Thursday, 31 May 2012

Winter garden, hunting mammoths and techno-optimists

There has been a break in blogging recently.  This is for no other reason than that the garden work continues and follows the same pattern that it has for the past several years.  The season is quite "fragile" due to a serious lack of rain and the beginnings of the cold weather and shorter days. Also, I have been busy with "life" that can sometimes get in the way.
I've had no real damage from frost yet, and even the potato plants are growing really well... as long as I water them regularly.  Potatoes are such beautiful plants....
The broad beans are growing, the artichokes are re-sprouting,



 the few sprouting garlic bulbs that I've planted out are showing through the ground...
.... those tiny green spikes are the beginnings of mnext summer's garlic crop.

I have left a few "volunteers" such as this borage plant that has germinated among the baby leek plants....
 ....  I can't wait for it to flower.  In fact, I think that this seed may well have been one of those that I photographed in 2010 and "threw away" a few months ago.  It shows how hardy seeds can be.... it's how plants manage over difficult seasons!

Rows of winter vegetables are looking healthy....
 .... carrots and beetroot....
 .... swedes (rutabaga) and various beets including sugar beet and mangel worzel.
A few more broccoli and a healthy potato behind the watering can.....


All of the usual winter vegetables are doing well.  It seems rather repetitive to describe the usual winter growing season, and, while timing this year is a little different, May and June are planting seasons here while we hope for enough rain to avoid watering any of it.

On one rainy day recently I watched another TED talk.  I enjoy these and, while I pick and choose the subject matter, I justify my leaning towards those concerning climate and its effect on sustainability is justified by the sheer number of talks and the amount of time it would take to see or hear them all.
I have found another favourite by Paul Gilding entitled "The Earth is Full."  Paul Gilding has also written a blog post about the talk.  He comments, in his discussion about optimism and technology, that....

 " This explained how we tend strongly towards a view that things will always work out – that the future will always be better than the past. This trait has brought many benefits to humanity over our species history – after all we wouldn’t have gone hunting mammoths if we didn’t occasionally suffer delusions of optimism in the face of quite serious challenges!
But this time we face different types of challenges, ones which might make that optimism bias a threat to our species success rather a source of positive evolution.  Unlike hunting mammoths, where failure leaves you hungry, we face systemic threats with the potential to over-run all attempts to contain them."
This made me remember something that I had written some time ago, in 2009.  The people who are making the decisions and benfitting from the current optimism are those who have been lucky in the past.  Decisions are being made for all of us by risk takers who have "won" i.e. the mammoth hunters who actually killed and ate the mammoth.  
Yes, those mammoth hunters must have been optimistic and surely took serious risks.  The hunters who weren't successful probably starved or were themselves killed in the hunt.  We, inhabitants of the earth are the beneficiaries of those successful risk takers and it may well have left us a little too confident in our abilities to solve any and all problems.  As Paul Gilding says "this time we face different types of challenges, ones which might make that optimism bias a threat to our species" and this is even more of an issue when we see which individuals (politicians and business people) are actually making decisions on behalf of all of us.
  
Technology does have some tricks to offer us... different means of producing energy, fertilisers to increase food production and carbon catching filters....  however the confidence in these technologies (driven by our natural optimism, as descendants of those successful mammoth hunters) is, for many,  a means of avoiding the problem that is too many people with too much stuff.   In the words of Paul Gilding...
"The danger in techno-optimism is that it becomes a form of denial. That things aren’t that serious and therefore politically difficult change that will confront powerful vested economic interests can be avoided.  Such a view is reassuring, it feels good and it fits nicely with our genetic tendency to optimism.  Unfortunately it’s also wrong."


Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Frost

It has been a cold night and as soon as it was light... that is getting later now (after 6), I went outside to see how the garden had fared.  It was the potato plants that I was worried about.  One of them looked very fragile....
 .... this is the worst of it, and after the sun came up, and the leaves melted,  they didn't look very well at all.....
 Most of the potatoes are ok though....
 .... and the brassicas are loving it.
 Hopefully that will be the end of the caterpillars and their mothy parents.

Wandering around near the fishpond brought them all to the surface begging for food.....
....  notice the one with the dark back on the lower right hand side.   There are all ten fish in this picture and one has a dark back,   one has a white "nose" and the others are all ordinary.   The reflection shows the trees around the pool,  and a clear blue sky beyond.  We are going to have a bright shiny day.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Rooster soup and thoughts about the effort that it takes to have dinner

Yesterday evening I had rooster soup for dinner...
.... I'm not a very big meat eater, but yesterday I made soup from one of the roosters that hatched from the last lot of fertile eggs that I gave to the chickens.  When one gives a clutch of eggs to a broody chicken, one can be sure that at least half of the babies will be male.  In more business-like premises,  baby chickens are "sexed" at about two days old (I don't know how to do this) and the males "discarded" as garbage.  

The problem is that adult male roosters should leave home to join another flock, fight for supremacy and a few (the biggest, toughest and most aggressive) go on to father chickens for some years to come.  My chickens are "employed" to lay eggs, eat earwigs and produce fertiliser for the vegetable garden.  Hens lay eggs for quite few years... though the number of eggs gets less as they age and I keep my chickens indefinitely... they don't eat much when they are not producing eggs in later life.  

The roosters are another problem.  Last time,  I had three roosters.  Once they are adults, they begin to attack not only each other, but the hens as well.  They do injure the hens quite badly some times, and that is when I bundle them up to be taken to the "chicken processors" to be "processed".  I have killed them myself,  but it is not my favourite task and the cost for "processing" at the local plant is $1.50 each, and so I take them out there.  I do feel guilty, but not as bad as if I had bought the carcass from the supermarket.... a "meat" chicken that is bred to grow fast, die young and never have a life at all.

This rooster (the one in my soup) had been in the freezer for more than a year.  I boiled him to make stock for soup... chicken noodle soup.  The noodles are made from locally grown flour, eggs from the chickens, garden leaves and a pinch or two of salt.  This made me think about the effort involved in producing our food.

While growing vegetables is enjoyable,  it also requires effort.  The work involved in soil preparation, planting, weeding and maintaining the garden is significant.  It is easy enough to produce enough food for oneself.  Producing enough for two is a bit more effort, though not too bad. Once my household increases to three, I need help, either in labour or by buying a significant amount of food from the shop.  And that is where I begin to contemplate our current food production system.  Thousands of people who live in the towns and cities don't produce any of their own food at all, but they still eat and someone has to be growing and manufacturing that food.  I'm sure that if I worked really hard and full time,  I could produce enough for, say, a large family...  but not on the scale that would be required for the majority of the population to eat well... and get fat... on my labour.  The only reason that this has been possible for the last 150 years or so is because the energy input has been mechanical and chemical.... and the energy source for all of this has been from those fossil fuels that we keep hearing about... the decayed remains of millions of years worth of photosynthesis.  It was as good as "money in the bank" but as we have accelerated our use of this seemingly unlimited energy supply, apparently we didn't think about what we would do when the energy supply ran out and the "bank" account was getting close to empty.  

The abundance of easy energy and the consequent over-abundance of food (for there is money to be made by selling more calories to someone that they actually need.... and those calories can either be wasted or eaten) has led to a problem with waste disposal, methane production and obesity.  It seems that with accelerating use of fossil energy we have unwittingly resorted to storing quite a bit of that energy as fat.

It's hard to know what is going to happen.  The fossil fuel will run out, or at least be in such short supply that food becomes more expensive as long as the production and processing is carried out by relatively few people, as it is now.  Perhaps food production and processing will become more "hands on" for more people.  Perhaps the cheap and "empty" calories will be more expensive. Perhaps food and food products will be valued and treated with some respect.  I don't know the future but I do know that significant change is inevitable as the energy supply becomes more expensive and unreliable.



















Tuesday, 8 May 2012

The broad beans are "up"

The broad beans were planted on April 26th (the day after Anzac Day)....12 days ago.  Beans and peas are planted, well watered, and then left completely alone until they come out of the ground themselves.  I water them very well when I plant them,  btu then not again until they appear above the soil.   I have been checking the patch daily,  and today is the first sign of life...
 ... and here are two of them.  (The weed in the bottom right hand side does not count.)

The one on the left is looking very "broad bean-ish"....

... and there is a crack in the ground nearby where another one is pushing through.
It is so tempting to "help" them, but it's better to leave them alone... in my experience, those that are "helped" are likely to break.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Fish pond

The last few days have been the coldest days so far this autumn.  That and the shorter days have meant that the pond water has become much clearer and the fish are looking beautiful....
 ... and the floating plants have changed colour, they are brownish now and have grown long roots that hang down into the water.  When they come to the surface,  they are just lovely.
It's hard to see in this photograph,  but I can easily see the bottom of the pond now. They are used to me feeding them too,  and swim towards me when I am near the pond.

The nights have been quite cold and rain showers have been predicted for the next few days.  The weekend is supposed to be clear again, but next week there is the "chance of isolated showers" and while this doesn't sound terribly optimistic,  I'm hopeful that we might receive some of those showers so that I don't need to water the vegetables.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Chickens in the potato patch

The potatoes in the new patch (near the pond and its microclimate, to try to avoid any very low temperatures during the coldest part of the winter) are growing very well.  I noticed some earwigs a couple of days ago,  and some of the plants have some leaf damage.  Consequently,  I have let the chickens out into the garden to clean up...
 ... and they seem to be right into it.
The black chicken (the one that was so sick after the fox attack some months ago) is moulting....
.... she looks a bit the worse for wear at the moment, bald in patches, but hopefully she'll be back laying eggs again after the winter solstice in June.  She had been laying for several months and seems to be back in good health.

Corellas

Every afternoon lately, I hear the flock of corellas come in to town.  If you've ever heard a single screeching cockatoo,then you can imagine what a few hundred all together sound like.  At this time of year, the grain crops are being sown and so the parrots are all out foraging for an easy feed.
I took photographs as they flew over the house....
 ... they are beautiful birds....
... though the numbers are amazing....  this is only a small part of the flock.