400 parts per million, pesticides and giant pumpkins

Our earth reached a milestone this week, with carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere reaching 400 parts per million. The last time carbon dioxide levels were this high, long before humans existed, there was no Arctic ice, the poles were about ten degrees warmer than today, and sea levels ranged from five to forty metres higher than they are currently.

Our children and grandchildren are certainly in for interesting times, one where it won’t just technology changing at breakneck speed, but our natural systems too. Adaptability and learning to work with the changing environment will be vital skills.

Pesticides and bees
It’s very likely that the recent drastic drop in the honeybee population, particularly in Europe and the US, has been due to neonicotinoid pesticides, a highly toxic pesticide commonly used around the world in conventional farming. The European Union has just banned neonicotinoids, in the face of a frenzied campaign to put the blame elsewhere by Bayer and Syngenta, the two main chemical companies producing the pesticides.

So, good news for European bees and farms, and in countries that have banned neonicotinoids for a while now, such as Italy, France, Germany and Slovenia, bee populations appear to already be recovering. However, in the US, where honeybee levels have reached a 50-year low, corporate control of food and farming policy gets ever stronger. Sulfoxaflor, which has a very similar mechanism to neonicotinoids and is acknowledged by the US Environmental Protection Agency to be highly toxic to bees, was given ’emergency approval’ for use on cotton until 2015, and is now being touted for widespread use.

Commercial beekeepers say that in heavily contaminated areas, such as California, they expect commercial beekeeping to be extinct in five years. Since some crops, such as almonds and broccoli, rely entirely on commercial beekeeping, these foods could also be disappearing along with the bees.

The madness is not restricted to the US. While parts of South America are showing interesting progress in restoring the balance, here in Africa, the same corporations are looking to extend their control, and we need to be vigilant to avoid falling down the same hole.

Too big to be true
We had a visitor to our warehouse in Philippi a few years ago, and he expressed doubt that some of the products, being so big, were actually organic. So I was pleased to read the story of the record-breaking South African pumpkin, grown recently in Worcester and weighing in at a sprightly 417kg. The farmer’s secret? “Look after them nicely” which he described as growing organically and looking after the soil.

If you’re looking to grow something similar, we don’t have the same Atlantic Giant seeds available, but if you’re happier with something slightly smaller, there are Hokkaido pumpkin, boerpampoen, Queensland Blue and Red Etampes varieties available for planting. And if, like me, you don’t whether it’s time to plant pumpkin or peas, peppers or parsley, we still have a few winter rainfall planting calendars available too!

Have a great week,
Ian and the Ethical team

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