31 December 2008

How Far Future

I was noodling around the 'net the other day for info on arcane bits of Provincial legislation. You see, some local property developers want to park (yet again!) an industrial "development" in our beautiful, rural neighbourhood. The current proposal -- in stark contrast to the last one -- is pretty softcore. The trouble is that, to get the zoning permissions, they're following an obscure process that eliminates the need for Environmental Impact Assessments, public-participation processes and the like. Or maybe not. It all depends on whether you can convince the Bureaucrat Of The Moment to buy your interpretation of the legislation and regulations.

Long story short, all this led me to a link to the Provincial Government's Draft1 Climate Change Policy Document. Wow! Who ever would suspect that such a thing exists?

It will take me a good long while to read throught this thing, so all I've done is skim it so far.

Apart from some fairly obvious (to me) missing pieces, the whole thing seems pretty impressive to me. (And this is me -- the anarchist, using a word like "impressive", about government! Will wonders not cease?) In summary, the Western Cape is going to get dryer, mainly in the extreme South-Western areas (i.e. Cape Town, my home town) but not so much where we are (the Southern Cape.) That's assuming the IPCC models have some resemblance to future reality2. The Western Cape is hugely dependent on agriculture as an economic driver, so there's much discussion of that. None of this is the impressive bit...

To me what is important in the document is that
  1. the Western Cape Provincial Government is actually taking Climate Change seriously, and not in denial like some other governments we might mention,
  2. they're actually advocating mitigation strategies, depsite the fact that, as a "developing" nation, South Africa is not "technically" obliged to worry about mitigation4, and
  3. they're talking about actual, concrete actions, not just a lot of waffle, like the National government's discussion documents. (In fact, the National Government's list of "Key Issues" does not even mention climate change at all!)
My point: We can talk about climate change all we want, but unless we take actual, specific, concrete actions, we might as well be wanking.

[1] In the (long) time it took me to write this, the policy document has been gazetted, and is therefore no longer merely a "Draft"...

[2] Extremely dubious! I think that consensus amongst climate scientist3 is that the IPCC model is disastrously wrong. Climate change is happening far quicker than anybody expected or predicted, and it is accelerating faster than any "accepted" models. Of course, academic process being what it is, the climate will simply have gone and changed -- maybe radically -- before academic bodies accept the models that explain the change.

[3] Any climate scientist who reads this and wishes to correct my views, please do!

[4] What bollocks! Every human being is going to be "impacted" by climate change. Anybody who think that mitigation is not part of their personal responsibility should be put up against the wall is clearly deluded.

30 December 2008

Identify That Lettuce

Hyper-red rumpled lettuce?I need some help to identify the lettuce shown here. I think it's Hyper Red Rumpled, but not at all sure. Anybody got a better guess?

23 December 2008

The Big Questions

(This post has nothing whatever to do with self-sufficiency or gardening or seed-saving or alternative energy or chickens. Maybe.)

A few years ago a friend was going through some tough times in her life. No money. No marketable skills. No luck. I asked her the question,
If I handed you 30-million Rand in cash right now, what would you do with your time, with your life, when you wake up tomorrow?
The amount is irrelevant (as is her answer.) I believe that most of us have a Magic Amount of money, more than which we figure we'd be "untouchable". I call it your Fuck You Value. I define it as that amount beyond which -- no matter who makes you an offer -- no matter how financially rewarding that offer might be -- no matter what the circumstances -- we have this lump of cash stashed under the bed (or whatever) that gives us the freedom to say Fuck You, I'm doing X.

Now multiply that amount by 10.

Imagine you actually have that 10 * F amount of money in cold cash, under the bed (or in a bank if you believe that's safer ;-)

I ask you, as I ask myself, "Under such a circumstance, when you wake up tomorrow, what will you spend your time doing?"

Maybe its just another way to discover (if you haven't already) your Passion.

So just today I tripped across/was reminded of another of these Big Huge Hairy Questions:
If a trusted friend could arrange a meeting between you and anyone of your choosing, who would you choose? Not for entertainment or curiosity or bragging rights. Who would you choose to meet?
I confess that I don't have any answer. I can't think of a soul so important that I have to meet them. Including dead or mythical people. More than answering the question, I find the fact that I can't think of anybody I so want to meet to be the most thought-provoking thing.

19 December 2008

Simmering the openseed.org Pot

An exercise in Extreme Slow Cooking, this! For quite a long time, now, I've been (sporadically) working on a web-based tool for tracking and matching seed-exchange wants and offers. You'd think it's such a simple thing I could have batted it out in a couple of weeks... probably so, but I've also been using it as a way to explore different technologies and software design approaches. Not stuff that's interesting to seedy people or self-sufficiency hackers, I know, but satisfying to my inner-geek.

Anyhow, I'm quite determined to get this thing implemented and running as soon as possible. The first version is (deliberately) terribly simple: Anybody who wants will be able to sign-up with the site, and enter a list of the seeds they
  1. offer for swaps and/or
  2. are looking for in exchange.
and then get an email when someone else lists a matching variety, so making it easier for people to get together for swaps. The idea is to complement (not compete with) existing seed-swap sites such as the Blogger Seed Network or Homegrown Goodness.

What The Hell Inspired All This?

There are lots of bloggers who keep their seed-lists (more-or-less) up-to-date on their blogs, websites, etc., just as I do, or who list their seed offers and wishlists on various web-forums and group-chat sites.

As a tech geek, it seems just obvious to me that computers should be doing more than that -- they should actively be matching us up to make it easier to swap seeds! I mean, this is exactly what computers are supposed to be really good at, after all. Isn't it?

The first release of the system will do just that. You'll be able to type-up a list of seeds you offer for sale, swap or giveaway, and you'll also be able to capture a list of seed varieites that you're keen to lay hands on. As soon as you do that, the server will look for other people who have matching wishlists and offers (in reverse, though, if you see what I mean) and will drop an email to both parties suggesting a swap.

I expect some challenges around the matching -- what happens if I misspell (say) Lettuce, or if I enter a plant as "Lactuca sativa" but you're looking for "Lettuce"?  I don't know how well (or otherwise) its all going to work out -- I could really use some help from a SQL1 guru with this sort of stuff. All gods know I'm not one!

Right now most of this works, but it all still looks like crap, as I've made absolutely no attempt to "style" it to look like anything yet. If you have some web-design (especially CSS) skills and are keen to help out, please drop me a line! Otherwise I'll hack something up...

The only significant missing piece right now is any ability to Just Browse through the lists of what's on offer! I feel that this is a crucial piece of functionality, and need to implement something before the site goes into what we propeller-heads call a "Beta Release" -- a working, functional version, but May Contain Some Nasty Surprises2.

Other bits and pieces that I may add later -- depending on how important other people feel they are -- would be a wiki system so that we can write-up plant descriptions, with pictures, growing tips, seed-saving hints, breeding ideas of the various varieties. (My own interest is in veggies, but I really hope that flower and fruit growers will also step up...) Then, too I have in mind to add a "forum" chat system later... we'll see.

The software will be released as Free Software so that if anybody wants to run their own exchange system -- perhaps with a regional or specialty focus -- they'll be able to take advantage of the software. My aim is to build-in functionality that will enable all OpenSeed exchange systems to share all their swap offers globally, but that, too, is a "for later" feature.

So Why All The Waffle Now?

Frankly, I need a little help. Included on the site are the usuall stuff like a "Links" page, and I could use some input on what links to include. I'm particularly looking for seed-bloggers (you know who you are! many of you are already listed ;-) good-quality heirloom seed suppliers, and links to seed-saving, food-biodiversity, plant-breeding, heirloom variety information, seed-politics, etc. At this stage anything's game. Spammy commercial links won't make it ;-)

Where and When?

The site will go live as openseed.org -- hopefully sometime in late-Jan/early-Feb (but no promises -- if somebody offers me a bunch of money to do something else, openseed.org will have to go on hold.)

The site will be non-commercial -- for the time-being I can afford the hosting and such, but I could really, really use help with testing, ideas for more features, and, once it is up-and-running, feedback, bug-reports and content.

Oh, and any good heirloom veg seeds ;-)

(And after that I'll get around to making this blog look like something. Right now it looks like crap and leaves a whole lot of usability to be desired. But it's Summer, right now, and Prime Weeding Season and It All Takes Time.)

[1] The system is currently using MySQL, but could quite easily be transitioned to another database system, but there's no compelling reason to change right now, and it would only slow me down at this point, when my aim is to get something up and running for people to kick the tyres and suggest how to do things better.

[2] Like Windows Vista, then... ;-)

13 December 2008

Thinking Ahead: Seed Wanted!

So here it is, not yet full-Summer, and I'm thinking ahead to my Winter garden. The Tomatoes are still (mostly) under 30cm tall. The Chillis -- the few, pathetic survivors of the season's Great Chilli Holocaust -- barely past the seedling stage.

This year -- in contrast to my usual habit -- I decided to Buy In seedling mix. Usually I just use my own compost, and it works reasonably well, up to a point. My compost is made from stable-muck where they use wood-shavings for the bedding instead of straw. It's great for compost, and means that I get lots of odd fungi in the garden, but its a little heavy for seed-mix. The bottom parts of the seed-trays tends to stay waterlogged, and the roots of all the tiny plants don't get enough Oxygen. So the seeds germinate well, grow fantastically to a point... and then come to a complete halt! Hence my (reluctant) decision to buy in a "professional" seed mix.

Turned out to be a disaster. The stuff is like cement. Maybe harder. The seedlings get even less Oxygen to their roots, if that's possible. As a result I'm having a terrible Chilli year. My third Disastrous Chilli Year in a row! I've lost a number of Chilli varieties that I've been saving seed from for years, including Serrano, Jalapeno (can you fucking believe it?) Bolivian Rainbow, and New Mex #6-4. Only two plants of Cherry Pepper -- I'm guarding them like a Hawk.

So: I'm going to have to buy in a whole lot of Chilli seed for next year to rebuild my seed-stocks. Here's a list of what I'm looking for -- if you have any of these and are open to swaps (or whatever -- I'm happy to pay a reasonably price...) please drop me a line:

  • Pasilla
  • Rocotto (sp?)
  • Jalapeno (none of that Jalapeno-M stuff, thanks -- if it's not hot, what's the point?)
  • Serrano
  • Poblano
  • Nu-Mex #6-4
  • Mira del Sol
  • Cherry Peppers
  • Aji
That's just the absolutely essential ones. Offers of any others will be most welcome!

In exchange I can (probably -- depending on how the season progresses) offer Bishop's Hat (we tend to call it Red Hat around here, being a bunch of open-source software geeks) plus whatever's on my seed list (not currently up-to-date; I promise I'll fix it in a day or three!)

The thing with Chillis is that I can mostly overwinter them quite successfully. We don't get any frost. So my idea is to plant NOW with the idea that I'll only harvest seed somewhere around Jan 2010. (How's that for Long Range Planning?)

And. Whilst I'm Thinking Ahead, I began to contemplate the Winter To Come. See, with such a mild climate, we have (at least) two growing seasons. And, having learned that Chickpeas ("Garbanzo Beans" to some...) are essentially a cool-season crop, I can tell that they'll never do well through a Summer here! So, I'm looking for 2 or 3 varieties of Chickpeas to plant this comning Winter. While I'm at it, I am keenly interested in increasing the number of Bean varieties we grow. At the ver minimum, I want a good Pinto bean, and a variety of large-white bean. (Locally we know them as "Butter Beans". But do you think you can find anyin the seed racks? Or even in the supermarkets as dried beans?? No!They're all in cans!!)

More Beans Welcomed! Currently we are very successful and happy with Dragon's Lingerie and Hopi Black for dried beans, but I'd very much like to expand the range a bit!

If you have seed to swap/sell/give away along these lines, please contact me!

08 December 2008


Fire up in the forest somewhere has brought us the Most Exciting Event In Months. The firefighting helicopter is taking water from one of the (large) dams across the road from us -- no more than a couple of hundred metres away! (I presume they compensate the farmer for the water they take -- that bucket is pretty big!)

A young friend who lives up near that part of the forest has told us that the fire is not considered very serious, and that firefighters should manage to extinguish it tonight. Murphy's Law, though, means that, no sooner had he told us this, than a strong wind sprang up from the South East, which will, no doubt, hamper firefighting efforts.

Most likely it is Pine plantation that is burning; indigenous (Afromontain, mixed hardwood) forest tends to act as a damper, and is considered a retardant to all but the very largest of fires.

Quite exciting, though, to have this chopper flying directly over our heads every ten minutes or so. Ordinarily I have a strong objection to helicopters flying over us1 and the forest, disturbing the Elephants, but this one I'll gladly support!

[1] My anti-helicopter crusade: another story for another day.

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