Did you know that farming more in harmony with nature can not only replenish the soil (without the need for manufacturing and transporting factory-made chemicals long distances in plastic bags) but can also produce crops throughout the year because different foods can be grown together, in the same way as they are on an allotment?
By planting a variety of a different crops each month, and especially by planting crops amongst fruit or nut trees, even more food can be grown in a small area.
Using this system means that mini-beasts thrive too, creating a soil system which is alive and resilient to drought and flood. Pick up a handful of soil. Is it teeming with life as it should be, with visible and microscopic bugs, or is it inert chemical dust which will blow away in the wind and wash away in the rain, leaving dead, bare land?
The industrial planting of huge fields of a single crop with skinny hedgerows, force-fed on nitrogen may look green, but it’s no more healthy for nature than a child is when fed chemicals and lack of variety.
We learn about companion planting too. When cacao crops in Ecuador were being devastated by fungi, it was noticed that where certain bushes and trees were growing alongside the cocoa crop, it was ‘magically’ protected so the farmers could stop buying toxic fungicides.
Alison Marshall of Transition Horsham explains the beauty of seed-swapping; saving seed as a repeatable way of saving money while at the same time preserving the all-important natural variety and diversity of plant species in the face of commercial monocultures from big companies.
Holding a variety of types of seeds enables all growers to choose those which are right for the weather. If a year is particularly hot or wet, a specific variety of seed may do better. If all seeds are homogenised, then one pest can potentially wipe out a whole species, as nearly happened with the cocoa crops… meaning disaster for us chocolate fans!
Save our seeds is the serious message, and the Millennium Seed Bank was set up at local Wakehurst Place to do just this. Kew Gardens’ partner is now an invaluable resource in the face of huge corporate powers. Let’s hope it stays that way.
By Morag Warrack