Republic of Moreland

May 25, 2007

How Exxon-Mobil and the Howard government meddled with my backyard

Filed under: Backyard experiment,gardening,gardens,politics,urban farming — Kath @ 10:40 am

Somehow I doubt the Howard government’s $23 million advertising blitz to try and persuade Australians that the government is tackling global warming is going to wash with my apple tree. Without losing its leaves, it has started blossoming. That’s right: my apple tree thinks it’s spring.

Pictured above is a branch from my plum tree, against this morning’s newspaper. That’s right: it’s started blossoming, too! Despite the carbon lobbyists’ campaigns, it too thinks it’s spring. It’ll get a rude shock when winter finally does arrive, and all that energy will be wasted. I wonder if it will fruit at all. I wonder when I can take cuttings to graft, since the plants’ hormones are so out of whack.

Just as I was gearing up to the miserable end of my summer vegie patch, just as I contemplated building a hothouse, I get a whole new bumper crop of tomatoes. In autumn. It’s almost mid-year, almost winter, and I’m still picking summer produce. I’ve still got lettuces, broccholi and beans in force.

I should be overjoyed, of course. With climate change, as The Age reported this morning, autumn is the new spring. With record temperature rises:

Normally flowering in the hottest months of summer, they are blooming with profusion right now.

Experts say temperature changes are reducing the difference between seasons, sending many plant varieties into a spin.

Melbourne is heading for a record warm May as the average maximum temperature hovers at 20 degrees, significantly higher than the historic monthly average of 16.7 degrees.

We can expect to enjoy longer vegie seasons with global warming. But we can expect the downside, too: extreme weather and very confused plants. The warmer weather is also bringing unseasonal fungi and insects into our backyards. Just last week I cut a budding citrus-wasp nest out of my lime tree. They’re suppossed to happen around September.

My nectarine tree hasn’t even started losing its leaves. My nashi tree, peach tree and grape vines haven’t lost theirs.

I’m really interested in how these weather patterns are affecting back yards, so I’d be grateful if anyone visiting would record their experiences in the comments.

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May 22, 2007

“It’s very new Brunswick”

Filed under: Brunswick,cafes & pubs,food,Lygon Street,Sydney Road — Kath @ 10:11 am

It was very new Brunswick to see the feature in today’s Age, called ‘Backyard Barista’. I can’t link to it, cos it’s not online: but apparently this obscurity is precisely what makes things “very new Brunswick.”

I nearly spluttered my very new Brunswick Fair Trade Organic Coffee when I read the double-page spread by Cheap Eats editor Nina Rousseau. In an otherwise good roundup of the best Brunswick cafés (including A Minor Place, El Mirage, Ray’s, La Paloma, Sugardough), Rousseau’s account slumped into ethnocentric journalese when she attempted to capture the local cant. Quoting no-one but her own publication, she wrote:

The Age Cheap Eats 2007 describes A Minor place as “new Brunswick” and you’ll often hear the term dropped meaningfully into conversations — “It’s very new Brunswick” —to describe something more than cosmetic. It’s becoming a style; a term to describe a particular look and demographic… To open a “new Brunswick”-style café anywhere in Melbourne you will need… cool indie tunes, resident funksters…”

Now call me insular, but I’ve never heard any ‘resident funkster’ [ahem] drop “It’s very new Brunswick” into conversations at any of these cafés. Maybe because I don’t mix in the real estate and market branding circles that Nina appears to. But I suspect this is not so much ear-to-the-ground, word-on-the-street reportage as… well, something else. Cringeworthy, made-up puff, perhaps.

But I’m happy to be proved wrong. If anyone, anywhere, knows of a conversation that “meaningfully” incorporated “It’s very new Brunswick,” please record it here.

___________

Postscript: I just googled “very new Brunswick”. Lo and behold: The Age reviewer Matt Preston also used it in a review of A Minor Place: probably the very same review as in the Cheap Eats Guide. He also writes that café is frequented by “art school lesbian” types and “older locals who look like hip, SBS-watching teachers”. Don’t these (apparently Eastern Suburbs commercial tv-watching) Age reviewers ever get out?

May 21, 2007

Solar info for Morelanders

Filed under: architecture,environment,gardens,notices — Kath @ 7:14 pm

These pictures are for Faith, who asked about integrating roof gardens and solar panels.

There’s a site which explains about integration of green roofs and solar panels here.

Faith also alerted me to the Moreland Energy Foundation‘s solar power information session on 31 May.

The sesssion will cover:

  • Information on solar power technology
  • Displays of solar paneles and hot water systems
  • Information on prices for various systems
  • An opportunity to register interest in group discounts for people living in the same area.
  • May 17, 2007

    When ‘science’ is bought and sold

    Filed under: Brunswick,food,health,politics — Kath @ 2:31 pm

    Brunswick Labornet reports a science and maths boost for public schools around here. A good thing. And timely, considering Australia’s Chief Scientist Jim Peacock has just come out and said that our brightest students are avoiding science.

    But considering some other wild things Jim Peacock claimed this week, and considering the Bracks’ governments’ apparent closed shop and done deals on important science issues, I’m wondering what sort of science will be encouraged in our schools. Will it be evidence-based science? Will it be science that serves the needs of people? Or will it be the sort of science endorsed by our Chief Scientist? His website doesn’t, as you might expect, endorse “Empirical, disinterested science that meets the needs of society”, but “An independent perspective, based in industry and science”. A big difference when you think about it. And note that industry comes before science.

    (Also, don’t you love that euphemism “independent”? As in “independent schools”, aka “commercial learning shops on the corporate welfare gravy train”?)

    Here’s how the Bracks government decides on GM food issues. It doesn’t consult the 80 per cent of farmers who support a ban on GM food crops; nor does it consult the majority of shoppers who don’t want it. In all polls taken by industry and AC Neilson, and all media polls, the majority of Australians reject GM food. (This majority, according to our Chief Scientist Jim Peacock, are in fact “self-serving” “unprincipled minorities”. So much for empirical science advice. And a bit rich, coming from someone who probably stands to gain from his current lobbying to overturn GM bans.) Nor does the Bracks government consult with our overseas markets that reject GM produce; nor with those independent scientists who oppose GM foods.

    gm-for-vic.jpgInstead, it holds closed-shop meetings at Parliament with the industry lobbyists, the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA). Now, from its history, it would appear to me the IPA doesn’t endorse empirical science. The IPA has a history of lobbying for the tobacco industry, and I’ve got a nice little collection of climate-change denying and GM-promoting literature from them. They’re famously secretive about their funding sources, but they’re reportedy sponsored by Monsanto and other multinational giants.

    Now, with the ban on GM food crops up for review, since members of the Victorian government are happy to hold meetings at Parliament with whacko industry lobbyists, will it hold meetings with those whacko citizen-supported groups like, say, the Public Health Association of Australia, the Conservation Foundation, the Network of Concerned Farmers, the Union of Concerned Scientists, Greenpeace and GeneEthics? After all, these independent (of industry funding) groups, unlike the IPA, have widespread electoral support. In a democracy, you’d think that counts.

    But somehow I don’t think so. I had a word with a couple of these groups this morning. They tried to RSVP to go to this closed-shop meeting, but they were told they couldn’t.

    So come on, guys at Labornet, defend this one.

    May 13, 2007

    Revegetating our nature strips

    000_0647.jpg

    • Revegetated nature strip in Rennie Street, Coburg.

    Fanged if I can figure why urban councils don’t encourage nature-strip vegetation (other than lawn and maybe a single tree). After all, it’s in their best interests.

    The Age reports that “big leafy trees can often add more value to a house than an expensive renovation”, and that “Real estate agents agree that a good streetscape can add 30 per cent to the price of a property.”

    There’s nothing to suggest this isn’t true of understory vegetation too. The Age also reports that

    Houses in and around Separation Street, Northcote, used to overlook a municipal tip until the council transformed the site into All Nations Park, he says. Not surprisingly, values soared.

    “Property values went up overnight by 20 to 30 per cent,” Mr Valentic says.

    The reason is obvious. As Michael Pollan has written, it seems we’re hard-wired to enjoy a pastoral sensibility that lies in that comfort zone between nature and culture. (Where in that zone your comfort range falls is probably cultural and generational: my elderly Italian neighbours on one side and my middle-age Lebanese neighbours on the other prioritise pavers, stones and cement over living landscape.)

    In light of current urban planning values, lawns are as outmoded as the Cyprus hedge.

    • most residents use fossil fuel to mow lawns
    • lawns are high-maintenance
    • exotic lawn grasses seed competitive weeds on our creek banks
    • you get better stormwater and weed management from a bush garden than a strip of lawn

    There are some very inspirational native nature-strips around Westgarth, and some orchard strips as well. I was intrigued by a link provided by Marty in his comment about an earlier post on urban farming. He linked to a site discussing the philosophy and practice of guerrilla gardening (or ‘green graffiti’). I’m scheming a bit of guerrilla gardening myself. My Loquat tree spawned hundreds of baby trees this summer, and I’m nursing them to replanting stage. I’m going to target specific bare nature-strip sites around Coburg and plant them at the end of winter. Hopefully people will leave them to grow and fruit, so Coburg can enjoy the Victory garden philosophy. I shall document my endeavours: watch this space.

    May 10, 2007

    Green roofs could make more land in Moreland

    This is what I’d like to see more of in residential Moreland:

    And, in our light industrial areas, this:

    A brand new gallery of photographs of green roofs from around the world is on the Green Roofs for Healthy Australian Cities website. Just follow the links to the photo gallery.

    May 3, 2007

    Another reason the State should support home vegie patches

    Oh, Bettina, Bettina. In your plagiarised article, syndicated in newspapers Australia-wide, you claimed that organic food was more dangerous than factory-farmed food. There are too many outright lies in this copied-and-pasted industry spin article to unpack here, but they have been adequately discredited elsewhere.

    But you got me thinking about the ongoing lobbying efforts to discredit organic food — even in our suburban vegie patches. Recently, our own Melbourne Times printed some typesetting claiming the answer for home vegie gardeners could be genetically modified crops.

    “Efforts to grow drought-resistant crops,” typed Kirsten Alexander, “could extend to the garden… Once crops have been created to cope with drought there’s surely an opportunity to offer genetically modified, drought-tolerant plants to the gardening public.”

    This is WAY unlikely, Kirsten. For a start, no such GM commercial crops exist, or have been field-trialled. And repeatedly, industry and independent polling shows that the overwhelming majority of Australians don’t want GM. And a poll by the South Australian Farmers’ Federation revealed 80 per cent of farmers didn’t want it, either, and supported a moratorium on it. There’s no reason to suppose we urban farmers will feel any differently.

    And the rhetoric of drought-tolerance coming from industry isn’t matched by peer-review studies. The promises of (patented, monopoly-owned) GM crops — lower yields, drought tolerance, pesticide tolerance, save the third world — look good, but are simply not backed by evidence.

    Back to sexologist-turned-industry-lobbyist Bettina’s campaign. I’m reading Michael Pollan’s magnificent book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Did I mention that this book is stupendous? Part history, part gastronomy, part biology and politics and philosophy and intrigue, it’s so elegantly researched and written that even those not interested in food production would love it, I swear. It reads as a giant literary essay, and as Penelope Hobhouse said, it’s “as compelling as a detective thriller.” Buy this book: it’s peerless. Really. (If you want examples of Michael Pollan’s writings, they’re here.)

    Something I’m learning about from this book is how the by-products of war became integral in industrialised agriculture. In particular, the introduction of petroleum-nitrogen fertilisers meant farmers no longer had to rotate their crops (for example, with legumes, which fix nitrogen in the soil, or livestock, whose poo also adds nitrogen). Using nitrogen fertilizers derived from fossil-fuels, farmers could now plant monocrops repeatedly in the one space:

    Liberated from the old biological constraints, the farm could now be managed on industrial principles, as a factory transforming inputs of raw material–chemical fertilizer–into outputs of corn. Since the farm no longer needs to generate and conserve its own fertility by maintaining a diversity of species, synthetic fertilizer opens the way to monoculture, allowing the farmer to bring the factory’s economics of scale and the mechanical efficiency to nature.

    … From the standpoint of industrial efficiency, it’s too bad we can’t simply drink petroleum directly, because there’s a lot less energy in a bushel of corn (measured in calories) than there is in the half-gallon of oil required to produce it. Ecologically, this is a fabulously expensive way to produce food…

    Put another way, he writes, “it takes more than a calorie of fossil fuel energy to produce a calorie of food.” The traditional farm, on the other hand, “produced more than two calories of food energy for every calorie of energy invested.”

    More than this. Nitrogen fertilizers decrease our food’s nutrient content. Graham Harvey has documented the ways nitrogen fertilisers don’t stimulate nutrient density, but they do cause excess growth of sappy tissue within plant cell walls. Repeated studies show animals and plants fed chemical fertilisers are lower in the essential vitamins and minerals than organically-fed animals and organically-grown food. Although Bettina’s plagiarised article reckons the opposite.

    We home gardeners, even those who buy our fertilizer from Bunnings, tend not to pullute river systems with petroleum fertilizer run-off. And we use far less water and energy to make our food.

    Even if you do believe Bettina’s claims that organic food isn’t tastier (it is), and isn’t more nutritious (empirical studies show it is), for these reasons alone we should be encouraged by the state to grow the stuff. If the State is really interested in sustainability and public health, that is. And there’s no better place to grow it than in our fertile, intensive backyards, where we can use much less water and energy than broadacre farmers.

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