Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Woodbrooke has solar hot water!

Some of you who visit Woodbrooke or see our brochure regularly will have seen our suggestion for offsetting the carbon emissions of your travel to Woodbrooke, to help us install renewable energy systems. The first one is in place - solar thermal.

In this picture, you can just see the panels on the roof above the dining room, to the left of the chimney. Because Woodbrooke is a Grade II listed building, there are restrictions on what we can do. Most importantly, the panels had to be invisible from the  main elevation viewpoint.

The panels have been installed to supply the kitchen and 11 bedrooms. The solar-warmed water feeds into the gas-fired condensing boiler that serves that part of the building, resulting in the boiler starting with pre-warmed water, and thus using less gas to raise the water to the required temperature. The kitchen uses large amounts of hot water during the daytime, when the the sun is producing most heat, and this makes the most efficient use of the hot water produced by the panels, as there's little or no loss by cooling while the water sits there not being used. Solar thermal is highly effective - I posted here in early December about my domestic installation: I haven't used any supplementary water heating since the 2nd week in March (though it's snowing again today, so that might not last just yet until the weather improves!).

The technology we have at Woodbrooke is evacuated tubes, which are fitted onto a rack constructed on the flat roof - this allows the angle and direction of the tubes to be set at the optimum for solar collection, whereas on a pitched roof, the collectors are at the direction and angle of the roof, whatever that is. So, at home, I have to have my panels facing east and west, whereas at Woodbrooke they are set at due south.

Think of the tubes as long thin vacuum flasks! The solar radiation crosses the vacuum, but the inner part of the tube is protected somewhat from the cooling effects of wind, rain and cold weather.

The inner parts of the tubes are filled with a fluid with high 'specific heat' (ie: fluid that can hold a lot of heat, chemically similar to the antifreeze that goes in car radiators). The fluid from all the tubes is pumped through an insulated pipe that takes it to the boiler. There, the pipe (minus insulation!) is surrounded by the incoming cold water feed, and gives up its heat to the water. The now cooled fluid is pumped back to the roof in a continuous flow, where it is heated again by the sun.

Because Woodbrooke is an educational establishment, and the is building used by many people, it's good if we can do some additional education by the presence of the solar system.

To that end, we have an impressive-sized display unit in the long corridor, which most people will walk past several times a day. It gives a schematic representation of how the system is working, and displays the current temperatures minute by minute.
So you can see in this picture that the temperature up at the top of the panels (the warmest part) was 41.7 degC (this was in mid-March). The temperature to which the incoming cold water feed (at the boiler) had been raised was 25.5 degC.

The last figure, at the bottom of the panel, is interesting. This electronic display system measures the temperatures continuously, calculates the energy saved by the fact that the gas is working on pre-warmed water, converts that saved energy figure into equivalent kWh (kilowatt-hours), and displays the result. This is a cumulative result - it just keeps on adding it up. This photo was taken very soon after installation, when it was only up to 40 kWh. Today, as I'm writing (31 March - just a couple of weeks later) it's up to 297 kWh (that's the total energy saved so far); and that's during a spell of mostly miserable weather! As we get further into the year, with more hours of sunlight, and the sun higher in the sky, this figure will build up much more quickly. The highest I've seen the top temperature reading so far was 58 degC on a bright, but chilly sunny morning.

At the moment, the government is about to provide incentive for solar electricity installation via the imminent feed-in tariffs, but as yet there is no scheme for other forms of renewable energy. However, there is a published consultation document, Consultation on the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI)  which hopefully will lead to similar schemes for other technologies some time next year - and solar hot water is explicitly part of this consultation. Some energy suppliers working solely with renewables, such as Good Energy, already have such a scheme in place for their customers, although at a fairly low level; for instance Good Energy's HotROCs scheme which currently applies to solar hot water.

The Low Carbon Buildings Programme (LCBP) has a special section for public and voluntary sector organisations. The grants for solar electricity have been stopped now (as is the case for domestic installations) because the feed-in tariff replaces the block grant as the financial incentive. But there are still grants for other technologies, including solar hot water. The system here at Woodbrooke cost just under £15K to install - plus VAT at 5% (because we're a charity). The grant from the LCBP was half of the pre-VAT figure, just under £7.5K. We also received an extremely generous donation towards the work from a Birmingham Friend who has a long association with Woodbrooke, and was keenly interested in energy efficiency and renewable technologies long before it was a fashionable topic! The carbon offsetting donations also contributed - so those offsets will now be saving energy for years to come. Please keep the offsets coming - they'll go towards out next project (probably photovoltaics . . . we'd need 66 panels!).
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Thanks to Louise Vizor (Marketing and Fundraising Assistant) for the photographs.
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I'm taking next week off, for Easter, so this post will stay at the top for two weeks - see you again around 13th/14th April.
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Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Organic veg growing in a very small garden

After this week, I promise: no more gardening for a while – on to some other topics!

Following on from the recent post, about Ben and Wendy’s garden in Clitheroe, I thought I’d post something about my own ventures into ‘growing my own’. I can imagine some of you reading that earlier post and thinking, ‘well, it’s ok for them, with ¾ acre to play with’. So, here is an example of what can be done in a very small space.

My back garden is just a little over 1/100th of an acre! 50 sq metres, to be more precise, 5m wide and 10m long, facing west. The ground slopes away from the house, and backs onto a patch of allotments, so is open to the west. There are fences on the north and south sides.

My house, one of a row of terraced houses, was built in the early 1960s, near the site of an old brick works – which tells you all you need to know about the soil: heavy red clay that you could make pots out of (or, indeed, bricks)! The builders put a few inches of rather poor quality topsoil on top, and the previous owners had done nothing to improve the situation. When I moved in, the garden was laid to lawn (poor quality) with narrow borders all the way round. For many years it had never occurred to me to grow vegetables, but I happened upon a nicely illustrated article in a gardening magazine about the ‘square foot’ method.  I bought a copy of Mel Bartholomew’s book, Square Foot Gardening and haven’t looked back!

I had been gradually reducing the lawn area, in any case – a small grass area, shaded and on poor soil was not thriving – and had put terraced steps in place of the slope. I started with two raised vegetable beds of 1 sq m each, and soon added two more each of 0.5 sq m.



(There are many ways of making raised beds – I use the ‘Linkabord’ system, which suits me and my garden.)

Later I added the smallest available of the pyramid grow-houses,

plus a tiny lean-to against the house wall (the patio doors use up most of the wall space, so there’s no room for anything bigger),

and very recently another 0.5 sq m bed at the far end of the garden. I use window-sills indoors for germinating and the grow-houses outdoors as cold-frames for hardening-off small plants before they go into the ground.

Two linked ‘slimline’ water-butts tuck neatly into a small corner,

and a tiny ‘sentry-box’ shed occupies the cold/shaded north-east corner,

but the roof of course gets much more light than the ground just there. The removable frame on top of the roof, lined with plastic, channels rain water runoff into a small gutter, and thence via a hose into the main water butts. Within the frame are five troughs, with drainage holes drilled in their drip trays at the lower end. The growing medium is mixed with Perlite to reduce the weight, and they’re planted up with autumn-sown garlic and onions.

The south-facing boundary was previously a laurel hedge, put in by previous owners who had no understanding of how big and thuggish it would get – seriously inappropriate for a garden this size. So, after years of trying to keep it cut back, I had it taken out and a fence put in, which now supports a row of cordon fruit trees. They’re called ‘duo minarette’ trees –  they’re on very dwarfing rootstock, and each tree has two grafted varieties, one above the other, chosen so that they pollinate each other.

They can be planted as close as 2ft apart so they’re a wonderful resource for a very small garden – a whole orchard of 8 apple varieties, 4 pear varieties and 4 plum/gage varieties in a very small space. As well as getting the pollination sorted out, the range of these trees available also provides a mixture of early and late fruiting varieties, and eaters/cookers/keepers.

If all you have is a patio, these trees can be planted in big tubs, providing you keep them well watered and fed.

Here is an overview of the whole garden (taken from the bedroom window) in the spring.

In the very far end bed are spring onions and Babbington leeks (the latter obtained via the Heritage Seed Library seed-swap scheme run by Garden Organic). Just the other side of the pyramid are over-wintered plants of chard (silver and rainbow). In sacks are early potatoes. At the far end, out of sight in this picture, are a cultivated blackberry, autmn raspberry and two young nut trees, a cobnut and a red filbert. Closer to the house, just out of sight, are lettuces in troughs and pots. On the left (behind the flowering broom bush) are two redcurrant bushes which thrive in the partial shade of the fence.

redcurrant bushes netted against the birds

redcurrant harvest

Elsewhere are blueberries and herbs in pots, alpine strawberries all over the place; plus, in the central bed (filled with ericaceous compost), among the heathers, are lingonberries and creeping cranberries. At appropriate times of year I also grow tomatoes, courgettes, French beans, radish, carrots, broccoli, cabbage, beetroot, baby turnips and peas. And utilising the compost heap in the far corner, I grow each year a winter squash plant that rambles all over the gate and fence.

The fruits keep well, and last year, the final one kept right through to April, wrapped in newspaper in a cool place.

After several years of learning what works, I am now self-sufficient, year-round, in green leaves (both salad and cooking greens) with the help of covers over the winter.

In a good year I harvest enough beans and courgettes to eat well in season and freeze plenty for the winter. I’m not self-sufficient in root vegetables, and I don’t even know if I could be, in such limited space. I eat what roots I grow, as they are ready, but never have enough to store, nor do I have space to store them.

The raised beds allow me to create a really good soil, and by choosing small varieties of carrot (eg: Parmex or Paris Market) the roots grow completely within the compost mixture, and so don’t have to contend with the clay soil – similarly with beetroot, radish, turnips, etc. Last year, for the first time, I grew potatoes in sacks - it works really well for early and salad potatoes.

I practise crop rotation around the beds, as well as planting quick-growing salad plants between rows of slower-growing vegetables. From June to October I’m pretty much self-sufficient in vegetables and salads. In the fruit-harvesting season I can pick enough to eat, but my garden is too small to give me enough fruit to store for the rest of the year.

I actually have more space than Bartholomew says is needed to feed one person – but I go out to work and don’t have as much time for the garden as I might. So I’m not cropping the beds as intensively as he says is possible. As it is, I’m constantly amazed at how much food I get out of this very small space – and it could be even more. One of the things I really love in the harvesting season is to come home from work, walk out into the garden and see what’s ready to eat – and that’s what I’ll have for my evening meal. It sometimes makes for some slightly odd combinations, but that’s more than made up for by the freshness (plot to plate in about 15 minutes) and no food miles.

One day's harvest in July

I run two compost bins. The small rotary bin close to the house takes vegetable peelings, dead-headed flowers, shredded paper to help get the mix right, and anything else that will compost quickly.

I’ve been putting material into it over the winter, and as soon as the weather warms up I’ll stop adding new stuff, and turn it daily. I add an organic compost accelerator, and the compost will be ready for use by September for autumn mulching. It also produces a ‘compost tea’ that collects in the base section – this is a concentrated fertiliser and can be drained off and diluted for use anywhere in the garden. While I’m turning this bin, kitchen waste will go into the other bin, along with coarser and slower material from the garden. I grow a patch of comfrey which I harvest two or three times in a season to provide extra material for this compost bin (comfrey can also be used directly to make a liquid fertiliser – but it smells disgusting, and in such a small garden I choose not to make the stink!). All this will be turned and left over the winter and will be ready for use sometime next year. With a small garden, I’m always running a cool compost heap, not a hot one – you need a much bigger heap (and lots more material all at once) to create a hot heap.

Herbs grow in various places around the garden. Rosemary, fennel (for seed) chives and thyme grow in the east-facing front garden, which gets unshaded sun from sunrise to the middle of the day. Oregano, basil, mint, lemon verbena, pineapple sage, and coriander (leaf) grow in pots on the back patio.

New last year was an insect ‘palace’ to encourage overwintering beneficial pollinating insects.

And I’m now in the process of raising the beds by another layer, to give me deeper soil and less bending.

The mesh guard all round is to keep my cats out! And the strips of copper tape are to deter slugs and snails.

And finally, along the hedgerow between the back path entry to my garden and the adjacent allotments, there are a few metres of wild damson trees. No-one else seems to want them, so I harvest them each autumn, stew them lightly with honey, and freeze them to eat all winter.

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If you'd like to pursue gardening topics further, there's a course at Woodbrooke from 20-22 August this year, Introduction to Permaculture.

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Wednesday, 17 March 2010

A climate of controversy?

This week's guest post comes from Laurie Michaelis, giving us some expert comment on the recent media controversy about climate science. Laurie is co-ordinator of Living Witness Project, a charity supporting Quakers in developing a witness to sustainable living. He has worked on energy, climate change and other environmental policy issues since 1983.

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For most of us who try to keep up with climate science, the evidence seems overwhelming. Every week brings new additions to the list of changes in the earth’s systems. Some are quite scary – for instance there has been a sharp rise in atmospheric concentrations of methane in recent years, and there are new observations of the gas being released on a huge scale from melting permafrost. This is one of the feedback loops that could result in a rapid switch to a much warmer world.

A recent (February 2010) poll for the BBC found that only a quarter of the British public accepted that human activity is causing climate change. In November 2009 over 40% of the public had accepted this view. The causes of the shift in public opinion are evident. Recent months have seen continuing controversy about the integrity of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).  It appears that scientists cannot be trusted. And despite rising global temperatures (2009 was the second hottest year on record), we in Britain have just had an exceptionally cold winter which the Met Office did not forecast.

The credibility of the IPCC has been damaged by two recent incidents. The first, in the run-up to the Copenhagen summit, was the publication of e-mails written by scientists at the University of East Anglia compiling evidence for global temperature changes. It is alleged that they sought to block publication of views dissenting from their own, that they tried to frustrate Freedom of Information requests, and that their analysis of global temperature data is flawed. In particular they seem to have failed to correct for biases in the location of weather stations providing surface temperature data, which tend to be located in urban regions that have warmed for reasons other than climate change.

The second incident, in January 2010, was the revelation that one statement in the IPCC’s 2007 Fourth Assessment Report – that the Himalayan glaciers were on track to disappear within 30 years – was not true and was not based on peer reviewed scientific literature. Subsequently, additional questionable statements have been found in the report. Perhaps most significantly, there was insufficient basis for its statement that ‘by 2020, in some countries [in Africa], yields from rain-fed agriculture could be reduced by up to 50%’.

So is climate science now up in the air? The world’s major academies of science have reaffirmed their confidence in the IPCC’s main findings – that climate change is almost certainly happening and that human activity is the cause. The IPCC represents probably the most thorough and careful effort there has ever been to evaluate and test the state of the scientific knowledge and uncertainty about an issue. Its reports amount to about 3000 pages at 900 words per page, dense with citations. Each IPCC assessment is authored by a large group of experts over a couple of years. Every effort is made to include dissenting voices, and to ensure that the findings are robust, by opening successive drafts up to expert and government review. Each chapter has a review editor who works with the authors to ensure they take every review comment seriously and record their response. The final versions of the reports have to be accepted by the governments, some of which - including the United States and Saudi Arabia - have sought to downplay climate risks. The main findings have repeatedly been supported by other independent scientific bodies, perhaps most significantly when George W Bush asked the US National Academy of Sciences to come up with its own review of climate change.

However, the IPCC is flawed. My impressions derive largely from having been a Lead Author and Convening Lead Author for several IPCC reports from 1993 to 2001. I think there is a particular challenge in trying to be ‘scientific’ about a huge, complex, interconnected set of issues that relate to climate change. You could perhaps see the statements made by the reports in three categories:
1) observations: statements about what has been observed to happen – such as changes in greenhouse gas emissions, concentrations of gases in the atmosphere, temperatures, sea level, ice cover, extent of species and habitats.
2) interpretations: statements about the causes of the observations – e.g. what is the relative contribution of greenhouse gas emissions and solar variation to the changes in the Earth’s surface temperatures.
3) projections, predictions and scenarios: statements about what might happen and what is expected to happen.

Mostly, the scientific method is good at delivering well-corroborated observations. Scientists are also well-trained in the interpretation of their observations, in attributing cause, and in being careful not to jump to conclusions because of a spurious correlation.

However, projecting what might happen in the future cannot be subject to scientific method in the same way. There are no observations. The IPCC reports make use of ‘scenarios’ – descriptions of alternative possible futures. I was a member of the team that developed the scenarios in current use. Considerable effort was involved, including people with a range of expertise, using a large number of different computer models to explore how the world economy might develop, and subjecting the whole process to the usual IPCC scrutiny and review. However, the scenarios are just stories about what might happen; they are not predictions or forecasts.

Despite the IPCC’s efforts to include as wide a range of voices and perspectives as possible, some views inevitably come to dominate. In my own areas of work – evaluating the policies and measures that might reduce greenhouse gas emissions – the writing teams are dominated by technical and economic specialists with very few social scientists. Perhaps this is partly because the IPCC answers to governments, and governments tend to be preoccupied with economic growth and competitiveness rather than human well-being. Sociologists and anthropologists, who have a tendency to challenge assumptions about the way society is run, are rarely nominated by their governments as potential contributors.

So the policies and measures considered in IPCC reports are generally marginal changes to the current ways of doing things. Economic growth is assumed to be good. On the whole society is expected to continue as normal. We as Quakers should challenge this on several grounds:
a) There is plenty of research (popularised by Richard Layard) to show that the western high-consuming lifestyle does not result in happiness and that people can be just as satisfied with less money and lower greenhouse gas emissions.
b) There are many other environmental and social problems with the western lifestyle – it is unsustainable in its excessive use of finite resources of energy, land and water; it inequitable, involving consumption levels that could not be achieved by all the world’s population and relying on low-cost manufacturing and waste disposal in other parts of the world.
c) Our dependence on minerals and fossil fuels, most obviously oil, is a major cause of international conflict and violence.

Meanwhile the IPCC seems more likely to be underestimating than overestimating the potential severity of climate change, because of the stringency of its review processes and government controls. Many scientists have warned that warming and sea level rise may be faster than implied by the 2007 assessment, and that we may be close to a tipping point for a much warmer climate. Even if you doubt climate science, the case against is certainly not proven and the risk of huge, irreversible ecological damage must be substantial. It would be rational to take action to avoid that risk, if only to ensure our own survival.

Perhaps a large part of public doubt about climate change comes down to the need people have to justify their current choices and way of life. Addressing climate change will require a shift in behaviour. 75-80% of greenhouse gas emissions are caused by the supply chains for the consumption of food, transport and housing. Within these three areas the most significant emission causes are the consumption of meat and dairy products, personal travel by car and air, and use of gas and electricity in the home.

Whereas it is normally assumed that we need to change attitudes in order to change behaviour, the truth is often the other way around. There’s plenty of research in specific circumstances that shows how people develop attitudes and beliefs that support their current habitual behaviour. In fact, people tend to adopt the behaviours of the people around them.

So for me the central challenge in responding to climate change is not to persuade people that it’s happening, but to develop groups or communities that can make self-conscious, collective choices about living sustainably, and act as patterns and examples to the people around them. Several organisations and networks are working with this end in mind, including the Global Action Plan EcoTeams programme and the Transition Town movement. In Living Witness Project we are working to support Quaker meetings in finding their own collective approaches to sustainability. There is a particular Quaker contribution in our experience of developing shared understandings and collective choices as groups. I believe we should be doing more to share that experience.

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Thanks to Laurie for this post.

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Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Transforming a garden for food growing

This week, another guest post, and another approach to gardening. Ben Pink Dandelion, a colleague at Woodbrooke, and Wendy Hampton share what they have done in their garden. They live in Clitheroe by Pendle Hill with their children, in a house which is itself a project in green living (but that's another story).

These three photos show our garden as it used to be. Three quarters of an acre in a town centre setting, lots of lovely grass to play on, and twenty trees planted as many years ago. The garden is kind of square, walled all around up to ten feet high. There are few trees on the south side so generally there is good sun most of the day, blocked in parts of the garden by the trees, but the beds are all panted in front of the trees and we have cleared the way to the new polytunnel by removing old trees. The wall behind the polytunnel faces south/south-west. The house sits north-south so the wall seen in two of the photos is on the east.

This photo shows the view back to the house from the edge of the tree line. The garden was originally quite ornamental with a sundial in the centre and beds around the outside and diagonally across the grass to the sundial. We have been discovering these beds, long hidden by the trees planted a couple of decades ago for ease of maintenance. With twenty years of leaf fall the top soil is rich and lovely and we are lucky that our garden is walled and also has plenty of sunlight coming over Pendle Hill towards us.

This year we decided to stop growing grass and spurred on by concern over food miles, our local Transition Town initiative, the 'Path to Freedom' urban farm in California, and forest gardening and permaculture principles, we have started to create our own 'good life'. Clitheroe, Lancashire, where we live, is famous for its rain and I thought we might call our urban farm the 'Noah project' with all its connotations of a new start but actually all our days outside have been hampered more by snow than rain!

We have dug as many raised beds in our lawn as still allows our push mower to cut the paths,

taken out three old and dying trees and planted seven fruit trees (apples, mulberry, chestnut , cherry and gage) and ten fruit bushes.

Wendy's grandfather's greenhouse has been collected from Preston and reassembled (photo 6) and we have bought a secondhand 30 foot polytunnel from some Quaker friends who have been organic gardening for 20 years and who now need a bigger one.

We are generally using (mainly!) donated wine bottles as the edge to the raised beds as a free, recycled, beautiful, and everlasting alternative to wood

but have used bricks in places.

We have done a lot of digging as the garden was on different levels and because we needed topsoil for the beds. We have needed to uproot a laurel and level a piece of ground for the greenhouse and have taken soil from behind that site for the raised beds.

Our three compost bins used to sit against the most sunlit wall on a raised bed complete with their own brick lined approach. All this has been excavated and the bins moved forward in front of where the polytunnel will go.

Then we excavated and levelled a 30 x 10 foot space for the polytunnel leaving about two feet next to the wall where, depending on what sunlight is left, we hope to grow grapes or hardy kiwi from next year.

We have worked around our yurt 

and hope to have rescued battery hens and maybe Golden Guernsey goats amongst the trees at the back of the garden.

Some more clearing to do! This picture is the new version of the 3rd photo at the top of the page!

This photo shows our raspberry canes with pebble stem separators, to encourage the main canes to spread out and not grow too closely together - we are seeing if that works.

and here is a seasonal picture: our witch hazel just beginning to flower.

Thanks to Ben and Wendy for this – I’ll be asking them for an update in the autumn to see how their growing season went!

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Wednesday, 3 March 2010

A distinctively Quaker vision for Meeting House gardens?

This week’s posting is a guest post from Alice Yaxley. She’s writing about an initiative in Central England Area Meeting, but it’s full of transferable ideas.

Alice Yaxley is a member of Coventry Meeting and an editor of the international Quaker social networking site She is a scientist by training and the mother of a toddler.

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“Now was I come up in spirit through the flaming sword, into the paradise of God. All things were new; and all the creation gave another smell unto me than before, beyond what words can utter. I knew nothing but pureness, and innocency, and righteousness, being renewed up into the image of God by Christ Jesus, to the state of Adam, which he was in before he fell. The creation was opened to me; and it was shewed me how all things had their names given them according to their nature and virtue ...Great things did the Lord lead me into, and wonderful depths were opened unto me beyond what can by words be declared; but as people come into subjection to the Spirit of God, and grow up in the image and power of the Almighty, they may receive the word of wisdom, that opens all things, and come to know the hidden unity in the Eternal Being.” George Fox (Journal)
I have an image of a kind of gardening that reflects our Quaker spirituality. When I first came across this quote from George Fox’s journal I was gripped by it. The kind of edible ecosystems that can be created with permaculture principles conjure up an image of the Garden of Eden. We can know ourselves part of nature, work together, and become fruitful through hearing and attending to God’s leadings. It would be wonderful to be able to show people the garden as a vision of how our lives can be transformed by God. We could make relatively low-maintenance community food gardens with this approach - dozens of different kinds of food plants growing together beautifully – to share with each other. We can show our transformed lives, made fruitful by following Christ – bearing fruit to share and witnessing to the way we are called to live.

Seventeen Friends met at the Priory Rooms (Bull St Meeting House, central Birmingham) to learn about Permaculture and think about what we might do with Meeting House grounds and gardens in the Central England Area Meeting. Simon Watkins from Coventry Meeting gave us an overview of the Permaculture design philosophy.  We spent some time starting to explore how we might want to take the ideas forward. Six local Meetings were represented plus the Ecocentre in Northfield: Coventry, Hall Green, Sutton Coldfield, Stourbridge, Cotteridge, and Selly Oak. 

The permaculture approach is aimed at making a sustainable garden which is easy to care for, and this fits in well with what is needed for Meeting House grounds. Most are currently organized to be as low maintenance as possible whilst till looking presentable. Most other food-growing styles are quite high maintenance, requiring a lot of work to set up and to keep in order, such as raised bed systems. If we use the Permaculture approach we could produce food in a way which is quite easy to keep tidy.

We could produce food for ourselves, which we could harvest and share. We could produce food for the rest of the community – neighbours, friends and visitors. We would like it to have an educational purpose – lots of people use the Meeting House and can see what we are doing. We think we are all meant to be learning where our food comes from and to grow some of it ourselves and we want to share the knowledge with other people. Lots of other groups use the Meeting Houses and would be able to learn alongside us by observing what is going on in the gardens.

We have a lot of different kinds of properties in our Area Meeting. Meetings range from lively and growing to faltering. Some Meetings have a property, others don’t. Some are elderly in membership and there is not physical ability to do much more about grounds keeping. There are varied needs for the grounds. Lets such as nursery schools are common, grounds may need to be suitable for small children to use.

We want to know more about what to plant – we need to observe the habitats we have and we have Simon to ask for advice! We want to know more about how to grow food. We are aware that there are issues about how we organize the space – we want to make sure our neighbours continue to have the privacy they need. The site needs to be tidy and manageable over the long term. We need to make sure the grounds are still attractive for all users of the Meeting House. We want to be able to share food – using produce communally. We want to have gardening sessions – keep tools/gloves at the Meeting House so we can spend odd half hours gardening when we are there anyway.

Potential problems include:
- vandalism
- theft of produce or plants
- insurance (it needs to be safe for all users)
- what about pollution from main road – how will we know if it’s making our food poisonous?
- labour – what happens if the volunteer labour dries up or moves on?

There are constraints associated with existing uses. The grounds need to be safe and secure for members of the public who use the grounds, and for us. We need to get the right advice about positions of trees with respect to subsidence and shade. Some of our Meeting Houses have ancient burial grounds – there are probably restrictions on digging and moving earth, and we need to find out about that.

Next steps for the network of Friends involved:

• Pray for this endeavour.
We want to do God’s will and that means we have to pray to practise asking for guidance and listening for what God wants us to do. We want our grounds most of all to reflect our understanding of how God wants us to live. We want to be ready to change tack if it seems that an original idea or direction could be superseded by a better way, or even if it turns out that the status quo is the right thing for the time being (though it's more fun if it isn't!)

• Assess the sites
One of the principles of permaculture design that was introduced is to observe first and intervene as little as possible with as much impact as possible. Volunteers for each of the sites need to draw up a plan of the existing grounds and nearby surroundings, showing what's there and highlighting any ongoing issues of whatever nature - to do with uses (desired and unwelcome), site conditions (shade, damp, poor soil if known, weeds etc.) and other constraints real or potential, as well as opportunities such as "potentially attractive frontage" or "lots of space".

• Involve the relevant communities
List the aspirations, either individual or established consensus, for the use of the grounds. Include everyone's.

• Consider the available resources
Identify what resources are available, including people's time, skills and experience, within the meeting community or locally, practical resources such as equipment, potential donations of plants or seeds, memberships of useful organisations, etc.

• Build up a knowledge base
Study topics of interest such as cultivation of food plants, composting, water storage, wild and native plants, case studies of successful community garden schemes, etc. Visit Northfield Eco-centreRyton Organic Gardens  and any other local projects which seem relevant to the cause.

For anyone else thinking about something similar, it would be helpful to do this in groups so that you can discuss your reactions to the same experience, with a view to drawing out any new ideas or issues which could influence your collective thinking about your projects.

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Thanks to Alice for this post. If you want to post a comment and are having technical difficulties, you can  email your comment to me at, and I can post it for you.