It’s possible that you are inadvertently downing more critters than you realise, especially if you buy organic leafy greens or grow your own at home and pick these to eat at your table. Insects have a way of attaching to organically grown produce, and I recently found a tiny, bright green mite, still alive and attached to a curled leaf of a head of lettuce after several days in the fridge. I returned it to a sheltered spot in my garden and wished it a happy life. Even after rinsing- that’s all you need to prepare organically grown greens- I’m aware that I may miss a few, and they may be going down the hatch- MY hatch!- along with a mouthful of salad. This is not much of a concern for me. There are worse things in life! It seems that currently there is a high level of interest in the viability of insect protein as we try and explore more creative ways of feeding the millions who occupy the planet. There is plenty on the web about the nutritious properties of insects and grubs, including other pertinent food awareness issues, such as why we all need to get over ‘ugly food’ and learn to eat weeds and certain foods that we, especially Westerners, typically consider unthinkable.
Near where I live there is a retailer that I used to frequent, where the doors remain closed after months, with no sign of change. While the harsh Lockdown regulations of a few months back have been eased more recently, this particular outlet has stuck to online trading only, and it seems they may keep it that way. From what I see, they are doing well and flourishing in the wave of online shopping that appears to be a big part of the new normal. Buying online is not something that has interested me much in the past: now and then I would order a book or two from overseas, or a DVD (although these days we use Netflix at home rather than DVDs), or something nice from Faithful to Nature in Cape Town. I have always enjoyed purchasing from FTN from time to time, because they sell the kind of products that I like and believe in from an ethical standpoint, and I love the way that they consider the environment and other pertinent issues as part of the normal run of their business. At a time where I sometimes feel that trying to get things done in an efficient and ethical way is like pulling teeth or jumping through hoops, it is pleasure to find a local, home grown company that just gets it right in so many ways. Continue reading
Most of the bloggers that I follow are based in the global North where winter season is round about now making its entrance. Here in the South, we are welcoming in our summer with that distinct lift to the spirits that accompanies this time of year, where you can feel yourself stepping out of the cold and into the light. We too have had our Covid related challenges: South Africa at one point this year was carrying the third or fourth highest infection rate globally, but thankfully that has changed dramatically for the better (not to take anything for granted here). Right now there is plenty of fresh green growth abounding- we have had one or two of the afternoon thunderstorms that are so typical of the Johannesburg Highveld, with some light hailstones- so cooling to the earth as they soak the soil with their nourishing nitrates following a dry and dusty September. This week we find ourselves in the midst of a bit of a heat wave, and yesterday I was in the garden before 8am in bare feet and a sundress, and by mid afternoon the temperature peaked at around 33 degrees celsius on our south facing slope.
In the early years of microwave ovens, when I still lived at home with my parents, there was the adage of ‘don’t cover your food with cling film in the microwave, it will give you cancer.’ Whether the whole truth or not, a lot of people remain instinctively mistrustful of single use plastics, whether out of concern for personal individual health or environmental health. I for one choose not to use cling film. I have not used it for many years and never have it in the house. I prefer to find other ways of wrapping and storing my food. There is enough evidence to conclude that single use plastics ultimately do our health no favours, and it cannot be argued that it is wreaking havoc upon our natural environment as we speak. They remain however, a cheap and convenient kitchen and pantry aid. It is this convenience that attracts us, and keeps us coming back for more. October is breast cancer awareness month in South Africa. And while thankfully it has not affected me personally, I know plenty of women (it can affect men too), including a sibling, who are breast cancer survivors. Continue reading
Sunday night was one of those nights. You wake up in the early hours to make a quick trip down the hall and then that’s it. Sleep is well and truly interrupted. The rhythm is gone, never to be seen again– for tonight, anyway. After twenty minutes or so, despite tissue salts (#6 Kali Phos may help), conscious slow breathing and counting backwards from 100, I’m still there, firmly in the grip of something that is bigger than my toolkit and all my best intentions. Sometimes I even forget about the toolkit—I forget to check on myself and what is happening with my thoughts, and how these may be affecting my breath and heart rate. A sudden recollection of a disagreement at work or at home may lead to an unexpected welling up of outrage, resentment, or whatever, and before you know it you are confronting that person in your head, you are feeling the steaminess of anger and righteous indignation, your heart rate goes up as your blood starts to boil, and in no time you are wide awake, living those unpleasant memories, and any hope of sleep has left the building!
Here at the Southernmost tip of Africa, we have just passed our twentieth day in Lockdown. There is that distinct and awkward feeling of trying to carry on as normal, as if nothing unusual is happening. And interestingly, whether unusual or not, we get on with life anyway, don’t we? And many of the challenges are the same as they ever were: the frustration of a laptop which suddenly plays up, or knowing that you need to make that difficult call, or deciding what to make for dinner. But we are fortunate if those are the extent of our concerns. There are people I know who are wondering when, and even if, they are going to be able to get back to earning an income, and others, far worse, who may not even know where there next meal comes from and are dependent at this time on the goodwill of others. On the positive side, there has been a groundswell of individuals and organisations who have reached out and stepped in to help, to try and offer something to people in our midst who are living with very little means of support.
The packaging is often the first thing you notice when you spot something new on the shelves, and a product’s packaging tells you a lot about the company that it’s connected to. For instance: are they using a lot of single use plastic, is the packaging unnecessarily bulky in relation to its contents, does the writing on the packaging contain helpful information about the company and its products, and what does the written information say about the ingredients used, especially in edible products? But there is a lot of other stuff to consider if you really want to understand if the company is running their business ethically, for instance how they source their raw materials, how their business impacts the natural environment, and how they treat their workers. If you visit the wonderful The Green Stars Project site, you will see that consumers (you and me) are encouraged to submit reviews using an amended version of the gold star rating system found on many retailer’s and review sites, by including a green star rating system based on social and environmental impact.
Outside the window to my left there is a nest in our mulberry tree. Both parents are back and forth constantly, carrying wormy morsels for consumption by two tiny, hungry baby birds. I have been watching this beautiful process for about three weeks now, starting when I noticed the two adults putting the final touches to their compact little nest, right in front of the glass doors at one entrance to our house. If I wanted to I could clear the distance between the entrance and the tree in two or three strides, stand on the bench just beneath it, and reach up and touch the nest. At first I thought I was surely mistaken: why would they build so close by? Had they not noticed that there are people living here, using this very entrance several times a day? Not to mention our cat (okay, he’s elderly and has never climbed that tree, but he’s often in the area), and that all things considered they had best find another spot? Continue reading
My garden has breathed a sigh of relief, following some impressive afternoon thunderstorms, so typical of Johannesburg at this time of the year. Many a seedling wilted and died last month, after weeks of unrelenting, frustratingly rain-less heat which rendered even the toughest of our garden plants (aloes and crassulas) gasping for relief. January 2019 has offered some rainy respite, bringing with it a sense of fresh renewal and the garden has responded accordingly. Not that we haven’t had some failures: seeds lovingly planted have mysteriously not produced (I have learnt to accept that this sometimes is just so), seedlings have shriveled and expired in the heat, and our lovely lettuce was set upon by some bug or worm with a very large appetite. In this case I have been determined not to use chemical insect repellents, and thankfully our preferred organic alternatives are slowly making an impact.
Please enjoy the pictures to follow. Each one snapped by me earlier today:
When I spied this poisonous Brown Button spider and her eggs clinging to the underside of a piece of garden furniture, I felt a strong pull of sympathy and fascination and less of the horror and alarm that some might expect. I even felt a bit guilty for not having noticed her when I initially pulled the chair away from it’s normal shady spot two days ago, and placed it on the lawn in the baking hot sun where it has been ever since. Waiting to be scrubbed clean along with some other pieces of garden equipment. (We will get round to that). I felt a distinct sense of kinship with this spider mother who was after all, just trying to give her kids a home and fighting chance in a harsh world, and here I come along and spoil the whole plan by exposing them, belly side up, to the blazing summer sun and the possibility of predators, such as certain birds.
I have come across venomous spiders before in Johannesburg gardens, and I knew by sight that this one was not severely venomous. It’s the Black Button (Widow) that you’ve really got to be careful of: typically a bite from one of those results in a hospital admission and having your vital signs measured for about 24 hours. A bite from the Brown Button is less severe and more localised, and symptoms in a healthy adult will normally clear up within a few days. Button Spiders will only attack if threatened; not exactly the vicious predators they are sometimes made out to be.
Well anyway, there we were: myself, the spider and her little brood of two, with me wondering what to do next. A nice photograph of the little family seemed appropriate, so I leaned in slowly with my phone and clicked. She immediately darted into her nest, which you can clearly see in the above pic: it’s the pocket shaped mass to the right of the photo, with her balancing at the mouth. Pleased with my nicely detailed close-up, and feeling somewhat bonded with this little trio, I felt inclined to offer them some shelter, so I lifted the chair (easy enough; its made of a light plastic) and moved the whole lot into a shady spot on the patio.
And that’s where we are now. But the harder part comes later, because clearly a decision will have to be made. We are encouraged to ‘get rid’ of poisonous creatures from our homes and gardens, and that can mean different things to different people. So when my husband gets home later from an undoubtedly long and hard day, we will still have a little date with Mother Nature to attend to.
For more on spiders and snakes in South Africa: