31 January 2009

"First" SA CSA: Nonsense in the Blogosphere

sa's first community supported agriculture (CSA) project reports the urban sprout blog.

What utter nonsense! I've known of several CSAs run in places ranging from Knysna to the Southern Suburbs of Cape Town since as far back as the mid-90's. Hell, I've run one! (Was very small scale, but still...)

Of course I would have noted this as a comment on the urban sprout blog, but their comment form is broken -- one of those "answer the simple math problem" anti-spam measures that always reports "wrong answer" (though I'm reasonably sure that 2+2 adds up to 4, even in South Africa.) Trying to report the fault through their "contact" form also fails to work... the contact form reports a "validation error", so no way to even contact them.

Perhaps they're afraid of comments? Might there be some unfavourable comments that call bullshit on lies about the "first CSA in SA" or similar? ;-)

28 January 2009

Drought: Climate Change Shows Its Face

We're in the midst of the most serious drought we can remember since moving to Braamekraal some 13-and-a-bit years ago. So far, here at near the end of January, we've had only 10.5mm of rain this month, with little prospect of any more. "Normal" for January would be between 60 and 70mm. The last decent rain we've had -- any single fall of over 10mm qualifies as "decent" -- was in mid-November. The neighbouring town of Sedgefield has run out of water and the municipality is having to truck in drinking water for the town's residents.

Triage Time

I've written-off the contents of a couple of beds full of seedlings. They're easily replaced if/when rain returns.

The House Dam is almost empty -- I have at most two more waterings for the veggie garden. At that I am only watering the well-established Tomatoes, Chillis and Squashes. Everything else must fend for itself.

The house water tanks are fine -- we still have around 12kl in the storage tanks (out of 15kl capacity) which would last us (I guess) 8 or 9 months. By the time things got that serious we'd probably be the last people left alive in the region. ;-) But the garden is suffering, as is the forest.

The New Normal

This, I have no doubt, is the bare face of Climate Change. For the past 10 years we've seen the weather patterns steadily change -- always towards the more extreme... always towards dry...

Why, then, are the local government bureaucrats and politicians running about crying about a "crisis"? Crises are ephemeral in nature! This is the new reality: Less rain. Less frequent rain. Less reliable rain. More extreme weather events. More frequent extreme weather.

And it looks like it is too late to do anything about it.

In Consequence?

I guess we're going to be selecting seed on the basis of Drought Resistance this year.

11 January 2009

Summer's Sweet Harvest

Well, its not full-on serious harvest time. Not yet. But at least a few things are happening to feed us!

Baby Marrows (Courgettes: Casserta -- drop me a line if you want some seed!) and Yellow Crookneck Squash are... abundant. Not yet at that stage where we're crying "Oh Fuck! Not More Squash!" Still enjoying them. Actually, a great number of the Yellow Crooknecks are mostly there for seed anyway. You see, I inherited a great deal of Yellow Crookneck seed from a kind neighbour earlier in the year, and was very happy! Some years ago I was happily growing this variety of Summer squash, and then I lost them completely -- all the fruits I kept for seed, carefully pollinating by hand, were stung by Pumkpin Fly and vrotted1 on the vine! So you will understand my great joy at being gifted several packets of Yellow Crookneck seed... until I discovered that the seed was quite old. Six years and more. :-(

I planted a whole lot (perhaps 2-dozen?) in the hope that 2 or 3 plants would emerge, and I got 8. They're just at the stage where the early fruits are forming, but their flowers haven't opened yet, so, this morning, I ran about wrapping masking-tape over the unopened flowers so that they can't open until I want them to! Tomorrow or the next day. I'll remove the tape, the flowers should spring open, and I'll pollinate them by hand, using male flowers from different plants, and then taping them shut again so that Bees can't accidentally violate the flowers with other pollen. (It is possible; I have another variety of Summer squash in close proximity.)

Actually it was quite fun2 with one... As I was looking for flowers at exactly the right stage of development, I watched one of our Bees gathering nectar in the bottom of a male Yellow Crookneck Squash, and then, immediately after, moving directly to a female flower on the next-door Yellow Crookneck plant. Bingo! Job done, I just taped the female flower shut. :-D

Other than Squash, we're eating Chillis off the one plant that made it through Winter, but eagerly awating the new season's offering. Same with Tomatoes. It is a very late season this year! The Brandywines are finally forming fruit -- about 3cm across at this stage. The only fruiting Tomatoes are the Red Cherries and a couple (TomatoR1 and TomatoR2) of weird volunteers that we're unable to identify -- so we'll be propogating them forward next year to try and figure out what's going on.

We harvested the Dragon's Lingerie Beans a couple of weeks ago, and left the last few pods to dry-off. Threshed them out today, and the yield is not as bad as it might have been. Notwithstanding that they were badly whacked by rats, we harvested 732g of dry beans from 10m2. That equates to 732kg/hA -- not great, but better than many commercial harvests! I was planning to harvest the Hopi Black today, but vistis from neighbours put paid to that...mebbe tomorrow, eh?

Amongst the Dragon's Lingerie Beans that we threshed out I notice a couple of oddities (BeanR3 and BeanR4) that I kept aside to grow separately so that we can find out if they're genuinely something different or merely the result of some environmental factors.

An Odd Thought

If this were a more "industrial" setup... if we were not a handraulic self-sufficiency operation... there is absolutely no chance that we would have noticed some different few beans in amogst the harvest. They may turn out to be nothing more than aberations brought on by disease, too much sun, or poor placement in the garden.

But, if we were not processing them by hand we would never have the chance to find out!

[1] Just remove the "v"...[2] OK, so I have a peculiar and probably perverse notion of "fun".

03 January 2009

'Tis the Season to be Hoeing

Actually everything is pretty-much all hoed at the moment. I confess that I've seldom had the veggie garden so well organised at this point in the year. I even have the "leisure" to break new ground!

It's almost time for the Hopi Black beans to get harvested. They're looking pretty good, despite not having had water in over 6 weeks, now. I always treat drying-beans as a dryland crop, and we've not had decent rain since mid-November. Curses! The total rainfall for December was a mere 25mm (1 inch) and this month doesn't look like being much better... no reasonable probability of rain in the next two weeks. The dam is looking pretty empty right now, and I don't suppose I have enough water left for more than another 10 days or so, and, at that, I'm reserving the water for the highest-value crops -- the Tomatoes, Chillis and Squashes. After that I'll have to look into hiring a pump to move water from the Bottom Dam up to the Garden Dam. And buy 150m of pipe... :-(

The Squashes -- baby marrows and baby Yellow Crooknecks -- are producing nicely, as are Kohlrabi and the first of the Tomatillo. We're eager for the first Tomatoes, though.

The season's Mystery Tomato (in the 2nd pic down)... who knows? I'm very happy, though, since I've been longing for a larger-than-cherry-sized salad tomato, and this looks like fitting the bill nicely. The bush pictured here is a volunteer in amongst the beans, so my best guess is either Black Cherry (though I got none of them last year) or some random cross between something like Gold Nugget and maybe Tigerella -- based in the stripes. Or Red Cherry and Tigerella. Trouble is, there's another bush not far away, so that argues against a cross. Time may tell...

At least the Brandywines are looking good (pic 3.) and flowering nicely, if a little later than usual.

At the opposite end of the garden, we have OSU Blue Tomatoes (pic 4) -- seed kindly sent by a fellow denizen of Alan Bishop's Homegrown Goodness board. The seed arrived just yesterday, so I've banged a few seeds (3 to be exact) directly into the ground. It might be too late in the season for any good to come of it, but... nothing ventured, nothing gained!

The season has been so strange to date that there's no predicting what may happen with the weather, come May. November was quite "normal" with good rains, as should be! December has been very weird. Tiny, useless driblets of rain causing more harm than good, pretty high humidity (which usually doesn't hit us until at least mid-Jan) and lots of cloudy, overcast days. The result is that everything is growing quite slowly -- especially the Chillis. Thankfully no signs of Blight (yet!) Everything gets a good watering twice a week. As long as the water holds out.

At least the dry conditions mean that the lawn has stopped growing. No mowing! Yay!

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