Finding that elusive variety on Seed Swap Day

Today, the last Saturday of January, is Seed Swap Day. Since the day originated in the US, it makes sense that it takes place this time of year – the ideal time for our Northern Hemisphere neighbours to get the range of seeds, bulbs etc you need for that vege patch you’re planning, or to ensure your spring garden is a feast of colour.

Here in the Southern Hemisphere the time is not quite ideal – its approaching winter, and heading away from the growing season for most veges, flowers etc. Still, the concept is so good that it’s worth mentioning, even if we end up doing a ‘Southern Seed Swap’ later in the year, around August perhaps. Or perhaps now is the time for a winter swap (brassicas, asian greens, celery and other winter crops).

Harvest quality seeds from your vege patch this year - it's all the currency you need to source great seeds from your next seed swap.(© All Rights Reserved)
Harvest quality seeds from your vege patch this year – it’s all the currency you need to source great seeds from your next seed swap.
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The whole principle behind Seed Swap Day is that people get together regionally to swap seeds from their previous year’s crop. Why buy expensive seed from commercial seed companies every year if you can source fresh seeds & bulbs from neighbours in exchange for seeds from your prize veges? Not only do you effectively get seeds for free, but its often the only way to get your hands on some rare and unusual varieties not easily available commercially. And best of all – by swapping locally, you can find seeds and bulbs from plants that are well acclimated to your climate.

Can’t find a seed swap near you? Well, maybe that’s the universe telling you this is your time to take action – pick a date, arrange a venue (perhaps a local school or church hall, or even your garden for that matter), and start getting the message out to neighbours and the wider community. Most community papers also provide space to advertise local events.

If you want to seriously get into seed saving and swapping, it’d be worth your while to learn more about best ways to store and keep seeds and bulbs. There’s some good information sources available online – check out the online Vegetable Seed Saving Handbook, for example. It’s a good idea sharing this with other interested people in your area too, to increase the knowledge base in the region over time, and to ensure everyone can bring good products to your local swap.

OK, yes, it means a bit of effort from your side, but the rewards will be so worth it. And you will have that great feeling of knowing you did something really good, promoting environmental sustainability and local economic development.

So let this year’s Seed Swap Day be your call to action. And best wishes for an abundant vegetable patch and a luscious garden!

Seeing double – it’s Dolly the Sheep’s birthday!

Today we celebrate the birthday of Dolly the Sheep (July 5, 1996 – February 14, 2003), the first mammal to have been successfully cloned from an adult cell.

Dolly was cloned at the Roslin Institute in Midlothian, Scotland. The technique used to clone her is called somatic cell nuclear transfer. It involves a cell being placed in a de-nucleated ovum, and when the two cells merge, it develops into an embryo. Originally code-named “6LL3”, Dolly was cloned from a mammary cell, which became the basis for her name. In the words of cloning scientist Ian Wilmut, “Dolly is derived from a mammary gland cell and we couldn’t think of a more impressive pair of glands than Dolly Parton’s”.

Cloning is the process of creating an identical copy of an original organism.
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Dolly was born to three mothers – the ovum and the DNA were harvested from two different sheep, and a third carried the cloned embryo to term. Her birth placed the international spotlight firmly on cloning research, causing great controversy that still rages on today. Many scientific, governmental, religious and humanitarian organisations oppose cloning, with arguments ranging from the medical risks involved, to the protection of the sanctity of life, to the protection of the identity of the individual.

Dolly died young, at the age of 6, after developing a progressive lung disease typically prevalent in older sheep. After her death it was also revealed that she had developed premature arthritis. With many sheep living to twice her age, Dolly’s death re-ignited the debate over the health and life-expectancy of cloned animals. One of the arguments in the debate is that animals cloned from adult cells have shorter telomeres (the pieces of DNA that protect the ends of chromosomes) than other animals of the same age. Since telomeres naturally shorten as cells divide, they are, to some extent, a measure of age. It has been argued that, since Dolly was cloned from a six year old sheep, she was effectively born with a genetic age of six.

Since Dolly, many other large mammals have been cloned, including horses and cattle. Cloning can become a viable means of preserving endangered species, and potentially even reviving extinct species. In 2009, scientists in Spain succeeded in cloning a Pyrenean ibex, a wild mountain goat that had been officially extinct since 2000. While the animal died shortly after birth, it was considered the first successful cloning of an extinct species, showing a possible way forward in protecting endangered and recently extinct animals (using frozen tissue).

(I cannot help but wonder whether protecting our biodiversity and pursuing more sustainable ways of interacting with our planet, may not be a more proactive solution to the problem of more and more species being driven to extinction. But that’s another argument altogether.)

Cloning, in particular human cloning, has become a favourite topic in science fiction novels and movies, from the work of Aldous Huxley to the Star Wars series. This remains a highly sensitive topic, that is sure to continue being a point of public controversy for many years to come.

Blown away on Global Wind Day

From light breezes to destructive gales, today is the day to celebrate wind in all its guises. Global Wind Day is all about discovering the possibilities wind holds for changing our world for the better.

Wind energy is one of the fastest growing forms of renewable, clean energy sources on the planet, with wind farms already operating in 75 countries, and exponential growth in technology to effectively harness the power of the wind.

With New Zealand being one of the most consistently windy countries in the world, it makes sense that it is very active in wind farming research and development. Having recently covered the New Zealand Wind Energy Conference, I was blown away by the level of wind energy related activity in the country. Wind currently provides about 5% of the country’s electricity, and at its current growth rate it is expected that this figure will rise to  20% by 2030. Considering the upward trend in energy consumption, this implies a massive increase in wind energy output over the next 20 years. Interestingly, given the consistency and reliability of New Zealand’s wind resource, NZ wind farms significantly outperform the international average.

While detractors complain about the visual and noise impacts of wind farms, research results have largely refuted these arguments. (Living in the middle of New Zealand’s most active wind farming area, I find a hill covered in wind turbines aesthetically quite pleasing, to the extent that I can spend days looking for interesting new angles to photograph them!)

An imposing sight, wind energy embodies New Zealand’s “100% pure” reputation.
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Wind energy has a number of very appealing features making it an environmentally sound choice for clean economic growth:

  • Wind never runs out, making it one of the most secure sources of electricity for future generations.
  • Since wind cannot be “owned”, investing in wind energy helps provide protection against the volatility of fossil fuel markets, where price and supply is dictated by political regimes.
  • Thanks to their small footprint, wind farms have minimal impact on land use. Land owners hosting wind farms can continue their normal farm activities with little need to adapt to the presence of wind farm infrastructure.
  • Wind farming has minimal environmental impact – it does not consume water, and produces no carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, mercury, radioactive waste, particulates, or any other type of air pollution, unlike fossil fuel power sources.

Given that the global need for electricity is real and is not going to go away any time soon, the rather serene sight of a set of wind turbines on a hill sure is a heck of a lot more appealing than a destructive, polluting fossil fuel plant on the horizon!

World Environment Day

Today we celebrate World Environment Day, a global event initiated by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to promote awareness regarding global environmental issues, and to create positive environmental action. Its a day for all people to join hands and start taking action to ensure a cleaner, greener, brighter future.

The 2012 theme for World Environment Day is Green Economy: Does it include you? In the first place, this is meant to raise general awareness of the concept of the “green economy”, and secondly to promote personal involvement in activities supporting a greener future. Simply stated, the green economy is one “whose growth in income and employment is driven by public and private investments that reduce carbon emissions and pollution, enhance energy and resource efficiency, and prevent the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services” (UNEP, 2012).

The theme for World Environment Day 2012 is Green Economy: Does it include you?
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At a macro level, the green economy is about a move to more sustainable energy sources such as solar, water and wind energy, about infrastructure development promoting green buildings and clean transportation, about water and waste management, about big business investing in more sustainable business practices, and about sustainable job creation and poverty reduction.

While these are all critically important initiatives that need to be promoted and supported, it really does start with each of us, at an individual level, investing in a more environmentally aware lifestyle. Recycling household waste, doing your own composting, growing your own (organic) fruit and veges, conserving water and electricity, minimising waste, buying used products & buying bulk – these are all ways in which we can do our bit for a greener, healthier planet.

The green economy is all about preserving our natural heritage for future generations.
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For more ideas on living responsibly, this How to be Green Guide is a nice place to start.

Enjoy the world, responsibly!

World Meteorological Day

The theme of this year’s World Meteorological Day is “Powering our future with weather, climate and water”.  This highlights the critical roles of weather, climate and water services in powering a sustainable future for us and for generations to come.

The themes of sustainable power and energy seem quite pertinent this year, with the UN General Assembly also declaring 2012 the “International Year of Sustainable Energy for All”.  The use of renewable energies has been growing in leaps and bounds, accounting for about half of the almost 200 gigawatts of new electricity capacity added globally during 2010. According to the International Energy Agency, the renewable energy electricity sector grew by 17.8 per cent between 2005 and 2009. It currently provides nearly 20 percent of total power generation in the world.

Of the renewable electricity sources, hydro power still represents the largest sector. However, wind power has grown the most in absolute terms. The Global Wind Energy Council says the world’s wind power capacity grew by 31 per cent in 2009.

(Source: The World Meteorological Organization, http://www.wmo.int)

New Zealand has 16 wind farms either operating or under construction. These currently have a combined installed capacity of 615 megawatts, supplying about 4% of New Zealand’s annual electricity generation. This is about the same amount of electricity as 180,000 New Zealand homes use in a year. Developers are exploring sites throughout New Zealand for new wind farms. (Source: New Zealand Wind Energy Association)
This image was captured at the Manawatu wind farm during the snowy 2011 winter.
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