Thursday, 31 December 2009

New Year's Eve and a Blue Moon! (with later added photos)

Only six hours to go, and we'll be welcoming the new year and the new decade.
I have been outside to uncover the vegetables... it's under 40C now and the sun is hidden behind huge thunder clouds.  It's been rumbling a bit and there are three fires that have been started by lightning around the city,  only one of them near to us.  The clouds are looking ominous,  but we aren't expecting any rain....

... and this shows the "tomatoes' eye view...

The tomatoes are setting fruit now (despite the weather) and while I know  that it's late,  things are all a bit delayed for my garden this year (after being away and then the wierd weather) but even that has been a good lesson in not "dropping one's bundle" when things don't go according to plan!

As soon as the sun goes down (that should be at about half past eight tonight)  we will move out to the front verandah to wait for the new year.

Here is Jess trying out the spot, no doubt hoping for someone to throw the ball for her!   She's hot and has been panting whenever she's not drinking water,  all day.  I will sweep the dust, leaves and kurrajong flowers off the chairs, table and the slate before then.

The kurrajong trees are producing the new crop of pods...  I can imagine the rats salivating already!   I went for a quick walk around the yard to see how it is all surviving...  I climbed up onto my tree stump seat to see how the cactuses there are doing...  this is the "goat shed" in the background.  I don't often see it from this angle.  I don't have a goat yet either,  but eventually I will (and goat cheese!)

While standing up there I saw the latest sparrow nest...

They always nest amongst the prickly foliage of the succulent plant there.  They eat plenty of earwigs,  so I don't worry too much about them,  despite the  fact that they are feral and considered a pest.

Quite  a few plants are looking a bit the worse for wear,  but the jasmine continues to flower...

HAPPY NEW YEAR everyone and I hope that 2010 is all that you hope,
and that you are able to keep all of your resolutions...
a whole other subject!
and welcome to the Blue Moon

Ed.  added later...
.... and here is the table set for dinner (computer as well, of course) and the food covered with a cloth to keep the flies at bay!  The last of the sunlight is shining on the wall behind... about 8:30pm.

The setting sun, and the rising blue moon... within a few minutes of each other.... 

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Hot day and shaded vegetables and baba ganoush

It is hot again today....  41C (106F).
I should stop commenting on the weather... it is getting consistently hot now, and we have several months to go.
I have been out to make sure that the shade is still in place....

... some of the engineering looks a bit "iffy"  but it works (all bamboo poles,  poly-pipe hoops,  clothes pegs and second hand shade cloth.  (The kitchen window has its blind down too.)
The coriander "lawn" patch that I photographed yesterday is in the middle, on the RHS,  but look what happened to it....

... some of it is still there,  but the part that the sun could get to in the middle of the day is dead.   This is disappointing in one way, but it also indicates how well my shade is working!

Other bits and pieces from today....
These are baby zucchini plants.  I should be picking these by now,  but, as I have commented before,  I was a bit late getting started this year.  There is one advantage though... the earwigs seem to be much fewer.  This is quite useful information too.

And here is a baby soy bean plant (edamame) that at first I thought had had a leaf eaten off  of it.  The original cotyledons are still there and as it has grown,  there is only one leaf at a time.  At first, I assumed that something had eaten the other one,  but now that there are a few of them,  and they all look the same,  this must be normal.  It;s really useful to know what plants look like when they are tiny, especially when you plant them as seed, directly, as I often do.

Of course the cactus flowers are still lovely.  These are the very same ones as yesterday...the petals are looking just a bit more "worn" around the edges,  but it is amazing how they are undaunted by the hot dry day.  I know that they are adapted to this weather,  but they must have an incredible water transport system.  I have picked the flowers to bring them inside sometimes,  and within seconds they begin to wilt, rapidly,  though they can be coaxed back to "life" water again.

Inside... in the kitchen,  the temperature is about  30C (85F)  and I have the trusty cooler (below) going.  It is a water cooler with a fan that blows air through damp mesh, cooling it, and increasing the humidity... also good for breathing.

The weather is making me think again about climate change.  This is the weather that we are to expect from now on apparently.  The increase in carbon dioxide wil probably not be reduced in time to keep the global temperature under more than 2 degrees,  or even 3 or 4 degrees.  This will make things harder,  and it will take a sigificant change in food production to manage here.  I am increasing my "winter production"  and storing surplus for  the summer and I am also trying a  number of different food plants that might be better adapted to the heat and drier weather.

Today I bought three eggplants from the grocery shop.
I  should have my own to pick by now,  but the plants are jsut beginning to flower.  Eggplants are one vegetable that doesn't seem to mind the heat and I really like them.
I am making baba ganoush.
I have baked the three eggplants in the outside oven.  This is an old gas stove that is connected to a gas bottle... the bottle ahs lasted about five years so far, as I don't use it often...  but with the hot day and no further need for the stove,  it's an opportunity to give it a go.
The eggplants are peeled and blended with tahini, lemon juice,  ground cumin and salt,  and some garlic.
All of this is "to taste" and it ends up as a salad/dip that is delicious with pita bread.

This is sprinkled with olive oil and coriander leaves.  I would normally use parsley,  but mine has gone to seed,  so I cut some leaves from the "coriander lawn"  or what is left of it... after I photographed it.
It will go into the esky with some medical ice packs... and off to dinner at a friend's house.

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Summer garden

For those of you who remember,  I was away from home for a few weeks in the spring.   I had a great time, but I arrived home in the middle of a heat wave... about two weeks of 35-40C weather in November.  This broke all kinds of records. The plants that I'd put in before I left, hoping that they wouldn't need much watering until I returned, were mostly dead.  Disappointing,  and it took a few days of thinking to work out what to do next.  I thought about subsistance farmers who must have the same issues and much more devastating consequences... no alternative food supply very often.
With climate change and more of these hot dry summers predicted,  I am ready to try a few different ways of growing vegetables and perhaps even some different crops that are better suited to the heat.
I have replanted quite a bit and installed my shadecloth.  I have watered judiciously and carried all of the dishwashing water out in a bucket... and it is looking interesting.

The tomatoes are flowering,  though a lot of days it's too hot to set any fruit.  Then today I found these...

... two tiny tomatoes.
And under the other piece of shadecloth...  the horta patch that is being taken over by mung beans, a row of okra, then soy beans for adamame and chinese broccoli, before the stakes that are there for the jicama and the beans.

The beans are "purple king" and these have grown quickly.  I read that they are heat tolerant,  so of course I tried them.  But I did see something interesting today.  These plants are under the shadecloth...

... and these are not....

 and they have folded their leaves up so that they are getting much less radiation...  I wonder whether these purple beans are better at that sort of thing than the other varieties.

This is the patch of "horta" that I made form the spice jars.  The lush green growth is mung beans and there are a lot of little onion shaped leaves (nigella?) and some aniseed and cumin and coriander.

As I poked around amongst these,  I found this....

,,, and I think that these might be chick peas.  I grabbed handfuls of everything I could think of when I went to plant this horta patch!
Chickpeas originated in south-eastern Turkey (domesticated about 6000 years ago)  and I suppose there climate there must be dry and hot also.  It is now the third most important commercial pulse crop,  despite being a "low yielding" plant.  This indicates that it must be "low maintenance" and may have low water requirements.  I'll be interested to see how some of these plants survive here.

I am trying a few different food plants this year...  taking advantage of the springtime disaster!

On the very LHS of the photo below, is one of the soybean plants (for edamame) and the main row, aside from the silver beet (swiss chard) with the thin leaves and red stalks (self sown) are the okra plants. They are also supposed to be heat tolerant,  though they also prefer greater humidity.. we'll see.

This is the soy bean plant (below.)  and there are a few of them that are looking pretty healthy.  It is in the shade (only on hot days... and it's about 35C already today, and rising.)

There is also a patch of coriander that is grown from a handful of seeds from the spice department at the grocery shop.  It is so thick,  that it is like a lawn.  and smells good.  I like the taste of coriander, though I know it is a strong flavour that some people don't like at all.  I will make some salsa as soon as I have tomatoes.
I have also decided to put some out in the "orchard" where the rocket grows wild in the springtime...  I might have a "weed" patch that is more useful than some others!  There is no reason that useful weeds shouldn't grow in the place of some less productive ones.

The bucket of chook poo and weeds is still moldering away too.  This will go onto the leafy vegetables tonight.  They'll get a dose of seaweed extract too.  It should make the plants more resilient when the weather is unhelpful.

So after a shaky start this summer, the garden is producing a little and we will have some summer crops soon.

And an update on the cactus flowers....

These are the two buds from a couple of days ago.
And this is the white flower that was so beautiful a day and a half ago... but there's a new bud on that one as well...

Monday, 28 December 2009

The limits to growth.

In recent days,  I have been thinking about environmental issues, limits to growth and how this should influence our politicians and advocates, and I suppose that this has come from considerations abaout the Copenhagen conference, now regularly referred to as "Hopenhagen."
 The fallout from the conference has been mostly predictable, but not all.   The UN has admitted privately that the pledges made by the leaders at the conference would lead to a 3 degree rise in temperature,  rather than the 2 degrees touted at the time.  According to the Stern report,  this means 170 million extra people would face severe coastal flooding,  550 million extra people at risk of hunger and up to 50% of species facing extinction. The failure of the agreement to promise anything at all is bad enough for the poor of the world (those who will be worst effected) but this kind of deception devalues any further agreement that might be negotiated in Mexico next year...  how much should one believe?

I have spent many years participating in political activity, with some successes.   Politics has always been important to the way that I think.  For many years I lived outside my own country, and consequently couldn't vote.   I found that frustrating, and even more so when the lack of participation in the democratic process made political debate difficult also.  I have always listened and learned, howver, and the varying political cultures has taught me quite a bit.
My background in scientific thinking has proven useful also.  In the same way that a background in biochemistry has made food,  nutrition and diet easy to understand,  my understanding of scientific method, physics and its associated logic has enabled me to work my way through much of the data and information that proliferates on the internet and elsewhere.
This doesn't lead to any solutions to the various problems that confront me and everyone else...  it's just that I don't seem to be put off thinking about it all as many seem to be.  I don't know whether that's an advantage or not,  but that's the way it is.

There are significant problems facing the population of the planet.  Some of this was discussed at Copenhagen and while most people were hoping for some positive steps forward,  most people understood before the meetings began that politicians, with their three year view of the future, were not the appropriate people to make policy decisions on how to manage the physical constraints on the population of this planet.

The prosperity that we enjoy (and have enjoyed for all of current and written history) has depended upon exponential growth of production within our societies.  There is a popular comparison of the current US "empire"  with the Roman empire that is used to discuss the possibility of collapse.  More interesting is the fact that the need for ever increasing energy supply was what drove the expansion of both.  In the days of the Romans,  energy could only be obtained from the sun via crops and human and/or animal effort or forests that could be burned.  In order to increase production, it was necessary to take over more and more acres of land,  fields full of crops and terrtories that eventually led all the way to Britain.
The phenomenal increase in production that has led to current prosperity has not depended on slaves and taking over land for production (though that has occurred)  but this has been boosted out of all proportion to normal requirements by the discovery that oil (the product of millions of years of the suns energy)  could be exploited as surely as the grain energy produced by the farmers of Europe to support the lifestyle of the patricians of Rome. Chasing oil across the planet has led to the same unmanageable supply lines that Rome faced, the same waging of wars and the same slave wages for the non-citizens of the dominant culture.

A significant problem is that this has lasted long enough for the current "patrician" population of western countries to have forgotten how one can survive without the benefit of this extra energy source or how to manage without the gadgets and paraphernalia upon which this modern lifestyle depends.  It is as though "we"  have painted ourselves into a corner.

The current situation cannot continue.   The planet is finite.  The resources that we depend on for our lifestyle are finite.  Even without an increase in population, all of these resources are insufficient to sustain such a lifestyle.  This is obvious to all.  It's not "rocket science."

The difference is in the various reactions that people have to this information.

  1. There are those who become depressed and stressed and don't cope well.  Depression is now seen in epidemic proportions.
  2. Some people just throw their hands up, despair and go back to watching whatever is on television, presumably waiting for disaster to hit or someone else to fix it.  
  3. Many people, realising the enormity of the problem seem to think that raising the awareness of the rest of the population will help.  "Surely,  when they realise what is happening, they'll help to do something!"  This leads to marches and demonstrations of people who are more often a part of the "silent majority."
  4. There are those too,  who think that if only the politicians could see what is happening, then they would do something about it. This leads to attention seeking activities and petitions of various sorts.  But politicians are risk-taking short-term thinkers.
  5. There are the risk-takers who think that we can push things a bit further yet, with no immediate consequences.  In fact, this includes a group who are actually benefitting most from the current situation and would just like to gain a little more benefit for themselves... and many politicians come into this group....  politicians are mostly wealthy, benefitting from the profligate lifestyle, and anxious not to be the first to "change course."  The logic of this situation implies that the first to "blink" will be the loser. The ridiculous comments from so many politicians at Copenhagen a couple of weeks ago demonstrate this only too well.
  6. There are a number of people who have been considering an alternative future (alternative to economic and environmental chaos) for many years.   From the "Small is Beautiful" ideas of Schumacher to the discussions of "The Great Turning"  of the Resurgence organisations and the community-based networking of the Transition Town movement and the "Slow Food" and "Fresh and Local"  activists....  there are plenty of people who are looking for an alternative to "business as usual."  

A significant difficulty comes from the fact that history happens slowly.  We are watching the slow decline of this lifestyle, just as the Romans watched theirs decline, Mayans watched agriculture dry up, and Easter Islanders cut down their trees one by one.
It all happens slowly enough that people imagine that someone else will do something one day.
Meanwhile, we are encouraged to spend money and buy more, so evident at the post-Christmas sales that are underway.  There are people who have so much "stuff" that they need to rent space elsewhere to store it, but still they want more.  Landfills (non-existant in the distant past) are filling up.  Advertising encourages further waste of scarce resources, manipulating people into wasteful and useless consumption.Buying less and using less can be a real change in the way of thinking and behaving.

In the long run,  behaviour will change and we will use less and less resources as energy and materials become more scarce and more expensive.
The question is,  do we change behaviour gradually and in a planned and orderly change of priorities...  or do we wait for this to happen to us in a chaotic way.  There is a need for re-learning and re-skilling and a real change in the way that we do things.   There is no use waiting for the politicians or negotiators to decide how this will be done.   Most politicians are benefitting from this profligate use of resources and they don't want to be the first to lose votes, the support of the industries that fund their elections, or reduce consumption.
The community is going to have to lead here if there is to be any chance of success!

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Cactus flowers

I have been outside watering the vegetables.   It has been above 30C today and should b higher for the next few days,  so I wanted to be "ahead of the game" as they say.
The perfume from flowers just coming out was overwhelming...

...  these are the shite cactus flowers,  of which I have a couple of different kinds... these are near the back door.  It is getting dark, and so it's hard to photograph them.   I am sure that they must be irridescent in the dark... to the moths that are supposed to fertilise the fruits...

... they are beautiful.
I went to see if any of the other kinds are flowering as well...

...  a pale purple one,

... buds on the red one,

... and in the dark,  a single white flower (bigger than the others) and growing on the biggest cactus plants that I have...  this one,  the photo taken some time ago...

Cactus flowers are beautiful.

Christmas Day and onwards

Christmas day was a family affair.  It was a quiet day, spent eating the usual fare (for here)...  cold meats and salads, though the day was quite mild... about 25C and sunshiny.  I had phone calls from all of my children, though one had to leave a message as I didn't hear the soft ring while sitting around among the chaos and a couple were "skype" jobs...  all good.

Boxing day was spent processing fruit.  I thought about this during the day,  it's interesting that  the Christmas cooking is all confused with the fruit and summer preserving season here.  When I lived in the northern hemisphere these were two completely separated busy patches of the year... having these co-incedent episodes here makes for  a chaotic patch about now!

And so, yesterday was spent with apricots and nectarines.  I weighed the greenest of the apricots in two pound batches... twelve pounds altogether.  The row of apricot seeds along the bench keeps trac of how many pounds I've dropped into the pan.  The ripest pieces of fruit went into the jars for preserving whole as they don't set was well as jam.

I covered the apricots with sugar (about 8lbs) and left this to sit for about eight hours to extract juice from the apricots...

... then I boiled it well for about an hour and bottled it all... about 20 jars of all shapes and sizes.

The riper fruit is preserved in syrup.  Here are two jars of nectarines (left) and apricots (whole) on the right.  The cupboard is filling up.

Christmas day and Boxing day are both gone.  It is Sunday morning and time to prepare for a hot week in the garden.  It is going to be near 40C again by the end of the week.... and I'm not sure whether I'll have one of my children here by then.  Apparently he is not doing well in the city...

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Christmas Eve

Well,   there was no rain at all yesterday... it looked so like rain last night but no...  nothing.
It is Christmas Eve.  Preparations for Christmas are all complete,  or should be.
I won't be seeing any of my children this Christmas... the same as usual... but I know that they are all ok,  and that is the best news.

I have been preserving fruit today.  It occurred to  me that it is quite different here (compared with my years in the northern hemisphere) where the summer fruit season coincides with the preparations for Christmas... Christmas preparations here are always mixed up with Christmas baking and some serious cooking... turkeys, stuffing and puddings.
This year I am going to be elsewhere for the main "dinner"  and so I am able to concentrate on fruit and its preservation.
I dealt with the cherries yesterday.

Today... it was apricots and nectarines...

... and,   while I haven't finished all of them,  I have done quite a lot... and the nectarines are looking good...

Outside,  the garden is healthy too.  These tomato plants,  while not producing yet,  are doing well.   The row on the left were planted before I left for Santa Cruz.  They had a hard time and looked very "sick" when I arrived home again.  They had survived a couple of weeks of unseasonal 40+ weather... but at least they survived.   I gave them a dose of seasol and some "blood and bone" when I returned and they are looking healthy and well.  The newer plants are also looking good.  The extra fertiliser will probaby delay fruit production, but there'll be more in the long run.

The jicama plants are coming along slowly.  Behind them are some climbing beans... all looking healthy.  The interesting thing now is that there don't seem to be as many earwigs.  they gave me so much trouble earlier in the season,  but seem to have been defeated by now.

The newest "horta" patch...

... this has plenty of coriander,  and a number of other herbs and spices from the spice shelf,  but these big leafed plants are mung beans...  I have no idea what I'll get from these,  but they seem to be incredibly happy, healthy and prolific.
And finally the zucchinis...

I usually grow these much sooner than this time of the year,  but having been away when I would normally have planted them... and then waiting until the weather prediction indicated a few days of less than 40C,  the timing was a bit odd,  to say the least.  But here thet are and looking good.   If these prove to be as healthy all the way along,  I'll be looking at a very different strategy for planting from now on.
Much of the information that I have been reading for years does not appear to be supported by the evidence here!

Tomorrow is another  Christmas day!   and I hope that it's happy for all of my family.
I was interrupted in writing this by a phone call from one of my children...  made my day!

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Summer weather... and saving civilisation.

It has been a strange day,  weatherwise.  It is close to Christmas and most of the things that I need to do are under control.
I had a meeting to get to at lunchtime today.   The meeting was half an hour away, in Nuriootpa. Before I left, I checked the shadecloth arranged over the vegetables.  I had covered them earlier in the morning,   but it sometimes blows off,  especially on days like today. I need to remove the mesh on cooler days, as it is rather too shady for "full time" coverage,  though I did get it all for free, so it is really worth the effort.

Anyway,  I had to re-arrange some of it,  as the wind had blown it off.  It is mostly held on with clothes pegs....

... this works rather well,  though the hot and blowing north wind today was rather hard on the engineering.
When I left, it looked pretty good...  and so it remained until my return....

... the plants had water and they all looked pretty good.  Some of the most recent seeds had emerged...  beans, zucchini and a couple of edamame plants!  I'll photograph those soon.
As I drove across to Nuriootpa, the wind was incredible... it was more than 40C and the wind was strong and gusty with willy-willys out in the paddocks.  Some of the vines looked a bit the worse for wear.
I went to my meeting,  and left in time to make it to the last market day before Christmas. I bought the few things that I needed, loaded the car and drove back to Kapunda.   As I drove,  it became darker and darker... the clouds were thick and low though the air was still dry and dusty.
The weather that we are seeing is the edge of the cyclone that went through the Plbara yesterday.  As these storms move inland, they become much less violent and we are not expecting any serious consequences... we seem to have the problems ahead of the storm...

Tonight, as I write this, the temperature is still about 35C, the wind has dropped and we are waiting for the storm to arrive. We expect some thunder and lightning and (hopefully) some rain within an hour or two.  The forecast from the Bureau of Meteorology says... Dry, hot and cloudy. Fresh and gusty northwest winds, ahead of a moderate to fresh southwest change late evening.  
... sounds interesting!

Anyway, I have no more meetings until next year!  and even then,  things should get going rather gently.  I feel very tired after several busy months and I'm happy to remain at home for a while!  And hopefully,  I'll have more time and effort to spend in the garden here.  

I have also read "Cockatoo Chronicles" for today, and to quote from that article, and how I feel about what will be needed next year....
"We don’t have time for despair. We now have to move on to the new world, the one After Copenhagen. So after some Christmas rest and reflection, decide what you’re going to do and get back to work. We have a civilisation to save." (Paul Gilding)