Tag Archives: soil science

Books For Garden & Nature Lovers

Since starting an MSc in Gastronomy at Queen Margaret University I may not have had much time for gardening but I do seem to have acquired a lot of new books, fifty and counting to be precise.

The topics cover a broad spectrum including food culture, philosophy, history, agriculture, soil science, nutrition, rewilding, the effects of our agriculture systems on the environment, food communications, foraging and food production. I’ve not read them all yet, some are for reference and dipping in and out of and others have been complete page-turners.

Recently I’ve been asked for reading recommendations so here are some of my favourites from my newly acquired collection that relate to gardening, soil fertility, foraging and botany. In no particular order (although Feral by George Monbiot was an amazing read).

concisefloraThe Concise British Flora in Colour by W. Keeble Martin

First published in 1965 this is not a new book, however, the artwork is a delight to peruse and makes it possible to identify plants at different stages of growth, along with accompanying descriptions of habitat, time of flowering etc. The drawings are categorised into plant families which can help when looking up a specimen. Both the botanical (Latin) names are noted along with their more common names. A beautiful book for those who live in the country or have a love of flora whether wanting to identify plants or simple browse the pages.

rhsbotanyRHS Botany for Gardeners: The Art and Science of Gardening Explained & Explored 

RHS Botany for Gardeners is more than just a useful reference book on the science of botany and the language of horticulture – it’s a practical, hands-on guide that will help gardeners understand how plants grow, what affects their performance, and how to get better results. Illustrated throughout with beautiful botanical prints and simple diagrams. For easy navigation, the book is divided into chapters covering everything from Plant Pests to Pruning with feature spreads profiling the remarkable individuals who collected, studied and illustrated the plants that we grow today.

hiddenhalfThe Hidden Half of Nature – The Microbial Roots of Life and Health by David Montgomery and Anne Bikle

The Hidden Half of Nature lays out the astonishing reality we’ve been missing in the soil beneath our feet and right inside our bodies- our world depends on a foundation of invisible life. This is a captivating story of the least-loved part of nature, taking readers through major milestones in agriculture and medicine to untangle our uneasy relationship with microbes. From the challenge of turning their barren Seattle lot into a flourishing garden through Bikle’s struggle with a surprise cancer diagnosis, the authors discover the power nature’s smallest creatures wield over our lives and stunning parallels in the relationships that microbes develop with plant roots and the human gut.

cowssaveCows Save The Planet And Other Improbable Ways of Restoring Soil to Heal The Earth by Judith Schwartz

Journalist Judith Schwartz looks at soil as a crucible for our many overlapping environmental, economic, and social crises. Schwartz reveals that for many of these problems climate change, desertification, biodiversity loss, droughts, floods, wildfires, rural poverty, malnutrition, and obesity there are positive, alternative scenarios to the degradation and devastation we face. In each case, our ability to turn these crises into opportunities depends on how we treat the soil. Drawing on the work of thinkers and doers, renegade scientists and institutional whistleblowers from around the world, it challenges much conventional thinking about global warming and other issues.

hedgerowhandbookThe Hedgerow Handbook, Recipes, Remedies and Rituals by Adele Nozedar

If there’s one distinctive feature of the British countryside, it has to be the hedgerow. It’s not only plant life that thrives in the hedgerow – native wild animals, birds and insects are protected and nourished by them. Hedgerows can also provide fresh, wild food for us, too, Nozedar reintroduces the wild and natural hedgerow ingredients that our grandmothers used on a regular basis from angelica to borage, from pineapple weed to wild garlic, each entry is beautifully illustrated to help you identify each plant or flower, along with its history and folklore, and culinary and medicinal uses.

feralFeral: Rewilding The Land, Sea and Human Life by George Monbiot

How many of us sometimes feel that we are scratching at the walls of this life, seeking to find our way into a wider space beyond? That our mild, polite existence sometimes seems to crush the breath out of us? Feral is the lyrical and gripping story of George Monbiot’s efforts to re-engage with nature and discover a new way of living. He shows how, by restoring and rewilding our damaged ecosystems on land and at sea, we can bring wonder back into our lives. Making use of some remarkable scientific discoveries, Feral lays out a new, positive environmentalism, in which nature is allowed to find its own way.

Getting Experimental On The Allotment

A large focus of our Gastronomy MSc just now is soil science – with horrifying losses on a global scale (75 billion tonnes of soil are being lost each year due to erosion and poor land management and it takes nature 50-100 years to make 2.5cm of soil) and with a growing population this is a very real concern with regards to the future of our food supply.

img_1480

We’ve been studying the history of agriculture and different methods being used and have decided to get experimental on our own campus allotment and see how it goes. It’s fair to say that it’s very exposed and was certainly very windy out there for yesterday morning’s session. Note to self to take warmer clothing next time!

img_1481

We decided to try a no-till approach to two beds by cutting down the existing weeds, laying them down back down on the beds, covering them with cardboard and then heaping compost over the top and then covering them with burlap sacking. The aim of this is that the existing organic matter and microbes will continue to do their thing in the soil and we’ll keep the weeds out until we’re ready to plant in our lovely healthy soil in the Spring.

img_1479

In our existing perennial bed, which has a bio-diverse approach we decided to try out some green manure seeds in some barren areas to help regenerate the soil. We removed the burlap sacking in a few areas and lightly tilled the area and sowed a mixture of Phacelia, Clover, Italian Ryegrass and Winter Tares. The aim of this is to fix Nitrogen back into the soil and to help prevent erosion from the winds through the Winter. We’ll then cut them back in the Spring when we’re ready to plant other things.

I’ll also be trying out both of these methods in my own garden with a view to starting a brand new bio-diverse garden next Spring – very excited about that!

Getting Our Hands Dirty – Foraging and Soil Science

This week the Gastronomy MSc kicked off properly and Monday was a brilliant day – we were looking at Food Procurement – a brief history and consideration of the methods and location from which we acquire our food and how this shapes our relationship with the environment.

Foraging with Fi Martynoga
Foraging with Fi Martynoga

This included a guest lecture and foraging session with food historian and author Fi Martynoga. amazingly we found so many wild edibles within the campus environs – yarrow, hogweed, vetch, chamomile, brambles, rosehips, elderberries, barberries, beech nuts, hazelnuts, ground elder and also some leftover oats and barley – probably from a time when the land was farmed.

Tuesday began with a session in the campus allotment, it’s been a little neglected over the past year so our job will be to take it on and sort it out over the coming months. First, we got our hands dirty by examining the soil, looking for worms and testing the PH to see what we’ve got to play with.

Getting to grips with our campus allotments
Getting to grips with our campus allotments

This was followed by a lecture on understanding soil – love this quote “understanding soil isn’t rocket science, it’s far more complicated” Mark Kibblethwaite.

We also had a guest lecture from Dr Kenneth Loades from the James Hutton Institute who gave us a fascinating insight into Scottish soils, agriculture, root systems, erosion, the yield gap and other issues for soil and ultimately our food and drink supply.

Green Manure Seeds
Green Manure Seeds

We took a brief look at urban agriculture as well. So far so good, this is going to be one very interesting course. Off the back of this we discovered that Whitmuir Organic Farm, just along the road, is running a series of participative workshops with scientists, farmers, politicians and other interested parties over the coming months – I’ve applied to be part of this, couldn’t be more relevant so fingers crossed. More info here

On of my fellow cohorts, who also has a particular interest in gardening, kindly gave me some ‘Green Manure Seeds’ to try out as a soil improver through the Winter. I’ve got Red Clover, Winter Tares & Italian Ryegrass – the idea is to plant them now let them grow and in the Spring cut them back, cover with a good layer of compost/manure and sow our next lot of crops in much enriched soil. Really looking forward to seeing how they work!

The Hidden Half Of Nature – Book Review

This week I became a ‘Gastronaut’ as I started an MSc in Gastronomy at Queen Margaret University – it’s very exciting and covers all aspects of food. We have a healthy reading list and The Hidden Half of Nature – The Microbial Roots Of Life and Health was one of the first books to be tackled.

img_1083

Who knew that I would be getting excited about microbes – I’ve since found myself quoting from the book an awful lot. I’ve even been and got myself some Kefir fermenting away and am on the hunt for manure. 

I’d never really thought about the similarities and connection between the soil and our stomachs, it’s fascinating. It did get a bit technical at times but was mostly a very eye-opening an enjoyable read. 

The Blurb:

The Hidden Half of Nature lays out the astonishing reality we’ve been missing in the soil beneath our feet and right inside our bodies-our world depends on a foundation of invisible life. Montgomery and Bikle share a captivating story of the least-loved part of nature, taking readers through major milestones in agriculture and medicine to untangle our uneasy relationship with microbes.

From the challenge of turning their barren Seattle lot into a flourishing garden through Bikle’s struggle with a surprise cancer diagnosis, the authors discover the power nature’s smallest creatures wield over our lives. Stunning parallels in the relationships that microbes develop with plant roots and the human gut reveal ways that farmers can restore degraded fields and doctors can reverse the modern epidemic of chronic diseases. For in cultivating the beneficial microbes that make soil fertile and keep us healthy, we can suture rifts never meant to be.

The Hidden Half of Nature