Saturday, March 6, 2010

Winter Aconite and Farm for the Future

The weather is on a roll - sunny days - and because it's winter I'm not even worrying about low rates of precipitation. If it were summer - looking at ten days in a row with no rain - I'd be growling at the weather forecasters when they talk about 'perfect' weather.

March 1 - an early sunny morning - we pushed the wooden gate against the snow, gently, gently, from the bottom of the gate because it's old and tromped through to the back of the house. Two bright yellow winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis) blooms were tucked up by the south foundation of the house in the only visible strip of soil anywhere. Winter aconite blooms are like buttercups, and the colour is amazing, coming as it does against a backdrop of dulled greens and greyish brown winter-flattened plant material. The main clump of winter aconite is several feet out from the wall, so having these at the wall means they are increasing. Very exciting. This year I want to pay better attention to how they propagate. After flowering, they develop seed pods which contain spheres of less than a mm each. I've only seen these when they are at a stage I'll call apple crisp; they are not hard, but seem to have a tough skin surrounding the centre. In the past - when I notice these - I've just let them drop on the soil, scrabbling them in a bit. My guess was that they developed in the soil through the season, for blooms the following year. But I've just read that it can take 4 years for bloom. No wonder the little bulbs (corms?) that one buys from nurseries cost so much. They may look like rabbit poops, but they've taken a while.

From that odd image, I'm making a real leap to Rebecca Hosking's brilliant film Farm for the Future ( Several years ago Hosking, a wildlife photographer and journalist, made a brilliant, heartbreaking film called Message in the Waves. It deals with the huge drift of plastic trash that is in the Pacific Ocean and ends up deposited on some of the islands of Hawaii. I can close my eyes and see the piles of albatross bones surrounding the plastics they ate, and that killed them. I've no doubt that the film has inspired everyone who's seen it, worldwide, to reduce their use of plastic stuff and write manufacturers and politician. Hosking led a campaign in her hometown of Modbury, Devon, UK to reduce plastic bag use and all the stores there agreed to stop using them. An incredible achievement.

Hosking has been called to another stage in life: to work on her family farm. From the film, Farm for the Future, it seems like her father (a photographer himself) and uncle have already developed a farm with low chemical use, good hedgerows and space for wildlife. Rebecca's film begins with an overview of the problems of chemical based agriculture worldwide. I felt so anxious watching that part. Not because her images were anywhere near as horrible as some I've seen in other films ... and I did know that she was going to go on to positives. I felt anxious because I've read so much and know that what she shows and says about its destructiveness to the soils and systems is so right and so widespread. She does pose the question of how we can change farming to restore health to the soil (which is really what maintains everything else). And, of course, this does not lie with fossil-fuel based agriculture. She visits a small permaculture farm and another where the plant mix on pasture is varied enough and sturdy enough to let cattle feed outside through the (UK) winter, and develops soil. She acknowledges that she is at the beginning of her journey into farming, but is looking for a positive path. I know she'll find that. This film came out about a year ago. I'm sure it's been touching hearts and inspiring gardeners and farmers.

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