Transition Network UK Conference

This September, four of us from Sustainable Bungay went to the Battersea Arts Centre in London for the annual Transition Network Conference.

Most of the participants were from the UK, but several other countries were represented too. After a warm welcome on Friday night, everyone took part in two workshop sessions, held on the Saturday. It was difficult to choose! I went to ones on ‘Communicating Transition: Beyond the usual suspects’ and ‘Turning local food initiatives into social enterprises,’ with our very own Josiah Meldrum.

The idea behind this event is to share ideas, meet fellow people in Transition, to combat the feeling of isolation that comes with doing something radically different from the norm. And importantly, to have fun. On Saturday evening we had a cabaret and Sunday afternoon we built our own future High Street out of cardboard and string!

One of the best quotes from the conference was: “Transition connects people with their ethics and this allows us to change things.” It’s the essence of what we’re doing.  This was my first Transition conference, I doubt it will be my last.

Jonathan Hill

Plants for Life #10 – 'For Medicinal Purposes' Winemaking Session – Review

For our 10th Plants for Life event last Sunday, Winemaking – For Medicinal Purposes, Nick Watts invited a dozen of us to his house for a practical demonstration of how to make fruit wine, in this case (sic) from raspberries.

Nick’s front room was filled with people,  funnels, demi-john’s with deep red liquid and when you opened the door of any one of the cupboards you would discover a large container filled with a fermenting fluid. One demi-john contains enough for 6 bottles of wine at 750cl per bottle. Nick calculated he had about 80 bottles of wine fermenting at the moment.

First we took a look at some of the medicinal qualities of  raspberries. I’d been aware of the raspberry leaf  as a uterine tonic during pregnancy and childbirth and have used it along with yarrow to make a salve for piles. But for me raspberry fruits were always a delicious sign of high to late summer, picked fresh or bought from a roadside stall, and eaten long before they made it home to be turned into anything else culinary, let alone medicinal.

Raspberries, in fact, are incredibly rich in anti-oxidants and vitamin C. Eating them can help boost a poor appetite and they are useful in arthritis. See Hedgerow Medicine, by Julie Bruton-Seal and Matthew Seal,  for an excellent chapter on the many virtues and uses of  the raspberry, both leaf and fruit, with some great herbal recipes.

Penelope Ody in her book 100 great natural remedies has a simple recipe for raspberry vinegar: Soak 500g fresh raspberries in wine vinegar for 2 weeks, strain thick red liquid into a bottle and use in cough syrups, as a throat gargle or add to salad dressings.

Nick took us through the winemaking process in three stages, starting off a new wine and then using ones “I’d prepared a bit earlier.” He was keen to point out he was not an expert, having started about three years ago, but had really got into it and was happy to share what he knows with people.

This was the essence of not only this session but also a main impulse behind the whole Plants for Life project, and indeed Sustainable Bungay as a group and the wider Transition ‘movement’: If Nick could make so much and such decent wine (not to mention his delicious dandelion and burdock beer) from home and allotment-grown and foraged fruit by just doing it and immersing himself in it, then anyone with sufficient interest and initiative could. Watching Nick describe the process and go through it physically with a friendly group of people was absorbing and instructive, as well as good fun. It was a true skill-share.

What follows below is not necessarily the whole story, but what I learnt from Sunday’s session.

In a big bucket with 3lb raspberries (you can choose your own fruit, almost any will do), Nick poured on 5pts of water and added a teaspoonful of pectin enzyme to prevent ‘pectin haze’. He then mashed the raspberries with a wooden spoon and covered the liquid with a tea towel (very important esp. in summer to keep insects out).

This is left for two days.

Add to the bucket between 1kg and 11/4 kg of sugar (preferably fair trade/organic, white) dissolved in 2 pts water off the boil. Add 1 tsp dried yeast with a little sugar all dissolved in some of the fruit liquid in the bucket.

It’s the yeast that turns the sugar into alcohol and the more sugar the sweeter the wine. Nick uses less (1kg) as he likes a drier wine.

This liquid is then stirred 2-3 times a day over the next four days, and the process is called ‘fermenting on the must’.

This is the messy bit, where you strain all the liquid through a muslin sieve, before funnelling it into the demi-johns and putting an airlock on it. This is then left to ferment for between 3 and 18 months until there are no longer any bubbles to be seen in the airlock. During the fermenting process a stable temperature is important. Nick doesn’t worry too much about whether it’s warm or cool, just that there is as little fluctuation as possible.

Decant into bottles and leave for 1-2 years depending on the fruit. Raspberries need less time than elderberries, for example.

After the demonstration, Nick invited everyone to taste some of the wines he’s made. My favourite was the dry and fragrant Elderflower and Rosehip. I took half a bottle home and tried a glass with a dash of elderflower cordial – for medicinal purposes only, of course. And it was the perfect antidote to the recent gloomy days of continual rain and lessening light.

Photos: Raspberry wine fermenting in demi-johns; Nick instructing; Mashing the raspberries; Straining the liquid; Cheers on a rainy day (Mark Watson)

Reflections on Happy Mondays at the Community Kitchen

The main attraction of community meals is their convivial and celebratory nature. It’s not often you can cook for and sit down with 50 people for supper, and food, with its roots in the land and evocative flavours, brings us all together in a way that dry discussions about climate and behaviour change can never do.

There is big sustainable thinking behind every dish at Happy Mondays. All the key Transition subjects, including peak oil and the gift economy, are on the table among the neighbourhood flowers. Even though our dishes are often global (Greek, Moroccan, Indian), nearly all the ingredients are locally-sourced and seasonal. We are deliberately vegetarian to show how meals do not have to rely on resource-heavy meat or fish to be delicious and nutritious. We are also organic where possible. Why? Because the pesticides used on most conventional crops are harmful to the soil, our bodies, wildlife and especially to bees.

Well-being is one of the principles of Happiness. In the kitchen everything is cooked from scratch and so is free from unhealthy industrial processing. Recipes and ingredients are discussed in detail, from the use of “dry” Italian rice (traditional paddy-grown “wet” rice creates high methane emissions) to whether Nick’s allotment maize would be ready for September’s Mexican fiesta. The more connected we are to what we eat and where we live the happier we are.

Happy Mondays next meal is on 19th November (bookings now open). We are having our Winter Solstice and Christmas Party on 21st December at the Community Centre (all welcome). Donation. Please bring festive food and drink! A new  SB Well-being, Art and Culture group is starting up in 2013. Do join us for a discussion about Well-being and the Conmmunity at our Green Drinks on 9th January.

BCB Bees: Update Sept 2012

Over the last couple of months we have been lucky enough to take in some of the late summer swarms. One didn’t stick around very long but the others have happily taken up residence in our beautiful hand made horizontal top bar hives. They were late to swarm due to the adverse weather conditions of early summer so we fed them sugar syrup to make their preparations for winter easier and give them the best chance of lasting through the cold spells.

Here is an update of the ones we have at present:

Our pre-existing colony (Barsham) – which is also the daughter colony of our very first bees- is housed in a National Hive on frames with foundation (printed wax sheets) in. These bees have swarmed twice this year, as they are really successful and resilient bees I hope they bolster the local bee population. The hive is located in a wonderful spot near the river at Barsham:

The first of the top bar hives to be populated is in my garden (Earsham). It’s great to have such close contact with the bees, I spend a little time each day listening to them and watching them going in and out. One can tell a great deal about how contented or agitated they are from this. As there is a glass panel I can also satisfy my curiosity about how much comb they have built and how quickly they have emptied the feeder very easily. Wax flakes and pollen falling through the mesh floor onto the earth below gives another clue as to what they are foraging for and how much building is going on. I have opened them only once since shaking them in but all looked well – no sign of disease and plenty of brood. They do need to build up some winter stores though so I shall be feeding every few days for a while. The netting is to prevent apples falling on the hive (to be honest I forgot about the apple tree in my haste to get the hive ready for the swarm…):


Our only hive actually in Bungay is situated in a fabulous garden – the bees don’t have to go far for a sumptuous feast – and they seem really happy there, settling in very quickly. I was a little concerned for them at first as it was a vigorous swarm that had been housed in a nuc (half sized) box for a while and had drawn comb and collected nectar but needed more space. As we were moving to a different hive type and there was no brood I decided to shake them in. The nectar went in as well, showering them in stickiness, but they seem to have managed to clean up OK:

Our final top bar hive going into winter is situated at the Flixton Apiary site.  This is also where we have collaborated with Keith and Jeannie to sow a wild-flower meadow and where we hold many of our meetings. I have mixed feelings about these bees (my first encounter with them resulted in an anaphlactic reaction and my second in being chased around the newly planted (large) pond as an impressive guard attempted to get through my veil). However, they have established themselves really well and have built more comb than any of the others, even though they were the last housed.

The last couple of months haven’t been easy for this colony. They have survived comb breaking off with stores dripping everywhere, the death of a Queen and the emergence of a new one. As this happened at the end of the season we have our fingers crossed that she got out and was successfully mated in time.

A Transition Camp Journey

Mike Grenville does the morning shout-outI am a reluctant traveller these days, rarely venturing beyond Bungay or Norwich, let alone East Anglia. And it’s strange. Having lived in the Americas in the 80s and 90s and experienced incredible landscapes, people and ways of life, now, after ten travel (and money)-lean years, I’ve learnt to totally appreciate the odd train trip, whether it’s going to London for the Transition Conference in September or travelling up to Norwich in the carbon conversation days through the Norfolk broads as the sun goes down.

Last weekend I went by foot, bus and train to the 5th Transition Camp in the Sussex Downs at the Wo-Wo campsite. And I loved it. From the moment I walked in when Mike greeted me and Alice handed me the key to the Little Owl yurt where I’d be sleeping, I felt welcomed and relaxed. It was a weekend where you could kick back, lead or participate in workshops and talks, sing around the fire at night and have transition conversations that the normal rush of life just doesn’t leave time for.

“These seeds,” said Rebecca from Transition Crouch End, who opened the camp in a circle around the fire on Friday afternoon, “represent what we would like to plant here this weekend, so take one as they go round and consider for a few moments what you’d like to give and receive from the Camp. We’ll put them all in a saucepan and on Sunday, they’ll be cooked up and we’ll share in the stew.”

“They are called Victor beans,” she said, holding up a postcard that was now very familiar to me. I withheld my desire to whoop out loud. But I got my opportunity to speak when we went round the circle saying what we’d like to experience.

Great British Beans“Well, I’ve already experienced something amazing,” I said. “Those are native East Anglian beans, grown very near where I live and Josiah, who runs the Great British Beans business that promotes them is a friend and fellow transtioner in Sustainable Bungay. They make great hummus and falafels too by the way and feature regularly in our monthly Happy Monday meals. Talk about making connections. If the rest of the weekend is as enjoyable as that then I’ll be a very happy camper!”

It was. From working up some great harmonies round the fire on Friday as we sang into the night, to being lent a soup bowl by Claire and dry wellies by Nigel (mine were leaking and that first night was very wet); from learning the Basque word sapori (which means ‘taste’) from Urtzi, who also taught us how to start campfires, to learning the basic steps of the Charleston with Jo in a very dark tent as we sang along to the Muppets theme song. When I just couldn’t keep step, Christy took me gently by the elbow and guided me through. The Camp was like that; friendly, fun and people giving each other a hand when they needed it.

Most people at the camp lived in East Sussex, and were involved in local transition initiatives or wanting to start them up. But there were also transitioners from London, Buckingham, even Aberdeen. Peter, who was visiting from near Aylesbury gave such a great rendition of Singing In The Rain that we all asked for an encore the next night, even though it was dry by then and the stars were out.

Everybody was asked to do a stint in the kitchen, chopping veg or keeping the water fresh in the washing up bowls. Every morning there was hot porridge, fresh fruit and bread, yoghurt and raw milk from the biodynamic Plaw Hatch Farm nearby. Lunch and dinner were equally abundant (and very tasty) and made from scratch by the good-humoured kitchen volunteers.

Yurts and Workshop Blackboards

Martin from Brighton led an introductory session the first night where we said our name out loud each time we spoke. Although the repetition felt awkward at first, I soon got used to it and remembered people’s names for the whole weekend. Not that I would forget Martin’s name. We shared the Little Owl yurt, talking and laughing late into the night and taking it in turns to keep the fire alight. Even though we’d only met briefly once before I felt like I was staying overnight with a friend from school again. It was great fun and really liberating. I reckon we could run a pretty good ‘inner adolescent’ workshop for jaded over thirty-fives! I even managed to turn three X-Ray Spex songs into lullabies and impose them on Martin before he went to sleep! (He did actually fall asleep in the middle of Oh Bondage Up Yours!).

If you ever need anyone to break the ice for a meeting so people can get to know each other, Martin’s your man. On Saturday morning he did another introductory session where each person told two truths and one lie about themselves. Where else would you find out that Lynne sang in a punk group called the Decaying Bogeys in the 70s (or was that the lie?), that Rebecca crossed the Sahara Desert, that I will be 52 next year, that Mike lived in a hippie commune on Ibiza or that Martin was a famous child star? True or False? Answers on a postcard.

Me reading from 52 Flowers That Shook My WorldOn Saturday I held a Plants for Life workshop and spoke about my work in Sustainable Bungay this year organising the Plant Medicine bed and monthly events. St. John’s Wort was the plant of the workshop, and I passed round Rose’s bright red oil for people to smell and rub on and guess what it was. Then I read out the St. John’s Wort chapter from Charlotte’s book 52 Flowers That Shook My World, which was published this year. I passed around the hawthorn leather I made for people to share at the camp and we took a look at ragwort, a plant that brings up strong reactions on any wild plant walk. See here for a balanced, sober look at this plant. The hour and a half sped by and I finished by showing people how to roll plantain balls for bites, stings and incipient cold sores.

Don arrived on Saturday afternoon with the sauna – a bright pink converted caravan with a wood burning stove. Over the next 24 hours, the brave and hardy would cool down by jumping into the nearby river. Some just sprayed water on themselves from a container outside the caravan. I, of course, jumped into the river at every opportunity! Truth or lie?

There was a fascinating workshop making Sterling engines run by Louise from Buckingham in Transition with her partner.
“Buckingham. That sounds familiar. Did you start up the herb garden there?” I asked her. ”I saw a post about it some months ago and I’ve been meaning to get in touch.”
“Yes, that’s me,” she said.

It also turned out that the rocket stove Charlotte made at last year’s camp and that now sits in our conservatory, was the product of one of Louise’s workshops. There are a hundred and one instances of connections like these, but it’ll make this post far too dense to give all the details.

The weekend was filled with workshops on rhythm and resilience, permaculture and fairy tales for children. A foraging walk on Sunday led by Tanya Lodge, focused on the medicine chest in a stretch of hedge no more than thirty feet long at the edge of the campsite field. Dock, nettles, elder, rosehips and cleavers were all discussed along with how to make tinctures and dry herbs. And the redoubtable plantain made a robust appearance at the end. Did you know that plantain helps draw out toxins and heal wounds. Chewed and kept in  the mouth it can also helps with teeth abscesses. The plantain book grows by the moment!

At a talk on fracking and extreme energy, Olly introduced the latest data on Peak Oil, spoke about the work of Frack Off and showed us a short Australian film about a rural community who have united to keep coal seam gas (CSG) out of their area.

Mark Boyle burning a £5 noteSuddenly it was 3 o’ clock on Sunday afternoon. Mark Boyle, The Moneyless Man, gave a sober and unapologetic talk about our relationship with money and how it affects our relationship with the world. Speaking about money exchange as a way of saying “I want no more to do with you”, and examining the hidden pain and exploitation behind the consumer products we take for granted in our society, Mark exhorted all of us present to open and FEEL the damage that maintaining a consumer lifestyle is wreaking on our fellows both human and not, and the planet that gives us life. And to keep open and keep feeling…

Photos: Mike Grenville doing the morning shout-out of all the day’s activities*; Great British Beans in the community pot; Woodland and Kitchen yurt with Saturday’s talks and workshops*; Reading aloud from 52Flowers That Shook My world**; the pink sauna caravan; Mark Boyle burns money By Mark Watson, *Mike Grenville and **Matt O’dell

Plants for Life – latest news

The Plants for Life events and Plant Medicine Bed in the Library community garden bloomed throughout the summer. We held herbal walks, book readings and a weekly informal ‘surgery’, which provided a great space for identifying plants and their medicines. There were several lively discussions on well-being and what it might mean within an era of environmental and economic crises.

The Biggest Burdock in Bungay made its huge presence felt at our core group meetings in the garden this summer and appeared to be in dialogue with the equally giant fennel opposite. Burdock, with its ability to restore the body’s systems and purify the blood, is a great stabiliser and helper through difficult times.

Don’t miss the final two Plants for Life events this year: For Medicinal Purposes, a demonstration on making herbal wine and beer at home, Sunday 21st October at 2pm (bookings only), and The Magic of French Tisanes (Herb Teas), Sunday 25th November, 3pm at Bungay Library (no booking required).

Next year the focus of the central bed will be Plants as Food, curated by Lesley Hartley. And that’s another thing about

For Plants for Life info contact Mark Watson on 01502 722419 or email:

Image: First batch of hawthorn berry leather. Hawthorn is a heart regulator and circulatory tonic and the fruit leather is a good way to take it. This one was perfectly decent if a bit on the thin side! (MW)

Plants for Life #10 – 'Medicinal' Winemaking Demo – 21st October – Book Now!

Please Note: This winemaking demo is now fully booked, but if you’d like to come contact Mark (details below) and if there are cancellations we’ll let you know.

As we head into autumn, our 10th Plants for Life session will be a practical demonstration on making fruit wines at home (‘for medicinal purposes’, of course). Nick Watts will show us the ropes (and the demi-johns), whilst Mark Watson will talk about the medicine of some of the plants the wines are made from.

Date: Sunday 21st October
Time: 2pm (please note  we are starting an hour earlier than usual)
Place: Nick’s House, Bungay

There is space for a maximum of 12 people at the event, so booking is essential. To guarantee a place and get directions, call Mark on 01502 722419 or email

The demonstration is free of charge but we welcome donations to help cover costs and materials.

Look forward to hearing from you and seeing you there!

Photo: Nick preparing elderberry wine, October 2012, by Mark Watson