Silent Saturday – My Clean Energy Future

Climate Scientists from Macquarie University, The University of Melbourne and Monash Sustainability Institute recently held a competition for anyone to create a film demonstrating the positive effects of a clean energy future, called “Green Screen Climate Fix Flicks“.

The purpose of the competition is part of the greater purpose of the association of these three organisations to raise awareness of and promote sustainable living. Given the similarity between this objective and that of my blog, I thought I’d have a go.

Using the camera in my phone and my trusty old laptop, here is what I came up with – “Silent Saturday“.

The film features my new (figuratively speaking) water tank and stand and new veggie patch, which are to be the included in a future article covering the new additions to my backyard, the tomato plants the topic of my last post, my bike, the often cited Portland tip shop and vegan cooking, all elements of my idea of sustainable world.

I really hope you enjoy it.


You say tomato, I grow tomato!

Welcome to the first article for the year.

Over the small break from work and blogging, I spent some more time than I usually find for digging up the garden and turning these evolving green thumbs a nicer shade of soil brown. I will post another article looking at all the activities I undertook, including digging a new patch and planting in pots (including an old washing machine cylinder).

But, the purpose of this post is one particular veggie I planted, the beloved tomato. Whether cooked as part of a hot breakfast, cold in a salad or between bread as part of a toasted sandwich, how could I not want to have a go at growing them?

I gathered some seedlings from friends and family, and had a collection of 10 of varying ages. The largest plants were planted at the southern end of the new veggie patch, so that they couldn’t block out the smaller plants. The same principle applies to all plants in a patch, as can be seen with the eggplants and capsicum plants I’ve put in with the tomatoes.

Like always, a well prepared soil with plenty of compost dug into it greatly enhances the prospect of a successful crop. Further, tomato plants start to droop pretty quickly in hot weather, even though they are a summer fruit, and a good watering at the time of planting and during their life is essential.

There are some extra tips with tomato growing. One, is that the plants need to be staked once they grow to height where they start to flop due to the weight they are carrying. The stakes don’t need to be anything special, I grabbed some long thing pieces of wood from the local tip shop (which the attendant thought was nothing but trash and refused to charge me for) and I’ve tied he plants to them using elastic from some old singlets and some old shoelaces.

The second tip is to pull off any branches that begin growing in the fork where two other branches already exists. This forces the plant to focus on growing the fruit, as opposed to growing more branches, and will see your crop grow immensely. The following two photos show what to look for:

Here is the branch growing in the fork….

And now its gone!

Some of the more mature plants started fruiting within 2 to 3 weeks from the time they were transferred into the garden using these two tips. The smaller plants are well established and have few small flowers, sure signs that there will be more to come.

Finally, in order to be truly sustainable, leave aside some tomatoes to take the seeds from which can then be planted the next spring/early summer for your next crop. To do this, cut the tomatoes in half and remove the seeds. Either using a sieve with running water or on a paper towel, remove the tomato flesh from around the seeds. The seeds need to be left for a couple of weeks to dry out. Once dried, simply store them (using old glass jars is great for storage so long as they are clean and dry) until needed.

Enjoy the process, learning is half the fun. If anyone has any comments or further tips, please feel free to comment.


Dig it up! The veggie patch bears more fruit

I was watering the veggie patch the other night, when I spotted the tops of a number of carrots in the line of seeds I had planted and which had been growing the quickest.

Eager as I have been lately to taste more of what I had grown after recently picking the peas I had grown, I started to pull up the carrots that were just showing their tops out of the soil.

One by one, the thick orange roots that supported the green foliage I had been feverishly watering for the last number of weeks came out of the ground. It is amazing that these had started from some of the tiniest seeds that I had grown.

There are still more carrots waiting to be pulled up which need some more time to grow.

Given that the shrubs that had grown from the potatoes that I had planted had mostly died off, bar one which continued to grow, I decided that it was time to see if the potatoes had flourished to the same extent that the carrots had. Unfortunately, only the potatoes growing as tubers to the longest lasting plant had grown to a decent size.

Although a little disappointing, trial and error is part of the fun. Next time, I’ll try planting the potatoes in a sunnier part of the patch to see if that will promote better growth.

Apart from the remaining carrots, only the brussels sprouts are left, and they need some tending to eradicate their growing attraction to some moths – but that will be part of another article looking at organic ways to deter pests.

If any gardeners out there have any suggestions or questions I’d be happy to hear from you!

Portable, Recycled, Greenhouse!

This article also appears on the ACF Greenhome website.

There are a number of vegetables that, when grown from seed, need (or very much appreciate) a bit of a helping hand when germinating. The most recommended method is to plant your seeds into a seed bed until the plant sprouts, and then to transfer the seedling into your veggie patch.

A great advantage of doing this is that it enables a gardener to begin growing the next crop of veggies before harvesting the current crop, giving you a good head start for the next season.

The trouble with planting seeds earlier in the season is that it is usually too cold for the seeds to germinate. This is where a greenhouse comes into its own. By trapping the infrared heat produced when sunlight bounces back off the earth, the greenhouse creates the warmer climate (the greenhouse effect) to help these seeds germinate earlier.

If you’re stuck for room to build a full size greenhouse, or want to use the greenhouse only for seeds and not for growing any other plants, there are a number of alternatives that can be found both on the internet and in gardening books.

Like my other projects on this site, I’ve looked to build something using only materials that I’ve found or bought second hand. To this end, I found an old window, a wooden gate and a piece of discarded 4×2.

It took a bit of time to remove the palings from the gate (and remove a litany of nails) but once done, it didn’t take long to cut the pieces to size and fix the window to it. And the result is this:

As you can see, the window is mounted to the box on hinges so that the seed trays can be easily accessed for watering. The seed box isn’t too big or too heavy, so it can be moved from place to place or put away when not in use.

The window is on an angle when closed so that it can face north (depending on where you are located) and let in as much light as possible.

The only thing left to add is a handle for ease of use!

This is just an example of a really simple design, built with common tools and something that doesn’t take long to build, that you can use or adapt given the materials you find to help your practical, green action.

Please feel free to comment on this design or with any of your own thoughts or designs.

ACF Green Home Q&A

I was recently asked to answer questions from Australian Conservation Foundation Green Home followers about the growth of my veggies and what are the easiest veggies to grow.

My answers to the questions are here and here.

The Q&A is a continuing project of the ACF Green Home project and one I’m stoked to be a part of.

Why I’m Vegan

One part, albeit a small part, of climate change discussions and ideas for reducing human impacts on climate, relates to food consumption choices. These discussions, particularly discussions about the how consumption of meat increases green house gases (GHGs) and how great an impact a reduction in consuming meat will have on the emission of GHGs, motivated me to explain why I made my choice, and to research further the current state of science in this area.

But a full review of the current science on the total green house effects of meat production, the impact of reducing meat consumption and the factors inhibiting action being taken (which largely lie in the realms of political and social science) is beyond a blog post. I intend to complete my reasearch in the form of a fully referenced journal article, with the hope of having it published.

I became a vegetarian about 2 years ago, and vegan about 1 year ago.

The pretence for making this decision was my growing concern about climate change and the destruction of environment.

It is proved (in so far as any scientist can  prove how complicated natural systems work and how those systems are affected by various factors with 100% confidence) that the intensive agricultural farming of livestock for human consumption results in significant tracts of land being cleared of native vegetation which, with the production of animal products itself, causes GHGs to be emitted. signatories to the Kyoto protocol are required to monitor these emissions, amongst emissions from other industries. Australia’s most recent report fulfilling this obligation is here.

Vegetation uses carbon dioxide (CO2) as ‘food’ in the process of photosynthesis. Therefore, the clearing of land for agricultural purposes (or any other financial or political use for that matter) results in a reduction of the earth’s ability to absorb this greenhouse gas, putting pressure on other carbon sinks to absorb more carbon dioxide. As there is a limit to the rate vegetation can absorb CO2 (which was recently reviewed in an article in the journal Nature, here), there will ultimately be a build up of CO2 in the atmosphere where the rate of output is greater than the rate of absorption.

Even when livestock is fed with grain or corn, usually whilst held in small bays within a farm shed and using less land, CO2 emissions are still created in the energy used to produce and transport that feed to the farm, as well as in the construction, maintenance, powering etc of the sheds.

This is not to say that growing of fruit and vegetables do not have their own carbon footprint in their methods of commercial production, but it does have a significantly smaller GHG footprint in these particular parts of the agricultural process.

However, the farming of livestock has as its greatest output of GHGs not as a result of CO2, but methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O). CH4 in particular has greater green house gas effect than CO2, although its time lingering in the atmosphere is smaller.

So great are the emissions created by the consumption of meat, red meat in particular, that Weber and Matthews (2008) found that

only 21-24% reduction in red meat consumption, shifted to chicken, fish or an average vegetarian diet lacking dairy, would achieve the same reduction as total localization

Localisation refers to the concept that the closer to home we source our food, the lower the GHG emissions required. This study, based on observations in the United States, raises the point of how great an impact that a reduction in red meat and related product consumption can have on GHG emissions.

This is just an example of the questions science is asking itself to determine how much impact such changes can have on the environment.

Lastly, the population of the human race throughout the world is growing, and growing quicker than ever before. It is projected to reach a climax mid-century, but the growth until then is extreme. The reliance on the meat industry to feed the population will place a greater need on agricultural farming and, therefore, land clearing and GHG production, as more farms and livestock are required.

I don’t proclaim that Veganism is the only means to an environmental end, as Weber and Matthews above make clear. I don’t have any doubt that if the majority of the population that consume animal products limited their intake even to half the amount they currently consume, this would dramatically reduce GHG emissions. 

For me, the logical extrapolation of this information was to stop eating all animal products to get the greatest environmental impact.

Further, there is no doubt that politics, culture and global capitalism will affect the extent that such a change in diet will have worldwide.

For example, I have heard the argument that all the grain used to feed animals could feed the third world, assisting in an elevation in living standards (and a reduction in the reliance on meat as cheap food) in the third world, reducing emissions in both the first and third worlds as a result. This could be plausible. But such an oversupply of grain will reduce demand and lower its price, and no grain supplier will allow that to occur. Warehousing the surplus, limiting supply and maintaining the price will be of greatest benefit to the grain industry.

Such societal factors have been cited by Richard Eckard and he concludes that a reduction in meat consumption is not a viable option for all of the world population, and that technological advances are the better way forward. However, Popp et al (2010) have managed to include such factors in their models predicting the likely effects of a reduction in meat consumption and arrived at the opposite conclusion.

I don’t mean to imply that this is how society should work or resign myself to the contention that it this is how it will always work; I implicitly argue that there are better social structures that humans could use to both our and the environment’s advantage. This is an argument for a more detailed paper, but is something that Naomi Klein recently wrote at length about, and with whom I completely agree that climate change is a symptom of the much larger problem of societal, particularly economic, structure.

The choice of diet is a unique and individual choice and not something that can compelled upon someone.

I hope that this article inspires even a few to consider more deeply their eating habits, and perhaps change a few diets.

Update: Veggie Patch and the Home Made Bean Climber

This article was originally posted on the Australian Conservation Foundation’s Green Home website on 21 October 2011. Click here to read this post on the Green Home website.

Given my lack of expertise in all things requiring green thumbs or power tools, I thought it righteous not to broadcast whether my new veggie patch and the pea and bean climber had actually provided any success.

Fortunately, I can say that it has. And how happy am I!

I was concerned that the lack of cross beams may make it difficult for the beans I had planted to grap hold of the climber. But, as you can see, the tendrils have wrapped themselves gracefully around the vertical strings, and are slowly making their way ever-skywards.

I cant adequately express how gratifying it is to see a simple idea, with simple materials and tools, actually work! I recommend such tinkering to anyone who will listen.

The climber wasn’t the only experiment. The veggie patch, both the design using corrugated iron and the patch itself, being a deep bed, were both speculative creations.

Again, I’m glad to say that, mostly, it is a success. You can see the potato plants flourishing, along with the peas and the 2 lines of carrots.

I had planted a third line, closer to the patch barrier. However, the barrier casts a shadow of this line most of the day, and it has only grown in patches. I’d therefore recommend to anyone considering a similar design, to account for height of the barrier and location of the sun in relation to your patch.

But, it has largely been a success and I plan on building a second, similar veggie patch very soon. And I can’t wait to start gathering the produce!

Good luck with your gardening.