Archive for June, 2009

Miscellany

June 26, 2009

I’m never, ever going to be one of those supa-doopa bloggers who write one post a day. What I’d like to be, however, is one of those who manages one post a week, but here it is a fortnight since my last and…..oh, well…..

What follows is a hotch-potch of what’s been happening in the last fortnight.

I’ve sown the first batch of tomato seed for the season. I do it on the winter solstice, simply because it’s a day I can remember. I’ve sown it in the ‘little nursery’ I wrote about here and it’s sitting indoors, in a sunny window, on the heat pad. I’ve put 3 seeds of each variety into each cell and will eventually thin to one seedling. Varieties sown were Roma, San Marzano, Grosse Lisse, Green Zebra, Purple Russian, Red Pear (a cherry type), Black Russian and one billed as the original wild tomato (from Phoenix Seeds—I grew this one last year and it produced hundreds of grape-sized fruits, good for drying for snacks).  Later on (maybe around the spring equinox), I’ll sow a second batch, in the hope of extending the harvesting season into late autumn.

I’m in the process of putting together another row of water-wicking boxes for the spring/summer planting. These will be near one of the small water tanks and I’m going to set up a dripper line from the tank into the watering tube of each box so I can water them all automatically at the same time. Just in case we have another summer with a succession of days over 40 C, I’ll be setting up some polypipe arches over the row of boxes to support shadecloth.

I’m harvesting lots of greens from the garden—silver beet, kale, lettuce, chicory, bok choy and rocket. The peas sown in February are still bearing. I’ve got a half-dozen broccoli plants just forming heads. I should have sown much more. Leeks are starting to enlarge and I’m blanching the stems with sugar cane mulch. Four varieties of potato have sprouted and are doing well—Desiree, Bintje, Dutch Cream and Nicola. A patch of Kipfler which I didn’t harvest last year have also resprouted. The garlic is growing but the plants are small. I hope this doesn’t mean small bulbs. Maybe they’ll kick on when the weather warms.

I’ve sown beetroot (a tad early but it’s germinated) and radishes into wicking boxes and carrots into the garden. Haven’t tried carrots in a wicking box yet, but some years ago I grew a golfball-sized variety called Thumbelina from Eden Seeds. Maybe this would be ideal in a wicking box. I just checked their website and they still have it in the catalogue.

I harvested my first batch of jerusalem artichokes—boy, are these things prolific growers! I planted a couple of shrivelled tubers in May last year and harvested just under two buckets of tubers 12 months later.

The oca is dying back and I’ve bandicooted a few tubers. I hope there’ll be a few to actually eat this year. Last year’s crop was so small I had to forgo eating and replant them all.

The yacon hasn’t died back yet, but it always seems to produce a good crop of sweet tubers. These are nice sliced and fried and also grated in salads.

And finally, the winter solstice has passed, the days are lengthening and so far they’ve been fine and sunny. But alas, no significant rain.

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Take a piece of string…..

June 12, 2009

Here’s an interesting little exercise to try on your friends. Take a piece of string, a metre long. Tell your friends it represents a time frame of 4 million years; one end is the present time, the other is 4 million years ago.

Why 4 million years?

Because that’s the date given to the earliest-known skeletal remains of upright-walking humans; people like us. (Actually, recent discoveries have pushed that time back a further million years, but 4 m will do for this exercise).

Your friends, if they know any history, should know that humans haven’t always practised agriculture; that at some time in the distant past they obtained food by foraging, or hunter-gathering as it’s more popularly called. They probably have a mental picture of a group of cave men and women, digging up roots and tubers and bashing defenceless animals over the head with a club, and that picture might also include, at some time in the distant past, some bright spark inventing agriculture, in a faraway place called the Fertile Crescent.

Now ask them to tie a knot in that 4 million year length of string at the point that humans stopped hunting and settled down to tend crops.

Did anyone put the knot about 2.5 millimetres (yes, millimetres!) in from the present time?

Well, that’s about where it should go.

It’s generally agreed that agriculture got going about 10,000 years ago. 10,000 years is 0.25% of 4 million years. 0.25% of a metre (1000 mm, the length of the string) is 2.5 mm.

In other words, we humans have hunted and gathered for our food for 99.75% of the time that we’ve been walking upright (and so considered substantially different from our ape-like cousins that walk on all fours).

Did anyone get it right? Write in and tell me how it went.

The main purpose of this exercise is to emphasise that we are not adapted, in an evolutionary sense, to either agriculture or civilization or to our present diet. (Evolutionary biologists say that in geologic time, 10,000 years is just an eyeblink). Given also that industrial agriculture utilises huge amounts of chemical fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides, which are not normal components of healthy, natural food, is it any wonder that our food is making us sick? Is it any wonder that so many people are now turning to growing their own food, at home and without chemicals?

If you’d like to read more about the subject of western diets versus hunter-gatherer diets and healthy food in general, try the website of the Weston Price Foundation.

Here’s another useful essay by anthropologist Jared Diamond who labels agriculture “The worst mistake in the history of the human race.”