Video: How To Grow Figs From Cuttings (Milkwood)

I’ve just discovered the Milkwood site – “Two city kids quit their jobs, pull up stumps and journey to a remote, empty, block of land to start an ultra low impact lifestyle from scratch”. Now these are people I’d love to meet!

Kirsten Bradley and Nick Ritar are documenting their trials and tribulations via both traditional blogging and short videos. The videos are great, and they really have a flair for making an interesting short film.

This first video is about how to grow figs from cuttings.


  • spring time – growing time, making cuttings time
  • able to obtain cuttings from an abandoned orchard near their property – lucky!
  • besides being free, taking cuttings from local trees ensures that you are growing a variety that will do well in your area
  • these appear to be hardwood cuttings?
  • “follow the wrinkle” when taking cuttings
  • instead of using commercial growth hormones for striking cuttings, use “willow water” – finely-chopped willow leaves dumped in a bowl of water
  • fill pots with dirt/compost/potting mix/whatever
  • fill the pots first, put them in a tray to make moving them around easier
  • cut the hardwood cutting just below a node, then scrape the bark to stimulate root growth
  • use a stick to make a hole in your pot
  • dip the cutting into the willow water, getting lots of green bits on it
  • insert into the hole in the pot
  • repeat for all the other cuttings
  • water them in
  • done!

It’ll be interesting to visit the site again in a few months and see how the little figgies are doing.

February 24th, 2008

Video: Permaculture Trio

This video is really three different views of permaculture gardens rolled into one. Notes below the video.

Forest Gardening with Robert Hart

Robert Hart was born on 1 April 1913, and died on 7 March 2000. He was a vegan (eating around 90% raw food) who took up farming at Wenlock Edge, in Shropshire.

  • garden is on the site of an ancient Celtic monastery
  • inspired by the urge to create a practical solution to world hunger
  • also cared for his handicapped brother, Lacon, born with severe learning difficulties
  • “vision was to plant a miniature edible forest to fulfil the needs of a healthy diet in beautiful surroundings”
  • garden was established in the early 1960s
  • success depends upon planting in layers to mimic nature
  • 7 storeys
    • canopy layer: tall, light-demanding trees e.g. mature fruit trees
    • low-tree layer: short, shade-tolerant trees e.g. smaller nuts and fruit trees, and dwarf fruit varieties
    • shrub layer: bushes e.g. currants and berries
    • herbaceous layer: perennial vegetables and herbs
    • ground cover layer: horizontal spreading plants e.g. strawberries
    • rhizosphere: underground area, plants grown for roots/tubers
    • vertical layer: climbers, creepers, vines
  • Mahatma Gandhi was the inspiration, with his vision of a world order of democratic, self-sustaining small communities
  • some of the trees have been planted in memory of inspirational figures
  • garden is kept mulched all year
  • mulch suppresses weeds, maintains desirable soil temperature, retains moisture, feeds microorganisms
  • good compost contains a wide variety of organic materials
  • shredded woody material is excellent for the compost
  • no chemicals used, but foliar sprays of liquid comfrey, nettles etc
  • attention paid to the relationships between different plants (companion planting)
  • sells produce to local greengrocer and whole-food restaurant
  • advice on how to start a forest garden from scratch:
    • start an orchard of standard fruit trees, planted at the recommended spacing (20 ft apart)
    • plant dwarf trees in between the standard trees
    • plant bushes (e.g. currants, gooseberries) in between the trees
    • plant herbs and perennials at the ground level
    • once established, the main work is cutting back plants so they don’t encroach on each other too much, and keeping the soil well-mulched
  • forest gardens give maximum output for minimum labour

Plants For A Future (PFAF) with Ken Fern

  • (15:50) profile of Ken Fern, building a farm in Cornwall using many of Robert’s ideas
  • Ken has a massive variety of plants growing on his farm, and goes through some of the more interesting ones
  • Ken maintains the Plants For A Future (PFAF) web site and database, listing over 7000 plants that can be grown in the UK

Mike and Julia Guerra

  • (32:10) tiny backyard forest garden in Hartfordshire
  • the garden is 75 square metres, and gives 250 kg of food per year (15 tons/acre!), for 2 hours of garden work per week
  • was inspired by a Bill Mollison documentary to start growing his own food
  • turned their barren backyard into a very productive food garden
  • mostly zone 1, intensive herb and vegetable garden
  • (39.25) cool strawberry tower
  • companion planting
  • use warmth of the compost heap to dry shallots or grow seedlings
  • growing potatoes in old tyres
  • worm farm – “wormery”; use castings, liquid (“worm wee”) for heavy feeders like tomatoes
  • greens during winter fight depression

2 comments February 21st, 2008

Video: The Permaculture Concept – Bill Mollison

This is the first post in my new category, Permaculture. I’m going to link to and provide notes for videos, books and other resources as I read and learn more. And maybe I’ll document some of my own projects when I get some time.

If you’re not sure what it is, Wikipedia has a good background article on permaculture. In a nutshell, though, it’s a philosophy of land use that seeks to mimic natural ecologies so that land can be productively used indefinitely, without degradation or the need for external inputs.

The word permaculture was coined in the 1970s by two Australians, Bill Mollison and David Holmgren. It is a portmanteau (blend/contraction) of the term “permanent agriculture”, as well as “permanent culture”.

This first video is a great introduction to the concept. Bill Mollison explains the history, development and ideas behind permaculture.

In case it disappears from Google Video, a lower-quality version is also available at YouTube (broken into six parts):


  • we haven’t earned the right to go to the stars yet
  • “You wouldn’t welcome anybody who’d laid waste to their house and wanted to live in yours.”
  • some background/bio on Bill Mollison – was once a tree cutter!
  • at one stage, Bill walked away from society “disgusted with the human race”, but he returned after a few weeks after having decided to fight to improve things in a positive way
  • forest as a model of a working system
  • diversity makes the system highly adaptable and at the same time highly productive
  • “If we lose the universities we lose nothing. If we lose the forest we lose everything.”
  • all political systems (and most kings) through history have moved their countries towards desert
  • the ideas behind permaculture arose out of questions that had been asked by people in the 1890s, 1930s, 1960s about why society, with all its tools and resources, keeps falling into holes of its own making
  • permanent agriculture = permanent culture
  • we should build with living resources, not steel and glass
  • (10:00) shows how to set up a productive permaculture garden on a small apartment balcony to provide 1/5th of the food required by two adults
  • grapes grow well under the balcony above – no rain means no mould!
  • “most cannibals only eat strangers”
  • the rise of monoculture
  • today, over half the world’s agricultural production consists of just four crops: wheat, rice, maize and potatoes
  • over-simplification of nature (monoculture) gave rise to huge outbreaks of single pests, diseases
  • (15:00) agriculture as a continuation of World War II
  • since 1940, 70% of our soils have been destroyed
  • 40% of the world’s water has been poisoned by agriculture
  • permaculture design integrates plants, animals and humans into a living system
  • every element of the design has many functions
  • 1978 published “Permaculture One”
  • began designing farm systems for other landowners for free for 2 or 3 years (hundreds of properties!)
  • moved from designing to teaching others how to design – Permaculture Design Courses (PDCs)
  • permaculture lies between disciplines, connecting them together
  • permaculture groups started working to spread the word to the mainstream e.g. participation in agricultural shows in towns all over Australia
  • “modern agriculture is not a system for producing food, but for producing money”
  • “no-one yet pays for the damage at the end of the chain”
  • (22:10) demonstrates the creation of a simple potato patch “the best use for a newspaper”
  • “digging causes weeds, weeds cause work”
  • planting is a lot easier than weeding, and if you have enough plants in there is no room for weeds
  • untidiness in the garden is good, natural order
  • (25:40) description of swales for water retention to avoid droughts
  • 88% of Australia’s water runs off the landscape and is wasted
  • an animal is a mobile part of the forest, not separate from the forest
  • (28:00) guilds
  • get chickens out of battery cages and factories, and back into the garden where they can work for you
  • up to half of the system can be used to feed your animals, which gives much better results than buying external feed
  • in terms of energy cost, food would be about 95% cheaper if it were grown in the city (transportation, processing, packaging, retailing, etc costs)
  • we’re 3 days away from starvation at any time
  • (32:00) shows a suburban home design along permaculture principles
  • food and flowers all year long
  • beehives in the yard
  • lawns are a “green cancer”, completely unproductive, expensive to maintain, a waste of resources
  • (35:20) mangrove swamps are the most productive environment on the planet
  • rising sea levels are going to wipe out large areas of coastal cities (but maybe make them more productive!)
  • TVs watching nature films, 4WDs taking people to the wilderness – we could have it all in our own yards
  • Bill keeps planting seeds around the place like a “guerilla gardener”
  • (38:20) discusses genetic engineering and its unknown effects
  • scientists are basically sociopaths
  • only 3% of the planet’s water is fresh, and most of that is trapped in ice
  • 3 inches of leaf litter in a forest can absorb 1 inch of rainfall
  • rainforest can be looked at as a lake
  • forest evaporation forms clouds, forest bacteria become nucleus of ice crystals in clouds, so forest actually create rain
  • (42:45) farm in Queensland, turned from infertile ex-farmland into a productive environment
  • creating bush corridors to bring back birds and animals
  • (45:00) work in the third world to help restore food production
  • third world populations weren’t able to transition from hunter-gatherers to gardeners, leading to famine and desertification
  • the people have all the resources they need, just lack the information and skills to do it themselves
  • these third-world projects will become models that will need to be applied in the first world
  • (47:00) housing developments designed along permaculture principles
  • it’s time to stop calling permaculture an “alternative” movement, it needs to become part of the mainstream
  • gardening and food production should not be regarded as a side pursuit
  • (50:00) visits a garden that has been abandoned for about 3 years, yet is still productively growing plenty of food
  • “Will permaculture work?” “Will plants grow?”

2 comments February 13th, 2008

MacUpdate Promo – Great Mac Software, Dirt Cheap!

Check out the current MacUpdate Promo!

For 50 bucks, you get:

  • ForkLift – a nice-looking FTP client
  • RapidWeaver – web site publishing software
  • SwiftPublisher – for writing newsletters and creating gift cards (perfect for Xmas!)
  • Marine Aquarium – really cool fish tank screen saver
  • Xslimmer – reclaim disk space by removing the parts of applications not needed for your Mac’s architecture
  • MemoryMiner – a very interesting and novel way to organise family photos
  • Yep – scan and archive receipts and other papers
  • XMIND 2008 Pro – mind mapping/brainstorming tool
  • iStabilize – removes the shake from hand-held video

And if enough people buy the bundle, this one will be added to the mix:

  • PulpMotion – create animations from your photos, video and music with awesome-looking templates.

This is a great bundle of apps. They’re all useful and interesting, however buying them individually would set you back over $600. Combined, for one more day only, they’re just $50. That’s a good deal even if you only want a couple of them.

I’m buying, and I’m really, really hoping they get enough sales to unlock PulpMotion.

There’s only a little over a day to go, so act now if you’re interested!

Update: Enough people bought the promo package to unlock the final application, PulpMotion. Yay! So if you were on the fence before, head on over and buy it now before time runs out.

1 comment December 11th, 2007

Samsung SyncMaster 940UX 19″ LCD Supports Video Over USB

Here’s an interesting development. A company called DisplayLink has come up with a technique to send video over a USB link, rather than the conventional VGA or DVI. It doesn’t require an extra graphics card – it’s all done in the device driver.

Samsung’s SyncMaster 940UX 19″ LCD is the first monitor to use the technology, although competitors are sure to be hot on their heels. A couple of good reviews of the 940UX can be found here and here.

The video quality over USB is not quite as good as DVI, but it’s apparently a lot better than you might expect. It’d be fine for office apps, web browsing, etc, while you could still run full-screen video on your conventional DVI monitor.

A lot of people around the net are shrugging their shoulders and saying “so what?”. Just add another graphics card to your PC and you don’t need the fancy/expensive monitor, plus you’d get better performance.

I think they’re missing the point. This isn’t for the knowledgeable desktop user. It’s a simple way to add a second monitor to an office PC without needing to open it up. It’s an easy option to add a second external display to a laptop. It’s a way to add a second monitor to small-footprint PCs that don’t have room for another graphics card.

The DisplayLink site has more information that promises some very interesting future products. Using the same techniques as the USB interface, they can send video over ethernet, WiFi, and wireless USB. FireWire wouldn’t be hard, if they found a need. A really interesting product idea is their USB-to-DVI dongle – you wouldn’t need a monitor that supports DisplayLink, as the dongle would convert the USB signal to standard DVI for display on the monitor.

A wireless version of this would be fantastic for conference room projectors. You’d just plunk your laptop on the desk and display stuff on the projector without any messing about with cables.

I’d love a dongle that could convert from wireless USB or WiFi (or even ethernet) to a standard TV signal. Then I could output video from my laptop on the lounge to the TV across the room without having to drag a cable across the floor. Nirvana!

The DisplayLink USB interface currently supports Windows XP and Vista – no word yet on an OS X driver, so Apple users will have to wait to see what develops. This does now look like the most likely way I’ll get to run a second external monitor from my MacBook, though.

August 29th, 2007

The Easy Way To Upgrade WordPress

As much as I love WordPress as a blogging platform, the plugin, theme and upgrade mechanisms have always seemed a little kludgy to me.

There’s too much diving into the filesystem, unzipping downloads, FTPing files and directories to specific locations, and in the case of upgrades, futzing around disabling and re-enabling plugins, backing up the database and files, taking care not to overwrite a few critical files, etc.

With 7 WordPress sites to look after, it used to take me all evening to upgrade them whenever a new version came out.

Enter the WordPress Automatic Upgrade plugin.

This thing is sweet. Once the plugin is installed, it’s just a click to upgrade your site. The plugin will backup your database and all your files, download the latest WordPress distribution, disable your plugins, install the updated files, and re-enable your plugins. It then gives you the link to click on to upgrade your database, and you’re done!

The whole process takes just a couple of minutes per site.

All WordPress needs now is a way to upload plugins and themes via the admin interface.

August 9th, 2007

Increase Productivity – Speed Up Your iPod Playback!

I listen to a lot of podcasts and audio books on my iPod – while driving to work, jogging, doing repetitive jobs, etc. But I’m a bit of a packrat, and the audio has been piling up faster than I can listen to it all.

Here’s a way to get through more audio: play it back faster!

I didn’t know it until recently, but the iPod supports speedup of audiobooks. Unfortunately, you can’t speed up playback of other audio file types. So you have to trick it into thinking your file is an audiobook:

Step 1: Convert the track to AAC if it’s not already. In iTunes, simply right-click on it and choose Convert To AAC.

Step 2: Turn the new AAC track into an audiobook. For this, you’ll need the Make Bookmarkable script from Doug’s Scripts. Install it as per his directions, then highlight your AAC track in iTunes, and select Make Bookmarkable from the Scripts menu.

Sync the files to your iPod, and you’re good to go.

While listening to one of these tracks, click the iPod’s center button 3 times to bring up the playback speed options, then scroll to the right to set it to Faster. The iPod keeps the pitch the same while speeding up the audio playback, so it’s still very understandable.

The main drawback with this method is that you don’t get much control over the playback speed – it’s just Slower, Normal or Faster. I’d love it if I could speed it up in increments – 1.1x, 1.2x, 1.3x, etc. Some talkers are naturally very slow, and some are fairly fast, so they need different playback speeds.

If you know of a better way to speed up audio playback on an iPod, please post it in the comments!

14 comments August 8th, 2007

Downloading YouTube Videos

Have you ever seen a video on and wished you could keep a copy to watch again later? Or perhaps you’ve wished you could transfer it to your phone or iPod to show others?

TubeTV by Chimoosoft is what you need!

TubeTV is an app for Mac OS X that downloads the Flash .flv movies used by many video sharing sites and converts them into H.264 .m4v video that can be viewed on other devices.

August 7th, 2007

Taskbar Shuffle – Windows Software

Is it overly geeky to want to rearrange the order of the applications in your Windows taskbar?

I’ve installed Taskbar Shuffle to do this. You simply drag and drop to arrange their ordering.

On my PC at work, I tend to have many windows open at the same time – email, todo list, multiple telnet sessions, multiple browsers, Framemaker, Visio, multiple Explorer windows, etc. Keeping related windows together helps me switch between tasks and work more efficiently.

Taskbar Shuffle also lets you rearrange system tray icons, but I’ve never bothered doing that.

July 18th, 2007

Burning A DVD From A VIDEO_TS Folder On A Mac

I have a damaged DVD that skips badly and is unwatchable when played on a normal DVD player. I ripped it on the Mac (using Mac The Ripper – great program!), and the resulting VIDEO_TS folder seems to play back fine using DVD Player in OS X.

However, I wanted to be able to play it on a normal DVD player again.

One option would be to convert it to an MPG or AVI using something like Handbrake, and then use iDVD to burn a DVD from that. It takes some time to convert and render a DVD, though, and you’d lose some quality.

Then I found this method to turn a VIDEO_TS folder into an ISO image. At the command line, type:

hdiutil makehybrid -udf -udf-volume-name DVDNAME -o DVDNAME.iso /VIDEO_TS/parent/folder

Make sure that final path is the path to the folder where VIDEOTS can be found, not the path to the actual VIDEOTS folder itself.

It takes a little time, but you get an ISO image out. You can then burn this using Disk Utility, and you’ll get a ‘real’ DVD!

19 comments July 17th, 2007

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