Derek – Friday 3rd September 2021

Water, Snails, CCU

The garden has lost its water tap. Without notice, the next door contractors cut us off. We knew this was likely but some notice would have been polite, so at least we could have filled our water barrels. The only plus point is that it is September and cooler, so there is no crying need for water. Nevertheless, being cut off concentrates the mind. What are we going to do about it?

We could pay to have water laid on. That would cost us £3000 from Thames Water for a standpipe. Is it worth it? Our lease only runs to 2025. Then again, the lease might be extended.

We could manage as we did before we had a tap, using what we are able to collect in our water barrels until they run out and then asking volunteers and friends to bring in water. How this works out depends on the weather. With a summer like the one just past, with lots of rain in July and August, we’d have been OK. But a summer like the one in 2018, we’d be struggling. Our book Summertime details how we managed through the 60 days of drought between late May and early August that year. On 19th July, which had a high of 28ºC, it reads:

‘We have gone seven weeks without rain. People are bringing water to the garden, for which we are grateful, but the bulk comes from Kevin who lives across the road. His flat is up on the second floor; he puts a hosepipe out of the window down to the gate of the block. Then we fill up and carry containers into the garden to fill our barrels. We did this for ninety minutes today, giving us water for three or more days. We are now coming in most nights at 7.30 pm to water, concentrating on the pots and nursery plants… The pond is very low and quite sad to see. We give it a few watering cans each night but that evaporates during the day.’

With minds concentrated, the Steering Group meets on Wednesday, and water will be top of the agenda.

On Bank Holiday Monday, I ran a one hour snail session for children: 12 and their parents came. We began at the snail mosaic, using it to discuss the anatomy and habits of the snail. We then walked to the other end of the garden looking at snail traces on the way. There were plenty of slime trails and munched leaves of hollyhocks, acanthus, and dwarf beans. Few of the munchers were to be seen, most sheltering as they generally feed at night. At the pond, we looked at the water snails. They gather in groups and party on the water lily leaves. Then the children were sent off to collect land snails, one of each sort, in a small flowerpot. They had no trouble finding them, under stones and flowerpots. All of them brought back the large garden snail, Helix aspersa. There are others in the garden, but they take a lot of searching for.

And so we had our snail race. The track was a metal bath tub. The children put their snails at the bottom. The sticky slime that snails travel on means they can climb vertically. The first to the top was the winner. At the end, the snails were put back where they were found. So I can say, hand on heart: no snails were harmed in this session. The workshop finished with a story about a race between a snail and a tortoise. The snail cheated by climbing on the back of the tortoise, making it a dead heat.

It’s often difficult to judge how a session has gone if you are running it, but observers and parents told me it went well. The aim was it should be fun, informative and hands-on. And so it was.

On Radio 4 in a programme on climate change, I heard about a new company that came out of Greenwich University, Carbon8 Systems. It takes CO2, either from an industrial process or from the atmosphere, and with rock, slag from smelters, or used cement, it converts the gas into a carbonate. This is a solid and can be used in building processes where cement might be used. They call it CCU which stands for carbon capture and usage. It certainly is a way forward, taking CO2 out of the atmosphere. One hopes that companies won’t use it as a way of off-setting their continuing pollution.

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