A natural beauty: the hornet

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Now I know I haven’t added a single blog post for a long time… but I haven’t been idle! The hot summer and pleasant autumn weather have meant I get to spend a lot of time outside. A bit of rain in September meant that all the weeds which had kept their quiet during the drought started growing like mad so I needed to do some maintenance. Not too much though. I prefer plants to bare soil.

And then I spotted this beauty. I’ve waited ages hoping for another glimpse (and the opportunity to take more photos) but here she (?) is:

 

I’ve read a bit about (European) hornets. Apparently they feed their larvae other insects. I also came across some blogs about European hornets in the USA even attacking a dragonfly and killing it. Unless dragonflies are more agressive in Europe (used to handling hornets?) I don’t think they’ll be a big problem though.

As the allotment season is finally winding down a bit (I should hope, by the end of October!) I hope to spend some more time with my blog in the coming months. Hope you enjoy my photos!

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Writing or gardening for fun?

Now that I spend part of my work week writing for a living, I find it a lot harder to sit down and write for this blog. Because it kind of feels like work. Especially if it’s about a topic that’s, well, work-related. (So no luck if you’re expecting a blog post about writing. Not this time.)

And then there’s also the plants beckoning on the other side of the window. I’ve turned into a bit of a plant freak I know. My latest discoveries thanks to planting a peanut from a bird feeder: Continue reading

Energy issues: reduce, replace, get stuck?

“The human body burns energy at a rate of about 100 watt.” Just recently I read an article in which this was stated. I already knew it – at least, I had read it before – but I’d forgotten. The author also pointed out that a modest car (I forgot which model, but definitely no SUV, pick-up truck or anything like it) uses energy at a rate of 50.000 watt. That’s 500 times as much.

Ever since then I’ve had this, well, mantra stuck inside my head buzzing by every now and then:

“A car burns energy at the rate of 500 humans.”

  • 100 watt, that used to be as little as one 60-watt light bulb plus one smaller 40-watt light bulb. You couldn’t even light your house with that energy. One human, one room with the lights on. Heating not included. Unless you count the heat generated by those inefficient ‘light’ or rather ‘heat’ bulbs.
  • 50.000 watt, that means the energy of 500 humans to propel your miserable behind to your job and back. I commute by train so I’d need to calculate a bit to find out how many human energy units my commute costs. Still, it paints a really odd picture, those 500 tiny humans (TH) powering the commute of one person.

Continue reading

Weeds and seeds

So I got this allotment. The permaculture way I suppose would be to haul in a ton of material and cover the soil completely with layer upon layer to suppress weeds until they die through a lack of sunlight.
Without that amount of composting material, however, I soon found all kinds of stuff emerging from the soil.

Something old, something new – seeds and plants

One thing I’m really happy about is my herbs. And a couple of plants I didn’t plan for. My predecessor on this allotment let everything go to seed and afterward everything on site was dug into the soil. So I got some free onions which I transplanted for their second year in the soil. And quite a few coriander plants spread all over the site.

Then there are a couple of plants (yes, weeds) I don’t mind – if there are a few of them. However a few isn’t what I got. Every bit of root of the stinging nettles on the site sprouted. So far I think I’ve pulled up 4 bucketloads of stinging nettles and grasses…hang on… 5… but it’s down from a bucket a day a bucket per week. Just about. And that’s just stinging nettles and grasses.

And then there’s a plant I once looked up and it appears to be called Lady’s thumb, of which the leaves are apparently edible. Unfortunately I was raised knowing a limited number of vegetables which were readily available at the supermarket and not too much hassle to prepare for dinner (that’s my guess). So trying out new stuff is something I’m very cautious about and there’s veggies in the shops I haven’t even got round to tasting, let alone stuff that grows spontaneously all over the place. Since this Lady’s thumb isn’t my biggest worry, I leave the plants to dry on top of the soil. Horsetail doesn’t seem to be on the list of edibles… more’s the pity.

I did get some plants to grow – finally! I’ve got chamomile, thyme, dill growing happily underneath a couple of young apple trees. And seleriac. I grew a couple of lychee plants from their – well – beanlike seeds. Two of them have survived the transplant into the allotment so far.

And I’ve got leek flowers to look forward to, from leftover leek stems I planted last year. I had hoped to add a picture here, but I’m still waiting for them to flower. Which is why I’ve added a couple of photos of my (mainly) tulips under the hedge – I dug some more into the spaces underneath the hedge this year, which turned out great since the new tulips produced their blooms around the time the ‘veteran’ tulips had gone over. The anemone was a nice surprise.

   

Respect for weeds… oh yes indeed

All things considered, I greatly respect weeds for their resilience and speed of growth the moment any rain falls. It would be easier to like them if their numbers were fewer though… after I planted a few young plants and watered them daily for a week because we had virtually no rainfall, guess what I got? In less than half a square metre there were dozens, no, well over a hundred little weed seedlings popping up. In just that small patch. And I’m not even sure these are edible.
Apart from that, it’s strawberry season over here! And I got a couple of wonderfully sweet raspberries too, from a bush that delivers fruit from june (to my surprise) well into november. I wonder if there are several raspberry shrubs hiding in the same patch?
Plants are amazing.

Plum jam paradise to plumburst

plum tree

Our little plum tree, after the first plums had been picked.

Summer is such a great time to be outdoors and watch the plums ripen.

Which is exactly what I did for about two months – apart from trying to get my allotment strawberries out from between loads of weeds (well, grass actually. But not the nice stay-in-one-place grass you get in lawns. The other, ambitious, conquer-the world kind. My mistake).

And one day a plum was lying on the terrace. Ripe as anything. Plum harvest time!

Continue reading

Value for time – what content is worth your while?

In any shop it’s always been like this: you’d be looking for value for money. And nowadays big online and offline stores are trying to give you (the impression you’re getting) just that.

But what about the content we consume? We don’t pay for that as a rule – or do we?

Apart from the whole “you’re paying with information so advertisers can zoom in on your unspoken needs” on the basis that your (online) actions speak louder than your words.

(If it comes to that, I need to do more online because frankly, the image of my age group plus gender I get through the advertisements vying for my attention is depressing. Apparently, as a 40+ female, I’m supposed to hanker after skin peelings (no thanks!), to be overweight (not even close), and like knitted clothes (well – okay. But I blame at least one, white, romantic bordering on cute knitted spring vest that’s been hanging in my closet for 6 years now on early pregnancy hormones).)

Value for your time?

The biggest sum we pay is the time we spend. It’s a combination of click-through (time to open a page on any website) plus actual ‘dwell time’ on the page. Mark Schaefer mentioned just this week on his blog that:

  1. people still find time for long reads (long form articles)
  2. that these long texts actually get shared more often than short ones
  3. that people are more likely to view content shared by their friends.

From my own experience (that is one person, I know) I agree that long texts are more shareable.

If you’re to click on a link and wait for a page to open, you expect that whatever you find is going to be worth your while, right? So if, after viewing any kind of content, you wonder if you should share it, what exactly are your criteria? I would expect content to be any of the following:

  • funny
  • beautiful
  • cute
  • interesting

If that content ticks several boxes at once that gets us into the Owww, Wow, what? or Awesome! mode (severely funny may also do it, but that might also sound like Ewww – yuk!).

This is probably why sunsets and kittens and people doing silly things are right up there with the must-have long reads (whether that’s neurology, climate, poetry, or fiction. Personally, I’m just about to finish re-reading a very long text on paper, which is in fact a book by Terry Pratchett).

Delivering on a promise

More time spent, the more you expect some kind of reward for the trouble you’re taking. After all, you could be spending your time on something much more fun or useful (rewarding) than reading this stuff, right? That’s what I try to tell others whenever I feel their content just doesn’t deliver. And it can be such a small thing. Sometimes there are just two or three lines missing that would wrap the whole thing up nicely instead of leaving the reader hanging (in suspense, possibly. Or, perhaps, in some measure of anger). You don’t want anyone to end up feeling cheated. So you share stuff that is worthwhile in some way. Because if you waste your friends’ time, that doesn’t help your online street cred one bit.

So… do you keep your friends amused? Informed? Or awestruck by the beauty of nature? It truly doesn’t matter. Relevance (like for example beauty) is in the eye of the beholder.

More from me to be expected in between gardening in my garden, in my sub-rented bit of an allotment, and the nearby park and our windowsill greenhouse. The offline green stuff keeps growing!

The magic of big numbers and small changes

Winter is a perfect time for reading up on all sorts of things. Which in turn is the perfect excuse for curling up on the sofa and not moving an inch for the next three hours. It’s the perfect pastime:

A Cat's Day Off, by A. Davey (who has, incidentally, some other great pictures on Flickr)

A Cat’s Day Off, by A. Davey (Click to view this and more of his pictures on Flickr)

Just a couple of days ago, I ran into a curious thing about numbers. In this case, numbers that reflect the growth of the global human population.

Knowledge… and the thing about population numbers

Far back in time, numbers are partly (or even mostly) based on educated guesses. It’s estimated that about 2000 years ago, the total population on earth of homo sapiens (or at least the species that is assumed, by individuals of that same species, to be able to think), is estimated to have been somewhere around 300 million. Rome hit the 1 million mark around that time.

The table contains a set of years for which the population was calculated and/or estimated (like I said, the further back you go, the more guesswork this involves). It also contains the number of births per 1000 individuals. The fourth column contains the number of births between two consecutive benchmarks.

As intriguing as the table (which I found in Gurteen’s Knowledge Newsletter) was, I thought it was lacking something. So I added two more columns, figuring:

  1. If you have the years and the population size (more or less), you can calculate how many years there are between every two consecutive benchmarks.
  2. Once you have that, you could even use the number of births between benchmarks and the number of years between benchmarks to come up with…

The number of births per year. And when you see those numbers, you realize two sets of numbers are developing in opposite directions.

Population_Growth

Population growth. Black text from David Gurteen’s Knowledge Newsletter; red columns added by me. Click to enlarge.

More or less

  • The number of births per 1000 humans per year has gone down in no uncertain way. Actually, I’m guessing it’s even more extreme than it looks, because death rates among young children were very high for a very long time (and among mothers).
  • Meanwhile, the absolute number of births per year has gone up as steadily. There are now enough representatives of the human species that not all need to have children at all to sustain the species as a whole – at this rate, only half of all humans will need to reproduce on a moderate scale to keep the population growing.

So… what are the odds of 7 billion human beings having no impact on their environment? (Nope, I’m not adding examples.) On the other hand: if 1 million people decide to rip their lawns out and putting in plants that provide shade and cool spots in the garden instead of trying to keep all those lawns green (and the air conditioning roaring) in another sweltering summer,* that will have an impact, too.

* Not summer around here. We tend to get wet no matter the season. I looked it up last autumn and my hunch was right: we’re in the perfect region to get seriously soaked (as confirmed by 10 year average rainfall stats). I’m not going to risk growing grapes 🙂