28 December 2012

Turkey Leftovers

Along with lots of you (including @grumpyoldrick) we're into Day 4 of Turkey Leftovers. So here's a recipe idea...

Finely dice a medium Onion into a cast-iron pan with a glug of hot Olive Oil. Add some chopped Chiles and Sweet Peppers. I leave quantities and proportions to your discretion, since your heat tolerance, Chile preferences and Turkey Leftover volumes will vary, and this sort of figuring things out for yourself is at the heart of self-sufficiency.

Fry the Onion and Chile mix until soft, then add your leftover Turkey, removed from the bones and chopped into centimetre-sized chunks. Fry until browned, and serve on top of Refried Beans, perhaps on a bed of Nachos, or maybe wrapped in a Tortilla with a dollop of Yoghurt (or Sour Cream, if your weight/cholesterol level can stand it).

Enjoy, and pause to give thanks to the ancient Mesoamerican gardeners and plant- breeders who made it all possible. Well, aside from the Onions. And the frying...

19 December 2012

New Addition

A very small addition to the menagerie...

Just 6 weeks old, and we're still searching for a good name for her. Looking at the pedigree certificates we discovered that this little one's Dad and Keira are brother and sister - probably from the same litter!

02 September 2012


A beautiful, warm Spring day. Just the sort that irresistibly invites you into the garden. Bees droning all about in the sunshine. The Flock of Chickens clucking and scratching somewhere distant under trees. Dog joyously hunting rats in the tall grass.

Just the day for digging beds, getting ready for Spring sowing and planting.
Carrots, Beets and Swiss Chard are already in, sown some weeks ago, the Beets just beginning to show themselves. Carrots will be along in another week or two. Pole beans1 planted along the edges of the same bed are slow, but I was being pretty optimistic with the timing; the ground is only now really warming up enough for legumes. The beans will tent up over the root veggies, and not really create enough shade to interfere too much with their growth.

Next up is clearing a bed for Bush beans - Hopi Black, my stock drying bean, and the least possible trouble of any vegetable you could wish to encounter - and the large, white, and totally delicious Greek bean I know simply as Big Beans. Because that's what I was told the Greeks call them. Perhaps they'd be better off growing more Big Beans rather than relying EU handouts.

Another high priority is the Salad Bed. The few stray lettuces that made it through Winter won't keep us in green stuff for long, and I have a huge craving for salads lately.

Meanwhile the first Tomatoes are up in their seed trays. Eggplant and Chiles are predictably taking a little longer. Beds for these can be a little lower priority, since they'll be in the trays a little while yet. Those beds will need a good composting, though.

I've managed to be a little more restrained this year in choosing varieties... last year was a bit of a mad dash to try and get at least a few plants of many, many varieties grown in an attempt to refresh my seed stocks after the drought years. This year I can afford to relax a little and focus on those that have a proven track record.

Spring has sprung, the grass is  riz... la, la, la.2

[1] Rattlesnake and Purple Podded.
[2] I'll stop singing as soon as someone pays me to stop!

11 August 2012

Stuck Pickup

Bakkie (local term for a pickup) stuck solidly in the mudbath that was once a lawn. No tractor handy to pull it out. No team of oxen. No bunch of strong friends to help push. Just the two of us. How to get it out of the mud?

07 August 2012

It Never Rains, But It Pours

After a particularly wet July the ground is saturated and dams are happily full. And now this...

A small river through the front garden...

...and out back, where beer-bottle cleaning has been brought to a temporary halt...

And Bakkie is stuck, the muddy ground too slippery for it to get moving. We'll have to wait for things to dry out a bit to move it, or get a tractor to pull it out.

And yet memories of drought still haunt us, so we bless the rain (if not so much the cold) and hope that the wonderful rains persist through Summer.

First sowings are already in trays - Chiles, Tomatoes and Eggplants, Cabbages and Lettuce. It's a bit early yet for direct-sown Beans, but they'll come soon enough, and there's plenty to do in preparing beds.

21 July 2012

Preparations for Leaving the Grid

We always planned on a solar-power setup. It's a natural and obvious part of our attempt to live a more sustainable, eco-resilient lifestyle without forsaking all the perks of technology. When we designed the house we knew we would be unable to afford a solar-power installation off the bat, but we planned for it anyway. The design of the house reflects these plans -- the roof is pitched at exactly the right angle to optimally support solar panels at our latitude, key parts of the roof, eaves and walls are easily accessible for trunking additional wiring, the electricity distribution board is positioned close to the anticipated charge controllers and associated hardware to make upgrades relatively painless.

It's a pure application of what we software designers call the "Open Closed Principle" -- a design should be "open" for extension, despite being "closed" to internal changes.

05 July 2012

The Joy of (Willards) Snacks: GMOs in Big Korn Bites

Not that I'm planning to turn this blog into a GMO-activism sort of thing, but, consonant with the notion that self-sufficiency is inherently anti-corporate (and possibly a bit subversive) here's more follow-up on my comments about the fraud being perpetuated by the pro-GMO lobby.

10 June 2012

Brew Day: Belgian Blonde

I've long debated with myself over adding brew-blogging to this blog. After all, the main mission here is self-sufficiency. On the other hand, I often do want to record thoughts and feelings about a brew day beyond the bare facts that I record in my (paper and pencil - terribly old-school, I know, but it works even when the lights are out) brew journal. So I thought to myself, "Let's give it a go!" And I really lack the energy or time to start yet another blog. Four of them is quite enough!
I'll tag all these posts with a "brewing" tag, so those of you who want to stay focussed on self-sufficiency, but have no interest in home brewing, can easily ignore these posts.

My target for today's brew is based on a Belgian Blonde, but a bit more hoppy than would be traditional. A malt-forward beer, not too sweet, and a dry finish. Should end up with a strong, white head atop a golden, fairly fizzy ale. Should play well in all seasons. Not sure how closely this conforms to the style guidelines; don't care.

One of my main reasons for wanting to brew this is to maintain and propagate the Duvel/Maredsous yeast1 I recently cultured from the dregs of a very delicious Maredsous Trippel given to me by a friend. I am just guessing that, because both Duvel and Maredsous are brewed by the Moortgat Brewery, it is somewhat likely they use the same yeast. Of course it is always possible that they don't, or that the Trippel is re-yeasted upon bottling with a different yeast than is used for primary fermentation, but what are the odds? The first brew I ran with this yeast was an eye-opener. I brewed a Dubbel, and was completely blown away by this yeast's action. Rather than the usual, fairly aggressive fermentation action I have seen from most ale yeasts (including Wyeast 1214, another Belgian Abbey strain, allegedly originating from the Chimay brewery) this yeast had a very soft, gentle and sweet action. I am quite determined to maintain this strain in good condition, since it is one I will not soon be able to replace should I lose it. One trick will be to share it with as many other brewers as I can.

Today's recipe was a very straightforward one - no complications, decoctions, fancy malts or unusual hopping tricks. All-in-all the brew went very routinely. Mash temperature pretty much where I wanted it, starting at about 65C and falling to a finish at around 63C (a little further than I would have expected; one of the places where I need to work more is in these lower temperature mashes - when starting lower, temperature seems to fall off faster.) The sparge went without a hitch, as did the boil. I'm a little uncertain about the cleanliness of the yeast. I'd really like to plate up a bunch of it and select out clean colonies for longer-term storage. Perhaps if I go down to CT in a couple of weeks I can get to a lab-supply shop to acquire the necessary stuff.

Wort colour was suitably pale, with reasonably good clarity. I was a bit surprised (in a good way) at how much liquid I got out of the kettle, today. Usually I leave at least a litre or more behind, but today the trub had a particularly solid character and stayed well back while all the clear liquid went down the chiller-pipe, leaving little more than a half-cup behind.

The only sour note to the day was that I managed to smash my Hydrometer while drying it for storage. Bah!...

[1] Not linking directly to the Maredsous website, since it is all-Flash, and that just sucks.

24 March 2012

New Kid on the Block

An unexpected phone-call from Deborah next door a few mornings ago. "Do you want a Rooster?" A bit of discussion needed, there...

On the one hand our flock really does need a Rooster to look after them after the Tragedy On Honey-Badger Hill that resulted in the loss of our trusty knights. On the other, we've really been enjoying the peaceful mornings undisturbed by the crowing!

14 March 2012

GMO Scam Followup

Quickly: A short article on how Monsanto's biotech maize which is supposed to be resistant to corn root worm attack, is "losing its effectiveness".

The article is pretty vague on just why this "effectiveness" is being lost, and Monsanto are naturally trying to spin this is "small numbers, minor incidence, easily managed". But I think it's pretty obvious what is going on here, don't you?

08 March 2012

Alternative Energies

Energy is the defining measure of sustainability. For any organism, not just for 21st Century humans.

For the past 130-odd years we've been surfing a tidal-wave of energy gathered and stored in the geological past, and the party is finally coming to and end. The chief question is how we humans will manage the coming energy descent; the emerging opportunity to redefine our relationship with the universe.

06 March 2012

Seed Screens/Making Sun-dried Tomatoes

It's seedy season. I'm in the midst of harvesting Lettuce seed, and something I've been lacking for a very long time is a good set of sieves for separating out leafy trash from the seed. Not just for Lettuce seed, but everything else, too.

Tomatoes drying on the roof. Fine seed-screen aft.
There are manufacturers of seed-cleaning machinery who would be happy to sell me a set of seed-screens, but they're very expensive. I've made do with something much simpler.

I made up a couple of wooden frames and scrounged around for various sizes of plastic mesh. Lettuce is a particular challenging when it comes to Right Sizing a screen. 1mm mesh is just a tad too small, but I've been unable to find anything with a (say) 1½ or 2mm gap.

Cleaning Carrot seed has proved to be  too hard on the plastic mesh, and tore gaping holes in the mesh, so I swapped it for a metal Mosquito mesh - also about a 1mm gap. But even that can't take the pace when it comes to Carrots. I clean the Carrot seed heads by rubbing them (gently!) around on the mesh, and the seed falls through, mostly leaving the burs and stalks behind. I quick threshing in the breeze gets rid of the dust, and Carrot seed is done.

I find it funny that people who have never saved their own Carrot seed don't realise that the seeds are prickly. They've only ever experienced machine-cleaned Carrot seed which has had the burs rubbed of in the process. I was there, too, once upon a time. In fact when I tried to send some seed to a friend in Australia some years ago, they never arrived. Instead he received a short note from the Aussie customs to say that the seed was "contaminated with unknown weed seed" and had been burned. I guess we can't really expect customs officials to be seed-recognition experts, too.

Like everything else in a self-sufficient permaculture setup, we aim for "every design element to support multiple functions," and so it is, too, with the seed-screens! We're presently using a couple of the screens to sun-dry our surplus Tomatoes on the roof during hot days. A wide mesh supports the Tomatoes, keeping them off the roof, and the fine mesh forms a lid to keep bugs off while the Tomatoes dry. It takes about 2 or 2½ good, hot days around this time of year to get the Tomatoes good and leathery, though we're experimenting with slightly thicker slices, so this batch might take a little longer.

01 March 2012

Black March

I like this idea. It doesn't speak much of self-sufficiency, but does speak to several issues at the heart of the self-sufficiency movement. Since it is allegedly already on Facebook, I assume it might reach a wider audience than here, but I guess every little bit helps to spread the meme. Please copy, paste, link and quote. (I've taken some liberties with the wording; the intent remains the same.)

Thursday, 12 March 2012 to Saturday 21 March 2012

24 February 2012

Bees: One More Time

Despite our best wishes and intentions,... despite acquiring all The Right Gear,... despite some brave attempts at catching Bees as documented on the Blog,... we have, to date, been spectacularly unsuccessful1 as Apiarists. It's all very strange, really, since we are surrounded by neighbours who have acquired Bees without any such difficulties2.

Well, we will not be accused of quitting, though it does, admittedly, sometimes take us a while to get around to retries. (Like about 4 years!)

The catalyst has been some new neighbours moving in next door. Owen is a well-known professional local apiarist, and has long offered to help us get catch-boxes set up so that we can acquire our own swarm or two. I finally got around to taking him up on it this morning.

I took one of our catch-boxes for Owen to "paint" with Propolis - the sticky, resinous stuff that Bees manufacture to glue their hives together and protect them. The smell is (supposed to be) irresistible to them when a young swarm is looking for a new home.
Propolis melting. It has a strongly resinous, tarry aroma.
The catch-box is just a half-size box holding 5 frames of wax instead of the normal 10. Swarms that split off from established colonies of Bees tend to be quite small, so it is very difficult for them to maintain their preferred hive temperature if they are placed in a full-sized box, hence the use of the smaller catch-box. The box I'm using lacks a metallic protective cladding on the cover. I'll rectify that over the coming weekend. Owen also believes - though he freely confesses a lack of hard evidence - that the reflective cover usually placed on beehive lids also helps to attract Bees and help them orientate themselves on the hive. He says that the few times he's used other-colour lids are the only times he's been unsuccessful in catching swarms.
Cleanup of frames. Catch box in the background.
The 5 wax-frames were first cleaned. Old wax was hacked out, the support wires tensioned up to banjo-playing twanginess, and new wax strips placed in the frames. It is better to put only a small strip of wax foundation into the top of the frames, since full-sized foundation sheets restrict the movement of the Bees too much while they establish (hopefully!) their new home, refurbishing to their own preferences and spreading the aromas of their queen about the box. A touch of current from a car battery across the support wires heats the wax foundation just enough that the wire becomes embedded in the wax. Too much heat and the wires will melt all the way through the wax, breaking the foundation sheet. The top edge of the wax strips are fixed into the wooden frame by pouring a little molten wax (or Propolis, as in our case) along the groove that seats the wax sheet.
Newly rewaxed frames.
The box itself was them liberally smeared with the sticky, tarry Propolis, paying particular attention to the corners, edges and hive entrance.

Finishing touches.
Not neglecting Propolis under the hive lid, we're now ready to place the hive in a good catch location. Some discussion with Owen indicates that the top of the Pergola on the west side of the house is likely our best bet. Right outside my office window, where I can easily keep a close eye on the box. That part of the house is also right smack in a long-established Bee-path. For reasons not well understood, Bees tend to repeatedly swarm along fixed paths. Some magnetic field line? And we had the poor judgement to place our house right at the edge of one such path.

Right, now everything's in place. Surely we can't fail this time?

You'll notice that, unlike past reportage, this post is not titled with some weak Bee pun. I'm not superstitious; I don't believe that the twee names jinxed things in the past. But I'm taking no chances.
Keep your fingers crossed!

[1] More charitable critics might say "unlucky".
[2] And, in some cases, without much clue about what they need to do, either. We, on the other hand have researched extensively and read widely in an attempt to become reasonably educated about the care and feeding of Bees. There seems to be some sort of perverse inverse-square law at work, here.

22 February 2012


Tamarillo (a.k.a. Tree Tomato or Solanum betaceum) always do well for us. They're largely disease-free, and pests don't seem to like them much, either. Well, except for a Baboon, once...

The only problem they suffer from is wind. The branches are very brittle, and have a tendency to break in strong winds. Or when occupied by a Baboon. Or when heavily laden with ripe fruit, as they are right now. On the other hand they seem pretty much immune to the predations of birds and stinging insects thanks to their tough skins.

For some time I have been contemplating growing up a bunch of them to plant as avenue crops further downslope from the veggie garden. This would give us a low-energy-input harvest, and put more of our (sorely under-utilised) land to better use. Low maintenance harvests seem more and more important to me the older I get!

I would like to alternate the Tamarillo rows with Granadillas (which also grow spectacularly well in our soil and climate) and perhaps grain avenues between the rows in Winter. Or possibly interplant the Tamarillos and Granadillas in the same rows! After all, the Tamarillos are much taller, whilst the Grandillas would shade out weeds and grass from the base, and the wire supports needed for Granadillas might help to stabilise the Tamarillos against wind.

The only trouble with this fantasy is that Tree Tomatoes are a relatively unknown crop in SA, and I'm dubious about the idea of producing something that requires me to first educate the market. History shows that the first-mover in such markets almost never makes a success story; that usually belongs to the second comer who enters the already-educated market...

Tamarillos are really easy to propogate. Just sow seed saved from really, really ripe fruit into seed-trays, pricking out into pots or tubes when they reach a size where they're easily handled. I've even had plants self-seed and grow successfully. Transplant into their permanent homes can be as soon as they 15 or 20cm tall. They're not what I would call Long Lived plants, so (like Granadillas/Passion Fruit) I would probably embark on a 3- to 5-year rotation scheme, planting only 1/3 to 1/5 of the total cropping area each year.

We have two different strains of Tamarillo, one being shorter, but I don't see any real advantage to the shorter strain. They don't seem to have been any better at handling wind or fruit loads. I'll probably have to consider planting a wind-break to try and protect them a little.

We use them to make Chutneys and Jams, which are turning out to be really popular barter items at the local weekly swap-meet, since the two of us really cannot consume the fruits of even a single tree. I also munch a whole lot of the fresh fruits while working in the garden, but it hardly makes much of a dent in the crop.

Perhaps I need to buy a Tractor to help with all the work I have in mind... certainly there's much more than I could possibly tackle by hand. I'd probably only hang onto one for a year or two while I carry out all the transformations I'd love to make before selling it on, so I don't view it as a huge money-sink. Hmmmm...

08 February 2012

First Ever Rheenendal Blitz Barter

The brainchild of some neighbourhood friends, the Rheenendal Blitz Barter is aiming to become a regular, weekly event where we can all get together to trade or surplus supplies. The main aim is to have a venue where we can regularly trade surplus produce, skills and supplies, without trading fiat currency (which is in short supply everywhere!)


Of course we were expecting everybody to arrive with their surplus Tomatoes (it being That Time Of Year) but in the event, only one person there had fresh Tomatoes. We doubted, at first, that anybody would want them, but it wasn't long before they'd been traded away.

The light rain and cool weather deterred nobody. We were all extremely happy at the turnout, while still hoping that the event will gain momentum (and many more barterers) in the coming weeks and months. More than 10 people arrived, despite a complete lack of advertising. We really need to get a banner attracting attention to it and some notices on local noticeboards.

Personally I was looking for someone who would be willing to barter our goods (homebaked Rusks, Jams, Muffins and a selections of vegetable seed varieties, organically grown) in exchange for a lube job for my pickup. (The day I start fiddling with mechanical things, you can reliably declare them Dead.) In the end I traded some of J's Rusks for Olive Tapenade ( which we love) and a jar of preserved Figs. The Chocolate Cherry Muffins mostly traded for cash - not quite the spirit of the thing, I guess, but nobody could resist the aroma of muffins fresh out of the oven! ;-)

I don't think we'll be able to make it to next week's barter session, since we're on our way to Gansbaai and points West for a week or so, but I certainly look forward to future Blitz Barters. Our community so sorely needs a place where we can get together without an overt agenda. A Village Green. Without a common space for casual gatherings, any community is doomed, and a growing segment of the Rheenendal community are really keen for us all to get onto a more sustainable path. I certainly aim to support the Blitz Barter as much as I can, and I have high hopes that it will be a great community-builder.

We're very grateful that Portland Mini Mark - our best-by-far- community shop, selling everything from Chicken pieces to Tractor Oil - is willing to host our barter events, since the shop is such a visible, central venue. They're a true pillar of the community!

03 February 2012

Anansi Rainbringer

Frequent visitors when rain is on its way, Rain Spiders prefer to find a warm, dry place to stay until rain passes. I believe that their "official" name is the Huntsman Spider, but we have always known them as the rainbringers.

They're supposedly quite poisonous, but their mandibles are not strong enough to bite us (or so I'm told.)

I find Rain Spiders to be quite chilled-out characters, and they are not aggressive if handled gently and calmly. We frequently let them hang around the house for ages after they've found their way in. The only compelling reason to move them back outside is if they're in a bad place - somewhere where they're likely to suffer injury or accidental death - like the inside of door jambs. Or if we have spider-nervous visitors. Hi, Dad. Rain Spiders grow quite large - as big as my palm, in some cases, if you include the span of their legs.

They're a more reliable forecaster of rain than the local weather services, and welcome in my house anytime! It also helps that they are voracious predators on moths and Christmas Beetles (and, probably, the tribe of Geckos that live in the roof and walls.)

Perhaps this one pictured above got a bit confused by the Butterfly ornament hanging on the wall?

24 January 2012

Help Wanted: Mystery Eggplant

Call them Aubergine. Call them Brinjal. Call them Eggfruit. Call them anything you like, but I love Eggplant. Especially when they're from my own garden! Organically grown, they just taste hugely better than shop-bought.

This year I have 3 varieties growing. Or maybe more... (and that's where I need your help!)

I planted Black Beauty (common locally), Japanese White (which I've grown before and loved) and (new to me) Korean Long Black. The Korean Black has been a start performer. By far the earliest, and really trouble-free. We had the first pickings for supper the other night, and the flavour is beyond my abilities to describe. I don't believe I've ever tasted another Eggplant that can compare!

Trouble is, there's a Fly In The Soup. A couple of the "Korean Black" plants are clearly not. Korean Black, that is. Even quite early in their growth it was apparent that they were not true to type, lacking the darkness of stem and leaf that the rest of their bed-fellows show.

So here presented, for your delectation and my edification, some rogue Eggplants. The seed all came from the same packet as the Korean Black, so I guess there was a mixup by whoever packed the seed for Baker Creek Seeds (the supplier I bought them off). Not a problem for me - I'm equally happy to have some new varieties, even if I don't know just what they are. They may or may not be the same variety, these two rogues. Your guess as good as mine.

There is, of course, a chance that they may have cross-pollinated with the surrounding Korean Blacks, but hey... life's full of random! So I'll be saving their seed separately towards the end of the season (all gods willing!)

Can't wait to taste them!

But if any of you, Dear Readers, are able to put a name to them, please, please drop me a line and let them know.

It's a funny thing... many gardeners are pretty casual about the names of varieties and will casually call a variety something new. Me, I like to honour the gardener who first bred the variety by trying - as best I can - to keep the name given it by that gardener, though they may be a thousand years passed-on!

22 January 2012


Summertime, and harvest-time approaches. We are just taking the first Tomatoes and Chiles. A feeling of satisfaction and reward, a sense of achievement and relief.
Patent pending
All rights reversed.

What the birds are leaving for us!

Little bastards are very active... The main pests are the Mousebirds and a large and unruly flock of Finches. The Finches demolished the sunflowers I was growing for Chicken food, and have taken to eating the seed out of Tomatoes that the Mousebirds have opened up for them.

In an attempt to create some "ScareAllBirds"1 I made a few CD-mobiles and have strung them up around the veg patch. We'll see how well they work. Personally I am skeptical.

Frankly, none of the gardening books I have talk about the real problems I see in the garden. They bang on about Blights and Aphids, Beetles and Caterpillars, but not one of them mentions Bushbuck (which have played havoc with the Tomatoes and Chiles this season) or Mousebirds! Time for a new gardening book, maybe?

Software Mobile?

[1] We don't really have much trouble with Crows. They occasionally try to catch young Chicks; seldom succeed. I can't really see how a Scarecrow would be much use against the Crows or the Mousebirds...

12 January 2012

The Great GMO Scam

I am assuming that we all understand roughly the same thing when I speak in abbreviated fashion about Genetically Modified Organisms -- particularly GMO food plants. Some people are tempted to sidetrack the conversation into irrelevancies with arguments like, "All our food crops are genetically modified, anyway, because we've been selectively breeding them for thousands of years." While true, it is either foolish misdirection, or deliberate obfuscation of the crucial differences between conventional genetic evolution (whether consciously directed by ourselves, or whether the result of natural evolutionary pressures) and the deliberate introduction, removal or rearrangement of isolated snippets of genetic material into otherwise-unrelated gene sequences using advanced cellular "surgery". Those who deliberately obfuscate this point clearly have an agenda.

I am no techno-luddite. I am not opposed to improving the yields, flavours, nutrition or agronomic properties of the 5 Fs1 that constitute our reasons for farming. Quite the opposite.

Hell, we've been doing this stuff for thousands of years, as witness the amazing variety of delicious and nutritious heirloom varieties we still have access to3. I am actively engaged in various small projects to try and cultivate new veg varieties using traditional methods. So its not progress per se that worries me, but I am deeply bothered by the whole pro-GMO lobby and its bought politicians.

In short, I think that the whole GMO programme is (at best) stupid. (At worst it is an out and out con job conceived and executed by greedy, lying bandits.)

Parts of the GMO Proposition might even be dangerous, as some GMO opponents argue. Certainly the effects of introducing essentially alien genetic material into our life-support systems largely untested seems a bit foolish and short-sighted, at best. But frankly I am spectacularly uninterested in whether we humans do actually endanger ourselves by introducing weird genetic combinations into our food-supply. We will reap as we sow.

I am equally pretty unworried by the possibility that a Tomato might harbour Cow genes to the detriment of my (vegetarian) karma. I do understand those arguments. They may have substantial merit. But they interest me not. They are Other Peoples' Problems.

I am concerned by the PR schmaltz spread by the pro-GM lobby. At best it is yet another manifestation of nothing more nor less than the usual corporate self-serving, soul-sucking greed, greed and more greed. At worst it fuels a smokescreen that blinds people to the true dangers of this technology, that suffocates the honest debate, thoughtful challenges and many very serious questions we should be asking about GMO crops under a blanket of misdirection, deceit, ad hominem denunciation, pseudo-answers and frequently, outright lies.

The Central Problem Of GMO is this: Evolution.

Life on this planet evolves4. As the energy flows impacting any ecosystem change – be they changes in rainfall, solar-energy infall, atmospheric CO2 concentrations, trace elements or key nutrients,... just anything, in fact – so the ecosystem changes, adapts to the new reality. And that means that the organisms within ecosystems are in a constant and ongoing state of flux, genes ever dancing and gyring to adapt to changes. Life has been doing this for something like 3.5 billion years – basically ever since the Earth got cool enough for any life forms to exist.

We're really very, very good at evolving. All of us Earthicans! We're all evolution Badasses of the highest capability.

To put it another way, the Central Problem Of GMO is this: It Cannot Possibly Work.

Let's take a quick look at some of the things we're told that "genetically-modified" crops are going to really great for:

  • Pest- and disease-resistance. This has really been the main song sung by the pro-GM lobby so far. We're told that by growing these "genetically enhanced" crops we won't have to use as much toxic pesticide, fungicide, herbicide as we5 currently do, "So really, choosing GMO crops are a very Green thing to do!"
  • Resistance to agrichemicals design to kill off pests, competitors or diseases that prey on our crops.
  • We can add Antibiotics/Vitamins/Trace elements to our food supply, thereby enhancing peoples' health and wellbeing at a very tiny cost. Good! I have no objection to that, as long as people have a clear and informed choice in the matter. That means Food Labelling. However, I think there's likely to be some unexpected fallout...
  • And the latest in a desperate gambit to keep those GMO profits rolling in... GMO crops can be engineered6 to be drought resistant, so that we don't have to worry so much about rapid global climate change.

The first two are pretty closely related. In both cases the germplasm of a crop-plant is modified to impart a resistance to environmental pressures. In both cases the outcome is very highly predictable... evolution happens.

In the first case the pests and diseases that the genetically-modified variety is supposed to resist evolve their way past the newly-injected defences, bringing the whole affair back to its starting point: a crop plant that no longer has resistances to those pests and diseases.

In the second case it is extremely likely that the pests/diseases that we're spraying against will out-evolve the agrichemicals involved. Just as before, we're soon back to square one.

The last two arguments might have some merit, except that we are perfectly able to introduce the necessary nutrients and breed drought-resistance into our crops by a combination of conventional breeding practice and sound soil-management. (Read: Organic cultivation.) At no cost at all. I am working on drought -resistant Tomatoes and Potatoes right now.

I don't wish to delve too deeply into the issues around the transfer of modified genetic material into the wild. It happens. That is well documented. And unscrupulous, greedy corporate blood-suckers want (and, so far, too frequently succeed) at gouging money from unsuspecting farmers who have been the unwilling recipients of this alien germplasm. Suffice to point out that Roundup-Ready weeds are well documented as wild plants. So the Genetically Modified genes have escaped into the wild, with no telling what the consequences might be. Stupid, stupid, stupid!

Now I don't believe that microbiologists are stupid people. Quite the contrary. It is my experience that they are highly intelligent, thoughtful people. So I greatly doubt that they are unaware of this Fact Of Evolution. I'm pretty sure they know that the rest of the ecosystem is going to evolve around the manipulated organisms introduced into it. There is no other possibility. In part I believe that scientists don't really have a very good idea, yet, of just how quickly evolution happens. We are just beginning to find out. It seems that resistances show up in as short a time as 3 or 4 growing seasons! Much faster than anyone expected.

Interestingly, the pro-GMO lobby somehow altogether fails to mention that their products are certain to be out-evolved in short order. In other words, the useful lifespan of such a product – the timespan for which it is likely to be effective for the purpose claimed by its makers – is really quite short. After which we'll need to do something else to "combat" the "hostile" predators, pests and diseases that seek to enjoy their portion of our crops. I'm pretty sure I know what the agri-industrialists are likely to propose... More and newer GMO crops, allowing us to use new and stronger chemical cocktails in the "War on Bugs".

And so another Arms Race chases its own tail...

In short, I don't believe that the GMO industry is telling the full story. And why would they, since the full story doesn't paint a picture that leads inexorably to Perpetual Profit. I would guess that the Techies (the scientists involved) are simply not allowed a voice by their corporate overlords, since the truth is so much more complex and nuanced than the Marketing Department would like. So much more ambiguous and uncertain.

In even shorter, the GMO producers are misleading everybody. They're lying.

They're prepared to risk unpredictable (possibly lethal) consequences on the ecosystems we depend upon for life, all in the name of This Quarter's Profits.

[1] Food, fodder, fibre2, fuel, pharma(ceuticals).

[2] And by "fibre" I also mean "framework" material that we use for building... OK, so maybe I should make it "The 6 Fs". You tell me.

[3] ...despite the best recent efforts of the monopolistic seed kakistopoly.

[4] Sorry, creationists/intelligent-design proponents, you'll have to seek elsewhere than this blog for a sympathetic hearing or equal consideration.

[5] For some value of "we". Reality is that the bulk of humanity is fed by modern factory farming methods. We pro-organic growers are still a splinter minority.

[6] And that really is "engineered" as opposed to "bred"...

05 January 2012


I've been busy writing and writing... a long writeup on Compost Making for the website, and a blog-post on why I believe the whole GMO program is no more than a scam by a bunch greedy bastards. Coming soon...

While you wait for me to finish up, you might enjoy this video I ran across whilst checking on some composting... err... material?


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