Thursday, January 27, 2011

Name this post and help launch a new tradition!

I think there should be a time every year when devoted food gardeners do as all good believers do - participate in some kind of meaningful ritual. I am a bit hopeless at religion but even I can think of several such traditions which illustrate what I mean. There is the whole 40 days and 40  nights thing that Christians call Lent; there is Ramadan, the Muslims' month of fasting; and, more a cultural event than a religion, there is the week of the Chinese New Year celebrations. I am sure there are hundreds of such occasions where people set aside some weeks each year to participate in a ritual.

So, what would a food gardeners' ritual represent and when would it take place? Well I have a suggestion and I would love to hear yours. There comes a time every summer/early autumn when dealing with the produce you have been watching grow since spring, becomes the dominant activity of every day. Such a time is right now in my house. I can no longer find space to live in my kitchen, so full is it with produce and seed pods! Today some friends helped me pick more yellow cherry plums than anyone has a right to have. Last week it rained for days and days, just when the cherry season had started, so all the farms were picking and selling their crops very cheap before they all split.... I bought 5 kgs for $10..... and there's still all those seeds I wrote about in the last piece! My freezer is groaning with red and black currants and a neighbour has offered me raspberries again.... would you say not raspberries?? If my garden was going better, I would have cucumbers, radishes, lettuce, tomatoes etc etc.... and finally all the chooks are laying so I have 6 eggs / day which seem to be taking up a whole shelf of my fridge. clip art

So, I would suggest the deal be..... no-one cares about the washing up for a whole month. Wherever you go, if you see piles of unwashed dishes, you'll know there lives a true devotee, growing their own food.... the more dishes left unwashed the more satisfied you could then feel that you are doing good for your planet, your community and yourself!

See how excited Michelle Obama looked when she heard about the idea!

What shall we call it?

Monday, January 24, 2011

Organic vegetables, with added oil and food miles

Are we home gardeners getting away from the real meaning of organic? Should it mean just that our peas or the apples are grown organically and therefore is it ok to disregard the fact that they were grown in a plastic house, fed by water in plastic pipes, labelled with plastic labels and stored in plastic bags ?

Plastic is made from oil, mostly in places far away from where we live. We cannot legitimately say we are reducing food miles if the produce is raised in plastic houses. I even disagree with calling such food "organic" and free of artificial chemicals when so many chemicals have been used in its manufacture through the production of plastic.

I don't want to upset people who have just invested time and money in setting themselves up with a poly house and I understand that glass can be more expensive and certainly more time-consuming to construct, but there is a limit to how much plastic you can use and still call your food organic, I think.

Living in Tasmania now, I fully understand why a bit of extra help with getting things going and producing before the end of summer comes, is so necessary but, oh lalalala, isn't there another way? And I did not believe that the mad scheme of the South Australia government's to fill everyone's gardens with hundreds of metres of plastic drip irrigation was an intelligent way of dealing with a water shortage primarily caused by very poor government regulation on water licenses along the Murray River!

If we are truly seriously trying to live a greener life by growing our own, organic food we MUST stop investing in oil-based props to do so and, in fact, to do most things in our lives. Of course there are always compromises and I am as guilty as anyone else at not always taking the greenest option on things. Anyway, here are some of my ideas:

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Find old windows before you start making your hothouse frame. Think outside the square and not follow some pre-conceived idea you have about what shape a glasshouse should be. I recommend collecting as many louvres as possible so you have ultimate control over the air flow and temperature... or putting hinges on old windows you find, or using sliding windows.

(Photos from Garden Web)

Greenhouse, coldframe and veggie garden.Also on Garden Web is this fabulous one and all the details on how they did it:

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I am hatching a plan..... making use of a little studio I have already..... thinking, thinking...  always outside the square. (I have never understood that square and didn't even know there was one until a few years ago!)

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Here is my little studio which, oddly, has south facing windows but a roof that slopes north.... so.... if I were to remove the overhanging buddleia and build a glass section on the northern side, I'd have THE most perfect glass house and potting shed all in one!

 

 

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A Pickle update.....

Pickle is scanning the garden for rabbits. His feet are actually on the outside window ledge! Such simple pleasures.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Seeds coming out of my ears!

image It hasn't taken long for my whole life to be taken over by seeds again. All daylight hours seem to be filled with either sowing seeds, waiting for things to go to seed, checking to see if seed heads are ready to pick, staking up vegetable plants while they enjoy the summer warmth, growing incredibly tall and ever so slowly manufacturing thousands of offspring for the next season, and then finally picking, winnowing, storing and labelling them. Some of these manage to get so lost in the mists of time that I have to spend hours looking for them in the future.

I even have a list of jobs for tomorrow, most of which seem to include dealing with seeds.

image My kitchen table is constantly under siege and every morning I seem to have to fight for space on it to have my breakfast; mostly the seeds win! It is there I put packets I suddenly remember I MUST sow the next day, or risk forgetting them altogether. More space is taken up with piles of seed pods and stems, that need sorting in that time after I come inside for the evening, while dinner is happily bubbling away.... or not.

 

image Then there are the seeds I have either received from, or am trying to remember to give to, other people. The pockets of my jeans seem to collect seeds too; usually seeds I gather at the Community Garden and mean to label and return there in a nice jar, before my jeans end up in the washing machine. I promised Bob some lupin seeds and, as I brushed past the plants today, I heard the rattle of seeds so quickly picked a few bunches and put them in my pocket.

imageSeeds are just the tip of the iceberg though, or maybe they are the base of the Bombe Alaska! Today I also pruned back the never ending German chamomille and want to lay the flowers out to dry. I went into the chook yard and noticed how many cherry plums are ripe too so started to collect some in my basket before deciding there were more important things to do, like chasing the chooks back into their run.... they have discovered life beyond their fence this week!

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I had wonderful rainbow chard and all kinds of leafy greens over winter that are now laden with still-green seed pods. There is no way I need to keep them all so today I did the cull. There were still lots of dark green, delicious looking leaves on those discarded 2m high stems, so I picked them all off and put them in the fridge..... enough for an army... something will need to be done about them tomorrow!

Some can go to those naughty chooks who need all the food they can get now they are all laying again.

It would be a lot easier to buy ready made meals from the supermarket, or even just to buy all my seeds but I would not trade the joy of growing food and collecting the seeds for anything in the world, and the food I eat is not available in shops; what comes from my soil nourishes my body and soul, over and over again.

Life is exceedingly good, if you know where to look.

ps.... I have just remembered the chervil seeds I saved last week that are still in a bag outside and oh.... I MUST collect the coriander seeds that I noticed are dry, in the hothouse!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

They came, they cooked, they laughed and then they left.....

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Magnificent food from morning til night, every day
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Beginning with Alex's egg curry, superb dahl and chapatis.
image A Sunday morning trip to the Tas Farmgate market and then... image A walk at Mt. Field through a valley of tree ferns to Russell Falls and the tallest flowering trees in the world, up to 100m high...
image image image.... where the first branches begin at 35m. Here, Hugh is standing on part of a recently fallen tree about 400 years old.
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We finished the week with a picnic at the Hartzview Winery How did I get 2 such handsome, delightful, wicked, talented sons?

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Home gardeners become gene custodians

Throughout the history of our planet natural selection has led the existence of life through some pretty dire situations. There have been ice ages, meteor collisions, earth quakes and all manner of catastrophic occurrences but through them all, some forms of life have adapted and evolved to take us to where we are today.

Where are we today? We are verging on taking the role of natural selection and exchanging it for man-made selection, which I call man-ipulation. In so doing, mankind is choosing to manipulate the earth's genes only for a perceived benefit to itself, and even then, only for a very short term gain to some very short term people.

Today I read this clear, concise and important article on Kitchen Gardeners International by Sreedevi Lakshmi Kutty. I have copied some of it below but please find the rest of this excellent expose here.

Coincidentally, I also had written along the same lines, but not with any authority, for the January edition of the Kitchen Gardeners International Newsletter. You can read "Saving the seeds of civilisation" here.

India, like most countries around the world, is facing an onslaught from the biotechnology industry to introduce genetically modified(GM) crops .The first and only commercially approved GM crop, in India, is Bt cotton, genetically engineered with bacillus thuringiensis (BT), developed by Monsanto, which according to them makes it resistant to a major cotton pest , the bollworm. However the Bt cotton story, in India, like in other places, is very controversial.  Suicides among farmers in the cotton belt continue unabated (1). Death of sheep that foraged on Bt cotton was reported (2). The targeted pests which are supposed to be killed by the Bt engineered in the plant have in many cases developed resistance to the toxin (3). Many minor pests have evolved into major threats in the cotton fields, consequently increasing the usage of pesticides. There have been numerous reports of variable performance causing economic losses to farmers (4).

Within eight years of its introduction, Bt cotton has become very prevalent dispossessing indigenous cotton varieties. This is partly due to lack of availability of non Bt cotton seeds as seed companies have stopped producing non Bt cotton seeds. Traditional cotton varieties have almost disappeared. Organic cotton farmers and producers are struggling to find indigenous seeds; many parent lines have been contaminated by Bt cotton (5). It was also discovered that organic cotton exports from India were contaminated by Bt cotton......

Devi goes on to describe what is happening to eggplant and other food genes in India

......At this juncture it is critical to identify, conserve and propagate our indigenous seed varieties. In a world which on one hand is rapidly urbanizing and on the other is ceding control over agriculture into the hands of a few agri-business corporations, it is time for home gardeners to take on the mantle of farmers - food providers and seed keepers of the world.

Rapid introduction of genetically modified varieties into the natural environment would lead to contamination of indigenous varieties and irreversible loss of bio diversity (already being experienced in the areas where GM crops are rampant). Home gardeners around the world can play an important role in cultivating and popularising heirloom varieties, learning to save seeds, and growing and eating traditional plant foods . This would be a great first step to conserve bio diversity. We need all hands on board to preserve our plant genetic bio diversity and our future!

References:

1) 17,368 farm suicides in 2009,http://www.hindu.com/2010/12/28/stories/2010122861950100.htm

2)  Bt cotton and livestock: health impacts, bio-safety concerns and the legitimacy of public scientific research institutions, Dr.Sagari Ramdas (http://www.indiaenvironmentportal.org.in/content/bt-cotton-and-livestock-health-impacts-bio-safety-concerns-and-legitimacy-public-scientific-)

3) Bt cotton ineffective against pest in parts of Gujarat, admits Monsanto - The Hindu March 6, 2010

4) Bt Cotton and the Myth of Enhanced Yields,  (30th May , 2009),Kavitha Kuruganti, (http://epw.in/epw/user/loginArticleError.jsp?hid_artid=13563)

5) Organic cotton farmers left in the lurch,http://www.hindu.com/2010/11/14/stories/2010111458980100.htm

6)  A documentary film made on the issue of Gm foods and Bt brinjal can be viewed online athttp://topdocumentaryfilms.com/poison-on-the-platter/

7) The campaign was to say that we Indian do not want to become lab rats for testing Gm foods. Face book page of the campaign: http://www.facebook.com/iamnolabrat

8)  Decision on commercialization of Bt brinjal, Ministry of Environment and Forests,http://moef.nic.in/downloads/public-information/minister_REPORT.pdf

9) NPM method is being practiced by farmers across 2 million hectares in the state of Andhra Pradesh, resulting in pesticide free food, better health and economic security for farmers.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

CSA adds fishing to become CSF

Bob sent me an email link to this great idea for community supported fishing. It works just like community supported agriculture. Here is an excerpt from the article....

CSF shareholders pay up front for a share of the catch. Most CSFs deliver whole fish in season, so customers experience variety and seasonality. Fishermen are paid a flat rate per season, rather than being paid only for the number of fish they catch. This encourages them to diversify their catch and fish according to the demands of the ecosystem, rather than to maximize sales.

According to the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance (NAMA), which works on policy to support small-scale fishing, nearly 20 other communities across North America have been inspired by the Port Clyde experience to start their own CSFs.

This would be a dream come true for me if anyone is interested in offering such a service to people around Cygnet or the Huon Valley or South Channel. I can think of nothing better than walking down to collect my week's fish from the Cygnet jetty. Being a person on my own I wouldn't need much, and I'd love diversity.... but I am sure there'd be others who would love to join in and make it worth while for one fisherman.