DIY geoengineering.

Are you afraid of geoengineeing? Do you think it’s all a conspiracy? Would you be surprised if I told you that it’s not the domain of mad billionaires but that we home gardeners can do it too too!

Geoengineering is sold to us as projects that are massive in scale, high in tech and very, very expensive but we can make our own contribution and empower ourselves in the process. All you’ve got to do is plant the right plants and put them in the right places. Except for seeding the skies with suspicious chemicals, we can emulate some of the basics, right in our own gardens.

Here’s a little ‘engineering’ course to empower you by helping you understand your garden a little better.

Engineered to perfection!
Engineered to perfection!

Just for a while, think of your plants as machines.

Step back from the wonderful biodiversity that you are already building into your life through having a garden. Then zoom into a beloved tree. What does that tree (or any other plant) really do?

It’s a pump.

Plants stay upright by water pressure. Too little water and the leaves droop and eventually the plant will die. So plants take in moisture through their roots and move it around internally for both the biological functions of life and to stay upright. The state of being upright through water pressure is called ‘turgor’.

…and an air conditioner too

To keep water moving, plants ‘exhale’ water vapour through their leaves in a process called ‘transpiration’. On warm days, the transpired water vapour absorbs heat from the surrounding air, cooling it. A little breeze moves the cool air and viola! You’re have a little air-conditioner.

It pumps in the other direction too!

Photosynthesis in the leaves make sugars from carbon dioxide, some of which go into energising  life processes in the plant, some goes into storage and some travels down to the roots where  they are  pumped out into the surrounding soil to feed the soil organisms which, in turn feed the plant.

It’s a two way pump! Water one way, sugars the other.

It’s a carbon capture and storage device

Carbon dioxide from the air and from inside the plant (produced by Yeasts that live inside it) are converted through photosynthesis into sugars which take the internal journey mentioned above. Some become plant tissue, some move out into the soil and become integrated into the lives of the soil biota and becomes stored in their bodies. As parts of the plant and organisms die  the carbon in their bodies gets stored in the soil.

Best of all, some of the carbon gets stored in you when you eat the fruit or the leaves of plants. Better than any didn’t government plan, hey?

It’s shady and protective

A plant can block sunlight reaching the ground, preventing it from getting crazily hot on a Summer’s day. Add this to the air-conditioning effect and we are starting to see that plants can help us a lit as the planet warms.

Shaded soil holds more life, which means more biodiversity and even higher levels of carbon storage

Plants can block the sunlight reaching your windows and walks, keeping them a little cooler. Choosing the best plants for the job and putting g them in the right places can slash your cooling bill, requiring less overall water and energy, reducing carbon dioxide frim being pumped into the atmosphere at the power stations.

In the cold weather, plants can block cold breezes from reaching your house. They can even become insulators as they trap pockets of still air against your walls. That saves money and greenhouse gas emissions.

Is it really geoengineering?

Some may argue that it’s not and it may seem that way when you look at an individual plant. Look at a whole garden, a street full of gardens, a neighbourhood full of gardens and street trees, a high level of canopy cover over a council area…you get the idea. It’s got to be better than spraying chemicals in clouds, doesn’t it. It also means that evil billionaires and corrupt governments don’t get rich from their grandiose technology and money driven plans. The agency stays in our hands, right where it should – at home and in your local community.

At our place

Ligaya Garden was designed with all of these things in mind. Of course, the original designs were tweaked as time went by, weather has gotten worse and food security crumbled. We learned as we went but we remain true to  the core idea – let plants do the work, thrive and provide us with both food and a better life.

Check out our page ‘cooling with our garden‘ to get some ideas and inspiration.

Lemon juice or no lemon juice?

Here’s a quick post to answer a question I was asked recently.

“When you’re reading posts and books about preserving, especially drying, you’ll see a mention of lemon juice, even when you’re not drying lemons. Why do you reckon that is”?

It’s because coating foods to be dried with a little lemon juice helps it to retain its original colour and not go brown.

The browning is caused by both contact with the oxygen in the air and some chemical processes associated with the natural decay of fruit or vegetable tissues.

Lemon juice contains Citric Acid which is an antioxidant. Just like antioxidants work in our bodies, the Citric Acid reacts with oxygen before the tissues of the fruit or vegetable react and thus, prevents oxygenation which is the main cause of discolouration . Being acidic and of a pretty low pH, Citric Acid also changes the way that some of the enzymes in the fruit or vegetable tissue react, further reducing discolouration. Citric Acid can also partially reverse small amounts of oxygenation through a chemical process called ‘reduction’.

Juiced vs non-juiced.

You can see the difference a little lemon juice made to these banana slices during drying. Those on the left had lemon juice applied before going into the dryer and those on the right didn’t. The difference is pretty clear.

How much lemon juice do you need?

You only need a little. Just a drizzle. I mix 4 teaspoonfuls into a cup of water and dip the fruit or vegetable pieces into that or, if I have a lot, I just add the cupful to a bowl and toss the pieces in that.

You can, of course, use straight lemon juice, that will work just as well.

It’s time to pinch your tomatoes (and I don’t mean stealing them)

A little while back I posted on planting tomato seedlings. Here’s a tip (or is it 3?) about what to do next. Most of these tips are about pinching. These tips apply equally to the early stages of both determinate and indeterminate tomato varieties.

1) Pinch out any early flowers to allow the plant’s energy to go toward more leaf and stem growth.

2) Pinch out any new growth coming from branches in the stem. We want to grow a single strong trunk with well spaced branches. These will make the plant wild and bushier. Leave them if that’s what you like but I’ve found tall and tidy produces better fruit

3) Pinch out any lower leaves near the soil. These will attract pathogens and pests being so close to the ground.

Keep doing the first two until the plant is over 30 cm tall.

Over this season, I’m writing a whole ‘how to’ guide about growing great tomatoes. I’ll be posting it here in installments as different stages of growth are reached or possible problems are encountered. Keep an eye out for it all!

Tomato economics and the collapse of capitalism

Tomato economics and the collapse of capitalism

I read an article in a local newspaper on Tuesday that is preparing folks for price hikes in their grocery bills because of the terrible weather in the Eastern states. Shortly after I read that  a friend sent me a link to a post where someone had linked an old government statement about cloud seeding to the current weather patterns and using it to argue  the current storms as evidence that  climate change is a hoax. Hmmmm…

Whatever your views on the origins of the storms, they are occurring and they are interrupting the flow and price of basic foods  around the rest of Australia. Times are getting increasingly tough and considerably crazier. We have to look at staple crops that we can easily grow at home. Tomatoes fit the bill perfectly and are a key Summer staple that can be prepared and preserved for eating throughout the rest of the year. 

Can’t sell them red!

The Tomatoes that you get in the supermarkets are rubbish! Every year, I get to pick ‘waste’ tomatoes from the vines at a local commercial greenhouse. What do they define as waste? The answer is ‘anything red’. 

It turns out that they can’t sell red tomatoes to the supermarkets because they can’t be transported or stored well. Consequently, tomatoes are generally picked while still mostly green in commercial ventures and the red ones discarded. Some tomatoes are also gassed with Ethylene to turn them red on the outside and make them appear ripe – nothing like a home grown, vine ripened fruit at all.  Yes, I said ‘fruit’ because tomatoes are, botanically, a fruit, not a vegetable, even though we use them as such.

Our friendly growers can see the sense in letting local community groups come in and pick the red ones for distribution to local charities who give away food to people doing it tough. So, usually once in the middle of the season, we get to pick the red ones. Then, at the end of the season, the owners go through and cut all of the vines at ground level and let them dry for a couple of weeks before pulling them out and burning them. Needless to say, there are still plenty of tomatoes on these vines and this is our second opportunity to jump in and rescue some more. When I say ‘some’, I have never picked less than 50 kg at a time myself and there are dozens of locals with a similar mindset who put in the time and effort to pick and distribute ripe, red tomatoes.

It is one of the curses of capitalism that such waste is encouraged in the name of efficiency and profit. In order to make a living, the growers must cut costs as much as possible and in situations like this ‘costs’ are the extra time and labour it would take to pick and distribute this unsold bounty. Fortunately, our growers see a slightly bigger picture but they are small fish when compared to the big players.

I’ve no words for this!

So what can we do about it all? There are many things but the key is to grow a lot of your own vegetables. You don’t  need to grow them all. Just growing a few can really help your health, your weekly budget and your sanity.  Growing a few of your own vegetables can also help retain and even encourage biodiversity and save plant strains from going extinct. Growing a little of your own food can contribute to reducing plastic waste, pollution and greenhouse gas emissions as well. 

It was definitely a sign of the times the other day when I took a picture of a package of two medium sized tomatoes on sale for $5.00. If that wasn’t shocking enough, their original price was $9.00! Yes, $9.00 for two tomatoes and from a local grower who probably didn’t see anything close to the $4.50 per tomato that they were priced at in tje supermarket!

That’s a  lot to ask from a handful of veggie seedlings! So let’s start with an easy one, Tomatoes.

Start with your revolution with Tomatoes in Tomato season.

It’s definitely Tomato time around here in Gawler. The time of the year is right for planting both tomatoes and (non-violent) revolution. There are thousands of seedlings on sale literally everywhere. On the weekend, I helped out at the Port Adelaide Food Gardening Heirloom Tomato sale where I gladly helped boxfuls of seedlings make their way to their new homes in people’s veggie patches.

So here’s some simple tips to planting great Tommies – 

Soil prep tips:

1) mix some powdered eggshells into the soil. This gives a supply of calcium which is needed for strong cell walls as well as preventing the dreaded blossom end rot. 

A little eggshell helps a great deal
A little eggshell helps a great deal.

2) mix some chopped up  Dandelion leaves or Banana skins into the soil. Both of these contain heaps of potassium which will be needed to promote flowering, retain flowers, promote fruiting and fruit retention, giving you MORE TOMATOES. These two additives will be broken down and available  by the time the plant needs them 

Planting tips:

PLANT THEM DEEP.  Planting with plenty of the stem below the soil level will encourage roots to grow from the stem, giving you a more reslient plant.

Plant your seedlings deep.
Plant your seedlings deep.

Planting the seedling at least to the depth marked by the red line will give you a healthy plant. Some folks trim off any lower leaves that will below the soil level but I just bury them.

Newly grown roots from the buried stem.
Newly grown roots from the buried stem.

The pic above is of the original seedling roots and the new ones that have grown from the buried stem. Thos only took a couple if weeks but the plant will be much stronger now.

That’ll get you started in your career as an over thrower of capitalism. As things grow, I’ll post again with tips for keeping the plants growing well.

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