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 🙂

 

The contented gardener

When I first started blogging, I decided not to blog about me. For more than a year, that worked really well. But then something happened. And it changed everything.

Winter garden

Photos from the garden yesterday afternoon. Call this winter? At ankel’s height there’s still lots to see. Bulbs reaching up. A cold snap with a drizzle of snow caused stubborn flowers to droop.

Over a year ago I got a new job. In content management. A great opportunity to turn all my talk about content, social media, and the like, into my daily job.

But somehow, spending hours at work fiddling with texts doesn’t motivate one to sit down at night and do the same thing all over again. Writing about content wasn’t the only problem. It was the editing, finding the right picture, and so on.

And even ‘writing about content’ was turning into a problem. Because it was ‘work’. I don’t mind work, I just don’t need to do one thing anywhere near 24/7. I craved variety. I’ve always loved doing a lot of different things at (nearly) the same time. (I know it’s getting out of hand whenever there are three different books by my bedside and another (two or three) in the living room.)

Content to garden

Then a new topic to blog about crossed my path. My garden. Actually it wasn’t that much of a garden: it was what was left after the houses had been built. After removing most of that one plant species I later learned is called lady’s thumb, because it grew nearly two feet tall all over the place, I let the other stuff grow to find out what kind of weed it was:

  • nice (like the flowery ones)
  • educational (stinging nettles – our son never had accidents with them at home)
  • slightly annoying (dandelions, but making up for it by looking great)
  • a real pain – unless you find a use for it (horsetail)

I’d added some plants but never sat down to decide which bigger plants might really add structure to our garden. It almost felt impossible to put big plants into a small garden. Partially because it would mean ripping out weeds that had grown on me. Sort of. Some of them. Partially because, well, it’s a small garden. Big plants were never going to fit, right?

Garden changes

But here I am after trying stuff in my garden for a whole growing season. I put in bigger plants and I keep seeing patches where more plants would fit quite snugly. I also started blogging about my garden.

Looking back at some pictures I took a few years ago I noticed one thing. A lot of small plants have disappeared. Having bigger plants shade the soil and soaking up nutrients and water has probably meant that the smaller ‘pioneer’ plants have left – after depositing their seeds in case a big shrub or a treelet is uprooted by a storm.

I’ve been able to retain a red clover, so hopefully it will attract bees and the like next spring. The gaps left by the pioneer plants are now begging for inhabitants -they are an open invitation for our neighbors’ cat to crap right in that spot (they don’t have a garden. Just a place to sit outside. And a cat with toilet issues). That’s one thing about some of the herbs: they die back when it gets cold and then the cats move in. Plants with woody stems are better.

Looking forward to spring. Happy New Year!

September strawberry blossom

So this past week I checked on several plants in the garden… and noticed one of the strawberry plants was flowering for the second time this year.

september strawberry flowers

Well-hidden september strawberry flowers

Continue reading

After strawberries come plums… already?

For the past week we’ve been eating plums for dessert almost every day. It’s come as a bit of a surprise to this urban person! The label said “harvest in August” and yet I found myself wondering why a couple of plums had dropped from the tree at the start of July.

plums

After rescuing a couple from the gentle critters that would have cleaned the fruits up – woodlouse in English, they also tend to eat strawberries when they can get at them in wet weather, and slugs – I washed them, cut them open to check the inside, smelled them, and ate them.

These plums are ripe.

Wow. They’re ripe – over a month before they were ‘supposed to be’. So out I went with any kind of bowl or pot I happened to have. And picked about fifteen plums. And told my husband, and put our son in his bed. When I came downstairs said husband had picked another dozen.

After having gained that little bit of knowledge about strawberries “strawberries don’t ripen after they’re picked”, apparently, I was a bit alarmed by the fact that some of the plums looked decidedly unripe. I needn’t have worried – plums do ripen rather well if the temperature is high. Which was probably what had led to our early harvest.

Do you happen to have a good recipe for plum pie?

So we’ve eaten a big bowl of plums by now and I know that for next year I really want a good recipe for plum pie. I’ve had some wonderful pies in Germany over the years. The cherry pie I once decided would make a great lunch (cherry layer: two inches) wasn’t bad either! But I don’t think we have room for a cherry tree as well. Oh well.

For now we’ll just have to munch our way through our harvest. So far we’ve combined plums with strawberries (from the shop, unfortunately – ours have run out), and yoghurt. I think they’ll be great with banana. All in all we have been having more fruit than usual. And that’s our first harvest from the plum tree!

There’s still some fruit on the tree and there must be around twenty plums on the ground and in the box hedge near it. They’re already half-eaten, so I’ll leave them where they are expecting that the nutrients will end up back in the soil at some point.

P.S. Looks like the peas want harvesting. Investigate tomorrow. I hope. Unless we get another month’s worth of rain pouring down – again.

Early spring musings

The promise of spring is definitely in the air. In fact, the weather forecasts predict up to 20 degrees Celsius this Sunday. Our baby narcissus is flowering in a modest clump in our front garden. The buttercups are in for a great year, if the amount of leaves covering the soil are anything to go by. I’m definitely going to have to take a look around, to see what needs doing out there and in the back garden.

A few drawbacks?

Note: when I say garden, these two bits of land might add up to a small garden. With a car taking up nearly a quarter of the available space. And another quarter I don’t want to plant anything edible in because of the car. And other people’s cars driving past.

Then we want something like a sitting area. After a couple of years of baking in the afternoon sun, we decided to soften the local microclimate by putting in a tree or two. I’m waiting for them to start growing. So far, they’re looking happy – but not quite budding yet. Night temperatures do drop to nearly freezing point, so I’m happy that they’re in no hurry.

I planted some herbs like basil in a sunny spot almost in the hedge. These were annuals, which is just as well, because last summer I learned from our neighbors that they had sprayed the hedge (beech – it’s a monoculture in most new or renewed parts. A feast for specialized insects). If any of our hedge plants give up this year, I’ll put in an entirely different plant. Maybe something edible.

Spring promise

About two square metres of garden are filled with strawberry, blueberry (I added oak leaves for acidity) and herbs. The place is crammed and looked great even in winter. If you don’t mind the leaves. And I don’t. Most of them are gone by now, because we had a typical winter – if a sea climate winter is the kind you like. A sprinkling of snow in half the country, excluding where we live. Not enough ice to go ice skating (if any!), not this year. Rain. The kind of winter you end up calling “but really it wasn’t a winter at all. Not a proper winter.” Except it’s the kind we had a lot, until it started snowing a couple of years ago – in December! This year, people acted as though they’d been cheated out of a white Christmas they were entitled to. It’s quite possible that goldfish have better memories than humans.

So my early spring checklist looks like this:

  1. Watch Gardeners’ World (coming up…)
  2. Check if the stinging nettle is still in its corner by the water.
  3. Check if there are cat droppings among the plants; if so, cut a few leaves from the thistle in the other corner. Cut them into pieces of about 10 centimetres and spread them around.
  4. Empty the bucket of sand and goo that’s been standing around for no purpose at all.
  5. Find out if the sand box is full of water again, and consider getting rid of it. It would help if it’s broken. I can explain broken to a 4-year-old.
  6. Find out if old peas will still grow into plants. If not: go get new ones. There’s nothing like fresh peas. I had no problems explaining them to a 3-year-old last summer 🙂

 

Mulberry mix

I was halfway down this week’s bowl of energy food when I remembered to take a photo of it – so here it is, just to show you what I was on about in my earlier post.

Actually, this time I added milk to spare my teeth the ordeal of munching down a bowl of crispy oats with acid from orange juice. Feel free to have a glass of your favorite vitamin C drink instead.

mulberry mix

As you can see, I had white mulberries. From what I’ve read, the black/red mulberries taste best – I’ll have to try those.

Mulberry

Just in case you love that variety of mulberry, I did happen to read you shouldn’t plant a mulberry tree near your driveway unless you don’t mind the stains. So you have been warned 🙂

I don’t have the kind of garden where I can stow away a mulberry tree in a corner somewhere (no corners to speak of). Mulberries are slow growers, but they can grow up to 9 metres (27 or so feet). They do have wonderful big leaves from what I saw. It’s definitely worth keeping in mind while I look for a bigger garden 😉

Read more about mulberries while I await the official arrival of spring – and the return of our esteemed Italian icecream masters.