Amgueddfa Blog: Sustainability

Produce and flower gardens were a mainstay of Miner's homes. An important place where food was grown, where pidgeons, chickens and often a pig was also kept. Sharon Ford is Learning and Participation Manager at Big Pit National Coal Museum. She wrote this article for our blog, in celebration of the health and wellbeing benefits of gardening - particularly during this lockdown. Its full of gardening joy and helpful hints and tips, and Sharon had more than a little help from a fellow keen gardener - her son, Iwan.

‘We may think we are nurturing our garden, but of course it's our garden that is really nurturing us’   

Jenny Uglow

I’ve never been so grateful to have a garden as I do at the moment, because it offers a space to inhabit beyond the four walls of the house. The fact that the weather has been so consistently good has enabled us to make the most of being outdoors when not working, to get out of each other’s way when we need a bit of solitary time, and of course catch up on all the garden tasks which are usually shoe horned into evenings and weekends. Having something to plan and focus on has been really helpful in taking our minds away from the current global crisis and the fact that we are away from friends and family. Even our energetic 8 year old son Iwan has been more engaged with the outdoors so far this year, planning which vegetables he wants to harvest and eat in a few months time, and the fresh air and activity tires him out at the end of the day. This is important as he is missing his usual swimming, gymnastics and rugby sessions.

The benefits of gardening on physical and mental health are well-researched and widely known, and it can help with a range of physical conditions such as high blood pressure and anxiety, as well as helping those with more defined mental health problems.

Not everyone is as lucky as we are to have a garden at home and an allotment just across the road, but keeping pots or planters of vegetables in small spaces can also help reduce stress and boost self-esteem. Tending for house plants has also been proven to give a sense of purpose, and can be a good place to start for those with no previous experience of gardening.

Anyway, I asked Iwan of he wanted to share his top tips for growing and tending, as he’s a seasoned gardener with four years experience now. He also wanted to share his tips for keeping chickens, just in case anyone is thinking of getting chickens to keep them happy! By the way, the therapeutic benefits of chicken keeping are also well documented!

My name is Iwan Ford. I am 8 years old and live in Blaenavon. During the lockdown, I spend all my time at home with Mam and Dad. It is ok but I miss my friends and cousins. We are very lucky because we have two gardens and two chickens. My chickens are called Barbara and Millie. I had another chicken who was called Penny, but she died a few weeks ago because she was poorly. We buried her in the garden.

Someone gave Millie to us when they heard Barbara was on her own. She is a Silkie, and is very funny and clumsy. She has big feet and walks on and into everything. Sometimes she kicks the food over and sometimes she walks over Barbara. She is very friendly and follows me around the garden. Silkies have blue ears and furry feathers. Barbara is a small bantam and has very beautiful feathers. She had orange feathers around her neck. She lays very small eggs but they are yummy and have very yellow yolks. You can tell they are happy chickens.

I do some gardening to help Mam and Dad because we have an allotment as well as our house garden. I like planting, watering and picking the vegetables and fruit when they grow. I have my own vegetable patch and have planted my French beans, pumpkin, marrow and kidney bean seeds already. Seeds need good soil with compost mixed in, sunshine and water. You have to remember to water a lot or they will not grow.

Iwan’s Top Tips:

Planting tips:

  • Fill the plant pots with compost. Put your seed in. Sometimes you half fill the pot with compost then the seed then more compost. Sometimes you fill the pot then make a hole with your finger and put the seed in. Make sure you water them, and they will grow in a few weeks. When they have grown big enough and no more frost is coming, you put the plants out into the ground.
  • If you haven’t got a garden you can grow potatoes in buckets or bags of compost if you cut the top. Tomatoes will grow like this as well.
  • Always write the names of what you are planting on tags or lolly sticks and put into the pots so you know which is which.

Chicken tips:

  • Silkie chickens don’t like to wander as they can’t fly, so if you only have a small garden silkies are the best.
  • Chicken poos are good for making compost. When this is ready you can dig it into the soil to make your plants come up big and strong.
  • Chickens love meal worms as a little treat. We give some to the chickens and put some out for the garden birds as well. ‘Beaky and Feather’ is the chickens favourite food and makes their feathers shine.

 

While The National Waterfront Museum’s GRAFT team and volunteers cannot gather to garden the Museum’s courtyard garden at this time, they are nonetheless keeping busy setting up ‘Seeds Out in the Community’ and encouraging us all to grow sunflowers in visible and public spaces to show support for key workers. Here’s a little more about this innovative community project and how it’s grown from a seed of an idea to a flourishing project that grows plants, food and people.

GRAFT: a soil based syllabus is the National Waterfront Museum's edible land and educational project, and a permanent piece of green infrastructure within Swansea City Centre. The project is also a socially engaged work of art by artist Owen Griffiths, and was originally commissioned as part of Now the Hero / Nawr Yr Arwr in 2018 funded by 1418NOW as part of a huge UK wide cultural project commemorating the first World War.

GRAFT works with community groups from a wide range of backgrounds across the city who came together, to transform the Museum's once industrial courtyard into a beautiful, sustainable, organic growing environment; creating an edible landscape to encourage participation and conversation around land use, food and sustainability in an accessible and empowering way.

Owen and Senior Learning Officer Zoe Gealy develop the ongoing program at GRAFT around these ideas of collaboration, sustainability and community. Every Friday, (other than during this lockdown), volunteers young and old work alongside one another to share skills working in wood and metal, learning how to grow plants, gaining qualifications and supporting each other along the way. The project has seen successful apprenticeships develop as a result of its program as well as seeing the long-term mental health benefits of working outside together. New friendships are formed, and people, as well as plants, flourish. During GRAFT’s development, in addition to raised beds, a pergola and benches from local timber, a cob pizza oven and beehives have been introduced to the garden. GRAFT's youngest volunteers come from Cefn Saeson School in Neath and work with Alyson Williams, the resident Beekeeper, learning about biodiversity, the environment and working together to care for the bees.

Some of the produce grown in the garden usually makes its way into delicious meals at the Museum's café whilst some is used for community meals at GRAFT. A portion of produce is used by volunteers, and some is donated to projects and groups throughout the area who provide food for those in need, such as Matts House, Ogof Adullam and the Swansea refugee drop in centre.

SPREADING SEEDS AND SUNSHINE DURING LOCKDOWN

Over the coming weeks GRAFT will be posting seeds through City and County of Swansea’s food parcel scheme and to community groups they regularly work with such as Roots Foundation and CRISIS. The seeds include squash and sunflowers, which were harvested by the gardeners last season.

Another initiative GRAFT is developing in the coming weeks is encouraging people to plant sunflowers in visible and public spaces, to show support for key workers alongside rainbow paintings. People are also invited to post pictures of their successful growing on GRAFT’s social media pages.

To request seeds contact zoe.gealy@museumwales.ac.uk

07810 657170

During lock-down, the GRAFT garden continues to need some tending and so  The National Waterfront Museum's on-site team are watering the GRAFT garden and seedlings during their daily shifts.

With thanks to players of the People’s Postcode Lottery for supporting Amgueddfa Cymru’s public programme of activities and events.

FOLLOW GRAFT:

www.facebook.com/graft.a.soil.based.syllabus

INSTAGRAM: Graft____

2019 is the 150th anniversary of the Periodic Table of Chemical Elements (see UNESCO https://www.iypt2019.org/). The "International Year of the Periodic Table of Chemical Elements (IYPT2019)" is an opportunity to reflect upon many aspects of the periodic table, including the social and economic impacts of chemical elements.

Sulphur is the fifth most common element (by mass) on Earth and one of the most widely used chemical substances. But sulphur is common beyond Earth: the innermost of the four Galilean moons of the planet Jupiter, Io, has more than 400 active volcanoes which deposit lava so rich in sulphur that its surface is actually yellow.

Alchemy

The sulphate salts of iron, copper and aluminium were referred to as “vitriols”, which occurred in lists of minerals compiled by the Sumerians 4,000 years ago. Sulfuric acid was known as “oil of vitriol”, a term coined by the 8th-century Arabian alchemist Jabir ibn Hayyan. Burning sulphur used to be referred to as “brimstone”, giving rise to the biblical notion that hell apparently smelled of sulphur.

Mineralogy

Sulphur rarely occurs in its pure form but usually as sulphide and sulphate minerals. Elemental sulphur can be found near hot springs, hydrothermal vents and in volcanic regions where it may be mined, but the major industrial source of sulphur is the iron sulphide mineral pyrite. Other important sulphur minerals include cinnabar (mercury sulphide), galena (lead sulphide), sphalerite (zinc sulphide), stibnite (antimony sulphide), gypsum (calcium sulphate), alunite (potassium aluminium sulphate), and barite (barium sulphate). Accordingly, the Mindat (a wonderful database for all things mineral) entry for sulphur is rather extensive: https://www.mindat.org/min-3826.html.

Chemistry

Sulphur is the basic constituent of sulfuric acid, referred as universal chemical, ‘King of Chemicals’ due to the numerous applications as a raw material or processing agent. Sulfuric acid is the most commonly used chemical in the world and used in almost all industries; its multiple industrial uses include the refining of crude oil and as an electrolyte in lead acid batteries. World production of sulfuric acid stands at more than 230 million tonnes per year.

Warfare

Gunpowder, a mixture of sulphur, charcoal and potassium nitrate invented in 9th century China, is the earliest known explosive. Chinese military engineers realised the obvious potential of gunpowder and by 904 CE were hurling lumps of burning gunpowder with catapults during a siege. In chemical warfare, 2,400 years ago, the Spartans used sulphur fumes against enemy soldiers. Sulphur is an important component of mustard gas, used since WWI as an incapacitating agent.

Pharmacy

Sulphur-based compounds have a huge range of therapeutic applications, such as antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antidiabetic, antimalarial, anticancer and other medicinal agents. Many drugs contain sulphur; early examples include antibacterial sulphonamides, known as “sulfa drugs”. Sulphur is a part of many antibiotics, including the penicillins, cephalosporins and monolactams.

Biology

Sulphur is an essential element for life. Some amino acids (cysteine and methionine; amino acids are the structural components of proteins) and vitamins (biotin and thiamine) are organosulfur compounds. Disulphides (sulphur–sulphur bonds) confer mechanical strength and insolubility of the protein keratin (found in skin, hair, and feathers). Many sulphur compounds have a strong smell: the scent of grapefruit and garlic are due to organosulfur compounds. The gas hydrogen sulphide gives the characteristic odour to rotting eggs.

Farming

Sulphur is one of the essential nutrients for crop growth. Sulphur is important to help with nutrient uptake, chlorophyll production and seed development. Hence, one of the greatest commercial uses of sulfuric acid is for fertilizers. About 60% of pyrite mined for sulphur is used for fertilizer manufacture – you could say that the mineral pyrite literally feeds the world.

Environment

Use of sulphur is not without problems: burning sulphur-containing coal and oil generates sulphur dioxide, which reacts with water in the atmosphere to form sulfuric acid, one of the main causes of acid rain, which acidifies lakes and soil, and causes weathering to buildings and structures. Acid mine drainage, a consequence of pyrite oxidation during mining operations, is a real and large environmental problem, killing much life in many rivers across the world. Recently, the use of a calcareous mudstone rock containing a high proportion of pyrite as backfill for housing estates in the area around Dublin caused damage to many houses when the pyrite oxidised; the case was eventually resolved with the “Pyrite Resolution Act 2013” allocating compensation to house owners.

Conservation of museum specimens

Because iron sulphides are highly reactive minerals, their conservation in museum collections poses significant challenges. Because we care for our collections, which involves constantly improving conservation practice, we are always researching novel ways of protecting vulnerable minerals. Our current project, jointly with University of Oxford, is undertaken by our doctoral research student Kathryn Royce https://www.geog.ox.ac.uk/graduate/research/kroyce.html.

Come and see us!

If all this has wetted your appetite for chemistry and minerals, come and see the sulphur and pyrite specimens we display at National Museum Cardiff https://museum.wales/cardiff/, or learn about mining and related industries at Big Pit National Coal Museum https://museum.wales/bigpit/ and National Slate Museum https://museum.wales/slate/.

This is a community project led by volunteers from Dre-fach Felindre Gardening Club in conjunction with the National Wool Museum and involving the local primary school’s Eco group. The main aim is to provide a sustainable attractive garden using plants that traditionally have been used for their natural dyes. The plant materials are harvested and used in the end of season workshops.

Early in 2019, the Natural Dye Garden Group was approached by Dr Nicol, of the Sustainable Places Research Institute, Cardiff University, regarding the Economic Botany Collection. This is held in National Museum Cardiff.

Dr Nicol had met with the group some time previously to help explore how this collection of 3,500 specimens might support the public’s understanding and valuing of biodiversity. These specimens were wide ranging but only included one specimen of dye plant material from the UK.

The Museum asked if the Natural Dye Garden Group could provide a contribution to the Economic Botany Collection to expand the range of dye plants held. We were delighted to be able to help.

Every year plant materials from the Natural Dye Garden are harvested and stored for use in the natural dye workshops. From this resource it was possible to provide 13 specimens, labelled and boxed for the Economic Botany Collection.

Additionally, another box was prepared of corresponding dyed samples of wool fibre. In all, 20 colours were included, as examples of colour modifications were added such as yellow from weld overdyed with blue from woad to make green.

These boxes have significantly expanded the natural dye plant selection of the Economic Botany Collection and have all been grown on the National Wool Museum site here in West Wales.

One of the best reasons for housing heritage collections inside buildings is that the building keeps the weather out. Paintings, fossils, books and skeletons are best kept dry, and walls and roofs protect our collections (as well as staff and visitors) from the elements.

In addition, many of the objects in our collections also need specific temperature and humidity ranges to prevent them from suffering damage. Too high a humidity can cause swelling of wood, for example, initiating cracks in objects, or, if humidity gets even higher, mould growth. Therefore, National Museum Cardiff has a complicated air conditioning system. This system is more than 40 years old and has been maintenance-intensive and inefficient for some time.

We are happy to report that, after several years of planning, we have just completed the installation of new chillers and humidifiers at National Museum Cardiff. The purpose of chillers in the museum is to provide cold water – for lowering the temperature of galleries and stores in the summer, and for dehumidifying stores and galleries if there is too much moisture in the air. Humidifiers achieve the opposite effect: they increase humidity in stores and galleries if it is too low. Low humidity is usually a problem during the winter months – you may have experienced your skin drying out at home when you have the heating on in winter. To prevent our collections drying out we cannot apply skin cream; instead, we maintain a minimum level of humidity in stores and galleries.

The chillers and humidifiers have been commissioned now, and are working well. They have already proved that the control of our indoor environments is better than it was before. A very positive side effect of the new technologies is that they are much more efficient than the old equipment. In fact, they are so efficient that we are anticipating to shave almost 50% off our annual electricity bill for National Museum Cardiff, saving the planet more than 500 tonnes of carbon dioxide every year. That is the equivalent of taking 100 cars off the road, or the average energy a family home uses in 38 years.

By investing in such new technologies, Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales continues to ensure the safe storage and display of the nation’s heritage collections, whilst at the same time making a massive contribution towards the National Assembly’s commitment to reduce carbon emissions by 80% by 2050 (Environment Wales Act 2016).

Find out more about Care of Collections at Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales here and follow us on Twitter. Follow the progress of the maintenance works during the coming months in 2019 on Twitter using the hashtag #museumcare.