Turn today’s pests into tomorrow’s salad.

As the seasons change the time comes to prune back the flowering plants of summer to make room for the seeds of winter. However, as sure as the seasons are bound to change, there will always be weeds that come creeping threatening to take over the garden. The good news is that one can avoid a hostage situation below the soil as the common dandelion attempts to strangle a budding radish; research has shown that a number of these persistent garden pests are in fact edible and can be very tasty when drizzled with olive oil and tossed in a salad.

For instance, indigenous weeds such as pink mallow and pigweed (part of the Amaranth family) grow in abundance around the country and their leaves can be boiled and prepared the same way as spinach. The flowers of pink mallow also add a lovely dash of colour to a salad.

Other weeds that can be used for culinary purposes include bitter cress which has a peppery taste and can possibly be used as a substitute for rocket, wild mustard whose leaves have the same effect as real mustard can go well as relish in a salad, or chickweed which can be seasoned with nutmeg and lemon juice. Additionally these three weeds are invasive species, and by adding them to food this aids the elimination process of alien plants.

For more on what to do with other species of weeds, visit:http://www.readersdigest.co.za/weeds-food-for-free

The Cape’s magic carpet

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In many classic romance films, television shows, or advertisements; there is a montage that has been played out more frequently than Elizabeth Taylor tied the knot or Hugh Hefner changed girlfriends. The scene in question usually involves a young man or woman day dreaming that he or she is running (in slow motion) towards their respective sweetheart through a field of daisies before they lock lips and share their happiness. For those of us who do not have the former, it is consoling to know that as the end of winter approaches, we will definitely have the daisies. Described by many as the ‘Cape’s carpet of colour,’ Namaqualand and the Cederberg become home to vibrant bands of gousblomme, vygies, nemesias and many other wild flowers such as the Snow Protea which cannot be found anywhere else in the world.

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August and September are the ideal months to view the wild flowers, as this is when they are in the height of their bloom after hiding away during the cold winter months of rain. The wide variety of wild flowers is due to the varied topography as these flowers grow in fertile valleys, on high mountains as well as semi-desert plain. The Cederberg is only a two hour drive from Cape Town which makes for an ideal weekend getaway, and whether you want to rough it or stay in style, there are numerous places where one can find accommodation. If you would like to travel a bit further and have a more relaxed schedule, Namaqualand offers an equally impressive display of colour and is about a six hour drive from Cape Town.

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For more information about the Cederberg and where to stay, please visit: http://www.cederberg.co.za/accommodation.html

For more information about Namaqualand and where to stay, please visit: http://www.cederberg.co.za/accommodation.html

Fading footsteps

rhinosAs thick clouds roll in over the hills of Phalaborwa, the smell of a thunderstorm’s imminent approach can be felt in the vibrations of the ground, rippling their way into the water, the trees and the air of the most historic game reserve in South Africa. Having seen many of these raging thunderstorms of the Kruger National Park ( we had many holidays there whilst I was growing up , I often thought about how all animals, instinctively react in a certain way when a storm is on its way, triggering a chain of behavioural responses that ultimately lead them to safety; whether it is to the shelter of a nest, the covered protection of a cave or under a large tree. The instinct that animals have that enable them to respond to Mother Earth’s natural dangers is quite incredible.This is particularly impressive for larger creatures such as rhinos, who one would think have nowhere to hide but somehow make it through.

game_reserveIt seems grossly unfair then, that these magnificent creatures are presented with a very unnatural danger, and are thus ill-equipped to react to the imminence of life threatening situations- namely the bullets and pangas of the rhino poachers. As it was world rhino day on the 22nd of September, it seems only fitting to explore places that are home to these spectacular creatures, and allies in the war against their demise.

rhino_2Traditionally when one thinks of places where one would find rhinos in their natural habitat, a relatively hidden park on the north coast of Kwa-Zulu Natal is not one of the first locations that would come to mind; but if you are looking for something different and off the beaten track, the Hluhluwe-iMfalozi reserves that are situated next to each other (although they operate together as a single reserve) are home to both a number of black and white rhino and are part of many efforts to help curb poaching in the area in order to preserve this iconic creature. This raw, rich nature and game reserve teams with a life force of its own surrounded by the deep-rooted Zulu culture of the area; something which to an outsider may find challenging to translate into something familiar.

If you are situated in the more southern regions of the country, The Plettenberg Bay Game Reserve not only offers a spectacular range of wildlife and conservation undertakings, but is also the largest game reserve in the Southern Cape sprawling over 2200 ha covering the hills above the beautiful Garden Route coastline.

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The reserve is home to five adult white rhinos that live happily in the abundant landscape of this well protected area. The reserve is the largest sanctuary for white rhinos in the area. A lovely six hour drive from Cape Town along pristine coastline as well as many discounts offered by the reserve for accommodation and activities ensures that this is a worthwhile getaway for city dwellers.

For more information on Hluhluwe-iMfalozi, please visit: http://hluhluwegamereserve.com/

For more information on the Plettenberg Bay Game Reserve, please visit: http://www.plettenbergbaygamereserve.com/

Where there’s smoke…

 

In the wake of Greenpeace Africa’s campaign highlighting the impacts of burning coal to produce electricity on the respiratory health of residents living in close proximity to caol fired power station, it appears as though Greenpeace are barking against thunder as Eskom continue to duck and dive in a bid to postpone its responsibility to adhere to the requirements of the National Air Quality Act of 2015.

eskom_infoThe crux of the issue is that Eskom believes that abiding by the law and curbing their emissions would cost too much, which can be seen as a bit ironic given that former CEO Brian Dames took home a salary of R5.7 million in the last financial year (that’s R21 000 a day) before he resigned in December last year (amid a vast number of important upgrades and projects worth billions of rands).

Greenpeace estimates that the number of deaths per annum in South Africa due to air pollution is as many as 2200 (about 10% of who are small children). Air pollution emissions that come from coal powered stations are especially dangerous as certain emission by-products include the likes of mercury, a potent neurotoxin that harms the mental development of children.biran_dmaes

At the same time, Eskom has managed to run up a debt of R225bn (essentially a quarter of what SARS collected in revenue during the last financial year). Although given the intense cost pressures as a result of delays and budget overruns on its two new coal-fired power stations, Medupi and Kusile, it is not surprising. It seems such a waste when this amount of time and energy (no pun intended) could have been used towards efforts in developing renewable energy sources, such as using our 2000km of coastline to harness wind power.

To support the Greenpeace campaign, please visit: http://www.greenpeace.org/africa/en/getinvolved/cancel-eskoms-application-to-pollute-freely1/

Original information and facts sourced from:


http://www.news24.com/Green/Greenpeace-2-200-died-due-to-Eskoms-plants-20140227

http://www.fin24.com/Companies/Industrial/Eskom-offers-bucket-of-water-to-put-out-fire-20140821
http://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2013-03-25-analysis-eskoms-special-electricity-pricing-deals-with-bhp-billiton/#.U_x9YUew300
http://www.greenpeace.org/africa/en/Press-Centre-Hub/Publications/License-to-Kill/

A yummy way to avoid han-ger

 

beeBees are arguably some of nature’s most treasured small animals. Without them we would have to manually pollinate plants, enjoy less biodiversity, and of course, no honey. Manuka honey, as mentioned in this month’s wellness tips has powerful antibacterial agents that help fight cold and flu. Although Manuka honey can be used as a substitute for sugar in just about anything, enjoy it thrown into this recipe for homemade Manuka honey granola. Not only is Manuka granola healthy, but it is a great in-between meals snack that will help raise blood-sugar levels that are dangerously low after a long meeting resulting in waves of han-ger (anger as a result of being hungry).

What you will need:

3 cups of rolled oats

granola

1/2 cup of wholewheat flour
1/2 cup of shredded coconut
Handful of crushed nuts of your choice (almonds, pistachio, brazil for example)
Handful of seeds (sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds)
Cinnamon and nutmeg to taste (so about a teaspoon of each)
Sprinkling of sea salt
1/2 cup of coconut oil
1/2 cup of manuka honey
honeyMethod:
1. Mix all your dry ingredients together.
2. Melt honey and coconut oil.
3. Mix into the dry ingredients well to form mixture.
4. Layout the mixture onto a tray, pressing firmly down (the more you press it down the better clumps and clusters you get).
5. Bake at about 150 deg for about 40 mins, turning half way.
6. Allow to cool in the tray and then toss in some dried fruit and more nuts.
The bonus of making it yourself is you get to load it with your own favourite nuts and fruit (and you can go organic and local if you wish).

Original recipe sourced from:
http://galiaalena.blogspot.com/2013/07/homemade-manuka-honey-granola.html

Composting solutions for food security

A couple of centuries ago Thomas Malthus argued that since population multiplies geometrically, and food production arithmetically, population will eventually outstrip the food supply. Fossil fuels and the ‘green revolution’ helped us dodge this bullet, but unless we come up with an alternative, they provide only a temporary fix. Some 40 years ago, husband and wife team Meadows & Meadows published Limits to Growth. They expanded on Malthus’ ideas, bringing the negative impacts of resource depletion and pollution into the mix.

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Arguably, the most difficult kind of waste that takes up a lot of landfill space is organic waste (i.e. everything that is biodegradable, and was probably food at some point). Organic waste is rich in nutrients and energy and tend to putrefy easily. As they break down they can attract pests, form a breeding ground for pathogens and give off foul odours. These rather unfortunate properties have resulted in them being given the title ‘problem organics’. There are genuine concerns around potential negative impacts of putrescent organic waste on the environment and human health, but such ‘wastes’ contain valuable nutrients and energy that can be put to good use.

It is possible to turn this organic problem into organic potential. Waste to Food is an approach put forward by German chemist Michael Braungart and the American designer-architect William McDonough. They suggest that if our waste can become food for the natural and built environments, production and consumption can become beneficial for the planet.

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Fortunately there are technologies that can go a long way toward helping ensure food security. Earthworm composting is able to create a product that is an excellent soil amendment and organic fertiliser, and it can also be used to suppress many plant pests and diseases. Unlike the inorganic (fossil fuel derived) fertiliser products, vermi-compost is environmentally beneficial and as a result does not contribute to colony collapse (dead bees), eutrophication in our rivers (nutrient overload) and dead zones in our oceans (dead fish and coral).

How it works:

Waste to Food is an initiative that will process commercial food waste using HotRot in-vessel composting technology and a locally developed industrial-scale vermicomposting system called the Worm Hammock. HotRot Organic Solutions has supplied equipment in 23 countries, including two in Africa – to a mine site in Guinea and the Grabouw Waste Water Treatment Facility (an hour outside of Cape Town).

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Starting next year, Waste to Food will make use of HotRot 1811 units to process food waste and chipped garden waste, and then feed this to earthworms. The earthworm composting component of the project is structured as enterprise development opportunities for entrepreneurs from low-income communities, via a micro-franchise model. Waste to Food was recently awarded a SEED Award for its ground-breaking work.

For more information, please visit: http://www.seedinit.org/fr/concours/all/2014/1382-waste-to-food.html

There’s a nuke on my stoep

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For anyone who is an observer of current affairs, takes an interested in the wellbeing of South Africa or enjoys Zuma jokes, the latest stunt manoeuvred by ours truly has left many South Africans’ minds boggled and unsure whether they should laugh or cry. When President Zuma recently travelled to Russia to meet with his good friend Vladimir Putin under the guise of a peace/business/trade building liaison, nobody was particularly concerned, as not even some of his closest compatriots expected him to come home with a signed R50bn nuclear deal in his pocket. To give one some perspective, South Africa’s total economy is worth approximately R350bn, therefore this deal is going to cost a 7th of what the total country is worth. Other mainstream media publications have rumoured the deal to be closer to R1 trillion, but in a similar vein as the arms deal, at this point no one is really sure what is going on.

nuclearwaste

Apart from the obvious ramifications that will result from this nuclear deal, it appears that once again social and environmental impact is last on the agenda. For an energy strapped country such as South Africa, nuclear energy is by far not the most cost effective solution as these stations take a considerably long time to build, (it could be ten years before any power is generated by these stations) are extremely costly to run and as a result the price of electricity will soar to extreme new heights. These expected prices will not weigh heavily on already cash strapped majorities of the population; it will cripple them. The worst part (if such a thing can be said as this entire deal is just one hyperbolic bad idea) is that Russian nuclear science has not been proven within such a capacity, and it is almost as though Vlad is using South Africa as his own personal testing ground. (Not to mention putting South Africa in the direct firing line if he decides to go Mao Zedong on the world and declare nuclear war).

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Environmentally speaking, one wants to tap our dear president on the shoulder and ask him if he’s ever taken a squiz at a history book and read about the likes of Chernobyl. Unlike our president, nuclear waste is no laughing matter and the ramifications of radioactive waste can be devastating. So along with soaring power costs, throw the possibility of cancer in the mix too. Nuclear energy, like fracking, is also a heavy water-intensive exercise, and given that water shortages in Gauteng has been a hot topic in the news over the last few weeks, it can be assumed that the president does not only know nothing about nuclear, but very little about water as well.

For original and further information on the nuclear deal, please visit:

http://www.fin24.com/Economy/Committee-in-the-dark-on-nuclear-deal-20140928
http://www.fin24.com/Economy/Nuclear-deal-SA-will-get-answers-20140928
http://www.fin24.com/Economy/Russia-deal-How-minister-DG-got-nuked-20140928

August and September planting guidelines

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If you’re lucky, you may begin to feel the first few touches of spring in August, especially as the month progresses. August can be a busy month in the garden, preparing for the flush of life that the longer and warmer days will ultimately bring. Prepare unused beds for planting by clearing winter weeds or cover crops and applying a good layer of mulch. Get a jump on your spring and summer crops by getting seedlings started under cover in a greenhouse or simple cold frame.

Be wary of cold snaps country wide and late season rainfalls if you live in winter rainfall regions. You can amend your soils with bone meal and compost, especially beds that you plan to plant out in a couple of months.

September brings even longer and warmer days and your garden should really shake off its winter coat by this point. Work with the rhythm of nature and plant out seedlings that are well enough established to join in the growth spurt of the first few warm days of the season. Make sure to keep some seedling protected for late season cold spells. Mid to late September is a great time to start a salad plot, but watch out for hungry slugs, snails and other insects that are growing along with your plants. Spring, while the sap is rising, is a perfect time for taking cuttings, so propagate some of your favourite herbs and trees this way.

august_crops

Meeting An Idol: Dr. John Todd’s Inspirational Work

It’s not every day that you get to meet a personal idol. And it’s definitely not every day that you get to spend two days with them, being regaled by their stories and experiences, studying their characteristics and body language, admiring the massive body of work they’ve created, and even sharing a moment revelling in the natural beauty of a magical chameleon on an apple tree.

So it wasn’t too difficult a decision for me to cancel my slot performing at Rocking the Daisies this year as a “VJ” (someone who projects live visuals onto massive screens in sync with a musical performance).

newcanal3I had to cancel. Dr. John Todd, from Todd Ecological, was giving a two day workshop at Spier that was, quite literally, the opportunity of a lifetime for me.

Dr. Todd has been actively involved in Ecological Engineering for the past 30 odd years, and in that time has worked on an absolutely incredible amount of projects that have had massive impacts on the environment as well on people’s perceptions of how to deal with environmental challenges.

He is world renowned for his application of nature’s principles in solving human design challenges- most often around the purification of water in innovative ways. Essentially, John’s work (supported by a vertible legion of students, scientists and experts) utilises the properties of earth’s 6 kingdoms in dealing with all sorts of toxins, pathogens, and dangerous chemicals, from endochrine disruptors to hydrocarbon molecules, from heavy metals to nitrified waters.

John is well known for his design of a living technology called the Eco Machine – an ecologically engineered technology developed to restore, conserve, or remediate sewage or other polluted water, by replicating and accelerating the natural purification processes of streams, ponds & marshes. Eco-Machines have the ability to self-organize and self-design, as well as self-repair and can operate for long periods of time. They function primarily on sunlight and can be carbon neutral.

I appreciate the value of John’s work so deeply because it goes against the industrial revolution mentality that has shaped our world today and proves, effectively, economically and robustly, that nature has the power and ability to heal herself. By deeply understanding the way in which our natural world works, we can overcome the pollutants and contaminants that we so liberally disperse as a human species.

John encourages thinking in circles, not straight lines, and has developed systems that are so productive and effective that they eclipse expensive, energy intensive, chemically laden treatments.

Listening to Dr. Todd talk during the Spier workshop was inspirational and motivating. He’s not a young man by any means, but that doesn’t slow him down much. These days he spends 100 days a year touring the world and spreading the messages of the work he has catalysed globally.

His passion is obvious, but refreshingly spiced up with an easy going humour and anything-is-possible approach.
Where I tend to see depressing statistics, overwhelming destruction and a sense of hopelessness, John, who’s been exposed to a lot more of the reality of human destructiveness than me, sees hope, potential and solutions.

Dr. John Todd, and his wife Nancy, will be touring South Africa over the next few weeks as part of an annual intent to host experts in the field of regenerative thinking and action and will bring together members of Government, Institution, Civil Society and the Corporate Realm in an effort to address our pressing water issues. The tour, organised by Biomimicry SA, will hopefully spark conversations of the potential regenerative and restorative ecological engineering technology in South Africa.

Some of the tour details include addressing:
• The WRC symposium in Pretoria, Golder and Associates
• Students from WITS University’s chemical engineering research on the use of Eco Machines for acid mine drainage
• The Western Cape Government’s 110% Green Biomimicry Genius of Place Project, for exploration of solutions to the Berg River
• The National Business Initiative & Endangered Wildlife Trust, exploring biodiversity & business
• Spier: on the practical application of Eco Machines for water treatment and the challenges of the Eerste River
• Cambridge Program for Sustainability Leadership
• Clients of South African Bunker & Trading
• Knysna Municipality on options for water management challenges
• Hilton College
• Members of a biomimicry expedition in the Okavango Delta.

Have a look at one of John Todd’s eco machines below:

Grafton Final Copyright from Kristin Alexander on Vimeo.

For more information on Dr. John Todd’s work visit this website

Upping the ordinary

In 2003, a fabulous film entitled Second Hand Lions showed the story about a young boy named Walter who goes to live with his two eccentric uncles in rural Texas. In the first half of the film, one of the uncles orders a lion from a circus animal dealer, with the intention of killing it and turning its head into a wall trophy. However, the lion they get sold is an old, lame lioness that is thus spared and instead becomes an integral part of their odd family set up, and develops a very close bond with Walter. One of the central themes of the film is to never discard something just because it may seem old and useless for it may be of great value after all. This is the exact thinking that is used for the very bright process of “upcycling.”

trivet

Upcycling is taking things that would otherwise have been thrown away, and finding an alternative use for them. Although this may seem like common knowledge and an obvious thing to do, often many objects are overlooked in terms of the value that they could possibly bring somewhere else in the home.

For example, if one is a wine connoisseur, why not take the used corks and turn them into a cork trivet, or take the old shell of a computer that is no longer in use and turn it into a kitty bed? Free your caged birds and use the old bird cage as a beautiful plant grower?
These are just a few ideas but undoubtedly if one were to look around the house, flat, or office, there would be many more.

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Images courtesy of: http://www.greenrenaissance.co.za/
For more inspiration, visit the Green Renaissance Facebook page:https://www.facebook.com/greenrenaissance