 13th century.

The root, which has a shorter history of medicinal use, is anticarcinogenic and good for the liver.

As recently as the 1930’s, teams of root-diggers in East Anglia made a living from foraging wild dandelion root.

Propagated from seed. Young leaves can be picked in the spring for use in tonic salads. The root of 2-year-old plants is unearthed in autumn.

ST JOHN’S WORT (Hypericum perforatum)

So then about her brow

They bound Hypericum, whose potent leaves

Have sovereign power o’er all the sullen fits

And cheerless fancies that besiege the mind;

Banishing ever, to their native night,

Dark thoughts, and causing to spring up within

The heart distress’d a glow of gladdening hope,

And rainbow visions of kind destiny.

Alfred Lear Huxford, quoted Anne Pratt, Wild Flowers (1898)

Mention St. John’s wort, and most folks immediately think “herbal antidepressant.” But in addition to its mood altering abilities, St John’s wort is valued for immune support, cold and flu prevention and – as a healing salve – a skin treatment and topical analgesic for muscular aches.

The healing ingredient in St. John’s wort, hypericin, is found in the flowering tops and not other parts of the plant. Wait until the plant is in full bloom before harvesting to get the full healing benefits.

STEVIA (Stevia rebaudiana)

The leaves and flowers of this herb are very sweet, which is why stevia is widely used as a sweetener. Even though it’s calorie-free, the plant extract can taste 200 times sweeter than the same amount of granulated table sugar. A little goes a long way.

It’s also been used to heal cuts and wounds with less scarring, improve digestion, help with skin conditions such as acne, eczema and dermatitis, reduce plaque and inhibit tooth decay and even reduce the desire for alcohol. No wonder stevia is such a popular herb!

It’s been used as a sweetener by Native Americans for centuries and is naturally grown in Brazil and Paraguay, where it has been used for hundreds of years.

As Stevia is a heat-loving plant, growers will need to protect it from colder temperatures.

Backmen & Bonesetters: A Rural Occupation

My great-grandmother, Leonora Weeks, winning a 100 mile endurance event in 1938.

The origin of osteopathy: ‘bone-setting’ and horses

The earliest historical reference to the practice of manipulative therapy in Europe, dates back to 400 BCE: nearly 2,500 years ago. However, there is strong evidence of the use of manual therapeutic procedures in ancient Asia, to be at least 4,000 years old. That’s 1,500 years before Hippocrates.

Osteopathy has strong historical linkage with the ancient indigenous craft of ‘bone-setting’. Indeed, the development of orthopaedic medicine in the UK, along with most manual therapies, has is roots firmly in bone-setting.

Physical or manual therapy for animals can trace its documented origins in the UK, back to at least the early 20th century, however it is thought Native Americans used to use manual manipulative medicine to treat their horses. This area is a field of growth due to increasing awareness and recognition, by both horse-owners and the medical community – brought about by a flourishing scientific evidence-base, which has matured in recent years.

There a long history of ‘bone-setters’ in Britain and (the ‘fear cnámh’ or bone-men) of Ireland: where the art and skill of bone-setting was and still is passed down the generations. Originally practiced in rural settings, the ‘fear cnámh’ or bone-men of Ireland, were and still are mostly from a farming background, who originally practiced bone-setting with their horses, before treating people.

Much of the bone-setter’s skill has been inherited and enriched upon by Still’s (the founder of osteopathy) osteopathic philosophy and application of manual techniques. Thus many bone-setters techniques are inherently being used in osteopathy and other manual therapies today, however 4 to 5 years of rigorous university masters level degree training and statutory regulation, accompanied by a strong scientific evidence-base and unified philosophy, distinguishes bone-setters of the past from osteopaths of today.

Frances’ late grandfather and grandmother driving cart.

It is acknowledged that some form of manual manipulative therapy was and still is widely practised in many cultures and often in remote worldwide communities such as by the Balinese of Indonesia, the Lomi-Lomi of Hawaii, in areas of Japan, China and India, by the shamans of Central Asia, by sabodors in Mexico, by bone-setters of Nepal as well as by bone-setters in Russia and Norway.

In the western world, osteopathy shares a strong historical linkage with the the Roman and Greek ‘skeleton men’ and the ancient Egyptian ‘men of the hands’. There are written descriptions of manipulative manual therapy by Hippocrates, who in Periarthron described various manipulative techniques. Such descriptions are reproduced down the centuries; they appear in the writings of the Roman physician Galen and in Arabic medical texts.

Osteopathy

Osteopathy is a statutorily regulated (regulated by law) primary healthcare (first point of contact/doesn’t need referral) profession, which has been practised since the 1870s. Osteopaths are established members of the primary health care (PHC) community and are increasingly working within the NHS. The British Medical Association’s guidance for general practitioners (GP’s) states that doctors can safely refer patients to osteopaths.

 

Inherited cart or trap, from Frances’ grandfather. The one he used to drive most often. It is going to be featured on BBC Two ‘The Repair Shop’ to be revitalised.

Osteopathy is a safe and effective means of diagnosis, treatment, prevention and rehabilitation of a wide range of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). A consultation with an osteopath includes a thorough case history and physical examination: assessing muscles and joints and observing movements. Orthopaedic tests and diagnostic clinical procedures, such as taking blood pressure, are also used to inform the diagnosis and to assess whether referral for further medical investigation is necessary. Treatment is based on manual mobilising and manipulative procedures and massage-type techniques, tailored to the individual patient and reinforced by guidance on diet, lifestyle and exercise. It is not just about backs!

Rural France, late 19th century.

To qualify, an osteopath must study for four to five years in order togain an integrated-masters of osteopathy (M.Ost). This is similar to a medical degree, but with greater emphasis on musculoskeletal medicine. The degree includes more than 1,000 hours of clinical experience and training in osteopathic techniques.

By law, osteopaths must register with the General Osteopathic Council (GOsC). The title ‘osteopath’ is protected by law. It is an offence for anyone to call themselves an osteopath if they are not registered.

 

Osteopaths approach to patient care is informed by Evidence-Based Practice (EBP), the Biopsychosocial (BPS) model and the Clinical Guidelines, Standards of Practice and Code of Ethics, produced by the General Osteopathic Council (GOsC), the NHS; National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) and the EU.

All registered osteopaths abide by the standards for fitness to practise set by the Health Professions Council (HPC) and the osteopathic practice standards set by the General Osteopathic Council (GOsC), which sets and promotes high standards of competency, conduct and safety.

I like to think I have inherited my family’s ‘horsey heritage’. My great-great-grandfather, George Burton (above with family), was Head Coachman and Groom on two of the great north Norfolk estates, Felbrigg and Gunton.

Sarah “Crazy Sally” Mapp (died 1737) was an English lay bonesetter, who gained fame both by performing impressive bone-setting acts in London.

Commonly treated conditions include: back ache, neck strains and whiplash, migraines and headaches, changed to posture in pregnancy and pre-menstrual symptoms, sports injuries, digestive problems/IBS, jaw and facial pain, repetitive strain injury (RSI), ‘frozen’ shoulder, rheumatic and arthritic symptoms, respiratory problems, ‘trapped’ nerve, muscle spasm. Osteopaths’ patients include the young, older people, manual workers, office professionals, pregnant women, children and sports people.

Those practising in the UK carry out more than seven million consultations every year with around 30,000 people currently consulting osteopaths every working day. Today, osteopathy is practiced in over 80 countries.

Anyone addressing themselves as an equine osteopath, should by law, have a degree in osteopathy and be registered with the General Osteopathic Council. 

 

Put simply, osteopaths use manual, ‘hands-on’ techniques to help remove tensions and restrictions in the body. Using a wide range of gentle, long-lever, rythmic manual techniques such as deep tissue massage, joint mobilisation, stretching and high-velocity low-amplitude thrust techniques, the goal of the osteopathic consultation is to evaluate the quality of physical movement on a local and general level and to restore mobility to restricted areas; be it joint or muscle.

Through mobilisation, massage and manipulation osteopathy can also help relieve inflammation – the bodies cardinal response to injury; encourage blood flow to and fluid drainage from the affected area, helping to dissipate swelling and inflammatory fluids and thus helping to reduce pain and joint stiffness.

Treatment works by improving the ‘fluid health’ of the area – facilitating optimum transportation of oxygen and nutrients to the injured tissue(s) thus promoting the repair process that is, healing.

5 Ways to Turn a Lawn into a Vegetable Patch…

…(The Agrarian Adventures Begin)

What exactly does it take to create a patch from scratch?

I’m about to find out as I try and turn half-an-acre into productive growing areas. The plan is three-fold; a cut flower plot (solely of Madonna lilies), a medical herb micro-farm (with semi-professional drying facilities/methods) and a kitchen garden.

From clearing the site and preparing the soil and deciding what to plant and where to plant it – this blog is a starting-out novices vicarious attempt to document my adventures in gardening and other similarly agrarian pursuits, pastoral pastimes and agricultural enterprises, from goat husbandry, cut flowers and beekeeping to falconry, instinctive archery and fly-fishing…

Wish me luck!

This is not another “back to the land fad” but a response to a personal and family need, to a concrete sensibility for the ‘common good’. Some people will roll their eyes and scoff at the idea of recovering an agrarian and craft-based culture; returning to a dedication to agricultural enterprises – seeing it as silly idealism, but I can’t see a need more real than food and family – can humanity go on without the two?

Growing your own can appear daunting, particularly if you have a large overgrown area to clear. I decided to draw up a vague plan and then get stuck in. Researching as I go along, in books and online, I also relied significantly on my intuition.

As I go along, I’ll share my progress (trials and tribulations), tips and upcoming tasks and aspirations, thoughts and ideas. My first such task centered on the issue of removing (or not removing) turf…

Sod Off, Turf!

Are you past the stage of needing a big lawn for football or is there a patch of sod, or turf, at the bottom of your garden or a large overgrown allotment nearby that you could clear and transform into vegetable plots?

Why not join the increasing numbers of people growing their own food?

Free Resources and Tutorials.

Don’t let turf get in your way. It doesn’t need to be back-breaking, indeed you don’t even have to touch a spade or fork.

Let’s walk through the options:

# 1. Cut and Remove by Hand

This method is slow and labour-intensive but allows you to start planting immediately.

Water the area a few days before to make the soil easier to work (or wait until resent rainfall). The soil should be moist but not sodden. Saturated soil is not only heavy but also susceptible to compaction, which leads to poor plant growth.

Cut the sod into parallel strips 1 foot wide using an edger or sharp spade. These strips can then be cut into 1- to 2-foot lengths, depending on the density of the turf and the thickness of the pieces. Next, pry up one end of a piece of sod and slide the spade or fork under it. Cut through any roots, and lift out the pre-cut piece. If the underside of the sod contains much loose soil, a fork may work best, as this soil (nutrient-rich humus) can be shaken back onto the surface when the sod is lifted.

Roll up the strips if you skip the crosscut step, and keep peeling the strip back. Keep in mind, though, that these rolls will be heavy.

Inspect your new bed’s subsoil. Once the sod is gone, look for and destroy potential pests, such as the larvae of insects. Remove any rocks, remaining clumps of grass, and sizable roots.

One drawback to sod removal is the significant loss of organic matter, which greatly contributes to the health of plants. It should be restored as compost (see below).

Pros: Permits immediate planting; avoids use of chemicals and loud machinery.

Cons: Is labour intensive; exposes subsoil to weed seeds by eliminating vegetative cover; removes organic matter.

Tip: Minimise injury or fatigue by using tools of appropriate length and grip and by sharpening your tools before using them.

# 2. Mulch (organic or inorganic)

Perhaps the easiest way to eliminate grass is to cover it using plastic, weed suppressant fabric or landscaping fabric or newspaper and cardboard, or indeed a combination of. Depending on the time of year and material used, this can take several months.

Check out ‘No Dig’ Gardening.

Stretch light-excluding plastic over the lawn. With the edges securely anchored (with ground peg or securing hooks) the temperature under the plastic increases. The high temperature and lack of light will eventually kill the grass, although they can also destroy beneficial organisms.

Laying cardboard or newspaper over the grass is a better alternative. Cover these biodegradable materials with grass clippings, leaf mold, mulch, or compost to hold the layers in place, keep in moisture, and add organic matter. Lay down six to eight sheets of newspaper. Use paper printed with black-and-white ink only, as colored ink may contain heavy metals.

Pros: Does not require the physical effort (‘No Dig’) of removing sod; leaves original organic matter in place; does not disrupt soil structure

Cons: Delays planting up to several months; may kill beneficial organisms if using plastic

Tip: Lay down newspaper layers during the summer, and wet them to help keep them in place. The following spring, the grass should be dead and much of the organic matter you’ve added will have been incorporated into the soil by earthworms and other organisms.

# 3. Rotavate

Breaking up sod with a rotavator requires some energy, but most of the work is done by it’s engine. Small rotavators can usually handle previously worked gardens, but breaking up well established sod requires a heavier machine and may require more than one pass. After rotavating the bed, remove and shake the soil from any remaining clumps of grass.

One advantage of rotavating is that the original organic matter is retained in the garden as the sod is turned under. You can add organic matter by forking or shoveling compost, manure, grass clippings, or leaf mold onto the sod before tilling.

A rotavated bed can be planted immediately, but the process brings to the surface weed seeds that may germinate and cause problems later. You may also wind up inadvertently propagating some weeds, which can send up new shoots from the small pieces of its chopped-up roots.

Pros: Retains organic matter; is quicker and easier than digging; permits immediate planting

Cons: Is difficult on rocky sites and in wet or clay soils; turns up weed seeds; propagates certain weeds

Tip: Large rotavators can be hard to manoeuvre. You will likely need to carve the edge of your new bed with a spade or edger, especially if the border is curved.

# 4. Raised beds

Turf  makes a nutritious base for your raised bed and will reduce the need for additional soil, however soil/compost will need to be brought in to fill the beds (they are raised after all).

Map out the space that you want to convert to a raised bed garden with a garden hose or flour.

Remove the turf from the area and set aside.

Build the bed

After you build your bed, flip the turf upside-down and lay on the base of the bed.

Cover the turf with some newspaper.

Top the bed up with soil or compost. Then, you are ready to plant!

 

Pros: Permits immediate planting; avoids use of chemicals and loud power tools; leaves original organic matter in place; does not disrupt soil structure.

Cons: Moderately labour-intensive and appropriate timber needs to be sought/bought.

Tip: Approach local timber mills or fencing contractors to ask after old  railway sleepers, fencing posts or scaffolding planks.

# 5. Cut and Remove with a Turf Cutter

An easier, quicker yet more costly approach is hiring landscaping machinery. However for the those lacking time or patience, £25 for a day’s hire could seem worthwhile. Plus you get to play with toy!

Water the area a few days before to make the soil easier to work or wait for recent rainfall before starting.

Make sure the turf is free from rocks.

Do a practice run to determine the optimal depth of the cut.

Work methodically, and sensibly – cutting 3-4 foot lengths at a time, rolling them up and removing with the use of a wheelbarrow.

Pros: Is quicker and easier than digging; permits immediate planting

Cons: Is difficult on rocky and uneven sites and in wet or clay soils

Tip: Turf cutters can be hard to manoeuvre. I found using a belt made all the difference – fashion a belt to wrap around your waist and the handlebar in order to decrease the strain through your arms and back: the added resistance encourages the blade to dig deeper into the soil, creating a better tilth.

# 5.1 Bonus combo-option! (what I did, that is)

Cut and lift the turf using a turf cutter and also hire a rotavator to till and prepare the subsoil for planting! Reasonably costly, but a quick-win. I lifted the turf and stacked it to form compost. I then covered the area’s in landscaping fabric. I will then lift the fabric in the winter and return the nutrient-rich composted turf back to the plots and re-cover with the fabric, ready for planting in the spring. I will then burn holes in the fabric to ensure weed-free, non-time-consuming gardening. I will write about how to correctly burn holes in landscaping fabric in the spring.

*Top Tip*

If you do decide to remove the turf, compost it! Stack the turf rolls or turf lengths in a pile to compost over a season. Make sure the grass is either folded in on it’s self (as in, rolled) or sandwich the turf strips – grass facing grass – in stacks (like lasagne?). The grass and humus will form a nutrient-rich compost which you can add back onto your plot the following season – replacing the soil and nutrients that you removed.

The option used is dictated by how much time, energy and dosh you’ve got to commit (say, with raised beds) as well as whether you have the patience to wait several months to start planting (say, with mulching). Are there more optimal methods to bring about better results?

Whatever you do, don’t be put off. Read. Ask for help. Get stuck in. It will be worth it!