Grrrr-een.

I’m not a fan of that term (“green”), or many of the other similarly sexy marketable words , (“environmental”, “eco-friendly”, “natural”, “organic”, “sustainable”) but I understand the need for them.  There needs to be that attachment or connection to the things we produce, things we buy into, how we use, how we dispose.

I went through a lot of anguish to name this blog, the Bioagogee bit, none of those eco-anything words please.  I’m just fascinated with life in its infinite forms, literally stand amazed when I learn about something new, like glass frogs

Glass Frog

 

or diablos rojos (or anything from the sea actually)

aka Humboldt Squid

 

or monkey beetles (or any insects actually)  

Scelophysa trimeni

 

or when I come across something as off-centre as Synsepalum dulcificum, “Miracle Fruit”, which contains an active glycoprotein molecule called miraculin that binds to taste buds causing bitter and sour foods to taste sweet (the sugar industry in the States did not like this one bit in the ’70’s, much like cotton producers don’t like the hemp industry).

Synsepalum dulcificum

 

Or when I stand face to face with something, like two mongooses (not “mongeese”) within four hours of each other in two separate areas. 

Galerella pulverulenta

 

So I may be a hypocrite naming the green roofing company Green Sky Landscapes, but I’ll let that one slide.

Special mention must be made to Mr Terome McNally who sat and listened and reasoned and came up with ideas and shut down ideas and lit up more ideas and then I suppose just carried on doing what he was doing downstairs while Skype was still on upstairs.

Disclaimer:  All photographs were sourced online at the sites linked above.  Wait.  Except for the diablos rojos picture which was sourced at this tabloid article.  Ugh.  ]

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Oh my, harvest!

I harvested finally, finally, I think the whole neighbourhood exhaled when that happened.  130 days it took!  One-hundred-and-thirty, normally it takes about 68 to 110 days depending on the conditions (this is for Beta vulgaris ‘Crimson Globe’, a quicker variety) but due to various factors mine took longer.  Oh, much longer.  I could speculate that this is due to it being the height of winter and even though winter was mild we did have very cold nights.  Also the soil depth and the type of substrate must have impacted on the growth rate, and very possibly wind exposure could have stunted them too.  They turned out alright though, considering?  Deeper soil, summertime, no pressures of a research deadline… next time it’ll be in and out!

First Beet


I could have harvested a lot sooner but I needed to line up all the necessary statistical methodology for the research, as well as methodology for sampling and analysing the samples for the lab.

An interesting point about them is that they didn’t really develop a taproot but rather the roots developed adventitiously, I speculate it could be from the loose, humid, nutrient-rich substrate and the fact that the soil was at an average of 75mm depth.

Adventitious Root System

What did happen though was that the roots developed along an axis and not centrally, and one has to think about the whole process of vegetable production:  post-production, cleaning, storage etc.  It would be interesting to see how the root waste of beets such as these compare to conventionally grown beets.  The total waste off this harvest was 572g out of a total yield of 11kg.

Root Development

The point is that it works, growing vegetables in an extensive green roof system has its advantages.  Most definitely Round 2 will see deeper substrate (I was governed by student budget) and not monoculture.

The bulk of the stock went to Lola’s Restaurant on Long Street to be turned into deliciousness such as borscht, juices, salad with award-winning gorgonzola, and the leaves will be utilised too, most likely for crisps (either in the oven or in shallow oil in the pan).

I have the rest of the leaves which I will dice and freeze and will go into caramelised onion, feta and beetroot leaf quiche and quiche and quiche (easy to freeze)!

Et voila!

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Cracked-shell Tortoises

I never knew tortoises could survive broken shells.  This is not the best photograph but it was the best I could manage as I was running around the nursery.  So apparently the story goes that this tortoise was picked up by an eagle one day and was not dropped from a high enough height (as the eagle should have) so the shell was cracked but not enough for the eagle to feast.  Who knows why the eagle didn’t go for a second round, point is this tortoise is now resident at Good Hope Gardens, cracked shell and all, survived for a few years just as it is.

Cracked-shell Chersina angulata

Turns out crows also do this, especially the white-necked raven. As Mark D. Anderson explains, “[they] regard padlopers as a delicacy”.  Of course there are many animals that prey on tortoise but not many birds who pick them up and drop them at height.  Tactics.

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Return of the Rinkhals

Hemachatus haemachatus, "Rinkhals"

[Photo credit]

Thought to be extinct in the Cape Peninsula, Rinkhals (Hemachatus haemachatus) have recently been spotted in Gordon’s Bay, Hermanus, Somerset West, up along the West Coast to Mamre and Table Mountain National Park.  Interestingly enough there have been no sightings in urban areas previously known to habit Rinkhals, such as Kenilworth Racecourse Conservation Area.

So Rinkhals (or Ringhals, literally “ring-necked”) are back.

This.  Is.  Big.  News.

Rinkhals have the biggest reputation when it comes to venomous snakes, more so than adders I think.  The fear they instill compared to other snakes is astounding, even though they are the least of the venomous snakes to be worried about.  They are the quintessential Ophidiophobia snakes.  …Ok maybe not really, but even those with no fear of snakes have their reserves when it comes to Rinkhals.  I have no idea why but maybe it’s because we don’t know much about them here in the Cape?

[A word on Ophidiophobia:  I think perhaps it is innate in all of us, a healthy fear of snakes keeps a healthy distance.  There is not too much interaction that needs to happen between humans and snakes, a healthy respect and separation is the best way to manage things.]

Although they are hooded and move similarly to cobra’s, they do not belong to the genus Naja (the Cape Cobra being Naja nivea) but are closely related.  Their scales are keeled and not smooth like cobras.  Their fangs, when exposed, eject venom up and out from the centre as opposed to the tips (as in cobra’s), often marking their targets eyes.  This only happens when the snake is up and hooded as it needs to rear back and fling its head to hit target.  Hence the Rinkhals is often confused with the Mozambiquean Spitting Cobra.  Either way, keep your distance, they spit to about 2.5m.

Rinkhals are also known to feign death, probably when faced with no other means of escape.  They are known to twist their bodies into awkward positions, mouths agape and their tongues lolling out.  This is all a means of deterring predator’s – the spitting, the death-feigning- not a scheme to trick prey.  If you see a snake that looks dead, leave it alone.

Rinkhals feigning death

[Photo credit]

Rinkhals feed mostly on toads and frogs and thus are found mostly near dams, vlei’s and wetlands.  Being aware is the most important thing, when you’re out on the veld, walking your dog on the mountains, keep an eye out.

It is also interesting to know that the Rinkhals venom is much less toxic than that of Naja’s and that their venom gets diluted with saliva.  Still, they carry neurotoxic venom (which is also partially cytotoxic) which means the venom ‘attacks’ nervous and cell tissue.  Human fatalities are not common but the venom will do definite damage.  If you (or your dog) get spit in the eyes, irrigate as soon as you can with whatever liquid you have on hand: water, energy drink, milk, booze, even urine.  The pain is excruciating and the venom needs to be washed out as much as possible.

It is good to note that the only hospital in the Western Cape that carries anti-venom is Tygerberg Hospital Poison Unit 021-931-6129, from boomslange to adders to cobra venom.  And yes it is far, but you have enough time to get there.

Remember, in South Africa there are more reported deaths by human bite than by snake bite.  Seriously.  A snake has no need to approach a human, if you see a snake, any snake, back away.

I would highly recommend that if you have the means you should do a snake-handling course.  I did mine with the Cape Reptile Institute, endorsed by the FGASA (Field Guides Association of South Africa).  What stuck out the most to me was the immense diversity within the snake families, especially venomous snakes.  The way they move, their habitats, the differences in scales (smooth, keeled), their weight (I could not pick the puff adder, was like a pit bull – short and stout but pure power), the different body shapes and even their diets.  It was a humbling experience and I came out with a great deal more respect.

If you spot a Rinkhals, or think you may have spotted one, give Grant Smith a call on 084 328 1001 or e-mail him at rinkhalsrelic@gmail.com.  Ideally GPS co-ordinates would be most helpful but an explanation of the location would suffice too.  Grant and his team at the City of Cape Town’s Biodiversity Management Branch are doing very important research into Hemachatus haemachatus distribution in the Cape and would appreciate any leads.

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Pestival the Bestival!

The Art of Being an Insect

Ah, Pestival.  Too amazingival!

So it has recently been announced that next years Pestival will be in Brasil (city to be announced), I am so keen to go, I am thinking of making Insecta Ceramica and going to hustle just so I can be a part of the awesomeness.  Dubbed as “The Glastonbury of the natural world” (…ok, by The Guardian), Pestival is a huge gathering of insectomaniacs.  As described on their website, Pestival “is a mobile arts festival examining insect-human interactivity in bioscience, through paradigms of contemporary art, cinema, music and comedy as well as direct scientific demonstration and educational projects.”  The key here is that it’s mobile, the festival has started travelling the world and each event sees international attendees and exhibitors.

Brainchild of Bridget Nicholls, Pestival was founded in 2006 and has enjoyed continued success. Held biennially, Pestival London 2010 saw 200 000 visitors over its 2 day event from 10 000 in its first year.

See what they’re on about:

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Good Hope Gardens

Halleria lucida "Tree Fuchsia"

I have been very blessed to join the team at Good Hope Gardens in Cape Point, an indigenous nursery true-to-the-word:  not necessarily Agapanthus, Tecoma, Rhus, Tulbaghias and the usual ‘monoculture’ suspects, but rarer species and many species endemic to the region.  It’s winter now so there is much demand for fynbos like Proteas, Leucodendrons and Leucospermums, some Serrurias, Phylicas and many, many Erica’s, to name a few.

So Good Hope have gone through some changes to the business and are having a Spring Day re-launching, very exciting!  The Tea Garden has the most delicious baked goods (gluten-free) and fynbos treats as well.  Here is their webpage for more information.

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More trees, less assholes

More Trees, Less Assholes

(No idea who took this photograph, let me know if you do.)

UPDATE:  Photo credit:  Mike Piscitelli for the Insight 2011 Campaign.

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