The little things that run the world

Kenneth ran a webinar for Green Schools Ireland on Our Food, Our Health, Our Planet this week, you can watch it below!

One in every three species of bee in Ireland is threatened with extinction and 75% of insect biomass has disappeared in the last 30 years.

I remember as a child driving on the very few motorways that were present in Ireland back then and the windscreen of our car being covered in insect splatters.  Sometimes it was so prevalent you could hardly see out, contrast that with a motorway journey by car today, you will hardly notice a splatter.

The decline in insect biomass is well documented and these small insects described by E.O Wilson, 1987 as “the little things that run the world”, (E.O. Wilson, 1987) seems to be as result of a myriad of reasons, from climate change to intensification of agriculture and the use of insecticides.

Last week I highlighted the 870 chemicals that were tested for in a sample of our organic kale, again to reiterate our kale came back completely clean and safe as you would expect on an organic farm (Again I wonder at the requirement of us an organic producer to have our food tested for chemicals….) , but the fact that they test for 870 chemicals suggests that it is possible that this number of chemicals is in circulation in conventional agriculture.

Bees are the poster child of the pollinator insects, and they are beautiful and amazing, and a conversation the other day with Gerry, who is the beekeeper looking after the bees on our farm just shows how special and fantastic, they are, he clearly loves and respects his bees. 

Standing in one of our fields during a summer’s evening when our three acres of clover and wildflowers were in full bloom the buzz of the bees was mesmerizing, they were busy and active, and it was amazing. But many of these bees were the solitary bumble bee and they come in all shapes and sizes. The Irish Bumblebee Monitoring Scheme shows population index declines of 14% over six years.

Early in the season all bees benefit from the amazing dandelion and also from the little flowers on sycamore and willow which provide so much food. Native pollinator-friendly trees include Hawthorn, Blackthorn, Willow, Rowan, Wild Cherry and Crab Apple, which also support other native Irish flora and fauna throughout the year. 

Another great reason to plant native trees and to protect the trees we have.

Biodiversity, this mix of plant and insect and animal live is a critical and interwoven system which we need to survive, anything we can do to create and protect habitats for all these living creatures will enhance our local biodiversity.

The groundbreaking All-Ireland Pollinator Plan has had such a positive impact on our perception and protection of biodiversity. It just goes to show you what can be accomplished when people come together for a common cause, or in the famous words of Margret Meade,

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Our farm has forestry, and wild Irish native hedgerows, and wild flowers strips, and natural areas left to rewilding, and no chemicals, and of course we safe, clean organic produce food too.

Maybe just maybe we will get back to the days in the not-too-distant future when once again our car windscreens are covered in insects and the bees are thriving and happy.

Your support for our farm and business and farms like ours is a thumbs up for biodiversity, thank you.


PS Don’t forget our farm shop is open every Saturday 10am-5pm, H91F9C5 and of course that you can now book in your Christmas delivery for delivery on Christmas week!

Three times the amount of honey – Why?

I met Gerry who looks after the beehives on our farm a couple of weeks back. He comes onto the farm once or so a week and checks on the bees. On the day we met there was two acres of phacelia (a beautiful purple flower) swaying in the wind behind us and it was covered in bees. Gerry looks after 6 apiaries and of the 6 the one on our farm produces three times more honey than any of the others. The bees are vibrant and strong, and they are in amazing health.

The reasons are not complex, they have an abundance of food, the phacelia being one major food source, but not only that, the early apple blossoms, the courgette flowers, the tomato flowers, the cucumber flowers and all the flowering weeds (good and not so good) that spring up between the plants. The bees are thriving.

The bees have little reason to roam further than our farm and as result they never encounter agrochemicals routinely used in conventional agriculture that can damage our pollinators. One class of chemical that is thankfully now banned were the neonicotinoids, these chemicals when used damaged bee health by affecting their immune system, navigation skills, capacity to forage and communicate, and ability to reproduce.

Without the bees and the other hosts of pollinators we rely on for our modern-day food system we would not be living such a life of food luxury. Our always on food system, the year-round availability is only possible due to a complex and precarious food system and a logistics chain that spans the planet. It is a system dependent on large scale production of crops, heavily dependent on agrochemicals and cheap labour in other parts of the world. We have seen this year that as the climate crisis deepens, climate shocks to our food system can be sudden and deep, the future effects of the climate crisis on our relatively fragile food system will be large.

Nature is a complex web of interactions, it is strong and resilient and can recover from manmade interference, but when we continuously damage nature, or change the climate that local ecosystems work in then we risk damaging nature and our ability to grow food immeasurably.

But, as with the bees on our farm, when we get it right and give a little back then the results can be startling, amazing and larger than anything we expect, and we reap the benefits too: as food producers we have a bumper courgette and tomato crop. The phacelia adds organic matter back to the soil when we cut it, and it allows us to grow something for nature while resting the land.

Something so simple as growing a strip of wildflowers or planting a small area of trees makes a massive positive difference to nature, surely instead of focusing purely on intensification of farming activities, it would not be so hard to weave this into our current agriculture policy as a critical requirement of all farms.

The bees are one of our constant companions here on the farm, but there is a myriad of other unsung heroes that quietly go about their business and never get the recognition they deserve. The flies and beetles, the butterflies and birds, the bacteria and fungi, this whole beautiful complex web of nature all working together help produce better food and make up a rich and vibrant local ecosystem.

Whilst there is much to be done, there is much that is within our power too. Removing chemicals from this chain of life is one clear step we can take to make an instant and recognisable difference to the diversity of nature we share this world with.  Choosing more local food strengthens our local food system and crucially reduces our carbon foot print too.

As always it is your support that makes it possible here on our farm and the farms of our other supporting farmers to do the right thing.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”


Bees, Wild Flowers & Chemicals

Do you remember all the insects you used to see on the car windscreens when you were younger? Where have they all gone? 

I came back from Dublin on Wednesday evening and my windscreen was clean, once upon a time that same windscreen would have been covered in poor little deceased insects, where are they now?

Flying insect numbers have plunged by 60% since 2014 a new British survey has shown, by measuring insect splats on cars. 

By 2015 each hectare of land in the UK received 3.9 kg of pesticides in 17.4 applications and eighty-seven percent of the total toxicity being applied to fields in 2015 was due to neonicotinoids.

A damning indictment of the way we manage our countryside is the fact that it is now safer to keep bees in cities than in the countryside.

A six-fold increase in potential toxicity to insects in the period 1990–2015 corresponds closely with the timing of the 76% decline in flying insect biomass recorded in Germany in the period 1989–2014.

This very large increase in toxicity was mainly due to the introduction and widespread adoption of neonicotinoid insecticides from 1994 onwards.

On the 27th of April 2018, this class of pesticides was banned from all outdoor use in the EU and will give our bees and insects a fighting chance at survival, at least you would think. However in the years since, “emergency authorisations” for the use of these chemicals has been granted,  many cases these authorisations were granted repeatedly, or without any apparent evidence of an unusual or ‘emergency’ situation as justification. 

Banning the use of these chemicals was a fantastic and positive step. 

There are so many other positive steps that we as farmers and gardeners can take now to improve biodiversity and help the bees and insects.

We have beehives on our farm and they give us so much, bumper crops of courgettes for one. It is only right that we sow wildflowers and leave our kale to flower to feed them.

We purposely leave brambles along all our walls, their flowers are an early food source for the bees (as are dandelion flowers), we leave wild areas where plants can go to flower. Obviously, we are not spraying any bee killing chemicals. This has meant that the bees and so many other insects have a better chance of surviving and thriving.

But it was when we started planting wild flower strips that we noticed an astounding level of bee life. There were honey bees and several different types of bumble bee, and all sorts of other flying insects. We had created a farm reef for bees! On a sunny evening there are thousands of bees and insects humming away, and it is not until you look closely that you notice. 

These steps have meant that we have an abundance of insect life on our farm and I think it may be working in our favour. 

It seems that if we look after biodiversity, it will look after us and a more integrated approach to food production does work very well indeed.

Here’s to sustainable food and to the bees and to hopefully a return to the insects on our windscreens.


PS We are really excited, we have launched a new website please take a look here, and if you haven’t spotted it already to celebrate there is 10% off the build your own box this week.

Where Would the World be Without Bees?

We love our bees here on the farm, to the extent that we grow wildflowers for them and we leave nearly an acre of kale to go to flower just to feed them and we have beehives on our farm too, oh and of course we don’t use any chemicals on the food we produce.

It was many moons ago in a life that was never quite meant to be that I finally realised what it was we needed to do with my grandad’s farm.

You see 20 years ago I was very comfortable working away for the biotech industry in the UK, working in a laboratory researching different chemicals for this and that.

I am a research chemical scientist turned organic farmer and I have a very healthy respect for science. But there is one thing I do not agree with, it just does not make any sense to me, and that is the whole scale blanket application of chemicals on our food.

Chemicals that are meant for a laboratory should stay there, and if they are toxic to some life then generally speaking, they will be toxic to other life, it isn’t even that chemicals are ‘bad’ it is the prevalence and ubiquity of them in our food chain and our environment that is harmful.

They are in our food, and they are not good for us, but they are not good for life in the countryside either, they really aren’t. Take a family of chemicals called the neonicotinoids deemed safe for years but then it was found that they do irreparable damage to bees and other insects. How on any level can using a chemical like that as a blanket spray across our countryside be justified? 

Many of these chemicals too do not just sit on the outside of the plant they are systemic by nature. That simply means they are absorbed into the plant and do their damage from the inside out, washing veg and fruit doesn’t remove them.

Some produce are more heavily sprayed that others and two that regularly feature in the ‘dirty dozen’ are kale and spinach which is ironic as both grow very well in organic systems. Eating organic of course is one of the easiest and best ways to avoid this unhealthy exposure.

You see it is possible to grow great food without the use of chemicals, it is a little harder, it takes a little more attention and planning, it requires more labour but isn’t it worth it in the end?

Surely the production of food in a way that contributes to our health and the health of the planet, a way that enhances and protects biodiversity, a way that encourages working with nature rather than against it, a way that gives the bees on our planet a lifeline, surely this must be the best, no scratch that, the only, way to grow food? 

So maybe it is time to take good hard look at how we produce our food and embrace a better more positive way, because in the end we are what we eat.


Rekindling our Connection with Food

Bees and other pollinators enjoying the kale we leave to flower each year

The art of producing food is marvellous and tough, and on sunny days it is a privilege.

We talk about food all the time here, we grow it, we sow the seeds, we watch the plants grow, we fertilise the soil, we control the weeds and hope we have the right mix to ensure the plants grow healthy and pest free.

We spend the time in between managing the crops, maintaining the land, planting trees, growing hedging, sowing wildflowers for the bees, harnessing the power of the sun, these are all things we do.

We see first-hand the connection between the fresh produce and the cooked food on our plate. We can see how the process of growing healthy food from healthy soil creates local employment and impacts on our locality positively. Sustainable agriculture is good for all and it benefits the environment immeasurably.

Natures’ pest control – a healthy balance on predators and prey naturally occurs on organic farms

We see more bees, and flies, and insects on our farm and we feel there is a balance as we rarely see an out-of-control pest issue. We see more birds, and wild life, we see the land thrive, just this week I saw a giant hare saunter past one of our polytunnels.

Not only that, but organic food is so much better for us, of course it hasn’t been sprayed and so is free of harmful chemicals, but it is also just better nutritionally.

Weed burning rather than spraying chemicals before we plant out this years’ crops

A comprehensive study carried out by David Thomas has demonstrated a remarkable decrease in mineral content in fresh produce over 50 years, comparing food grown in 1941 to food grown in 1991. To the extent that today you would need to eat 6 apples to get the same nutritional value you got in 1941 from eating 5 apples. In some cases mineral levels have dropped by as much as 70%.  

The use of highly soluble fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides and the intensive production of food has led to land that is lifeless and food that is less healthy and less nutritionally dense, this reflects the remarkable connection between our food and the health of our soil. 

There is no way we could know this, as a population we are in danger of losing our connection with the land and our food. This is not our fault, the food system that is championed by supermarkets and giant food producers has made it this way. 

Imagine though if we could see the impact of our positive choices, if we could somehow rekindle that connection with our food? Over the past year it seems we have been remaking that connection.

We are reconnecting with our food by cooking and touching and smelling and seeing how our food is grown. We are redeveloping that connection with nature and this is something we can pass onto our children, we can show them that there is a great, fun and fantastically positive way to live and eat. Although from what I have seen recently it is the children who are teaching us!


Beneath our Feet

One teaspoon of soil contains more living organisms than there are people in the world!

They are the hardworking, unsung heroes of farming. I always knew these creatures were spectacular, but I had no idea they lived for so long or could do so much. I would go so far as to say that they are as important to our food production as the bees, we ignore their welfare at our peril. Charles Darwin thought they were important enough to spend 40 years studying them! You don’t hear so much about them, you don’t see them and I suppose they aren’t quite as photogenic as the honey bee, but they are extremely important and I love them. What am I talking about?

 If you haven’t guessed already, it is the humble earthworm. Earthworms live for about 7 years, and in their lifetime will compost about 7 tonnes of organic matter! These amazing little creatures take organic matter in the soil and convert it into food and nutrients for plants, by way of the worm castings they leave behind. They help aerate the soil, which allows for better water filtration and oxygenation of the soil for other microbes to thrive. This aeration prevents water logging and increases fertility. In a nutshell we would be in a pretty bad place without our underground friends. The soil beneath our feet is thriving with a beautiful complex interconnected myriad of life.  It is a shame, that many of the methods used to grow food in today’s large industrial agricultural system end up destroying the very biological organisms we rely on to sustain our environment.

It is hard not to bring the debate back to glyphosate. It is everywhere and in everything e.g. in non-organic food, wine, beer, in tap water, in urine and it has even been recorded in breastmilk. So much of the stuff is used and with such frequency that it is compromising our health and the health of our food chain and ultimately our planet. Glyphosate is toxic not only to the plants it kills, and the humans which consume the plants but also to earthworms. At least 6 studies have shown that glyphosate is damaging to earthworms, reducing their reproductive rates and reducing the rate at which they turn soil over. Earthworms have chemoreceptors and sensory turbercles on their skin giving them a high degree of sensitivity to chemicals and they avoid soil contaminated with glyphosate.

We can learn a lot from these little creatures. They quietly go about their work, improving our soil, helping us grow food and they know instinctively that glyphosate is something to be avoided. Maybe society should take a leaf out the earthworm’s book and avoid glyphosate too. The good news though is that organic farming does not use glyphosate (or any chemicals) so by buying our produce, you are not only helping the environment, but your own health too! 


PS Thank you for your continued support, we really appreciate it! All our boxes are organic and plastic free and we also have a great range of organic groceries that you can add to your fruit and vegetable order here.