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The Wildlife Gardening Forum Conference on Wildlife in Food-producing Gardens

Sorry I haven’t posted anything here for a while. I’ve been too busy with a lot of things – and even doing a bit of gardening when possible! A couple of days ago I went down to the Natural History Museum for a fascinating forum on wildlife gardening, which I thought might be of interest to some of you. The theme was “Wildlife in food-producing gardens” – basically reconciling vegetable gardening with the needs of wildlife. There were some excellent speakers giving short talks or presentations, including:

  • Nick Green of the “Incredible Edible Todmorden” urban veg growing and guerilla gardening project,
  • Alys Fowler from Gardeners’ World and The Guardian on foraging and how the public perception of green spaces affects wildlife,
  • two speakers from Garden Organic,
  • Dr Robbert Snep of the University of Alterra-Wageningen, on wildlife and food gardening in the Netherlands,
  • Nick Hamilton from Barnsdale on organic veg growing,
  • A representative of Fargro on the role of wildlife-friendly biopesticides in Integrated Pest Management for agriculture.

The final talk was by Kevin Frediani, of FRESH (the Foundation for Research into Environmentally Sustainable Horticulture), who, amongst other things, has designed the VertiCrop system that grows incredible quantities of salad crops in automated, controlled indoor environments at Paignton Zoo, with lower inputs of water, fertiliser, pesticide etc, and a smaller carbon footprint than is required to produce the equivalent quantity of food as field crops. They can produce 120 mature lettuce plants per square metre of floor space every few weeks. All year round. And to some extent they can even tailor the nutrient content and trace elements in the fodder mix to the animals’ needs. Not how you’d want to garden yourself, I’m sure, but maybe pointing a way to efficient food production within large urban population centres, thereby reducing food miles to food metres?

I also bought a book by one of the organisers of the conference, Jan Miller-Klein of Saith Ffynnon Wildlife Plants, that I thought might interest you. It’s called Gardening for Butterflies, Bees and Other Beneficial Insects. It’s lavishly illustrated with mostly excellent, large, clear photos, diagrams and planting plans, and lots of good advice about which wildflowers to grow to encourage the beneficial insects (though it’s less comprehensive on garden plants). You can get it on Amazon for £12.76, not bad for a large, 260-page fully illustrated paperback!

One of the most fascinating presentations was a video showing the life-cycles of aphids and their predators (hoverflies, lacewings, ladybirds etc). Especially eye-opening were the sequences of their voracious larvae chomping into aphids and draining them of their vital fluids! Shown in real time, they sucked the greenfly dry as quickly as – or even quicker than – we would slurp a carton of fruit juice!

The conference ended with an opportunity to look around the Natural History Museum’s extensive wildlife garden: I had no idea they had one! Probably because it’s at the west end of the building, at the opposite end from the V&A, which is the direction I usually approach the building from. It’s well worth a wander around (see photos).

Image Image

Well, that’s enough of that: I’d better get back to some real gardening! In the past few weeks my garden’s put on so much growth that some serious pruning and cutting back is called for… not to mention weeding, staking, potting-on, planting out, tying-in… and perhaps even a bit of organic pest-control.

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