Page 36 - Simply Vegetables Winter 2020/21
P. 36

Dear Kelvin,
Reading Roger Clements’ letter (Water, Simply Vegetables Summer 2020) I was reminded that I’d intended to respond to your article about hydroponics in the previous issue. To my shame I didn’t get around to doing so but, hey, better late than never!
I found your article really interesting
and informative for, although I knew of hydroponics, I wasn’t aware of the range of techniques falling under the name nor the extent to which hydroponics has already embedded itself into our food production methods.
Given the efficiency with which the hydroponics systems use water, I agree with your assessment that it has great scope
to contribute to global food production, particularly where water is, or is becoming, an increasingly scarce resource.
Where I must take issue though, is over your assertion that, if the global human population is to increase from 7.5 to 9 million by 2050, we need to expand our food production. At present, according
to Mike Berners-Lee (‘There is no planet
B’, Cambridge University Press, 2019), global food production currently stands at just under 6,000 kcals per person per day compared with an average daily requirement of 2,350 kcals per person (distorted upwards by the excess consumption of, in
Potato Story for NVS
Recently I wrote a short article for the NVS Simply Vegetable Magazine. It was the first attempt at writing a literary article. The subject I had chosen and written about was on how to grow a Plum tree in the allotment.
Taken back to an embarrassing moment, my first attempt at exhibiting a plate of potatoes, at the now defunct Moorgreen show. The class had attracted a large entry. Amongst the tableful of plates, my very
first endeavour as an exhibitor stood out. But not for the right reasons. It had been presented with great pride, but mine was the only plate of small brown spuds on show.
Not to be deterred however, out came my diary for the next year, 12 months hence, allowing plenty of time to work on and enter a better exhibit.
After much exploration and tremendous effort during the growing season, my display was so bad, that unfortunately, it was not even good enough to reach the show bench. In my determination to produce a good exhibit, I had bought the very best of everything. The peat was the main reason for my failure. I had chosen the wrong concentration, it was absolutely packed-full
particular, United States and some European consumers). The problem is, that of the
food produced, some 1320 kcals (22%) are lost or wasted, 810 kcals (14%) are used
as biofuels and 1740 kcals (29%) are fed
to animals. Simply halving the amount of waste (pre and post-harvest), assuming
fair distribution, would easily support a population in excess of 9 million. That’s clearly a big assumption, but I think it serves to demonstrate that we don’t need an expansion of food production, particularly not one dependent upon intensive agriculture with massive inputs of inorganic fertilizers and increasing levels of oil reliant machinery and automation; globally we’d be much better off with a more organic and workforce dependent agricultural system (see also Tim Lang’s ‘Feeding Britain: Our food problems and how to fix them’, Pelican Books 2020).
Roger Clements makes some good points about the importance of water and how
to make best use of it. I too used to make use of plastic bottles to direct water to the roots of individual plants but, for polytunnel tomatoes and capsicums, I prefer to plant them in trenches as this makes watering from cans much easier and far less time consuming. A thorough drenching every few days is generally sufficient to avoid blossom end rot in my tomatoes.
I too generally avoid watering outdoor crops after an initial thorough watering in even if this is at the expense of crop yields;
of fertilizer and lime, encouraging so much scab that the spuds looked like a plate of walnuts, all brown and wizened.
Still not disenchanted, there was an obvious need for a mentor and a support team who could not only give assistance but also provide on-track backing when required.
Living not very far from a most accomplishes grower in Nottinghamshire, seeking his advice, he suggested that I could do no better than to copy the system of the best and most successful growers, using a DVD bought through the NVS.
Acting on his advice and now in my third year of following the guidance based on the expertise of the Plumb family, my improvement continues. I have played this DVD so many time that I feel I could be considered one of their family.
Fine tuning my plans: There has always been trouble with scab on the skin of spuds. Potato exhibitors, like commercial producers and suppliers of large potatoes for the baking trade, have a vested interest in growing a smooth skinned potato for consumption from their mobile vending unit, to the hungry hordes at lunch time.
unfortunately lots of my fellow allotmenteers favour daily watering, although they be less enthusiastic about so doing if our spiraling water bills mean that their rents have to keep going up. A move away from thirsty annuals to perennial crops may be one response to drier summers that we should all consider. Where I do disagree with Roger is over
his assessment that water may “become as scarce as oil which is becoming increasingly more difficult and expensive to find and extract”. Putting aside negative oil prices caused by the Covid-19 collapse in demand, the world already has vastly greater proven reserves than can possibly be extracted
and burned if we are to avoid catastrophic climate change. The vast bulk of known reserves of oil and gas need to stay where they are i.e. in the ground. If the cost were truly increasing, and we were actual running out of hydrocarbons, maybe their use would be in sharp decline but, Covid-19 blip aside, this just isn’t the case.
There are viable alternatives to burning hydrocarbons (save, perhaps for the time being, long-haul aviation), but there are
not, and never will be, alternatives to water. Whilst graphene based nanotechnology may offer the prospect of large scale, low energy, desalination of sea water, for the time being we need to conserve and make better use of our limited fresh water resources.
Bill Jones
It was now a necessity to turning to my technical man from Leicestershire, a veg grower called Mr Smith. As expected he made excellent suggestions including an improved regime of watering the crop, from tuber initiation and beyond.
Fortunately and finally, there was the chance meeting of a Gray-haired grower from Scotland, at Medwyn’s Annual Master Class [2019]. From his counselling it was apparent that to be sufficiently adept as my three main advice-givers, there was
the necessity of being equally proficient in every detail of instruction as I followed a proscribed plan. And watch his video!
I am now nearly up-to-date with my episode. You know better than I do, that all the opportunities for exhibition have been put on hold for a year. As this year was to be ‘the big one’ for me, you may be pleased to read that I have continued with my progress, and have entered The NVS Virtual show 2020.
This my second allotment article, featuring ‘Plumbs’! Hopefully it will prove to be as successful with potatoes, as the first article was with my fruit tree.
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