A kind of flush – all over the world

It’s amazing what you find yourself looking at when you live in the Dyfi Valley. This week I found myself staring down the barrel of one of the UK’s very first urine separating multi flush ceramic toilets. All in the line of duty you understand. And whilst looking at the dribble holes which remove the urine from the pan and off to grey water recycling heaven (rather than down the tubes into our sewage system) I knew that Britain would never have a shortage of water again if we all had them. After all, a third of all of the water we use in an average day gets flushed straight down the toilet. The standard flush uses six litres of water. The urine separator uses less than quarter of a litre (for pees) and four litres (for poos).

The toilet lives in the bathroom of Peter Harper’s experimental eco house in Machynlleth and forms part of his advanced grey water recycling system. This takes all the water from the bath and the sink, mixed in with urine from the toilet, through a network of pipes, and deposits it direct to the garden, where it both waters and fertilizes his crops. Plants need nitrogen and urine has plenty of it. Making use of it in the garden makes sense and has long been the secret weapon of Eddie Grundy type allotment holders. Peter has just taken the idea of the odd surreptitious widdle on your compost heap and finessed it into a daily dose.

I was interviewing Peter for our first podcast and the interview was so long and detailed we’re probably going to do a special Peter Piddle Podcast all on its own for those who aspire to be urine nurds. For the rest, and I suspect majority of you, our water feature podcast will contain only the edited yet never the less glorious highlights, including the sound of a quarter litre flush trickling down the pan. The rest of the podcast will definitely be majority listening – water saving tricks and tips from CAT’s Marcus Zipperlan and Grace Crabb, garden conservation ideas from CAT author Judith Thornton (she wrote The Water Book, which has recently been updated for a second edition), a look at garden weather patterns with CAT gardener Roger Maclennan and an interview with Rod Gritten, Senior Ecologist of Snowdonia National Park. The podcast will be launched on June 5th – World Environment Day.

After our interview Peter dashed off on the train up to London to give a talk on sustainability at the Chelsea Flower Show. Lets hope what he says sinks in. Chelsea’s trying to be green this year but you have to question the ecological justification for dedicating millions of pounds worth of the earth’s resources to creating gardens that will only last a few days. Perhaps if the gardens revolutionised the way we thought about gardening it would be worth it but it’s hard to feel revolutionised when you’re in the gardeners equivalent of the Pamplona bull run and your most pressing destination is the Pims bar.

Meanwhile in the world of real gardening Machynlleth has its annual seedling swap event this Saturday (26th May). Following on from last week’s successful appearance on Gardeners World the Seedling Swap will be a lively focal point for the gardeners of the Dyfi valley and anybody else who happens to be passing. Gardeners often have a glut of seedlings at this time of year, as well as a few gaps. Swapping makes perfect sense. A few guidelines are useful though. No pests and diseases should be brought in with the plants and it’s definitely worth checking the roots of anything you take home for flat worms. Not strictly speaking a pest of plants they do however devour friendly earthworms and should always be kept out of gardens. The same advice goes for shop bought plants too. If you happen to be passing through Machynlleth and are not familiar with the geography of our town the community centre is by the co-op. You can’t miss it. See you there!

Wakey Wakey

I feel like I should have a catchphrase to start my blog. Having read some of the gardening press this week Wakey Wakey, might be a good one to borrow. Thank You Billy Cotton.

This weeks Wakey Wakey award goes to gardening centre chain store Wyevale, who have woken up to the threat of global warming and are banning sales of outdoor gas fired patio heaters – a major waste of money, energy and carbon. They also say they’re banning non certified un-sustainable timber and phasing out 90% of peat products by 2009. We’ll see whether there claim to be carbon neutral by 2010 stacks up or whether this means cheating on their carbon emissions by paying to offset them (check out http://www.cheatneutral.com for a great satirical and informative website about carbon offsetting).

It will also be interesting to see whether they plan to phase out chemical fertilizers too. Most chemical fertilizers and pesticides use huge amounts of energy in their production and create plenty of carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide emissions (nitrous oxide is a far more powerful global climate change gas). Wyevale‘s environmental consultant Dr Alan Knight would do well to read John Vidal’s piece in last weeks Saturday Guardian about Miracle-Gro boss’ Jim Hagedorn. John claims Jim has spotted a sales opportunity in global warming. Use more chemical products to keep plants healthy in periods of drought and save our traditional British gardens. But Jim the evidence doesn’t stack up. If you want to keep plants healthy in a drought use compost, mulches, grey water recycling, drip feed irrigation and green manures. Or chose plants that like dry conditions. The chemical companies are in a bind though. Their whole business model is under threat if gardeners learn natural gardening techniques that are simple, effective and free. (Check out – http://environment.guardian.co.uk/climatechange/story/0,,2078041,00.html for full story).

If you’re near a TV set this week watch BBC Gardeners World on Friday (BBC 2 8pm). Machynlleth’s own Dyfi Valley seed swap group is featured. A seed swap is a great way of sharing spare seeds, getting hold of some new varieties, learning from seed experts and getting together with your friends and neighbours to talk gardens and gardening. The BBC appearance couldn’t have been timed better. Next saturday (26th May) the Dyfi Valley Seed Savers group are hosting a Seedling Swap. Gardeners always have spare plants to give away at this time of year so if there are any gaps in your planting a seedling swap is a great way to fill them. Seed and seedling swaps are also good at encouraging local bio-diversity and maintaining seed stocks that do well in particular areas. I’ll be there too, with the local launch of my book The Organic Garden.

Speaking of which The Organic Garden gets a mention in The Guardian and The Times this weekend.

Other things to look out for – on June 2nd Peter Harper of CAT and I are going to be at the Hay Literary festival as part of the Gaia Co-operative stand.

And to coincide with World Environment Day on June 5th Sophie Marie Holdstock and I will be launching our first podcast through itunes, the CAT website and here. For those of you who haven’t discovered podcasts yet they’re just like radio shows but you download them instead of picking them up on your radio. They’re a great way of getting hold of information. I listen to several environmental podcasts on my ipod as I’m doing housework. It makes choring pass a lot quicker.

Most of the podcasts I’ve found our US based so Sophie and I are aiming to get together material more relevant to the UK. We’re going to bring a new podcast out every month with features from gardeners and other environmental experts living and working in the Dyfi Valley. The podcast will contain valuable information and offer help and advice from some of the most experienced people working in Britain today. We haven’t got a name for it yet but when we do I’ll tell you what its called and how you can get hold of it.

And it’s goodnight from me.

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