Archive for January, 2011

Can both sides of the climate change argument be right?

Friday, January 28th, 2011

As physicist Michio Kaku wrote yesterday, “Global warming is controversial, of course, but the controversy is mainly over whether human activity is driving it. There is almost uniform agreement from both sides of the debate that the Earth is heating up.”

More specifically, the controversy centres around whether the rise in global CO2 levels is a direct result of mans’ activities or whether this is something the planet itself is responsible for. This is seen (somewhat linearly) as the engine behind the rise in temperatures. So can both sides be right if one says global warming is caused by human activity and the other says it isn’t?

They can if the rise in temperatures and CO2 levels is the Earth’s response to mankind’s activities.


Pruning quinces

Thursday, January 27th, 2011

Waning moon in January. A good time for the winter pruning, especially now the heavy frost of the last week has given way to milder temperatures. Time to give the quinces some serious attention. They are choked with dead wood and the rock hard mummies of last years’ fruit full of overwintering brown rot spores. We lost a lot of fruit to brown rot last year, a legacy of 2009-10’s unusually wet winter and several years of neglect, and we need to bring the trees back to health as well as reduce the substantial reservoir of brown rot spores on the quinta.

Unpruned quince with fruit 'mummies' containing overwintering brown rot spores


Wash day

Tuesday, January 18th, 2011

Yesterday I did the laundry. I put the laundry in the washing machine, added laundry liquid, switched it on, and went away while it did its thing.

And was almost insanely pleased with myself.

Ancient washing machine


Making Hügelbeets: Hügelkultur

Friday, January 14th, 2011

It sounds Germanic and it is. Hügelkultur, Heugelkultur, hugelkultur is growing things in Hügelbeets (“mound beds”) and they have a long tradition in Germany.

Raised beds then.

Yes, but they’re raised beds with a difference.

The base of the bed is a thick layer of wood in various stages of decomposition. Largest pieces go to the bottom, followed by smaller lengths, clippings, brush, bark, etc, then straw, hay, leaves, followed by the upturned sod or topsoil removed to create the bed. The idea is that the wood as it decomposes not only constitutes a source of organic material and fertility for the bed, mimicking what happens on the forest floor, but acts as a giant sponge, holding a large reservoir of winter rainfall and releasing it to plants as they grow through dry summers, reducing the need for irrigation. A deep enough layer of wood may be sufficient to hold enough water for the entire summer.


Raised beds

Sunday, January 9th, 2011

I’ve been wanting to build some raised beds for the vegetable garden. Our experience last year proved that borderless beds were effective to a degree, but we had a lot of casualties at the boundaries despite basing the beds on a double-reach, no-dig principle. With no available mulch material and no difference in level, the proliferation of summer greenery soon blurred the boundaries and we were forever accidently straying into growing areas, so I wanted to distinguish permanent ‘growing areas’ from ‘treading areas’ much more obviously and effectively, especially with moving to a more diverse and mixed companion planting regime, with perennials as well as annuals.

The first year’s conventional-style plantings of annuals served well enough to see what grew well and what didn’t, to monitor the water and light availability across the plot through a growing season, and to gradually clear the soil of its impenetrable tangle of bramble and nettle roots, but it was hardly ‘permaculture’. And as we now have some home-made compost and mulch to add to the beds for the next growing season, I wanted to lay the groundwork for a more sustainable way forward.