26 November 2006

The Ozone-Friendly Way of Gardening

Gardening in the Sun is getting scary.  Over the past couple of months I have had the feeling that the Sun is fiercer.  Its not that the weather is hotter, as such, but the Sun's rays burn harsher, sunburn comes easier.  I seem not to be the only one - numerous people are commenting on this.  Are we really feeling the effects of the worst-ever Thinning of the Ozone Layer, or is this just some sort of auto-suggestion effect?  The sceptic in me says, "Let's leave it at 'I don't know.'" though, honestly, I was feeling this before I started seeing news reports about how how bad the ozone layer is this year.

Three Strands of Thinking...

Fit the First: All this has got me thinking, and observing my veggie beds much more closely.  I'm becoming much more concerned with mulching the surface of beds, particularly at this stage of the growing season, where plants are still tiny, and much of the surface lies open and exposed to the Sun, Wind and Rain.  Expecting a dry, hot and burny Summer, I also need to implement soil-moisture conservation strategies - something I've simply been lazy about for too long, now.

Fit the Second: Then, too, as I have been clearing beds, resuscitating the Hex Project, the whole Hex scheme as really crystalised in my mind - outer beds feeding mulch and nutrients to the mid-ring and inner beds; inner beds providing seed, and so on.  I promise a full write-up - to do so now will just be a distraction from my point for this post.

Fit the Third and Final: Lately I have been stacking crops in time a lot - seeding or transplanting directly into a standing crop that is still a few weeks from harvest.  Having neglected garden-bed maintenance during the year in favour of various other stupidities, I am now paying the price in being very pushed for space for the Summer crops.  And there's nothing like necessity to get the creative juices flowing!  This sort of stacking was pioneered by Masunobu Fukuoka, and, though I have not read his books, I think I have a basic understanding of the principles - far too many ramifications and implications to go into here and now - very deep stuff!  I would love to read of his work and hopefully will be able to afford some of his books soon.


A click brought on by tripping across "The Road Back To Nature".  I feel that I am advancing to yet another stage in my gardening.  Yet a deeper level of understanding of soil biota, the rhizosphere and how they interact. Yet a deeper connectedness with the Earth herself.

It shows up in funny ways, too.  I find myself apologising to Earthworms I have accidentally disturbed; unwilling to kill obvious pests.  Better to leave them as food for the predators that protect my garden.

The more I learn about growing things, the more I have come to believe that the only limit to the productive capacity of our gardens, is our own knowledge, empathy, respect and understanding

25 November 2006

I'm Afraid You Have Cows, Mr Brown

Apologies to Gary Larsen.

A neighbour's cows broke free yesterday, and were most attracted by my luscious little Tomatoes and Chillis - or more likely by the lush Kikuyu growth. (Doesn't it sound like a great movie title? "When The Cows Broke Free." Directed by Hitchcock. Or perhaps Woody Allen.)

Eight cows of various ages and sizes wandering around a veggie garden is a fast recipe for disaster. Fortunately OB The PhD was wide awake and alerted us almost immediately, so we were able to chase them off without too much catastrophe. The neighbour who they belong to is very ummmm.... insular? Keep to themselves. Their families have lived here for generations, and, even after eleven years and sundry attempts to "make contact" we are still considered "uitlanders" (foreigners.)

We do have a gate to close our entrance, but it seldom gets used since there is (normally) no threat. I am pretty sure that a farm worker left their gate improperly secured, and, for cows, grass is always greener elsewhere! Especially in veggie gardens.

We lost a few plants that got trampled - unfortunately one of the just-starting-to-flower Cherokee Purple Tomato bushes among them :-( but otherwise got off quite lightly.

Never truer, the saying, "Good fences make good neighbours."  (Unless the fence in question is 2.5m high and highly electrified and reinforced with multiple layers of mesh of various gauges.  But that's another story for another day.)

22 November 2006

Evil Supermarkets and Organic Labelling

A fascinating story, "Wal-Mart, the Cornucopia Institute and Organic Labeling" unfolds over at Sustainablog.  Is Walmart deliberately misleading consumers?  Is the Cornucopia Institute simply on a self-serving mission of revenge?

When I did a  consulting gig to a major local supermarket chain some years ago,  I learned that people (shoppers, competing merchandisers, illiterate shelf-packers) shifting shelf-labels around, accidentally or mischievously, is always a major headache for supermarkets.

So this would tend to support Wal-Mart's claim...

On the other hand, a (different) local chain, focused on selling into the A-income (rich people) market, screwed a lot of small organic farmers.  Their tactic was to place organic meat close to non-organic meat, with both organic and non-organic products deliberately packaged in very similar packaging.

After 18 months ( a year? two? - memory fails) or so they cancelled all contracts with the organic farmers, putting a lot of farmers out of business in the process.  They also did not bother to mention to consumers that they were dropping the organic meat products, and, although their labelling and packaging was technically legal, many, many consumers continued buying way-overpriced meat in the belief that they were buying organically-raised meat.

So this would tend to support a "deliberate obfuscation" theory...

I wouldn't like to guess what is really going on in the case Jeff wrote about, but it sure looks suspicious to me.

21 November 2006

Compost Calling

Sorry no updates recently - here's what I'm up to.  Shovelling a ton of horseshit a day (twice - once to load, and then again to unload) doesn't leave much time for blogging.

14 November 2006

Nothing Lasts

broken bootsYou would expect that boots would last longer than a paltry ten or so years, wouldn't you?

Gumboots were among the very first purchases made when we moved to Braamekraal almost eleven years ago, when we realised just how muddy this place can get during heavy rains.  They have served well, but disaster has struck:  One of the boots has developed a crack or split on the side, rendering them useless.  I don't see why this should have happened; the "rubber" is not particularly worn or perished, and the boots have not seen particularly hard use.

I guess I'll try and repair the split with the glue-gun.

Bah!  Ill-made rubbish!

10 November 2006

New Yummy

I've been in Johannesburg for much of the week, working for money, instead of paying attention to self-sufficiency issues. On the other hand there are a couple of things I'd really like to do that require some money – help our son pay university fees, install solar-power stuff in the house, get some more extensive Zone 4 stuff going down the
slope of our land...

On my return, catching up on my reading, I have discovered something new, courtesy of the folk at farmlet.co.nz – Garlic Scapes.

We tried them for the first time last night, on Pizza, after cooking them lightly with a bit of garlic butter.  Wow!  What a delicious and wonderful discovery.  They will certainly feature on the menu here as often as possible!

Thank You Rebecca for teaching us a new trick!

05 November 2006

The Cutworms Have Landed

Yup!  It's that time of year again.

A couple of days of great rain, followed by a warm, humid day, and out come the Ravening Cutworm Hordes.  I must have lost about 40% of the baby lettuces so far, and the soil is so wet that actually finding the little bastards is extremely difficult.

As far as I know, every organic farmer faces this problem.  You build up the soil - years of backbreaking composting - only to create the perfect conditions for Cutworms.

tomato plant in a collar, in amongst lettucesI know of only two successful approaches to managing the Cutworm Problem:
  1. For widely spaced, high-value plants - Tomatoes, Chillis, Eggplants, Artichokes and similar - cardboard collars to protect every individual plant.
  2. For denser plantings, mass-planted and direct-sown varieties like Carrots, Mustards, Beans, co-planting a decoy or sacrificial crop.
The first method, pictured here, is quite labour and material intensive, though it does provide a good use for toilet-roll inners, which are otherwise a "waste product".  Never truer, the dictum, "One person's shit is another person's gold."  Collaring works pretty well.  The collars are pushed into the ground, so that what you see in the picture, is only about half the length of the collar.  This stops the cutworms from getting in either under or over the fence, and seems to have a better-than-90% success rate.

Decoy, or sacrificial planting is a method I have not had a lot of experience with.  The trick is to plant your decoy crop a couple of weeks before your real crop.  Buckwheat is a good decoy, since it seems to be very attractive to Cutworms, and is good for the soil besides.  The idea is that there is a forest of Buckwheat, which the Cutworms are more likely to encounter than your precious crop plants.  The Cutworms chow down on the decoy plants, giving themselves away, and satisfying their hunger on plants that don't matter to you, leaving most of your crop plants (hopefully) untouched.

The difficulty I have with this is that my veggie beds are in such intensive use that there really is no gap between one crop and the next.  Frequently I find myself planting a new crop in amongst another that is approaching harvest - such as in the picture, where baby Tomatoes have been planted among teen-stage Lettuces.  This makes it very difficult to get a trap-crop into the bed in the correct timeslot.

I would love to hear of any other Cutworm Management Strategies that you use - successfully, or un...

01 November 2006

Money Pollution

Working in the garden today - transplanting some Eggplants, putting cutworm collars around the baby Artichokes and Tomatoes - I was thinking about Work and Money.

Although we live in a part of the world where labour is cheap, and where many people hire gardeners and maids - often as full-time staff - we don't.  The only exception is Pieter, our 60-something peripatetic gardener who pitches-up about once a month, more-or-less at random as he gets the urge.  But back to the point...

Whilst busy placing cutworm collars around the baby plants, I, quite naturally, without thought, am snicking out little weeds that are popping-up in the beds, dealing with the odd cutworm I detect, helping a stray Pea plant find its support stick here, getting rid of a snail there...  All of this is very easy; very effortless; completely without stress or consciousness.  My focus is on the whole garden, despite my single overt purpose.  The work is quite natural and flows easily; the Earth and I work together, meshing our energy with the plants and the elements.

And this is the reason we don't hire outside labour.  Imagine doing the same job for money.  You're handed a bagfull of halved toilet-roll inners, shown how to place them around the vulnerable plants, and left to get on with the job.  Your energy and attention is certainly not on the whole garden.  Your focus is purely to get the job done.  If you're being paid for your time, the the urge is take as long as possible doing a pretty undemanding task, lest you be required to do something more strenuous when that task is finished.  If you're being paid "piecework", the urge is to get as many plants collared as quickly as possible.  In consequence, many plants are likely to get their roots severed, leaves damaged.  These are very young and vulnerable plants; many will not survive, or will suffer significant setback.

The difference?  Money entered the picture.

So often we hear and read the advice "Seek your passion and find a way to get paid for it." - or words along similar lines.  But, in truth, is this really wise advice?

Even those things we feel most passionate about, most committed to, do they - can they - stay as pure when money enters the picture?

I think not.

As a very wise friend once put it, "I love to work.  I like money.  I hate to work for money."

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