This is The ChangeUnderground for the 10th of January 2022.
I’m your host, Jon Moore
Decarbonise the Air, Recarbonise the Soil!
“Buy Me A Coffee”
My cups runneth over!
A big thank you to Jeay and an individual known only as “Someone” who made use of the “Buy Me a Coffee” link at the website and/or in the show notes.
These gestures are gratefully accepted.
A Dry Spell
The dry spell, the hot dry spell that defines our Mediterranean climate here in North West Tasmania normally arrives around mid to late January. It lasts from two to eight weeks. This year it arrived in December, about the 3rd and broke on the 5th of January. I planted the seed stock for the Blue Corn on the afternoon of the 3rd of December. 24mm dropped that night and a week later the young corn plants emerged.
Having had a really wet Spring, there was plenty of soil moisture, the plants grew well. The dry spell broke with 46mm and we’ve had drizzly soft weather ever since. During those five weeks of dryness grasses flowered. Hay fever reactions sky rocketed. I managed to cut the spelt using a korean sickle but picking up the cut spelt triggered real breathing difficulties when I wasn’t sneezing my head off.
It took me a few days to realise what was different this year. No raw, local honey in the house. I tracked some down. It’s like caramel in texture and taste. Only two days of a teaspoon of this honey every couple hours and the symptoms were gone. The forecast for the 46mm was overnight. Necessity being the mother of invention, I threshed the grain into the trailer for the ride-on mower. It took me all day and most of the twilight but I finished. Pushing the trailer into the shed, the first drops of rain hit the corrugated iron roof. It is all about the timing. A second and maybe a third threshing are in the offing before winnowing but the crop is safe.
The question remains, was that our hot dry Summer or is another dry spell coming? None of the older locals can say for sure. Half say that was it for summer and the other half think it was just a warm up. Time will tell.
Either way I move onto cover crops. The Blue Corn will stay in the ground until the first frost to ensure its ripeness. The rest of the growing areas I’ll put down to covers. I’m looking for a frost tender grass species I can overseed with clover, white clover probably but maybe strawberry or a mix. This clover should be well and truly established by next Spring/Summer for strip planting Blue Corn into. From what I’ve seen on Youtube (Link in the show notes), the corn establishes before the clover overruns it and the inter row clover acts as a living mulch. Once the corn is harvested the clover reestablishes quickly and the soil remains covered for the year minus a few weeks in a small area of the clover as the corn establishes.
This might be a thing for the EU where corn growing has particularly tight regulations. Vast areas of soil covered with plastic sheeting was a thing I saw in Co Cork in the summer of 2018. Apparently the rules are changing and the plastic will be banned. I think that’s a good idea, the living clover mulch is a better idea but it’s not my area of expertise. I’ll just throw the idea out there.
What to use as the pre-clover cover crop to smother out everything else? Well the oats I used over last winter smothered everything. I was really impressed. Oats though are bothered by frosts. They seem to thrive on them. Some sort of sorghum might work, finding seeds in a sufficiently small amount for my needs on the island of Van Diemen’s Land is a problem. Bringing any cereal into Tassie is a biosecurity nightmare and the supplies here are all hybrid. Given that I’ll not be saving the seed to replant and the idea is to create a mass of organic matter to collapse onto the surface to feed the clovers, it probably doesn’t matter.
Of the oats I mentioned above, I did harvest enough to cover my seed inputs. They’re sitting very nicely in stooks at present awaiting the threshing and winnowing. The rest I left for the chooks and ducks. It was interesting to see both species picking the seeds from the storks. After they’d done their stripping job, I slashed the remainder. A really very nice amount of mulch on the soil and some deepish roots too. I did have to dig to find out but only a small patch. I suspect the Spelt which grew much more vigorously above ground would have done so underground too.
Technology and Domestication
On the matter of the Spelt. As discussed back in Episode 260 the technology of the culture domesticating a grain had an influence on the outcome produced. Having harvested patches of corn in the past, it is a very pleasant activity. It is at a human scale and while more fun with others, it is not that difficult as a solo harvester. Spelt and the oats too are a different kettle of fish. Hand threshing the spelt over the edge of the trailer I use with the mower was a repetitive, mind numbing exercise. The knowledge that the day and evening I was doing it was my absolute last chance before rain added a sense of purpose but really. The whole process is designed to use temple slaves, edge of starvation peasants or until 1865, Russian serfs, at the scale I’m doing. At larger scales, machinery makes plenty of sense but not always in the climate sense. I know maize is now subject to the same machinery types but it’s initial domestication in a culture without wheeled vehicles or draft animals created a different seed head. Maybe that’s all humans could wangle out of teosinte, the wild original grain but maybe not. It is certainly better suited to my way of thinking and doing. I might also point out that the maize pollen has never triggered hay fever like the old world grasses do. That might just be me and n=1 is not a great data set to base conclusions upon but I report it for your consideration.
Only time will tell if we’re in for any more dry Mediterranean summer spells this summer. The weather is in a La Nina cycle at the moment with increased rains on the eastern half of the mainland and drought in Peru. An El Nino pattern is always just around the corner. It means droughts on the mainland and rain in Peru. And droughts on the mainland mean fires. I’m hopeful of a continued La Nina but not expecting it to carry on much past Summer this year.
I hope things are growing well where you are. We still live in interesting times so make sure you have a little or a lot of food growing insurance near to hand.
And another big thank you to Jeay and an individual known only as “Someone” for the coffees.
And you know the drill. If you need help there’s the free ebook at the World Organic News website and the No Dig gardening course is there too. Links in the show notes.
Decarbonise the air, recarbonise the soil!
Thank you all for listening and I’ll be back next week.
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Bubugo Conservation Trust
Planting Corn into Living Red Clover