It’s not often I reach out and ask people to sign a petition but time has almost run out for Ireland to register 8,250 signatures for the European People 4 Soil campaign and we’ve still a way to go to reach that target.
The campaign that launched a year ago is calling for the European Union to create a soil directive, similar to the air and water directives. If successful the Irish government would have to assess the condition of the soil beneath our fields and feet and take action where needed. Soil, the foundation of our existence, is currently unprotected.
If 1 million signatures are received from at least 7 member European states by mid September, the European Commission will have to react within three months. Can we do it? With your help yes, but please click the button below and share the petition with your friends, families and colleagues today.
What is soil?
Soil has been described as the skin of the earth and it’s incredible to consider that without this shallow layer, life on this earth as we know it would not exist. Formed slowly from thousands of years of physical and biological processes, soil provides a habitat for billions of living things. Soil holds and purifies water, it processes and stores carbon and it acts as a medium for plant growth.
Every teaspoon of soil is full of living organisms. Just 1 gram can hold up to a billion bacteria, nematodes, protozoa and fungal filaments. It’s not simply dirt, soil is alive! When we understand that we begin to understand why artificial fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides are so damaging to it, why it’s so important that we protect soil from erosion, and why we continue to study and educate people about it.
This clip from David R Mongomery explains how important the symbiosis between plants and the hidden mycorrhizae living beneath us is to soil fertility, plant health and subsequently our own health.
Recently I was gifted a beautiful 1946 revised edition of “The Living Soil – evidence of the importance to human health of soil vitality’ by E.B. Balfour. Within the book the author quotes Professor N. S. Shaler of Harvard University who in 1896 wrote:
“If mankind cannot devise and enforce ways of dealing the with earth, which will preserve the source of life, we must look forward to a time – remote it may be, yet clearly discernible – when our kind, having wasted its great inheritance, will fade from the earth because of the ruin it has accomplished.”
Yet here we are, over 120 years later, still not protecting the very substance we came from and one day will return to. Soil is the mother of all things. Please honour and protect her.
Muck, dirt, clay, mud – all words I’ve heard people use to describe garden soil yet it’s such a valuable resource it deserves so much more. It’s easy to take soil for granted yet soil is a substance that provides us with all our basic needs, such as food, shelter and clothing.
It takes *between a 100 and a 1,000 years to form just one centimeter of soil yet our lack of understanding or knowledge about soil management can help to destroy that centimeter of soil within 1 to 10 years. That’s quite startling given that most of the things we depend upon start their life in this incredible substance.
Therefore, in no particular order, I’ve listed three basic soil requirements that will help you to protect your garden soil, so that it keeps giving its best in the future. There’s also a link at the end of this post to People for Soil, who are looking for signatures to help give soil a voice by asking the EU for specific regulations.
1. Add organic matter to your soil.
Adding organic matter to garden soil not only helps to add nourishment to it and increase plant health, it also benefits soil structure and texture which will prevent soil erosion and aid drainage, helping to prevent vital nutrients washing away. Organic matter is decaying animal or plant material and can consist of homemade compost, well-rotted animal manure, leafmould or green manures.
Just a note, avoid working the soil if it’s wet or frozen as this can damage soil structure too.
Green Manure ~ Rye
2. Keep soil covered.
At last, a great reason NOT to be TOO TIDY in the garden.
Plant roots such as those on weeds and green manures help to protect soil structure and the fungal interactions that occur between plants and soil will help to nourish it. So don’t stress if you didn’t weed the garden before the onset of winter, you can now rest easy with the knowledge that those little weed roots are protecting your garden soil.
3. Reduce or preferably stop using artificial chemicals and fertilisers on soil
Research is ongoing about the effects of artificial chemicals on soil health so far better to err on the side of caution until we know more.
If you’re not sure, don’t add it. Stick to more natural fertilisers such as compost, seaweed, plant or animal based fertlisers until you’re more informed, and don’t forget to practice good Crop Rotation practices.
If you haven’t seen it yet, keep an eye out for a screening of Symphony of the Soil, a documentary film that shares the beauty and importance of soil. I have a licensed copy of the film so if you’d like to screen it in Ireland, contact me for more information. It might make you view soil in a completely new light.
Meanwhile, why not pop over to People 4 Soil and sign the petition to give soil a voice. People 4 Soil are a free and open network of European NGO’s, research institutes, farmers, associations and environmental groups. The proposal for a Soil Framework Directive was withdrawn in May 2014 after it ran into a minority that blocked it for eight years. The current EU policies are not able to to offer soil adequate protection. We’re hoping to change that.
Getting to know your soil is half way to determining how well your plants will grow.
Your soil contains nutrients and minerals that allow plants to thrive so if you can identify your soil type – whether it’s clay, sand, peaty or loam, you can work with the soil you have rather than constantly fighting against it.
How to find out what your soil texture is
A fun experiment you can carry out at home (and a great one for the children to help with too) is to place about a cup full of your soil into a straight sided, clean jar, removing any larger pebbles or stones first.
Add a tablespoon of laundry detergent and a tablespoon of salt to the soil then fill the jar with water to the top before screwing on a lid tightly.
Shake the jar for five minutes or so (you may need help!)
Leave the jar undisturbed where you can see it. After a couple of days the soil particles will settle into layers.
Reading the Results
As the sand particles are the heaviest they will sink to the bottom first, followed by silt then clay. The thickness of each layer will help to determine how much of each is contained in your soil.
So as you can see from the result of our Greenside Up soil above, a small layer of sand has settled at the bottom, then silt, with clay at the top, at roughly 20% sand, 30% silt and 50% clay.
The Greenside up soil is therefore considered a heavy clay soil.
You can usually identify your soil type just by looking at it and feeling it, without the need for an experiment (this was just for a bit of fun) – sandy soil is lighter in colour than clay for instance.
So how do I determine my soil without the experiment?
Grab a handful of dry soil and add a few drops of water, mixing well until it become pliable. Try rolling the soil into a ball.
If it feels gritty, if it crumbles when you try to roll it into a ball then your soil is sandy.
Course sand feels like granulated sugar when rubbed between fingers. Medium sand feels like table salt when rubbed. Fine sand is harder to detect unless you hold your fingers near your ears as you rub it.
Sandy soils are easy to dig but water and nutrients flow through them easily, meaning they dry out quickly and will have to be replenished regularly. Sandy soils warm quickly and retain their heat (just think of a warm beach) which some plants especially like, particularly carrots and their roots will swell.
If, when you try to roll the soil into a ball in your hand it holds together well, or if it feels much finer than sand, then your soil texture will be silt or clay. If it feels like plasticine then its fine clay whereas silt particles will leave it feeling like icing sugar. If you can roll the soil into a sausage and it forms a ring, its clay. If it forms a sausage but breaks up as you try to make a ring and feels silky, its silty loam.
Clay soils are described as heavy and can be very sticky to dig. If you try digging when clay soil is wet you can damage the structure of it. Clay soils are slow to warm up but retain water better in the hotter months and therefore keep their valuable nutrients for longer. Because their particles are so tiny they tend to pack together tightly which creates poor drainage and aeration and can contribute towards roots rotting.
Silty soils feel silky or soapy when moist. Clay soils feel sticky when moist.
Peter Donegan wrote a much more detailed blog post about Ireland Soil Types back in 2008 if you’d like to delve deeper into them.
A large pollinator friendly container garden designed by Dee Sewell. Image courtesy of Carlow Local Enterprise Office
A question I’m being asked almost daily at this time of year is “what pollinator friendly plants do you recommend for my hanging baskets and window boxes?” In order to address the queries, I’ve spent some time researching to see if there’s any new or helpful advice for us to consider. You can fine some suggestions below.
Edible Plants for Containers
Having spent the past ten years mostly concentrating on fruit, vegetables, herbs, green manures and companion planting, my initial thoughts turned to anything edible. Almost all edibles can grow in containers once there’s drainage. Container gardening can be more costly in terms of extra compost, more time consuming given the amount of watering, but you get the satisfaction of being able to walk outside and pick fruit, vegetables and herbs right outside your door, windowsill or balcony and you can move them around. Pollinator friendly edibles include:
Bumblebee on a broad bean flower
Dwarf runner and French beans
Flowering herbs such as lavender, thyme, rosemary, oregano, marjoram and sage.
As horticulturalists begin to turn away from years of growing flowers for people rather than insects, or perhaps try to keep us all satisfied, more pollinator friendly ornamental plants are becoming available in local garden centres which is great news for us all.
Creating a Raised Pollinator Friendly Flower Bed
I was recently asked by Carlow Town Development Forum to design a pilot flower bed in the centre of town for the launch of Carlow town’s biodiversity plan. Due to soil conditions and services below the grass, I opted for a raised bed which was beautifully enclosed in willow wattle by the talented Beth and Paul from Willow Wonder. When designing a garden plan, there are thousands of choices to consider, including natural Irish Wildflowers like those donated to the project by Sandro Cafolla of wildflowers.ie that we guerrilla planted around the nearby trees.
Bergamot – Monarda Didyma
However, as a showcase garden, I decided to raise awareness of some of the beautiful herbaceous perennials that pollinators love to visit, choosing varieties of cone flowers and salvias, with a backbone of pollinator friendly evergreen plants for all year interest running throughout. Overplanted for initial impact, the idea is that the garden will be low maintenance. After the initial outlay for plants and soil, this bed will need very little maintenance over the coming years other than watering, deadheading, some light pruning and moving plants to new beds as they grow into their space and squeeze others out.
Pollinator Friendly Plant Lists
There are several resources online to help with our plant choices. Biodiversity Ireland are looking after us with their excellent pollinators.ie website and list of pollinator friendly plants, as are the Royal Horticultural Society in the UK. All of the plant genus I chose for the garden above are mentioned in these lists, with various pollinator friendly species available from local garden centres.
If you’re travelling through Carlow town and spot the pollinator friendly flower bed photographed above, or if you’re local to it and will be watching it develop over the coming months, these are the plants you’ll find there, all obtained from an Irish nursery:
Pollinator Friendly Bedding Plants
Whilst my summer favourite bedding Impatiens (Busy Lizzie) doesn’t fall on either of the pollinator lists, thankfully the very pretty Chaenostoma also known as Bacopa does. A trailing plant that flowers from mid-June through to the end of August, this is an excellent addition to any summer container display.
Peter Cuthbert also recommends another favourite of mine in his article Summer Bedding for People and Pollinators, Bidens. We planted these annuals in containers in Castle Activation Unit one year and the hanging baskets were beautiful. Peter also mentions that adding pollinator friendly plants to traditional displays will “make a significant difference to the overall sustainability of the planting scheme”, so perhaps my Busy Lizzie’s are safe for a while longer.
Limnanthes (poached egg flower) excellent companion flower as attracts hoverflies
One plant I can guarantee that’s a bee and hoverfly magnet is the colourful Limnanthes douglasii or poached egg plant. I scattered some seeds in the vegetable patch a few years back and it self seeded all over the place thereinafter. A container might contain it better and has the advantage of being easy to move around so that this plant that resembles its popular namesake is closer to plants that attract aphids. Hoverfly larvae are veracious eaters of aphis, making Limnanthes a win for the pollinators and their offspring. You can find more information about beneficial insects here.
Herbs for Bees
Many herb varieties are attractive, functional and pollinator friendly such as chives, lavender, rosemary, oregano and thyme. Single flower germaniums (not pelargoniums), snapdragons and fuchsia, dahlias, calendula, cosmos, agastache, salvias, calendula, asters (daisies, sunflowers and zinnias), scabious and alyssum are all attractive to pollinators and colourful too.
Photo credit: Andrea McDonagh
You might also consider having a few containers dotted around with borage, phacelia and crimson and white clover, champagne and caviar for our pollinator friends.
Bee on Phacelia
Bee on Dahlia
Bee on Borage
Many of our usual summer bedding plants have been grown for show rather than energy for our pollinators, and sadly these will have been sprayed with chemicals to keep them in top condition for retailers rather than bees. However, we can live in hope that these practices will change as we read startling headlines such as ‘how plummeting insect numbers threaten the collapse of nature.’
And then it was over. My course finished, projects began to end with the onset of summer and I could breathe again. But rather than enjoy the time, I began to worry about how I could share the financial burden that can weigh Mr G down. It was becoming clear that an extra qualification wasn’t going to change our family circumstances in any immediate way, shape or form and volunteering and working mostly part-time simply wasn’t sustainable.
When the optimism fades
My usually optimistic mood began to muddy, and as I sat one day in tears, frustrated by my inability, I was transported back 15 years to our son’s first week in primary school.
After I collected our tired little boy from the gates and drove up the hill towards home, he began to sob “Mummy, why can’t I read and write, you told me when I went to school I’d be able to read and write”. Mortified that my words had caused his anxiety, I stopped to hug and reassure him that it would come, with work and patience.
The memory jolted me out of my desolation and helped me to realise that I too, was suffering from a similar, though self-inflicted, misunderstanding. As soon as I held those precious exam results in my hand, I believed that I would immediately land myself one well paid piece of work that would solve all our problems and stop me chasing my tail. But of course it didn’t and just like our wee little fella way back then, I was physically and emotionally drained.
One of my last assignments was to write a full business plan for Greenside Up and in doing so, I came up with a social enterprise idea that offered a more sustainable way forward. Unfortunately, having put every ounce of energy into it, when the course finished, I buried it under a pile of papers on the office desk. However, the opportunity to revisit the plan surfaced recently when Carlow County Development Partnership funded a five-week Social Enterprise training workshop for Carlovians. It seemed like a good time to dig out the plan and sign up for another short course.
A love letter
The group’s homework the first day was to write a love letter to our chosen enterprise. It seemed an odd, slightly embarrassing task at the time, particularly as we had to read our letters out loud to the class during week two, but the exercise was part of a design thinking process that would apparently help us, and others, understand why our enterprises are so important. We have to love our ideas if we want others to love them too. Given that gardens are my enterprise, it was clear that I had to fall back in love with my own. Having abandoned it at the beginning of the year, I was forced to step outside so that I could complete this task. As I did, the fog began to clear and a sense of peace descended upon me.
I’ve decided to share my short love letter with you for no other reason than if you too are feeling a little lost, you’ll consider heading outside for a few hours and seeing if being in a garden or outside surrounded by nature, works a similar kind of magical healing that it did for me.
I’ve neglected you of late. I’ve been so caught up with college, work, family, community and global issues that I ignored you as I walked past the thistles and nettles on the way to the chicken coop. For a long while I was feeling overwhelmed by the amount of work I had to do to bring you back to your glory. It all got too much. As the pressures increased, my mood plunged and darkness threatened, I even stopped visiting the hens, relying on other family members to do it so that I could avoid the twice daily stroll across the tassely lawn. Instead I locked myself behind the door at every available opportunity. My mojo was gone.
Sadly I forgot how healing you can be when I needed you the most.
Thankfully, my dear garden, you are incredibly forgiving. One clear, bright, day I got up, pulled on some old, painty clothes, grabbed my favourite small trowel that’s now encrusted with dried soil, picked up what was once a bright pink kneeling mat, and plonked myself down in the corner of an overgrown, square-shaped, shrubby ornamental border.
It only took a short while of feeling the sun on my face, listening to the birds singing in the beech and hawthorn trees that were touched with autumnal colours, that I began to feel my soul relax. As the almost rhythmic sound of my hand tool chopped and dug its way through the creeping buttercups, dandelions and docks, aided by my warming muscles, I began to unwind.
As I begin to see the dark, crumbly, worm laden soil once more, my heart glowed as the simple pleasure of being outside, wrapped up in nature, engulfed me.
While I worked I began to think towards the future.
What vibrant flowers would I like to see bloom in the newly created space. Will I choose pastels or summer shades? What healing herbs or tasty pollinator friendly morsels will I provide? Maybe the calm, sleep inducing lavender would sit well under the apple tree, or the citrus scented lemon balm and cleansing sage might nest well in the newly created space by the bench. Perhaps the creeping thyme might be a perfect fit between the paving stones, enabling it’s scent to release when footsteps crushed it. Possibly, I’d finally plant some Dahlia’s, something I’d been promising myself I’d do ever since I saw them in Mount Congreve several years ago.
Just a few hours of hard work and your beauty began to shine through, bringing a smile to everyone who saw the efforts of the work. Even the teens want to sit out there again now you are looking ‘presentable’.
Spending time with you has left me feeling fulfilled and I’m smiling once more. I can’t wait to return and experience this feeling again. I’m at peace, the madness that surrounds a busy life has faded.
You have provided me with a sense of hope. The effort I have put in today will not be seen for months, but then, when the days lengthen and warm once more and the flowers fill the garden with colour, we will all experience a sense of paradise in the garden.
Spending time with you is a healing pastime. It has allowed me to reconnect with the forces that feed you, to feel my own roots and recognise the investment into our future.
I’ve loved spending time with you. I’m reminded of the pleasures you share and I’m looking forward to planning and tackling the vegetable garden over the coming weeks as I make plans for our food garden.
I promise not to neglect you again and not only will I make you a priority once more, I will also share news of your magical healing effects and hope that others will take steps to find you in their own surroundings.
Thank you for your generosity my beautiful garden, you are truly wonderous in your ability to heal. I am blessed to live with you and I love you for all that you provide.
If you’re interested in using social and therapeutic horticulture to benefit community groups when working in the areas of community development, wellness, recovery, social inclusion, training and employment, I’ll be talking on the subject during Mensana, Carlow’s annual Mental Health Festival. Join us in An Gairdin Beo, Carlow Town (next to St Leo’s School) on Friday, 18th October between 10am and 12am where I’ll be sharing case studies, as well as discussing the concept, research and education opportunities. Contact me for more information. Talk sponsored by Carlow County Development Partnership.
Don’t Ignore the Warnings, Start Monitoring Soil in Your Changing Climate
It’s difficult to ignore the impacts of a changing climate yet easy to ignore the warnings. The words ‘climate change‘ do not grab people’s attention in a way they should. We’ve jumped from extraordinary winter snow events, to a forgettable spring, then straight into a summer of drought with land that is yet to recover adequate soil moisture levels in the south of Ireland. Talking to friends and colleagues across the globe, these unusual weather patterns are being replicated and scientists are telling us that we are to expect more of the same.
Unusual snow event in Co. Carlow 2018
Where does that leave food growers, land owners and gardeners? Do we invest in expensive irrigation systems or not? Do we cover our land in polytunnels or glasshouses? Should we be changing our planting practices and choosing different varieties of seeds and plants? How can we predict the sowing and harvesting dates of the crops we choose to grow? How do we adapt?
Joining eight other GROW Places in Europe, Joanne Butler from OURGanic Gardens and I, have been provided with the opportunity to help people gain a greater understanding about their soil in the Changing Climate Mission. We are doing this by distributing free GROW Observatory soil moisture sensor to people with access to land and supporting them in their endeavors.
Soil Moisture Levels at 305m above sea level in Co. Carlow
A constant talking point, the weather has offered us the opportunity to show real-time soil moisture data, light and ambient soil temperatures, collected fortnightly on our mobile phone apps, from our gardens. We’ve been able to share the news about the exciting Horizon 2020 European Citizen Science project and encourage more people to get involved, place soil moisture sensors in their own soil, and begin sensing their land.
(The GROW Observatory Introduction to Citizen Science: From Data to Action)
Thanks to this exciting European citizen science project, we can learn to understand our soil and its needs, help to provide climate change scientists with real-time data that will help to predict floods and droughts, provide policy makers with factual information based on verified data, and offer numerous entrepreneurs the opportunity to develop innovative ideas that can help growers in the future.
“Soil . . . scoop up a handful of the magic stuff. Look at it closely. What wonders it holds as it lies there in your palm. Tiny sharp grains of sand, little faggots of wood and leaf fiber, infinitely small round pieces of marble, fragments of shell, specks of black carbon, a section of vertebrae from some minute creature. And mingling with it all the dust of countless generations of plants and flowers, trees, animals and – yes – our own, age-long forgotten forebears, gardeners of long ago. Can this incredible composition be the common soil?”
– Stuart Maddox Masters, The Seasons Through
3 Ways to Be a SenseAble GROWer In a Changing Climate
In summary, here’s three ways that can help you and others make sense of your soil now in the changing climate.
No. 1: GROW Missions.
The GROW Observatory currently have two missions taking place. In the Ireland GROW Place, The Changing Climate mission is taking place in Donegal and the South-East of Ireland.
Joanne and I are encouraging people with access to land in those areas, to deploy soil sensors that will take soil moisture, light and ambient ground temperatures. We will be supporting volunteer citizen scientists with sensors to take soil samples that will help to validate Sentinal 1, a European Space Agency Satellite, giving European scientists and themselves, a better understanding of the soil beneath them.
The Living Soils mission involves data collection without the sensor. It involves experiments to test regenerate growing techniques and can be done from anywhere in the world.
No. 2: Join the Forum.
The GROW Observatory have created a forum that all gardeners and growers can join to share their experiences, connect with others, ask questions and perhaps come up with solutions. With links to an educational and informative blog, as well as offering information on other European wide citizen science projects such as the Edible Plant Database, the forum offers us all an opportunity to connect and help one another.
No. 3 Sign Up for the MOOCS – Massive Online Open Courses
The free MOOCS give everyone an opportunity to develop their knowledge and skills on soil and growing for food, while taking practical steps to preserve the soil for future generations. The GROW observatory courses, affiliated with the University of Dundee in Scotland, are for any scale of food grower – from back garden to commercial. You can sign up now to be alerted when the next course is about to begin.
Soil is home to billions of living microorganisms that help to provide the growing conditions for our food. Taking more than 500 years to make two centimeters of topsoil, it’s essential that we learn as much as we can about it and practice regenerative land practices.
Are you in? Contact me if you’re interested in placing soil moisture sensors in your soil or visit The GROW Observatory and sign up for their newsletter for more information about the various missions. Whatever you do, don’t delay. We need healthy soil to grow great food! We absolutely need to gain a better understanding of it and stop treating it like dirt.
Is your environmental mojo waning? Are you losing the will to get out there and campaign, to fight the battle for nature as major corporations and politicians put their own agenda before those of people, wildlife, flora and fauna? Have you stopped thinking that you can make a difference in the tsunami of climatic problems that are engulfing our media?
Whether you are looking for a way to become more environmentally active, or are in need of some fresh motivation, this article is for you. It suggests three Irish (and European) community based initiatives that might help to fire up your enthusiasm. However, It took a blip in my own mojo for me to realise that we need them as much as they need us.
Algorithms – good or bad?
Algorithms are set in social media to show and share our interests so they have meaning for us. Most of the time I feel that’s a good thing; I enjoy reading and learning more about favoured topics that have been suggested for me, and that includes the environmental news and stories. Lately, I’ve been feeling overwhelmed by the barrage of doom filled stories and false information that I’m not sure whether to believe or not, so much so that I was beginning to think that ‘they’ve’ finally worn me down. I’ve been suffering from activists burnout and my instinct has been to hunker down and protect myself before exhaustion overwhelms.
This thread was picked up on “twitter moments” today (not really sure how that works)….now my notifications have blown up, complete with expletive-filled responses. Is this some kind of milestone?https://t.co/9nkRmumqTV
It all came to a head after I finished my horticulture studies. I was thrilled to receive my provisional results having achieved the grades that I had worked hard for in the Advanced Certificate for Horticulture, but that quickly fell to a flatness that I wasn’t expecting. As I sat in tears on the phone to my Mum I was reminded of the time our eldest teen started school and came home bawling after just a week there. “Why can’t I read and write Mammy?” he asked. “You said I’d be able to read and write when I went to school”. I guess the same thing happened to me.
For two college years I’d worked hard to better myself, to validate everything I’ve been doing for the previous ten. I had juggled, in no particular order, our teens, marriage, home life, garden, work, volunteering, funding applications, educating and being educated as I filled my mind with facts and figures about market gardening, ecology and the environment, trees, shrubs, customer services and entrepreneurship. Throughout that time I had somehow talked myself into thinking that a sustainable well paid job would miraculously appear at the end of the months of assignments and study and that all would be well in my world. I would be free to write news, articles, tips and tales on my blog for the joy of it again and not waste time worrying over self-employed cash flow problems. But of course life never flows seamlessly. What we think we want the most often eludes us, until we finally figure out that perhaps we were looking in the wrong direction or had set the wrong goals. Once I realised that’s what was happening, things began to look up.
We Are Not Alone
Perhaps because I’d taken three consecutive weekends off, or maybe because I found a new bunch of people who have revived my sense of hope, I’m starting to feel a lot better. I learnt that while I was just about hanging on as an individual, what I needed most to keep me mentally afloat was my community, and I think I’ve found them.
I often use the following quote from the Dalai Lama XIV when I talk at events or to groups:
“If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito”.
That quote is quickly followed by another from Helen Keller:
“Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much”.
Whilst a tiny mosquito can make a tremendous difference, imagine what a scourge of them can do! All they need to do is find their community (hopefully they won’t) and they’ll be free to create tremendous havoc.
If you’re reading this article because you’re looking for ideas to (re)ignite your own environmental motivation, here are three community projects that I’m involved with that might help you find it. Whether you jump in head first and embrace all they have to offer, or simply wiggle your toes at the edge, these and many more community initiatives are out there and they’re all looking for our help.
No. 1: Join (or if you still have some energy, create) a local Community Environmental Network (CEN).
A couple of weeks ago I was contacted by Catherine O’Toole, Development Officer with the Irish Environmental Network who is working with groups across Ireland to set up local community environmental networks. Catherine had arranged a meeting in Carlow to introduce CEN to attendees, and host an open discussion on attendees’ interests and future focus of the Network. We heard about the possibilities for changing local policy through the Public Participation Network and importantly, met other local like-minded people who are passionate about the environment. These networks offer individuals and groups the opportunity to work with others to make changes, and to support one another.
If you think a local environmental network is for you, contact Catherine at the IEN for more information or to find out if there’s already a CEN close to you.
No. 2: Learn to Recycle Properly with VOICE Ireland and help others to do so.
I use to think we were the best recyclers ever until I learnt more about recycling from VOICE Ireland. It was a massive shock to learn that scrunchable plastics aren’t recyclable. VOICE stands for Voice Of Irish Concern for the Environment and it’s a member-based Irish environmental Charity that was founded in 1997 following the closure of Greenpeace Ireland. VOICE are currently highlighting three campaigns: Zero Waste Cashel, The Conscious Cup Campaign and the Recycling Ambassador Programme but are involved in several others.
Last year I became the Carlow Recycling Ambassador for VOICE and am being funded to provide free recycling workshops to groups, business’ and organisation in Carlow. I am joined by ambassadors in every county in Ireland who are spreading the word about what should and shouldn’t go into the recycling bins and it is making a difference.
Ireland is recycling just 35% of its plastic waste. By recycling better we will cut the need for incineration and landfill and reduce the need for additional raw material extraction (oil) as more materials will be available for preprocessing and reuse.
If you would like a workshop, get in touch with VOICE who will point you in the direction of one of us, or check out the Recycling List to find out what can and can’t go into the recycling bins so that you can individually do your bit to help the environment. Don’t forget to share what you learn with friends and family and help them to recycle correctly too. This is something that can quickly make an impact and that each one of us can easily do to make a difference #binsorted.
No. 3: Learn More about Soil and its Importance with the GROW Observatory
I’ve written several articles about soil and how we should stop treating it like dirt. This relatively shallow layer of material that covers the land across the globe, feeds, clothes, houses and provides sustenance for us all, yet is often mistreated and little understood.
Now, we are in a position to change that as the European GROW Observatory offers everyone across the world, as well as nine GROW Places across Europe, the opportunity to learn more about soil. Partnered by 18 organisations, including Dundee University, the UK Permaculture Association, Starlab in Spain, the UK’s MET office, Cultivate in Ireland and the University of Miskolc in Hungary, getting involved with GROW is something that can provide tangible results that can help scientists understand our changing climate.
This year, Community Gardens Ireland were chosen to work with the European-wide initiative by creating two GROW soil monitoring areas in Donegal and the South-East. Joanne Butler and I are championing the project in Ireland by issuing free soil monitoring sensors to interested growers and farmers across these areas. They are helping to validate data collected by Sentenal 1, a European Space Agency satellite. The validation of Sentinal 1 data will help to develop more accurate climate change models and the prediction of severe weather events such as droughts, flooding and fires.
If you want to get involved in this European community initiative, GROW are looking for people who grow food, who care about their local environment and who want to contribute to climate change adaptation. They offer:
Four free online courses a year, delivered through the leading online learning platform, futureLearn.
Up to nine local GROW Places distributing soil moisture sensors that link to your smartphone to give you and the Observatory, continuous soil moisture, light and temperature data in your growing plot.
Activities designed to build your knowledge of soils and crops.
An e-newsletter to keep you up to date with GROW
An active website with blogs, activities, useful information and ‘how to’ notes.
A new GROW Observatory app, designed to give you growing advice designed for your growing area, including advice on what to plant when.
You can sign up to become a part of GROW through their website, by signing up to their newsletter, by keeping an eye on their social media channels or by signing up to the GROW courses through Futurelearn. If you live in Donegal or the South East of Ireland and are interested in monitoring your soil with sensors, contact Community Gardens Ireland for more information.
We Need our Community as Much as They Need Us
As I mentioned at the beginning, there are many organisations and communities that we can join that suit our passions and interests. They all connect one way or another with the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals. They all need our support in more ways than we can imagine; without a healthy environment, they and we will all falter. However, one of the many things I’ve learnt this year, is that we need our community as much as they need us. We do not need to try to save the planet alone.
Every new parent is told to mind themselves first or they won’t be fit to look after their newborn. It’s a message that needs to be understood by everyone, parent or not. It’s okay to step back, to take ‘me’ time and cocoon ourselves until we recharge. Activism burnout is real and we have to mind ourselves. Then, when we feel the stirrings of motivation resurface, we can look for our communities and be supported by them.
We need to care about our planet more than ever before. We might not have the money that the ‘big boys’ have but we have the passion. Now is not the time to disengage for too long, it is the time to take positive steps to stand up for what we care for. Humankind needs a healthy environment to exist and thrive. Are you able to help?
“The truth is: the natural world is changing. And we are totally dependent on that world. It provides our food, water and air. It is the most precious thing we have and we need to defend it.” – David Attenborough