Thursday, May 29, 2008

Industrious ants

I am particularily proud, as a do-it-yourself agriculturalist, of the peach tree (variety Poppa di Venere [Venus Breast], with white flesh) that we planted last year in our garden. Last summer it gave us eleven wonderful fruits, with a taste that brought me back to my childhood (i wonder why the stuff one can buy at the stores have no taste at all!). In short, you know those peaches that when you bite into, all the juice spills over your chin and you have to lean over in order not to stain your shirt?
This year the budding was prolific, and thanks to a premature spring, in March a wonderful pink color brightened our garden. The flowers looked more "convinced" than last year (probably thanks to the maturity of the tree). But then (meteorological freak!) the cold weather came back, we even had snow at the end of march, and i thought that there wasn't enough time for the pollinating bugs to do their duty. When a decent weather came back, infact, the flowers already started to wither, and it was instead a pleasant surprise to see, some weeks later, that where the heroic flowers had fallen, a big amount of little fruits were born, promising an abundant harvest.

Detail of the peach fruit in different phases of maturing. From left to right: the buds on March 8th; on March 15th; the flowers begins to blossom (March 20th); after the snow on March 23rd; the sun is back (March 30th); some time later, after the withering of the flowers, fruits begin to develop (May 4th); the last photo is from yesterday (May 28th).
But now, i wonder if those fruits will ever be able to mature. The peach tree infact, little by little was infested by aphids, that are slowly eating all the leaves. I asked the help of my favorite agronomist, that i gladly publicize, who suggested to spray some laundry soap dissolved in water that is safe for man, for the peach tree and for the environment in general, so much so that it is also approved as a remedy in organic agriculture, although lethal for aphids. The inconvenience is that it doesn't keep them away entirely. They die, but all of the sudden others arrive, and so one must keep spraying soap.

Peach leaf damaged by the aphids attack
The problem is that the aphid infested leaves at first they fold, then they crumple up, and at the end they die, and so they cannot produce the nourishment the tree needs, just when it is necessary for feeding the fruits.

Anyway, there is a really surprising story, told me by the agronomist i mentioned above (graduated in entomology), behind the aphids infestation.
It is a story of symbiosis between bugs of different species. The ants seem particularily fond of a sticky substance (secreted by the aphids) that is clearly visible on the infested leaves. The aphids themselves, prefer the leaves of some particular trees, for example the peach one. So, the ants carry the aphid larvae on their backs and transport them to the peach leaves, after which two or three ants constantly stay on each one of those leaves to garrison the "farm" and defend it from any predator. This defensive behavior is easily observable bringing a little wooden stick near the infested leaves. The ants in the neighborhood gather and, with a grim expression on their faces (but maybe this is only effect of suggestion!?!), they heroically attack the intruder with their lethal pinchers.
In other words, the behavior of the ants with the aphids is somehow similar to the one of man and cattle-raising, and, looking at the devastated conditions of my poor peach tree i can't avoid to ask myself if the human analogy wasn't less devastating... But let's not digress to philosophical discussions and compassion by the intelligence demonstrated by the damn ants: don't forget that they are compromising the pleasure of eating that delicacy! No mercy then, against those damn aphids and their protectors. La guerre est la guerre!

The devastating amount of parasites that in this period torment our beautiful peach tree makes me think that this year spraying soap won't be enough, as it was last year, and i am already planning a strategical offensive for next year:
It looks that ladybugs are terrible predators of aphids, and i discovered googling the internet that there are some online shops that sell ladybug larvae, for example over here.
The fact that these bugs in their pijamas are a little rare at our place makes me think that perhaps the climate isn't suited to them. On the linked website infact they say that larvae develop to adults at 20 to 25 Celsius [68 to 77 Fahrenheit] from March to May. In that period over here its usually colder. Will i be successful at raising ladybugs? Has any of you ever tried?

And you, what color is your thumb?


rowena said...

I'm going to link to this post when I do a couple of peach posts. I'll even send it to pops, who should get a kick out of your blog!

tychecat said...

Ladybugs should do OK in your climate. They are found much further north in Europe, I believe.
The problem is wintering over. don't be surprised if you find yourself with a house wall full of lady bugs next spring. the like our nice warm houses and will come in any crack or crevice. they are clean and do no harm - except to the aphids!

tychecat said...

Hi Dario
About thirty years ago my wife and I were in Rome and we went to eat at a really good restaurant - think the name was something like Chesarina's - A Bolognese (?) place. Anyway, we had gran bollito misto after seeing another customer eating it - delicious - but as I remember it came with several different sauces. I didn't remember the name, but looked it up after you mentioned it on my blog. The translation from Italian to English on google is very funny but i figured it out. I don't think is is offered in many Italian restaurants in the US. It's hard to find any North Italian cuisine.
Speaking of Socrates_cafe, what do you think the future of humans on earth will be?

dario said...

Hi Dick, thanks for the comment.
From the name you quote, the restaurant could be "Cesarina la Bolognese", which makes me think to a regional cooking from Bologna in Rome.
Bollito misto, or Gran Bollito Misto is a dish common pretty much allover Italy, and any region you go it is prepared in different ways. I don't know in detail how it is supposed to be in Bologna nor in Rome. Anyway, since it is a heavy dish, it is common in winter.
It's something i like very much, but it's not just some boiled meat. The real elegance of Gran Bollito Misto is given by the matches among different cuts of meat and the sauces. And obviously the quality of the ingredients... the meat, first of all, but also the olive oil and the sauces.
The most classical Gran Bollito Misto in Italy is the one from Piedmont. Over there it is supposed to be a composition of seven cuts of meat (the ones i always found when i had it were the Testina - the head part of the beef, and the Cappone - the old chicken) and seven different sauces (the typical ones are the bagnet vert - a sauce made out of parsley, garlic and olive oil and the bagnet ross - tomato and hotpepper). Why seven? I don't know, but i am sure it has something magical upon that number. For sure it's a tradition.
I think it's kind of difficult to find Gran Bollito Misto in a conventional restaurant, because first of all, to be something attractive it should be prepared in a difficult way (big pieces of meat boiled for hours), and also because in Italy it is considered a very tasting dish, but also a very popular one. Only gready people like me use to look to the menus in the restaurants downtown looking for the real taste of Italian old traditions ;-)

I would suggest a match with a well structured piemontese wine, although i wouldn't match with a Barolo or a Barbaresco.... too much refined for a rough plate like Bollito.... uhm.... i would choose a Grignolino or a Nebbiolo.

To answer your "Socratic" question i see a fork we have to face within the next 20-30 years. One goes towards a global equal poverty, which can be overcome by humans with something similar to a new middle age. It's not that we won't be able to travel anymore, but that we will have to use donkeys or bicycles. Technology? There is no technology as we know nowadays that can work without a big amount of energy. Even if this is a terrible solution for the single human beings, it shouldn't be so bad for the world (and so to the human race in its globality), because it will reduce the demographic growth, the average age per human and also it will cut the disparities between rich nations and poor ones (being that without trade the flow of wealth from the poor nations to the rich ones will be cut)
Unfortunately i believe that the path that will be taken will be the other: the one that will save few rich people from the poverty and everybody else will become their slaves. And this, not only because the human beings (in particular the rich ones) are selfish, but because wealth won't be enough. And this is the main problem, in my opinion. Wealth won't be enough.
There is something that must be faced by the humans in the future, which is kind of innatural for any animal. That the new generations will be poorer than the old ones. That is the opposite of the natural behavior of any being. Also animals try to make so that the new generations will be stronger than the old ones (and "strong", in human societies, means "rich", because "rich" means "powerful"). This feeling is so strong, in my opinion, that is made evident by the fact that rich countries have a rate of birth which is largely lower than poor countries. Simply because if somebody is poor he can believe that his children will be richer. In the near future we have to face the problem that it will be impossible for the new generation to be richer than the old ones.

I don't know what will be the future of the human race. But the worst thing is that i don't see anybody (politicians, economists, scientists) that see further than me. So, the wisest thing to do, in my opinion, is to try to slow down the destruction till anybody will eventually have any good idea.
And this means to save energy, and to use the much we need producing it from clean source.
Which is obviously impossible if we don't change our economic system. And, to do that, we have to educate ourselves, because we need to learn that we cannot have anything we want just because we want it. Which in se, doesn't necessarily mean that we are becoming poorer... i am not richer than what i am if i own two chickens while i need only one. Poverty is made on insufficiency of wealth. But what does it mean "insufficiency"?
To quote the Dalai Lama (forgive my translation in English from the translation in Italian i know")
If one doesn't learn to say "this to me is enough" there won't be real happiness, it is like a match in which the finishing line is always moved, so it is impossible to win.
And this sentence, in my opinion, perfectly defines our age.

foodhoe said...

hello motH, interesting topics ranging from ants to the future of the human race, but I like the idea of ladybugs. I have a small lime tree with aphids and shriveled leaves too. I forgot about the ladybugs, thank you for the reminder!

tychecat said...

It was Cesarina's. The meat was pushed around in a heated boiler-cart and sliced and served at the table. They had all sorts of sauces. The wine was probably a Barbaresco. We tourists would never assent to a rougher wine ;-)
Poverty certainly shifts its definition according to the attitudes and culture of the people involved. Already here in the US, my generation (pre-World War 2) and the next - baby boomers (1945-57) are on average somewhat better off than the current generation will probably ever be - but then, you never know.
My wife and I were both born to relative poverty - our families suffering the Great Depression of the 1920"s -1930's; but we grew up into the great post-war economic boom that raised both Americans and Europeans - indeed the world, to undreamed prosperity.
I don't think any world-wide depression will occur, nor do I think people will become as divided into rich and poor as you predict - indeed I think the evidence is that there may be a leveling - but more toward the rich side. Don't underestimate human ingenuity.

dario said...

Foodhoe: thanks for the comment.
In my intentions this post was meant about gardening, 'cos it's an activity i love.. it's relaxing to take care of our little garden in the evening after a rough working day, or in the weekend after a rough working week. Incidentally you came across an intersection of another discussion begun on Tychecat's blog
Any kind of discussion is welcome in my blog. I like to think of myself in my blog as a bartender of a pub. Everybody can chat just about anything. It's just a pity to split in two the hints of discussion (there's another pub i tend in Italian)

Yes, i like the idea of ladybugs for gardening, because their use is not making any violence to Mother Nature, as it does the use of chemical products. Instead, it is about driving natural processes to our advantage... In Italian we call this kind of techniques "Agricoltura Biologica", and it seems it is giving wonderful results, on large scale and long-term production, even better than traditional agriculture (with chemical products you have huge harvests for few years, but after a certain period the dirt becomes poor and contaminated - not to speak about the taste and health of eating uncontaminated vegetables). I am sure in America there is something similar, how do you call it?

Against aphids i found also shops which sell other less attractive (but more weather resistant) bugs (for example the "Chrysoperla carnea" - it's kind of ugly!). I think anyway it would be cool to grow pretty ladybugs, isn't it? :-)

dario said...

Dick, i think that it's not really the wealth of the new generations on the scale, but our knowledge that it will be impossible for them to enlarge their wealth.
As you say, you and your wife were born in a relative poverty, but i am sure that your parents really thought you could have a better life than what they had... or maybe not for you and your wife, but in general for an average person of your generation.

Me too. My parents were not poor, and they couldn't even be considered rich, but when i was born they were hoping that i would have a better life. And actually for the vision of the world they had i could. And, at the end i did. Maybe they have much more money than i do, but for sure i have never been suffering for hunger or thirst, as they did do during the war...
Unfortunately (or fortunately) they didn't have a critical conscious about what was happening in the world (also because for lack of globality in informations). Nowadays we know that in the global world our children being more rich than (or also "as rich as") us means a big inequality in the world. So we have to renounce to the idea that our children will be more rich or to our (and their) morality. If i had a child i don't know what would i renounce to.

Our condition is to be able to see injustices in the world with the consciousness that we cannot overcome them without loosing a big part of our wealth. And i think this is a dramatic assumption to base one's life

tychecat said...

Interestingly enough, Dario, I think modern kids just getting out of school and university have lowered their expectations - or rather many of them have shifted their focus from "becoming rich" measured in material wealth, to focusing on what they want to do, become, and leave. Many/most seem to be focusing on green and less polluting occupations.
I know from discussions with college students in the past couple of years, that they are much more excited by humanitarian and earth-friendly ideas than they are by big business. This isn't all of them of course - but more than I expected.

dario said...

When i was teenager (and also a little older) we also were focused on humanitarian and ecologic subjects, more than wealth. Or, even worse, some of us used to believe wealth like a crime against poverty. But we were a small minority, even though i can consder that all my world. Anyway we obviously didn't have any power, because i don't think that we changed any little bit the world towards a better humanitarian or ecologic path. It looks to me, on the opposite, that wars propagated in the world, and they became worse, inequalities are deeper and the world is collapsing under our pollution.
If we had power we could change this situation. Or, maybe this situation cannot be changed at all, and in this case we have to give up and accept the idea that human race (and the world) doesn't have any future, but i am optimistic in this sense.

What you say is that young people around you just are very similar to myself when i was their age. What i see from the news is that young people with no value just enter a school and shoots to everybody (as it happened few years ago in the US, for example, or as it happened just few days ago in japan).
I don't believe any of those two describe really well the new generation. Instead i believe that the new generations just don't have big values in which to believe to. Or, better, there could be values if they really have strength to follow them, but they obviously care more for their full stomachs.
I agree... atleast in Italy, the things teenager dream are very different from what i dreamt or what my parents did.
Now they want money to spend for fake things like cellphones... anyway something that can be consumed right now. My folks wanted money to save for having a better life in the future... the house, for example, was the goal of pretty much everybody in their generation. My generation was about in the middle.. but in these three generation i don't see a consistent share of people renouncing their wealth in order to change the world. Everybody convinced that they deserve what they have just because they worked hard to obtain it.

But still, i don' think that charity of the individues would really make the difference, even if those individues were a big share of the world population. The solution can be only politics. It is useless we give our wealth to the third world if the system doesn't change. Since the third world is economically dependant to the big companies of the westerner countries, giving them money means at the end giving the big companies, and save the third world starvation just for few days.
The real goal would be a politics that induce economy to solidarity. Would it work? Mmmh... i am not an economist, and i think the problem is bigger than this little statement. But what i know is that capitalism is taking world to destruction, and that is obvious for those economists. I just think they hope (or already know) that this destruction will happen only after their death.
And that is the other problem: our task is not to save ourselves. Our task is to save the future generations. Are we ready to become poor in order to save future generations?

foodhoe said...

Barkeep Dario, your pub plays host to some seriously deep thoughts and it must be challenging to maintain two language versions! interesting blend of topics and since there's talk of food and wine I can follow some of it at least! Possibly you were referring to biodynamic farming, which is catching on here in Northern California, and I'm going to try to convince some ladybugs to come hang out in my backyard.