Episode 326. Into Year 8

This is The ChangeUnderground for the 6th of February 2023.

I’m your host, Jon Moore

Decarbonise the Air, Recarbonise the Soil!

Way back in the dim dark past of 2016 in those halcyon pre-covid days, on the first of that month, this feed first hit the interwebs in all my naive, open eyed wonder.  A full seven years, that number so beloved of Celtic heroes and their times in the wilderness, the time required to develop a given itch for those of us of a certain age. For the younger listeners, I have provided a link in the show notes. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Seven_Year_Itch) In the interests of accuracy, it was released a full six years before I first burst upon this planet but still a part of my cultural milieu but I digress. 

The past month’s reposting of the most listened-to episodes of the last seven years has raised some interesting points. Weeds are a thing that interests people. It is odd. Having stumbled across Masanobu Fukuoka so many years ago I am unable to accurately remember when, the idea of weeds continually bemuses me. Our immediate past manager at the disability service I work for where I run our horticulture program decided a christmas tree farm would be a brilliant idea. I shrugged, managers come and managers go, I’d humour him and planted the first batch of and we planted the first batch of 200 spindly little radiata pine with the idea of christmas tree sales in four or five years. I mowed a grid, the boys and they are all men at the present time, planted all two hundred in an hour or so one afternoon. We mowed between them and then things changed, mowers died, tyres went flat and the grasses regrew. I was not, having observed Fukuoka principles for a few decades, overly concerned when the grasses over grew the tiny saplings. 

“Don’t panic, think it through. How do these things grow in Nature?” 

The clients and their more troublesome carers would be silent in contemplation for long enough for me to hustle everyone back to our little building and suggest a coffee. Well about two weeks ago as the dry mediterranean style summers we have here kicked into a worryingly dry spell, the grasses died off and there, standing proud above the dying mulch stood about 185 healthy growing larger saplings.

The ground around them had been continuously mown and some clown had clipped an edge of the plantation, taking out five trees before realising their error. 

Lesons Learned

Valuable lessons are being imparted to my charges, both paying clients and employed staff.

In the glasshouse, the annual dose of whitefly have arrived. We, I and my charges, have discussed, googled, tried and failed at many things over the years to overcome this annual treat. This year we have attempted a two pronged approach. Aluminium foil strips on the mulch to attract the whitefly away from the undersides of the bean leaves and calendula and nasturtiums to repel them from the beds in the first place. Every source we checked stated with biblical certainty that the two aforementioned plants would be so unpalatable and release such aromas that the whitefly would commit seppuku rather than suffer their charms. The aluminium foil was a “well we’ve tried everything else, can’t hurt” approach. The foil seemed to be being effective, until it wasn’t. The calendula and the nasturtiums were/are an altogether different matter. The whitefly, our particular ones anyway, seem to have a particular liking for these companion plants.

Rather than repelling the pests, they have moved in, rung their entire families and brought them over a holiday in our glasshouse. 

Previous tricks included hanging white sheets covered in surface spray, yellow fly papers to attract and hold the pests and neem oil. The neem oil sort of worked but also killed the plants we had sprayed so not really a viable option. The sheets and fly papers did attract some whitefly but, I suspect, only the dim witted ones thereby improving the locals through Darwinian selection. On an up note, whilst the beans are being destroyed by the whitefly, the broccoli and the kale are not. Equally gratifying is the survival of the gifted strawberry plants. Two people have dropped off surplus strawberry plants over the past year. The first lot struggled for months before bursting into life and producing both fruits, some even making it out of the glasshouse, and runners. The second delivery has followed the same pattern but has burst into life much more quickly.

The plan is to slowly replace the vegetable beds with strawberries in the glasshouse and eventually the two polytunnels running alongside them. This will make the program more than self funding. The plan then is to start planting raspberries in the outdoor area of about 400m2. This will make us well and truly profitable and fund blueberries and bird netting. 

The plan then is to value add. Creating jams, preserves and sauces to upskill our people further with both practical production skills and business skills too. 

Besides the upskilling, the point is, we have adapted to the conditions, the annual whitefly issue and headed towards things that do not interest those pests. Therefore they will not be an issue. We avoided the burning of fossil fuels in the proto christmas tree farm and this benefited the trees while teaching a valuable lesson. How far the teaching travels is a difficult thing to predict. The inertia of “this is the way we have always done things” is difficult to overcome but like water on a stone, I keep dropping little examples and the clients get it, the staff, not so much but then they already know. It is as difficult to add new knowledge to those who already know as it is to add more tea to a full cup. Namaste.

The ChangeUnderground Academy no-dig gardening course is still available. Link in the show notes. Please tell your friends! 

Decarbonise the air, recarbonise the soil!

Thank you all for listening and I’ll be back, all things being equal, next week.



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The Seven Year Itch


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