Tuesday, 26 August 2008

It's not easy being green. Etcetera. Etcetera.

Well, it isn't. And sometimes it makes you want to cry. Like yesterday, for instance, when we had to hoick out all twenty tomato plants because of late blight.

It was a bit like déja vu. We'd already had a serious attack of tomato blight in June (aka monsoon season), and in retrospect probably should have pulled up all of those plants and burnt them well before we did. But we didn't: we tried to save them. But we didn't: in the end they had to go. In went the next lot of tomato plants, in another bed. They thrived; it was a joy to watch them every day. True, some of them showed the occasional small brown patch, which we quietly removed. As all the other local organic growers do here, we gave them a treatment of Bordeaux mixture. Tomatoes started to form; we held our breath. So far, so good. Until last week, a couple of days of which were cool and a bit damp; we went to bed one night with healthy plants, and woke twelve hours later to four rows of sad horrible brown wilted scabby things. It was that fast.

If we discount my original theory that the Saints de Glace are having a laugh at my expense, I'm baffled. Our land hasn't grown vegetables for nearly 30 years. We don't grow potatoes. Our neighbours haven't got blight. We raised the plants from seed. So why? Yes, I realise it's probably not A Really Big Issue in the overall scheme of things, but it's pretty devastating when it happens. And we're going to have to think hard about how to deal with it next year.

There's an approach to growing practised here in France, originally just in viticulture but now more widely in agriculture, called 'lutte raisonée' - literally, 'reasoned struggle'. It's not organic, exactly, but those who practise it will only use any form of pesticide or fungicide treatment as an absolute last resort, having weighed up the environmental impact of treating against the overall impact of not treating. So no spraying 'just in case', and if the decision is made to treat, it will be because it's necessary to save an entire crop, and it will be done in such a way as to minimise damage to the soil and to beneficial insects. Almost all of the top wine domaines practise lutte raisonée, and I can see why. To me, sustainability has to be holistic, which means taking into account the personal and financial impact of an action as well as its impact on the Environment with a big E.

For example (and deep greens, look away now), we occasionally use slug pellets. We do so not because we don't know about or haven't thought about other methods, or because we don't care. We do so because we live and grow, here at Grillou, in an environment which can sometimes be very challenging indeed: in the middle of woodland with, in wet weather, more (and bigger) slugs and snails than I have ever seen in my life. Beer traps, eggshells, coffee grounds and all the rest simply don't cut it here: with half a hectare we can't afford nemotodes; I'm certainly not paying 30 euros for six copper rings (especially as we'd need at least 60 ...); and sorry, but staying up all night to pick the things off my plants is simply not an option. So if we're to produce any seedlings or any lettuce at all, pellets it is, sometimes.

Being green isn't the nice cuddly, fluffy little number it's often made out to be. It's about hard work, hard thinking and even harder choices. And it's not easy.

2 comments:

Karen en Ronny Van Staeyen said...

Hi Kalba,
I know exactly how you feel about your tomato's. We're not living that far from your place and struggled a lot with the idea of leaving the green path. But you know we kept our faith. I pierced all plants with a copper wire this year and... it helped. Some became black but our freezer is full now.
Oh yes about the snails, you can use ferramol it is allowed for organic gardening.
Have fun, ronny

Karen en Ronny Van Staeyen said...

Hi Kalba,
I know exactly how you feel about your tomato's. We're not living that far from your place and struggled a lot with the idea of leaving the green path. But you know we kept our faith. I pierced all plants with a copper wire this year and... it helped. Some became black but our freezer is full now.
Oh yes about the snails, you can use ferramol it is allowed for organic gardening.
Have fun, ronny