The East London Garden Society

The Voice ‐ February 2020

Comment by Geoff

Geoff Juden

It is strange when trying to ensure that gardening in East London is protected and maintained to the best of one's ability that decisions are made to undermine such activity.

Most people in London are now trying to make their gardens as much a natural habitat as possible and there are now many natural elements.

It is therefore frustrating that when development takes place (and nobody should be against progress) that no assessment, or very little, is made to determine how this progress will affect how we live together.

Humanity must be in tune with nature.

If you value having someone campaign on your behalf to protect the environment and having access to useful articles about gardening and local environmental matters, please make a donation to help us with the cost of maintaining The East London Garden Society.

Is the Environment an obstruction to progress?

Tower Hamlets cemetery

There is a planning application for a series of 12‐storey apartment blocks on the old gas works site on the south side of the railways tracks along the southern boundary of the Tower Hamlets cemetery park.

The proposed building height concerns The East London Garden Society and Friends of the park since it will produce heavy shade onto the scrapyard meadow for a considerable part of the day. In winter, the shade will be virtually all day as the sun is low in the sky. At summer solstice it is less but still puts some areas of the meadow into shade until 10 a.m. to 11 a.m.

Fifty‐six species of bee have been recorded in the scrapyard meadow including the nationally rare breeding Brian Banded Carder bee, the rare large Scabious Mining bee, scarce bees such as Clover Blunthorn and the Red Girdled Mining bee.

The shade will reduce plant bigots, reduce pollen and nectar provision as well as shading out the bare chalk areas where bees excavate their nests since they need a sunny warm aspect.

Many plants like dandelion for example only produce nectar after three hours of direct solar light, so casting them in heavy shade until late morning reduces bees foraging on the plants from mid‐afternoon to early evening when shade from existing tall buildings to the west throw the habitat into shade.

Many locals are concerned about the impact on the cemetery park and are calling for a public enquiry but that is not likely to happen.

If you wish to comment on or object to this planning application, you should contact the case officer in the Development Management team at Tower Hamlets.

If the height was reduced from twelve storeys to si storeys the shade would be considerably less. Back to top

Pesticide Time Bomb

A US farm

Corn and soybean seeds coloured red and blue, respectively, have become a common sight on U.S. farms. The seeds are given a colourful hue because they have been treated with neonicotinoid pesticides, and the colouring is one of the only ways to tell them apart from their untreated, yellow counterparts. In 2018, nearly every field corn seed sown in the U.S. contained the insecticides, along with about half of soybeans and most of the cotton.

Whilst some attention has been given to the effect on bee decline due to these chemicals, they are having an even greater pernicious influence on insects and the entire ecosystems could be in jeopardy. What is more, neonicotinoids are only one type of agricultural chemical that is being used in excess while the environmental consequences begin to unfold around us.

In recent years, the acreage of crops treated with neonicotinoids has considerably increased, as has the volume used. From 2011 to 2014, seed suppliers doubled the amount of insecticide applied to each seed. During that time, the number of pests has stayed largely the same as they were in the 1990s, when only 35 percent of U.S. corn acres and 5 percent of soybean acres were treated with neonicotinoids.

Even at those levels, pest populations did not cause significant economical harm very often. This suggests that it is not necessary to treat hundreds of millions of acres of crops with neonicotinoid seed coatings. Furthermore, whilst the chemicals are very effective at killing insects, this is part of the problem.

Other research revealed that planting seeds coated with neonicotinoids reduced predatory insects by up to 20 percent. Such insects help to reduce pest infestations on crops from insect pests like black cutworm, giving another example of how using neonicotinoids may actually lead to reduced crop yields for farmers. There are other alarming effects as well, particularly since only about two percent of the chemical is taken up by the plants.

The critical question is where the rest goes. It is known that some of it ends up in nearby waterways where the chemicals are now polluting rivers and streams and killing off aquatic insects that other species depend on for food. Not only can the treated seeds directly kill birds if they pick one up for a snack, but research suggests that declines in insect‐eating birds are associated with high usage of neonicotinoids.

They looked in particular at glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, which has been continuously increasing since it was introduced in the 1970s. Glyphosate‐based herbicides can be used as an appropriate indicator for assessing how changes in pesticide application modes affect wild‐living organisms in agricultural landscapes over time. The use of glyphosate in German agriculture increased by 5.7‐fold from 1992 to 2012.

During this time, amphibians also became more likely to transverse fields treated with the chemical during their travels. Their analysis found that juvenile great crested newts and fire-bellied toads faced the highest likelihood of coming into contact with the herbicides, whilst moor frogs and spadefoot toads were subjected to moderate increased of exposure ranging up to 3.6‐fold higher.

Pesticides do not provide a long‐term solution, even in the best‐case scenarios, as nature typically finds a way around them. Glyphosate‐resistant superweeds like pigweed are now driving farmers to seek out dicamba‐resistant crops, but these weeds have already sprouted in Kansas and Nebraska, raising serious doubt that piling more pesticides on crops will help farmers, or the environment, in the long run.

There is little doubt that the ever‐increasing rate of pesticide usage is a ticking time bomb for environmental and human health but there are other solutions that are far healthier and productive for everyone involved.

Unfortunately, as it stands, an estimated 7.7 billion pounds of pesticides are applied to crops each year, and that number is steadily increasing, rather than acknowledging that pesticide usage is overkill. Companies like Monsanto give incentives to use more harmful chemicals to farmers by offering cashback for purchasing more chemicals. Back to top



Maguey or agave (also called the century plant for its long life) is a native plant from the North American continent and now cultivated in many parts of the world. Agave belongs to the family Asparagaceae which has nine genera and around 300 species, about 102 taxa of which are used as human food.

Agave grows in arid, semiarid, and temperate forests of the Americas at elevations between sea level to about 2,750 meters (9,000 feet) above sea level, and thrives in agriculturally marginal parts of the environment. Archaeological evidence from Guitarrero Cave indicates that agave was first used at least as long as 12,000 years ago by Archaic hunter‐gatherer groups.

In ancient Mesoamerica, maguey was used for a variety of purposes. From its leaves, people obtained fibres to make ropes, textiles, sandals, construction materials, and fuel. The agave heart, the plant’s above‐ground storage organ that contains carbohydrates and water, is edible by humans. The stems of the leaves are used to make small tools, such as needles. The ancient Maya used agave spines as perforators during their bloodletting rituals.

The word mescal means ‘oven-cooked agave’. To produce mescal, the core of the ripe maguey plant is baked in an earth oven. Once the agave core is cooked, it is ground to extract the juice, which is placed in containers and left to ferment. When the fermentation is complete, alcohol is separated from the non‐volatile elements through distillation to obtain pure mescal.

Archaeologists debate whether mescal was known in pre‐Hispanic times or if it was an innovation of the Colonial period. At Nativitas, investigators found chemical evidence for maguey and pine inside earth and stone ovens dated between the mid and late Formative (400 BCE to 200 CE). Several large jars also contained chemical traces of agave and may have been used to store sap during the fermentation process or used as distillation devices.

Despite its importance in ancient and modern Mesoamerican societies, very little is known about agave’s domestication. That is most likely because the same species of agave can be found in several different gradations of domestication. Some agaves are completely domesticated and grown in plantations, some are tended in the wild, some seedlings (vegetative propagules) are transplanted into home gardens, some seeds collected and grown in seedbeds or nurseries for market.

Ovens that may have been used to cook the cores have been found in archaeological sites. In Western Mexico, ceramic vessels with depictions of agave plants have been recovered from several burials dated to the Classic period. These elements underscore the important role that this plant played in the economy as well as the social life of the community.

The Aztecs had a specific patron deity for this plant, the goddess Mayahuel. Many Spanish chroniclers stressed the importance that this plant and its products had within the Aztec empire. Illustrations in the Dresden and Tro‐Cortesian codices show people hunting, fishing or carrying bags for trade, using cordage or nets made from agave fibres. Back to top

Environment Meeting


The East London Garden Society is to organise a meeting at the Docklands Settlement, Community Centre on 15 February 2020 from 2 p.m.

We are to discuss the potential of having a London Bee School, along the The Great Eastern Parks Route.

Hopefully, we will be able to discuss the wider environmental concerns as well.

If you interested, you are welcome to attend and provide input. Back to top

Preparing Apple Seeds for Planting

Apple Seeds

Apple seeds need cold stratification to break dormancy. The seeds need to be kept under moist refrigeration for at least six weeks before they are planted. Place the apple seeds in a moist paper towel and then put it inside a plastic bag, leaving it open just a crack for air exchange. Store it in the back of the refrigerator, checking on the towel every week or so to make sure it is moist.

At the end of six weeks, some of the seeds may have started to sprout already. That is a good thing since apple seeds have a very low germination rate.

If you buy local apples late in the season, months after harvest, they have already been kept under refrigeration for many months. It is a good idea to also cold stratify those seeds in a moist paper towel because extra stratification won’t hurt them. Not enough hours in the cold will mean no apple seedlings. When you cut open local apples that have been stored for a long time, there is a chance that some of the seeds may have already started to germinate inside the apple.

After a minimum of six weeks in a moist paper towel in the refrigerator, you can plant apple seeds just as you would any other seed. They can be direct seeded outdoors if it is after the last spring frost and the soil can be worked. Since germination rates are low, and predation from squirrels, mice, and voles can be an issue early on, plant them in pots.

Keep the soil warm and moist, as you would any other spring planted seed. After six weeks of cold stratification, apple seeds germinate fairly quickly. Many of the seeds will already be germinating on the paper towel in your refrigerator, and those will emerge from the soil quickest after planting. Assuming soil temperatures are fairly warm (about 75 degrees F) the seeds should emerge from the soil within two weeks.

From there, tend the apple seedlings in pots until the young trees are at least four to six inches tall; staking them is also a great idea because one casual knock can mean the end of a young tree at this stage.

Once the apple seedlings are in the ground, they will begin the work of growing into a full‐sized tree. Since they are not grafted on dwarfing rootstock that handicaps them and limits their nutrients, seedling apples will grow strong and healthy, but also large. Good pruning can keep apple trees smaller, but full‐sized apples should still be planted at least twenty feet apart.

After three years in the soil, apple seedlings can be taller than grafted nursery trees. Expect them to come to full potential in about five more years.

Cooking in a Different Way ‐ Nettle Beer

This recipe will give you a sweet, thirst quenching drink and will make six 750ml bottles.


  • 1kg of nettle tops
  • 4 litres of water
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 750g of sugar
  • 25g of cream of tartar
  • 1 sachet of yeast

Nettles Wash the nettles and bring them to a hard boil in four litres of water in a non‐aluminium pot. Boil for fifteen minutes.

Strain, add sugar, lemon juice and cream of tartar. Wait until the mixture is tepid, then sprinkle the yeast on top of the liquid.

Cover with muslin or a tea towel and leave for twenty-four hours. Remove any scum from the top of the liquid but be careful not to disturb any sediment.

Siphon into 750ml bottles (those with swing caps are best), and tightly secure the caps. Leave for seven days in a warm place and then place in refrigerator for a further seven days. Happy drinking! Back to top



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