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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

Of seeds and seasonality

Feariing we might get hit with high winds  from the remnant of hurricane Helene, I've been focussed on saving seed in the field. Particularly from the taller plants most likely to be damaged such as quinoa and amaranth. I planted later than usual because of the wet cold start to the year.  Consequently their harvest is later too  though they have gained a week or so due to the very mild weather  recently.

It is a very inefficient  use of my time  really  - it takes a few hours to harvest and  winnow a kilo of grain by hand.  However I realy like the look of the plants - they are sometimes sold as ornamentals.  Those I don't  harvest  will be readily raided by hunrgy birds later in  the year and when I do get round to cutting down the stalks prior to planting  maincrop potatoes next year they will provide a useful bulk of high carbon material for compost making.

I have had a vexing time this year with some seeds.  Packet after packet of the bought in parsnip and lettuce failed to germinate.  Fortunately I had  some of my own saved seed of the same varieties that did germinate.  I  might put that down to the catalogue I use has changed management and perhaps they  got their handling wrong early on?

Interestingly while I struggled to get some  things to germinate, I had quite a lot of self seeded lettuce, parsnip, chard and radish  come up.  It reminded me of a question I have meant to look into before and never persued.  Why do gardeners and growers  sow seeds in Spring when nature scatters them in Autumn?

I can identify a few reasons.  First, there are those seeds that require particular treatment to germinate.  Typically non native plants that need  protection or more warmth (or cold!)  than would likely happen if left to try to self seed.  Second there is  variety and selection - particularly if you grow hybrids  - they won't come true or might cross pollinate.  Third is control.  Important for anyone using mechanisation to have a degree of uniformity.  But also for  successional croping to  ensure a continual harvest through the season rather than a glut. 

But for all that I cannot help wondering if there might be something in scattering  selected seed of indigenous and naturalised seed in the Autumn to save effort in the Spring. And then there is another question about seed sowing .  Nature  mixes things up  - different plants of diverse species growing  together.  There are gardeners who do that - its called polyculture.  I'm not sure how I'd manage that under the strict Organic certification rules requirung crop rotation.

Maybe if I have another year of germintion failure while self seeded stuff pops up I'Il give it a go.

In the Field

This morning  I felled a couple of  4 metre sycmores.  It only took half an hour.  Believe me it is less arduous than taking a sickle to bracken.  Practice is needed to get accustomed to handling the axe, but once you have the feel for it....  Washington of course is famous for taking  down a cherry tree, and Gladstone took it up as a hobby when an M.P. and was still doing it in his 80's.

We have plenty of trees around the field, especially sycamore, but also sweet chestnuts, elders and oaks.  That means plenty of leaves for leafmould .  But sycmours are prolific seeders and trees are liable to pop up everywhere.  Those on the veg beds get weeded out asap, but  at the north end among the bracken I let them grow a couple of years.  Apart from sequestering a bit of carbon, it also provides a nice size of ramial like branches to use as a base for compost heaps. It is best to let the dry a year before using.  You do have to think ahead to do this.

I had forgotten to mention a little informal experiment I did last year with leafmould.  I planted a few of my Lady Balfour potatoes under the chicken wired area when I started filling it.  I was a bit dubious thinking the rodents would probably eat all the tubers, but I persisted.  The bin ended up about a metre deep in leaves by the end of November.  However leaves contract in volume very notably as decay proceeds and by April there were potato shoots up through the  remaining  layer.  I didn't get round to harvesting until late.  Truth is I forgot amongst the other jobs and only got to it when I wanted to bag up the leaf mold and dismantle the bin so I could plant out  stuff.

I was peasantly surprised.  They were easy to lift - just scrape away the leaf mold with the fork.  They were much bigger than my normal grown tubers.  Yes there wes some evidence of  slug damage and rodent gnawing  , but  plenty were good enough to  harvest.  My normal planted potatoes struggled with the lack of rain.  I did water them but the process is too slow by hand to make much difference.  The result I would say the leafmould bin potatoes were better and certainly  less effort.  That probably just reflects the remakable  moisture retention capability of leafmould.  Given I was going to collect  the leaves and make the bin anyway a harvest of minimum effort potatoes was a big bonus.  

Elsewhere the outdoor  tomato harvest has gone from  looking  unbelievably good to  almost a write off.   Unusually for outdoot tomatoes I had quite a bit of greenback.  That is caused by  excess strong sunlight and too high heat.  It is much more common I think in greenhouses.  Then the rain came.  Too much water after a dry period  causes the fruit to burst.  There's still enough salvageable for cooking down for passata, but we probably won't have as many bottled as last year despite growing twice the area.

lllness and indolence

Being a smallholder is rather like being self employed.  You carry all the responsibility and if you don't work you don't earn/eat.  If you are lucky you might qualify for Social Security benefits.  However since I grow to eat rather and for money, the income  is way below the threshold for  paying social security.  Thus no sickpay and no pension entitlements accruing.

So when I visit the doctor, as I did the other day, it tends to be for something persistent and troubling.  He pointed out the last time I was in his surgery was five years ago when I had bad sciatica.  A battery of samples were taken for testing. Most have to go to the hospital for analysis.  A few simple ones give immediate results.  His first suspicion was early onset diabetes.  But the blood pressure and blood sugars are normal.  I have a presciption to take if certain changes in symptoms appear, but in the mean time just have to wait a couple of weeks for the hospital results.  That's not the hard part.  Being told to rest, that's the hard part.  Indolence does not come easily (or cheaply) to me.

Fortunately I've just about finished cutting bracken - a job that constitutes seriously hard work.   A lot of the current activity is harvesting  which can be done gently and slowly.  The main thing that may have to be delayed is preparation of new beds for next year. That's a great pity as I had hoped to get the whole system up to full operation next year - all 100 beds and lays and chickens, leaf mold, compost  and perennial plantings.


Blink and you might miss local democracy
I've just spotted the notice of nominations for a Procureur and 2 Centeniers in the parish.  I knew a Centenier's election ought to be coming as a vacancy was created when the new Connetable was elected.

Nomination meetings will be held on Wednesday 22 August 2018 at St. Ouen Parish Hall:

  • at 7.30pm to elect a Procureur du Bien Public for a three year term of office expiring September 2021

  • at 7.45pm to elect a Centenier for a three year term of office expiring September 2021

  • at 8pm to elect a Centenier to complete a term of office expiring December 2020

A nomination form for each candidate must be produced to the meeting and must be completed by a proposer and nine seconders who are electors of the Parish.

It appears the notice was posted the 13th of August.  August is a holiday time for rmany people, especially those with school age children, and of course the States don't sit in the summer.  You might wonder how that fits with giving just 9 days notice of an election.  I can quite imagine some competent potential candidates will never have had the chance to stand as their 2 weeks holiday totally overlaps the notice and nomination period.

The reality is these positions are seldom contested in most Parishes.  In the past when it has happened in St Ouen I have heard grumbling about it all being unnecessary.  "Elections cost money" and "We all know who will get elected".  The pragmatic way is that people are usually approached to stand by one of those already in a position in the Parish . Might had had some  merit in days when people tended to live and work  all their lives in the same place, but these days?

This tension in the parishes bewteen a pragmatic approach to electing people to the administration against the modern day  expectations of democracy has come to the fore.   Senator Mezec opined about it on a blog.  A commentary about that appreared on another blog, and comments have also been made by our constable (also  assistant chief minister) that can be read about on a third blog.


Whatever side of this debate you take there is a problem.  No matter what nice theoretical mechanics are adopted without candidates there is no choice and without choice there is no democracy.  For most of these parish administration roles there is little by way of policy or influence that goes with the position.  An election is largely a determination of who is more capable administratively.  It is slightly different for Centenier and Procureur in that there is some influence they have over budgets/spending and policing policy for example.

So here is the conundrum.  If you want to save the Parish system, the best thing you can do is to contest positions to  force a vote thereby facilitating at least a degree of democracy.  Exactly the  'waste of money and time' that many electors react against.

Just to be clear, yes I have been sounded out in the past about standing for Centenier.  I cannot quite see how they think I am going to drive the police car.  I would be quite interested to see what the magistrates made of my beard and pony tail  making a prosecution case before them in court.  Realisitically I don't think it is a plausible role for me.

I've never really thought about Procureur du Bien Publique. Being a legal and finaincial representative of the Parish is not a likely place for bold change.  It would require a bit if a novel take on the role, thinking a bit broader than finances to a more general notion of resources.

We could for example as a Parish produce the equivalent of ecological footprint accounts
( see https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/8d6b/9d58646221343d61fb929e173677e658d21e.pdf and https://elearning.humnet.unipi.it/pluginfile.php/101791/mod_resource/content/0/Footprint%20Method%202006.pdf

Before you think that infeasible, it is worth noting Caldecott and Bull  reported footprints for British cities over a decade ago. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/earth/earthnews/3311349/UKs-largest-carbon-footprints-revealed.html
St Ouen's population is greater than the City of St David, and comparable to that of St  Asaph)

You might be aware that the Parish rate per quarter has gone down the last few years.  The lastest decrease was largely down to the States  paying rates on property in the Parish so the number of quarters assessed has increased.  Paying less in rates is very nice, but we might have been wiser to have a smaller reduction and started a programme of activities looking to the future.  For example under the Energy Pathway 2050 there is an objective for renewable energy (30%) bt 2050.  As a Parish we have so far achived I think 0.

This is another quote from the report  The Minister for Planning and Environment, through the Eco-Active Energy Efficiency Service will:
i. In 2015 design a pilot study that will demonstrate the potential for community scale microrenewable schemes and energy autonomous housing e.g. Solar PV and solar thermal, ground/air-source heat pumps, anaerobic digestion and potentially Combined Heat and Power (CHP) schemes This will take the form of a competitive tender process where communities will be invited to submit a proposal for their project. The pilot will be independently verified in order to assess the suitability of the model for further roll-out Island wide.

Where is the scheme, why are we not as a Parish community demanding  the Minister come up with the goods?  This sort of tender should be the high on the agenda of a Procureur.

In the absence of the States actually delivering on their  commitments on climate change and ecology, we have no choice but to act as a Parish ourselves.  If we have not reduced our rates so quickly we might have had some capital to invest in ground source heat pumps or solar PV for some Parish buildings.  That would produce cost savings on fuel bills, and potentially a return greater than the paltry amount possible having cash on deposit.  Yes, no other Parish has done that as far as I am aware, but that's never stopped us in the past.   We didn't turn against building homes for the elderly and electing women to the honorary police just because others weren't doing it.

So my fellow Gris Ventres, I'll  leave it up to you.  If there are 10 of you out there who can organise yourselves to get a nomination in on time, I'm happy to argue the above in an election.   If there aren't 10 of you who agree or can get organised, then perhaps the argument made by some that the Parish system isn't working and cannot be modernised has more validity than you realised.

Paroisse de St Ouën, Assemblée Paroissiale

An Assembly of Principals and Electors of the Parish of St. Ouen will be held in St. Ouen’s Parish Hall on Wednesday 1 August, 2018 at 8pm to:

  • receive, and if deemed advisable, approve the Act of the Parish Assembly held on Wednesday 13 June 2018

  • receive, and if deemed advisable, adopt the accounts of the Connétable for the financial year 2017 to 2018, the said accounts having been previously audited by the Parish Accountants and examined by the Committee named for the purpose

  • receive, and if deemed advisable, approve the Connétable’s Estimates for the financial year 2018 to 2019, including grants to various charities
    having approved the estimates, tax the rate accordingly and order that it be levied

  • name a Committee to examine the accounts of the Connétable for the financial year 2018 to 2019

A summary of the accounts, together with the estimates, will be available to members of the public from Monday 30 July 2018 at St. Ouen’s Parish Hall during normal office hours.

The future of vegetables and pulses.

Interesting read from the London School of Hygene and Tropical Medicine.


"If no action is taken to reduce the negative impacts on agricultural yields, the researchers estimate that the environmental changes predicted to occur by mid- to end-century in water availability and ozone concentrations would reduce average yields of vegetables and legumes by 35% and 9% respectively. In hot settings such as Southern Europe and large parts of Africa and South Asia, increased air temperatures would reduce average vegetable yields by an estimated 31%."

Also I note it comments on one of the memes quoted by certain  people  locally about C02 being  'plant food' and elevated levels  increase yields.  "Previous research has shown that raised levels of carbon dioxide would increase crop yields, but this study identified for the first time that these potential yield benefits are likely to be cancelled out in the presence of simultaneous changes in other environmental exposures."  I shouldn't but I   can , so : told you so!

Just in case you were wondering, no we (the world) aren't  reducing our greenhouse gas emissions.  We aren't hitting those Paris agreement targets.  Quite the opposite.   https://e360.yale.edu/digest/co2-levels-break-another-record-exceeding-411-parts-per-million From 2016 to 2017, the global CO2 average increased by 2.3 ppm — the sixth consecutive year-over-year increase greater than 2 ppm, according to Scripps researchers. Prior to 2012, back-to-back increases of 2 ppm or greater had occurred only twice.

For the present our household is awash with our own lettuce, broad beans, peas and strawberries.

Assemblée Paroissiale

An Assembly of Principals and Electors of the Parish of St Ouen will be held in St Ouen’s Parish Hall on Wednesday 13 June 2018 at 9pm to:

  • receive, and if deemed advisable, approve the Act of the Parish Assembly held on Wednesday 6 December 2017

  • elect from the inhabitants of the Parish, without regard to Cueillettes, a Constable’s officer for Petite Cueillette

  • elect from the inhabitants of the Parish, without regard to Cueillettes, a Constable’s Officer for Grande Cueillettes

  • elect from the inhabitants of the Parish, without regard to Cueillettes, two Constable’s Officer for the Cueillette de Grantez

  • elect in conformity with Article 5 of the Loi Sur la Voirie a Roads Inspector for the Cueillette de Millais

In the field

Finally a drop of rain.  I am still behind my usual timetable, but slowly catching up.  Today the frame for runner beans went up

The overwintered broad beans and peas are being harvested, and yesterday we had our first strawberries of the season.

Today I also encountered toads and a slow worm

Finally is feels as though Spring is here
A slight drying out of the soil so I've spent the day catching up on a huge backlog of planting and sowing. The last 2 beds of Lady Balfour potatoes planted and a bed of various flowers sown. The brussels sprouts are also now out protected by mesh. In the greenhouse Yacon is waiting to go out and the asparagus seed has geminated. Outdoor tomatoes have been sown. I lost a quantity of early french beans to mice. Outdoors the direct sown onion look like they have geminated and Helen is very pleased we are still cutting decent lettuce planted last autumn. The first flowers have appearred on the strawberries. The pink blosson is fading on the cherry trees but the blackthorn is full of snowy white flowers. It is later than of recent years, but hopefuly that will mean better pollination and so more fruit to pick. Yes I'm tired. Tomorrow it is preparing more beds for the first sowings of carrots, salsify and parsnips.

Don't tell the atheists....

According to the JEP 10th March (Connetable) Mr Paddock added that the parish was currently working on figures to show ratepayers how much the work could cost them. These will be presented at an ecclesiastical parish assembly, which, in a break with tradition, is to be held in the church and not the parish hall, on Wednesday 21 March starting at 7.30 pm.

Oddly the notice doesn't appear on the official notices Gazette Where the previous Ecclesiastical assembly does appear.

Couple that with moving the assembly location from the usual Parish Hall to the Church itself and one has to wonder if some manipulation is going on here.

I am unclear if I can make it yet - it is my daughter's birthday today, but it seems clear to me some questions need to be raised.

The Parish is responsible for maintaining the fabric of the building - wind and water tight. £280,000 seems a lot to do that unless there has been some unexpected damage, even then that might be covered by insurance. It is a point that irritates me when the States undertake major building work too - they seldom present realistic figures for the ongoing commitment of costs for maintenance and repair. So the first question is when was work last done to the Church at this scale. The supplementary being why was there no ongoing provision in the accounts to save up funds towards this inevitable cost?

My second question is about timing. Who determines when work should be done on the Church particularly in repsect of the Parish responsibility. If it isn't urgent then can the work be postponed?

The third question: why isn't this figure being presented at a rates setting/budget meeting? Unless the work is urgent it should be set out against the other commitments and priorities of the Parish, some of which might be urgent or more timely. Perhaps the Parish would like to spend £200k on solar panels and groundsource heat pumps for the old people's homes and the Parish Hall and offices. That might reduce our fuel costs notably and even produce a bit of income from sale of energy bact to Jersey Electricity at the same time as doing something toward our obligations under the Energy Pathway 2050 plans of the States.

I can see some logic in doing both the Parish responsible work and other work at the same time - it is likely to reduce overall costs compared to two sets of work. And that brings me to the last point. The glossy leaflet on the changes writes about the Church being at the heart of the parish activities. Geographically that is never going to happen - as the church is in one corner of the Island's largest Parish. That's why St George's was built. But suppose it is successeful at becoming a focal point of activites, what impact study has been carried out on what that means for the rest of the facilities in the Parish.