A view from the West

Featuring food, fuel and the future in Jersey

Perennial bit
Sustainability, community, diversity!
This is a personal view of aspects of life in Jersey, Channel Islands. It focuses on the challenges of peak oil, food production, population density and climate change on our Island's fragile social, ecological and political systems


Parts of the parish at Grève de Lecq and by the Manor were under several feet of water recently.  Amazingly our garage, which is often flooded, escaped.  I did have to clear the public drains on the road three times to stop the debris blocking them though.

Another snippet I came across pertinent to this  blog - 13 ideas for a fair and sustainable food system.  I think I have commented on all of them here in the past. 

Despite the wet weather I have been able to harvest a bit more quinoa - a tiny bit has spoiled but much is still harvestable.  The latest compost pile has heated up nicely and the plan this week is to start on the winter oats and figure out  what to do with a couple of dozen  rouge vif pumpkins.

Dig for victory!
What is the obvious thing to do when you have a roasting hot bank holiday weekend a relatively clear schedule and a nagging bad back? In my case it is get stuck into a project I've wanted to do for a few years. Despite my conviction that looking after the soil and especially the soil biology is the priority when growing , this project required digging. The movement is good for the back , honest, and it was necessary as this new bed is close to the blackthorn hedge and consequently riddled with tree root and suckers. I also discoverd digging that lot out a couple of inconvenient small boulders that needed moving.

The plan is to put in perennials - comfrey and asparagus initially. I lek to put prennial beds at the bottom end of slopes - it means there something to catch eroding top soil or washed down fertility. And it pays to prepare perennial beds well. In this case I did it as a small hugelkultur set up. It has taken the best part of three days for a metre wide, 10 metre long bed. I'll have about 20 years to decide if it works once planted up.


Clear the grass turves

Make a trench a fill with logs then branches then twigs

Water, add hay then put the grass turves back upside down and cover with the trench soil.  Now a raised bed.

Hitting the sweet spot
5 hours of bracken cutting and stacking today. That is a lot of bracken, but I am going to need it if my revised plans for even more beds next year comes off.

I did pick a few apples and a couple of litres of hedgerow blackberries too.The freezer is almost full now. But the pinnacle was plucking a perfectly rip fig from the tree on the way back to the house, The honey sweet fragrant juice just filled my mouth . All very tasty, refreshing and most satisfying. It's what late summer days are for.

Is Constable acting ultra vires?

I cannot fathom under what authority the Constable of St Marie  thinks she has proper authority to issue orders closing roads in St Ouen.  Equally I find it baffling to understand on what authority she feels empowered to stick  her parish notices on private property in another parish without consent of the property owner(s). Expedient it may be, but lawful? That I very much doubt. 

Playing the zero sum game

The family are away for a week and a half at some  music festival.  I was coerced into one trip earlier this year, but another was asking too much.  Besides someone has to mind the hens, pick blackberries and start the important top fruit harvest.  Usually I would be thinking of cutting and winnowing amaranth and quinoa too , but  I was late planting and they are only just ripening so harvest is still a couple of weeks off.

It has been quite liberating being able to work at my own schedule and do stuff my way.  Until yesterday lunchtime when I had to be out , I also took the opportunity to do something I've long wanted to try.   For six days I ate  only what I had produced on site, and except for a little home made elderberry wine I only drank water.  Decades as a caffine swigging software developer  made the absence of tea and coffee more of a challenge than you might think. But I did it.

If course this is a particularly benign time of year to be doing it with so much fresh produce about.  However my restriction meant no sugar or flour for cooking. (Ok the elderberry wine had sugar in it originally). I could have tried milling some older oats I had grown for the hens I suppose but it didn't seem worth the effort. I did relent on salt and a few spices for cooking. 

Quinoa is brilliant in this situation provided you wash the bitter saponins off. Amaranth is even easier.   I made a batch of white bean and quinoa patties  and they were more than passably edible.  Plenty of potatoes, carrot, kale, french beans and chard to accompany.  I dare say nutritionally  pretty high ranking too.  A handful of berries for breakfast, sometimes followed by an egg.  Salads for lunch. Apples and plums for snacks. No raiding the freezer. Rather I've been putting  stuff in it. Easy really. I don't think I did 5 a day though,  more like 12!

I cannot say this short experiment has had any noticeable effect on me bodily.  It is probably too short a time to tell.  I have no doubt I shall tuck in heartily to the apple and blackberry pies (imported flour and sugar) with custard (more imported sugar) when the family are back.  I cannot see me forgoing the odd deep purple blackcurrant jam on toast in winter - one of those little delights that bring a spot of colour and lifts my spirits on the dark days.  But subject to actually growing  more of the grains,  yes, I could certainly do it longer term if I had to. 

Thursday is bin day here.  It is going to be a  rather sad looking affair this week  Eating only what I've produced here means there was no packging.  I've a long way to go before the toothpaste or soap  needs replacing, so nothing there either.  Eggs shells,  vegetable parings and fruit cores  have gone to the compost heap.  Most of the paper that has arrived in the post  for me has gone there too.  Only heavily coloured glossy printed materials don't end up there.  So our bin this week so far is a single sheet of  paper - an advert for a Portuguese food festival carrying a St Helier Parish logo.

Even my one trip out  was on foot, so no emissions there, well no fossil fuel ones anyway.  So about as near zero external input and waste as I am likely to get.  I wonder if Constable Crowcroft should be informed of his involvement  in messing up my zero sum game week.

Wrong target, wrong priorities
Taken from Facebook.…/jerseys-long-term-fight-to-…/

And there is the problem. Well two actually. First is still talking about Kyoto as the aim when the rest of the world has agreed to Paris. The other is thinking this is a long-term problem. We had a big benefit converting electricity production from fossil fuel locally to importing from France. But in all other respects we have achieved very little. And those areas where steps have been made are not always in the most effective ones.

There is a list of the most effecive actions ranked globally at

Looking at the things that regularly appear on the actions Jersey is taking. Nuclear is 20th, electric vehicles 26th, insulation 31st , household recycling 55th, electric bikes 60th, net zero building 79th

Yes the list is global and things might move relatively a bit given local cicumstances, but note the items near the top.

1st refrigerant management, 2nd onshore wind turbines, 3rd reduced food waste, 4th plant rich diet. Do you really think those don't apply locally?

It is a good point. Are we  making some progress to the wrong target using the wrong  measures?    Someone ought to be asking these questions.

Harvesting, water, waste

Excellent results from shallots and blueberries.  So many good lettuce I've had to resort  to selling  some. Lifted the first two bed of Lady Balfour potatoes  and despite having done no earthing up, irrigating or anythng else I've got a perfectly resonable yield.  Rather a good return on the lack of effort in fact !

It's been intriguing watching the twists and turns of the so called liquid waste charge.  It isn't a waste charge at all of course, it is a water consumption tax.  What sort of thinking leads to a situation where irrigating dry crops with water that doesn't go anywhere near the drain and sewerage system is a waste that needs to be discouraged and paid for to justify treatment costsa while washing your car daily isn't a problem?

If I had more time I would comment on the food and nutrition strategy the States have just announced.  Pity it doesn't comment on the decline of nutritional content of crops and food and what could be done about it.  It is also intriguing that a report that was initiated as a response to a proposition in 2014 to remove GST on healthy food ends up as a justification for putting a tax on sugar.  It will be fun when they try to get to the definition of sugar - sucrose, sythetic sucrose, fructose, inverted corn starch, lactose, glucose, inulin?  They also have a snipe at fats, but a certain amount of fat  or oil is important in the diet.  They will be telling us next that water is dangerous because some people drown each year so they are going to tax it.  That waste charge (water tax) isnt going to stop at business use you know that, don't you?

In the field

The soft fruit is now yielding  very well, except the new strawberries which have finished.  It has been an odd year — I ended up cutting oats ahead of lifting the garlic. It did mean I got the oats sufficiently dried to go in store the day before the rain arrived.   

Plans were distorted by compromising with the family over going on holiday so I was away for 2 1/2 weeks in April.  Thats the busy time for sowing and planting but surprisingly that hasn't been the problem this year.  Yes the celery died while I was away because it was totally dry — who would have predicted that  in April.  The new strawberries survived despite my doubts, helped no doubt by having been planted through landscape frabric which acts as a mulch and retaining moisture.

The shallots have been a huge success this year.  It was an experiment planting them through a 8 -10 centimtre of bracken mulch rather than taking away the mulch to use in compost.  Im very pleased with the results, and it was a noticeably less effort to weed- mostly a few volunter potatoes.   

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Is there a remedy for premature interjection?
Having removed a large part of the gardener workforce from the payroll, the States has been left with a plant nursery site with no purpose - Warwick Farm. Some have touted it as a possible alternative site for a new hospital, but CM Gorst has been quick to state his preferred option - 200 'affordable' houses.

Of course there is a demand for more housing. The States interim population policy was supposed to hold new growth to 300 per year, we know in reality it was well over a 1,000 per year (1%). Those 200 new homes that CM Gorst wants built at the nursery won't accommodate even one one year's worth of population policy failure. If you think 1% population growth isn't very significant I invite you to ponder what Jersey's population would be starting at 100,000 and compounding 1% per year for 1,000 years. (Answer at the end if I remember).

I have a very strong objection to the Chief Minister's statement arising from the fact that the deadline for expressions of interest in the lease of the site does not close until mid June. In making his public statement he cannot possibly have knowledge of other proposals for uses of the site. If someone were contemplating bidding to take on the lease they may well feel significantly disadvantaged by the CM's statement. It might end up as a self fufilling ambition in that other putative users abandon plans given the indications it is a done deal for housing. In the worst case if alternative plans are forthcoming , but rejected, it might be argued the Chief Minister prejudiced fair treatement. Queue the lawyers.....

At this point I imagine most are thinking that the site isn't viable as a farm or nursery - after all other greenhouses sites have been derelict for years. The option for a hospital would have to come from the States, and need planning change like the housing option. There isnt really any prospect of an alternative plan to take up the lease consistent with the current planning restrictions of horticultural/agricultural use. I disagree.

Yes, it isn't likely to be useful (or desirable) for dairy or potato growing - not much use for those glasshouses. But 15.5 vergees , almost 7 acres plus about a vergee of glass houses and some polytunnels is a very sensible size for a market garden. It has another feature in its favour for that - proximity to town and the main market for really fresh produce. In their report Small is Successful, the The Ecological Land Co-operative give details of 10 sustaianble viable organic ventures run in 10 acres or less. Probabaly the most comparable of their case studies is Spring Grove market garden. That is site of 6.5 acres, including some polytunnels. It is a mixture of field scale vegetables and hand managed beds. In 2007 it had a turnover of £70,000. However I doubt such a direct commercial proposal would get very far - the rents that could be paid to the States are insipid compared the very large sums involved in converting the site to housing. However there is a different tack I would be incined to take.

Let me start at the other end of the telescope. What would the States do with the rent money from the site, or indeed the cash raised from disposing of the land for housing? Truth we dont know - it could go to front line staff in schools or mental health, but equally possible it goes to pensions for senior civil servants, or making up the losses of the innovation fund or sending a few ministers on 'fact finding' trips to the Carribean. So how about short circuiting the black box of States money and set up something of social and community benefit from the outset?

It has been done before locally, though not quite in the model I'd propose, and there is some history of Warwick Farm being used for community activity. Until the person running it retired a couple of years ago we had a certified organic farm on the island that was run with Social Services to provide opportunities for people who would find it very difficult to find positions in the commerical world. Similarly I know from recent personal conversations there is a need by the probation service for placements and openings for rehabilitation. Not too many possibilities in the finance sector for people from that background. Certainly in the past Warwick Farm was used for training sessions for the honorary police across the Island. The private roadways and space are invaluable for traffic scenarios practice.

Somewhat presciently the Jersey Organic Association a few weeks ago had a speaker from Community Supported Agriculture at their AGM. Ben's talk made it quite clear there are models for farmingand especially horticulture that work with community involvement. They vary from crop share/ownership of a commercial venture to full on community management of a not for profit facility. I am incined to think the last might be the right way to run Warwick Farm and CSA expertise could be tapped into to set up the management.

Obviously if it were to be a community run cooperative undertaking, it would be upto the community and management to determine what to do with the land and facilities. There will be costs of course and it will be necessary to have some mind to commercial activity to cover those. The latest Rural Economy Strategy aims to double the amount of certified organic land in the Island and I would argue for that. It is a useful selling point politically as it implements established policy. I'd look first to using the glasshouse or polytunnels for special crops and soft fruit of which suprisingly little is grown locally and there is definitely demand. The fields might be used commercially, but I'd be inclined to argue for a good portion of allotments in the mix - there's storage and parking available on site -the usual obstacles from planning in respect of allotments. Last time I checked there was quite a waiting list for the existing allotment.

Some of the other facilities might have to be repurposed. The staff canteen area isn't going to be of great use on a site run by volunteers and part timers, but could be part of a bigger picture of food and cooking. Perhaps something could be done alongside caring cooks to promote produce storage and preserving as well as cooking skills and knowledge of use of fresh ingredients? The house on site is again unlikley to be of interest as a dwelling , though it could certainly be used for that. But how about a demonstration site for eco improvements such as insulation , heat pumps and solar panels?

Personaly I would also like to see some horticultural and ecological education work going on there too. Compost making, fruit tree grafting, permaculture, polyculture, no dig gardening..

Spring experiments
The mayflower is now in full blossom. Yes I know it is only March, but there it is - nature doesn't know it is all a scam ! It has been mild and importantly pretty still for a couple of days, so I am hoping the pollinators will have been busy around the cherry and damson that are also in bloom. Something else odd - I have cornflowers (centaurea) flowering. I had thought I had annuals, but there are perennial ones, so perhaps thats what I have. Still I wouldn't have expected blossoms quite yet. In fact I wouldn't even have sown seed this early.

Another surprise in the greenhouse was hiding under the plant cabinet. I sometimes use it in the greenhouse in winter to start things early, and them move the cabinet outside as I need a place to harden off seedlings before planting out. Probably accounts for the lack of slug damage on the lettuce, and balances somewhat the devastation to the early peas caused by the mice getting in.

I put out a shallow dish of water and used some old boards to make a temporary shade.

So far I have planted about 70% of the potatoes. The garlic seems happy and the bed is surprisingly free of weed so far. The shallots are putting on some green, and I am experimenting with leaving a bracken mulch on the half their beds. It too seems to be very good at keeping the weeds to a minimum, just the odd creeping buttercup and cleavers getting through so far. I am doing the same with the brassicas I've planted (a few cabbage, purple sprouting brocolli and sprouts).

Having prpared and mulched beds over winter, I've had more time to get on top of other jobs. Already been out pulling plenty of thistles where they are emerging , and have scythed all of the old grazing area - which means more compost material which I shall need later.

The other change I have made is parsnips. I've had very poor gemination direct sowing the last 2 years so Ive tried pre-gemination . It is a bit mroe fiddly to do but at least I know the seeds are viable which is one variable eliminiated.


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