Monday, August 21, 2006

Podcast Mania

For two years now, sans TV, the radio (NPR mainly) and the Internet have become our main source of news. Since our local public radio (WPSU) airs NPR only in the morning and evening for some time (and classical music the rest of the day), I began listening to NPR online. This led to discovering a lot of interesting programs and eventually to podcasts. The list of podcasts kept changing for a while as I kept finding more and more interesting ones and dropping some that I didn't like. Now the list has stabilized a bit and I have settled into a sort of weekly routine of podcast listening. So I am posting the list of my favorite podcasts about nature, environment, conservation etc. for all of you to try them out. I have given links to the RSS feed for the podcast at the end of the little intro to each one of them. If you enjoy listening to something that is not on my list please let me know through the comments. So here goes...

1. Living on Earth (via NPR): This weekly NPR program has some really interesting stories from across the world and covers a wide range of environmental issues. From time to time they also have special features. It is through this program that I learnt about David Sheldrick Wildlife trust (program link, trust website) last year and that's how we ended up being the foster parents of little Lualeni. I also came across the story of Radiator Charlie and his heirloom tomatoes through LoE. One of their special features that I really liked was the documentary (link) about Wangari Maathai, the Nobel prize winning Kenyan activist; and her Green Belt movement. [::RSS feed ::]

2. Living Planet (by Deutsche Welle radio): This program features environmental issues in Europe (mainly) and the world. Every week they also have a feature about interesting events and issues related to the environment. The most recent one that I enjoyed a lot was about a solar powered tour boat called "The Serpentine Solar Shuttle", that has recently started ferrying tourists in London. [::RSS feed ::]

3. GLRC Environment Report (via NPR): This is a weekly roundup of environmental news and developments across the US by the Great Lakes Radio Consortium. Every week there is also a feature story from the Great Lakes region. [::RSS feed ::]

4. Allegheny Front: This is an excellent environmental news program featuring stories mainly from Western Pennsylvania. It is broadcast weekly on public radio (WYEP) in Pittsburgh and is also available as a podcast. [::RSS feed ::]

5. Inside Renewable Energy: This weekly podcast by features news and interesting developments about renewable energy issues across the world. [::RSS feed ::]

6. Pulse of the Planet: This podcast has interesting "two minute sound portraits" of the planet earth. I really like these because each one of them is a surprise. One day you are listening to sounds from Erie county fair and on another day you are learning about Wrens from Ecuador. [::RSS feed ::]

7. Earthwatch Radio: This podcast is produced by University of Wisconsin- Madison. It too consists of a short two minute tidbit about science and environment everyday. It's like having a small "information chicklet" every day. [::RSS feed ::]

8. Natural Selections: This is a short 5 minute program produced by North Country Public Radio. Each week the hosts discuss some topic from the natural world. [::RSS feed ::]

9. Nature Stories Podcast: The podcast sponsored by the Nature Conservancy has some interesting stories from the natural world every week. [::RSS feed ::]

10. Organically Speaking: This podcast features interviews with people who share a passion for natural and organic lifestyles. The interviews are not on a specific schedule but each one of them is very insightful. I like the most recent one with Michael Pollan, the author of "The Omnivore's Dilemma". [::RSS feed ::]

I am looking for some good gardening podcasts but I haven't quite had the time to hunt for them. If you know any good gardening podcasts, do let me know. Apart from these environment related podcasts, I also listen to "The Changing World" [::RSS feed ::], from BBC and PRI. It has these amazing radio documentaries on emerging topics across the world.

That's all folks. Happy listening and do get back if you know 'bout other interesting stuff to listen.

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Wednesday, August 09, 2006

The Summer Garden

Our garden is blooming now and we are harvesting its bounty. But wait! That is not how I wanted to tell this story. As I explained in my previous post, we have a garden plot at the Tudek Community Garden for the summer. I wanted to blog about my gardening experience as it was happening. Unfortunately for a multitude of reasons, I wasn't able to do that. So let me "start at the beginning" as they say.

We got our 15 ft. x 20 ft. plot towards the end of April and started digging in May. The garden has recently been expanded and more plots have been added this year. Ours is one of the new plots. Unfortunately, our plot is on a sloping barn hill which had been raised artificially by putting in rocks (The barn and the farm are now a part of Tudek Memorial Park and so is the community garden). As soon as we started digging, we found out that our first harvest would be a few tons of rocks to be taken out of our plot. In the snap on the left you can see me looking over the first bed I dug in the plot, with all the rocks that I took out lined up against the fence. We had initially planned to double dig the plots but we found that it was hard enough to go even one spade depth with all the rocks. So we decided to work the soil only a feet or so deep.

Here is another snap with all the harvested rocks. You can also see all the other plots, not planted yet, in the background. The fence in the background shows the extent of the garden. The Tudek Memorial Park ground is beyond the tree line in the background. As you can see the garden is set in very beautiful surroundings and working there is really a great pleasure in spite of all the work.

The first two beds were ready by the second week of May and we decided to plant beet, white radish, red radish and spring onions in the two beds. Following the biointensive planting technique, we planted the seeds in a hexagonal close packed pattern. Here is a snap of Sampada planting the first seeds in our garden.

In the next snap you can see the tiny red radish saplings coming out. If you look closely (click on the image to enlarge it) you can also discern the hexagonal close packed pattern marked by the tiny green dots that are the saplings. The logic behind doing this is that the plants as they grow up create a natural cover and prevent weeds from growing in between them by blocking the sunlight. This also reduces moisture loss from the soil and conserves water. However for this to succeed there should be enough nutrients in the soil and the soil should be worked well using the double digging technique. Since we hadn't double dug the beds we decided to plant the seeds a little bit further apart than recommended to reduce the density.

The beet and radish saplings popped out of the soil within a week or so and in two weeks they were a good six or eight inches tall. That's when we made our first big mistake. While planting them, we had planted two or three seeds at each point to ensure that we have enough plants. At almost all the points all of these seeds germinated and we had two or three saplings standing at each point. In order to get a good harvest, what we should have done is thin these out to one sapling at each point. But we were squeamish about pulling the tiny little plants out of the soil and didn't thin the beds enough. The result was that we got all of them competing for water and nutrients and very few of them growing into nice big round radishes or beets. The radishes in the snap were infact our first harvest. We got a good harvest of beets as well. None for the white radishes though.

Anyway! By mid June we had utilized our plot fully and there was no more room to plant. All we had to do after that was to weed, water and wait for the harvest. Here is a picture of how our plot looked after we finished planting everything. You can see the tomatoes all staked nicely on the right. The cabbages behind them and two rows of peas on the right, in front of the tomatoes. We had also harvested the radishes by mid June and planted two more rows of peas, some chard, corn and cucumbers in their place. The straw mulch is provided by the community garden... one of the many amenities they provide for amateur gardeners like us.

Well, that was that... the first half of the story. Since mid June our main task has been to take care of what we have planted and enjoy the bounty as it comes. There are some interesting anecdotes that I would like to narrate separately. In the meanwhile you can enjoy a photo album of the garden with a lot more photos of the garden here. This year the community gardening project was featured in the local newspapers. You can find the article here. It does a good job in outlining the growth of community gardening in the US and features interviews with fellow gardeners and the coordinator/manager of our garden - Joe Banks.

Hope you enjoy the photos. Come back for more about my gardening experience in a few days.

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