UK Innovators in Paris

Outside Climate Solutions (640x360)

Extra security in Paris is undersandable but there were 2 events we couldn’t get into.

On Friday night we went to the launch of Energy Unlocked, a new UK organisation supporting low-carbon energy innovation. It’s a small startup, which attracted low-carbon business organisations over a remarkable range of scale:    Continue reading

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Hosting Open Eco Homes

CCF_DSC3612 16f cropped 5x4

Anne shows off her DIY demountable window awnings

Anne Miller
(Home F, in Open Eco Homes 2015)

When Tom suggested last year that we should be an Open Eco Home, I was a little nervous: Did we have enough to show people? Would they criticise my standards of housework? Looking back, those fears seem rather irrational, but they were real at the time, and I suspect quite common amongst other Open Eco Home hosts.

We’ve steadily been improving our home (an Edwardian terrace) since 2001, and this has had a substantial impact on our energy use. Our gas consumption is a quarter of what it was Continue reading

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Warm Homes Mill Road VIDEOS

Videos of householders in the Mill Road area and home energy improvements they have made:

Patricia’s Victorian “2-up, 2-down”
now with internal insulation, double-glazed sash windows, woodstove & solar PV:
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Judith Green’s eco-renovation of her Victorian terraced house, with carefully chosen high-tech, re-used and sustainable materials:
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For details of materials Judith used, see her “Ross Street” case Study at Open Eco Homes

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October newsletter: A tasty sustainable feast!

CCF

We’re very excited that tickets are now available for the launch of our Food for a Greener Future Campaign at Fitzbillies restaurant. We’ll be celebrating the best of local, sustainable, delicious food with a menu specially designed by Fitbillies first-class chef, Rosie Sykes. Booking is available through the event page on the CCF website.

As part of the Food for a Greener Future Campaign we’re also challenging you all to eat local in November! The goal? To source all of your food from within a 30-mile radius of Cambridge for three weeks. How hard can it be? Click here for lots more info on the challenge.

And if the thought of tasty sustainable food excites you, do check out our sustainable food blog if you haven’t seen it recently. There are some great posts from our regular contributors (even when we don’t have a challenge going on) – and also some delicious recipes!

Last chance! – Now is your last chance to book for our Carbon Conversations group starting next Wednesday! It’s a wonderful opportunity to find out more about low carbon living and to really kick start your low carbon life. We have a few spots left, so email alana@cambridgecarbonfootprint.org to book now.

Contents

  1. Carbon Conversations: Kick start your low carbon life!
  2. Festival of Ideas, 28 October
  3. Warm Homes Mill Road, 2 November
  4. Celebration of Sustainable Food at Fitzbillies, 21 November
  5. Eat local this November!
  6. It’s the Science
  7. Gardening in October – Something in the garden is staying warm!
  8. Public Meeting: The gagging law
  9. Global Sustainability Institute Seminar: A Fevered Planet
  10. Introduction to Permaculture with Claire White
  11. Global Sustainability Institute: Festival of Ideas event
  12. Green Enterprise: Carlos Ludlow-Palafox on opportunities in recycling

1. Carbon Conversations: Kick start your low carbon life!

Carbon Conversations is starting next week! It’s a great opportunity to connect with others and learn together about how we can live lower carbon lives. There are 6 sessions in all and each session is a supportive space to:

  • Learn about the impact of our food, travel, consumption and energy use
  • Share ideas and create plans
  • Talk and meet new people
  • Begin to get a grip on climate change

Meetings will be held fortnighly on from 7.30pm October 9th.

To register for this course, or your interest in attending any future Carbon Conversations groups please email your full name to alana@cambridgecarbonfootprint.org, or phone the CCF office on 01223 301842.

2. Festival of Ideas, 28 October

28 October 2013, 7.00-9.00pm, St Lukes Church, Victoria Road Cambridge, CB4 3DZ 

We all want to do something about climate change in light of the idea that it poses a real threat to humanity. But what can we personally do? This workshop for the Cambridge University Festival of Ideas looks at our current levels of consumption, energy use, global travel and food sourcing and asks, ‘Are the solutions within our reach?’

Participants will have the chance to compare their lifestyle expectations with lifestyle expectations as recently as 40 years ago and consider what it would be like to redraw the boundaries we have set to create a more sustainable lifestyle for ourselves. A lifestyle that would be fulfilling, enjoyable and exciting while at the same time lower in carbon.

The workshop will provide participants with a taste of the Carbon Conversations course we also run, which is a series of six engaging meetings helping participants to halve their carbon footprint.

For bookings email info@cambridgecarbonfootprint.org or call the CCF office on 01223 301842.

3. Warm Homes Mill Road, 2 November

 2 November, Mill Road Area & Ross Street Community Centre, CB1 3UZ

After the popularity of our Warm Homes Trumpington event, CCF have put together a whole day home-energy event for the Mill Road area, including a morning of visits to local houses with energy-saving improvements, as well as an afternoon at Ross St Community Centre with:

  • talks and workshops by home energy experts
  • videos of local homes and homeowners talking to energy experts
  • stalls with reliable local suppliers and installers
  • expert advice about you can do to save energy in your home including tailored advice for tenants
  • DIY improvements
  • Getting the best out of your house at no extra cost
  • latest information on loans and grants, including the Green Deal

Check out the full timetable of activities at the Ross St Centre (pdf)

The main focus will be on the many pre-1920s houses in the area (and throughout Cambridge) which have solid walls and are therefore more difficult and expensive to insulate.

Please contact us for more information, bookings for home tours will be open soon.

4. Celebration of Sustainable Food at Fitzbillies, 21 November

21 November, 7.00pm, Fitzbillies Restaurant 52A Trumpington Street, Cambridge CB2 1RG

Join us at Fitzbillies to celebrate the delicious and varied sustainable, local food around Cambridge, and to launch the new Food for a Green Future campaign. There will be three course sustainable set menu, including both vegan and omnivorous options. Tickets are £33 per person not including drinks.

Booking only through Cambridge Carbon Footprint. Click here for more info and to book your spot!

5. Eat local this November!

4 November – 17 November

Roll up your sleeves, switch your brain into ‘inventive cooking’ mode, and get ready to go crazy in the kitchen! After a break over the summer, we’re once again once again gearing up for our next food challenge. Your goal? To source all of your food from within a 30-mile radius of Cambridge for three weeks, with an extra emphasis on reducing your meat and dairy intake.

It should also be mentioned that we do advocate the ‘five exceptions’ rule: that is, please allow yourself five ingredients (such as rice, tea, quinoa, spices etc) that are not local…just to ensure you are getting the proper nutrition and still enjoy your food!

Participants will also have the opportunity to write about their experiences on our sustainable food blog, and to meet other participants at a bring-and-share meal.

There’s lots more information on the CCF website, but to take part in the challange and join up with other local eaters you just need to email elaina@cambridgecarbonfootprint.org.

6. It’s the Science

By Tom Bragg

Yesterday I was at DECC’s launch of the new IPCC climate science report, which provides a consensus view with unequivocal messages; most climate scientists actually think the situation is even more challenging, but it was uplifting to be with so many people who wanted to explain and act on the science.

For the first time, it describes a global carbon budget: to have a two-thirds chance of staying below a dangerous 2°C of global warming, humankind must add less than one trillion tonnes of carbon to the atmosphere. By 2011 we’d already used half this budget, and unless emissions are cut rapidly, we’ll burn the rest in 30 years. The report also warns that this budget may be smaller, because of ‘known unknowns’ in the climate system, like methane emissions from permafrost.

Heeding this climate science implies that at least two-thirds of current fossil fuel reserves must be left in the ground – a complete reversal of the rush to discover and burn more oil, gas and coal.

But with a General Election looming, politicians are falling over themselves to freeze fuel prices or fuel duty. Please oppose these and other short-term populist measures that feed climate change.

The hard truth is that fossil fuel prices will need to rise even further. We must strive to ease the effect of this on those who can’t afford it: a small example is CCF’s new Warm Homes Plus project to provide households in fuel poverty with advice and practical help to improve their homes’ thermal efficiency.

7. Gardening in October – Something in the garden is staying warm!

By Keith Jordan

As October day lengths shorten and the sun is lower in the sky, temperatures are generally on the decline. This is a natural trigger for many animals and plants to make provision for storage and survival during the winter months. Jays and squirrels will be collecting acorns to bury, insects may be laying eggs, pupating or finding safe hibernation places. Many herbaceous plants die back, shed leaves or divert their energy reserves from leaves and stems to their roots, tubers or bulbs.

Associated with mass decomposition of plant material, well-made compost heaps will be warming up.
Decomposition involves millions of microorganisms (bacteria and fungi) plus some larger organisms including earthworms, molluscs and woodlice. Under optimal aerobic conditions, composting proceeds through three phases:

1) Mesophilic phase (moderate-temperature), which lasts for a few days (look out for woodlice and worms). Composting will occur optimally if the mixture of materials is right – a good mix of greens (the wet, soft, green materials, high in nitrogen) and browns (the dry harder, absorbent materials high in carbon). It needs to be moist (water if necessary, but not too wet) and have enough air (some bulky, twiggy material provides this). Covering with old carpet will help to keep the heat in.

2) Thermophilic phase (high-temperature), lasting from a few days to several weeks depending on the time of year and material. Billions of bacteria (good species!) and fungi will chemically break down the variety of organic materials, using a broad range of enzymes, and generating heat in the process. You may have seen evidence of this exothermic process – steam rising from a heap of manure on a cold day. This is the basis of the old technique of hot beds used in the walled kitchen gardens of stately homes to raise plants in cold frames out of their normal season.

Larger, insulated compost heaps may heat up to 40-50°C and municipal scale compost systems to 60-70°C destroying pathogens, fly larvae, and weed seeds. It would be interesting to use a thermal camera to check yours! Mix grass clippings, straw or hay to kick start slow, cool compost heaps. Natural products high in ammonia can also help (e.g. poultry manure, waste water from an aquarium, etc.).
Lack of oxygen (if too wet or compacted/ perhaps too much soil added) results in anaerobic bacteria producing ammonia and hydrogen sulphide (smelly and no heat!).

3) Cooling and maturation phase, lasting several-months. Woodlice and worms carry on the process.
Turning material once or twice will help this stage. The result is nutrient rich organic matter, perfect material for adding to your soil, making potting compost and mulching around plants.

8. Public Meeting: The gagging law

Last month Tom Bragg wrote a piece in our newsletter about the upcoming gagging law. Many charities (including CCF) are concerned about the implications to their activities. To voice these concerns 38 Degrees have set up a public meeting in Cambridge, which MP Julian Huppert will be attending. Here’s what 38 Degrees  have to say:

Want to help stop the gagging law? There’s a public meeting happening in Cambridge on 17th October. Your MP, Julian Huppert, has already confirmed that he’s attending. But we need to pack the meeting with lots of his constituents. Can you come?

Here are the details:
Friday 17th October
Wolfson Hall, Churchill College, Storey’s Way, Cambridge, CB3 0DS
7:30pm – 9:30pm

Your MP, Julian Huppert, is one of the MPs that we need to vote against the gagging law, if we’re going to stop it. 38 Degrees members voted to focus on public meetings as a way of persuading MPs to make a stand against the gagging law. We know it’s a very effective tactic. But we need to make sure the meeting is packed full to the rafters. To work, it needs to be big.

MPs will vote on the gagging law again on October 8th. Let’s make sure that for Julian Huppert MP, the thought of justifying the way he voted face-to-face with hundreds of constituents will be front of mind when he casts his votes. If we can get lots of people to turn out, it’s bound to impact on what your MP does as the law continues its way through parliament.

Everyone is welcome to come along, so please bring your friends and family. Even if you don’t want to ask a question, it will be interesting to hear what your MP, Julian Huppert, and the speakers have to say on the gagging law.

Visit our facebook event page and let us know if you can come. We need to show that as many people are planning to attend as possible, so please RSVP – and invite your friends too.

If you don’t have facebook, you can email emailtheteam@38degrees.org.uk or leave a comment on our blog to RSVP.

9. Global Sustainability Institute Seminar: A Fevered Planet

7 October, 1.00-2.00pm Lab 005 (Anglia Ruskin East Road campus) 

Speaker: Prof Hugh Montgomery, UCL

The number of humans on the planet has grown at an extraordinary rate, and in a very short space of time. At the same time, the rate of technical and industrial growth has massively accelerated- as have the demands and expectations of each individual. The net result is that humanity has degraded Earth’s biosphere at a rate which is unsustainable. On top of this, anthropogenic climate change acts as a force multiplier. For all too long, these combined impacts have been framed as ‘academic’, or at best distant and slow. They have also been framed in terms of tigers, polar bears, and tree frogs. But what does the environmental impact which humans have had on the environment mean for the environment’s impact on humans?

Any questions, or to let us know you’re coming (which is not essential) contact rosie.robison@anglia.ac.uk or julie-anne.hogbin@anglia.ac.uk, 01223 695107.

**Sustainable Lunch Provided**

10. Introduction to Permaculture with Claire White

12 – 13 October, 9.30am-5.00pm, Trumpington Pavillion 09:30-17:30

Permaculture is the underpinning philosophy behind Transition Towns. While Permaculture has it’s origins in land use and growing systems that is only a part of Permaculture. It is a design system, not just for gardening but for all aspects of living sustainably, be that in our emotional lives, how we design and use our homes and much much more. This weekend course Costs £75 (£65 unwaged).

11. Global Sustainability Institute: Festival of Ideas event

23 October, 5.30-7.00pm, LAB 027 (Anglia Ruskin East Road campus)

Title: Uncomfortable conversations… why discussing the big issues is so hard

Like politics, religion and money, climate change can be one of those topics it’s not very comfortable to talk about with friends. It can provoke strong feelings, and judgement of people’s life choices, so isn’t it more considerate not to mention it at all? In this interactive talk, speakers from the Global Sustainability Institute and friends will give their thoughts on why we avoid issues that it might be helpful for us to face up to, from climate change to our own health, and ask the audience to share their views and experiences. Led by Dr Rosie Robison and Julie-Anne Hogbin from the Global Sustainability Institute, Anglia Ruskin University.

15+, Free, Full access, Talk, Arrive on time, Booking not required

For more information see the Festival of Ideas event listing.

12. Green Enterprise: Carlos Ludlow-Palafox on opportunities in recycling

October 28, 7:30-9:30pm, Friends Meeting House, 12 Jesus Lane, Cambridge, CB5 8BA

Carlos Ludlow-Palafox of Enval is successful entrepreneur who has developed a patented process and built a commercial scale recycling plant for recycling the formerly unrecyclable flexible laminate packaging (as used for toothpaste tubes, food pouches and coffee) Carlos is clearly skilled at navigating the funding maze, so this session will be of interest to anyone wondering about how to find funding for their idea, or the important topic of how we can convert landfill waste into valuable resources.

As usual in Green-enterprise events, the evening will be participative and will include plenty of time for discussion with the speaker and other participants. Cost £5.

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Gardening in August: Summer wanes as autumn fruits appear

by Keith Jordan

thermometerThe schools are out for summer and the holidays are in full flow but, with some regret, every year there are some subtle changes in the natural world in early/mid August that signal the summer is on the wane! The start of the football season is another reminder! Campers also find that clear nights and heavy dews can be a feature of mid August. My garden thermometer dropped to 6 deg C the other night here and it went down to about 4 C in Thetford.

About one week after the Cambridge Folk Festival finishes the swifts that have been flying and screeching over our houses are noticeably absent. They are already on the move, following their epic twice-yearly journey to Africa along with some of the warblers and other migrant birds that have graced our neighbourhoods. Continue reading

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Gardening in mid-late July – time for soft fruits and summer puddings!

berries It’s a real ‘Berryfest’ down on the allotment at the moment!  The ideal time to make summer pudding.  I think the last 2 months have been excellent growing conditions with a variety of weather – sun, cloud, some cool days, some rain (in June), basically a bit of everything.  A great contrast to last year’s over abundance of rain, flooding and the ‘Snailfest’ (e.g. remember the mega-downpour on 7th July before the Olympic Torch came to Cambridge?).  I’m heartened to see that bees (honey and bumble), butterflies (e.g. Small Tortoiseshell) and insects in general are much more plentiful than 2012 and busily feeding off the nectar of garden plants.  I grow some especially on my allotment to help these pollinators. At the moment popular insect plants include Lavender, Comfrey, hardy Geraniums, Stachys (‘Lambs Ears’), Lamiums, Oregano/Marjoram,  Phacelia (a green manure, if left to flower) and Red Campion – a very long flowering wild flower.

The summer is hurtling along and it’s the time of plenty in the garden and allotment (assuming you planted or sowed things a few months ago!).  Just as the strawberry crop wanes, the plants start to produce runners now, from which new plants will arise.  A great chance to increase your stock of plants by pegging down the new plantlets and allowing them to root.  As strawberries are short-lived it’s best to replace a third of your crop a year with new plants.  Remove any netting, especially the very fine type, as soon as you have used it protect fruits – they can so easily become a trap for birds and hedgehogs.  It’s much safer to use more rigid netting.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou may find lots of small apple fruits lying around trees – do not worry as this is a sign of good spring pollination and harvest to come in the autumn.  The ‘June drop’ usually starts around Wimbledon week when trees naturally thin their crop. With more bees around at flowering time and no air frosts, pollination has been good and the trees thin their crops.  As the season progresses you may find you still have to thin the apple crop later in the season if the branches are bending over with the weight.  The little fruits make great non-returnable but biodegradable ‘balls’ to improve your tennis practice (as long as no greenhouses are nearby!). The couch grass is high on some plots (almost 5 foot!) and going to seed and bindweed is even higher (ah, with those lovely pure white trumpet flowers like Morning Glory!).  In both cases try to control now rather than later,
and if nothing else, don’t let them drop seeds unless you want to increase your workload next year.

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Elderflower Cordial

Elderflower 1 (300x226)Easy to make, with an exotic flavour
-more elderflowers and less sugar than some recipes:

50 elderflower heads, with fully open florets,
preferably picked on a sunny morning
2 lemons: juice & zest
5 tsp of citric acid (ask at your chemist)
Use another lemon, if you can’t get it.
1kg of sugar
3 litres of boiling water

Method
1. Shake and rinse the elderflowers to remove any insects and cut off their main stalks
2. Put all the solid ingredients in a large bowl and pour over the boiling water
3. Stir well and cover.  Put it somewhere cool and stir it occasionally over 2 days
4. Then strain and seal the cordial in clean bottles.

It lasts a few weeks in the fridge or a year in the freezer (leave an air-space at the top of the bottle) I find plastic 1 pint milk-bottles good.  Or you can preserve it without freezing by stirring in 3 crushed Campden tablets before bottling, but this isn’t suitable if sulphur dioxide makes you asthmatic like me.

Dilute the elderflower cordial to taste.
Serve with ice and a slice of lemon or a sprig of mint or some borage flowers.
Try it in a vinaigrette or with sorbets, ice-cream or stewed fruit.

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Training workshop for CCF’s outreach programme

These 2 workshops facilitated by Liz Serocold and Bev Sedley aimed to develop participants presentation and workshop skills with a view to putting these into practice helping CCF to increase other organisations’ understanding of climate change and carbon reduction.

The 2-hour sessions looked at workshops particularly from the point of view of climate change communication, and gave participants the opportunity to pair up and develop their own workshop to present to the group, giving them a safe option to try out their skills and receive constructive feedback in a supportive atmosphere.

Our outreach team ran 14 workshops for other organisations during 2012, from schools and colleges to businesses and the British Antarctic Survey. Would you like us to give a talk or a workshop for your organisation? Click here to find out more about what we offer.

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June 2013 newsletter: Open Eco Homes and group challenges

CCF

Julian Huppert (MP for Cambridge) will be at the Eco Renovation Question Time this Friday June 7, to help us officially launch Open Eco Homes for 2013. A panel of homeowners and home energy experts will also be on hand to answer your questions, with discussion on anything related to eco renovation. The panel will include Peter Bates, Managing Director and founder of The 80percent Company, Alex Rice, freelance low-energy building consultant, Tim Acheson of Green Hat Construction, Andy Rankin from Midsummer Energy, and environmental consultant and eco home builder Colin Harris. In addition there will be stalls and displays with the information and inspiration you need to make your home renovation project a success, and you’ll also have the chance to meet the home owners taking part in Open Eco Homes, and book your visits (if you haven’t already!). Read more below!

We’d really love to pack the hall out for Eco Renovation Question time. Please help us by forwarding on this invitation to your contacts!

Don’t forget the cinema showing of “Peak” this Wednesday! Cambridge Carbon Footprint will introduce this award-winning documentary and chair a post-film discussion with experts.

We have a new Eating Well on a Budget challenge starting in June. Read more below and join us to learn how it is possible to eat sustainably and healthily even on a small budget.

Continue reading

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We’ve Moved…

CCF moved office on Sat 18 May. Our new address is:

Cambridge Carbon Footprint
Citylife House
Sturton Street
CB1 2QF

View MAP

Front of Citylife House:

 

 

 

 

and the other side:

 

 

 

 

We’re continuing with our excellent landlord:  Future Business.

Our new office phone is connected, so you can contact us as usual on 01223 301842.

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Maternity Cover for Volunteer & Events Organiser

To cover the Maternity Leave of our excellent VEO, Joss Cutler:
starting with a handover from her, before her leave starts on January 16th,
when you would take over her vital role in CCF’s work with volunteers on carbon reduction, to:

  • recruit, train, organise and support volunteers for events , stalls, and office-based work

and to organise and deliver (with volunteer help) :

  • public engagement activities – stalls, talks and workshops
  • our calendar of low-carbon events
  • contributions to other CCF Projects, as needed

3 days per week, £19,500pa, pro rata.  ie: £11,700 pa

You will be a flexible, creative, self-starter, who is good with people, with:

  • excellent communication skills and the ability to engage others
  • experience of organising events and teams
  • an understanding of climate change and carbon reduction

The Job Description, downloadable here gives more information.

To apply:
email your CV with references and a covering letter to Tom Bragg 07990 548755
Closing date:      Mon 2 December, 5pm
Interviews on:   Mon 9 December

Cambridge Carbon Footprint, Citylife House, Sturton Street, Cambridge CB1 2QF

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Newsletter April 2013: Auctioning experiences in April

Our big fundraising auction takes place on 27th April, so check some of the fantastic offers available on our website and come to bid on fantastic low-carbon goods and experiences for a great cause! We can still accept a few more auction lots, if you have a unique experience you would like to offer. Get in touch as soon as possible with stephanie@cambridgecarbonfootprint.org to discuss!

Our final Carbon Conversations group before autumn is starting on 17th April, and there is only one place left, so if you want to take part this spring, be quick and read more below or on our website.

Cambridge Carbon Footprint outreach group is looking for new members, and so we are organising a training workshop for new outreach volunteers. Our outreach group members give talks and run workshops in schools, colleges, businesses and institutions, and the training workshop gives practise in introducing and discussing climate change with varied audiences. 
Runnings workshops with CCF is great fun and gets one acquainted with lots of interesting people and topics, so I can warmly recommend taking part!
Laura, outreach volunteer

Continuing Carbon Conversations group still has some spaces left, and the next meeting is on Wednesday 10th April. If you’d like to continue benefiting from the friendly support of Carbon Conversations groups, read more below.
Continue reading

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Gardening in mid/late April – Warmer weather, but beware of ‘Jack Frost’ !

By Keith Jordan

The cold easterly winds have finally subsided and wet, south westerly winds have brought a complete (and welcome) change in conditions. Farmers have been reporting serious problems with crops that overwinter, and growth of garden plants have been greatly delayed. It’s unlikely that many seeds sown earlier in the spring have germinated or survived the cold weather. Continue reading

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Gardening in April: Get prepared for the return of spring!

by Keith Jordan

On a late March morning I awoke to find a layer of snow covering the garden. Ironically, the same day a local church newsletter dropped on the doormat announcing ‘Warm Easter greetings….’.    The snowfall was light in Cambridge, but other parts if the UK received heavy falls and drifts brought by the strong easterly winds from Siberia.  It is not unusual to experience snow and cold weather at Easter time (e.g. significant snow at Easter 2008), but the recent long spell of winter is quite unprecedented.  I’ve never know such a long period of Arctic temperatures just after my garden frogs returned to the pond and started spawning and when the first summer migrant birds (Chiff Chaffs) usually arrive back from North Africa and Southern Europe.  An almond tree that normally flowers in February is only just coming into flower at the beginning of April.  As a result there has been very little point (let alone opportunity) in sowing many seeds.  However, onion and garlic sets planted earlier will be slowly growing roots and buds are swelling on fruit bushes and trees. Continue reading

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Gardening in March – “On your marks,….get set,…..GO” – New gardening year commences!

Keith Jordan

The season of Spring seems to have resumed in recent days (early March) with a few pleasant sunny, mild days after seemingly weeks of cold, dull, uninspiring weather. It’s difficult to believe that the first summer migrant songbirds (Chiff Chaffs) usually arrive in Cambridge around the 21st of this month on their journey from southern Europe and western Africa! As with plants, their spring progress is influenced by the weather.

March is really the main start of a new outdoor growing season and time to begin sowing/planting hardy vegetable varieties (peas, root crops, brassicas, onion and shallot sets, spinach, swiss chard, early potatoes, etc.). But just like Olympic athletes, pace yourself and don’t rush in and sow everything too soon! Spring can be a fickle affair and revert back to winter in a few days as soon as the winds change to an east or northerly direction. It has been known to snow at Easter! Sow seeds ‘a little and often’ and make use of horticultural fleece, old net curtain, cloches, cold frames (easily made from reclaimed timber and window frames) and other forms of shelter to create micro-climates around some crops. Plants can really respond to an increase of one or two degrees C in addition to any shelter provided (reducing ‘wind chill’) – in many ways mimicking climate change. If you plant potatoes too soon, their emerging foliage in April/May can be susceptible to frost damage, unless you can cover them over on a cold night. Again, if you plant a few at a time you guard against everything failing if the weather deteriorates and this maintains a continuity of crops that can be harvested throughout the year. Rhubarb and Seakale can also be forced (produces long tasty stems) by placing a bin or large bucket over a plant or two – the darkness and small temperature increase stimulates growth.

It’s the last chance to plant and prune fruit trees and bushes as they’ll soon be in growth. The buds on blackcurrants are already swelling and the flowers of wild Cherry Plum (e.g. along Barnwell Road, Cambridge) – the earliest of the plum/cherry (Prunus) family are coming out in flower. When pruning fruit trees that you want to rejuvenate, remove any dead, diseased or dying and stems and branches and those that may be rubbing or too close to neighbours. ‘Stone fruits’ such as plums, peaches, peaches and cherries should only be pruned only when dormant as wounds made during the growing season can lead to fungal infections. However, apples and pears can be ‘summer pruned’ later in the year to promote the growth of fruiting buds.

Last year the spring drought started around this time, and in the last few weeks there has been low rainfall, so start collecting rainwater….just in case!

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