An ecology of mind: Gregory Bateson

ladybird larvae on blackcurrent June 2017

Sometimes it’s good to pause, and consider what makes us think the way we do.  I’ve recently been re-reading the anthropologist and systems theorist Gregory Bateson’s Steps to an ecology of mind (1972) which I first read in 2002.  I remember that it had a significant impact on me at the time, and re-reading it has brought me to realise how much it has shaped my thinking.  Continue reading

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Cooking Paul & Becky’s Asturian Tree Cabbage

Growing perennial vegetables is one thing, but knowing how to harvest and cook them is another thing altogether.   Paul and Becky’s asturian tree cabbage is a rare perennial cabbage, available from the wonderful people at Real Seeds.  I found it very easy to grow, with good germination rates and ability to recover from slug and caterpillar damage.

tree cabbage munched

tree cabbage munched

However, when it came to cooking it, I was disappointed at first.  I took nice big leaves, and cooked them, stalk and all.  It was revolting – woody and tasteless.  However, I was determined to learn how to cook it, as it is such a generous and reslilient plant.  It’s a beautiful lime-green too, and tall so it adds architectural interest to the garden.  So I did a bit of surfing on ‘how to cook Asturian Tree Cabbage’, and found this brilliant thread on Allotments 4 All.

First, you need to harvest the leaves small.  About this size:

asturian tree cabbage leaves harvested

asturian tree cabbage leaves harvested

The plant puts out side-shoots, and these are good for harvesting small leaves.

Wash the leaves and leave them with their stalks in water to stay fresh until you cook them.  Cut out the middle stalks which can be woody, and cut the leaves into thin strips.  Then either boil them as you would cabbage, and serve with butter and black pepper.  Or – and this is our favourite – stir fry them good and hot with plenty of garlic.

So there you have it.  Happy munching.

Miracle mycorrhizal fungi

I’ve been meaning to post this for a while.  At the bottom of my leaf mold bin, these fungi appeared in early Autumn, and are still there now.

fungus on leaf mold bin, Autumn 2017

fungus on leaf mold bin, Autumn 2017

And I was just browsing Twitter this week, when I found this post from John Walker.  In it, he describes how mulching his garden soil with woody shreddings and leaf mold, he discovered toadstools emerging from the mulch.  Where these appeared around plants, they didn’t do them any harm at all.  In fact he found that the plants surrounded by fungal growth grew good and strong.  Digging into some of the research around fungal networks, he found some fascinating tit bits.  These fungal ‘webs’ that live beneath the soil (from which toadstools and mushrooms are the ‘fruit’) actually enable plants to communicate with each other.  They also enable nutrients to be exchanged.  Plants collaborate with each other and with the fungal organisms to share resources.  By spreading woody material and leaf mold on the garden as mulch, these fungal networks are introduced and can then develop in the soil.  It’s a good idea not to dig over the soil, because this disturbs these amazing networks.   As winter has wilted some of my garden plants, such as nasturtiums, I have nipped them off at the base of the stem and left the roots in the soil (in the case of nasturtiums, this also leaves the nitrogen in the soil that these leguminous plants have been busy fixing in their roots, making it available to other plants).  The only time I disturb the soil is for planting.  But somebody needs to tell the blackbirds about this ‘no dig’ approach!

As if to drum home this new insight, I then read this post from Flo Scott on the Permaculture Magazine website, in which her number one tip is nurturing the soil, including the use of woodchips which introduce mycorrhizal fungi.  Serendipity!