Friday, July 27, 2012

Ireland's "Green" Growing Skinned by Teagasc

Shame on Teagasc the Irish Agriculture and Food Development Authority which has just announced its intention to begin trials of genetically modified potato crops shortly at it's site in Oak Park in County Carlow. 

Here the agency is expecting to commence years of trials for blight resistant GM spuds on a two hectare site and in the process, giving the GM monster it's first proper foothold in Ireland.

Despite widespread use in other countries, including the USA where corn crops are being hammered at the moment by drought, there have been no proven benefits with GM crops. They have not reduced pesticide use and they have not created loaves and fishes style feeding miracles in third world countries. 

"Down boy!" A Teagasc genius is patted on the head by Ireland's first GM spud birth."We call him Ruprecht" the official announced yesterday.

They have however been proven to crossbreed with other non-GM varieties and it's a fair assumption that the long term effects of GM foods are not yet known. 

We are told the go ahead for the experiment was only agreed after close consultancy with the Environmental Protection Agency (what do they know about GM?) and the Food Safety Authority!!! (Do you want sauce with that?!) 

What about asking consumers across Europe who are firmly against GM tainted foods? What about proven non GM blight resistant potato strains which produce plenty of good yields but are too irregular sized for the modern big corporate processing machines to handle? The truth is it's not just about blight control but also the corporate costs of making processing cheaper.

Teagasc says blight costs E15m each year and that they need to save a few bob for the poor farmers. Australia thought it would save a few bob by bringing in rabbits to keep the grass down. But what does losing Ireland's global GM free reputation cost?  Answers on a postcard to the Oak Park numpties.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Slug Explosions - Why Other Slugs Eat Them

The other day I stepped on a slug on the patio. The slimer did exactly what any one of us might do if something  638,888.889 times heavier than us had accidentally stepped on us - it exploded.
Sadly - the fact of having the great and accessible powers of Dr Interweb at your fingertips in the modern age means you can't just be curious about one of those obscure and ridiculous fleeting thoughts that comes into your head (in this case: "Oh, I wonder how many times heavier I am than a slug?") and then move on sensibly (as nature intended). 

No siree - seeing that I had the great online collective world brain right at my fingertips to go poking into -  I just had to go and find out.

I came back to this blog half an hour later feeling simultaneously proud and embarrassed that I had actually taken the trouble to work it out. But seeing I did it, you were dang well going to get the right number - six hundred and thirty eight thousand, eight hundred and eighty eight point eight eight nine times heavier. I am six hundred and thirty eight thousand, eight hundred and eighty eight point eight nine times heavier than an average garden slug.
Dr Interweb's Mighty Brain yesterday
But I took the long way around.

When I keyed in my question "How much does a slug weigh?" I soon discovered I wasn't alone. There were lots of people like me on the web asking this very question.

Unfortunately no one online ever seems to taken the trouble to coax an invertebrate up on a scales - understandable perhaps given that you don't really want them sliming about on your kitchen weighing system. You could perhaps try guessing it's weight, but guessing a beast's weight is all a bit too small town country fair for me. Oddly, plenty of people have weighed garden snails.

The question did produce an equation from Wiki answers. There's even a formula to show what one slug equals and another to show how one slug fits into 1lb f whatever that is.

1\,\text{slug} =1\,\frac{\text{lb}_F\cdot\text{s}^2}{\text{ft}}
1\,\text{lb}_F = 1\,\frac{\text{slug}\cdot\text{ft}}{\text{s}^2}

Unfortunately, as well as being a land crawling invertebrate, a quick drink from someone's hip flask, and a spent lead bullet, a slug just had to be a measurement of mass, thus making my search considerably more discerning.

Finally I uncovered a clue - that the average crawler can eat 60mg in one go - about 40pc of its equivalent body weight.

From this I worked out its actual weight, converted mine into mgs and then divided one into the other to come up with the answer (Yes I should get out more often - but I have kids - what's your excuse?).

What relevance does this have to the story?

None. But this is my blog. 

Back to where I was.

It exploded. But when I came back that way later I discovered three slugs of various sizes chowing down on the splatted carcass. Not only that, there were many more slugs from five or six feet (miles to them) away, with the foot to floor in a bid to get there before all the dead slug debris was gone.

Having lived in a wet green country all my life and gardened for most of it, I'd never seen such a phenomenon - cannibal slugs!!

A slug having a friend around for dinner
Since then I've seen the same thing happen a couple of times - perhaps because I was watching out for it.

So I looked it up again on the internet. This time the results came quicker. And yes indeed, slugs do like to tuck into one another - though in almost all cases on already dead slugs.

It's just a pity the birds don't seem to be eating them this year because the garden is overrun with them. I planted marigolds to keep pests down and the slugs ate them! There are squillions of the little gets and I've gone nuclear with the nasty blue pellets which I absolutely hate to reach for, but without them there'd be nothing standing in the garden. I've even seen the slugs chowing down on the leaves of my Foxgloves, which I don't remember them ever doing before. I planted marigolds just to help keep the pests away - but the slugs ate them too.

There were more Marigolds in this picture earlier....

Yes I know, beer traps. Great if you can afford to give yours to the gastropods and you still have to empty the beer/slug muck afterwards. No thanks. And those white pellets which are supposed to be environmentally friendly and child safe - they just dissolve at the first drop of rain.

I've a better idea again, based on what I've learned.

So now another one of those thoughts has come into my head. It's a new slug trap which I think I'll patent. Essentially it's a big hob nailed boot attached to a mechanised arm and a timer which drops the boot to the ground and raises it again every half hour.

It works like this: Stick one squashed slug under your boot, set the timer and leave. Along comes three more slugs to tuck in. On the half hour the boot falls, clobbers the three and raises again, thus attracting more slugs and so on it goes until your garden is clear.

At least that's how it works in theory......

Now see if you can work out how much I weigh. The first correct answer in comments wins the prototype - after I've made my millions.