Saint Ambrose

Saint Ambrose
Photo: Journey Worker Productions, CC SA 3.0 (C)

Saturday, 28 February 2015

Eggshell fertiliser

 A nice healthy bean. For this you need well-nourished plants.

To have well nourished plants, one needs calcium and nutrients.

Here's one way to arrange that - EGGSHELLS.
One thing I started doing a few months ago was to start saving eggshells. I eat a lot of eggs as the second major meal of the day. I read somewhere that calcium (and also trace elements) in eggshells is a good element for plants, and that eggshells rank up there with rock dust as a source of nutrients. However, the eggshells have to be ground in a food processor, and then put in the soil where they will very slowly dissolve when one adds an acidic solution to the soil (for example, when one uses tea leaves as mulch, or adds grey water in the forms of tea-leave-water or vinegar-water that one has used to clean salad leaves). Its not a fast-acting nutrient, but a slow release.

(Unfortunately the water from the boiled eggs isnt really worth much in terms of dissolved calcium, so you have to get the eggshells themselves).

To apply the eggshells this time, I stored the eggshells in the freezer in a ziplock bag. (internet sites advise washing them and cooking the shells in the oven before powdering them, but I think thats just too arduous). When you are ready, take them and blend into fine grains in a food processor (do it with the frozen stuff, it is all ok, and while they are frozen they dont smell at all - its far less smelly than once they thaw). Then add in the pulverised egg shell bits to tea leaves and add as mulch (see photo). I did this a few weeks ago, and it seems to have given some plants a growth spurt.

This is what it looks like -

Another bonus for carpenters (or weirdo blade fanatics) - I have a japanese waterstone for sharpening blades (primarily hand planes and chisels etc, and also cooking knives). One of the hassles of sharpening stones is that they and their surrounds become extremely messy with greyish powdered metal as one sharpens various blades, and creates a messy cleaning and disposal problem. Ive found a simple solution - put your sharpening stone inside the cut-off upturned lid of the egg carton. Its perfect. The grey metal particles just soak into the wet cardboard of the egg carton lid, which, being about 1 cm high, makes a nice little 'reservoir' for the inevitable water that gets spread around when one is sharpening, but not so high as to obscure access to the sharpening stone. Then dispose of the lid once done. The vicinity of where you have been sharpening stays clean - one can even sharpen on a chopping board on the sink-top without making a mess at all.

 (apropos of nothing eggshell related, a flourishing corn plant head from my garden).

Wednesday, 25 February 2015


Today I found some mushrooms around the flats (in February when we have been having 35 deg days - but just after putting in a new reticulation system). I dug them up and transplanted them into my vegetable pots.

Here's a pic -

If you havent read it, Mycelium Running by Paul Stamets is a must read for the organic gardener.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Cucurbit pictures - zucchini and pumpkin

I said I'd photograph the Zucchini and pumpkin plants, and here they are.

Here is the zucchini:

And here below is the pumpkin (I think its a pumpkin, although it must have been a mulch resurrection job, because I do not think I planted any pumpkin seeds deliberately...)

Its actually nice if it is a pumpkin because I tend to buy them and they rot in the fridge. The only vegetable I commonly have to throw out because of mould.

Its a pumpkin and garlic and (lentils and whatever leftovers-greens stuff) soup waiting to happen - the vine as the fridge of the indestructible pumpkin....

Pangolins / Food Industry

(A leek and some chillis in the garden)

Here is a very depressing story about pangolin exotic-meat and oriental-medicine trade:

The good news is decent laws are in place in Vietnam  - the bad news is that the culture is simultaneously too barbarous and superstitious and status-obsessed for the law to make much of a difference.

But it is important not to think that the west is morally superior. Here's another glimpse of the whole puzzle that chills the bone in a way that anxiety about the poor pangolins does not -

Now consider both pictures - the pangolin-eaters and the western consumers eating industro-food...thats the world we have to live in and is plunging us into an environmental disruption.

Its interesting to think about the interaction of the pangolin eaters and industro-food - both can uneasily coexist, but neither can eliminate the other, but the result of their coalition, is that we dont have a planet.

Now consider the following paragraph from the second Guardian article (about industrofood) above:

But I would prefer that my bread was browned solely from the application of heat. I’m prepared to accept that it will stale over time, rather than eat something that owes its existence to ingredients and technologies to which I am not privy, cannot interrogate and so can never truly understand. Am I about to hand over all control of bread, or anything else I eat, to the chemical industry’s food engineers? Not without a fight.
This frames it as an information-disclosure issue - as if it were the case that it is only hidden manipulation of one person by another in a 'black box' process that is the problem, and some watergate journalists, a bit of Ralph Naderism and some American free Speech cabal-busting will fix it all. There is indeed an issue of corporate manipulation here, sure, but the more serious issue is that the problem is not the unintelligibility of the processes being applied, but...but..but...

How to put it?

the unnaturalness of them? the improportionate redesigning of nature implied in them? the reframing of the natural food into a totally-manipulable-food-object-within-human-control

Which one of these is the problem?

I havent got it precisely articulated.

I suspect the demand for 'intelligent and transparent industrial food processes' is very satisfying for journalists - they can have that 'watergate moment' they crave for against nefarious corporate powers. But intelligibility and transparency of process isn't the fundamental issue. We would still be in a degenerate and suboptimal system if we all knowingly ate the gunk.

I am still pondering how how frame what is the issue. I want to try out a comparison between the intelligibility of the food process and the new mass versus the old in Latin - it isnt the point and you have misunderstood what you are looking at if you think intelligibility/transparency of the 'mechanism' is the point. Demanding transparency in the Mass wont give you a better mass, it will just make the mass your controlled mechanism and your industrialized plaything.

The point is, that if you are already thinking of it as a mechanism and fighting over a transparent-back-face of a watch so you can peer at the mechanised-controlled workings of it, you have already framed the Mass, or in this case: food, wrong. (Perhaps there is also a loose comparison to sex and sexual technique - the failure is to think of sex as just technique and search for the optimisers, rather than as an exemplification of intimacy).

There are several different theses bouncing around in these oppositions that I should sort out. But I do not think transparency by itself is the solution.

Onto the practical implication - you can start resolving the intractable-meta-mess by growing your own food. Its possible to grow 20% without much effort; one ideally could get up to 40%. Start by replanting the base of a leek you have bought. It will grow back, like the one pictured above!

(Some parsnips from winter 2015 from the garden)

A place to start at a micro level is Michael Pollan's Food Rules: an eater's manual. (2009)

You can read it in 15 minutes. Its a list of rules that are 'food for thought' items. If you contest a rule, puzzle out 'why not'? and think about your principles.

See detail on it here -

It is very good indeed.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Sunday breakfast in Lent / latin prayers / Fat Hen

Now that we are into Lent 2015 I thought Id post this from Lent 2014, to inform and inspire.

Here's my Sunday breakfast during March 2014 (and literally break-fast during Lent) - lamb's kidneys and fresh courgettes and a bit of sage, kale and some foraged fat hen (AKA 'colonial spinach') enroute back from an early morning mass.

On Fat Hen:

At mass, I noticed a detail I hadn't seen before in the prayers for the dead:
I was interested in the LOCUM REFRIGERII - a place of refreshment:
{English below, panic not!}

Priest:  Memento etiam,  Domine famulorum famularumque tuarum "N." et "N." qui nos praecesserunt cum signo fidei, et dormiunt in somno pacis. Ipsis Domine, et omnibus in Christo quiescentibus, *locum refrigerii*,  lucis et pacis,  ut indulgeas, deprecamur,  per eumdem Christum Dominum nostrum. Amen.

Which is in English:

Lord, be mindful of your servants and handmaidens/female servants, N and N who preceded us with the sign of faith, and sleep in the sleep of peace. Lord, we beseech you ought bestow a place of refreshment [locum refrigerii] for those and all who rest in Christ in through the same Christ our Lord.

The first Eucharistic prayer translation has it as follows:
...Grant them, O Lord, we pray, and all who sleep in Christ, a place of refreshment, light, and peace. ...

The other Eucharistic prayers don't have a reference to place of refreshment.

REFRIGERIUM is the concept of refreshment, but also of cooling, of relief, of rest. Think of resting and taking water after walking in a desert. Its that feeling of relief. (The cooling aspect is where we get 'refrigerator' from). 

Its a very different theology to the alternatives in the other Eucharistic prayers: those being concept of seeing God face to face, being co-heirs to eternal life, an admittance to God's kingdom to enjoy the fullness of God's glory, or (variant on this latter one) a heavenly inheritance, with the whole of creation, freed from the corruption of sin and death, glorifying Christ.

Refrigerium is a most extreme, emotionally resonant version of heaven, freed from social (property/military) abstractions like inheritance and glory, and free from the built-in 'distancing' connotation of sight. Particularly apposite for people with mental health, epilepsy, or cognate issues I think, and very apposite for a country that goes through (and will go through more and longer) heatwaves.

I had read about this REFRIGERIUM theology being very strong in the first millenium, before being displaced by the seeing-the-face-of-God theology in the middle ages. I was delighted to see that it has survived in the liturgy, and isnt just an 'Easternism'.

This morning's feast of vegetables and Lambs kidney definitely had a foretaste of heavenly 'refrigium' about it - prompting gratitude for a definite respite from a week of bland food!

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

McKibben, some notes on history of ideas

(Such is Life)

Im reading a new book by Bill McKibbin, who I'd never heard of before but is quite famous it seems. Indeed, my reading for the last few days has been the odd combo of:

A Bitter Trial: Evelyn Waugh and John Carmel Cardinal Heenan on the Liturgical Changes.  Second expanded edition, with a new Introduction, by Alcuin Reid. Ignatius Press, 2011. (ISBN 978-1586175221).


McKibben, Bill. Oil and Honey: The Education of an Unlikely Activist. Black Inc. publishing. 2013. (ASIN: B00ED7ZNKI. Kindle edition)

Evelyn Waugh's complaints about the mass into English find very little I do not have emotional resonance with, although his actual arguments are sketchy at best. In my head this week, Latin mass = organic, guitars in mass  = inauthentic consumerism. I'm having a dose of the crankies at the moment in terms of liturgy. Joseph Shaw's series of posts on the Death of the Reform of the Reform movement vis a vis forms of the mass have hit a few mid sized battleships for me on these issues:

But there is something there in terms of articulation, intelligibility, signification and transcendence of meaning that's worth thinking through. I just havent done it to completion yet.

(Still thinking it through. Some pig's trotters...)

Bill Mckibben (b. 1960, Vermont USA resident) seems to be a curious mix of academic and activist. Im still trying to figure him out. Quality activism, but a bit too Obamaish for my taste; he seems to have a not very long historical view on the people he is trying to overcome - mostly big oil and corporate America are his kep 'opponent concepts'. It is interesting though in terms of making me rethink my views on technology, capitalism, environmental ethics and virtue. Ive been thinking of writing something bigger on the concept of Locke, western technology and the ruination of the environment, planetary technology, and 'human ecology'.

Here's a few links to follow where Ive been going -

(It cant come soon enough, and I really hope +Benedict helps out with the ghost writing - especially to add at least token mentions of infused grace, infused faith, hope and charity via the sacraments).

Two links on attempts to theorise the nature of the oppositional system -

Rod Dreyer is still trying to work it out, and occasionally links to neoreactionary people. The second one is by Mike Lofgren, an ex congressional staffer, who basically writes on the system behind the parties in US politics in terms of the security people and the corporate people combining to form the 'deep state'. Lofgren's is a quite bad example of this sort of theorising, because it just treats the people in power as plutocrats and defence hierarchs, and doesnt go further to ask - what do they identify as their fundamental driving principles - the notions that they couldn't give up, that are the frame and not the content, however 'realist' or 'pragmatic' they are acting?

I want to introduce the notion that the Washington consensus/the Anglo-western military-industrial-complex people are fundamentally Lockean (with a religious or a utilitarian tinge as you please), and that this complex of ideas has emerged over the last few centuries, and that there are certain shortcomings in their world view and ethics that mean that they cannot generate a tenable solution to our planetary and human ecology problems by themselves. To do this, I have to make an argument requiring an excursion into Heidegger on technology, Augustinian frui and uti, the church on technology; a short brief on what happens to early modernity's semi-'augustinian' Christian principles when they go through the glorious revolution's anglican-divine meatgrinder, and end up as complacent secular-even-if-religious Lockeanism (Eg. William King, Edmund Law, Isaac Watts, by contrast, for example, with the reliably great Richard Challoner - but was Challoner's theology already 'compromised'? Im not sure, but from the Challoner Ive read, it doesnt feel like it). Within that impoverished frame which we have been bequeathed, there are all the microfights that make up the last two centuries - shades of compromised protestantism fighting secularlism and creeping rationalist unitarianism.

The point is, to get the Lockean view, one has to only twist the story about the relation of human happiness, human virtue and human good around a little bit, for things to eventually become rotten inside but apparently functional and beautiful for most practical interactions, so everyone continues with it until now, where the planetary scale of our interaction with technology means we have to address the core and its rottenness. 

If I get this right and set it out well, it would provide a framework for dealing with both lefty positions like Bill McKibben (who, my sinking intuition tells me, is basically framing a form of environmentalism that is suitable for your 19th C Unitarians' great-great-great-granddaughter's consumption), and Rod Dreyer and the neoreactionaries' attempt to frame all sorts of half-baked 'conservative' Burkean, stop-the-world-I'm-comfortable sorts of positions.

To be continued.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Removing pests from the garden

(The garden)

I mentioned I'd write something on manually removing pests from the garden. I do this regularly for snails and slugs, although  they seem to have become quite rare in this late summer season.

It seems to be cabbage moths that are the problem.

(It being early March 2014 when this was typed; after a year, they are still around, but the garden is so abundant they dont have much of a chance).

I have problems seeing the cabbage moths on the leaves, because they are almost identical in colour. So here are some ways I am experimenting with to find them so as to kill them.

First identify vulnerable plants being eaten. Some things like chillis, curcurbits, faux-spinach, solanums, and some mustards etc just dont get touched at all. Brassicas are the most vulnerable, and of those, toscana kale.

(A nocturnal spider web)

The easiest is to brush off the undersides of leaves to get the little yelllowish eggs, a plant or two a day. At night, put a small torch on the other side of your plant-leaves (of the vulnerable species) and look at the light through the leaves - a caterpillar (if more than 0.5mm long) will be immediately obvious on either side of the leaf. Then you can quickly see them. See photos of how this looks, forgiving my poor photography skills.

This sort of works, but is time consuming to get the angles of the torch right. So I tried another idea - using a UV torch light on (not under) the plants. This sort-of-works, for plant faces, but it takes the eyes some time to adjust to see things and see insects against the background.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

manual scraping sanding for planter box

I've been scraping and sanding some old floorboards that I bought from a junkyard last year. They will form the base of a planter box I am building. Manual scraping is extremely satisfying, even if time consuming. It also permits discovering nails and embedded nail-residues in a way that isn't catastrophic.

I will post a pic of the box so far later. I have also just hand-pollinated more Lebanese zucchinis - pics to come!

(Update - because of severe time constraints, measured in hours and days not weeks during a period whih is quite busy with work and other things, I had to cheat and use an electric sander and an electric drill! But the piece is coming along well and I hope to have it in place in a few days. Working with electrical tools is boring, depressing and a mere conduit to efficiency; it is roughly the same quality of experience as queuing to use a machine-terminal at a supermarket checkout. But for reasons connected with the garden and getting the piece done, Ive gone for cardboard-boredom of electrical tools. The garden will be better for it. Actually, on this until the pressure of time collapsed my plans, I had been thinking about getting into using augers wih t-handles, and going retro in relation to using hand drills...still my plan. I have one hand auger, and using it is incredibly satisfying. Using braces to put in the screws is incredibly satisfying. But its days work-time I just done have, whereas this way I have been able to grab a hour or two in between times and get it done).

Some pieces of the bigger earth-life-picture for you to puzzle out

Here's a few bits of the earth-life puzzle for you to ponder.

(The salad is beautiful but there is a just little problem here...) 

On the mid Victorian (lots of vegetables) English diet, and how it was better, and gave the populace a longer life expectancy: (one paragraph short abstract).

I recently said something about Syngenta, so now I owe a mention of Monsanto, the rival. Its also part of our socio-political commitment to helping people join the dots here at Comp. Saint Ambrose.

So here's an old piece of news:

Gates goes into monsanto and carhill corps.
Hybridises his vision with monsanto GM crops.

The Guardian article asks: "is Gates being hopelessly naïve by backing two of the world's most aggressive agri-giants?"

Well, here's another question - whats the only form of 'acceptable' starvation in the world - the only sort we would yawn at and say send some aid, not an army? Answer:  it is debt/bankruptcy-induced starvation.

Now imagine the West or China being able to say to a client state: "Sorry, economic downturn, you cant afford fresh seed, your GM seed is sterile, so no crop next year. We'll rescue your elites with imported or donated food, and they can become computer programmers, but otherwise, this is just natural population attrition. Your fault for having too many kids".

Wouldn't it be horrible if there was a 'Natural'/free market curb on population growth, and allows the population controllers (e.g. Bill Gates) to do cull-eugenics without public exposure?

There is a social-Darwinist sorta parallel/precedent for this -

I actually hope that Bill Gates is going into Monsanto naively...

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

updates on the grey aphid problem circa Feb Mar 2014

Update - Grey Aphids. - I killed off the grey aphids using the blast-jet on the hose. It does work, sort of, but within hours the plants are moderately re-colonised, and within a week its back to where it was again. Sometimes not even this long - one kale was re-infested within 2 days. And water blasting isnt something Id want to do every two days. Water blasting works to get rid of catastrophic infestations, but not as a regular routine maitenance. A tip - obvious really - try ot take your pot plant from the  area it normally lives in, and blast it somewhere else. Otherwise the bugs just climb back up. One also finds that there are colonies of grey aphids on the leaf undersides and these just recolonise.

I am going to try using a spray similar to what Ive tried, but apply it after Ive finished with the blast-jet hose. So apply it to a clean kale and see if a spray works as a deterrent. (It certainly worked as a deterrent on the cabbage moths, but not on their caperpillars, although I must admit Im not sure in what state of disrepair the spray actually left the cabbage moth caterpillars in).

UPDATE: a week or so later.
I have been water blasting the Kale, but the grey aphids come back after a few hours. I am tending to the view that I might get rid of all the mature kales now, and allow the new batch of kales Ive planted to have the best chance of success and be aphid free. There is enough kale on the adult plants for a few weeks, but I think I need to purge it all; eat whats recoverable, and leave the rest. This will create a gap of about two weeks of meagre salads before I have enough from the seedlings to get a decent salad. I am also contemplating nuking the small salad pot plants, because they are overgrown with caterpillars, when the caterpillars were rampaging in February, and I was not doing a lot to stop them. I think I'll chop and drop the foliage and let it try again.