Composting walk at RECG – write-up

A couple of weeks ago, I arranged with for one of Changeworks’ master composters to visit the Royal Edinburgh Community Garden. Am very grateful to Kathleen at Changeworks for sorting this out, and to Alexey for giving up an afternoon to talk about compost.

It was a drizzly day and only a couple of people were at the garden, so Sean was able to give us a tour of the gardens and reflect on the composting opportunities (or lack thereof) at various sites.

Here’s some notes from the day:

  • I had originally thought that the large amounts of green waste at the North of the site might be used for creating a hot composting project to obtain a yield. Even though there’s a lot of green waste, it turns out to be low quality and of mixed provenance, so the general feeling was that it’s not worth using at the moment. It’s better to work with smaller amounts of high quality, known provenance material which is easier to work with, should make a better compost and reduce the risk of contamination.
  • There is a new volunteer — Andy — who’s starting on site. He has over 20 years experience of working with compost and wormeries, so should be able to give good advice.
  • There’s lots of comfrey around, so there’s scope for making comfrey liquor
  • The nettles in the orchard will be managed this year, and areas will be cut to provide different sward heights. There’s not been a decision what to do with the cut nettles yet. Leaving them to recycle where they lie is an option, so we’d have to suggest a better alternative if we want to use them.
  • There’s an earth pile by the top field that has both comfrey and nettle growing profusely out of it; I may take bets on which plant will out-compete the other
  • Sean has a small electric chipper, but a petrol one would be needed for any major chipping project
  • Sean was interested in the hot composting and I have a compost thermometer as part of my numeracy work at the Grassmarket Community Project – I’m going to think about a numeracy and composting module

One of the highlights of the day was walking down into the orchard through a light drizzle and seeing the apple trees covered in lichen. Resplendent, even! There’s a lot of lichen on the trees for a city site, and the moisture in the air made the lichens a vibrant green.

the 2011 census and the first statistical account of Scotland, 1794-1825

The Grassmarket Community Project held a session today to help people fill in their census forms, so there were interesting and varied discussions about the merits of recording such data.

A very interesting point was passionately made by one of the other guys, who argued that the census is a missed opportunity to canvass opinion on how to determine local needs. This argument reminded me about the first statistical survey of Scotland 1794-1825, in which parish ministers across Scotland were asked a series of questions about their parish, and returned their answers and observations. Was this a survey for determining local needs?

I’d previously read the account for where my mum lives, so was able to recall a bit about that section. Now, I took the opportunity to visit the Central Library and look for the account of the parish where the guy lives. Interesting enough for me, but it really resonated with him and turned out to be a good way to put this years census into context.

The parochial statistics were compiled into county tables, and from there into a single statistical account of Scotland. This overall analysis was published 30 years after the original surveys were sent out! I fail to see how that could be used to accurately determine local needs.

On the other hand, the “Analysis of the statistical accounts of Scotland” by John Sinclair (1825) has a great wee essay On the advantages of statistical inquiries which lays out arguments; in particular it argues that it is impossible to establish solid general principles without the previous study of particulars, and that authors who neglected to investigate the internal structure of communities would produce more speculative argument than practical advice. This is the nub of the matter, and concerns me: the census is about static qualities of individuals and households; it’s not about the interactions between individuals, households and communities.

Enough speculation! I’ve got the Analysis out of the library, so I’d better go an read it before pontificating more.

You can view the parish statistical accounts here

Other statistical things:

Hans Rosling’s The Joy of Stats is on telly again, on BBC2 late on Thursday!, and I expect it’ll be on iPlayer afterwards. A must-see!

Hans Rosling is also on ted.com. Here’s his talk new insights into poverty

“You must be the numbers guy” – first day at a new job

First day at a new job involved a trip to Whitmuir Organic Farm in the Borders, to have a tour and get to meet some people involved in the project.

The project has just taken on a few new members of staff and my job is to develop links between gardening and numeracy, so I was quite chuffed to hear one of the other project staff observe that I must be the numbers guy.

Here are some observations from the day involving number.