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350: Saturday’s climate change number

October 23, 2009
Posted in Green News, Lead  

4017582490_99c5b0a97a_b350. It’s the amount of carbon dioxide that scientists believe is the safe upper limit for our planet. It’s also the name of a global movement that is mobilising the world to take action on Saturday October 24, the International Global Day of Climate Action. The day of action will include actions from almost every country in the world and will call on all governments to take action to reach achieve an “ambitious, fair, and binding global climate deal”.

Two years ago scientists issued a series of studies showing that a carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere of more than 350 parts per million (ppm) would be disastrous for life on earth. Right now the atmospheric concentration of CO2 is 390ppm and the 350 campaign on Saturday will be to call on leaders to set goals to reduce this to under the 350ppm threshold.

Around South Africa there will be a series of events celebrating the 350 declaration. Johannesburg celebrations will include the Jozi 350 Climate Action Day at Emmerentia Dam, and the Tree planting for carbon offset. Cape Town events will include the Human 350 on Table Mountain and the 350 melting iceblocks on Muizenberg beach.

The campaign has also attracted support from a number of prominent people including Bishop Desmond Tutu, who penned an article in support of 350.org which has been published in major US newspapers. In Unity doomed apartheid. Next up: climate change, Tutu wrtites: “In South Africa, we showed that if we act on the side of justice, we have the power to turn tides. Worldwide, we have a chance to start turning the tide of climate change with just such a concerted effort today.”

A full list of SA events can be found on the 350.org website.

Universal phone charger to slash waste

October 22, 2009
Posted in Green News, Lead  

microusbTired of having a drawer-full of old, worthless chargers that can’t be used to power up your new cellphone? Well, the days of proprietary cellphone chargers are coming to an end.

The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) today approved a standard for a one-charger-fits-all format for future cellphone chargers. For consumers this means that they will not need to buy a new charger each time they change cellphones and they will be able to share a single charger between multiple users. For cellphone makers it will reduce the need to ship a new charger with each and every phone they produce, significantly reducing the number of chargers in production.

The move to a universal charger comes just two weeks before the Climate Change Talks to be held in Barcelona in early November and cements a decision first made at the Mobile World Congress in February. At the time all major manufacturers, excluding Apple, agreed to work towards a universal cellphone charger. Apple subsequently joined a European initiative to promote universal chargers by 2010.

The ITU says the new Universal Charging Solution (UCS) is expected to reduce standby energy consumption by 50% and “eliminate 51,000 tonnes of redundant chargers, and a subsequent reduction of 13.6 million tonnes in greenhouse gas emissions each year”.

The new charger format will use the MicroUSB input jack, a connection already built into many newer cellphones.

Public space, public fruit

October 20, 2009
Posted in Green News, Lead  

In years gone by, village residents and even early city dwellers were familiar with the notion of “The Commons”, collaboratively owned and managed resources such as grazing land, rivers, forests and water sources. But gradually over time private ownership and corporate growth have whittled away at these all-important resources and today the idea of publicly-owned space and food is all but forgotten. There are, however, some that are trying rekindle an interest in public versus private space and the resources that can be developed in these.

Fallen Fruit

One of these is Fallen Fruit, a US-based artists project that offers a new way of rediscovering the Commons and aims to re-educate city dwellers on public versus private space.

At its heart Fallen Fruit is a mapping project that collects data publicly accessible fruit in various suburbs around Los Angeles. Most of the fruit mapped is on trees in private gardens and parks but which cross the border line into the public space of pavements and roads. Fallen Fruit – aka David Burns, Matias Viegener and Austin Young – encourage residents of their suburb to pick these “public” fruits, tell friends there whereabouts and even plant fruit trees on their own property borders. The group also organises nightime “forages” involving residents who are educated about the public fruit available and the idea of public space.

Matias Viegener says that their are multiple motivations for the group, apart from its art origins. “One is ecological and environmental. We’re interested in changing the actual the organic shape of the city and suburbs. The other reason is social and cultural. We’re interested establishing relationship between people that don’t have existing relationships. LA is a very anonymous city. Most people don’t know their neighbourhood and their neighbours. It’s about walking, knowing your neighbours, knowing your neighbourhood.”

Guerrilla Gardening

Another project challenging the relationship between public and private space with horticultural tools is the UK-based Guerrilla Gardening.

Founded by London-resident Richard Reynolds, the Guerrilla Gardening website started life as a record of his own secretive night time gardening expeditions around his home. Frustrated with not having a garden of his own and by the generally poor state of public gardening in the area, Reynolds took to the street under cover of dark to plant flowers in land not owned by himself. He documented the progress of his garden on his website and quickly attracted other like-minded gardeners eager to improve their suburbs and cities with greenery.

Like the Fallen Fruit project, Guerrilla Gardening is as much about the plants as it is about public space and getting residents to get involved in improving their surrounds. In his recently released book, On Guerrilla Gardening, Reynolds talks extensively about the erosion of public space over the years and how there are few places left where citizens can simply enjoy being without being expected to pay for a drink or entrance fee. Using neglected public spaces, Guerrilla Gardeners aim to both make neighbourhoods more attractive as well as creating more spaces for residents to enjoy the outdoors.

Because guerrilla gardeners work with land that is not their own they technically fall foul of the law. Reynolds explains how this can very often bring them into conflict with authorities but how residents are generally more welcoming of the positive changes and very often get involved themselves.

Both the Fallen Fruit and the Guerrilla Gardening projects offer interesting approaches to challenging the perceived wisdom around food production, public space and community involvement.

Clean and green

October 19, 2009
Posted in Green tips, Lifestyle  

drainKeeping your home sparkling and clean could be damaging the world around you. Each day we pour untold amounts of chemical cleaners and solvents down the drain adding to the growing toxicity of our city water. The good news is that there are many things you can do to reduce your impact on the environment next time you’re cleaning.

Bicarbonate of soda (baking soda), for example, makes an easy all purpose cleaner which can be used to clean kitchen and bathroom surfaces. So too does ordinary white vinegar. Bicarbonate of soda and vinegar together form a mildly explosive mix and can be used effectively to clear blocked kitchen and bathroom drains rather than pouring litres of toxic drain cleaners down them.

Getting serious about seeds

October 6, 2009
Posted in Garden  

It’s been a month since I launched Project Green, an occasional series of posts on my still-developing gardening skills and things have progressed well. So much so that I have now built a fairly serious “seedling table” out of pieces on wood I had in the garage for another project that never materialised. At first glance the seedling table is … um … fairly large. Even I had my doubts about my ambitions when I first looked at the finished product. But, after just a couple of weeks the table is packed to capacity (at least on the top bird-proofed section) and many of the first seedlings have already been transplanted to the garden, having outgrown their seed trays.

seedtableThe idea for a seedling table was partly from some online reading I did and partly from the fact that the little old table I was using wasn’t really big enough. And that to protect the seedlings from birds I had to rig up an awkward system of netting that just got in the way.

The new seedling table has everything: netting to discourage birds, built-in sprinklers for water and enough room to store a good hundred-odd seedlings. The top shelf of the seedling table stands around one meter high which is a good height to work with without having to bend over the whole time. The bottom shelf is half as high and the table is 1.5m long and 0.8m wide. The two shelves are made from chicken wire pinned to the shelf beams. The chicken wire is not the best decision I made. It has a tendency to stretch under weight and it is surprising how heavy a few seedling trays can become. I will probably replace the chicken wire sometime in the near future, either with significantly stronger wire or perhaps even some wooden slats. But for now I’m going to leave it.

sprinklerThe sprinkler system is piped into the seedling table and uses the common garden sprinkler attachments you find in most hardware stores and nurseries. When I made the table I braced opposite corners of the “shelf beams” with a square block of wood to add rigidity to the table. Only once I’d done that did I realise how handy these would be to mount the sprinkler heads. Drilling a hole into two corner braces I mounted the sprinklers on high-rise poles inserted into the corner braces. With two 90% sprinkler heads the entire table gets a gentle watering in one go.

Successes and failures

The most successful seedlings we’ve grown to date on the new table are sweetcorn and basil. Basil grows just about anywhere and we’ve had to thin it out substantially over the past weekend. The sweetcorn seeds were also highly rewarding. Within days of planting them shoots appeared and they grew so fast that it seemed that if you checked them twice a day you could actually see them growing.

My first lettuce seeds, planted before the protection of the new seedling table, were pretty much wiped out by the birds the moment they appeared. Coriander, watermelon, cucumber and a variety of other lettuce seeds, on the other hand, sprouted quickly on the seedling table and are well on their way to being transplanted to the herb and vegetable gardens.

My attempts at growing lavender from seed are still largely unsuccessful, though I do have one or two promising looking shoots appearing this week. All the reading I’ve done suggests that lavender is an exercise in patience and that they will likely appear when you least expect them. So, I’m holding on and hoping.

The one thing we’ve no shortage of is tomato plants. We don’t actually plant these, they simply appear wherever we use our compost which is obviously laden with seeds. Gradually we’ve been moving a selection of the better of these to their own pots to be grown further.

We also have a selection of chili seeds planted in trays but so far the only chili bushes appearing this season are those that have seeded themselves around the garden.

Saturday shopping at the Jozi Food Market

October 5, 2009
Posted in Lifestyle  

jozifoodmarketLooking for something to do on Saturday morning we headed out to the Jozi Food Market in Parktown North this past weekend. I had been hearing good things about this year-old market and, although it’s not on our side of town, thought it worthwhile to take a drive out and take a look for ourselves. It was a trip well worthwhile, and one we’re likely to take again soon.

The market, held in the Parktown Quarter on the corner of 7th and 3rd avenues in Parktown North every Saturday, is a food-lover’s paradise which makes it hard not to overspend just a little. Not expecting much, we were pleasantly surprised by the fantastic range of organic, homemade foods on offer and the pleasant Saturday morning bustle around the market. The market has everything from honey to bread to organic wines to herbs, vegetables, cakes and pies on sale, all of it homegrown and homemade.

Our personal haul included a piece of real honeycomb and enough bread, cheese and pate to last us the weekend. The kids, meanwhile, enjoyed decorating their own Gingerbread men while we shopped. The stall owners were exceptionally friendly, almost falling over themselves to tell us exactly how they smoked their bacon, grew their herbs or harvested the honey. Which makes for a pleasant change from shopping in the local supermarket where everyone is sulking and just wants to get out.

Natural pest control is such a hoot

October 1, 2009
Posted in Conservation, Lead  


Owls are associated with wisdom in some cultures, think of the wise old owl in the Winnie the Pooh stories. But, sadly, those stories are about as close as some kids are ever likely come to the birds.

Not everyone in South Africa would see this as a big loss, though. Owls are feared in many African cultures because they’re associated with back luck and death. Take this story from a Birdlife International news release this week, for instance. A family in Zimbabwe apparently  called their local Birdlife for help because they feared they’d been bewitched by an owl and were apparently afraid for their lives.

The owl turned out to be a white-faced Scops-owl (Otus leucotis), like the one pictured above, that had been hanging around the family’s home for about four months. “The father of the family was very scared and did not want to go anywhere near the tree where the owl was perched”, Rueben Njolomole, BirdLife Zimbabwe’s education officer said. “The owl did not want to leave the source of it’s food, and may have been a domesticated owl which had escaped because it was not scared of humans.”

Owls’ nocturnal calls may seem creepy to some, I suppose, but to others they’re lovely and the birds serve a useful purpose in suburbia. They can eat thousands of rodents each year, reducing the need for other, often poisonous, methods of control.

Birdlife Zimbabwe says it has decided to do something about the negative folklore surrounding owls in that country. Its staff are visiting local schools to educate children about the benefits the birds can bring and the organisation wants to produce a 30-minute documentary for national television to demystify  owls.

In South Africa, owls have much the same image problem. But I just came across a company called EcoSolutions that’s doing its bit to make people in Johannesburg and other urban centres more owl friendly. It has set up an urban owl box project in Gauteng, Northwest and the Western Cape provinces in a bid to give the neighbourhood spotted eagle owls and barn owls somewhere to breed.  The project also entails an education programme in schools.

“Many owls hunt within suburban gardens and although food is available, breeding sites are in short supply,” EcoSolutions says on its website.

So, if you want to do your bit to bring owls back to your leafy ‘burb – and encourage natural rodent control – you can contact EcoSolutions about installing an artificial owl breeding box in your garden – look at their website for more information.

Alternatively, if you’re good with tools, you could build your own owl box, the Endangered Wildlife Trust put together some information on how to do it here.

Picture credit:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/frank-wouters/ / CC BY 2.0

No monkeying around with recycling

September 18, 2009
Posted in Lifestyle  

The three-bin system for collection our household recyclable materials.

The three-bin system for collection our household recyclable materials.

Regular readers of Treevolution may know that towards the end of 2007 we signed up with Resolution Recycling to collect recyclable materials from out home every two weeks. At R360/year it was a good deal for us, especially as they recycled everything in an environmentally-friendly way. Unfortunately it seems it wasn’t such a good deal for Resolution and they filed for liquidation in June this year.

The result was that we had a 40L dustbin full of recyclable materials with nowhere to go. And over the next two months the collection grew rapidly. Despite wanting to recycle we had no easy way of doing it. Until I spotted a Resolution Recycling bin in our neighbourhood with an Ecomonkey sticker on it. We’d heard of Ecomonkey but as far as we knew they didn’t operate in our area. I phoned them that day and it turned out that they had started a collection in our area on that very day so we signed up.

Ecomonkey also collects standard recyclables (glass, paper, plastic and metals) every two weeks but the service costs more than Resolution’s did but at R79/month it’s not unaffordable.

Unlike Resolution, Ecomonkey encourages members to separate out the individual material into different bags before put out for collection. You don’t have to, apparently, but we do, using our three-bin system down the side of the house.

Ecomonkey does appear to be expanding fairly quickly and adding new collection areas to its service so it is worth taking a look to see if they cover your area. We’ve now been signed up for a month and so far everything has worked out perfectly.

First signs of life

September 18, 2009
Posted in Garden  

The Garden Cress is very happy in its rich compost mixture.

The Garden Cress is very happy in its rich compost mixture.

It was just day four of the project when the first signs of life started poking through the soil in the seedling trays. The garden cress was remarkably quick to sprout and by the end of the first week had more than a handful of leaves to show for my efforts. Which boosted my confidence in my gardening skills no end. This was easy.

Boosted by my new-found confidence I scratched around for a few small pots and splashed out on a few more seed trays and got to planting some more seeds. One of the things I am keen to grow is Lavender. We have a narrow pathway down the one side of our house and after seeing a few good examples of lavender-lined stone pathways decided that something similar would be a good way to decorate an otherwise ugly piece of garden. To do this we need a lot of lavender so rather than buying it from the nursery I decided to try and propagate some from a few existing plant branches (largely unsuccessful so far)  and plant a packet of seeds.

The newest trays are in the foregraound with the lavender occupying the green pots and the back-left trays.

The table. The three trays in the forground are the newest plantings and the lavender is is the green pots and the trays at the back left.

The first thing I learned about lavender is that there is not such thing as “just lavender”. There are literally hundreds of different types of lavender, each with their own flowers, leaves and habits. In the end I settled on traditional English Lavender because it seems ot be the most popular so if I have problems with it I’m likely to find help relatively easily. I planted the lavender seeds (which are infuriatingly small and difficult to work with) in a couple of loose pots and two large seed trays.

Potting medium
Up until now I’ve been planting these seeds in trays and pots filled mostly with compost that we’ve produced at the bottom of the garden and a little sand. I’m now worried that this may not have been the best idea but I suppose we’ll find out soon enough. At least the cress is enjoying their new rich home.

As a test I planted a few more trays of seeds over the weekend. These extra three seed trays are planted with watermelon, sweetcorn and cucumber seeds. The test part is that I planted these in trays filled with a mixture of finely sifted compost mixed with a healthy dose of river sand. This guide suggests a seed-starting medium or potting soil. Maybe next time I’ll look at potting soil but for now river sand and compost it is.

Herbs, day 1

September 7, 2009
Posted in Garden  

herbseedlings_070909Monday morning and the first day of the new gardening project. I only had six seedling trays to hand so I filled them all with seeds for chillis, sweet basil, coriander, lettuce, dark-leafed basil and garden cress. I’m thinking of building a more permanent structure on this side of the garden for growing seedlings but I want to test out how they fare here before launching on the building. When they do start to come up I’ll need to have something to protect them from birds but that’ll come later in the week. I also need a higher table. The current one is made from old scraps including an old wooden walkway which we replaced some time ago.

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