Sunday, April 27, 2008

Update last weekend in April ‘08

I have had a quiet time in the garden this week. I have been busy elsewhere on our property and the garden has been forced to take a back seat. I guess it happens.

After much deliberation I decided to give another go to raising seedlings and sowed 24 cells of leaves on Wednesday.

Lately, I seem to have had a bit more success getting my seeds to germinate and start to grow but I am still losing lots. I know I overwater so I don’t water until the seedling dies of thirst!!!!

I do have an automatic watering system which provides water by syphonic action to a pot. I have about half a dozen. 2 of them are feeding 2 pumpkin seedlings which seem to be doing well. Perhaps I should use these more often.

I have successfully germinated some melon seeds which I will now put under the care of the automatic waterer.

The seeds I sowed on Wednesday are under a drawer from the vegetable rack – it is clear plastic and was ideal for keeping mice at bay. I peeked under the cover today and saw the first tiny heads peeping above the compost. I shall keep them covered for another week and hope they all come up and I can produce some strong plants

I have potted on a local tomato variety- Marmande – which is doing well. Marmande is a local town about 20 miles from here. I bought this plant from the market last week and it is already about double the size I bought.

I have also raised a couple of tomato seedlings from seeds and potted those on today. They are still very small but I think they will be ok.

I recently bought some red cabbage plants by mistake and put another 4 of those in the ground today.

I sprouted some peas and sowed the sprouted seeds on Friday to infill no shows in the pea patch.. I sprouted the peas to about 1 cm and then sowed them in the prepared bed.

I have a few french beans starting in toilet paper roll centres. I shall plant these undisturbed when they are tall enough.

I now have the following growing:

From seeds - batavia lettuce, cabbage, radish, spring onions, tomatoes, melon, pumpkin, peas, french beans, borlotto beans, dill and Broom

From tubers - potatoes

From sets - onions, garlic, wild leek

From plants - tomato, lettuce, red cabbage, flat leaf parsley, chives, strawberries

Kept from last year - mint

Still not germinated - wild chicory, lollo rosso lettuce

I also seem to have managed to save about 25 geranium plants from last year.

The first lettuce, raised in pots are just about ready to pick. I shall be eating them this next week.

Next year I'm going to learn a lot more about weeds and their uses. I can't stop them growing so I might as well harvest them!!!!


Thursday, April 24, 2008

Replace 5 light bulbs or make a new window?

There has been much talk about alternative energy sources again lately, and a lot less talk about reduction of energy consumption. The development of bio fuels is one such topic – the panacea of the new world?? Errrrm but I thought biofuels actually used more calories in production than they released when used?

I have a problem with this search for "new" energy sources. We all accept that oil is fast running out and some people seem to believe that this is a situation which must be avoided at all cost.

Ah! there’s one of those dangerous phrases "At all cost" . This gives BIG business the incentive to amplify their profits even more, it gives governments the opportunity to tax us even further and it gives scientists the perception that they can rape and pillage in order to deliver Utopia.

But if we accept oil is running out, and who doesn’t? and we are also saying that we are not prepared to let the big corporations have an open cheque book to resolve the problem for us, then what are we to do?

Now that’s a better phrase, What are we to do? WE to do? Not what are you to do, or what are they to do, no, what are we to do?

One of the problems with the modern world is that many of us nowadays, are refusing to take responsibility for our actions. We see this in court cases where there is always someone ELSE to blame, we see it in parenting where there is a move to allow children so much freedom that the freedom of the rest of society is jeopardised, we see it in child protection legislation that tends to forget that the majority of children have parents looking after them and that the rest of our society doesn’t need to be protected to that extent. Maybe the first thing we should start to do is to take back some of the responsibility for our actions.

OK. So how exactly is taking back responsibility for our actions going to help the global oil crisis.

Good Question

Maybe instead of thinking about oil, we should think about energy – after all, they’re virtually the same aren’t they?

Now Al Gore famously called on the Americans to change 5 light bulbs. "If every household in America switched five regular light bulbs for five fluorescent bulbs, it would be the equivalent of taking 1 million cars off the highways for a full year".

Now this is a gardening blog and I have an issue with the hijacking of the word bulb to describe a lamp but hey....

Anyway, that is what he claimed, and it’s probably true.

Ah, you noticed the probably, well, I have a caveat. If we're trying to save energy, it’s no use throwing away perfectly good light bulbs and replacing them with new, so Ian says "when a lamp fails replace it with a low energy version". Now, sadly for AL, he rather foolishly suggested that everyone should change to compact fluorescent energy efficient lamps. Now don’t get me wrong, changing to compact fluorescent will make the sort of energy savings Al talked about.

But, is it good enough to just talk about energy, or do we need to think about pollution as well?. If we start down the pollution road we quickly find an interesting situation. After all, don’t we all now know that fluorescent tubes – you know the 4ft or 8ft long things in offices – sometimes referred to as neons, don’t we all know that they are now considered hazardous waste because of pollutants contained within them.

Now it’s important that you know these tubes are fluorescent tubes because then you’ll see the flaw in Al telling everyone to change to – oh yes - compact fluorescent tubes – so like, compact makes that much difference!

I need to explain, very briefly how all this works before I go on. I apologise to the lighting engineers amongst you who can skip this whole paragraph.

An ordinary light bulb – the incandescent lamp, was invented by Edison in 1880 – well ok not actually invented.

The first electric light was an electric arc (still used today for high performance lamps such as spotlights at rock concerts and large cinema projection systems) invented in England by Humphrey Davy in 1800. Then in 1878 the English physicist Sir Joseph Wilson Swan demonstrated his new electric lamps, with a carbon paper filament ,in Newcastle, England. They worked well but the carbon paper filament burnt out quickly.

In 1879, the American inventor Thomas Alva Edison discovered that a carbon filament in an oxygen-free bulb glowed but did not burn up for 40 hours. Edison eventually produced a bulb that could glow for over 1500 hours.

What Edison did that no-one else on the trail had done was to register his patent in 1880. So in 1880, Eduson registered the first patent for an electric light bulb.

Now Edison was trying to make a light, he didn’t need to worry too much about efficiency and his light worked, it converted most of the energy to heat but it worked and gave off quite a bit of light.

In 1907 Edison patented his invention of a fluorescent lamp but it wasn’t until the 1930’s that GE of America really started to develop fluorescent lighting as an energy efficient light source.
The important bit about how the lamp works is that the electricity causes mercury vapour to discharge some invisible light and that in turn is turned into visible light by phosphor coatings on the inside of the tube. It is the mercury vapour that makes these lamps a hazardous waste.

Break the tube and you release mercury. Mercury is a toxic metal associated with contamination of water, fish, and food supplies

Now just how toxic is toxic?? Well, official advice from the Department of the Environment in the UK states that if a low-energy compact fluorescent lamp is smashed, the room needs to be vacated for at least 15 minutes. That toxic huh? Now note that I’ve moved on to low energy lamps, the modern low energy lamp. The compact fluorescent lamp – vacate for 15 minutes if one gets broken.

OK – so maybe the UK is being over cautious, here is some advice from an American website:

The mercury in compact fluorescent bulbs poses no threat while in the bulb, but if you break one:
- open a window and leave the room for 15 minutes or more
- use a wet rag to clean it up and put all of the pieces, and the rag, into a plastic bag
- place all materials in a second sealed plastic bag- call your local recycling center to see if they accept this material, otherwise put it in your local trash. Wash your hands afterward.

So after all this rambling where have we got to.?

We want to save energy and save pollution. To do this we are going to replace the light bulbs in our house when they fail with a better option.

All we have to do now is find the better option – and there's a big problem.

The only better option I can find is daylight. Stop thinking about artificial light and put back some daylight.

So next time a light bulb fails start to ask yourself whether a window would be a better option!

If not then maybe one of the new LED lamps. There is a 32 watt LED lamp that is designed as a street lamp. There is no mercury pollution but there are still phospors involved and there is talk of a risk of cancer for people working on the manufacture of LEDs. Other pollutants are present, after all, when all the hype is over, an LED is a solid state device and I presume there will be a level of lead solder present in the manufacture White LED’s containYttrium Aluminum Garnet and Gallium Nitride with links to Alzheimers being suggested for aluminium pollution, and pollution of groundwater by Gallium, Indium, and Arsenic being found near semiconductor manufacturing plants.

Of course, making glass for that window??

Finally, I want to tell you how I came to write this piece and thank some of those unbeknownst contributors.

A few days ago there was a discussion on Kitchen Garden International which a few of us hijacked and started to talk about low energy light sources and pollution. Kate, over on
was involved.

Then someone else on KGI posted a link to Micheal Pollan’s new article "Why Bother"
which I read and liked.

Then I visited Patrick’s Bifurcated Carrots site and he had a piece about the Pollan article

So all this weighed on my mind and then today, a lamp failed and I had to replace it. I didn’t have a CFL or an LED lamp so I had to use an incandescent and that is when I started to write!

Don’t do as I do but do as I say!


Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Yet more seeds

Those of you who have read my blog over the past few weeks will know that a recurrent theme has been my inability to grow anything from seed. Lots of people have said very encouraging things to me and bullied me into not giving up.

So, today, I tried again. I planted one of those 24 cell things with 8 each of three different varieties of leaves, batavia, lollo rosso and wild chicory. I think that’s what I have sown but – my translation might have missed something as, of course, all the seed packets were in French.

I have taken steps to prevent everything being eaten by mice. I looked at propagators in the garden centre and now, Sylvia, my wife, has a drawer missing from her vegetable rack!!! I used good compost –which sadly I had to buy as my own is not good enough for seeds yet - Maybe next year though.

So, if in a couple of weeks a photo appears you’ll know it worked. If you hear no more then please...

I also bought a French – English Horticultural Dictionary - I’m hoping that might help me a bit. I’m expecting delivery tomorrow so I’ll let you know what I think.


Tuesday, April 22, 2008


I have just read a very uplifting piece on Kate's blog. Sometimes, it takes someone like Kate to remind of us of all the goodness that exists in this world. With all the problems facing the planet it is easy to forget. This short piece is an excellent reminder of just how good things really are.
Read it


Monday, April 21, 2008


For those visitors who have wanted to, but been unable to leave a comment because of the settings, I apologise.

Somewhere in the great world of etherland my setting for open comments got changed and I'm afraid I never noticed. Not only that, but once it was pointed out to me I did not have a clue how to change it!

Thank you to Patrick in Amsterdam for pointing this deficiency out to me.


Food Growing Bloggers Festival

I’ve spent a lot of time recently discussing with Kate over on
the idea of setting up a "food growing bloggers" international festival.

Neither Kate nor I go for the kind of big corporate event hosted in some impersonal hotel in the centre of a grey city. But we do both feel that a small scale event where people who had a real interest in growing food and writing about it could come together for a day or maybe longer and chat, discuss and maybe learn, certainly exchange ideas with like minded people would be fun.

Now Kate realises that Adelaide is a long way from Europe or from the USA, and I realise that France is a long way from Australia or from the USA but we would like to get this idea up and running.

Kate has started the ball rolling with a firm commitment to holding a small scale event on Kitchen Garden Day which this year is August 24th (Sunday). I was always good at playing follow the leader so I have decided to go for the same date and hold something here in France. Both events will be based at our respective homes so we will need people to tell us if they are intending to come

For details of Kate’s event in Australia go to

I’m organising an event here in South West France – a short drive from Bergerac, near Bordeaux. For 2008 the event will be held on Sunday 24th August 2008. I’m thinking it will start in the morning with a visit to our local village market – conveniently held every Sunday morning, about 5 kms from here. After the trip to the market we will return to my place where I’m hoping to serve a meal in the garden.

I’m asking everyone who comes to provide a dish made out of produce from their own garden or at least local produce. If you are thinking of travelling far to visit us then email me and we’ll discuss as I don’t want to put you off coming because you can’t bring a local salad from Australia!

I’m hoping that after the meal there’ll be an opportunity to visit some of our neighbour’s gardens to see what they do differently or the same.

I can put a couple of people up in our home so if you are thinking of coming from afar, again email and let’s discuss. I can certainly recommend things to do so that you can fill a few days in this wonderful part of France (Perigord) including visits to chateaux, gardens and I have a tame vintner if you would like to taste the local wine. If you are a serious wine person then you will know that Bergerac is in the heart of a great number of Appelations.

If you check out Kate’s blog you’ll notice she set up a poll to see whether this was a good idea. I’m not that democratic so I’m going with it and not setting up the poll.

Those of you who know a little about me will know that we run a holiday apartment here in France, if you want to come and wish to stay at our self catering flat then simply check the availability on our website and then contact me – If you are not familiar with the area then our web site has a lot of information about the locality and also on getting here.

I’m looking forward to meeting some of you. Please leave a comment or send me an email to say what you think of our idea.

Oh, and if your planning to come to Europe, but maybe not this year, then I am hoping to hold this festival every year, maybe not on the same day, but certainly within a week or two.


Sunday, April 20, 2008

Rain, sunshine and chou rouge

I cut some rhubarb today and am going to cook it with a few plums I think I still have in the freezer from last season. I shall make plum and rhubarb crumble.

Rhubarb was the first produce I ate this year from my own garden. and it was very delicious, being harvested, cooked and eaten on the same day

I have a lot of fruit in the garden, apart from the rhubarb crown there are about 30 fruit trees – fig, cherry, plum, apple, pear, walnut and a nectarine. However, I can’t claim much responsibility for this as most of it was already growing in the garden when I bought the house about 4 years ago. I did however, move about 8 wild plum trees last fall and they are now doing well in the orchard - well, seven of them are!!!

Around the new year, this year, I decided to start growing vegetables and to create a "Potager" (French Kitchen Garden). The weather in January was pleasant so I was able to get the area marked out and bordered. I had chosen an area of grass to use and was intending to raise a veg bed on top. I laid out 2 beds, one 8ft x 8ft (2.4m x 2.4m) and the other 8ft x 4ft (2.4m x 1.2m)

The smaller of the beds was to serve as a bed for perennials and the larger for my annual vegetables.

I finished preparing the beds and started to think about what I would grow. Shortly after, I bought my first vegetable plants - a dozen strawberry plants!!! J These were to go into the perennial bed where they could happily sit for three or four years before being replaced. This inspired me to think about rhubarb.

The first year I was here I found a big old rhubarb growing in the middle of a rose bed. I assumed it was a companion planting of some sort but I have never found it mentioned although it may have been for the ground cover qualities. So with my perennial veg bed now adorned with a dozen strawberry plants it seemed to make sense to move the rhubarb. After all, the rhubarb has certainly been in the ground for over 4 years and probably much longer so lifting and separating would help it! And thus, one morning in early March I was off to the rose bed to dig up the rhubarb.

Now, sadly, rhubarb doesn’t show much above ground in winter, and in March it hadn’t broken surface. So with my fork I gently pushed in to lift the rhubarb - missed. It must be a bit further over - missed. Maybe back a bit - missed. After about 6 attempts I called in reinforcements. My wife was summoned and she agreed the rhubarb was "about" where I was digging. I tried left a bit, I tried right a bit, I tried back a bit, I tried forward a bit but the rhubarb, who by now was really enjoying this game, stayed stubbornly hidden. Until eventually, with most of the land between my roses disturbed, I gave up and went indoors for a cup of tea!

That is how it comes about that, today, I went out to my rose bed and cut some rhubarb. In fact it has come up, more or less where I was digging, if I had just gone back a bit AND left a bit I would have found it! This summer I’m going to put a stake in the ground so that next March I can lift it, split it and plant it in my perennial vegetable bed that will then become all fruit.

By way of a change, I planted vegetables in the larger bed. Real vegetables, potatoes, cabbage, peas, beans, radish, onions, garlic – that sort of thing. And on the whole they are growing well. The garlic is nearly a foot (30cms) tall and the peas are trying to pull the onions out of the ground. One or two peas are even in flower today.

Cabbage? ah yes. Now some of you will know that I am an Englishman living in France. France is a wonderful country but it has one big setback for the likes of me. Everyone speaks French!

Those who know me, will know that my level of French is "Tres Faible!" (Not very good)!

OK. Well, I did know that cabbage was "chou" in French and sure enough there were some plants at the nursery marked "chou". They had a picture of a little green cabbage – that was a help! They also had some sort of stock number scrawled in indelible marker right across the picture making it difficult to see anything. I selected my tray and bought a dozen plants. (I am trying seed this year but I needed a comfort zone of a few ready to grow plants)

My bed was ready and within a few days my internet guru, ( said it was time to plant cabbage. So in the ground they went. I planted a half dozen, which was all I really had room for and kept back the other six for replacing any failures (mice, snails, frost etc)
About this time, it had been dry for a few weeks, I also bought a rain water gauge. If I’m going to grow vegetables in this region, I need to measure the water falling so I can work out how much more is needed. I found an ideal spot for the gauge and set it up.

And of course it rained. I had planted. I had a water gauge. Why wouldn't it rain??

My little cabbages did well. The rain did them a power of good and the gentle Mediterranean climate with bright sunshine in between the rain helped them along no end.

There was just one problem, they were turning a very strange colour. A sort of purple. I couldn’t find anything that would indicate a deficiency in the ground and, as it was a new bed, it had been made with ample compost – a good mixture of well rotted home grown compost, well rotted leaf mould and a few bags of a propriety compost as well. I had even thrown a couple of bags of horse manure, which I found on special offer at the local supermarket (alongside the vegetables), into the mix.

Eventually, I found the label from the plants and thought I might go back and see if they could suggest anything. HOWEVER! Do you remember that stock number? Well, on closer inspection it was the word "ROUGE". Now for those of you who don’t speak French, I’ll tell you, it means RED! I had bought Red Cabbages! And they were doing very well.

Oh, the rainwater gauge,? It hasn’t really been needed. Most weeks since then more rain has fallen than the gauge can measure. Every Sunday morning I check it, find it way off the scale, empty it and put it back in place till the following Sunday!

Rain, sunshine and chou rouge. This is sunny south west France.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Reflections on my garden

This is my first year growing vegetables and I’m discovering I’m not very good at it. I’m especially, not very good at raising seedlings. I sow tiny little seeds that I can hardly see and usually, for me, not a lot happens! The surface of whatever container I have used seems to get a bit disturbed but that’s all. After several months of this I have only just realised that the problem is mice eating the seeds and the new growth!

I’m not very good with trees either. I planted some cypress to form a windbreak/hedge but they have stayed stubbornly at about 1ft tall. Again, only this week, I realised that deer are eating the new leaves!!

I do have three lettuces growing that I could start to pull some leaves from in a few days! The others are coming up behind. As for my first tomato, I repotted a Marmande plant (a local variety which is big, juicy and just delicious tasting) into it's final pot today and set it out, so now, it's up to the Mediterranean weather and some judicial application of water!

Onions and garlic are also looking quite good and I have some red cabbage gently growing. Peas are beginning to grow and will need some netting before long. I started some shelling beans and a couple of melon plants from seed today. I'm hoping to grow one or two Charentais melons. They do so well in this part of the world and we love them. Last year, a local farmer gave us a few and we ate them, still hot from the field. I also have a couple of butternut squash seedlings coming on in the workshop.

Potatoes are through and will need hoeing up within a week or so and the strawberries are beginning to flower. I saw some leaves where I have sown radish but the spring onions haven't appeared yet.

Four of my six herbs are doing ok - mint, chives, flat parsley and dill.
I have a couple of others sown but no signs yet, I’m beginning to think they have failed.. I also failed completely to get any basil growing!! And of course, in this part of the world, I have lavender – lots of lavender. I planted another 10 plants today to extend the lavender bed. Lavender seems to enjoy being in our harsh, clayey limestone soil. It’s funny isn’t it, both lavender and grape vines seem to need to struggle to produce their magnificent crops.

I realised today that one of the problems I am facing is mice eating the new shoots. I hadn't realised that was the problem. I'm now sowing a few seeds in pots and putting cloches made from cut down soda bottles over them. I'll see how that works?

And then there is the deer eating my new trees! I have resorted to putting my new timber compost bin (before I filled it with compost), over the tree to keep the beast out.

I suppose, for my first year I'm not doing too badly, but I know I have a long way to go! The problem is that when you are new to something you want success, nothing but success. Acceptance of the occasional failure is only something that comes with experience and I suppose that is what I am really growing.

I know that I’m only trying to grow a small bit of what I eat. I know that a lot of what I eat and drink will continue to be produced a long way away, that a lot of what I want to eat has to be produced a long way away. Maybe the experience I am growing is not just experience of my garden but a wider understanding of the issues of world food production, maybe I’m really growing understanding.


Monday, April 14, 2008

Feeding the world

The world is getting smaller, I know it is. Certainly the amount of it available for me to enjoy is getting smaller.

We are frequently told that the current population of the world is 6.7 billion and will raise to 9 million by 2050. In fact I think this is an underestimation! In 1991 the population was given as 5.5 billion and estimates at that time, were it would rise by 1.7% per annum, If you adjust that figure down to an increase of 1.25% per annum you arrive, in 2007 with a predicted figure of 6.7 billion, which is about right. If we extrapolate that growth to the year 2050, we get a figure of 11.5 billion rather than 9 billion.

But enough of all this mathematics, after all, as Mark Twain, or was it Benjamin Disraeli, said "There are lies, damn lies and statistics".

But what actually does it all mean. I can’t even imagine what 6.7 billion or 9 billion or 11.5 billion people means. I have no concept of that sort of magnitude of figure. How about you?? Thought not.

So how can we express this in terms that we will all understand and that might get to actually mean something.

How about if we go back to the statistics for a minute and see if there is anything else we might be able to comprehend?

My figures show the increase in the population for 2008 at 83.8 million people. Scary huh, I mean that IS an understandable figure. If you live in the UK that would be about 1.25 times the population of the whole country . Or maybe in the USA you could imagine the world population increasing by 10 times the population of New York City or simply 4 times the population of Australia.

So now we do have some imaginable figures. Put simply, not withstanding any change in the eating habits of the world population we just need to produce enough extra food THIS YEAR to feed another 10 New York Cities.

And when we’ve done that, hey come on , it’s April already, then next year the figure is 84.9 million and the year's after 85.9 million. By 2050, my figures show an annual increase of 143 million. So that’s an extra 10 New York Cities this year and another ten (that makes 20) New York Cities next year and so on, year on year.

In the world today we have ten million hunger related deaths every year with almost 5 million of those being children. Developing countries are having to grapple with both the unprecedented consequences of climate change and the huge complexities of biotechnology.

At a time when we are failing to feed the world, we seem to have descended into self interest, seeking to modify grain to ensure the reliance of the poorest amongst us on our grand corporations for decades to come.

At a time when we are failing to feed the world, we have decided to divert food production in order to feed our insatiable thirst for energy, whilst still ensuring that the energy we use is not renewable and can only be provided by the continued intervention of big business.

At a time when we are failing to feed the world, we seem happy to allow market forces to further increase world food prices making it even harder for those developing nations to survive.

But don’t worry, this isn’t a new problem, we’ve known about it for years:

from BioScience , November, 1992
"Though it is certainly possible that intensifying human impact on the planet will precipitate a sudden disaster, it seems more likely that humanity will just gradually erode Earth's life-support capabilities over the next few decades."

And that is what we are doing, gradually eroding the planet’s life supporting resources.

Today, growing your own food is not only a fabulous pastime it is also a big help with the environment, creating vast savings in packaging and transport. As a friend’s blog pointed out recently "No government recognises this vital work", although many have seized upon the opportunity to tax "greenhouse emissions".

Perhaps now is the time to get a tax break for those of us who are helping to reduce pollution and control greenhouse gases; those of us who are providing a degree of self-sufficiency and contributing vastly to food security; those of us who are Kitchen Gardeners.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Who'd be a tomato?

I can tell spring has arrived! My workshop, normally the bastion of wood and metal bashing operations has suddenly taken on a fine green shimmer as boxes of seedlings sit in the window gaining the sunlight but avoiding the late frosts that still catch me out every year. This year, tomatoes and some geraniums fell victim to a late unexpected and unannounced frost. My normally reliable weather forecast showed an overnight temperature of 4C(about 40F) but in the morning the thermometer showed -2C (28F)!

The thin spindly stalks with two tiny leaves on top waving so precariously in the breeze cannot possibly be enough to carry all the information the plant will need to know that it's supposed to be cabbage, or Brussels sprouts, or tomatoes, or even a Broom bush
Now that the seeds are through my only responsibility seems to be to ensure that they have enough water to drink. The workshop provides shelter from the excesses of the climate and the south facing window they sit in provides ample daylight.

But just simply watering is problems enough. - Too much water and everything becomes waterlogged and rots away. A situation I have endured already this year. But there again, too little water and the little seedlings shrivel and wilt. So I plod on, trying to create the experience which will guide me in future years.

Soon now, those seedlings will be big enough to brave the big wide world outside the confines of my workshop and will get to sit in a place of honour in one of the beds of my "Potager". Here, life will really get exciting for them. For the first time they will be blown in the wind, feel the wonderful sensation of fresh rain dropping on their leaves and enjoy basking in the Mediterranean sun. A privilege which many Europeans and those from further afield pay to enjoy!

But here, also in the big wide world, are the threats to survival. Heavy rainfall beating the poor defenceless seedling into the ground, predators, who see such delightful tiny plants as a very welcome addition to their next meal and don't seem to realise that those tiny little plants are only there so that they can become my next meal!

But most will survive. A few will be lost along the way. Others, where the seeds have been sown directly into the ground, will be torn away from the very land that gave them life before they have a chance to become the mature adult they all hope for, by the worst of all the predators - me! I shall arbitrarily decide on life or death for those tiny seedlings based on what? - for sure health will have something to do with it, but most likely it will be the proximity of their neighbours that decides which plants get to live and which to die a premature death.. Imagine, if a world authority could apply the same rules to us humans. "OK. We know we put you in here but now we have decided that there are simply too many people for this patch of land so we are going to thin you all out!"

But the majority will survive all this and will start to climb up and grow. Now that same predator, who only weeks ago was making arbitrary decisions about life and death, suddenly becomes the kind friend and appears everyday with helping hands. "Would you like a little drink?" "Let me tie that loose limb up for you." And then with a perverse twist and a glint,in his eye, the same helpful friend tears another limb from the body saying "Oh you didn't want to start a little spur there!"

By now, that tiny spindly stalk has turned into a vine several feet tall bearing beautiful flowers. The plant knows what it is doing. The survival of the species depends on this plant producing enough fruit to regenerate itself next year. For now, the beautiful flowers are designed to attract a little help from some friends. If they can just attract a bee to transfer the pollen - ahhhh - that's better.

The flower petals fall away and the tiny fruits start to flourish, growing daily.
The tiny spindly seedling has done well It has grown and produced enough fruit to ensure not only the survival of the species but it's prolific expansion. It's had a bit of help along the way and it's survived some overwhelming odds as well. But it has survived and maybe it deserves a pat on the back.

But even now, that biggest of all predators has one final, cruel twist up his sleeve. He carefully pulls and twists the seed bearing fruits from the plant . The helping hand is no longer a friend. He is not pulling the fruit to ensure a good healthy start for the next generation of little plants. No he is going to eat the beautiful, succulent fruit while extolling it's virtues to anyone who will listen!

Who'd be a tomato hey?

Friday, April 4, 2008

Oceans, Play grounds or dump grounds

Now that the weather has warmed up here in south west France I have gone back to taking a cup of coffee onto the terrace after breakfast and sitting for a few moments and enjoying the garden.

This morning was no exception and donning my sunglasses, I settled into my favourite chair. I had only been there a minute or two when a pair of red squirrels emerged from the chestnut tree and played on the grass not 5m (15ft) from me. They seemed happy and totally oblivious to my presence and I enjoyed both their antics and my coffee.

They darted up the tree and back down, across the grass and back to the tree and then they both took off across the vegetable patch and started to play further down the garden at the edge of the orchard.. They were up and down the cherry tree, a plum tree and a big old cypress, often leaping from the branch of one tree down onto a lower branch of the next.

This was the first time I had seen our resident squirrels this year and I was happy that they had survived the winter unscathed. They played on beyond my coffee time and eventually I left them in the garden, playing, and came back indoors to continue my day.
I wanted to drop into a blog I read regularly from southern Australia, written by my friend Kate:

As I watched my 2 squirrels out of the window I read an horrific account of a green turtle hatchling , only 6cms long (2.5 inches) being killed by plastic marine rubbish, off Queensland, Australia. The piece of plastic that killed the hatchling was only about half the size of a fingernail.
Read the full article here:
Apparently, sea turtles are particularly susceptible to the effects of marine rubbish and die a slow and painful death

These two events happened half a world apart. It would have been easy to say, ok here in France my squirrels are doing fine. But plastic thrown into the sea in Queensland may well kill our marine life here, off the coast of France, and equally, our debris, jettisoned into the Atlantic, may have been the cause of this tragedy in Australia.

More and more leisure time, coupled with an increase in leisure spending is resulting in ever increasing numbers of people taking to the seas for their leisure activities. Those activities might be sailing solo or as a passenger on one of the new super cruise ships. However, every one of those people must take a stand and stop allowing the seas and oceans to continue to be used as a planetary waste dump.

The Independent, a UK national newspaper, reported back in February: ""A "plastic soup" of waste floating in the Pacific Ocean is growing at an alarming rate and now covers an area twice the size of the continental United States, scientists have said.
The vast expanse of debris – in effect the world's largest rubbish dump – is held in place by swirling underwater currents. This drifting "soup" stretches from about 500 nautical miles off the Californian coast, across the northern Pacific, past Hawaii and almost as far as Japan.""

I quote from the same report: ""According to the UN Environment Programme, plastic debris causes the deaths of more than a million seabirds every year, as well as more than 100,000 marine mammals. Syringes, cigarette lighters and toothbrushes have been found inside the stomachs of dead seabirds, which mistake them for food.""

A million seabirds, a 100,000 marine mammals, a rubbish dump twice the size of continental United States,. When will this stupid selfishness stop?