Archive for June, 2009

Gardening update

Friday, June 19th, 2009
spring onions

spring onions

Back in April, I described my gardening plans for this year. Time for an update! It’s been seven weeks since then, so I ought really to be well advanced with my plants. Unfortunately, we have not had access to our terrace all that time because of work that needed doing on it, so I’m rather behind with the schedule. Still, there is progress to show, and here it is.

I bought the seeds, here they are, most of them. I was interested to see that some of the seeds on offer were ‘certified organic’, like the beetroot here on the left. I’d never heard of organic seeds before, but if that means they don’t use pesticide or fertilisers to raise the stock, that gets my vote.

seed packets

seed packets

more seed packets

more seed packets

 
pots on terrace

pots on terrace

I also got some big pots. I have had the white one you see here for some time, and I recall it was expensive when I got it. It seems pots still are expensive, which is why I’m not getting more until I am convinced I can produce something in them. The brown pots are huge, they hold 120 litres of compost each, that’s over four cubic feet. I would have preferred white pots that would absorb less heat, but despite the number of garden centres in our area it’s not easy to find something suitable. Large pots will hold a lot of water, so plants will survive better in the summer heat. Our balcony takes the full force of the summer sun, so that’s an important consideration!

lettuce

lettuce

Our local organic store, Satoriz, now sells organic compost, which is a great idea. It’s good stuff, but it can’t be used on its own because it needs something mixed with it to help it drain well. On its own, it tends to pack solid when its wet, forming a solid layer like a dried-up river bed. That’s not good because the soil doesn’t breath or absorb water properly when it’s like that, it needs to be open and porous. Still, it’s good to know that ‘organic’ is really entering every part of the home-food-growers’ domain, and I will definitely be using this compost as a regular part of my gardening.

chard

chard

When you fill a pot as big as these with new soil, it’s a good idea to make sure the soil is thoroughly wet before you plant anything. The compost sold by garden centres is normally very dry so it weighs less, people are more likely to buy it if they can carry it. When it’s that dry it can take a lot of water to soak it thoroughly, these big pots actually took 30 litres of water before anything drained out the bottom, that’s one quarter of their volume in soil! I watered them 3 or 4 times over a day or so before I was happy enough to plant in them.

beetroot

beetroot

The lettuce is growing strongly, as are the chard and beetroot. I’ve already thinned them out, but I may still have to thin the lettuce some more, they’re growing very vigorously. The spring onions have sprung, as you can see at the top of the post. You can see a sunflower growing well in the white pot above, but I can’t take the credit for that one, it’s a seed that found its way into the pot somehow and sprouted without asking permission. The sunflowers I planted are a dwarf variety, they shouldn’t grow to more than about 18 inches/45 cm high, and you can’t see them over the edge of the pot yet.

nasturtium

nasturtium

peas

peas

I also have some peas coming through. I had not intended to plant peas, but we bought some for eating and there were a few that were sprouting, so we thought we’d give them a try. They’re doing very well, in fact they’re currently the biggest plants I have out there.

The french marigolds are doing well, and I did plant nasturtiums, which have also come up. The thyme, sage, rosemary, and basil have sprouted too, but they have been a bit disappointing with their germination, slow to come through and slow to get on with the job. The mint hasn’t come up at all, but that’s my only no-show this year, so I can’t really complain.

ants on sunflower

ants on sunflower

Since the herbs were supposed to be our organic pest-deterrent, that leaves the other plants a bit vulnerable at the moment. The sunflower that that seeded itself is harbouring aphids, which are being looked after by ants. That’s not good, so I need to do something about them, and would welcome any suggestions for dealing with them. I’m pretty certain the ants aren’t nesting in the pot, there are only a few of them, so I don’t have a nest to eradicate, just a few visitors.

Fortunately, other characters, such as this enormous slug, have not found their way into my little garden. That’s one advantage of an exposed, hot terrace, it forms a natural barrier to some pests. I don’t think my lettuce would last long if this guy found them!

slug

slug

So I’m not competing with the local farmers yet, but even since I took these photos a couple of days ago the plants have grown quite a bit. It won’t be long before I’m getting a few lettuce leaves at least. I know other people out there who are blogging about their organic gardens, The Natural Patriot has already started harvesting goodies from his. The Earth Home Dwellers are having a go too, but I don’t know how they’re getting on. C’mon guys, tell us, I’m curious!

If anyone else is growing their own organic vegetables out there I’d love to know how you’re doing?

World Oceans Day, June 8th

Saturday, June 6th, 2009

The Aegean

The Aegean


Next Monday, June 8th, is World Oceans Day. At the risk of turning this blog into a diary of global eco-events, I’d like to draw your attention to it.

The idea to have a world-day for the oceans came in 1992 from Canada, at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. It’s been celebrated every year since then, but this year marks the first time it has official U.N. recognition. Henceforth, World Oceans Day will be celebrated on June 8th, every year.

You might think that since I live near Geneva, about as far away from the sea as it is possible to get in Western Europe, I would not have much to say about the sea. If you think that, you must be new to this blog (welcome!), the sea is one thing I can talk about for hours. I grew up in England, closer to the coast than most people there. Nobody in England is more than 70 miles from the sea, I grew up much closer than that, about one mile away from the shore, on an island, no less. I spent many a childhood summer day freezing in the cold water, picking my way over the stony beaches, trying to see what I could through the opaque grey-green waters of the north Kent coast (not much, as it happens). I collected foraminifera (tiny shells, less than 1 mm across) and looked at them under a microscope. I remember the first time I saw sea-anemones, on the beaches of Jersey on a family holiday. I’ve seen octopus and nudibranchs on crowded Greek beaches, and sharks and dolphins in the Maldives. Oh yes, I can safely say I love the sea.

The oceans are huge. They cover almost three-quarters of the surface of the earth, and something like three fifths of the earth is over a mile below the surface of the sea. There is an awful lot of seawater out there. So why do we need a world-day event to draw attention to the oceans? Well, as it turns out, the seas and oceans of the world are not in good shape, and it’s our fault, again. You can find out more about the threats to the oceans on the Marine Conservation Society website, here are a few of the highlights.

Everyone knows about global warming, and the melting of the polar ice-caps. That’s bad news for penguins and polar bears, but also for people. A large fraction of humanity lives near the coast, making a substantial part of their living from what they can haul out of the sea. Rising seas and warming waters will change that. Not only will islands and low-lying regions be lost under the waves, the ecosystems at the coastal fringes will suffer too. Coral reefs, for example, provide living space and nurseries for a great many species, and are essential to the marine environment. Even creatures that don’t live on or in them directly often depend on the animals that do. Excessively warm water leads to ‘coral bleaching’, which can kill it if the water stays warm for long enough. Bleaching events are more common than they used to be, and are predicted to become much worse over time. Despite some research showing that some corals may adapt to warmer waters, there is strong reason to believe that most corals will be killed by warm seas by the end of this century unless we make big cuts in our emissions of greenhouse gasses. Scientists are working to find ways to help coral survive, but they’re racing against the clock.

Coral

Coral

Globally, there’s an even bigger threat, ocean-acidification. The oceans absorb a great deal of the excess carbon dioxide that we are pumping into the atmosphere, and this is slowly turning the seas more acidic. This slows coral growth because it is harder for the coral to form its chalky skeleton. Other creatures, many of which are right at the bottom of the marine food chain, will suffer the same fate. Acidification of the oceans is a global problem by its very nature. It will affect reefs and other ecosystems worldwide, not just those near to cities and industries.

Overfishing is another major problem for the oceans. By depleting stocks of even a few species, we change the way entire ecosystems behave, often seriously. Tuna have been fished almost to extinction in the Mediterranean sea, and there is little sign that common sense will prevail to reduce the pressure on them. Tuna are predators, high up in the food chain. When you remove top predators, often the result is that a few species lower down the food-chain start to dominate, out-competing other creatures. The ecosystem becomes unbalanced, and may change its nature completely. It may not be enough to simply stop hunting the predators, the ecosystem may no longer be able to recover on its own.

Floating garbage is another serious problem. On the tiny atoll of Midway in the Pacific ocean, albatross often mistake floating plastic garbage for food, which they then feed to their chicks. That kills many of them, not surprisingly. Albatross aren’t meant to digest golf-tees, toothbrushes, and lego blocks.

Even the efforts we go to to protect the oceans and their inhabitants can often be misguided. I’m sure we’ve all heard of dolphin-safe tuna, it even got a mention in Lethal Weapon 2, released some 20 years ago. I’m fond of dolphins, like many people, but I was shocked to learn about just how much damage dolphin-safe tuna-fishing can do. The methods used to catch tuna without harming dolphins have a much higher rate of bycatch than other methods. ‘Bycatch’ is another word for ‘collateral damage’, animals accidentally killed while hunting a specific species at sea. Much of the bycatch in dolphin-safe tuna is in itself seriously endangered, far more so than dolphins themselves. No, dolphin-safe tuna is not a good thing for the marine environment.

Sunset on the Beach

Sunset on the Beach

More and more people are becoming aware of and involved in environmental issues. They are paying attention to the environmental cost of the goods they purchase, insisting on packaging that can be recycled, lower power consumption from electrical goods, or higher mileage from their cars, for example. But what can you change in your daily activities to help the oceans, especially if you live far from the sea? The Marine Conservation Society have some advice, and there’s also a page of hints at The Ocean Project. One obvious thing is to be more informed and cautious in your seafood purchases, both sites have suggestions there. If you prefer to avoid seafood altogether, simply buying organic food is a good idea. That encourages farmers to produce more of it, which means less pesticide in use. Reduced pesticide use means less of it getting into our rivers and from there into the sea, finally ending up in marine mammals like that dolphin we were trying to save a moment ago.

You can find out more about World Ocean Day at the World Ocean Network site. Maybe one of the events that they list is taking place somewhere near you. If not, there are plenty of web-based resources available, like the 24 hours in the Ocean online event from the Musée Nausicaä. I’ll certainly be following that for some of the day.