Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Being eco-friendly

One thing I will cheerfully admit to is being thrilled every time I get a comment on my blog. This is no doubt sustained by the relative paucity of comments I get, of course, so every little bit of encouragement/ feedback/ criticism flung my way is appreciated.

Yesterday, blogger Kenneth Moore, of Indoor Gardener, left a comment, inviting me to participate in a thing called a meme. As far as I can gather, a meme is a bit like a chain letter, but classier and much more internetty. Kenneth's meme is about Earth Month, and the topic is "five things I can do to help the environment". The rules of the meme involve doing a post on this topic, then inviting five other bloggers to do so. And so the meme grows. Apparently the people responsible for starting all this meme-ing are here.

This long introduction is merely an excuse to buy time, trying to decide whether I'll participate or not! I used to cheerfully tear up and throw away all chain letters I received as a child, thinking of my letterbox as the Aussie Black Hole of chain letters. And I didn't end up with a single spot of plague, pestilence or even mere bad luck as payback for my churlishness. However, as this meme is in a good cause I have decided to compromise and cooperate partially. I'll post something on the topic, and in so doing, publicise the meme, but I'm afraid I have no intention of inflicting a chain letter/meme on anyone else. Just cannot bring myself to do that, after a lifetime of cheerful, churlish chain letter burning!

And so begins my uncooperative contribution: "Five things I actually do to help the environment".

1. Make compost and garden as organically as I possibly can.
Pictured above is the last batch of compost I made, and another of the same size is about to make its way onto a friend's garden. I blogged on at length about my love of composting here. All I can say is that if you tried composting and found it all a bit tiresome and/or difficult, persist and try again. As for gardening organically, it's simple: use manures and compost as your fertilisers, and cut out the toxic sprays. There are organic sprays available, and they work if you acknowledge that they require more effort and persistence to make them work, compared with the toxic stuff, which is more like garden napalm.

2. Grow at least some of your own food.
Not only does home-grown food taste good, it feels good to grow it and eat it. I don't have enough space to grow all that much food, but I like to have a go at growing almost anything I feasibly can. Here's some of last year's crop of King Edward potatoes, and very yummy they were, too! In my small space I concentrate on growing herbs (which I use all the time in cooking), salad greens and leafy green vegies, none of which take up much space, but I'm always trying something more adventurous, too. Growing your own food has its share of successes and failures, and sometimes it's the little crop failures which remind this city boy about the farmer's precarious lot in life. I think the more people learn to empathise with farmers, the more they'll understand the environmental problems and difficulties that surround farming.

3. Share your garden with insects, and try to practise 'live and let live' as much as possible.
Sure, it's easy to share your potato crop with a pretty little ladybird like this one, but it's harder to share the space with a hungry caterpillar which is just trying to become a butterfly while it eats your crops, or a scary, hairy black spider which is just trying to feed its family while it's giving you a fright. Put away the insect sprays and let them have their little munch on your crops, I say. (However, I do admit that snails probably regard me as no better than Godzilla.)

4. Not only share your garden with local wildlife but also provide them with food and shelter where you can. Add your backyard to the growing chain of wildlife-friendly oases!

This wattlebird is a member of a family which has been resident in our front and back gardens for many years. They love the grevillea flowers which are available year round, but their favourite place is our winter-flowering gum tree (our street tree) which provides them, and an assortment of other honeyeaters, with nectar for five to six months every year. We also have set up two birdbaths in the backyard, and change the water frequently. By allowing insects to thrive in the backyard little insect-eaters such as Blue Wrens and Silvereyes are regular visitors here. Bulbuls have been building nests in our murrayas and olive trees for years now. Even though we're in the inner city we're visited by a remarkable range of native birds – spotted pardalotes, cockatoos, lorikeets, cuckoo shrikes and many more (including a lost egret one day) – and the reason for this I am sure is that more and more backyards are springing up just like ours, with wildlife-friendly people like Pam and me doing our little bit to add to the chain of wildlife-friendly oases within the urban desert.

5. Learn to cook, then do it often.
This is easy enough for me to say, as I've been cooking since I was 10 years old. I love it. But I do think learning to cook puts you in contact with the simple ingredients of food – real ingredients such as vegetables, fruits, grains, pulses and meats, not processed gloop or manufactured 'products' full of additives. Why is this good for the environment? Simple, it will change the way you think about food, and as food production is such a huge environmental issue, it will help you focus on this issue in a new way.
(However, I should add that 45 years ago I didn't start cooking because of environmental awareness! I was just a greedy little boy who loved eating, and I wanted to learn how to cook all the delicious things that mum made, so I could become independent and cook them for myself, when I wanted them. I think it was apple crumble that got me started.)

And so endeth my contribution to this Earth Hour meme. I must add that of the people I know who are keen greenies, very few have a decent garden or even a passable knowledge of their local wildlife. And so, my sixth – and free bonus amazing offer! – Earth Hour memo is to actually get out there and practise what you preach, rather than just preaching it.


Michelle said...

I agree with you on all points, but I draw the line at sharing my vegetables with the wildlife. They can munch on stuff outside the veggie garden, but trespassers in the vegetable patch beware! But, I'm really not that mean, I do plant flowers in the vegetable garden for the bugs. And my primary mode of defense is barriers - fences, netting, fabric...

charlotte said...

But what do you do about snails? I leave everything else alone, but those pesky buggers in my (also inner west) garden are seek-and-destroyers of every new bit of goodness. I am ruthless and have tried all organic methods - beer traps etc - but found the only thing to really work is pellets. I do use the 'organic' ones, but not sure if they really are organic? The ones that reputedly break down and put some mineral or other into the soil ... any better ideas? Is there a way of preventing snail infestation?

Jamie said...

Hi Charlotte
Great to make contact with you, by the way, via Fenella. As for pesky snails, a couple of things. The 'organic' snail baits are based on iron, so they're not toxic to lizards, cats, dogs or other innocent bystanders, and they work pretty well on snails and slugs.
I'm a great believer in seek and destroy methods, and also entrapment (it's illegal if you're FBI, but OK if you're a gardener). Snails love the undersides of pot rims, and the inside of dense thicket of stalks and leaves (for example, they hide out at the base of my orchids, aspidistras and cardamom plants) and so I patrol this beat regularly, finding and squishing them. Finally, I prop 'open' upturned empty pots to trap snails, leaving these in damp, cool, dark areas in the garden. In the morning, the snails which crashed out there for the night meet a grisly fate. (I'm reminded of that line from 'Blade Runner' – "Wake up, time to die").
I find the regular patrolling cuts their numbers to tolerable levels. The odd snail still gets to have a major munch on the odd seedling or shoot here and there, but about 95% of what I plant makes it through to adulthood.

Georgina said...

Hi Jamie,

I know it's a bit weird commenting on a post which is more than three years old, but you said you liked comments, so "hi!".

I stumbled across your blog searching some combination of growing and garden-related search terms and "sydney", since I am currently toying with the idea of growing some things to eat... I think it would be a good hobby and there is a fairly large area of unused land that seems to be attached to the block of apartments that I live in. (I've seen over residents growing chilli plants but mostly there's just long grass and broken bottles and abandoned shopping trolleys).

If you ever see this post, I wonder if you might be able to give me some advice about what would be a nice easy starting project. I live in the inner west in Sydney, and I'm a time-poor uni student of somewhat limited means.

I guess I should start with some herbs in pots and prove that I can take care of those first, before I am trusted with anything much taller. What do you think?

Actually, after reading more of your blog, I'm tempted to try planting some garlic -- both in Sydney and also (as an experiment), in a little patch at my grandparents' place in the Blue Mountains. Sounds like garlic might prefer the cold...


Jamie said...

Hi Georgina

Here's a few tips...

1. Sunshine: whatever you do with growing food, do it in the sunniest spot you have, preferably one that gets at least six hours a day of sunshine bearing down on your plants. If you lack sunshine, your plants will struggle and probably not thrive.

2. Garlic is a bit iffy in Sydney and will do better up in the hills, but of course it can be grown here, so give it a go if you want.

3. If gardening in pots, the bigger the pot the better, and good quality potting mix really is necessary.

4. Good candidates for pots, planted now in autumn and growing into winter in Sydney are

Herbs: chives, parsley, oregano, coriander, thyme, rosemary, mint (in semi-shade). Of these, parsley and coriander do best grown from seed, rather than seedlings. It's too cold now for basil, by the way.

Vegies: lettuce, rocket, broccoli, carrots, shallots, Asian greens such as bok choy, choy sum, wombok. And it's too cold now for tomatoes.

5. If I was starting out as a beginner and looking for sure success, I'd have:
• one pot of herbs, say chives (great snipped into scrambled eggs, or over steamed potatoes) and coriander (with Asian dishes of all sorts). Coriander actually grows better in winter here than in summer.
• another big pot planted with bok choy or choy sum down one end, plus shallots at the back.
• another big pot planted with lettuce (at the garden centre, they sell punnets of 'Combo' lettuce seedlings, a mix of different lettuce colours and types, about six plants, which is plenty.) You could also grow some rocket in that pot – it does best from seed (the seeds come up in just 4-5 days, very excting!) but the rocket grows so fast that it will be ready to use before the lettuce is ready.

6. Down at the garden centre, buy some liquid plant food, such as Nitrosol, Powerfeed, Charlie Carp or something like that. These are organic-based and work well. Feed your crops with this stuff once a fortnight and you should be on your way. Don't get Seasol: it's not a fertiliser. It does a great job in helping plants establish, but it's not a fertiliser.
Liquid foods are better for gardening in pots than manures etc.

Good luck and best wishes Georgina!

Georgina said...

Thanks for such a quick reply, and helpful advice!

I'll let you know how it goes =)