Composting Education

My allotment has always been a source of refuge and inspiration, far more than just growing food. Recently I’ve dug through 18months worth of weeds and grasses to resurrect from near abandonment. A sizeable task that also felt like failure, having to start again after 10 years of graft, growing and slug patrol. But the skimmed off bramble and nettle revealed rich dark layers of goodness. The soil had a memory, year after year of compost, cardboard, grass clippings, mulching, manure, seaweed and kitchen scraps had done their work. Well that’s not strictly true, the microbes and fungi have done theirs. The hidden magicians for every gardener.

The soil culture of my allotment is a memory of the intentional and unintentional past. The weather variations of Cornish mizzle, dry Aprils, cracking summer storms. The activity of worms aerating and mixing, blown seeds germinating, mice, the occasional rabbit! My gardening mistakes and successes, the essential chats with the resident expert, (every allotment group has at least one) Pete was a gem. A life’s wealth of experience and an expert too, national award winning flowers and veg. All of this mingles in the soil, the new layers with the old, networking, making connections in all directions for a rich culture. Even the weeds have their place, the short term opportunists composting down to help the next layer of earthy goodness.

I often think of the similarities between the allotment and education. It literally is my field of study, a place where mind has many places to tether. The better prepared the field the better the fruits of the students’ labour. The challenge is to provide the right soil culture for a student’s root system.

The recent TEF has caused much spin across institutions, the usual sound bites of student centred learning and life long learning are bouncing off ministers and department heads alike with the customary lack of detail, noise instead of actually engaging with the complexity of learning. Having studied at a school of education and life long learning, navigated two OFSTEAD inspections and a QAA visit, lifelong learning has come to resemble a non accountable value judgement on education practice. Grasping smoke with bare hands springs to mind.

Depth and breadth of learning should be the metric of success. Measured at the end of a life not at the start. Completely incompatible with our systemic reliance on instant measurable success criteria, but this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t shift towards them.

Breadth of learning from encouraging the learner to travel sideways through the soil culture. Follow and grow networks across many strata in multiple directions and dimensions. Institutional boundaries and subject specificity have little meaning in this process.

Depth of learning from our own composting systems. Allowing the day to day surface to be fluid, to compost it, recycle and reflect, to build layers of knowledge, theories and practice where experience will eventually be the stuff of worms and microbes supporting our own root structures.

Cornelius Cardew

After convincing Sam the music teacher the loan of his full sized double bass he said I should look up Cornelius Cardew.


A guide to Cornelius Cardew’s music




Notes on a leaf blower


I’ve had a long standing hate of leaf blowers, their seemingly pointless existence and insistent drone. They sway and wander the landscape in small packs whining up and down paths pursuing these offending leaves and they always seem to do it whilst I’m delivering a lecture, in a tutorial or on the phone.

But many things create noise, many things disrupt my day to day goings on so why does the leaf blower offend so. I’ve pondered these beasts for years trying to answer this question. I’ve tried applying various modes of musical analysis to the problem. Orchestras of leaf blowers, ambient recordings mixed with road sweepers, brooms and brushes, even a giant plastic tube organ powered by leaf blowers. Obviously none of this helped but the musing led me to wonder. Why does the leaf blower exist? Why do we need to blow leaves when brooms work perfectly well? This even led me to question the existence of my beloved chainsaw and lawnmower. Soon I was having an extensional crisis on behalf of my tools?

What did it all mean.?!!

So why do we need to move the leaf, trim the grass or chop down a tree? The tree question is easy to answer, the wood fuels the burner to keep the family warm and cook the food. The grass and the leaf are more difficult. The grass could grow and become hay or just long grass. The leaf could be left to rot down and become soil.  But no! the aesthetic of a ‘good’ garden is for trim lines, rows of flowers, hedges, plants and order. And this we are told will be beautiful. We have a huge industry based around making out gardens look…. nice.

Roger Deakin writes about the merits of scything his meadow. No ringing in his ears at the end of a days work. Just the exhaling sweeps of the blade. Surely I can chop the tree down with an axe.

The truth is we like the job to be easy. The internal combustion engine has made most jobs easier and quicker, using less man power which we consider to be more efficient.  This attitude will be our downfall. The leaf blower is a noisy reminder of the futile struggle we’ve forced ourselves into with our environment and we do this with fossil fuels. The drive for efficiency and environmental control is undoing our perceived good work.

The leaf blower is a mirror that demands my attention. Reminds me of my laziness. The hate of leaf blowers is really a self loathing at the excuse of ‘not enough time’. So now the grass is getting longer and next time the woodpile gets low I’ll invite some friends over with axes.

10 steps to blow a leaf

  1. Lay dead sea creatures over seabed.
  2. Cover with sediment and apply pressure.
  3. Make oil rig
  4. Float oil rig into the North Sea
  5. Drill hole
  6. Pump oil to Scotland for refining/separating
  7. Drive petrol from Scotland to Cornish petrol station.
  8. Drive to petrol station to fill up the leaf blower
  9. Drive back to offending path and start engine.
  10. Blow leaf from point A to point B.

Swap your Vinyl for the Sounds of Tree Rings!?

Evidence of emergent networks, this is something Press and Editorial Photography student Ed Stone stumbled across…. and thought of me.

Slices of tree trunk being played on turntables!

Cheers Ed

Slime Mould and Emerging Networks

A fascinating piece showing an emerging network of a slime mould challenging very clever engineers in developing a sustainable and efficient network.


Slime Mould Network