Organic Farming is the Bees Knees!

If you look at the plate of food on your dinner table, bees have played their part either pollinating the many vegetables and fruits we eat directly or pollinating the food for the animals that we then consume. And don’t forget the honey and wax they produce – two other important products that come courtesy of their hard work.

It’s hard to imagine a fruit salad without strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, orchard fruits, citrus fruits and tropical fruits.  But precisely what would happen if the honey bee were to disappear (amongst other meals impacted by crop loss).

tiago-faifa-NXDr9mDZ3cw-unsplashPollination is the highest agricultural contributor to yields worldwide, contributing far beyond any other agricultural management practice. This makes bees and other pollinators major contributors to agriculture. Pollinators affect 35 percent of global agricultural land, supporting the production of 87 of the leading food crops worldwide. Amazing!

Disturbingly honey bees, a very important pollinator, are disappearing globally at an alarmingly rate due to pesticides, parasites, habitat loss, and disease. Declines in their health and populations are seen globally as posing risks for biodiversity, long-term food security and ultimately human health.

With a potentially pessimistic outlook for the honey bee it’s great to hear that a study published in June (2019) shows that organic farming can mitigate the negative effects of intensive farming and increase in particular honeybee colony survival.

Researchers of the French national research institutes INRA and CNRS are the first to show that organic farming benefits honeybee colonies. Compared with bee colonies on non-organic land, colonies on organic farms had 37% more broods, with 20% more adult bees, and 53% greater honey production. Whilst they expected to confirm the benefits of organic farming with honeybee colonies they were surprised at the scale of the positive effects.

The research team analysed six years of data collected through a honeybee monitoring scheme ECOBEE which has been operating in France since 2008., Researchers particularly noted the benefits of organic farming to honeybee colonies during the flower-scarce period between the blooms of rapeseed and sunflower.

Since 2000, honeybee colonies have shown an increasing trend of poor development and high death rate. This has been attributed in part to intensive agriculture with its high usage of chemicals and single crop planting.  Evidence from this study indicates that organic farming can mitigate this decline and, moreover, can benefit the yields of crops grown by conventional farmers within 1500m of the hives.

aaron-burden-6csuZQ9oZcI-unsplashThe researchers found that the development of the colony ie the number of living adults benefited mostly where organic farmland is up to 300m from the hives thought to be due to more diverse pollen resource and decreased pesticide drift at the local scale.

But when it comes to honey reserves these benefited where organic farmland is up to 1,500m from the hives thought to be due to an increased availability of melliferous1 flowers over a longer distance for foraging bees.

A wonderful explanation given by Vincent Bretagnolle, the project leader, demonstrates the distain and lack of awareness that we know from our growers is often shown by their conventional neighbours.  He noted “Organic farms and fields are often seen by conventional farmers as a source for pests; we show here that organic farming has actually positive effects at the landscape scale, not only for biodiversity in general, but for beekeepers as well and even for conventional farmers since honeybees contribute to rapeseed and sunflower yields”.

When you next tuck into a delicious Greener Greens fruit salad or bowl of steamed vegetables recognise that you are not only nourishing your body and supporting our fabulous farmers but you’re doing your bit to help support our wonderful honeybees who do so much for us.

1 A melliferous flower is a plant which produces substances that can be collected by insects and turned into honey

Reference

Wintermantel, D, Odoux, J-F, Chadœuf, J, Bretagnolle, V. Organic farming positively affects honeybee colonies in a flower-poor period in agricultural landscapes. J Appl Ecol 2019. DOI: 10.1111/1365-2664.13447

 

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, (May 2018), Why bees matter

Click to access i9527en.pdf

There’s nought Blue about Blueberries

One of the high spots of the year for me is the arrival of the first blueberries from Horsham.  The season may be short – eight weeks or so – but it is packed with six varieties of blueberries, each with their own special flavour and becoming sweeter as the summer progresses.

Our Horsham blueberries are grown on fertile clay soil in Lower Beeding by Bob Hewitt of Selehurst Gardens (better known to us as Blueberry Bob).  Over the years he has transformed a relatively small area into an extremely productive site and the weather this year has helped to improve this productivity.  Last year the long, early Summer temperatures took their toll on the blueberry plants and the season finished before August was out.

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I can recall my first tasting of a Blueberry Bob berry so vividly.  The sweet, flavoursome taste and amazing juiciness brought a huge grin to my face.  “This is heaven” I thought as I dived back into the punnet! Unsurprisingly, as we encourage people at our markets to taste the berries I have learnt that my reaction was not unique to me!  Collectively us “lovers of blueberries from Bob” could be deemed to be “people who know what they like”, but we think we fall into the category of having a “well-developed palette” as these blueberries are used by the Michelin 1 chef, Tom Kemble, at South Lodge in Lower Beeding.  I rest our case!

We have always been fascinated by these blueberries and why they can sell so well, at double the price, to those in London but are not generally appreciated in their home territory of Sussex. So we ran a taste test at Horsham Market a few years ago.  We bought some organic blueberries from Waitrose – variety Duke and from Poland. We had some Duke variety from Blueberry Bob on our stall at the same time.  The Waitrose blueberries were more expensive (a little aside, but important to us).  Customers and passers-by were invited to taste one of each and to provide a comparison. The facial expressions presented us with the best reactions.  The Polish blueberries were sharp and tasteless and usually generated a grimace. Blueberry Bob’s Duke blueberries mostly generated a satisfactory smile (and often a purchase – a double win!).

Whilst initially I was sold on these blueberries by their taste, I soon found out their health benefits – for young and old.  My grand-daughter was weaned on these blueberries and was declared the healthiest baby seen by the doctor for a long time at one of her early progress appointments.

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Blueberries are considered a superfood today but have been used for their medicinal properties for centuries.  American Indians used blueberry leaves as a tonic for colicky babies and in Europe the fruit itself was used to cure diarrhoea, dysentery and scurvy as well as circulatory problems and eye diseases. In particular, blueberries were used to treat diabetic retinopathy (an eye disease associated with diabetes) and some physicians still use it as part of treatments.

Top researchers, Béliveau and Gingras, were particularly interested in this traditional use of blueberries for diabetic retinopathies as the latter are caused by “uncontrolled angiogenesis” in blood vessels, a phenomenon which is instrumental in the growth of cancer tumours.  Their research suggests that molecules known as anthocyanidins (found abundantly in blueberries) can be responsible for the anti-angiogenic effects of these berries and slow the growth of tumours.  Angiogenesis is a process whereby the cancer tumours, which require food and oxygen to grow, trigger chemical signals to attract the cells of blood vessels located nearby.  These blood vessels react by clearing a path to the tumour by dissolving the surrounding tissue and forming a new blood vessel thus facilitating the flow of food and oxygen to the tumour.

Research has determined that benefits of blueberries include improvement of cognitive health (this has to be a subject of a future blog as it is quite technical, but associated with the antioxidant content acting as a “de-rusting agent”), prevents urinary tract infection occurring, helps anti-ageing and improves skin, heart and eyes through its mineral and vitamin content.

These guys are so under-estimated because we have them throughout the year.  But, the greatest benefit will be achieved from the farm fresh ones that are produced locally and are available on our website.

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s Go Birding!

After our last blog post about insects,  I’m sure you’ve all been keeping your eyes to the ground! Now it’s time to look up though – with the bird breeding season upon us it’s well worth keeping an eye on the trees and hedgerows to see who’s around. Below we’ve listed a few of our favourites to keep an eye on – particularly if you have bird feeders in your garden. Thank you to Rosie from the Wilde & Greene farm shop for her amazing photographs.

 

  1. Chaffinch

These little delights are a lovely addition to any garden. Their distinctive colouring (red with a bluish grey head for males, a more subdued brown and buff for the females) separates them from other finches. Look for their obvious black and white wing bars in flight.

During nesting season these little birds make a distinctive frog-like ‘kkk-kkk’ if you venture too close to their nests, and loud ‘feep’ calls can often be heard coming out of hedgerows and trees.

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2.  Dunnock

This lesser known sparrow is the real life ‘little brown job’ of the bird world.  Sometimes called a ‘hedge sparrow’ you will often see them skulking around the ground underneath bird feeders, hedgerows and bushes. For something so normal looking, Dunnocks have extremely interesting breeding methods. It’s always the quiet ones. Listen for a high-pitched, rather frantic chatter coming from hedges.

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3.  Greenfinch

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Greenfinches love black sunflower seeds! They are bright little birds with a twittering (sometimes a bit jurassic) song. They’re common on heathland, in parks and gardens and in woodland.  Their distinctive green-green plumage and black-tipped wings make them easy to spot.

 

4. Great Tit

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Great Tits are very easy to tell apart from other members of the tit family. They have a long, pointed beak and a very black head. They’re much larger than blue tits, and their plumage tends to be more green than blue, with a yellow chest. It’s a very common garden and bird feeder visitor. You can hear its very distinctive two syllabled ‘teacher-teacher’ call pretty much anywhere you go.

 

5.  Long Tailed Tit

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These lovely little birds are a common favourite. They fly from tree to tree in excitable family units devouring insects as they go. You’ll often find them on fat-ball feeders. They have an almost electric sounding repeated ‘sceep’ call  which is hard to miss when they’re around! Long-Tailed Tits are easy to spot – they’re little rose-pink, white and black fluff balls with very long tails and short beaks.

 

6.  Goldfinch

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Other than an extremely distinctive bubbling chatter, Goldfinches are incredibly easy to recognise because of their read faces, black caps and yellow and black wings. They’re common visitors to bird tables, gardens and parks, although I often see them sitting on top of houses on aerials chatting away to one another.

 

7.  Barn Swallow

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They’ll be back soon! Swallows migrate here from March until October for the summer and nest inside old farm buildings. They have a distinctive chatter with a ‘kkk’ noise coming from the throat added in for good measure. Barn Swallows have such a distinctive shape – a deep forked tail with long streamers and pointed, elegantly curved wings, you’ll most likely see them on the wing, playing and flying through the air catching insects as they go.  They have white undersides, red throats and blue bodies.

 

8.  Great Spotted Woodpecker

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These striking birds have black and white plumage with strong red undersides. The male also has a distinctive red patch on the back of his head. You’ll more likely hear them rather than see them when they’re in trees  – either a loud drumming or a loud call that is almost like a laugh, which they often do in flight too.

Rosie was lucky enough to have one on her bird feeder, where they can sometimes be spotted (they like peanuts). Otherwise, look out for them in woodland, parks and large gardens.

 

With numbers in strong decline, it’s more important than ever to take notice of the birds that we have in our local area. Why not keep a record of the species that you see – maybe even keep a tally on numbers to monitor the birds year on year? Even if you decide not too, they’re still nice just to look at!

 

Bug Life

Cavenham Heath is a wonderful nature reserve right next door to our farm shop in Tuddenham, Suffolk. We like to keep up-to-date with the bird sightings on the heath by keeping our sightings board relevant and updated weekly, and we’re very excited about the Stone Curlews that have just arrived up there for the summer.

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Right now though, we’re thinking about insects, which we have lots of down south too! After hearing that we’re at risk of losing huge numbers of our insect population, we’ve started to look at the ones around us.  Graeme Lyons visited the Suffolk heath at the end of last month and gave us all of his records for his visit. We’ve picked out a few of the most interesting species that are also common down here for you below:

Minotaur Beetle

Minotaur Beetle

GRAEME LYONS

This is my personal favourite. The Minotaur Beetle is a large dung beetle with three large horns on its head. It buries the dung of mammals (particularly sheep up on the heath) in finger-sized holes for its larvae to feed on. They grow to around 2cm long and are easily identified because of the horns.

 

Birch Catkin Bug

Birch Catkin Bug

GRAEME LYONS

This rust-coloured bug is common on or around birch trees. It mainly feeds on the seeds of the birch, and you may sometimes find them clustered together on a single birch leaf. With all the silver birch on the reserve, you’re bound to find one if you keep your eyes peeled! Watch out though, they have stink glands to ward off predators which have led them to also be called ‘Stink bugs’.

 

Garlic Snail

This little guy can be found under logs and is about the size of your little fingernail. Give it a sniff – it smells like garlic! It has a yellow-brown shell which is translucent.

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Ero aphana

GRAEME LYONS

Ero aphana is a nationally scarce spider found on heathland. It’s one of four species within the Mimetidae genus which are also called pirate spiders. This is because, unusually,  they predate the webs of other spiders – not for their food, but for the spiders themselves. These spiders grow to around 3mm long.

 

Dock Bug

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GRAEME LYONS

This is the most common and the largest member of the Squashbug family. It’s called the Dock Bug because it mostly feeds on the seeds and leaves of docks and sorrels. Like other bugs within their genus they have specially adapted mouth parts that they use to pierce plants to extract juices.

We’ve got lots of other insects to talk about, but in the meantime do let us know if you find any of these – or any other interesting ones!

The 4 R’s

At Greener Greens we, like many people, avidly practice the three R’s – reduce, reuse and recycle – to cut down waste, conserve natural resources, landfill space and energy.  But something I saw today prompts an additional R – resourcefulness.


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I was at the Dorking recycling centre (aka “the dump”) which sadly the local council has voted to close, although closure has now been delayed until the end of September.  As I put a black bin into the landfill/burn container one of the recycling team split it open to reveal its contents.  “Why are you doing that?” I said. And this is what I was told…

On recognising the folly of the planned closure, the team thought they would prove the value of their service by opening each black bin deposited, reclaiming (yet another R!) items that can be recycled and keeping a tally of the amount their actions earned the council. Within the first fortnight they had reclaimed 2 tons of clothing for which the council receives 50p per kg and many tons of other items.  To date the team has gained the council thousands of pounds.  And so impressed is the council with their trial that it has allocated funds to help their efforts.

I saw 3 bags opened today and each contained bottles, paper and other recyclable items.  Sadly one third of the contents of one bag was recyclable, demonstrating that we still have a way to go.  But this wonderful team at Dorking is busily generating the statistics that enable a better message to be presented to us all.  And they have given a new dimension to “protesting”!

We shall be campaigning to keep this recycling centre open and the team in jobs. And to do that, we will be following the progress of this trial.

This Could Be It!

This could be it! The beginning of the return of our wildlife! This week, Michael Gove, the Environment Secretary, announced the first agri-environment scheme directly funded by the UK – not Europe – as part of the preparation for post-Brexit farmland funding. It’s called ‘Payment by Results’ and rewards farmers for delivering environmental benefits to their land. It’s already being trialled in Suffolk and Norfolk as well as the Yorkshire Dales. DEFRA has now committed an extra £540,000 to extend the project, which is brilliant news for our wildlife, our environment and for our farmers, as this scheme will allow them to regain control over their land.

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In Suffolk and Norfolk, farmers are benefiting from planting nectar plots for bees and other pollinators as well as providing winter food for farmland birds during the ‘hungry gap’, while those in Wensleydale are focused on managing species-rich meadows. Sheep and cattle farmers managing grassland in the area have been rewarded for producing habitat suitable for breeding waders or managing species-rich meadows.

At a time where 40% of bird species worldwide are in decline and that one in eight species of birds is threatened with extinction as a direct result of intensive farming, this scheme is extremely important, and may well be the first step towards rebuilding our damaged farmland environment.  The aim of the scheme is to carry out further trials to find a model where “profitable farm businesses and environmental land management can co-exist and complement one another”.

“The Payment by Results pilot marks a shift in how we think about rewarding farmers for their work. This approach signals how we see the future of farm payments, where farmers deliver public goods for the environment which we all enjoy,” Gove has said.

Let’s hope that this scheme remains in place for the foreseeable future, as it could well mark the beginning of the rise in our bird & insect population.

 

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Pea Moth, Turnip Fly…Find the Link!

We hope that you had a weekend filled with bug-related activities! Even though National Insect Week is over, we’ve got one more post for you.  Last week’s blog was heavy on insects and a bit light on vegetables, so we’ve combined the two! Here are a few insects that share their names with vegetables & fruit:

Turnip Fly

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Adult cabbage root flies resemble house flies. The larvae are white, legless and headless maggots that feed on the roots and can kill seedling and recently transplanted brassicas. There are three generations of cabbage root fly during the summer but it is the first generation in late spring-early summer that is often the most damaging to crops and garden vegetables.

Adult cabbage root flies resemble house flies in size and appearance. Later generations are less damaging to cabbages and other leafy brassicas, as older plants have larger root systems and are better able to tolerate the damage. Host plants where the root is the edible part, such as radish, turnip and swede, are damaged by any of the generations.

When fully fed, the larvae go into a brown pupal stage in the soil, either emerging as adult flies a few weeks later or remaining in that state overwinter.

 

Lesser Pumpkin Fly

It is similar to a fruit fly but, as its name suggests, it parasitises members of the pumpkin family. Its larvae can be found living in the flesh of pumpkins, courgettes and squash.

Dacus ciliatus is a pest of a wide range of crops in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. 

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Apple Maggot Fly

The adult form of this insect is about 5 mm long and is slightly smaller than a house fly, with a white dot on its thorax and a characteristic black banding shaped like an “F” on its wings. When threatened it turns its wings 90 degrees and moves them up and down whilst walking sideways; the combination mimics the appearance of it being a spider due to the wing pattern in the new position appearing as additional legs!

The apple maggot fly is native to North America.

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Pea Moth

Adult pea moths are plain grey/ brown in colour with small pale yellow markings on their sides. They are tent-shaped, have a 15mm wingspan and long antennae.  Larvae are small yellow/ white, dark headed caterpillars up to 6mm long.

Caterpillars wander the host plant for a day before entering a developing seed pod in which they feed for up to a month. Caterpillars emerge from the pods by eating their way out and over-winter in the soil as pupae in silken cocoons. You may find some of these in your garden if you grow vegetables as they’re native to the UK.

49_324 Pea Moth, Cydia nigricana, Co_ Meath

National Insect Week – It’s Finally Here!

 

I’m sure that many of us remember standing in a field when we were younger and feeling overwhelmed by the buzzing of insects. Even if you don’t, you may well have noticed a distinct lack of insect remains on your windscreen after a drive in the dark. Crudely put I know, but there is a good reason for this.

Over the last 25 years there has been a 75% decrease in flying insects in the countryside. Any landscape dominated by agriculture will have noticed the distinct lack of life amongst the crops. This is due to the intensification of agriculture, the use of pesticides and the increase in land value to farmers (mostly due to the dangerously low produce prices dictated by supermarkets.)  Once, farmland had hedgerows and wildflower borders, but now as a general rule, this is no longer the case. The farmers just can’t afford the space. Many farmers have no option but to see their land as an asset rather than a piece of nature.

There are things we can do to help though. Becoming attuned to our tiny little friends is an incredibly rewarding thing.  Since I’ve become interested in insects my walks have become infinitely more interesting. For example, here is a Cardinal beetle. I found him on an early morning birdwatching walk in Kent.

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And here is an incredibly rare caterpillar – he becomes the Heath Fritillary butterfly. I found this one on a walk in Blean Woods near Canterbury.

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The RSPB website is an incredible resource – offering advice on everything from how to encourage wildlife to your garden using flowers and grasses, to how to build a ‘bug hotel’ from dead wood.

The National Insect Week website is a brilliant hub of information and has some incredible learning resources. This week there are events being run all over the country  designed to educate and encourage people to get involved with the wildlife around them.

It’s amazing what you can find around you – and it’s even more amazing when you know what you’re looking at!  Education is a really important way of ensuring that we care for the natural world – once people know what is out there, they’ll really begin to care for it.

Here’s an inspirational video, in case you weren’t quite swayed enough.

A Surrey Kitchen Recipe: Asparagus and Bok-Choy Frittata

We recently got in touch with Emma, a fabulous set-taught chef who runs the blog Surrey Kitchen. We asked her to create a recipe for the summer from some produce that we sent her. She came back with not one, but two brilliant recipes!  We’ll be keeping the second one from you for another week or so, but in the mean time here’s a great recipe for Asparagus and Bok-Choy Frittata. 

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Asparagus and Bok-Choy Frittata

Emma says:
“I adore Italian/Spanish Frittata but you do not need to limit yourself to traditional ingredients like onion, red pepper, garlic and cheese.  Here is a frittata with the Asian flavours of Bak Choy, grated ginger and asparagus for something a little different this summer.  Perfect for lunch in the garden or packed up in a tupperware box for a picnic with friends and family.”
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Ingredients

 

2 tablespoons cooking oil

1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger

1 clove garlic, minced

1 pinch paprika

1 small head bok choy, cut into 1-inch pieces

¾ pound asparagus, tough ends snapped off and discarded, spears cut into 1-inch pieces

¾ teaspoon salt

¾ teaspoon pepper

9 eggs, beaten to mix

¼ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

 

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Preparation Method:

 

1) Preheat oven to 325 F/165C. In a medium cast iron or ovenproof non-stick frying pan, heat the oil over moderate heat.

2) Add the ginger, garlic, paprika and cook, stirring, until fragrant (approx. 30 seconds).

3) Add the bok choy and cook stirring, until the leaves wilt, about 2 minutes.

4) Add the asparagus, salt and pepper and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are almost tender (approx. 3 minutes more).

5) Evenly distribute the vegetables in the pan and then add the eggs and a touch of remaining salt and pepper.

6) Cook the frittata, without stirring, until the edges start to set, about 2 minutes.

7) Put the frittata in the oven and bake until firm, about 25 minutes. Drizzle the sesame oil over the top.

 

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That’s it, simple yet incredibly effective. We’ll be posting up Emma’s second recipe next week, which leaves you plenty of time to try this one! For more recipes visit Emma’s blog – Surrey Kitchen.

Paprika is used in this recipe. It is an anti-oxidant spice that really helps to fight disease. It’s a nice little addition to any recipe – find out more health benefits of herbs and spices on our previous blog post.