28 August 2007

Seeds and Stress

The results of the weekend's planting. Doesn't look like much, does it?

Spring sowing time is always a bit stressful for me. For most vegetable varieties I save all my own seed -- with some notable exceptions -- Radishes, locally-common Turnips, Cauliflowers and Broccoli. I really love saving seed, seeing plants go through their whole lifecycle, from babyhood when they're at their most tender and succulent, through girding their strength, storing up their energies to explode into flower. Ah, the Joy of Sex! Then, into their dowdy, shabby days as they develop their seed, finally to release their offspring to start the next cycle.

But for me, the apprentice gardener, its a stress mission. Did I let the seed develop fully enough last season? Or was I too paranoid of the bugs waiting to pounce on the booty? Did some weevils get into the seed? (hello Peas and Beans!) Have I hung onto the seed too long? Has some invisible bacteria taken a toll?  Did I process the seed properly after harvesting?

There are lots of reasons for saving your own seed, and I mostly try and make it a policy to only ever buy, beg, borrow or steal a new variety once.  After that I try my best to save my own seed, despite my notoriously poor labelling habits and generally dismal level of organisation!

Generally I sow a mix of last-year's seed, plus a bit from the year before if that's proven itself as "good" seed. That's assuming I actually have any seed from last year. Some varieties, notably the Beets and Chards, make seed that is so long-lived that I keep their seed for up to five years at a stretch. Mind you, I'm constantly sowing and growing them, so I notice very quickly if a batch of seed starts to show poor germination, or if plants are not-so-vigorous.  But, as I'm filling seed-trays, popping the seeds into them and covering them carefully, there seems to always be the question in my mind, "Will they come up OK?"

Usually they do, and all my worry is for nothing.  Occasionally there are "disasters", and once in a while the disaster doesn't make itself apparent until the plant starts fruiting or flowering, and I learn that I've been careless with plant-isolation distances. Then we celebrate the Wonders of Weird Chillis.

There's still a lot of direct-sown stuff to take care of, lots of beds to dig (if the damn knee will just cooperate!) But these as-yet-barren trays represent the Precious Darlings -- the Chillis, Tomatoes, Tomatilloes, Tamarillos, Squashes and Eggplants.  Nothing I can do to help them now, beyond watering.

25 August 2007

The Battle of Wounded Knee

Why does Bad Stuff always, always choose the worst possible time to happen?  Spring is almost upon us; I am expanding the planting space quite a lot -- from the 13 beds that we already have, to at least 26.  (For the first time ever I'll be making beds in sizes other than 10m2.  Gosh! Adventure!)  I have already dug 6 of the new beds.  I also have to get compost heaps going to feed all those new beds, otherwise they'll be quite useless.

Work was coming along quite nicely, when it all came to an abrupt halt.  About a week ago I managed to do Something Evil to my right knee.  Now, I have quite a high tolerance for pain, so, in my normal fashion, "just lived with it", apart from trying to move in ways that don't agravate the pain or stress my knee.  I figure that pain serves a function.  But alas! It's no good. I keep doing Bad Things, like kneeling down to pull some weeds, or cut some Lettuce for a salad. Yesterday I gave in and resorted to anti-inflammatory tablets.  Trouble is, right now, faced with the busiest time of year, I can't do much of anything.

Just as well we had rain for the last few days -- a nice, soft, soaking rain -- not much in volume, but it has done a world of good for the soil and seedlings.  That kept me indoors and quiet (and frustrated, and cabin-fevered) for most of the week, and now the soil is far too wet to work for at least a couple of days (except I could be hauling horse-shit and making compost heaps, and spreading wood-shavings in pathways, preparing insect-netting, building a greenhouse...) Still, happy to have had the rain, though.

The Tomatoes and Chillis I planted last month have started showing-up in their trays.  Some of them are still MIA, but I'm quite surprised to see anything of them at all.  This weekend will see the start of serious planting of Tomatoes, Chillis, Basil, Tomatillos and Tamarillos in seed trays.  Pole Beans, too, if The Knee holds out, since that means bending down.  Last weekend was the Squashies.

I always have a great deal of difficulty with the Squash Tribe as they fruit just when Fruit/Pumpkin Flies are at their most prolific, and we frequently lose close to 100% of the crop.  Last year I partially solved the problem with a very light-grade shade net -- 12% shading -- and got a decent harvest.  Trouble is its a damn expensive way to cover a very small area.  We've only last week eaten the last of the stored Squashes.  Black Futsu proved themselves quite hardy to the Fruit Fly stings, with about 40% of the crop getting by without any netting at all. Then I heard a secret from the largest ("conventional") veggie farmer locally. "Sow seed on the 14th of August."  By the time the Fruit Flies are rampaging, the Squashes and Pumpkins are hard and thick enough to resist the stings.

So that's what I did.  Here's hoping it works even a little bit!

17 August 2007

Small Victory Against Global Warming

TV adverts...  Ugh!  I so seldom see them, 'cos I so seldom look at the TV.  One one of my rare forays into the mental-candy-floss zone a few months ago just took my breath away.  For all the wrong reasons.  An advert, heavily disguised as a Public Service Announcement, telling us all that "dishwashers use 50% less energy, and 10x less water than handwashing."

Now this might be true in some parts of the world where people wash their dishes by holding them under a stream of hot, running water (and then stick them in the dishwasher!)1 but I cannot, in my wildest imaginings, think of anyway it can be true in a developing country, where the vast majority of people wash their dishes by hand, and many, many of them lack running water in their homes, so having to transport the water by the (heavy) bucketload.  I know that modern dishwashers have become pretty efficient, but I still don't see how they can use less than 3 cups of water -- which would 10x less than we use to wash dishes by hand, in the sink -- to get a load of dishes clean.  In fact, the best figures I can find claim that a high-efficiency dishwasher, in its "eco" mode, uses 12 litres of water.  A sink is full enough for a stack of dishes with 5 or 6 litres.

I lack any way at all to measure the energy efficiency: our hot water is heated by the solar panel on the roof, so our energy expenditure on water heating is almost nil.  Really, really hard to get 50% more efficient than that!

I won't even begin to get into comparing the embedded energy costs of constructing, plumbing, transporting, and eventually disposing of, a dishwasher!  After all, to be completely fair I'd have to figure out the embedded energy cost of our sink and solar panels...

The ad closed with the tagline "so do your bit for the environment." By buying a dishwasher?

Sponsored by Reckitt Benckiser South Africa, makers/distributors of Finish dishwashing products, the ad is part of their campaign to "increase the penetration of dishwashers in the country by an additional 100 000 units by the end of 2007" gratuitously aided by some addle-witted plunk-heads at theCentral Energy Fund -- a state-owned energy company -- who didn't think to question RB's self-serving lies.

After my third viewing of this disingenuous piece of crap,  I could stand the deception no longer.  Booted the trusty 'puter, and fired off a complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority.

Well, the weeks ticked by.  I have not seen the ad lately, so assume that the ad-campaign has come to an end.  Lo', yesterday, arrives an email from the ASA, freighted with a PDF:

"A hypothetical reasonable person, on seeing the commercial, would understand that it is a fact that dishwashers use 50% less energy and 10 times less water than washing dishes by hand. The documentation at hand, however, does not specifically confirm this, and specifically indicates that 'study need to be continued to verify these preliminary learning.'

"Based on the above, the [ASA] Directorate is not satisfied that the claims that 'dishwashers use 50% less energy and 10 times less water than washing dishes by hand' is substantiated.  The commercial is therefore in contravention of [the advertising Code]....

"the respondent is required to... withdraw the claim.. with immediate effect... from every medium in which they appear"
Victory is Ours!  A small one, but victory nonetheless.

[1] I've seen it with my own eyes, but being a polite guest in their house, refrained from my usual sort of reaction.

11 August 2007

Can't Wait for Summer

For once I feel like I have the Spring Panic under control; I just have to prepare another ten or so beds. And No, I won't be bastard trenching them all...

My annual order of seeds from Baker Creek arrived yesterday, to much excitement!  Sadly they were out of stock on the Golden Wax Beans I was so looking forward to :-( but they threw in a freebie of a nice-sounding Turnip (Bianca Piatta -- an Italian heirloom) so I have no complaints.   This after I had decided that the three Turnip varieties I already have are Enough!  They refunded the $1.75 cost of the out-of-stock Beans.  In cash.  And the cash made it through the Notoriously Evaporative South African Postal System intact.

Now what the hell do I do with a dollar bill and three quarters?

I am really, really looking forward to the Tomatoes, just hoping to hell that we don't have too bad a blight year!   Steven, in his Dirt Sun Rain blog writes about Tomato Mutants and volunteers. Among this year's planting will be a big beefsteak Tomato I've nicknamed "Sweet Pink" for now. It popped up last year in among the Black Krim, looking quite similar to a Brandywine, but with a very different flavour -- almost too sweet for my taste -- and certainly nothing like Black Krim.

Hey, ho; hey, ho; it's off to dig I go...

08 August 2007

Murder in Hobbiton

This place, this Braamekraal, often feels to me like Tolkien's Hobbiton.  Yesterday we had the illusion well and truly shattered.  A neighbour, John, living in a cottage some 2km up the road from us was murdered in his own home, sometime between 10 and 11 in the morning.

We bumped into one of the investigating policemen around 4:30 in the afternoon just as we set out for a walk with the dogs; he was just waiting for the forensics team to get finished before he could go in with his tracker dog.  They suspect that the killer came from Keurhoek village, about 5km away.

Update 8 Aug 17:50:  We had a visit from the police Inspector this afternoon to let us know that the murderer has been caught.  He returned to the scene of his gruesome crime in the middle of last night and burned the house down, presumably to destroy evidence, and the police tracked him to his own house and arrested him at 2:30 this morning.  Much relief all round, here, I can tell you!

03 August 2007

Garden Archaeology

What sort of antediluvian creature wielded this Fearsome Implement?

This axe-head is about 50% larger than any I've worked with.  Gnarled and knobbled with rust and encrustations, I have to wonder how long it has been lying in the soil...

I dug up this Fearsome Implement a few days ago, just as I was coming to the (final! eventual!) finish of a new deep bed in the veggie garden.  About 30cm deep, the fork stopped with a clunk.  We don't have many stones in the soil, here, but there are a few, so that was the natural assumption.  But nooooo....!

My guess is that the axe-head dates back to about the 1950's, but what do I know?  It could be as old as 120 years!  In other parts of the garden we've dug up such miscellanæa as Bed Springs, bicycle wheels, many, many glass bottles, ranging from Cheap Booze containers to Patent Medicine bottles, and, once, a Chrome Car Bumper (no doubt 1950's vintage.)

The entire neighbourhood was originally earmarked for the Knysna Woodcutter families -- hillbilly denizens of the Forest in the mid- to late-1800's, and this axe-head is exactly the sort of implement they would have used.  The earliest official survey of the Braamekraal plots is dated 1894.  Sadly the Woodcutters' descendents have mostly mostly moved on.

But the Woodcutters' allotments, one of which we occupy, their trash and their graves, overlay a much older story.  A Bushman1 landscape going back at least fifty-thousand years.  Most inhabitants of the neighbourhood have arrived within the last five to eight years, and are profoundly ignorant of the Woodcutter heritage over which they casually, carelessly splash their MacMansions.  How much more ignorant are they of the Bushman heritage under thir feet?

[1] This touches on a Whole Big Political Issue, about which I am profoundly ignorant. It seems that, whilst people in the NGO/UN/Politically Correct circles would prefer to refer to the Bushman Peoples -- the First Peoples of Africa -- as "the Khoisan tribes", the Bushman peoples themselves prefer the label "Bushman", finding some distinction between themselves and the Khoisan. I probably have the whole thing wrong. The fact remains that these are amongst the most-discriminated-against people in the whole world.  I believe that we could learn a whole lot from them -- or from what tattered remains of their heritage and knowledge still exists.

In SA we have eleven official languages. No single Khoisan language is among them.

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